by Bjornstjerne Bjornson
Magnhild was planned during the summer of 1873, while the
translator accompanied Mr. Björnson on a journey across Norway. The
story is located in Lærdalen and Skarlie's home is in Lærdalsören, a
small town at the head of one of the branches of the far-famed
Sognefjord on the west coast. I well remember with what care the author
made his observations. The story was written the following winter in
Rome, but was not published until 1877, when it appeared in the
original in Copenhagen and in a German translation in the Rundschau
The reader will see that Magnhild is a new departure, and marks a
new epoch in Björnson's career as a writer of fiction. It is but
justice to say that Mr. Björnson himself looks upon this as one of his
less finished works, and yet I believe that many of his American
readers will applaud the manner in which he has here championed the
rights of a woman when she has become united with such a man as
The celebration, on the 10th of August, 1882, of the twenty-fifth
anniversary since the publication of Synnöve Solbakken, was a great
success. The day was celebrated by his friends in all parts of
Scandinavia and by many of his admirers in Germany, France, and Italy.
At Aulestad (his home in Norway), more than two hundred of his personal
friends from the Scandinavian countries were assembled, among whom may
be mentioned the eminent Swedish journalist Hedlund, the Danish poet
Drachmann, and the Norwegian author Kristofer Janson. Over Aulestad,
which was handsomely decorated, floated Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, and
American flags. There was a great banquet, at which speeches and poems
were not wanting. Mr. Björnson received a number of valuable presents
and countless telegrams from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France,
Italy, England, and America.
This volume closes the present series of translations of Björnson's
works. The seven volumes now published contain all the novels and
short stories that Björnson has written. His other works are, as shown
in the biographical introduction to Synnöve Solbakken, chiefly
Being thus about to send my last Björnson manuscript to the
publishers, I desire to express my hearty thanks to the press and to
the public for the generous reception they have given these stories as
they have appeared one by one. Those who are acquainted with Björnson's
original and idiomatic style can appreciate the many difficulties his
translators have had to contend with. I am fully conscious of my
shortcomings and am particularly aware of my failure to transmit the
peculiar national flavor of Björnson's style, but I have done my best,
and have turned his phrases into as good English as I could command.
Others might have been more successful, but they could not have taken
more pains, nor could they have derived more pleasure from the work
than I have found in it. To Auber Forestier, who has kindly assisted me
in the translation of the whole series, I once more extend my hearty
thanks. Without her able help the work could not have progressed so
rapidly. Finally, I commend Magnhild to the tender mercy of the
critic and to the good-will of the reader, and say adieu!
RASMUS B. ANDERSON.
ASGARD, MADISON, WISCONSIN.
 The first edition of Björnson's writings, from which the
edition is arranged, was in seven volumes. Magnhild
seventh volume, and the present preface is reprinted as it
The landscape has high, bold mountains, above which are just passing
the remnants of a storm. The valley is narrow and continually winding.
Coursing through it is a turbulent stream, on one side of which there
is a road. At some distance up the slopes farms are spread; the
buildings are mostly low and unpainted, yet numerous; heaps of mown hay
and fields of half ripe grain are dotted about.
When the last curve of the valley is left behind the fjord becomes
visible. It lies sparkling beneath an uplifting fog. So completely is
it shut in by mountains that it looks like a lake.
Along the road there jogs at the customary trot a horse with a
cariole-skyds. In the cariole may be seen a waterproof coat and a
south-wester, and between these a beard, a nose, and a pair of
spectacles. Lashed to the back seat is a trunk, and seated on this,
with her back to the cariole, is a full-grown skyds"-girl, snugly
bundled up in a kerchief. She sits there dangling her coarsely-shod
feet. Her arms are tucked in under the kerchief. Suddenly she bursts
out with: Magnhild! Magnhild!
The traveler turned to look after a tall woman in a waterproof cloak
who had just walked past. He had caught a glimpse of a
delicately-outlined face, beneath a hood which was drawn over the brow;
now he saw the owner standing with her forefinger in her mouth,
staring. As he was somewhat persistent in his gaze, she blushed.
I will step in just as soon as I put up the horse, called out the
They drove on.
Who was that, my dear? asked the traveler.
She is the wife of the saddler down at yonder point, was the
In a little while they had advanced far enough to gain a view of the
fjord and the first houses on the point. The skyds-girl reined in the
horse and jumped down from the trunk. She first attended to the
animal's appearance, and then busied herself with her own toilet. It
had ceased raining, and she removed her kerchief, folded it, and stowed
it away in a little pocket in front of the cariole. Then thrusting her
fingers under her head-kerchief she tried to arrange her hair, which
hung in matted locks over her cheeks.
She had such a singular look,he pointed over his shoulders.
The girl fixed her eyes on him, and she began to hum. Presently she
interrupted herself with,
Do you remember the land-slide you passed a few miles above here?
I passed so many land-slides.
Yes; but the one I mean is on the other side of a church.
It was an old land-slide?
Yes; it happened long ago. But that is where once lay the gard
belonging to her family. It was swept away when she was eight or nine
years old. Her parents, brothers and sisters, and every living thing on
the gard, perished. She alone was saved. The land-slide bore her across
the stream, and she was found by the people who hastened to the
spot,she was insensible.
The traveler became absorbed in thought.
She must be destined to something, said he, at last.
The girl looked up. She waited some time, but their eyes did not
meet. So she resumed her seat on the trunk, and they drove on.
The valley widened somewhat in the vicinity of the point; farms were
spread over the plain: to the right lay the church with the churchyard
around it; a little farther on the point itself, a small town, with a
large number of houses, most of which were but one story high and were
either painted white and red or not painted at all; along the fjord ran
the wharf. A steamer was just smoking there; farther down, by the mouth
of the river, might be seen a couple of old brigs taking in their
The church was new, and showed an attempt at imitating the old Norse
wooden church architecture. The traveler must have had some knowledge
of this, for he stopped, gazed a while at the exterior, then alighted,
went through the gateway, and into the church; both gate and door stood
open. He was scarcely inside of the building when the bells began to
ring; through the opening he saw a bridal procession coming up from the
little town. As he took his departure the procession was close by the
churchyard gate, and by this he stood while it moved in: the
bridegroom, an elderly man, with a pair of large hands and a large
face, the bride, a young girl, with a plump, round face, and of a heavy
build. The bridesmaids were all clad in white and wore gloves; not one
of them ventured to bestow more than a side glance at the stranger;
most of them stooped, one was hump-backed; there was not one who could
truly be said to have a fine form.
Their male friends lagged behind, in gray, brown, and black felt
hats, and long frock coats, pea-jackets, or round-abouts. Most of them
had a lock of hair drawn in front of the ear, and those who had beards
wore them to cover the entire chin. The visages were hard, the mouths
usually coarse; most of them had tobacco stains about the corners of
their mouths, and some had cheeks distended with tobacco-quids.
Involuntarily the traveler thought of her in the waterproof cloak.
Her history was that of the landscape. Her refined, unawakened face
hung as full of yearning as the mountains of showers; everything that
met his eye, both landscape and people, became a frame for her.
As he approached the road, the skyds-girl hastened to the wayside
where the horse was grazing. While she was tugging at the reins she
continued to gaze fixedly at the bridal procession.
Are you betrothed? asked the stranger, smiling.
He who is to have me has no eyes yet, she replied, in the words of
Then, I suppose, you are longing to get beyond your present
position, said he, adding: Is it to America?
She was surprised; that query was evidently well aimed.
Is it in order that you may more speedily earn your traveling
expenses that you have gone into the skyds line? Do you get plenty of
Now she colored. Without uttering a word in reply, she promptly took
her seat on the trunk with her back to the stranger, before he had
stepped into the cariole.
Soon they had neared the white-painted hotels which were situated on
either side of the street close by the entrance to the little town. In
front of one of these they paused. By the balustrade above stood a
group of carriers, chiefly young fellows; they had most likely been
watching the bridal procession and were now waiting for steamer-bound
travelers. The stranger alighted and went in, while the girl busied
herself with unstrapping the trunk. Some one must have offered her
help, for as the traveler approached the window he saw her push from
her a great lubberly boy in a short jacket. In all probability some
impertinence had also been offered her and had been repaid in the same
coin, for the other carriers set up a shout of laughter. The girl came
walking in with the heavy trunk. The traveler opened the door for her,
and she laughed as she met him. While he was counting out her money to
her, he said,
I agree with you, Rönnaug, you ought to be off to America as soon
He now handed her two specie dollars as her fee.
This is my mite for your fund, said he, gravely.
She regarded him with wide-open eyes and open mouth, took the money,
returned thanks, and then put up both hands to stroke back her hair,
for it had again fallen out of place. While thus engaged she dropped
some of the coins she held in one half-closed hand. She stooped to pick
them up, and as she did so some of the hooks in her boddice gave way.
This loosened her kerchief and one end fell out, for a knot in one
corner contained something heavy. While readjusting this she again
dropped her money. She got off at last, however, with all her
abundance, and was assailed with a volley of rude jests. This time she
made no reply; but she cast a shy glance into the hotel as she drove
the horse past, full trot.
It was the traveler's lot to see her once more; for as he passed
down to the steamer, later in the day, she was standing with her back
turned toward the street, at a door over which hung a sign-board
bearing the inscription: Skarlie, Saddler. As he drew nearer he
beheld Magnhild in the inner passage. She had not yet removed her
waterproof cloak, although the rain had long since ceased. Even the
hood was still drawn over her head. Magnhild was the first to espy the
stranger, and she drew farther back into the house; Rönnaug turned, and
then she too moved into the passage.
That evening Rönnaug's steamer ticket was bought; for the sum was
complete. Magnhild did not undress after Rönnaug had gone home late in
the evening. She sat in a large arm-chair in the little low room, or
restlessly paced the floor. And once, with her heavy head pressed
against the window pane, she said half aloud,
Then she must be destined to something.
She had heard these words before.
The first time it was in the churchyard that blustering winter day
her fourteen relatives were buried,all whom she had loved, both
parents and grandparents, and brothers and sisters. In fancy she saw
the scene again! The wind had here and there swept away the snow, the
pickets of the fence stood out in sharp prominence, huge rocks loomed
up like the heads of monsters whose bodies were covered by the
snow-drifts. The wind whistled behind the little group of mourners
through the open church porch whose blinds had been taken out, and down
from the old wooden belfry came the clanging toll of the bell, like one
cry of anguish after another.
The people that were gathered together were blue with the cold; they
wore mittens and their garments were closely buttoned up. The priest
appeared in sea-boots and had on a skin suit beneath his gown; his
hands also were eased in large mittens, and he vigorously fought the
air round about him with these. He waved one of them toward Magnhild.
This poor child, said he, remained standing on her feet, and with
her little sled in her hand she was borne downward and across the
frozen stream,the sole being the Lord saw fit to save. To what is she
She rode home with the priest, sitting on his lap. He had commended
her to the care of the parish, and took her home with him for the
present, in order to set a good example. She nestled up to his fur
overcoat, with her small cold hands inside of his huge mittens, beside
his soft, plump hands. And all the while she kept thinking: What am I
destined to, I wonder?
She presumed that her mind would become clear on this point when she
got into the house. But nothing met her eye here she had not seen
before until she entered the inner room, where a piano which some one
was just playing in the highest degree attracted her.
But for that very reason she forgot the thought she had brought in
In this household there were two daughters, heavy-looking girls,
with small round heads and long, thick braids of light hair. They had
recently been provided with a governess, a pale, though fleshy person,
with her neck more exposed and her sleeves more open than Magnhild had
ever seen in any one before. Her voice sounded as though it needed
clearing, and Magnhild involuntarily coughed several times; but this
was of no avail. The governess asked Magnhild's name and inquired if
she knew how to read, to which Magnhild replied in the affirmative. Her
whole family had been noted for their love of reading. And then the
governess proposed, still with the same husky after-tone in her voice,
that she should be allowed to share the instructions of the little
girls, in order to spur them on. Magnhild was one year older than the
The mistress of the house was sitting by, engaged with her
embroidery. She now glanced up at Magnhild and said, With pleasure,
then bent over her work again. She was a person of medium size, neither
thin nor stout, and had a small head with fair hair. The priest, who
was heavy and corpulent, came down-stairs after removing his gown; he
was smoking, and as he crossed the floor, he said, There comes a man
with fish, and passed out of the room again.
The youngest girl once more attacked her scales. Magnhild did not
know whether she should remain where she was, or go back to the
kitchen. She sat on the wood-box by the stove tormented with the
uncertainty, when dinner was announced in the adjoining room. All work
was put aside, and the little one at the piano closed the instrument.
Now when Magnhild was alone and heard the rattling of the knives, she
began to cry; for she had not yet eaten a morsel that day. During the
meal the priest came out from the dining-room; for it had been decided
that he had not bought enough fish. He opened the window and called out
to the man to wait until dinner was over. As he turned to go back into
the dining-room he espied the little one on the wood-box.
Are you hungry? asked he.
The child made no reply. He had lived long enough among the peasants
to know that her silence meant yes, and so taking her by the hand he
led her to the table, where room was silently made for her.
In the afternoon she went coasting with the little girls, and then
joined them in their studies and had a lesson in Bible history with
them; after this she partook of the afternoon lunch with them, and then
played with them until they were called to supper, which they all ate
at the same table. She slept that night on a lounge in the dining-room
and took part the next day in the duties of the priest's daughters.
She had no clothes except those she had on; but the governess made
over an old dress for her; some articles of old linen belonging to one
of the little girls were given to her, and a pair of their mother's
boots. The lounge she had slept on was removed from the dining-room,
because it occupied the space needed for some shoemakers who were to
see the household well shod. It was placed in the kitchen, but was in
the way there; then in the bed-room of the maid-servants, but there the
door continually struck against it; finally it was carried up to the
nursery. Thus it was that Magnhild came to eat, work, and sleep with
the priest's daughters; and as new clothes were never made for her she
naturally fell to wearing theirs.
Quite as much by chance she began to play the piano. It was
discovered that she had more talent for music than the daughters of the
house, so it was thought best that she should learn, in order to help
them. Moreover, she grew tall, and developed a fine voice for singing.
The governess took great pains in teaching her to sing by note; she did
so at first merely in the mechanical way she did everything, later
because the remarkable skill in reading at sight which her pupil
developed under her guidance proved a diversion to them all in their
mountain solitude. The priest could lie on the sofa (the place he most
frequently occupied) and laugh aloud when he heard Magnhild running all
sorts of exercises up and down like a squirrel in a tree. The result of
this, so far as Magnhild was concerned, was that the young girl
learnednot more music, as one might have supposed,
The fact was that about this time there spread, like an epidemic
among the people, the idea that skill in manual industries should be
cultivated among the peasants, and propagators of the new doctrine
appeared also in this parish. Magnhild was chosen as the first pupil;
she was thought to have the most dexterity. The first thing taught
was basket-making, then double spinning, then weaving, especially of
the more artistic kinds, and after this embroidery, etc., etc. She
learned all these things very rapidly, that is to say, she learned
zealously as long as she was gaining an insight into each; further
development did not interest her. But as she was henceforth expected to
teach others, grown people as well as children, it became a settled
habit for her to repair twice each week to the public school where many
were assembled. When anything had once become part of her daily routine
she thought no more about it. The house that had given her shelter was
responsible for this.
The mistress of the house made her daily regulation visits to the
kitchen, cellar, and stables, the rest of the time she embroidered; the
whole house was covered with embroidery. She might be taken for a fat
spider, with a little round head, spinning its web over chairs, tables,
beds, sledges, and carts. Her voice was rarely heard; she was seldom
addressed by any one.
The priest was much older than his wife. His face was characterized
by its small proportion of nose, chin, and eyes, and its very large
share of all else belonging to it. He had fared badly at his
examination, and had been compelled to support himself by teaching
until, when he was advancing in years, he had married one of his former
pupils, a lady with quite a nice property. Then he betook himself to
seeking a clerical appointment, the one thing in which he had shown
perseverance, as he was himself in the habit of playfully remarking.
After a ten years' search he had succeeded in getting a call (not long
since) to his present parish, and he could scarcely hope for a better
one. He passed most of his time in lying on the sofa reading, chiefly
novels, but also newspapers and periodicals.
The governess always sat in the same chair in which Magnhild had
seen her the first day, took the same walk to the church and back each
day, and never failed to be ready for her duties on the stroke of the
clock. She gradually increased in weight until she became excessively
stout; she continued to wear her neck bare and her sleeves open,
furthermore to speak in the same husky voice, which no effort on her
part had ever yet been able to clear.
The priest's daughters became stout and heavy like their father,
although they had small round heads like their mother. Magnhild and
they lived as friends, in other words, they slept in the same room, and
worked, played, and ate together.
There were never any ideas afloat in this parish. If any chanced to
find their way there from without they got no farther than the priest's
study. The priest was not communicative. At the utmost he read aloud to
his family some new or old novel that he had found diverting.
One evening they were all sitting round the table, and the priest,
having yielded to the entreaties of the united family, was reading
aloud the Pickwick Club.
The kitchen door slowly opened and a large bald head, with a snub
nose and smiling countenance, was thrust in. A short leg in very wide
trousers was next introduced, and this was followed by a crooked and
consequently still shorter one. The whole figure stooped as it turned
on the crooked leg to shut the door. The intruder thus presented to the
party the back of the before mentioned large head, with its narrow rim
of hair, a pair of square-built shoulders, and an extraordinarily large
seat, only half covered by a pea-jacket. Again he turned in a slanting
posture toward the assembled party, and once more presented his smiling
countenance with its snub-nose. The young girls bowed low over their
work, a suppressed titter arose first from one piece of sewing and then
Is this the saddler? asked the priest, rising to his feet.
Yes, was the reply, as the new-comer limped forward, holding out a
hand so astonishingly large and with such broad round finger tips that
the priest was forced to look at it as he took it in his own. The hand
was offered to the others; and when it came to Magnhild's turn she
burst out laughing just as her hand disappeared within it. One peal of
laughter after another was heard and suppressed. The priest hastened to
remark that they were reading the Pickwick Club.
Aha! observed the saddler, there is enough to make one laugh in
Have you read it? asked the priest.
Yes; when I was in America. I read most of the English writers;
indeed, I have them all in my house now, he answered, and proceeded to
give an account of the cheap popular editions that could be obtained in
The laughter of young girls is not easily subdued; it was still
ready to bubble over when, after the saddler was furnished with a pipe,
the reading was resumed. Now to be sure there was a pretext. After a
while the priest grew tired and wanted to close the book, but the
saddler offered to continue the reading for him, and was allowed to do
so. He read in a dry, quiet manner, and with such an unfamiliar
pronunciation of the names of the personages and localities introduced
that the humor of the text became irresistible; even the priest joined
in the laughter which no one now attempted to restrain. It never
occurred to the girls to ask themselves why they were all obliged to
laugh; they were still laughing when they went up-stairs to go to bed,
and while undressing they imitated the saddler's walk, bowed and talked
as he did, pronounced the foreign words with his English accent.
Magnhild was the most adroit in mimicking; she had observed him the
At that time she was fifteen, in her sixteenth year.
The next day the girls passed every free moment in the dining-room,
which had now been transformed into a work-shop. The saddler told them
of a sojourn of several years in America, and of travels in England and
Germany; he talked without interrupting his work and with a frequent
intermingling of jests. His narratives were accompanied by the
incessant tittering of his listeners. They were scarcely aware
themselves how they gradually ceased laughing at him and laughed
instead at the witty things he said; neither did they observe until
later how much they learned from him. He was so greatly missed by the
girls when he left that more than half of their time together was
occupied in conversation about him; this lasted for many days after he
was gone, and never wholly ceased.
There were two things which had made the strongest impression on
Magnhild. The first was the English and German songs the saddler had
sung for them. She had paid little attention to the text, unless
perhaps occasionally; but how the melodies had captivated her!
While singing hymns one Sunday they had first noticed that Skarlie
had a fine voice. Thenceforth he was obliged to sing for them
constantly. These foreign melodies of his fluttering thither from a
fuller, richer life, freer conditions, larger ideas than their own,
clung to Magnhild's fancy the entire summer. They were the first
pictures which had awakened actual yearning within her breast. It may
also be said that for the first time she comprehended what song was. As
she was singing her interminable scales one day, before beginning her
studies in singing from note, she came to a full realization of the
fact that this song without melody was to her like wings beating
against a cage: it fluttered up and down against walls, windows, doors,
in perpetual and fruitless longing, aye, until at last it sank like the
cobwebs, over everything in the room. She could sit alone out of doors
with his songs. While she was humming them, the forest hues
dissolved into one picture; and that she had never discovered before.
The density, the vigor in the tree-tops, above and below the tree-tops,
over the entire mountain wall, as it were, overwhelmed her; the rushing
of the waters of the stream attracted her.
The second thing which had made so deep an impression on her, and
which was blended with all the rest, was Skarlie's story of how he had
become lame. In America, when he was a young man, he had undertaken to
carry a boy twelve years old from a burning house; he had fallen with
the boy beneath the ruins. Both were extricated, Skarlie with a crushed
limb, the boy unscathed. That boy was now one of the most noted men of
It was his lot to be saved, he was destined to something.
This reminder again! The thought of her own fate had heretofore been
shrouded in the wintry mantle of the churchyard, amid frost, weeping,
and harsh clanging of bells; it had been something sombre. Now it
flitted onward to large cities beyond the seas, among ships, burning
houses, songs, and great destinies. From this time forth she dreamed of
what she was destined to be as something far distant and great.
Late in the autumn all three girls were confirmed. This was such a
matter of course to them all that their thoughts were chiefly busied
with what they should wear on the day of the ceremony. Magnhild, who
had never yet had a garment cut out and made expressly for herself,
wondered whether an outfit would now be prepared for her. No. The
younger girls were furnished with new silk dresses; an old black dress
that had become too tight for the priest's wife was made over for
It was too short both in the waist and in the skirt; but Magnhild
scarcely noticed this. She was provided by the governess with a little
colored silk neckerchief and a silver brooch; she borrowed the
every-day shawl of the mistress of the house; a pair of gloves were
loaned her by the governess.
Her inner preparations were not much more extensive than the outer
The day glided tranquilly by without any special emotion. Religious
sentiments at the parsonage, as well as elsewhere in the parish, were
matters of calm custom. Some tears were shed in church, the priest
offered wine and a toast at table, and there was a little talk about
what should now be done with Magnhild. This last topic so affected
Magnhild that after coffee she went out and sat down alone. She gazed
toward the broad rocky path of the land-slide on the verdure-clad
mountain, then toward the mighty mass of débris in the midst of the
plain, for it was there her home had stood.
Her little brothers and sisters appeared before her, one fair,
bright face after another. Her mother came too; and her melancholy eye
dwelt lingeringly on Magnhild; even the lines about the mouth were
visible. The fine psalm-singing of her mother's gentle voice floated
around Magnhild now. There had been sung in church that day one of the
hymns her mother used to sing. Once more, too, her father sat on the
bench, bowed over the silver work in which he was a master. A book or a
newspaper lay at his side; he paused in his work now and then, stole a
glance at the page before him, or turned a leaf. His long, delicately
cut face inclined occasionally toward the family sitting-room and its
inmates. The aged grandparents formed part of the home circle. The
grandmother tottered off after some little dainty for Magnhild, while
the old grandfather was telling the child a story. The dog, shaggy and
gray, lay stretching himself on the hearth. His howl had been the last
living sound Magnhild had heard behind her as she was carried downward
across the stream. The memory of that awful day once more cast over her
childhood the pall of night, thunder, and convulsions of the earth.
Covering her face with her hands, she burst into tears.
The saddler's ballads came floating toward her, bringing a sense of
want with their obscure dream images. And there drifted past her a
motley throng of those half-comprehended songs and the anecdotes upon
which she had often placed false interpretations, until, exhausted by
the thoughts, emotions, and yearnings of the day, with an aching void
within and a dull feeling of resignation, she feel asleep.
In the evening Rönnaug, with whom they had become acquainted during
the confirmation instructions, made her appearance; she was out at
service in the neighborhood and had a holiday in honor of the occasion.
She brought with her a whole budget of gossip concerning the love
affairs of the parish, and the inexperienced girls sat with wondering
eyes listening. It was she who caused the youngest girl to tear her new
silk dress. Rönnaug could roll down hill with such incomprehensible
speed that she was induced to repeat the feat several times, and this
finally led the priest's daughter to try her skill.
Hereafter Rönnaug often dropped in of an evening when her work was
done. They all took delight in her wild exuberance of spirits. She was
as hearty and as plump as a young foal; she could scarcely keep the
clothes on her back because she was all the time tearing them to
tatters, and she had never-ceasing trouble with her hair, which would
keep falling over her face because she never had it done up properly.
When she laughed, and that was nearly all the time, she tossed back her
head, and through two rows of pearly teeth, white as those of a beast
of prey, could be seen far down her throat.
In the autumn Skarlie came again. There was a difference between the
reception now given him and the former one. The three girls surrounded
his sledge, they carried in his luggage, notwithstanding his laughing
resistance, their laughter accompanied him as he stood in the passage
taking off his furs.
Questions without number were showered like hail upon him the first
time they sat with him in the work-room; the girls had an accumulation
of treasured-up doubts and queries about things he had told them on his
previous visit, and many other perplexing themes which they considered
him able to solve. On very few topics did Skarlie hold the prevailing
opinions of the parish, but he had a way of deftly turning the subject
with a joke when pressed too closely for his precise views. When alone
with Magnhild he expressed himself more freely; at first he did so
cautiously, but gradually increased his plainness of speech.
Magnhild had never viewed her surroundings with critical eyes; she
would now laugh heartily with Skarlie over the priest's last sermon, or
his indolent life; now over the spider-like activity of the mistress of
the house, because it was all described so comically. At the fat
repose of the governess, even at the yellow, round heads of her
young friends, Magnhild could now laugh; for the humor with which
everything was delineated was so surprisingly original; she did not
perceive that this jesting was by degrees undermining the very ground
she stood upon.
The quite usual amusement in the country of teasing a young girl
about being in love was, meanwhile, directed rather unexpectedly toward
Magnhild; she was called the saddler's wife, because she passed so
much time in his society. This reached Skarlie's ears and immediately
he too began to call her his wife, his tall wife, his blonde
wife, his very young wife.
The following summer the priest's daughters went to the city for
increased opportunities of culture. The governess remained for the
present at the parsonage.
The saddler came once more in the autumn to complete his work.
Magnhild was now, of course, more frequently alone with him than
before. He was merrier than ever. One joke that was often repeated by
him was about journeying round the world with his young wife. They
met with an immense number of traveling adventures, and they saw many
remarkable sights, all of which were so accurately described by Skarlie
that they attained the value of actual experiences. But the most
ludicrous picture he drew represented the two tramping through the
country: Skarlie limping on before with a traveling satchel, Magnhild
following in a waterproof cloak and with an umbrella in her hand,
grumbling at the heat, dust, and thirst, weary and heartily disgusted
with him Then, having reached their journey's end, they rested in
Skarlie's little home in the little town, where Magnhild had everything
her own way and lived like a princess all the rest of her life.
* * * * *
It would be impossible to describe the countenance of the priest
when the saddler appeared in his study one evening, and taking a seat
in front of him asked, after a few cordial, pleasant remarks by way of
introduction, whether the priest would object to his marrying Magnhild.
The priest was lying on the sofa smoking; his pipe dropped from his
mouth, his hand sank with it, his fat face relaxed until it resembled a
dough-like mass, in which the eyes peeped forth as wholly devoid of
thought as two raisins; suddenly he gave a start that set a quantity of
springs beneath him to creaking and grating, and the book that lay
upside down on his knee fell. The saddler picked up the volume smiling,
and turned over the leaves. The priest had risen to his feet.
What does Magnhild have to say to this? asked he.
The saddler looked up with a smile.
Of course I should not have asked if she were not likely to give
her consent, said he.
The priest put his pipe in his mouth, and strode up and down the
floor, puffing away. Gradually he grew calmer, and without slackening
his speed, he observed:
To be sure I do not know what is to become of the girl.
Once more the saddler raised his eyes from the book whose leaves he
was turning over, and now laying it aside, he remarked:
It is, you know, rather a sort of adoption than a marriage. Down
yonder at my house she can develop into whatever she pleases.
The priest looked at him, took a puff at his pipe, paced the floor,
and puffed again.
Aye, to be sure! You are, I believe, a wealthy man?
Well, if not precisely wealthy, I am sufficiently well provided to
Here Skarlie laughed.
But there was something in his laugh, something which did not quite
please the priest. Still less did he like the tone of indifference with
which Skarlie seemed to treat the whole affair. Least of all did he
like being so taken by surprise.
I must speak with my wife about this, said he, and groaned. That
I must, he added decidedly, and with Magnhild, came as an
Certainly, said the other, as he rose to take leave.
A little while later, the priest's wife was sitting where the
saddler had sat. Both hands lay idly open on her lap, while her eyes
followed her spouse as he steamed back and forth.
Well, what do you think? he urged, pausing in front of her.
Receiving no reply, he moved on again.
He is far too old, she finally said.
And surely very sly, added the priest, and then pausing again in
front of his wife, he whispered: No one really knows where he comes
from, or why he chooses to settle here. He might have a fine workshop
in a large citywealthy, and a smart dog!
The priest did not use the choicest language in his daily discourse.
To think she should allow herself to be so beguiled! whispered the
Beguiled! Just the wordbeguiled! repeated the priest, snapping
his fingers. Beguiled! and off he went in a cloud of smoke.
I am so sorry for her, remarked the wife, and the words were
accompanied by a few tears.
This touched the priest, and he said: See here, mother, we will
talk with her, both of us! then strode heavily on again.
Ere long Magnhild stood within the precincts of the study, wondering
what could be wanted of her. The priest was the first to speak:
Is it really true, Magnhild, that you have agreed to be the wife of
this fellow, the saddler?
The priest often used the general term fellow instead of a proper
Magnhild's face became suffused with blushes; in her whole life she
could never have been so red before. Both the priest and his wife
interpreted this as a confession.
Why do you not come to us with such things? asked the priest, in a
It is very strange you should act so, Magnhild, said the mistress
of the house,and she wept.
Magnhild was simply appalled.
Do you really mean to have him? asked the priest, pausing
resolutely in front of her.
Now Magnhild had never been accustomed to being addressed in a
confidential tone. When questioned thus closely she had not the courage
to give a frank statement of all that had occurred between her and
Skarlie, telling, how this talk of marriage had commenced as a jest,
and that although later she had had a misgiving that it was becoming
serious, it was so continually blended anew with jests that she had not
given herself the trouble to protest against it. How could she, with
the priest standing thus before her, enter on so long a story? And so
instead she burst into tears.
Well now, the priest did not mean to torment her. What was done
could not be undone. He was very sorry for her, and in the goodness of
his heart merely wanted to help her lay a solid foundation to her
choice. Skarlie was a man of considerable means, he said, and she a
poor girl; she certainly could not expect a better match, so far as
that went. True, Skarlie was old; but then he had himself said that he
designed rather a sort of adoption than a marriage; his only object was
But all this was more than Magnhild could bear to listen to, and so
she rushed from the room. In the passage she fell to crying as though
her heart would break; she was obliged to go up to the dark garret in
order to avoid attracting attention, and there her grief gradually
assumed definite shape. It was not because the saddler wanted
her that she was in such distress; it was because the priest and his
wife did not want her.
This was the interpretation she had put on their words.
When the governess was informed of the affair she differed entirely
from the mistress of the house, who could not comprehend Magnhild, for
the governess could comprehend the young girl perfectly. Skarlie was a
man of fine mind and very witty. He was rich, jovial, rather homely, to
be sure, but that was not of such great consequence down at the Point.
And she adopted this tone in talking with Magnhild when she finally
succeeded in getting hold of her. Magnhild was red with weeping, and
burst into a fresh flood of tears; yet not a word did she say.
Somewhat curtly the priest now informed the saddler that as the
matter was settled he might as well proceed with the preparations. The
saddler desired this himself; moreover, he was now quite through with
his work. Eagerly as he strove for an opportunity to speak with
Magnhild, he even failed to catch a glimpse of her. He was therefore
forced to take his departure without having an interview with her.
During the days which followed Magnhild neither appeared in the
sitting-room nor at table. No one attempted to seek her and talk with
her; the governess deemed it quite natural that in the face of so
serious a step the young girl should wish to be alone.
One day the members of the household were surprised by the arrival
through the mail of a letter and large package for Magnhild. The letter
read as follows:
In order to complete our delightful joke, dear Magnhild, I came
down here. My house has been painted this summer, within and
without, a joke which now almost looks like earnestdoes it
Beds, household furniture, bedding, etc., are articles that I
deal in myself, so these I can purchase from my own stores.
I think of the object I have in view, this becomes the most
delightful business transaction I have ever entered into.
Do you remember how we laughed the time I took your measure in
order to prove accurately how much too short in the waist your
dress was, how much too wide across the shoulders, and how much
too short in the skirt? Just by chance I took a note of your
exact measurement, and according to it I am now having made:
1 black silk dress (Lyons taffeta).
1 brown (cashmere).
1 blue (of some light woolen material).
As I have always told you, blue is the most becoming color that
you can wear.
Such orders cannot be executed without some delay; but the
articles shall be sent as speedily as possible.
For other garments that you may perhaps require I telegraphed to
Bergen immediately upon my arrival here; such things can be
obtained there ready-made. You will most likely receive them by
the same mail which brings you this letter.
As you see (and shall further continue to see), there are sundry
jokes connected with this getting married. For instance, I made
my will to-day, and in it designated you as my heiress.
With most respectful greetings to the priest and his honored
family, I now subscribe myself
Your most obedient jester,
Magnhild had taken refuge in the garret, with both the letter and
the large package. She had plunged forthwith into the letter, and
emerging from its perusal perplexed and frightened, she tore open the
package and found many full suits of everything pertaining to feminine
under garments. She scattered them all around her, blushing crimson,
angry, ashamed. Then she sat down and wept aloud.
Now she had courage to speak! She sprang down-stairs to the priest's
wife, and throwing her arms about her neck, whispered, Forgive me!
thrust the letter into her hand, and disappeared.
The priest's wife did not understand Magnhild's Forgive me! but
she saw that the young girl was crying and in great excitement. She
took the letter and read it. It was peculiar in form, she thought; yet
its meaning was plain enough: it indicated a sensible, elderly man's
prudent forethought, and deserved credit. An old housewife and mother
could not be otherwise than pleased with this, and she carried the
letter to the priest. It impressed him in the same way; and he began to
think the girl might be happy with this singular man. The mistress of
the house searched everywhere for Magnhild, in order to tell her that
both the priest and herself were of the opinion that Skarlie's conduct
promised well. She learned that Magnhild was in the garret, and so
throwing a shawl round her (for it was cold) she went up-stairs. She
met the governess on the way and took her with her. Magnhild was not
visible; they saw only the articles of clothing strewn over floor,
chests, and trunks. They collected these together, discussed them,
examined them, and pronounced them admirable. They well knew that such
a gift was calculated to embarrass a young girl; but then Skarlie was
an elderly man whose privilege it was to take things in a fatherly way.
This they told Magnhild when they finally found her. And she had no
longer the courage to be confidential. This was because the priest's
wife, sustained by the governess, spoke what they deemed sensible words
to her. They told her that she must not be proud; she must remember
that she was a poor girl who had neither relatives nor future of her
own. In the days which followed, Magnhild fought a hard fight in
secret. But she lacked energy for action. Where could she have gained
it? Where could she go since the priest's family had so evidently grown
tired of her?
A little later there arrived a chest containing her dresses and many
other articles. Magnhild allowed it to stand untouched, but the
governess, who so well understood this bashfulness, attended to having
it opened. She and the priest's wife drew forth the contents piece by
piece, and not long afterwards Magnhild was trying on dress after dress
before the large mirror in the family sitting-room. The doors were
locked, the priest's wife and the governess full of zeal. Finally they
came to the black silk dress, and Magnhild gradually ceased to be
indifferent. She felt a blushing gratification in beholding in the
glass her own form encompassed in beautiful fine material. She
discovered herself, as it were, point by point. If it chanced to be the
face, she had not before this day so fully observed that those she
beheld at her side were without distinct outline, while hersHer
vision had been rendered keen by the sense awakened, in the twinkling
of an eye, by a handsome, well-fitting garment.
This picture of herself floated before her for many days. Fearing to
disturb it she avoided the mirror. Once more she became absorbed in the
old dreams, those which bore her across the sea to something strange
But the marriage? At such moments she thrust it from her as though
it were a steamer's plank, to be drawn ashore after serving its
purpose. How was this possible? Aye, how many times in the years that
followed did she not pause and reflect! But it always remained alike
incomprehensible to her.
She could neither be persuaded to put on one of the new dresses the
day Skarlie came, nor to go out to meet him; on the contrary, she hid
herself. Later, and as by chance, she made her appearance. With
unvarying consistency she treated both the marriage and Skarlie as
though neither in the least concerned her.
Skarlie was in high spirits; the fact was both the priest and his
wife took pains to make amends for Magnhild's lack of courtesy, and he
reciprocated in the most winning manner. The governess declared him to
be decidedly amiable.
The next evening Magnhild sat in the dining-room arranging some
articles belonging to the industrial school that must now be sent back.
She was alone, and Skarlie entered softly and smiling, and slowly
closing the door behind him took a seat at her side. He talked for some
time on indifferent subjects, so that she began to breathe freely
again; she even ventured at last to look down on him as he sat bent
over smoking. Her eyes rested on the bald head, the bushy brows, and
the extreme end of the snub-nose, then on his enormous hands and their
very singular-looking nails; the latter were deeply set in the flesh,
which everywhere, therefore in front also, encompassed them like a
thick round frame. Under the nails there was dirt, a fact to which the
governess, who had herself very pretty hands, had once called the
attention of her pupils as a deadly sin. Magnhild looked at the
reddish, bristling hair which completely covered these hands. Skarlie
had been silent for a little while, but as if he felt that he was being
scrutinized, he drew himself up, and with a smile extended to her one
of his objectionable hands.
Aye, aye, Magnhild! said he, laying it on both of hers. This gave
her a shock, and in a moment she was like one paralyzed. She could not
stir, could not grasp a single thought except that she was in the
clutches of a great lobster. His head drew nearer, the eyes too were
those of a lobster; they stung. This she had never before observed, and
she sprang hastily to her feet. He retained his seat. Without looking
back Magnhild began to busy herself where she stood with another lot of
the industrial work. Therefore she did not leave the room, but a little
while later Skarlie did.
The governess decked her in her bridal finery the next day; the
mistress of the house too came to look on. This gave her great
pleasure, she said. Magnhild let everything be done for her without
stirring, without uttering a word and without shedding a tear.
It was the same in the sitting-room. She was motionless. A feeling
akin to defiance had taken possession of her. The men-servants and the
house-maids sat and stood by the kitchen door, which was ajar, and just
inside of it; Magnhild saw, too, the heads of little children. The
deacon started the singing as the priest came down-stairs.
Magnhild did not look at the bridegroom. The priest touched on
tender chords; his wife shed tears, and so too did the governess; but
Magnhild's icy coldness chilled both him and them. The discourse was
brief and dealt chiefly in mere generalities. It was followed by
congratulations, and a painful silence; even the saddler had lost his
smile. It was a relief when they were summoned to dinner.
During the repast the priest, desiring to propose a toast, began:
Dear Magnhild! I trust you have no fault to find with us,he got no
farther, for here Magnhild burst into such convulsive weeping that the
priest's wife, the governess, aye, even the priest himself became
deeply affected, and there arose a long and painful silence. Finally,
however, the priest managed to add: Think of us! But these words were
followed by the same heart-rending weeping as before, so that no toast
was drunk. What this really signified was not clear to any of those
present, unless perhaps to the bridegroom; and he said nothing.
While they were at dessert one of the young girls approached the
bride and whispered a few words in her ear. Rönnaug was outside and
wished to say farewell; she had been waiting ever since the company had
gone to table and could stay no longer. Rönnaug was standing on the
back porch, benumbed with the cold; she did not wish to intrude, she
said. She examined the bride's dress, thought it extraordinarily fine,
and drawing off one mitten stroked it with the back of her hand.
Yes, I dare say he is rich, said she, but if they had given me a
gown of silver I would notand she added a few words which cannot be
repeated here, and for which Magnhild, her face flaming, administered a
good sound box on the ear. The kerchief softened the blow somewhat, but
it was seriously meant.
Magnhild returned to the dining-room and sat down, not in her place
at the bridegroom's side, but on a chair by the window; she did not
wish anything more, she said. It was of no avail that she was entreated
to sit with the others at least until they had finished; she said she
The departure took place shortly after coffee was served. An
incident had meanwhile occurred which suppressed all emotion, of
whatever nature it might be. It was that the bridegroom suddenly
appeared, looking like a shaggy beast, carrying a fur cape, fur boots,
a short coat, a hood, fur gloves, and a muff. He let them fall in front
of Magnhild, saying with dry earnestness,
All these I lay at your feet!
There burst forth a peal of laughter in which even Magnhild was
forced to join. The whole bridal party gathered about the things which
were spread over the carpet, and every one was loud in praise. It was
evidently not displeasing to Magnhild either, in the face of a winter
journey,for which she had been promised the loan of a variety of
wraps,to have such presents lavished upon her.
In a few moments more Magnhild was attired in her blue dress, and
she was enough of a child or rather woman to be diverted by the change.
Shortly afterwards the new traveling wraps were donned, piece by piece,
amid the liveliest interest of all, which reached its height when
Magnhild was drawn before the mirror to see for herself how she looked.
The horse had been driven round, and Skarlie just now came into the
room, also dressed for traveling, and wearing a dog-skin coat,
deer-skin shoes and leggings, and a flat fur cap. He was nearly as
broad as he was long, and in order to raise a laugh, he limped up to
the mirror, and, with dry humor in his face, took his stand beside
Magnhild. There followed a burst of laughter, in which even Magnhild
herself joinedbut only to become at once entirely mute again. Her
silence still hung over the parting. Not until the parsonage was left
behind did she become again dissolved in tears.
Her eyes wandered listlessly over the snow-covered heap of ruins on
the site of her childhood's home; it seemed as though there were that
within herself which was shrouded in snow and desolation.
The weather was cold. The valley grew narrower, the road led through
a dense wood. One solitary star was visible.
Skarlie had been cutting figures in the snow with his whip; he now
pointed the latter toward the star and began to hum, finally to sing.
The melody he had chosen was that of one of the ballads of the Scottish
highlands. Like a melancholy bird, it flitted from one snow-laden
fir-tree to another. Magnhild inquired its meaning, and this proved to
be in harmony with a journey through the depths of a forest. Skarlie
talked further about Scotland, its history, his sojourn there.
Once started, he continued, and gradually broke into such merry
anecdotes that Magnhild was astonished when they stopped to rest;
astonished that she had been able to laugh, and that they had driven
nearly fourteen miles.
Skarlie helped her out of the sledge and ushered her into the inn,
but he himself went directly out again to feed the horse.
A stylish looking young lady sat by the hearth in the guest-room
warming herself, scattered over the benches around were her
traveling-wraps; they were of such fine material and costly fur that
Magnhild grew curious and felt obliged to touch them. The
traveling-suit the lady wore, so far as material and style was
concerned, made the same impression on Magnhild as she might have
gained from a zoölogical specimen from another quarter of the globe.
The lady's face possessed youth and a gentle melancholy; she was fair
and had languishing eyes and a slightly-curved nose. Her hair, too, was
done up in an unfamiliar style. Pacing the floor was a slender young
man; his traveling boots stood by the hearth and his feet were cased in
small morocco slippers, lined with fur. His movements were lithe and
Are you Skarlie's young wife? inquired the hostess, quite an old
woman, who had placed a chair by the hearth for Magnhild. Before
Magnhild could reply, Skarlie came in with some things from the sledge.
The bald head, half protruding from the shaggy furs, the deer-skin
shoes, sprawling like monstrous roots over the floor, attracted the
wondering gaze of the young lady.
Is this your wife? repeated the hostess.
Yes, this is my wife, was the cheerful reply, as Skarlie limped
The young man fixed his eyes on Magnhild. She felt herself growing
fiery red beneath his gaze. There was an expression entirely new to her
in his face. Was it scorn? The lady, too, now looked at her, and at the
same moment the hostess begged Magnhild to take a seat by the fire. But
the latter preferred remaining in the dark, on a bench in the farthest
It was fully ten o'clock when the Point was reached, but every light
there had been extinguished, even in the house in front of which the
sledge stopped. An old woman, awakened by the jingling of the bells,
came to the street door, opened it and looked out, then drew back and
struck a light. She met Magnhild in the passage, cast the light on her
and said finally, I bid you welcome.
A strong smell of leather filled the passage; for the work-room and
shop were to the left. The loathsome odor prevented Magnhild from
replying. They entered a room to the right. Here Magnhild hastily
removed her traveling-wraps;she felt faint. Without casting a glance
about her, or speaking to the woman who was watching her from behind
the light, she then crossed the floor and opened a door she had espied
on coming into the room. She first held the light in, then stepped in
herself and closed the door after her. The woman heard a rumbling
within and went to the door. There she discovered that one of the beds
was being moved. Directly afterward Magnhild reappeared with the
candle. The light revealed a flushed face. She looked resolute.
She now told the woman she had no need of her services.
The saddler did not come in for some time; for he had been seeing to
the horse, which he had borrowed for the journey. The light was still
on the table. There was no one up.
Two years had passed since that evening, and the greater part of a
Magnhild was quite as thoroughly accustomed to the new daily routine
as she had been to the old.
The priest visited her three or four times a year; he slept in the
room over the workshop usually occupied by Skarlie when he was at home.
During the day the priest visited at the captain's, or the custom-house
officer's, or at the home of the chief of police. His coming was called
the priestly visitation.
There was chess-playing in the day-time and cards in the evening.
The priest's wife and young lady daughters had also been seen at the
Point a few times. In the lading-town there was scarcely any one with
whom Magnhild associated.
Skarlie and she had taken one trip to Bergen. Whatever might there
have happened or not happened, they never undertook another, either to
Bergen or elsewhere.
Skarlie was more frequently absent than at home; he was engaged in
speculations; the work-shop was pretty much abandoned, though the store
was still kept open. A short time after her arrival, Magnhild had
received an invitation from the school committeemost likely through
Skarlie's solicitationto become the head of the industrial school.
Henceforth she passed an hour or two every day at the public school;
moreover, she gave private instructions to young girls who were grown
up. Her time was employed in walking, singing, and a little sewing; she
did very little reading, indeed. It was tedious to her.
Directly after she came there, Rönnaug had appeared at the Point,
and had hired out at the nearest skyds (post-station), in order to
earn money speedily for the purchase of a ticket to America. She was
determined to live no longer the life of an outcast here, she said.
Magnhild took charge of Rönnaug's money for her, and was alarmed to
note how rapidly it increased, for she had her own thoughts about the
matter. Now the ticket was bought, Magnhild would be entirely alone.
Many were the thoughts called forth by the fact that the journey
across the sea to new and perhaps great experiences should be so easy
for one person and not for another.
One morning after a sleepless night, Magnhild took her accustomed
walk to the wharf to watch the steamer come in. She saw the usual
number of commercial travelers step ashore; the usual number of trunks
carried after them; but this day she also observed a pale man, with
long, soft hair and large eyes, walking around a box which he finally
succeeded in having lifted on a wagon. Be careful! Be careful! he
repeated again and again. There must be a piano in the box, thought
After Magnhild had been to school, she saw the same pale man, with
the box behind him, standing before the door of her house. He was
accompanied by the landlord of one of the hotels. Skarlie had fitted up
the rooms above the sitting-room and bed-chamber for the accommodation
of travelers when the hotels were full. The pale stranger was an
invalid who wished to live quietly.
Magnhild had not thought of letting the rooms to permanent guests
and thus assuming a certain responsibility. She stood irresolute. The
stranger now drew nearer to her. Such eyes she had never beheld, nor so
refined and spiritual a face. With strange power of fascination those
wondrous eyes were fixed on her. There was, as it were, two expressions
combined in the gaze that held her captive, one behind the other.
Magnhild was unable to fathom this accurately; but in the effort to do
so she put her forefinger in her mouth, and became so absorbed in
thought that she forgot to reply.
Now the stranger's countenance changed; it grew observant. Magnhild
felt this, roused herself, blushed, gave some answer and walked away.
What did she say? Was it Yes or No? The landlord followed her. She
had said Yes! She was obliged to go up-stairs and see whether
everything was in readiness for a guest; she did not rely very
implicitly on her own habits of order.
There was great confusion when the piano was carried up; it took
time, too, to move the bed, sofa, and other articles of furniture to
make room for the instrument. But all this came to an end at last, and
quiet once more prevailed. The pale stranger must be tired. Soon there
was not a step, not a sound, overhead.
There is a difference between the silence which is full and that
which is empty.
Magnhild dared not stir. She waited, listened. Would the tones of
the piano soon fall upon her ear? The stranger was a composer, so the
landlord had said, and Magnhild thought, too, she had read his name in
the newspaper. How would it be when such a person played? Surely it
would seem as though miracles were being wrought. At all events,
something would doubtless ring into her poor life which would long give
forth resonance. She needed the revelation of a commanding spirit. Her
gaze wandered over the flowers which decorated her window, and on which
the sun was now playing; her eyes sought the Caravan in the Desert,
which hung framed and glass covered by the door, and which suddenly
seemed to her so animated, so full of beautifully arranged groups and
forms. With ear for the twittering of the birds in the opposite
neighbor's garden and the sporting of the magpies farther off in the
fields, she sat in blissful content and waited.
Through her content there darted the question, Will Skarlie be
pleased with what you have done? Is there not danger of injury to the
new sofa and the bed too? The stranger is an invalid, no one can
tellShe sprang to her feet, sought pen, ink, and paper, and for the
first time in her life wrote a letter to Skarlie. It took her more than
an hour to complete it. This is what she wrote:
I have let the rooms over the sitting-room and bed-chamber to a
sick man who plays the piano. The price is left to you.
I have had one of the new sofas (the hair-cloth) carried
up-stairs and one of the spring beds. He wants to be
comfortable. Perhaps I have not done right.
She had crossed out the words: Now I shall have an opportunity to
hear some music. The heading of the letter had caused her some
trouble; she finally decided to use none. Your wife, she had written
above the signature, but had drawn her pen through it. Thus fashioned,
the letter was copied and sent. She felt easier after this, and again
sat still and waited. She saw the stranger's dinner carried up to him;
she ate a little herself and fell asleep,she had scarcely had any
sleep the previous night.
She awoke; there was yet no sounds of music above. Again she fell
asleep, and dreamed that the distance between the mountain peaks had
been spanned by a bridge. She told herself that this was the bridge at
Cologne, a lithograph of which hung on the wall near the bed-chamber.
Nevertheless it extended across the valley from one lofty mountain to
the other, supported by trestle-work from the depths below. The longer
she gazed the finer, more richly-colored the bridge became; for lo! it
was woven of rainbow threads, and was transparent and radiant, all the
way up to the straight line from crest to crest. But crosswise above
this, the distance was spanned by another bridge. Both bridges began
now to vibrate in slow two-fourths time, and immediately the entire
valley was transformed into a sea of light, in which there was an
intermingled play of all the prismatic hues; but the bridges had
vanished. Nor were the mountains any longer visible, and the dissolving
colors filled all conceivable space. How great was this? How far could
she see? She grew positively alarmed at the infinity of space about her
and awoke;there was music overhead. In front of the house stood a
crowd of people, silently gazing at the upper window.
Magnhild did not stir. The tones flowed forth with extreme richness;
there was a bright, gentle grace over the music. Magnhild sat listening
until it seemed as though these melodious tones were being showered
down upon head, hands, and lap. A benediction was being bestowed upon
her humble home, the world of tears within was filled with light. She
pushed her chair farther back into the corner, and as she sat there she
felt that she had been found out by the all-bountiful Providence who
had ordered her destiny. The music was the result of a knowledge she
did not possess, but it appealed to a passion awakened by it within her
soul. She stretched out her arms, drew them in again, and burst into
Long after the music had ceased,the crowd was gone, the musician
still,Magnhild sat motionless. Life had meaning; she, too, might gain
access to a rich world of beauty. As there was now song within, so one
day there should be singing around about her. When she came to undress
for the night she required both sitting-room and bed-chamber for the
purpose, and more than half an hour; for the first time in her life she
laid down to rest with a feeling that she had something to rise for in
the morning. She listened to the footsteps of her guest above; they
were lighter than those of other people; his contact with the
furniture, too, was cautious. His eyes, with their kindly glow of
good-will, and the fathomless depths beyond this, were the last objects
she saw distinctly.
Indescribable days followed. Magnhild went regularly to her lessons,
but lost no time in getting home again, where she was received by music
and found the house surrounded by listeners. She scarcely went out
again the rest of the day. Either her guest was at home and she was
waiting for him to play, or he had gone out for a walk, and she was
watching for his return. When he greeted her in passing she blushed and
drew back. If he came into her room to ask for anything, there ran a
thrill through her the moment she heard the approach of his footsteps;
she became confused and scarcely comprehended his words when he stood
before her. She had, perhaps, not exchanged ten words with him in as
many days, but she already knew his most trifling habit and peculiarity
of dress. She noticed whether his soft brown hair was brushed behind
his ears, or whether it had fallen forward; whether his gray hat was
pushed back, or whether it was drawn down over his forehead; whether he
wore gloves or not; whether he had a shawl thrown over his shoulders or
not. And how was it in regard to herself? Two new summer dresses had
been ordered by her, and she was now wearing one of them. She had also
purchased a new hat.
She believed that in music lay her vocation; but she felt no
inclination to make any kind of a beginning. There was enough to
satisfy her in her guest's playing, in his very proximity.
Day by day she developed in budding fullness of thought; her
dream-life had prepared her for this; but music was the atmosphere that
was essential to her existence: she knew it now. She did not realize
that the refined nature of this man of genius, spiritualized and
exalted by ill-health, was something new, delightful, thought-inspiring
to her; she gave music alone the credit for the pleasure he instilled
into her life.
At school she took an interest in each scholar she had never
experienced before; she even fell into the habit of chatting with the
sailor's wife who did the work of her house. There daily unfolded a new
blossom within her soul; she was as meek as a woman in the transition
period, which she had never known. Books she had heard read aloud, or
read herself at the parsonage, rose up before her as something new.
Forms she had not noticed before stood out in bold relief,they became
invested with flesh, blood, and motion. Incidents in real life, as well
as in books, floated past like a cloud, suddenly became dissolved and
gave distinct pictures. She awoke, as an Oriental maiden is awakened,
when her time comes, by song beneath her window and by the gleam of a
One morning as Magnhild, after making her toilet, went into the
sitting-room, humming softly to herself and in joyous mood, to open the
window facing the street, she saw a lady standing at the open window of
the house opposite.
It was a low cottage, surrounded by a garden, and belonged to a
government officer who had moved away. Vines were trained about the
windows of the house partially covering them, and the lady was engaged
in arranging one of the sprays that was in the way. Her head was
encircled with ringlets, which were rather black than brown. Her eyes
sparkled, her brow was low but broad, her eyebrows were straight, her
nose was also straight but quite large and round, her lips were full,
her head was so beautifully poised on her shoulders that Magnhild could
not help noticing it. The open sleeves had fallen back during the work
with the vines, displaying her arms. Magnhild was unable to withdraw
her eyes. When the lady perceived Magnhild, she nodded to her and
Magnhild became embarrassed, and drew back.
Just then a child approached the lady, who stooped and kissed it.
The child also had ringlets, but they were fair; the face was the
mother's, and yet it was not the mother's, it was the coloring which
misled, for the child was blonde. The little one climbed upon a chair
and looked out. The mother caught hold of the vine again, but kept her
eyes fixed on Magnhild, and her expression was a most singular one.
Magnhild put on her hat; it was time for her to go to school; but that
look caused her to go out of the back door and return by the same way,
when she came home an hour later.
He was playing. Magnhild paused for a while in her little garden and
hearkened, until finally she felt that she must go in to see what
effect this music had upon the beautiful lady. She went into her
kitchen and then cautiously entered her sitting-room, shielding herself
from observation. No; there was no beautiful lady at the window
opposite. A sense of relief passed over Magnhild, and she went forward.
She was obliged to move some plants into the sunshine, one of her daily
duties, but she came very near dropping the flowerpot into the street,
for as she held it in her hands the lady's head was thrust into the
Do not be frightened! was the laughing greeting, uttered in tones
of coaxing entreaty for pardon, that surpassed in sweetness anything of
the kind Magnhild had ever heard.
You will allow me to come in; will you not? And before Magnhild
could answer, the lady was already entering the house.
The next moment she stood face to face with Magnhild, tall and
beautiful. An unknown perfume hovered about her as she flitted through
the room, now speaking of the lithographs on the wall, now of the
valley, the mountains, or the customs of the people. The voice, the
perfume, the walk, the eyes, indeed the very material and fashion of
her dress, especially its bold intermingling of colors, took captive
the senses. From the instant she entered the room it belonged to her;
if she smelled a flower, or made an observation concerning it,
forthwith that flower blossomed anew; for what her eyes rested upon
attained precisely the value she gave it.
Steps were heard above. The lady paused. Magnhild blushed. Then the
lady smiled, and Magnhild hastened to remark: That is a lodgerwho
Yes, I know; he met me last evening at the wharf.
Magnhild opened her eyes very wide. The lady drew nearer.
My husband and he are very good friends, said she.
She turned away humming, and cast a glance at the clock in the
corner between the bed-room wall and the window.
Why, is it so late by your time here? She drew out her own watch.
We are to walk to-day at eleven o'clock. You must go with us; will you
not? You can show us the prettiest places in the wood behind the church
and up the mountain slopes.
Magnhild promptly answered, Yes.
Listen: do you know what? I will run up-stairs and say that you are
going with us, and then we will go at onceat once!
She gave Magnhild's hand a gentle pressure, opened the door and sped
swiftly up the stairs. Magnhild remained behindand she was very pale.
There was a whirling, a raging within, a fall. But there was no
explosion. On the contrary, everything became so empty, so still. A few
creaking steps above, then not another sound.
Magnhild must have stood motionless for a long time. She heard some
one take hold of the door-knob at last, and involuntarily she pressed
both hands to her heart. Then she felt an impulse to fly; but the
little fair curly head of the child, with its innocent, earnest eyes,
now appeared in the opening of the door.
Is mamma here? the little one asked, cautiously.
She is up-stairs, replied Magnhild, and the sound of her own
voice, the very purport of the words she uttered, caused the tears to
rise in her eyes and compelled her to turn her face away.
The child had drawn back its head and closed the door. Magnhild had
no time to become clear in her own mind about what had occurred; for
the child speedily came down-stairs again and into her room.
Mamma is coming; she said I must wait here. Why are you crying?
But Magnhild was not crying now. She made no reply, however, to the
child, who presently exclaimed: Now mamma is coming.
Magnhild heard the lady's step on the stair, and escaped into her
bedroom. She heard the interchange of words between mother and child in
the adjoining room, and then to her consternation the bedroom door was
opened; the lady came in. There was not the slightest trace of guilt in
her eyes: they diffused happiness, warmth, candor through the whole
chamber. But when her gaze met Magnhild's the expression changed,
causing Magnhild to drop her eyes in confusion.
The lady advanced farther into the room. She placed one hand on
Magnhild's waist, the other on her shoulder. Magnhild was forced to
raise her eyes once more and met a grieved smile. This smile was also
so kind, so firm, and therefore so persuasive, that Magnhild permitted
herself to be drawn forward, and presently she was kissedsoftly at
first, as though she were merely fanned by a gentle breath, while that
unknown perfume which always accompanied the lady encompassed them
both, and the rustle of the silk dress was like a low whisper; then
vehemently, while the lady's bosom heaved and her breath was deeply
drawn as from some life-sorrow.
After this, utter silence and then a whispered: Come now! She went
on in advance, leading Magnhild by the hand. Magnhild was a mere child
in experience. With contending emotions she entered the pretty little
cottage occupied by the lady, and was soon standing in the midst of
open trunks and a wardrobe scattered through two rooms.
The lady began a search in one of the trunks, from which she rose
with a white lace neckerchief in her hand, saying: This will suit you
better than the one you have on, for that is not at all becoming, and
taking off the one Magnhild wore, she tied on the other in a graceful
bow, and Magnhild felt herself that it harmonized well with her red
But how have you your hair? You have an oval face and your hair
done up in that way? Noand before Magnhild could offer any
resistance she was pressed down into a chair. Now I shalland the
lady commenced undoing the hair. Magnhild started up, fiery red and
frightened, and said something which was met with a firm: Certainly
It seemed as though a strong will emanated from the lady's words,
arms, fingers. Magnhild's hair was unfastened, spread out, brushed,
then drawn loosely over the head and done up in a low knot.
Now see! and the mirror was held up before Magnhild.
All this increased the young woman's embarrassment to such a degree
that she scarcely realized whose was the image in the glass. The
elegant lady standing in front of her, the delicate perfume, the child
at her knee who with its earnest eyes fixed on her said, Now you are
pretty!and the guest at the opposite window who at this moment
looked down and smiled. Magnhild started up, and was about to make her
escape, but the lady only threw her arms around her and drew her
farther into the room.
Pray, do not be so bashful! We are going to have such a nice time
together; and once more her attention was full of that sweetness the
like of which Magnhild had never known. Run over now after your hat
and we will start!
Magnhild did as she was bid. But no sooner was she alone than a
sense of oppression, a troubled anxiety, wrung her heart, and the lady
seemed detestable, officious; even her kindness was distorted into a
lack of moderation; Magnhild failed to find the exact word to express
what distressed her.
Well? Are you not coming?
These words were uttered by the lady, who in a jaunty hat, with
waving plume, beamed in through the window. She tossed back her curls,
and drew on her gloves. That hat becomes you very well indeed, said
she. Come now!
And Magnhild obeyed.
The little girl attached herself to Magnhild.
I am going with you, said she.
Magnhild failed to notice this, because she had just heard steps on
the stairs. Tande, the composer, was coming to join them.
How your hand trembles! cried the little one.
A hasty glance from the lady sent the hot blood coursing up to
Magnhild's neck, cheeks, templesyet another from Tande, who stood on
the door-steps, not wholly free from embarrassment, and who now bowed.
Are we going up in the wood? asked the little girl, clinging
tightly to Magnhild's hand.
Yes, replied the lady; is there not a path across the fields
behind the house?
Yes, there is.
Then let us go that way.
They went into the house again, and passed out of the back door,
through the garden, across the fields. The wood lay to the left of the
church, and entirely covered the plain and the tower mountain slopes.
Magnhild and the child walked on in advance; the lady and Tande
What is your name? asked the little girl.
How funny, for my name is Magda, and that is almost the same.
Presently she said: Have you ever seen papa in uniform?
No, Magnhild never had.
He is coming here soon, papa is, and I will ask him to put it on.
The little girl continued to prattle about her papa, whom she
evidently loved beyond all else upon earth. Sometimes Magnhild heard
what she was saying, sometimes she did not hear. The pair walking
behind spoke so low that Magnhild could not distinguish a single word
they were saying although they were quite near. Once she gave a hasty
glance back and observed that the lady's expression was troubled,
They reached the wood.
Just see! here at the very edge of the wood is the most charming
spot in the world! exclaimed the lady, and now she was radiant again,
as though she had never known other than the most jubilant mood. Let
us sit down here! and as she spoke she threw herself down with a
little burst of delight and a laugh. Tande seated himself slowly and at
a little distance, Magnhild and the child took their seats opposite the
The little one sprang directly to her feet again, for her mother
wanted flowers, grass, ferns, and moss, and began to bind them at once
into nosegays when they were brought to her. It was evidently not the
first time Magda had made collections of the kind for her mother, for
the child knew every plant by name, and came running up to the group
with exclamations of delight whenever she found anything her mother had
not yet noticed but which she knew to be a favorite of hers.
Various topics were brought forward, some of which, although not
all, were dwelt upon by Tande, who had stretched himself out on the
grass and seemed inclined to rest; but from the moment an affair of
recent occurrence was mentioned, concerning a wife who had forsaken her
husband, and had eventually been cast off by her lover, he took zealous
part, severely censuring the lover, for whom Fru Bang made many
excuses. It was absurd, she said, to feign an affection which no longer
existed. But at least it was possible to act from a sense of duty,
Tande insisted. Ah, to duty they had bid farewell, the lady remarked
softly, as she busied herself in decking Magda's hat with flowers.
Further conversation incidentally revealed that Fru Bang had been in
the habit of mingling in the first circles of the land; that she had
traveled extensively, and evidently had means to live where and how she
pleased. And yet here she sat, full of thoughtful care for Magnhild,
for Tande, for the child. She had a kindly word for everything that was
mentioned; her fancy invested the most trifling remark with worth, just
as she made the blades of grass she was putting into her nosegay appear
to advantage, and managed so that not one of them was lost.
Tande's long pale face, with its marvelously beautiful smile, and
the soft hair falling caressingly, as it were, about it, had gradually
The glowing, richly-tinted woman at his side was part of the world
in which he lived and composed.
The spot on which they sat was surrounded by birch and aspen. The
fir was not yet able to gain the mastery over these, although its
scions had already put in an appearance. While such were the case grass
and flowers would flourishbut no longer.
Magnhild awoke the next day, not to joyous memories such as she had
cherished every morning during the past few weeks. There was something
to which she must now rise that terrified her, and, moreover, grieved
her. Nevertheless it attracted her. What should she pass through this
She had slept late. As she stepped into the sitting-room, she saw
Fru Bang at the open window opposite, and was at once greeted with a
bow and a wave of the hand. Then a hat was held up and turned round.
Very soon Magnhild was so completely under the spell of the lady's
kind-hearted cordiality, beauty, and vivacity that her school hour was
She was met by a universal outcry when she appeared at the school
with her hair done up in a new style, and wearing a new hat and a white
lace neckerchief over her red dress! Magnhild had already felt
embarrassed at the change, and now her embarrassment increased. But the
genuine, hearty applause that arose from many voices speedily set her
at her ease, and she returned home in a frame of mind similar to that
of a public officer whose rank had been raised one degree.
The weather was fine as on the preceding day. A little excursion was
therefore decided on for the afternoon. In the forenoon Tande played.
All the windows in the neighborhood were open, and Fru Bang sat in hers
and wept. Passers-by stared at her; but she heeded them not. There was
something passionately intense and at times full of anguish in his
playing to-day. Magnhild had never before heard him give vent to such a
mood. Perhaps he, too, felt it to be a strange bewilderment; for
rousing himself he now conjured up a wealth of bright, glittering bits
of imagery which blended into the sunshine without and the buzzing of
the insects. This dewy summer day became all at once teeming with
discoveries; in the street, now parched and dry, the particles of dust
glittered, over the meadows quivered the varied tints of green where
the aftermath had sprung up, and of yellow and brown where it had not
yet made its appearance. There was everywhere an intermingling of gold,
red, brown, and green in the play of the forest hues. The loftiest
pinnacle of the mighty mountain chair had never been more completely
bathed in blue. It stood out in bold relief against the glowing grayish
tone in the jagged cliffs about the fjord. The music grew more calm;
pain was uppermost again, but it was like an echo, or rather it seemed
as though it were dissolved into drops which ever and anon trickled
down into the sunny vigor of the new mood. The lady opposite bowed
forward until her head rested on her arm, and her shoulders quivered
convulsively. Magnhild beheld this, and drew back. She did not like
such an exposure.
On the excursion that afternoon it again fell to Magnhild's lot to
take the lead with the child; the other two came whispering after them.
They found to-day a new tarrying-place, a short distance farther up the
mountain than where they had assembled the previous day;the lady had
been weeping; Tande was silent, but he appeared even more spiritual
The conversation this time centred in the fjord scenery of Norway,
and the depressing influence it must necessarily have on the mind to be
so completely shut in by mountains. The various barriers in the
spiritual life of the people were named; old prejudices, established
customs, above all those regulations of the church which had became
mere empty forms, hypocrisy, too, were all reviewed in the most amusing
manner; the infinite claims of love, however, were freely conceded.
See, there she is sitting with her forefinger in her mouth again,
laughed the lady; this greatly startled Magnhild, and created a fresh
flow of merriment.
A little while after this Magnhild permitted her hair to be decked
by Magda with flowers and grass. She hummed softly to herself all the
while, a habit she had acquired during the days when she was practicing
reading notes at the parsonage. This time her irregular song took
higher flights than usual, inasmuch as thoughts filled it, just as the
wind inflates a sail. The higher she sang, the stronger her voice
became, until Magda exclaimed:
There comes mamma.
Magnhild was silent at once. True enough there came the lady, and
directly following her Tande.
Why, my child, do you sing?
In the course of the day they had fallen into the habit of using the
familiar du; that is, Fru Bang used it, but Magnhild could not do so.
That is the highest, clearest soprano I have heard for some time,
said Tande, who now drew near, and who was flushed from having taken a
few steps at a more rapid pace than usual.
Magnhild sprang to her feet, so hastily that there fell a shower of
flowers and grass to the ground, at the same time putting up her hands
to remove Magda's adornments from her hair, which called forth a bitter
complaint from the little girl. Tande's words, appearance, and the look
he now fastened on her had embarrassed Magnhild, and Fru Bang displayed
most kindly tact in endeavoring, as it were, to shield her young
It was not long before they were on their way home,and they went
at once to Tande's room to try Magnhild's voice.
Fru Bang stood holding her hand. Magnhild sang the scale, and every
note was so firm and true that Tande paused and looked up at her. She
was then obliged to admit that she had sung before.
A feeling of happiness gradually took possession of her; for she was
appreciated, there could be no mistake about it. And when a little
two-part song was brought forward and Magnhild proved able to sing the
soprano at sight, and then a second one was tried and a third, such joy
reigned in the little circle that Magnhild gained inspiration, which
gave her a beauty she had never possessed at any previous moment of her
Fru Bang had a fine alto; her voice was not so cultivated as it was
sympathetic; nor was it strong, but for this reason it was all the
better suited to Magnhild's voice, for although the latter doubtless
was stronger, Magnhild had never been accustomed to letting out its
full strength, nor did she do so now.
As they gradually became more acquainted with the songs, Tande kept
adding to the richness and fullness of the pianothe accompaniments.
The street had become crowded with people; such music had never been
heard before in the little town. It was evident that a swarm of new
ideas were let loose upon those heads. The thoughts and words of the
ensuing evening were no doubt more refined than usual. Upon the
children there surely dawned a foreboding of foreign lands. A drizzling
rain was falling, the crests of the lofty mountains on both sides of
the valley and surrounding the fjord were veiled, but towered up all
the higher in fancy. The glorious forest hues, the placid surface of
the fjord, now darkened by the rain, the fresh aftermath of the
meadows, and not a disturbing sound save from the turbulent stream.
Even if a wagon came along, it paused in front of the house.
The silence of the multitude without harmonized with the mood of
When the singing at length ended, Tande said that he must devote an
hour each day to instructing Magnhild how to use her voice, so that she
could make further progress alone when he and Fru Bang were gone.
Moreover, they must continue the duet singing, for this was improving
to the taste. Fru Bang added that something might be made of that
Tande's eyes followed Magnhild so searchingly that she was glad when
it was time to take leave.
She forgot some music she had brought with her, and turning went
back after it. Tande was standing by the door. Thanks for your visit!
he whispered, and smiled. This made her stumble on the threshold, and
overwhelmed with confusion, she came near making a misstep at the head
of the stairs. She entered her sitting-room in great embarrassment. Fru
Bang, who was still there waiting to say Good-night! looked at her
earnestly. It was some time before she spoke, and then the greeting was
cold and absent-minded. She turned, however, before she had proceeded
many steps, and descrying Magnhild's look of surprise, sprang back and
clasped her in a fervent embrace.
At no very remote period there had been an evening which Magnhild
had thought the happiest of her life. But this
When steps were again heard above she trembled in every fibre of her
body. She could see Tande's expression, as he raised his eyes while
playing. The diamond, cutting brilliant circles of light over the keys
of the piano, the blue-veined hands, the long hair which was
continually falling forward, the fine gray suit the musician wore, his
silent demeanor,all dissolved into the melodies and harmonies, and
with them became blended his whispered Thanks for your visit!
At the cottage across the street it was dark.
Magnhild did not seek her couch until midnight, and then not to
sleep; nor did he who was above sleep; on the contrary, just as
Magnhild had retired he began to play. He struck up a melancholy,
simple melody, in the form of a soprano solo at first, and finally
bursting into what sounded like a chorus of female voices; his
harmonization was exquisitely pure. Without being conscious herself of
the transition of thought, Magnhild seemed to be sitting on the
hill-side on the day of her confirmation, gazing at the spot where her
home had stood. All her little brothers and sisters were about her. The
theme was treated in a variety of ways, but always produced the same
At school the next morning Magnhild was accosted with many questions
concerning the preceding evening; among other things whether she
had really taken part in the singing, what they had sung, about
the other two, and whether they would sing often.
The questions filled her with joy: a great secret, her
secret, was in its innermost depths. She felt conscious of strange
elasticity. She had never made such haste home before. She was looking
forward to singing with him again in the forenoon!
And she did sing. Tande sent word down by the sailor's wife that he
expected her at twelve o'clock. A little before this hour she heard
once more that melancholy, pure composition of yesterday.
Tande met her without a word. He merely bowed and went straight to
the piano and then turned his head as before to bid her draw nearer.
She sang scales, he gave suggestions as a rule without looking at her;
the whole hour passed as a calm matter of business; she was thankful
From her lesson she crossed the street to the lady. Fru Bang sat, or
rather reclined, on the sofa, with an open book on her lap, and with
Magda, to whom she was talking, in front of her. She was grave, or
rather sorrowful; she looked up at Magnhild, but went on talking with
the child, as though no one had entered. Magnhild remained standing,
considerably disappointed. Then the lady pushed aside the child and
looked up again.
Come nearer! said she, feebly, and made a motion with the hand
that Magnhild did not understand.
Sit down there on the footstool, I mean.
You have been with him? Her fingers loosened Magnhild's hair as
she spoke. The knot is not quite right,then with a little caress,
You are a sweet child!
She sat up now, looked Magnhild full in the eyes, gently raising her
friend's head as she did so.
I have resolved to make you pretty, prettier than myself. Do you
see what I have bought for you to-day?
On the table behind Magnhild lay the materials for a summer costume.
This is for you, it will be becoming.
But, dear lady!
Hush! Not a word, my friend! I am not happy unless I can do
something of the kindand, in this case, I have my own reasons into
Her large, wondrous eyes seemed to float away in dreams.
There, that will do! said she, and rose hastily.
Now we will dine together; but first we must have a short stroll,
and in the afternoon a long stroll, and then we will have some singing
and afterwards a delightful siesta; that is what he likes!
But neither short nor long stroll was accomplished, for it rained.
So the lady busied herself with cutting out Magnhild's dress; it was to
be made in the neighborhood after Fru Bang's own pattern.
They sang together, and even longer than on the preceding day. A
supply of songs for two voices was telegraphed for; a few days later
the package arrived. During the days which followed most of the songs
were gone through with the utmost accuracy. Every day Magnhild had her
regular lesson. Tande entered into it with the same business-like
silence as on the first day. Magnhild gained courage.
Wonderful days these were! Song followed upon song, and these three
were continually together, chiefly at the lady's, where they most
frequently both dined and supped. One day Fru Bang would be in the most
radiant mood, the next tormented with headache, and then she would have
a black, red, and brown kerchief tied like a turban, about her head,
and would sit or recline on the sofa, in languid revery.
As they were thus assembled together one day, and Magda stood at the
window, the little one said,
There goes a man into your house, Magnhild: he is lame.
Magnhild sprang up, very red.
What is it? asked Fru Bang, who was lying on the sofa with a
headache, and had been talking in a whisper with Tande.
Oh! it isMagnhild was searching for her hat; she found it and
withdrew. From the open window she heard the child say: A lame, ugly
Skarlie was working this year on the sea-coast. A foreign ship had
been wrecked there Skarlie and some men in Bergen had bought it; for
they could repair it at a much less outlay than had originally been
estimated. They had made an uncommonly good bargain. Skarlie supervised
the carpentering, painting, and leather work of refitting the vessel.
He had come home now after a fresh supply of provisions for the
His surprise on entering his house was not small. Everything in
order! And the room filled with a pleasant perfume. Magnhild cameit
was a lady who stood before him. Her whole countenance was changed. It
had opened out like a flower, and the soft, fair hair floating about
neck and drooping shoulders threw a lustre over head and form. She
paused on the threshold, her hand on the door-knob. Skarlie had seated
himself in the broad chair in the corner, and was wiping the
perspiration from his bald head. As soon as his first astonishment was
over, he said: Good-day!
No reply. But Magnhild came in now, and closed the door after her.
How fine it looks here, said he. Is it your lodger
He puckered up his lips, his eyes grew small. Magnhild looked at him
coldly. He continued more good-naturedly,
Did he make your new dress, too?
Now she laughed.
How are you getting on? she asked, presently.
I am nearly through.
He had acquired the comfortable air of a man who is conscious of
doing well in the world.
It is warm here, said he; the sun had just burst forth after a
long rain, and was scorching, as it can be only in September. He
stretched out his legs, as far as the crooked one permitted, and lay
back, letting his large hands hang down over the arms of the chair,
exact pictures of the web-feet of some sea-monster.
Why are you staring at me? asked he, with his most comical
grimace. Magnhild turned with a searching glance toward the window.
The room had become filled at once with the peculiar saddler odor
which attended Skarlie: Magnhild was about to open the window, but
thinking better of it stepped back again.
Where is your lodger?
He is across the street.
Are there lodgers there, too?
Yes, a Fru Bang with her daughter.
So they are the people you associate with?
He rose, took off his coat, and also laid aside his vest and cravat.
Then he filled his cutty with tobacco, lighted it, and sat down again,
this time with an elbow resting on one arm of the chair and smoking.
With a roguish smile he contemplated his other half.
And so you are going to be a lady, Magnhild?
She did not answer.
Aye!Well, I suppose I shall have to begin to make a gentleman of
She turned toward him with an amused countenance. His chest, thickly
covered with dark red hair, was bare, for his shirt was open; his face
was sunburned, his bald head white.
The deuce! how you stare at me! I am not nearly as good-looking as
your lodger, I can well believe. Hey?
Will you have something to eat? asked she.
I dined on the steamer.
But to drink?
She went out after a bottle of beer, and placed it with a glass on
the table beside him. He poured out the beer and drank, looking across
the street as he did so.
That's a deuce of a woman! Is that the lady?
Magnhild grew fiery red; for she too saw Fru Bang standing at the
window, staring at the half-disrobed Skarlie.
She fled into her chamber, thence into the garden, and there seated
She had only been there a few minutes when she heard first the
chamber, then the kitchen door open, and finally the garden door was
opened by her husband.
Magnhild! he called. Yes, there she is.
Little Magda's light curly head was now thrust out, and turned round
on every side until Magnhild was seen, and then the child came slowly
toward her. Skarlie had gone back into the house.
I was sent to ask if you were not coming over to take dinner with
Give greetings and thanks; I cannot comenow.
The child bestowed on her a mute look of inquiry, then asked: Why
can you not? Is it because that man has come?
Who is he?
It was in Magnhild's mind to say, He is my ; but it would not
cross her lips; and so without speaking she turned to conceal her
emotion from the child. The little one stood silently waiting for some
time; finally she asked,
Why are you crying, Magnhild?
This was said so sweetly: it chimed in with the memory of the whole
bright world which was once more closed, that Magnhild clasped its
little representative in her arms, and bowing over the curly head burst
into tears. Finally, she whispered,
Do not question me any more, little Magda; but go home now, this
way, through the garden gate, and tell mamma that I cannot come any
Magda obeyed, but she looked over her shoulder several times as she
Magnhild removed all traces of tears, and went out to make some
purchases; for her larder was nearly empty.
When she returned home, and passed through the sitting-room, Skarlie
was still in his chair; he had been taking a little nap; now he yawned
and began to fill his cutty.
Did you tell me the lady across the street was married?
Is he married, too?
I do not know.
I saw them kissing each other, said he.
Magnhild grew very pale and then red.
I have never seen anything of the kind.
No, of course not; they did not suppose that I saw them either,
said he, and began to light his cutty.
Magnhild could have struck him. She went directly to the kitchen,
but could not avoid coming back again. Skarlie greeted her with,
It is no wonder they make much of you, for you serve as a screen.
She had brought in a cloth to spread the table, and she flung it
right at his laughing face. He caught it, however, and laughed all the
louder, until the tears started in his eyes; he could not restrain his
Magnhild had run back into the kitchen, and she stood in front of
the butter, cheese, and milk she had ready to carry into the adjoining
room,stood there and wept.
The door opened, and Skarlie came limping in.
I have spread the cloth, said he, not yet free from laughter, for
that, I presume, was what you wanted: eh? and now he took up one by
one the articles that stood before Magnhild, and carried them into the
next room. He asked good-naturedly after something that was wanting,
and actually received an answer. After a while Magnhild had so far
recovered her composure as to set the kettle on the fire for tea.
Half an hour later the two sat opposite each other at their early
evening meal. Not a word more about those across the street. Skarlie
commenced telling of his work on the steamer, but broke off abruptly,
for Tande began to play. Skarlie had taste for music. It was a
restless, almost defiant strain that was heard; but how it brightened
the atmosphere. And it ended with the little melody that always
transported Magnhild to the home of her parents, with the fair heads of
her little brothers and sisters round about. Skarlie evidently listened
with pleasure, and when the playing ceased, he praised it in
extravagant terms. Then Magnhild told him that she was singing with
Tande; that he thought she had a good voice. She did not get beyond
this; for the playing began anew. When it had ceased again, Skarlie
See here, Magnhild! Let that man give you all the instruction he
will; for he is a masterand with the rest you need not meddle.
Skarlie was still in extraordinarily high spirits when, weary from
his journey, he went up to the room over the saddler workshop to go to
bed. He filled his pipe, and took an English book and a light up-stairs
Magnhild thoroughly aired the room after him, opening all the
windows as soon as he was gone. She paced the room in the dark for a
long while ere she laid herself down to sleep.
The next morning she stole out of the back door to school, and
returned the same way.
She found the whole school in a state of rejoicing over the news
Skarlie had just brought, that a quantity of hand-work for which he had
undertaken to find purchasers in town had been sold to unusually great
advantage. He had doubtless told her this in the course of the morning,
but she had been so absorbed in her own affairs that it had made no
impression on her. Scarcely was this theme exhausted when one of the
young girls (there were both children and grown people in attendance at
this hour) expressed her surprise at Magnhild's appearance, which was
so different from that of the preceding days. The pupils inquired if
anything was amiss. Magnhild did not wear the dress, either, that was
so becoming to her, that is, the one given to her by the lady. It was
hunch-back Marie, and tall, large-eyed Ellen who were the loudest of
all in both delight and astonishment. Magnhild felt ill at ease among
them, and took her departure as early as possible. As soon as she had
reached home it was announced to her by the sailor's wife that Tande
was expecting her. A brief struggle ensued; and then she put on the
dress which became her best. She was received as she had been received
yesterday, the day before, and every other day: he greeted her with a
slight bow, took his seat at the piano and struck a few chords. She was
so thankful for his reserve, and especially to-day, that sheher
desire to show her appreciation failed to find utterance.
As she came down-stairs she saw Skarlie and Fru Bang standing by the
lady's door, in close conversation; they were both laughing. Magnhild
stole in unperceived and continued to watch them.
There was a changeful play of expression in the countenances of
both, and herein they were alike; but here, too, the resemblance
ceased, for Skarlie had never looked so ugly as he did now in the
presence of this beautiful woman. Moreover, the smooth, glossy hat he
wore completely covered his forehead, giving his face a contracted
look; for the forehead alone was almost as large as all the rest of the
face. Magnhild was conscious of him at this moment to the extreme tips
of her fingers.
The lady was all vivacity; it flashed from her as she tossed back
her head and set all her ringlets in fluttering motion, or shifted her
foot, accompanying the act with a swaying movement of the upper part of
the body, or with a wave of her hand aided in the utterance of some
thought, or indicated another with an eager gesture.
The hasty, assured glances the two exchanged gave the impression of
combat. It seemed as though they would never get through. Were they
interested in each other? Or in the mere act of disputing? Or in the
subject they were discussing? Had not Tande come down-stairs, their
interview would scarcely have drawn to a conclusion that forenoon. But
as he approached with a bow Skarlie limped away, still laughing, and
the other two went into the lady's house, she continuing to laugh
A deuce of a woman! said Skarlie, all excitement. Upon my word
she could very easily turn a man's head.
And while he was scraping the ashes from his cutty, he added: If
she were not so kind-hearted she would be positively diabolical. She
Magnhild stood waiting for more.
He glanced at her twice, while he was filling his cutty from his
leathern pouch; he looked pretty much as one who thought: Shall I say
it or not? She knew the look and moved away. But perhaps this very
action of hers gave the victory to his taunting impulse.
She saw that there was light last night up over my workshop. I
really thought she was going to ask whether
Magnhild was already in the kitchen.
At noon a wagon drove up to the door; Skarlie was obliged to go out
into the country to buy meat for his workmen down on the sea-coast.
As soon as he was gone, the lady came running across the street. It
was now as it ever had been. Scarcely did she stand in the room,
shedding around her sweet smile, than every bad thought concerning her
crept away abashed, and with inward craving for pardon, Magnhild
yielded to the cordial friendliness with which the lady threw her arms
about her, and kissed her and drew her head down caressingly on her
shoulder. This time there was not a word spoken, but Magnhild felt the
same sympathy in every caress that had accompanied every previous
embrace and kiss. When the lady released her, they moved away in
different directions. Magnhild busied herself in breaking off a few
withered twigs from one of the plants in the window.
Suddenly her cheek and neck were fanned by the lady's warm breath.
My friend, was softly whispered into her ear, my sweet, pure little
friend! You are leading a wild beast with your child hands.
The words, the warm breath which, as it were, infused magic into
them, sent a tremor through Magnhild's frame. The tears rolled down her
cheeks and fell on her hand. The lady saw this and whispered: Do not
fear. You have in your singing an enchanted ring which you only need
turn when you wish yourself away! Do not cry! And turning Magnhild
round, she folded her in her arms again.
This afternoon the weather is fine; this afternoon we will all be
together in the wood and in the house, and we will sing and laugh. Ah!
there are not many more days left to us!
These last words stabbed Magnhild to the heart. Autumn was nigh at
hand, and soon she would be alone again.
They were up-stairs in the afternoon, standing by the piano singing,
when they heard Skarlie come home and go into the sitting-room below.
Without making any remarks about this, they went on singing. They sang
at last by candle-light, with the windows still open.
When Magnhild came down-stairs Skarlie too had his windows open; he
was sitting in the arm-chair in the corner. He rose now and closed the
windows; Magnhild drew down the curtains, and in the mean time Skarlie
struck a light. While they were still in the dark, he began to express
his admiration of the singing to which he had been listening. He
praised Magnhild's voice as well as the lady's alto, and of his wife's
soprano he repeated his praise. It is as pureas you are yourself, my
child, said he. He was holding a match to the candle as he spoke, and
he appeared almost good-looking, so calm and serious was his shrewd
countenance. But ere long there came the play of other thoughts. This
indicated a change of mood.
While you were singing her husband, the captain of engineers,
arrived. Magnhild thought he was jesting, but Skarlie added: He sat
in the window opposite listening. Here he laughed.
This so alarmed Magnhild that she was unable to sleep until late
that night. For the first time it occurred to her that Fru Bang's
husband might be repulsive to her, and she considered the lady's
conduct from this point of view. What if those two people really loved
each other? Suppose it were her own case? She found herself blushing
furiously; for at once Tande's image rose distinctly before her.
When she awoke the next morning she involuntarily listened. Had the
tempest already broken loose? Hurriedly putting on her clothes she went
into the sitting-room, where Skarlie was preparing to start off again.
A portion of the articles he was to have taken with him had not yet
arrived; he was obliged to go with what he had and come again in a few
days. He took a friendly leave of Magnhild.
She accompanied him as far as the school.
Scarcely had she returned home than she saw a man with red beard and
light hair come out of the house opposite, holding little Magda by the
hand. This must be Magda's papa. The little girl had his light hair and
something of his expression of countenance; but neither his features,
nor his form; he was of a heavy build. They crossed the street, entered
the house, and went up-stairs. Surely there could be no quarrel when
the child was along? Magnhild heard Tande go dress himself, and she
heard an audible, Good-day! Are you here? in Tande's voice.
Then nothing more, for now the door was softly closed. So filled
with anxiety was she that she listened for the least unusual sound
overhead; but she heard only the steps now of one, now of both. Soon
the door opened, she heard voices, but no contention. All three came
down-stairs and went out into the street where the lady stood waiting
for them, in her most brilliant toilet, and with the smile of her
holiday mood. Tande greeted her, she cordially held out her hand. Then
the whole four walked past the house-door, and turned into the garden
way to take the usual path across the fields to the wood and the
mountains. At first, they sauntered slowly along in a group; later, the
father went on in advance with the child, who seemed desirous to lead
the way, and the lady and Tande followed, very slowly, very
confidentially. Magnhild was left behind alone, overwhelmed with
In the afternoon Magda came over with her papa. He greeted Magnhild
with a smile and apologized for coming; his little daughter had
insisted on his paying his compliments to her friend, he said.
Magnhild asked him to take a seat, but he did not do so at once. He
looked at her flowers, talked about them with an air of understanding
such as she had never heard before, and begged to be allowed to send
her some new plants upon whose proper care he enlarged.
It is really little Magda who will send them, said he, turning
with a smile toward Magnhild. This time she was conscious that he was
shyly observing her.
He looked at the pictures on the wall, the bridge at Cologne, the
Falls of Niagara, the White House at Washington, the Caravan in the
Desert, and Judith, by Horace Vernet; examined also some photographs
of unknown, often uncouth-looking men and women, some of them in
Your husband has been a traveler, said he, and his eyes glided
from the portraits back to Judith, while he stood stroking his beard.
Have you been long married? he presently asked, taking a seat.
Nearly three years, she replied, and colored.
You must put on your uniform so that Magnhild can see you in it,
said the little girl; she had posted herself between her father's
knees, now toying with his shirt studs, now with his beard. He smiled;
certain wrinkles about the eyes and mouth became more apparent when he
smiled, and bore witness of sorrow. Musingly he stroked the little
one's hair; she nestled her head up against him, so lovingly, so
He awoke at last from his revery, cast a shy, wondering look at
Magnhild, stroked his beard, and said,
It is very beautiful here.
When will you send Magnhild the flowers you spoke of? interrupted
the little girl.
As soon as I get back to town, said he, caressing the child.
Papa is building a fort, explained Magda, not without pride. Papa
is building at home, too, she added. Papa is all the time building,
and now we have a tower to our house, and all the rooms are so pretty.
You just ought to see.
And she fell to describing her home to Magnhild, which, however, she
had often done before. The father listened with that peculiar smile of
his that was not altogether a smile, and as though to turn the
conversation he hastily observed: We took a short stroll up the
mountains this morning (here the little girl explained where they had
been) and thenThere was undoubtedly something he wanted to say; but
a second thought must have flashed across the first.
He became absorbed again in thought. Just then Tande began to play
overhead. This brought life to the countenance of Magda's father, a
wondering, shy look stole over it, and bowing his head he began to
stroke his little daughter's hair.
He plays extraordinarily well, he remarked, and rose to his feet.
The next day the captain left. He might perhaps return later to meet
the general of engineers, with whom he had to make a tour of
inspection. The life of those left behind glided now into its
One evening Magnhild appeared at Fru Bang's with a very carelessly
As soon as the lady noticed this she gave Magnhild a hint, and
herself covered her retreat. Magnhild was so much mortified that she
could scarcely be prevailed upon to enter the sitting-room again; but
amid the laughing words of consolation heaped upon her she forgot
everything but the never-wavering goodness and loving forethought of
her friend. It was so unusual for Magnhild to express herself as freely
as she did now, that the lady threw her arms about her and whispered,
Yes, my child, you may well say that I am good to you, for you are
Magnhild quickly tore herself away. She sought no explanation with
words, she was by far too much startled; but her eyes, the expression
of her face, her attitude, spoke for her. The door was opened, and
Magnhild fell from surprise to painful embarrassment. Tande had,
meanwhile, turned toward Magda, humming softly, as though he observed
nothing; he amused himself by playing with the little one. Later he
talked with Magnhild about her singing, which he told her she must by
no means drop again. If arrangements could be made for her to live in
the city,and that could so easily be brought about,he would not
only help her himself, but procure for her better aid than his.
Fru Bang was coming and going, giving directions about the evening
meal. The maid entered with a tray, on which were the cream and other
articles, and by some untoward chance Fru Bang ran against it directly
in front of Magnhild and Tande, and her efforts to prevent the things
from falling proved fruitless, because the others did not come speedily
enough to her aid. Everything was overthrown. The dresses of both
ladies were completely bespattered. Tande at once drew out his pocket
handkerchief and began to wipe Magnhild's.
You are less attentive to me than to her, laughed the lady, who
was much more soiled than Magnhild.
He looked up.
Yes, I know you better than her, he answered, and went on wiping.
Fru Bang grew ashen gray. Hans! she exclaimed, and burst into
tears. Then she hastened into the next room. Magnhild understood this
as little as what had previously occurred. Indeed, it was not until
months had elapsed that one day, as she was wandering alone through the
wintry slush of a country road, with her thoughts a thousand miles away
from the lady and the whole scene, she suddenly stood still: the full
meaning of Fru Bang's behavior rushed over her.
Tande had risen to his feet, for Magnhild had drawn back in order
not to accept any further assistance from him. That she could
act so, and that his name was Hans, was all that was clear to
her at this moment. Tande slowly paced the floor. He was very pale; at
least so it seemed to Magnhild, although she could not see very well,
for it was beginning to grow dark. Should she follow the lady, or
withdraw altogether? Magda was in the kitchen; she finally concluded to
go to her. And out there she helped the little girl fill a dish with
preserves. From the chamber which adjoined the kitchen she soon heard a
low conversation and sobs. When Magda and she went into the
sitting-room with the dish, Tande was not there. They waited so long
for the evening meal that Magda fell asleep and Magnhild had to go
Not long afterward she heard Tande, too, come home. The next
forenoon she sang with him; he appeared quite as usual. In the
afternoon she met the lady by chance in the street, and she made sundry
criticisms on Magnhild's improvising, which she had heard, a little
while before, through the open window; at the same time she
straightened Magnhild's hat, which was not put on exactly right.
Skarlie came home again. He told Magnhild that on a trip to Bergen
he had traveled with Captain Bang.
There was a person on the steamer, he said, who knew about Fru
Bang's relations with Tande and spoke of them. Magnhild had strong
suspicions that Skarlie himself was that person; for after he had been
home the last time she had heard allusions to these relations from
Tande's woman-servant, the sailor's wife, and several others.
The captain is good-natured, said Skarlie; he considers himself
unworthy to be loved by so much soul and brilliancy. He was, therefore,
rejoiced that his wife had at last found an equal.
You seem delighted, Magnhild replied, you appear more disgusting
than youShe was just going to Fru Bang's, and withdrew without
deigning to complete the sentence.
She was to accompany Magda to an exhibition to be given by an old
Swedish juggler, with his wife and child, on the square some distance
behind the house.
When Magnhild came in, the lady met her all dressed; she was going
to the show, too. The explanation of this speedily followed; that is to
say, Tande appeared to accompany them. He reported that the general had
Then they set off, Magda and Magnhild, the lady and Tande. A crowd
of people had assembled, most of them outside of the inclosure, where
they could pay what they pleased. Within the inclosure there were
reserved places, that is, benches, and to these the lady and her
The old juggler was already in his place, where, with the aid of his
wife, he was preparing for the show. He bore a ludicrous resemblance to
Skarlie, was bald, had a snub-nose, was large and strong-looking, and
his face was not devoid of humor. Scarcely had Magnhild made this
discovery than she heard Magda whisper to her mother,
Mamma, he looks just like Magnhild's husband.
The lady smiled. At the same moment the old juggler stepped up to
them. Among the reserved places was one especially reserved, a bench,
that is, with a back to it. The old man was quite hoarse, and his
language, so far as it could be comprehended, was such a droll mixture
of Swedish and Norwegian, that those nearest laughed; and the
clown-like courtesy of his manner also created a laugh, even among
those at a distance. But so soon as the laugh began Tande stepped back
a few paces. The lady went forward, and Magda and Magnhild followed.
The old juggler had a wife much younger than himself, a
black-haired, hollow-eyed, sorrowfully thin person, who had the general
appearance of having been unfortunate. There soon came skipping out of
the tent a little lad with curly hair, sprightly eyes, and an air of
refinement over face and form which he did not get from his mother,
still less from the old clown. He was dressed as a jester, but was
evidently anything else. He paused at his mother's side and asked her
some question. He spoke in French. The lady, who was annoyed by Tande's
foolish shyness, addressed the boy in his native tongue. The little
fellow came forward, but merely to pause at a short distance and stand
viewing her with an expression of dignified inquiry. This amused her,
and taking out her purse she handed him quite a large coin.
Merci, Madame! said he, making a low bow.
Kiss the lady's hand! commanded the old man. The boy obeyed, with
shy haste. Then he ran back to the tent, whence was heard the barking
Suddenly there arose a commotion in the crowd behind those who were
seated. A woman with a child three or four years old in her arms was
trying to push her way forward. She could not stand and hold the child
forever, she said; she wanted to sit down. She was quite as good as any
one else present.
But there seemed to be no seat vacant except on the front bench. So
to the front bench she went, to the great sport of the multitude; for
she was well known. She was no other than Machine Martha. Two years
before she had come to the Point with a child and a large and a small
sewing-machine, with which she supported herself, for she was capable.
She had deserted her husband with an itinerant tradesman, who dealt,
among other things, in sewing-machines. He had deceived her. Since then
she had fallen into wretched habits of drunkenness, and had become
thoroughly degraded. Her face was rough and her hair disheveled.
Nevertheless, she still seemed to have sufficient energy left to raise
a storm. She seated herself directly beside the lady, who shrank away,
for Martha smelled strongly of beer.
The old juggler had noticed the involuntary movement the lady made.
He was on hand at once, and, in a hoarse, rough voice, ordered Martha
to take another place.
She must have been abashed herself by all the silk she had come into
contact with, for she now got up and moved away.
As she was watching her Magnhild descried Skarlie. At his side
Martha paused. Soon she came forward again. I will sit there, I tell
you, said she, and resuming her seat she placed the child on the bench
The old juggler left his preparations. He had grown angry. You
cursedhere he must have remembered the fine company he was in, for
he continued: It costs money to sit here. He spoke Swedish.
Here is a mark! said the woman, holding out the coin as she spoke.
Very well, said he, hoarsely; but sit on another bench. Will the
ladies and gentlemen please move closer together? he begged of those
on the nearest benches. Whether his directions were followed or not,
Martha did not stir.
The devil a bit will I move, said she.
Let her stay where she is, whispered the lady.
Not for any sum, replied the gallant old man. These seats are
reserved for the highest aristocracy, and he took hold of the child.
But now Martha sprang up like one possessed.
You Swedish troll! cried she, will you let my child alone?
The crowd burst into stormy shouts of laughter, and encouraged
thereby, she continued: Highest aristocracy? Pshaw! She is ashe, as
well as I. The word shall remain unwritten; but Martha looked
significantly at the lady. A volley of laughter, and then, as at the
word of command, the silence of the grave.
The lady had started up, proud and beautiful. She looked around for
her escort. She wished to leave. Tande was standing not very far off,
with a couple of travelers, who had begged to be presented to the
well-known composer. The lady's flaming eyes met his. He gazed back at
her intently. Every one was looking at him. But no one could penetrate
his gaze, any farther than they could have penetrated a polished steel
And yet, however unfathomable those eyes, there was one thing they
said plainly enough: Madame, I know you not! And his refined, arched
brow, his delicately-chiseled nose, his tightly-compressed lips, his
hollow cheeks, aye, the glittering diamond studs in his shirt, the
aristocratic elegance of his attire, all said, Touch me not! Over his
eyes were drawn veil after veil.
It was all the work of a moment. The lady turned to Magnhild as
though to call on her to bear witness. And yet no! There was no one in
the world beside him and herself who could know how great was the
offering that now was burnt, how great the love he now flung from him.
Again the lady turned toward him a look, as brief as a flash of
lightning. What indignation, what a great cry of anguish, what a swarm
of memories, what pride, what contempt, did she not hurl at him.
Magnhild received the quivering remains as she turned to her toaye,
what should she do now? Her face suddenly betrayed the most piteous
forlornness, and at the same time a touching appeal, as that of a
child. The tears rolled down her cheeks. Magnhild, entering completely
into her mood, impulsively held out her hand. The lady grasped it and
pressed it so vehemently that Magnhild had to exercise all her
self-control not to scream aloud. The poor, wounded, repulsed woman
gathered together all her inward strength through this outward
expenditure of force, and thus she became uplifted. For at the same
time she smiled. And lo! across that part of the square where the tight
rope was stretched and where spectators were forbidden to intrude,
there strode at this moment two officers, seen by all; but how could
admittance be refused to a general's cap? And such a one was worn by
the all-powerful individual who, with long strides and wide-swinging
arms, as though he were himself both commander and army, advanced with
his adjutant on the left flank. Already from afar he saluted, in the
most respectful manner, his captain's beautiful wife. She hastened to
meet her deliverer. On the general's arm she was led back to her place,
while he himself took a seat by her side. The adjutant fell to
Magnhild's lot, after the lady had introduced them. The general stole
many a glance at Magnhild, and the adjutant was all courtesy. This was
almost the only thing Magnhild noticed. She was quivering in every
The lady sparkled with wit, sprightliness, beauty. But every now and
then she would seize Magnhild's hand, and press it with remorseless
energy. She strengthened herself in the reality of the moment. The
bodily pain this caused Magnhild corresponded with the spiritual pain
she experienced. She heard the adjutant at her side and Magda cry out
in wonder. She, too, now saw several balls glittering in the air, and
she saw a large one weighed by a spectator, and then cast into the air
by the old athlete, as though it were a play ball, and caught again on
his arm, shoulder, or breast; but at the same time she heard the lady
tell the general that she would leave the next morning under his
escort; she had been waiting for him since her husband could not come.
Magnhild well knew that all was now over: but would the end come as
soon as the next morning? A loud outcry, coming chiefly from the voices
of boys, cut through her pain. The old man had thrown the large ball
into the air with both hands, and then quite a small ball, and
continued to keep them in rapid motion for some time. To Magnhild the
small ball represented herself; and the large one? It was not in
order to search for an adequate symbol, nor did she apply it, but
everything became symbolic. The perpetual glitter of the balls in the
air represented to her the icy glance which had just made her tremble.
The old man is extraordinarily strong, said the adjutant. I once
saw a man in Venice with another man standing on his shoulders, who
stooped and raised a third, and he worked his way up and stood on the
second man's shoulders, and then, only think, they drew up a fourth,
who managed to stand on the shoulders of the third. The first man
walked about on the ground, carrying with him the other three, while
the upper man played with balls.
Were I to die at this moment, the lady was saying on the other
side, and the soul could forget everything here and have imparted to
it a new series of wonderful problems, infinite vistas, so that
enraptured discovery after discovery might be madewhat could there be
My imagination does not carry me so far, came in the general's
firm voice. I am ready to stake my life that to live and die in the
fulfillment of one's duty is the greatest happiness a healthily
organized human being can feel. The rest is, after all, of little
Here Magnhild received a feverish pressure of the hand.
Applaud, ladies and gentlemen, applaud, said the clown, hoarsely
and good-naturedly. This raised a laugh, but no one stirred.
Why do not the dogs come out? asked Magda, who heard the animals
impatiently barking in the tent.
About the mountain peaks clouds crisped and curled; a gust of wind
betokened a change in the weather; the fjord darkened under the
influence of a swiftly rising squall. There was something infinitely
sublime in the landscape; something awe-inspiring.
It began to grow cold. The people in the background felt hushed and
gloomy. Now the clown's wife came forward; she was to go on the
tight rope. The haggard, faded beauty wore a dress cut very low in the
neck, and with short sleeves. The lady shivered as she looked at her,
complained of cold feet, and rose. The general, the adjutant, and
consequently Magnhild also, did the same; Magda alone, with looks of
entreaty, kept her seat; she was waiting for the dogs. A single glance
from her mother sufficed; she got up without a word.
They passed out the same way the officers had come in; not one of
them looked back. The lady laughed her most ringing laugh; its pleasant
tones rolled back over the assembled multitude. Every one gazed after
her. The general walked rapidly, so that her light, easy movements
appeared well at his side. The general's height invested hers with a
peculiar charm; his stiff, martial bearing and figure heightened the
effect of her pliant grace. The contrasts of color in her attire, the
feather in her hat, an impression from her laughter, affected one man
in the audience as he might have been affected by withdrawing music.
When the officers took their leave at the lady's door, she did not
speak a word to Magnhild; she did not so much as glance at her as she
went into the house. Magnhild felt her sympathy repulsed. Deeply
grieved, she crossed the street to her own house.
Tande returned late. Magnhild heard him walking back and forth, back
and forth, more rapidly than ever before. Those light steps kept
repeating: Touch me not! at last in rhythm; the glitter of the
diamond studs, the aristocratic elegance of the attire, the deep
reserve of the countenance, haunted her. The lady's anguish groaned
beneath these footsteps. What must not she be enduring? That
amidst the thunder and lightning of her suffering she should think of
me, thought Magnhild, would be unnatural. In the first moment of
terror she had sought refuge with her young friend, as beneath a
sheltering roof, but immediately afterward all was, of course,
Some one came into the hall. Was it a message from the lady? No, it
was Skarlie. Magnhild well knew his triple time step. He gave her a
searching glance as he entered. It is about time for me to be off,
said he. He was all friendliness, and began to gather together his
Have you been waiting for a conveyance? asked she.
No, but for the meat I ordered and had to go without the last time;
it came a little while ago.
She said no more, and Skarlie was soon ready.
Good-by, until I come again! said he. He had taken up his things,
and now stood looking at her.
Skarlie, said she, was it you who gave Machine Martha that mark?
He blinked at her several times, and finally asked: What harm was
there in that, my dear?
Magnhild grew pale.
I have often despised you, said she, but never so much as at this
She turned, went into her bed-room and bolted the door. She heard
Skarlie go. Then she threw herself on the bed.
A few bars were struck on the piano above, but no more followed;
Tande was probably himself startled at the sound. These bars
involuntarily made Magnhild pause. Now she was forced to follow the
steps which began afresh. A new tinge of the mysterious, the
incomprehensible, had fallen over Tande. She was afraid of him. Before
this, she had trembled when he was near at hand; now a thrill ran
through her when she merely thought of him.
The steps above ceased, and she glided from the unfathomable to
Skarlie; for here she was clear. How she hated him! And when she
thought that in a fortnight he would come again and act as though
nothing had occurred, she clinched her hands in rage and opened them
again; for as it had been a hundred times before, so it would be again.
She would forget, because he was so good-natured, and let her have her
A profound sorrow at her own insufficiency fell like the pall of
night on her fancy. She burst into tears. She was unable to cope with
one of the relations of life, either those of others or her own; unable
to grasp any saving resolution. Indeed, what could this be?
The steps began again, swifter, lighter than ever. Once more
Magnhild experienced that inexplicable, not unpleasant tremor Tande had
caused in her before.
It had finally grown dark. She rose and went into the next room. At
the cottage opposite there was light, and the curtains were down.
Magnhild also struck a light. Scarcely had she done so when she heard
steps in the hall, and some one knocked at her door. She listened;
there came another rap. She went to the door. It was a message from the
lady for Magnhild to come to her. She put out the light and obeyed the
She found everything changed. All around stood open, already-packed
chests, trunks, boxes, and traveling satchels; Magda lay sleeping on
her own little hamper. A hired woman was assisting the maid in putting
the room in order. The maid started up saying: My lady has just gone
into her bed-room. I will announce you.
Magnhild knocked at the door, then entered the chamber.
The lady lay on her couch, behind white bed curtains, in a
lace-trimmed night-dress. She had wound about her head the Turkish
kerchief which was inseparably associated with her headaches. The lamp
stood a little in the background, with a shade of soft, fluttering red
paper over it. She was leaning on one elbow which was buried deep in
the pillow, and she languidly extended the free left hand; a weary,
agonized gaze followed. How beautiful she was! Magnhild was hers again,
hers so completely that she flung herself over her and wept. As though
under the influence of an electric shock the sick woman sat up and
casting both arms about Magnhild pressed her to her own warm, throbbing
form. She wanted to appropriate all this comprehension and sympathy.
Thanks! she whispered over Magnhild. Her despair quivered through
every nerve of her body. Gradually her arms relaxed and Magnhild rose.
Then the lady sank back among the pillows and begged Magnhild to fetch
a chair and sit by her.
The walls have ears, she whispered, pointing to the door. Magnhild
brought the chair. No, here on the bed, said the lady, making room
The chair was set aside again. The lady took Magnhild's hand and
held it in both of hers. Magnhild gazed into her eyes, which were still
full of tears. How good, how true, how full of comprehension she
looked! Magnhild bent down and kissed her. The lips were languid.
I sent for you, Magnhild, said she, softly. I have something to
say to you. Be not afraid,a warm pressure of the hand accompanied
these words; it is not my own historyand it shall be very brief; for
I feel the need of being alone. Here the tears rolled down over her
cheeks. She was aware of it and smiled.
You are marriedI do not understand how, and I do not wish to
know! A tremor ran through her and she paused. She turned her head
aside for a moment. Presently she continued: Do not attemptbut she
got no farther; she drew away both hands, covered her face, and
flinging herself round, wept in the pillow. Magnhild saw the convulsive
quivering of back and arms, and she rose.
How stupid that was of me, she heard at last; the lady had turned
round again, and now bathed eyes and brow with an essence which filled
the room with perfume. I have no advice to give youbesides, of what
use would it be? Sit down again! Magnhild sat down. The lady laid
aside the phial and took Magnhild's hand in both of hers. She patted
and stroked it, while a long, searching gaze followed. Do you know
that you are the cause of what happened to-day? Magnhild flushed as
though she were standing before a great fire; she tried to rise, but
the lady held her fast. Be still, my child! I have read his thoughts
when we were together. You are pure and fineand I! She closed her
eyes and lay as still as though she were dead. Not a sound was heard,
until at last the lady drew a long, long breath, and looked up with a
gaze so full of suffering!
Magnhild heard the beating of her own heart; she dared not stir; she
suppressed even her breathing. She felt cold drops of moisture start
from every pore.
Yes, yes, Magnhild;be now on your guard!
Magnhild started up. The lady turned her head after her. Be not
proud! said she.
Is there any place where you can now go? Magnhild did not hear
what she said. The lady repeated her question as calmly as she had
spoken before. Is there any place where you can now go? Answer me!
Magnhild could scarcely collect her thoughts, but she answered:
Yes, merely out of accustomed acquiescence to the lady. She did not
think of any special place of refuge, only that she must go away from
here now, at once. But before she could move, the lady, who had been
watching her closely, said,
I will tell you one thing that you do not know: you love him.
Magnhild drew back, swift as lightning, her eyes firmly fixed on
hers. There arose a brief conflict, in which the lady's eyes, as it
were, breathed upon Magnhild's. Magnhild grew confused, colored, and
bowed her head on her hands. The lady sat up and took hold of her arm.
Magnhild still resisted; her bosom heavedshe tottered, as though
seeking support; and finally leaned aside toward where she felt the
pressure of the lady's hand.
Then throwing herself on the lady's bosom she wept violently.
While he was still in bed the next morning there was brought to
Tande by the sailor's wife a letter. It had a dainty, old-fashioned,
somewhat yellow, glazed envelope, and the address was written in an
unpracticed lady's hand, with delicate characters, of which those
extending below the lines terminated in a little superfluous flourish,
as if afraid of being round and yet with a strong tendency to become
From whom can this be? thought Tande.
He opened the letter. It was signed Magnhild. A warm glow ran
through him, and he read:
HR. H. TANDE,I thank you very much for your kindness to me,
and for the instruction you have so generously given me. My
husband has said that you have no room-rent to pay.
I am obliged to go away without waiting for an opportunity to
tell you of this. Once more my best thanks.
He read the letter through at least five times. Then he studied each
word, each character. This epistle had cost fully ten rough sketches
and discarded copies; he was sure of it. The word Magnhild was
written with more skill than the rest; the writer must have had
frequent practice in that early in life.
But with such trifling discoveries Tande could not silence the
terrible accusation that stared at him from this letter. He lay still a
long time after letting the letter drop from his hands.
Presently he began to drum on the sheet with the fingers of his
right hand; he was playing the soprano part of a melody. Had it reached
the piano, and had Magnhild heard it, she would surely have recognized
Suddenly Tande sprang out of bed and into the adjoining room.
Stationing himself behind the curtain he took a cautious survey of the
opposite house. Quite right: the windows were all open, two women were
at work cleaning; the house was empty. Tande paced the floor and
whistled. He walked until he was chilled through. Then he began to
dress. It usually took him an hour to make his toilet, during which he
went from time to time to the piano. To-day he required two hours, and
yet he did not once go near the piano.
In the forenoon he took a long walk, but not to the spots they had
all visited together. During this walk what had occurred began to
assume a shape which made him feel less guilty than he had felt at
first. The next day he scarcely felt that he was in the least to blame.
Toward evening of the third day his conscience began again to trouble
him; but on the following morning he rose from his couch ready to smile
over the whole affair.
The first day he had twice commenced a letter to Magnhild but had
torn up each effort. On the fourth day he found, instead of the
attempted letter, a musical theme. This was capable of being developed
into a complex, richly harmonized composition, full of magnificent
unrest. Several bars of the simple, refined melody which had conjured
up for Magnhild dreams of her childhood might be sprinkled through it.
Could not the two motives be brought into conflict?
But as he failed to succeed to his satisfaction, Tande concluded
that neither at this place nor it this time could it be accomplished.
He remained at the Point one week longer, and then packing up his
things he departed. The piano he left behind him, and the key with it.
He set forth for Germany.
About five years had elapsed when one Sunday evening in spring, a
party of young girls passed up the one large street of the coast town.
They were walking arm in arm, and their numbers were continually
increased; for the girls were singing a three part song as they went
In front of the saddler's house (which, by the way, was now without
either sign-board or shop) they slackened their speed, as though they
especially desired their singing to be heard here. Perhaps they also
expected to see a face at one of the low windows; but they saw none and
soon moved onward.
When the last of the party had disappeared, a woman rose from the
large chair in the corner. She was scarcely more than half dressed, had
down-trodden slippers and disheveled hair. As she knew that no one
lived opposite and saw no one in the street, she ventured to approach
the window, and resting her arm on the sash she bowed her head in her
hand and became absorbed in thought. And as she stood thus she dreamily
listened to the harmonies which ever and anon floated back to her.
This chorus was a reminder that Magnhild had once loved song and had
believed that in it she had found her vocation. It was she who stood
there, and who although, it was Sunday, or perhaps just because it was
Sunday, had not thought it worth while to dress herself; it was six
o'clock in the afternoon.
She was roused by the rattling of carriage-wheels from another
direction. The steamer must have arrived. So accustomed was she to this
one break in the desert-stillness of the town, that she forgot she was
not dressed, and looked out to see who was coming. It proved to be two
ladies; one with a child in her arms and a sunshade; the other with a
fluttering veil, bright, eager eyes and a full face. She wore a Scotch
plaid traveling suit, and as the carriage drove rapidly past she nodded
to Magnhild, the travel-bronzed face all beaming; later she turned and
waved her gloved hand.
Who in all the world could this be? In her surprise, which with her
always gave place to embarrassment, Magnhild had drawn back into the
room. Who could it be?
There was something familiar that was struggling in vain for the
supremacy when the lady came running back toward the house. She moved
on briskly in her light traveling costume, and now springing up the
steps she soon stood in the door that was thrown open to receive her.
She and Magnhild looked at each other for a moment.
Do you not know me? asked the elegant lady, in the broadest
dialect of the parish.
Yes, of course!
And then they embraced.
My dear! I am here solely on your account. I want to tell you that
all these years I have been looking forward to this moment. My dear
She spoke an intermixture of three languages: English, the dialect
of the parish, and a little of the common book language of Norway.
I have been trying to speak Norse only a couple of months, and do
not succeed very well yet.
Her countenance had developed: the eyes glowed with more warmth than
of yore; the full lips had acquired facility in expressing every varied
shade of humor, friendliness, and will. Her form was even more
voluptuous than it had formerly been, but her rapid movements and the
elegant traveling suit she wore softened the effect. Her broad hands,
which bore the impress of her working days, closed warmly about
Magnhild's hand, and soon they were sitting side by side while Rönnaug
told her strange experiences of the past four or five years. She had
not wanted to write about them, for no one would have believed her
story if she had. The reason why she had not kept her promise to write
immediately upon reaching her journey's end was simply because even
during the voyage she had risen from the steerage to the first cabin,
and what had caused this promotion would have been misinterpreted.
When she sailed from Liverpool she was sitting forward on the
gunwale of the large ship. A gentleman came up to her and in broken
Norwegian claimed acquaintance with her, for just as she was sitting
now, he said, she had sat a month before on the back of his cariole.
Rönnaug, too, remembered him, and they talked together that day and
many other days. After a while he brought a lady with him. The next day
he and the lady came again and invited Rönnaug to go with them to the
first cabin. Here the lady and she, with the aid of the gentleman,
entered into an English conversation, which created much amusement.
Others soon gathered about the group and the upshot of it all was that
Rönnaug was compelled to remain in the first cabin, she really did not
know at whose expense. She took a bath, was provided with new clothes
from top to toe, several ladies contributing, and remained as a guest
among the passengers. All were kind to her.
She left the ship with the lady, who proved to be an aunt of the
gentleman who had first spoken to Rönnaug and at whose expense, as she
soon learned, she had traveled. He afterwards had her provided with
instruction and the handsomest support, and it was at his expense they
all three took frequent long journeys together. For the past two years
she had been his wife, and they had a child about a year old whom she
had with her. And this child Magnhild must seenot to-morrow, nor
by and by, but now, right away!
Magnhild was not dressed. Well, then she must speedily make her
toilet. Rönnaug would help herand in spite of all resistance they
were both soon standing in Magnhild's chamber.
As soon as Magnhild had begun to dress Rönnaug wandered about in the
rooms. As she did so she asked one single question, and this was: why
Magnhild was not dressed so late in the day. A long protracted oh!
was the only answer she received. Rönnaug hummed softly to herself as
she went out into the front room. By and by some words were uttered by
her; they were English words, and one of them Magnhild heard
distinctly: it was disappointed. Magnhild understood English; during
the past three winters Skarlie had read the language with her, and she
could already read aloud to him from the American weekly paper, which,
since his sojourn in America, it had been a necessity for him to take.
She knew, therefore, that disappointed was the same as skuffet.
There are times when a change occurs in our mood, inasmuch as the
sun which filled the whole room suddenly disappears, leaving the
atmosphere gray, cold, within and without. In like manner Magnhild was
involuntarily seized with an indescribable dread; and sure enough, the
next time Rönnaug came humming past the open door (she was looking at
the pictures on the wall), she cast a brief side glance in at Magnhild;
it was by no means unfriendly; but it was felt, nevertheless, by
Magnhild, as though she had received a shock. What in all the world had
happened? or rather, what was discovered? It was impossible for her to
conceive. She cast her eyes searchingly around the room, when she came
in after dressing. But she sought in vain for anything which could have
betrayed what she herself would have concealed, or indicated what could
have caused displeasure. What was it? Rönnaug's face was now quite
changedah! what was it?
They set forth; both had grown silent. Even on the street, where
there must be so much that was familiar, she who had but now spoken in
three languages could hold her peace in them all. They met a man in a
cariole, who was talking passionately with a younger man he had
stopped; both bowed to Magnhild, the elder one with an air of
indifference, the younger one with triumph in his pimpled face and
flashing eyes. For the first time Rönnaug roused to interest. Although
nearly five years had elapsed since she had served as skyds girl to
the unknown man who had talked about Magnhild's destiny, and who had
seen her herself in circumstances of which she was now ashamed, she
recognized him at once. Hurriedly grasping Magnhild's hand, she
Do you know him? What is his name? Does he live here?
In her eagerness she quite forgot to use her mother-tongue.
Magnhild replied only to the last question:
Yes, since last winter.
What is his name?
Have you had any conversation with him?
More with his son; that was he who was standing by the cariole.
Rönnaug looked after Grong, who at this moment drove briskly, it
might almost be said angrily, past them.
They soon came to the second hotel on the right hand side; a maid
servant was asked if a lady had stopped there with a child. They were
shown up-stairs. There stood the lady who had accompanied Rönnaug. The
latter asked her in English where the child was, at the same time
presenting Miss Roland to Mrs. Skarlie, after which all three went into
the adjoining room.
Ah, we have a cradle! exclaimed Rönnaug in English, and threw
herself on her knees beside the cradle.
Magnhild remained standing, at a little distance. The child was very
pretty, so far as Magnhild could see. Rönnaug bent over it and for some
time she neither looked up nor spoke. But Magnhild saw that great tears
trickled down on the fine coverlet that was spread over the cradle.
There arose a painful silence.
Rönnaug rose to her feet at last, and with a side glance at Magnhild
she went past her into the front room. Magnhild finally felt
constrained to follow her. She found Rönnaug standing by the window. A
carriage stopped at that moment in front of the hotel. Magnhild saw
that it was drawn by three men. It was a new, handsome traveling
carriage, the handsomest she had ever seen.
Whose carriage is that? asked she.
It is mine, replied Rönnaug.
Betsy Roland came in and asked some question. Rönnaug went out with
her, and when, directly afterward, she returned to the room, she went
straight up to Magnhild, who still sat looking at the carriage. Rönnaug
laid one arm about her neck.
Will you go with me in this carriage through the country,
Magnhild? she asked, in English.
At the first contact Magnhild had become startled; she was conscious
of Rönnaug's eyes, of her breath; and Rönnaug's arm encircled her like
an iron bar, although there certainly was no pressure.
Will you go with me through the country in thisin this carriage,
Magnhild? she heard once more, this time in a blending of the dialect
of the parish and English, and the voice trembled.
Yes, whispered Magnhild.
Rönnaug released her, went to the other window, and did not look
Is the carriage from America?
How much did you give for it?
Charles bought it.
Is your husband with you?
Yesja, and she added, brokenly, Not here;
Constantinopledelivery of gunsin September we are to
meetLiverpool. And then she looked up at Magnhild with wide open
eyes. What did she mean?
Magnhild wished to go. Rönnaug accompanied her down-stairs, and they
both went out to inspect the carriage, about which stood a group of
people who now fell back somewhat. Rönnaug pointed out to Magnhild how
comfortable the carriage was, and while her head was still inside she
Your rooms up-stairs, are they to let?
No, it would give me too much trouble.
Rönnaug hastily said good-night, and ran up the steps.
Magnhild had not gone very far before she felt that she certainly
ought to have offered those rooms to Rönnaug. Should she turn back? Oh,
This was one of Magnhild's wakeful nights. Rönnaug had frightened
her. And this journey? Never in the world would she undertake it.
When she left her chamber after ten o'clock, the first object she
beheld was Rönnaug, who was coming up from the coast town, and was on
her way to call on Magnhildno, not on Magnhild, but on the priest,
the young curate, who lived at Magnhild's house, in the former saddler
workshop. Rönnaug at the priest's? At eleven o'clock she was still with
him. And when she came out, accompanied by the curate, a shy young man,
she merely put her head in Magnhild's door, greeted her, and
disappeared again with the curate.
Magnhild found still greater cause for wonder, for later in the day
she saw Rönnaug in company with Grong. This wounded her, she could
scarcely tell why. The following day Rönnaug called in as she passed
by; various people were discussed whom it had entertained Rönnaug to
meet, but not a word was said about the journey. Several days went by,
and it was still not mentioned. Perhaps it had been given up!
But finally Magnhild began to hear about this journey from others:
first from the sailor's wife who did the work of her house, then from
the woman of whom she bought fish, finally from every one. What should
she do? For upon no account would she consent to go.
Rönnaug told her that she was reading Norse with Grong, and also
with the curate, in order that neither might have too much torment with
her at any one time; she wrote exercises, too, she said, and laughed.
In the same abrupt manner she touched upon sundry individuals and
circumstances, mentioned them in the most characteristic way, and
hurried on to something else. Magnhild was not invited to the hotel.
Rönnaug often went by pushing her child in a little wagon she had
bought; she would stop and show the child to every one she met, but she
never brought it in to see Magnhild.
Rönnaug made the most extraordinary sensation in the town. It was no
unusual thing at a sea-port town to see remarkable changes of fortune.
Judging from the presents Rönnaug made, indeed from her whole
appearance, she must be immensely wealthy, yet she was the most
unassuming and sociable of all. Magnhild frequently heard her praises
sounded; the young curate alone occasionally observed that she
decidedly evinced that impatience which was characteristic of such a
child of fortune.
But what then did Rönnaug hear about Magnhild? For it might be
assumed beyond all doubt that if she did not question Magnhild herself
she at least asked others about her. This was true, but she proceeded
very cautiously. There were, indeed, but two people to whom she put
direct questions,the young curate and Grong.
The curate said that during the whole time he had been at the Point,
and that was now nearly a year, he had neither heard nor seen anything
but good concerning Magnhild. Skarlie was a person who was less
transparent; according to universal testimony he had settled in this
town merely to study the prevailing conditions and utilize them for his
own benefitwithout competition and without control. He was
sarcastic and cynical; but the curate could not deny that it was
sometimes amusing to talk with him. The curate had never heard that
Skarlie was otherwise than considerate to his wifeor rather his
adopted daughter; for other relations scarcely existed between them.
And the shy young curate seemed quite embarrassed at being obliged to
give this information.
Grong, on the contrary, called Magnhild a lazy, selfish, pretentious
hussy. She would not even take the trouble to tie up her stockings; he
had noticed this himself. The hand-work she had started here had long
since been left to a hunchback girl named Marie and a tall girl by the
name of Louise. Magnhild occasionally taught them something new, yet
even that was due not to herself but to her husband, who picked up such
things on his travels and spurred her on to introduce them. Upon the
whole, Skarlie was a capable, industrious fellow, who had breathed life
into this sleepy, ignorant parish, and even if he had victimized the
people somewhat, it could scarcely be expected that so much knowledge
should be gained for nothing.
Magnhild's vocation? Bah! He had long since given up the idea of
there being such a thing as a special destiny. In Nordland, many years
before, he had seen an old man who in his childhood had been the only
person saved out of a whole parish; the rest had been swept away by an
avalanche. This man was a great dunce; he had lived to be sixty-six
years of age without earning a farthing except by rowing, and had died
a year before, a pauper. What sort of a destiny was that? Indeed, there
were precious few who had any destiny at all.
Grong at this time was wretchedly out of humor: he had believed his
gifted son to be destined for something; he lived for his sake
aloneand the young man had accomplished nothing except falling in
love. Rönnaug, who knew nothing of Grong's own experience, was shocked
at his harsh verdict. Nor could she induce him to discuss the subject
with her, for he declared point blank that Magnhild bored him.
So she once more sought Magnhild herself, but found her so apathetic
that it was impossible to approach her.
If she would persevere in her design, there was nothing left for her
but to resort to strategy.
In the most indifferent tone in the world she therefore one day
announced to Magnhild that in a couple of days she proposed starting;
Magnhild would not need to take much luggage with her, for when they
stopped anywhere they could purchase whatever they required. That was
the way she always managed.
This was about nine o'clock in the morning, and until twelve o'clock
Magnhild was toiling over a telegram to her husband who had just
announced to her his arrival at Bergen. The telegram was at last
completed as follows:
Rönnaug, married to the rich American, Charles Randon, New York, is
here; wants me to go with her on a long journey.Magnhild.
She felt it to be treason when, on the stroke of twelve, she
dispatched this telegram. Treason? Toward whom? She owed reckoning to
no one. Meanwhile, in the afternoon, she went out in order that no one
might find her. When she returned home in the evening a telegram was
Home by the steamer to-morrow.Skarlie.
Rönnaug sought Magnhild at eight o'clock the next morning: she
wanted to surprise her with a traveling suit that was ready for her at
the hotel. But it was all locked up at Magnhild's. Rönnaug went round
the house and peeped in at the bed-room window whose curtain was drawn
aside. Magnhild was out! Magnhild, who seldom rose before nine o'clock!
Well, Rönnaug went again at nine. Fastened up! At ten o'clock. The
same result. After this she went to the house every quarter of an hour,
but always found it fastened up. Then she became suspicious. At eleven
o'clock she paid two boys handsomely to stand guard over the house and
bring her word as soon as Magnhild returned.
Rönnaug herself stayed at the hotel and waited. It came to be one,
two, three o'clockno messenger. She inspected her guards; all was
right. The clock struck four, then five. Another inspection. Just as
the clock struck six a boy came running along the street, and Rönnaug,
hat in hand, flew down the steps to meet him.
She found Magnhild in the kitchen. Magnhild was so busy that Rönnaug
could find no opportunity to speak a single word with her. She was
passing incessantly to and fro between kitchen, yard, and inner rooms.
She went also into the cellar and remained there for a long time.
Rönnaug waited; but as Magnhild never paused, she finally sought her in
the pantry. There she asked her if she would not go with her to the
hotel for a moment. Magnhild said she had no time. She was engaged in
putting butter on a plate.
For whom are you making preparations?
The hand which held the spoon trembled; this Rönnaug observed.
Are you expecting Skarlie by the steamernow?
Magnhild could not well say No, for this would speedily have
proved itself false, and so she said Yes.
Then you sent for him?
Magnhild laid aside the spoon and went into the next room; Rönnaug
It now came to light how much good vigorous Norse Rönnaug had
learned in the short time she had been studying, even if it were not
wholly faultless. She first asked if this signified that Skarlie would
prevent the journey. When Magnhild, instead of making any reply, fled
into the bed-chamber, Rönnaug again followed her; she said that
to-day Magnhild must listen to her.
This to-day told Magnhild that Rönnaug had long been wanting to
talk with her. Had the window Magnhild now stood beside been a little
larger, she would certainly have jumped out of it.
But before Rönnaug managed to begin in earnest, something happened.
Noise and laughter were heard in the street, and ringing through them
an infuriated man's voice. And you will prevent me from taking
the sacrament, you hypocritical villain? After this a dead silence,
and then peals of laughter. Most likely the man had been seized and
carried off; the shouting and laughing of boys and old women resounded
through the street, and gradually sounded farther and farther away.
Neither of the two women in the chamber had stirred from her place.
They had both peered out through the door toward the sitting-room
window, but they had also both turned away again, Magnhild toward the
garden. But Rönnaug had been reminded by this interruption of Machine
Martha, who in her day had been the terror and sport of the coast town.
Scarcely, therefore, had the noise died away, before she asked,
Do you remember Machine Martha? Do you remember something that I
told you about your husband and her? I have been making inquiries
concerning it and I now know more than I did before. Let me tell you it
is unworthy of you to live under the same roof with such a man as
Very pale, Magnhild turned proudly round with:
That is no business of mine!
That is no business of yours? Why you live in his house, eat his
food, wear his clothes, and bear his name,and his conduct is no
business of yours?
But Magnhild swept past her and went into the sitting-room without
vouchsafing a reply. She took her stand by one of the windows opening
on the street.
Aye, if you do not feel this to be a disgrace, Magnhild, you have
sunk lower than I thought.
Magnhild had just leaned her head, against the window frame. She now
drew it up sufficiently to look at Rönnaug and smile, then she bowed
forward again. But this smile had sent the blood coursing up to
Rönnaug's cheeks, for she had felt their joint youth compared in it.
I know what you are thinking of,here Rönnaug's voice
trembled,and I could not have believed you to be so unkind, although
at our very first meeting I plainly saw that I had made a mistake in
feeling such a foolish longing for you.
But in a moment she felt herself that these words were too strong,
and she paused. It was, moreover, not her design to quarrel with
Magnhild; quite the contrary! And so she was indignant with Magnhild
for having led her so far to forget herself. But had it not been thus
from the beginning? With what eager warmth had she not come, and how
coldly had she not been received. And from this train of thought her
words now proceeded.
I could think of nothing more delightful in the world than to show
you my child. There was, indeed, no one else to whom I could show it.
And you did not even care to see it; you did not so much as want to
take the trouble to dress yourself.
She strove at first to speak calmly, but before she finished what
she was saying, her voice quivered, and she burst into tears.
Suddenly Magnhild darted away from the window toward the kitchen
doorbut that was just where Rönnaug was; then toward the bed-room
door, but remembering that it would be useless to take refuge there,
turned again, met Rönnaug, knew not where to go, and fled back to her
But this was all lost on Rönnaug; for now she too was in a state of
You have no heart, Magnhild! It is dreadful to be obliged to say
so! You have permitted yourself to be trailed in the mire until you
have lost all feeling, indeed you have. When I insisted upon your
seeing my child, you did not even kiss it! You did not so much as stoop
to look at it; you never said a word, no, not a single word, and you
have no idea how pretty it is!
A burst of tears again checked her flow of words.
But that is natural, she continued, you have never had a child of
your own. And I chanced to remember this, otherwise I should have
started right off againat once! I was so disappointed. Ah! well, I
wrote Charles all about it! In another, more vigorous tone she
interrupted herself with: I do not know what you can be thinking of.
Or everything must be dead within you. You might have full freedomand
you prefer Skarlie. Write for Skarlie! She paced the floor excitedly.
Presently she said: Alas! alas! So this is Magnhild, who was once so
pure and so refined that she saved me! She paused and looked at
Magnhild. But I shall never forget it, and you shall go with
me, Magnhild! Then, with sudden emotion: Have you not one word for
me? Can you not understand how fond I am of you? Have you quite
forgotten, Magnhild, how fond I have always been of you? Is it nothing
to you that I came here all the way from America after you.
She failed to notice that she had thus avowed her whole errand; she
stood and waited to see Magnhild rouse and turn. She was not standing
near enough to see that tears were now falling on the window-sill. She
only saw that Magnhild neither stirred nor betrayed the slightest
emotion. This wounded her, and, hasty as she was in her resolves when
her heart was full, she left. Magnhild saw her hurry, weeping, up the
street, without looking in.
And Rönnaug did not cease weeping, not even when she had thrown
herself down over her child and was kissing it. She clasped it again
and again to her bosom, as though she wanted to make sure of her life's
She had expected Magnhild to follow her. The clock struck eight, no
Magnhild appeared; ninestill no Magnhild. Rönnaug threw a shawl over
her head and stole past the saddler's house. Skarlie must have come
home some time since. All was still within; there was no one at the
windows. Rönnaug went back to the hotel and as she got ready for bed
she kept pondering on what was now to be done, and whether she should
really start on her journey without Magnhild. The last thought she
promptly dismissed. No, she would remain and call for assistance. She
was ready to risk a battle, and that with Mr. Skarlie himself,
supported by the curate, Grong, and other worthy people. She probably
viewed the matter somewhat from an American standpoint; but she was
She fell asleep and dreamed that Mr. Skarlie and she were fighting.
With his large hairy hands he seized her by the head, the shoulders,
the hands; his repulsive face, with its toothless mouth, looked with a
laugh into her eyes. She could not ward him off: once more he had her
by the head; then Magnhild repeatedly called her name aloud and she
awoke. Magnhild was standing at the side of her bed.
It is IMagnhild!
Rönnaug started up in bed, half intoxicated with sleep. Yes, I
seeyouIt is you? No, really you, Magnhild! Are you going with me?
And Magnhild flung herself on Rönnaug's bosom and burst into tears.
What tears! They were like those of a child, who after long fright
finds its mother again.
Good Heavens! What has happened?
I cannot tell you. Another burst of passionate weeping. Then
quietly freeing herself from Rönnaug's arms, she drew back.
But you will really come with me?
There was heard a whispered yes, and then renewed weeping. And
Rönnaug stretched out her arms; but as Magnhild did not fly into them,
she sprang out of bed and took her joy in a practical way by beginning
to dress in great haste. There was joy, aye, triumph in her soul.
As she sat on the edge of the bed, drawing on her clothes, she took
a closer survey of Magnhild; the summer night was quite clear and
light, and Magnhild had raised a curtain, opened a window, and was now
standing by the latter. It was about three o'clock. Magnhild had on a
petticoat with a cloak thrown over it; a bundle lay on the chair, it
perhaps contained her dress. What could have happened? Rönnaug went to
her parlor to finish dressing, and when Magnhild followed her, the new
traveling suit was lying spread out and was shown to her. She uttered
no word of thanks, she scarcely looked at the suit; but she sat down
beside it and her tears flowed anew. Rönnaug was obliged to put the
clothes on her. As she was thus engaged, she whispered:
Did he try to use force?
That he has never done, said Magnhild; no, there are other
thingsand now she became so convulsed with weeping that Rönnaug said
no more, but finished dressing both Magnhild and herself as quickly as
possible. She hastened into the bed-chamber to awaken her American
friend, then down-stairs to rouse the people of the hotel: she wanted
to start within an hour.
She found Magnhild where she had left her.
No, this will not do, said she. Pray control yourself. Within an
hour we must be away from here.
But Magnhild sat still; it was as though all her energy had been
exhausted by the struggle and the resolve she had just come from.
Rönnaug let her alone; she had as much as she could do to get ready.
Everything was packed, and last of all the child was wrapped in its
traveling blanket without being roused. Within an hour they and all
their belongings were actually stowed away in the carriage.
The world around them slept. They drove onward in the bright,
dawning morning, past the church. The sun was not visible; but the
skies, above the mountains to the east, were flushed with roseate hues.
The landscape lay in dark shadows, the upper slope of the mountains in
the deepest of deep black-blue; the stream, not a streak of light over
its struggle, cut its way along, like a procession of wild, angry
mountaineers, recklessly dashing downward at this moment of the world's
awakening, without consideration, without pausing for rest, and with
shrill laughter at this mad resolve and the success which attended it.
The impressions of nature, and the feelings Magnhild might otherwise
have experienced during this journey away from the griefs of many
years, over the first miles, as it were, of a new career in the
sumptuous traveling carriage of the friend of her childhood,all were
lulled into a weary, vapid drowsiness. Her daily life had been for
years one monotonous routine, so that the emotions of a single evening
had completely exhausted her strength. She longed now for nothing so
much as for a bed. And Rönnaug, bent on fully carrying out the wonders
of contrast, was not content with traveling in her own carriage with
two horses (when the ascent began she would have four), she wanted also
to sleep in one of the guest-beds at the post-station where she had
once served. This wish was gratified, and three hours' sleep was taken
by them all. The hostess recognized Rönnaug, but as she was a person
Rönnaug had not liked, there was no conversation between them.
After they had slept, eaten, and settled their account, Rönnaug felt
a desire to write something with her own hand in the traveler's
register. That was indeed too amusing. She read what was last written
there, as follows: Two persons, one horse, change for the next
station, and on the margin was added,
Birds encountered us two, tweewhitt!
'With us to tarry, think you, tweewhitt?'
'We plan, we reason, no more, tra-ra!
Each other we adore, tra-ra!'
What nonsense was this? The rest of the party must see: it was
translated into English for Betsy Roland. Now they remembered that as
they drove into the station they had seen a carriage, with a gentleman
and lady in it, driving quickly past them up the road. The gentleman
had turned his face away, as though he did not wish to be seen; the
lady was closely veiled.
They were still talking of this when they sat in the carriage and
drove away, while all the people at the station had assembled to watch
them. The travelers concluded that the verses must have been written by
some happy new-married couple; and Magnhild, by one of those trains of
thought which cannot be accounted for, called to mind the young couple,
the gentleman in morocco slippers, and the lady with her hair so
strangely done up, she had met at the next station, on her own wedding
trip. This led her to recall her own wedding, then to think of what she
had gone through in all these years, and of how aimless her whole life
was,aimless whether she looked into the past or into the future.
Day had meanwhile dawned in wondrous beauty. The sun had risen above
the lofty mountains. The valley, although narrow, was so situated that
it was thoroughly illumined by the sunshine. The stream now flowed in a
narrower, more rocky bed, was white with foam where struggles arose,
grass-green where they ceased, blue where there were overhanging
shadows, and gray where the water formed eddies over a clay bottom. The
grass here was filled with stubble, farther up it was studded with
yellow cowslips, the largest they had ever seen.
The peaks of the mountains sparkled, the dark pine forest in the
bosom and lap of the chain displayed such a wealth of luxuriance, that
whoever viewed it aright must inevitably be refreshed. Close by the
road-side grew deciduous trees, for here the pines had been cut down,
yet ever and anon they pushed their way triumphantly forth from their
vigorous headquarters in the background. The road was free from dust.
On the outskirts of the forest grew mountain flowers, all glittering
with the last dew-drops of the day.
The travelers had the carriage stop that they might pluck some of
the flowers; and then they sat in the grass and amused the child with
them; they wove garlands and twined them about the little one. A short
distance farther up, where the stream had sunk so far beneath them that
its roar had ceased to sound above all else, they heard the jubilant
song of birds. The thrush, singly and in groups, swung from tree to
tree, and its vigorous chirping had a cheering tone. A startled
wood-grouse, with strong wing-beats, flew shrieking among the branches.
A dog who followed the horses set chase to the red grouse; they
shrieked, flapped their wings, hid in the heather, shrieked, started up
again and sought a circuitous way back. They must have nests here.
There was also a rich growth of birch round about this little heath.
Ah, how I have longed for this journey! And Charles, who gave it to
me! The tears stood in Rönnaug's eyes, but she brushed them away,
after she had kissed her child. No, no tears. Why should there be
And she sang:
Shed no tear! Oh shed no tear!
The flower will bloom another year.
Weep no more! Oh weep no more!
Young buds sleep in the root's white core.
This is our summer trip, Magnhild! The summer travels in Norway.
But Magnhild bowed down and covered her face with her hands.
All shall be well with you, Magnhild. Charles is so good! He will
do everything for you.
But here she heard Magnhild sob, and so she said no more.
The sunny day through which they rode onward, the fresh, aromatic
mountain air they inhaled, the sounds of jubilee which burst forth from
the forest, blending with childhood's memories, became too much for
Rönnaug. She forgot Magnhild and began to sing again. Then she took the
child and chatted playfully with it and with Miss Roland. She was
surprised by Magnhild's asking:
Do you love your husband, Rönnaug?
Do I love him? Why, when Mr. Charles Randon said to me: 'I will
gladly provide for your education, Rönnaug; I hope you will let me have
this pleasure,'well, I let him have the pleasure. When Mr. Charles
said to me: 'My dear Rönnaug, I am much older than you; yet if you
could consent to be my wife, I am certain that I should be
happy,'welland so I made him happy. And when Mr. Charles said: 'My
dear Rönnaug, take good care of our little Harry, so that I may find
you all in Liverpool in September, and your Norwegian friend with
you,'why, I determined that he should find us all in Liverpool in
September, and little Harry well and hearty; and my Norwegian friend
along, too!and she kissed the child and set it to laughing.
They changed horses at the next post-station. Magnhild and Miss
Roland kept their seats in the carriage. Rönnaug got out, partly to
re-visit familiar haunts, partly to make an entry in the register. That
was her duty, she said. Presently she came back, laughing, with the
register. Under the entry: Two persons for the next
station,indicating that these two persons were too much absorbed to
even trouble themselves with the name of the next station,were the
Love is all the budding flower,
Perfect blossom, fruit mature.
When breaking boughs no more endure,
Then stop! is shrieked to Winter's power.
Rather life to stop be driven;
No alternative is given!
Rönnaug translated it for Betsy Roland, and now various conjectures
were expressed by them all, in both Norwegian and English. They agreed
in supposing the writers to be two lovers, on a journey, under peculiar
circumstances; but whether they were a newly-married couple, or merely
lovers; whether theirs was a runaway flight, or whether they were
simply actuated by exuberance of spirits over happily overcome
obstacles, or,oh! there were manifold possibilities.
Rönnaug wished to copy the verses, and Magnhild offered her a leaf
from her pocket-book. As this was produced a letter fell from it.
Magnhild was surprised, but she soon remembered that she had received
the letter by mail the evening before, an hour after her husband's
arrival. Wholly absorbed in her conflict with him, she had placed it
for the time in her pocket-book. She never received letters, so she
could not imagine from whom this could come. The two travelers from
America did not notice that the letter bore a foreign stamp, but
Magnhild saw this at once. She tore open the letter; it was written in
a delicate hand, on fine paper, and was quite long. It was headed
Munich, and the signature wasdid she read aright?Hans Tande.
She folded the letter again, without knowing what she was doing, while
the hot blushes spread over face and neck. The two others acted as
though they had observed nothing; Rönnaug busied herself with copying
They drove rapidly on, and left Magnhild to her reflections. But her
embarrassment increased to such a degree that it became positive
torture to her to sit in the carriage with the others. She meekly
begged to be allowed to get out and walk a little distance. Rönnaug
smiled and ordered the coachman to stop,they had just reached a level
plain where the horses could rest a while. When the travelers had
alighted, she took Magnhild by the hand and led her toward a thicket a
few steps behind them.
Comego in there now and read your letter! said she.
When Magnhild found herself alone in the wood she stood still. Her
agitation had compelled her to pause. She peered about her, as though
fearing even in this lonely spot the presence of people. The sun played
here and there on the yellow pine needles that were strewn about, on
the fallen decayed branches, on the dark green moss covering the
stones, on the heather in the glades. Around her all was profoundly
still; from the sunny margin of the wood there floated toward her the
twittering of a solitary bird, the babbling of the child, and Rönnaug's
laughter, which rang with the utmost clearness through the trees.
Magnhild ventured to draw forth the letter once more. She opened it.
It was not folded in the original creases. She spread it out before
her, and looked at it as an aged woman might gaze into the depths of a
chest upon her bridal garments. A solitary sunbeam, breaking through
the branches, played restlessly on the sheet, and was now round, now
oblong. Magnhild saw within its shining ring one word, two words, more
distinctly than the rest. Great hopesand failed! were written
there. Great hopesand failed. She read and trembled. Alas! alas!
alas! Over and over again she read the words, and felt rich in
expectation, in dread, in memories of bliss and of conflict; she could
not sit still, she rose to her feet, but only to sit down again to
fresh efforts. The ringing tones of Rönnaug's laughter broke upon her
solitude, like a staff, which she grasped for support. She gained
courage from Rönnaug's courage, and looked here and there in the
letter, not to read, rather to find out whether she dare read. But she
was too agitated to connect the broken sentences, and was led, almost
unawares, to a continuous perusal. She did not understand all that she
read. Still it was a communion; it was like the warm clasp of a hand.
There was music wafted about her,his music; she was once more
in his presence, with the rare perfume, the look, the embarrassed
silence, amid which she had experienced earth's highest bliss. The
diamond cut its shining circlets over the piano keys, his white,
refined hand played Flowers on the Green. Wholly under his influence
now, she became absorbed in re-reading the letter, comprehended it
better than before, paused, exulted without words, read, while the
tears trickled down her cheeks. She paused, without being aware of it,
simply because she could not see, began again, without perceiving it,
wept profusely, read on, finished only to begin anewthree, four, five
times from beginning to end. She could read no more.
What had she not experienced during this perusal of thoughts and
feelings she had had a thousand times before, and thoughts and feelings
she had never dreamed of!
The first complete impression she gathered, in the humid forest
shades, where she sat concealed from view, was like a shaft of
quivering sunbeams. It was the foreboding which stole over herit was
not put into words, and yet it was breathed from every line (a thousand
times sweeter so!) the foreboding, aye, the certainty, that he, yes,
that he had loved her!and the second was that he had at the same time
been fully aware of her love, long, long before she had grasped it
herself! and he had not hinted at this by so much as a look. How
considerate he had been! And yet, what must he not have seen in her
heart! Was it true? Could it be true?
Ah! it was all one! And yet amidst her grief the thought of being
able to feel all this to the core as he had felt, was like the
sun shining behind a misty atmosphere and gradually bursting through
the layers of fog with thousands of undreamed-of light effects, above
and below. How freely she could breathe again after the void,
privation, brooding of many years.
Not until later did individual thoughts force themselves forward,
then not fully until Rönnaug came to her. There was something labored
in this letter; it read occasionally like a translation from a foreign
language. But now for the letter itself:
I have just returned from the south. I thought myself strong
enough. Alas! The papers have doubtless informed you that I am
ill; but the papers do not know what I now know!
The first thing I do in this new certainty is to write to you,
You will, of course, be painfully surprised at the sight of my
signature. I awakened great hopesand failed when they should
have been fulfilled.
A thousand times since I have thought how impossible it would be
for you to go to the piano and try over some song we three had
studied together, or some exercise we two had gone through. A
miracle would have been needed to compel you to do so.
A thousand times I have considered whether I should write to
you, and tell you what I must now tell you, that this has been
the deepest sorrow of my life.
You set me free from a once rich, but afterward unworthy
relation, and this was my salvation. The germ of innocence in
soul was once more released. The entire extent of my
emancipation, however, I did not realize so long as we were
And I repaid you for what you had done for me by desolating your
life, so far as lay within my power. But I have also yearned to
tell you what I now believe: our destiny upon earth is not
what we ourselves have recognized it to be, not alone what we
believe to be the main purpose of our existences. When you,
without being yourself conscious of it, gave me a purer, higher
tendency, you were fulfilling a part of your destiny, dear
Magnhild. It was perhaps a small part; but perhaps it was also
only an hundredth part of still more which you had done for
others without so much as suspecting it yourself.
Magnhild, I can say it now without danger of being
misinterpreted, and also without doing harm; for you have
four years and a half older and I am going hence; indeed, I
believe it will help you to hear it. Well, then, the innocence
in your soul had become, amidst your peculiar circumstances, a
moral atmosphere which in you, more than in any one I ever met,
proclaimed itself to be a power. It was all the more beautiful
because so unconscious in its manifestations. It was breathed
from every manifestation of your bashfulness. It revealed
to me not alone in your blushes, Magnhild; no, in the tone of
your voice also, in the immediate relations you held with every
one you had intercourse with, or looked upon, or merely
If there were those in your presence who were not pure, you
them appear abhorrent; you taught even the fallen ones what
beauty there is in moral purity.
You have the fullest right to rejoice over what I say. Aye, may
it bring you more than rejoicing! It is not well to brood over
a lost vocation, Magnhild, and the letters I receive from Grong
lead me to suppose that this is what you are now doing. One who
does not attain the first or greatest object of his ambition
ought not to sink into listless inactivity; for do we not thus
check the development of the thousand-leaved destiny of the
of life? May not even disappointment be part of this?
* * * * *
(Five days later.)
Magnhild, I do not say this in self-justification. Every time I
think of your singing I realize what I have repressed. It
possessed a purity, untouched by passion, and that was why it
moved with such exalting influence through my soul. The perfume
of tender memories was in it, memories of my childhood, my
mother, my good teacher, my first conceptions of music, my
yearning for love, or thirst for beauty. It also revived the
first, pure tintings of life, those which had not yet become
glaring, still less tainted.
I think of your singing artistically schooled, radiant with
spiritualitywhat a revelation! And this I checked in its
I bought while we were together some of the brooches made by
your father. I showed them to no one. Under the circumstances
it would have caused suspicion and consequent annoyance. But in
those brooches I felt the family calling, Magnhild, the family
work, which your talent should have further continued. In your
father's work there is innocent fancy, patience, in its
imperfections, as it were, a sigh of far more significant,
Is all this now checked because your progress is checked, you
who are the last of your family and without children? No, I
cannot justify myself.
* * * * *
(I have been again compelled to lay aside my pen for many days.
Now I must try if I can finish.)
Let not the wrong I did to you, and thereby, alas, to many both
in the present and in the future, be used by you as an excuse
for never making further progress! You can, if you will, give
free scope to whatever power there is within you, if not in one
way, in another. And do this now; do it, also, because I
you! You can make the burden of my fault less heavy for my
thoughts, now in the last hours of my life.
Aye, while I write this it grows lighter. The kindness you, in
spite of all, surely cherish toward me (I feel it!) sends me a
You will, so far as you can, rescue my life's work, where it
failed to complete its efforts; you will build upon and
You will, moreover, accept this request as a consolation?
* * * * *
(I could proceed no farther. But to-day I am better.)
If what I have written helps to open the world once more to you,
so that you can enter in and take hold of life's duties; aye,
all that you have either neglected or only half performed can
come to attain the rank of links in life's problem, and thus
become dear to you,then it will do me good; remember this!
Ah, yes, farewell! I have other letters to write, and cannot do
much. Farewell! HANS TANDE.
* * * * *
(Eight days later.)
I copy in this letter to you the following lines from a letter
It is not true that love is for every one the portal to life.
Perchance it is not so for even half of those who attain
There are many whose lives are ruined by the loss of love, or
by sacrificing everything to love. With some of them, perhaps,
it could not have been otherwise (people are so different,
circumstances excuse so much); but those whose existences I
seen thus blighted could unconditionally have gained the
over self and in the effort acquired a new power. Encouraged,
however, by a class of literature and art whose
short-sightedness proceeds from a maimed will, they neglected
all attempts at gaining strength.
Magnhild and Rönnaug came arm in arm out of the wood where Rönnaug
had finally been obliged to seek her friend, where so many confidences
had been made, so much discussed and considered. They emerged into the
open plain. How blue the haze about the mountains! And this was the
frame for the pine forest, the surrounding heather, and the plain with
Miss Roland and the child. The latter were sitting on blue and red rugs
near the carriage. From this foreground the mother's eye wandered away
more musingly than ever, and gained even stronger impressions of
outline, light, color.
The summer travels in Norway! The summer travels in Norway! she
kept saying to herself.
From the way in which she uttered these words it might be surmised
that in the entire English vocabulary there was nothing which admitted
of being repeated with such varied shades of meaning.
The two friends took a long ramble. Magnhild had become a new being
to Rönnaug, her individuality enriched, her countenance illumined and
thus transformed. For nearly five years Magnhild had been secretly
brooding over her lost vocation, and her lost love, those two sisters
that had lived and died together. At length she had opened her heart to
another; thus something had been accomplished.
The horses were now hitched to the carriage, and the party drove on.
The noonday repose of nature was not disturbed by so much as the
rumbling of the wheels, for the carriage wound its way slowly over the
At the next post-station the following lines were found in the
There met us croaking ravens on our way:
We knew that Evil this to us did bode;
We made no off'rings, though, as on we rode,
To angry godsthe mild are fall of doubt.
Why should we care? One God to us feels kindly.
He is with us! And Him we follow blindly:
We laugh at all the omens round about.
These little verses began to affect the party like a chorus of
But a joy to which we are unattuned is apt to jar; and here,
moreover, the verses became prophetic, for the travelers had gone but a
short distance when they gained a view of the church steeple on the
heights where Magnhild's parents and brothers and sisters were buried,
and of the stony ground in the mountain to the left where the home of
her childhood had been situated.
This barren patch of stones always rose up distinctly in Magnhild's
mind when she thought of her own life, whose long desert wastes seemed
to lay stretched out before her like just such a heap of ruins. Here it
faced her once more. It was some time before the consolation she had
newly grasped could find expression, for she was haunted by so much
that was unsolved, so much that was doubtful. She was now approaching
the starting-point of the whole; from the brow of the hill the
parsonage was visible.
It had been agreed that they should stop here. The carriage rolled
down toward the friendly gard through an avenue of birch-trees. Rönnaug
was giving Miss Roland a most humorous description of the family at the
parsonage when suddenly they were all terrified by having the carriage
nearly upset. Just by the turn near the house-steps the coachman had
driven against a large stone which lay with its lower side protruding
into the road. Both Rönnaug and Miss Roland uttered a little shriek,
but when they escaped without an accident they laughed. To their
delight Magnhild joined in their laughter. Trifling as had been the
occurrence, it had served to rouse her. She was surprised to find
herself at the parsonage. And this stone? Ah, how many hundred vehicles
had not driven over it! Would it ever be removed, though? There stood
old Andreas, old Sören, old Knut? There, too, was old Ane, looking out!
From the sitting-room came the sound of a dog's bark.
Have they a dog? asked Magnhild.
If they have, replied Rönnaug, I will venture to say it came
through its own enterprise.
Old Ane took the luggage, Rönnaug the child, and the whole party was
ushered through the passage into the sitting-room, where no one was
found except the dog. He was a great shaggy fellow, who at the first
kind word relinquished his wrath, and in a leisurely way went from one
to the other, snuffing and wagging his tail, then sauntering back to
the stove, lay down, fat and comfortable.
A creaking and a grating could now be heard overhead; the priest was
rising from the sofa. How well Magnhild knew the music of those
springs! The dog knew it too, and started up, ready to follow his
master. But the latter, who was soon heard on the groaning wooden
stairs, did not go out but came into the sitting-room, so the dog only
greeted him, and wagging his tail went back to the stove, where he
rolled over with a sigh after his excessive exertion.
The priest was unchanged in every possible particular. He had heard
about Rönnaug, and was glad to see her; his plump hands closed with a
long friendly clasp about hers and with a still longer one about
Magnhild's. He greeted Miss Roland and played with the child, who was
in high glee over the unfamiliar objects in the room, especially the
And when he had lighted his pipe and had seated the others and
himself on the embroidered chairs and sofas, the first thing he must
tell them (for it was just about a month since the matter had been
successfully terminated) was that the little girls were provided for.
There had been secured for each an annuity. It was really on the most
astonishingly favorable terms. God in his inconceivable mercy had been
so good to them. About the Fröken (so the former governess was
usually called), they had had greater cause for anxiety. They had,
indeed, thought of doing something for her, too, although their means
would scarcely have sufficed to make adequate provision for her, and
she had grown too unwieldy to support herself. But God in his
inscrutable mercy had not forgotten her. She no longer needed an
annuity. She had gone to make a visit at the house of a relative not
many miles distant, and while there God had called her to Himself; the
journey had been too much for her. This intelligence had reached the
parsonage a few days before, and the priest was in great uncertainty as
to whether a bridal couple would postpone their wedding for a few days.
Thus it is, dear Magnhild, in life's vicissitudes, said he. The
one is summoned to the grave, the other to the marriage feast. Ah, yes!
But what a pretty dress you have on, my child! Skarlie is truly a good
husband to you. This cannot be denied.
The mistress of the house and her two daughters at length appeared.
The moistened hair, the clean linen, the freshly ironed dresses,
betokened newly-made toilets. They had not a word to say; the priest
took charge of the conversation, they merely courtesied as they shook
hands, and then, taking up their embroidery, sat down each on her own
embroidered chair. One of the daughters, however, soon rose and
whispered something to her mother; from the direction in which first
her eyes then her mother's wandered, it might be concluded that she had
asked whether the gauze covers should be removed from the mirror, the
pictures, and the few plaster figures in the room. As the girl at once
took her seat again, it must have been decided that the covers should
not be removed.
Tell me about the Fröken who is dead, said Magnhild.
With one accord the three ladies dropped their embroidery and raised
She died of apoplexy, said the priest's wife.
They all sat motionless for a moment, and then the ladies continued
The priest rose to let the dog out. The animal departed with the
appearance of being excessively abashed, for which the priest gave him
much praise. Then followed a lengthy account of the dog's virtues. He
had come to them three years ago, the Lord alone knew from where, and
He alone knew why the dog had come to the parsonage; for the very next
summer the animal had saved the Fröken's life when she was attacked
on her accustomed walk to the church by Ole Björgan's mad bull.
The third great event, that old Andreas had cut his foot, was next
detailed at quite as great length. The priest was just telling what old
Andreas had said when he, the priest, was helping him to the couch,
when the narrative was interrupted by an humble scratching at the door;
it came, of course, from the dog. The corpulent priest rose forthwith
to admit the animal, and bestowed on him kind words of admonition,
which were accepted with a timid wagging of the tail.
The dog glanced round the room; observing that the eyes of the
priest's wife manifestly rested with especial friendliness on him, he
walked up to her, and licked the hand extended to him.
At this moment Magnhild rose, and abruptly crossing the floor to
where the priest's wife sat, she stroked her hair. She felt that every
one was watching her, and that the mistress of the house herself was
looking up in embarrassed surprise,and Magnhild was now powerless to
explain what she had done. She hastened from the room. Profound silence
reigned among those left behind.
What was it? What had happened? It was this: in the forenoon
Magnhild had received a letter, as we know, and it had caused her to
look with new eyes on the life at the parsonage.
The tedium seemed uplifted, and behind it she beheld a kindness and
an innocence she had always overlooked. And she began to understand the
character of that home.
There was not a word in the priest's narratives, from beginning to
end, designed to call attention to the good he or any of his household
had done. The listener was left to find this out for himself. But the
dog had discovered it before Magnhild.
The dog returned thanks; had she ever done so? The thought had
rushed over her with such force that it caused her to feel an
irresistible impulse to express her gratitude. The universal
astonishment caused by her effort to do so made her for the first time
realize how unaccustomed her friends were to thanks, or indication of
thanks from her, and she became frightened. This was the reason why she
had left the room.
She took the road leading up toward the church, perhaps because it
had just been mentioned. Her new views wholly absorbed her. Until now
she had seen only the ludicrous side of the life at the parsonage. The
members of the household had provoked, amused, or wearied her. But
hitherto she had not been aware that what had just been praised in
herself had been gained by her in this household whose influences had
spread themselves protectingly over her soul, just as the embroidery
was spread over the furniture in these rooms. Had all the weaknesses of
the house served Skarlie as a means to ensnare her, in this same house
she had acquired the strength wherewith to resist his power until the
If she had lived here without forming close relations with any one,
the fault lay not alone in the monotonous routine of the house: it was
due chiefly to herself, for even in the days of her life at the
parsonage she had wrapped herself up in dreams. It must have required
all the forbearance by which the family were characterized to bring
her, notwithstanding all this, to the point she had reached. In any
other family she would have been shown the doordull, awkward,
thankless as she had been.
Yes, thankless! Whom had she ever thanked? Aye, there was onehim
who had done her the most harm but also the most good; for him she
loved. But this could scarcely be counted.
But whom else? Not Skarlie, although he had been incessantly kind to
her, even he. Not Fru Bang, and how kind she had been! Not Rönnaug; no,
not Rönnaug either.
She was appalled. For the first time in her life she held true
communion with herself, and she had done little else all her life than
commune with herself.
Now she comprehended, although once before she had been startled by
a passing thought of the kind; now for the first time she comprehended
what it must have been to Rönnaug after having longed for so many years
to tell her about the rich change in her own life, to show her her
child, to bring her freedom and increased happiness; and then to find a
person who did not even care to take the trouble to walk to the hotel,
not a hundred steps distant, because, forsooth, it would necessitate
her dressing herself.
She sat once more on the heights facing the ruins of the home of her
parents; and she covered her face in shame.
From the thoughts to which this spot gave birth she did not escape
until evening, weary in body and in soul.
When late in the evening she said good-night to Rönnaug, she threw
her arm round her, and leaned her head against hers. But words refused
to come; they are not easily found the first time they are sought.
The next morning Rönnaug dreamed of singing; she still heard it when
she awoke, and ere long she had so far collected herself as to consider
whether it could really be Magnhild who was singing. This thought
caused her to become wide awake and to leave her bed.
She scarcely waited to don her morning-gown before she opened a
window. From the sitting-room, which was at the other end of the house,
there came the sound of singing and a low piano accompaniment. The
voice was pure and high; it must be Magnhild's.
Rönnaug made haste to complete her toilet and go down-stairs. She
carried her boots out into the passage and put them on there lest she
should awaken Miss Roland and the child. There was some one coming up
the stairs. Rönnaug quickly put down her boots and stepped forward; for
the head which was now displayed to her view was Grong's. What, Grong
He greeted Rönnaug with a keen, hasty glance, and, without a word,
went into an apartment near hers.
Rönnaug sat listening to the singing while she put on her boots. It
flowed so equally and calmly; unquestionably there was joy in it, but
the joy was subduedit might be called pure.
She remained still until Magnhild ended, and even then paused a
little while. She finally went down-stairs. The door of the
sitting-room was half open, which accounted for her having heard so
distinctly. Magnhild had turned round with the piano-stool and sat
talking with the two friends of her childhood, who had seats one on
each side of her. She had been singing for them, it would seem.
They all rose as Rönnaug entered. Magnhild called her friend's
attention to the clock. Verily, the hour hand pointed to ten. Magnhild
had been up a long timeand singing.
The girls withdrew to carry coffee, eggs, etc., into the
dining-room. As soon as Magnhild saw that she and Rönnaug were alone,
she hastened to ask if Rönnaug knew that Grong was at the parsonage.
Rönnaug told about having just met him.
Yes, whispered Magnhild, he is traveling in search of his son.
Only think, the young man has eloped with the girl to whom he is
betrothed! He is twenty years old, she about sixteen.
So, then, the verses?
Were of course by Grong's son. Grong is furious. He wanted to make
a poet of his son, though!
They both laughed.
The young man was really extraordinarily gifted, Magnhild further
narrated, and for his sake his father had read extensively, besides
taking long journeys with his son in Germany, France, Italy, and
England. Plans had been made to give the young man an opportunity of
gaining an impression of the scenery of his fatherland and of country
life, butpop!the bird had flown.
Grong was now heard on the stairs, so nothing more was said. He gave
the ladies a sharp glance as he entered, then began to pace the floor,
as completely hidden by his beard as though it were a forest, and
veiled by his spectacles as an image is veiled in a fountain.
They sat down to the late breakfast, and the priest's wife received
them, one by one, with diffident friendliness. The priest had gone down
to the school-house to attend a meeting.
After the meal was over, Grong, who had not opened his mouth for any
other purpose than to eat and to drink, walked through the sitting-room
and passage directly out to the door-steps. Rönnaug bravely followed;
she wished to talk with him. He discovered this and made an effort to
escape, but was overtaken and obliged to walk up the road with Rönnaug.
When he heard what she wanted, he exclaimed:
I have been so confoundedly bored with this tall woman and her
tiresome vocation, that you will find it impossible to get one word out
of me. Besides, I am expecting my 'skyds.'
He was about to turn away; but Rönnaug held fast to him, laughing,
and brought him back to the theme. Before she had succeeded, however,
in laying before him the necessary facts, he interrupted with,
The fact is she has no vocation whatever; that is the whole secret
of the matter. Her singing? Tande so often wrote to me about her
singing. Well, I have been listening to her singing this morning, and
do you know what I think about it? Technical correctness, good method,
pure tone, in abundance; but no fancy, no inspiration, no expression;
how the deuce could there be! Had she had fancy, she would have had
energy, and with her voice, her natural technical ability, she would
have become a singer, whether there was a Tande or not, whether she had
married a Skarlie or a Farlie.
Notwithstanding the harsh, blunt form in which this idea was framed,
there might be sufficient truth in it to make it worth while to place
Magnhild's history before Grong in its true light. Grong could not
resist the fascination of a soul's experiences. He became all ear,
forgetting both his ire and his skyds.
He heard now about the Magnhild who would scarcely take pains to
dress herself, and who let Skarlie do and say what he pleased, but who
the moment Skarlie mentions Tande's name and hers together, in other
words, invades her inner sanctuary, flees forthwith from him to
America. Was there no energy in that?
He heard about the Magnhild who, checked in her highest aspirations,
became wholly indifferent. The relations with Tande were fully
explained. Grong, indeed, had been partially acquainted with them by
Tande himself. Rönnaug also thought it right to inform Grong of the
purport of Tande's letter; she could recall it perfectly, for it had
made a deep impression on her.
What an impression did it not make on Grong!
How much it must have cost this man in his time to renounce what he
had originally believed to be his vocation. And now to have to give up
his hopes for his son? How could she and Magnhild have laughed at
thisas they had done that same morning.
Consolation in the idea that our calling is greater and more
manifold than we ourselves are aware? Yes, for those who can blindly
and without exercise of their own wills place themselves under
subjection to the unknown guidance! I cannot do so! He raised his
clinched hand, but let it fall again. Is it a crime to steer toward a
definite goal, and concentrate one's will, one's responsibility upon
its attainment? Look at yonder insect! It goes straight forward; it has
a fixed aim. Now I crush it to death. Seethus!
You should have seen my wife, he continued, presently. She sped
onward through life, with fluttering veil; her eyes, her thoughts
sparkled. What was her goal? Just as she was beginning, with my aid, to
comprehend her faculties, she expired. A meteor!
I had a friend. What talents, and what aspirations! How handsome he
was! When he was but little over twenty years of age, he fell during
the siege of a Danish fortress, scarcely mentioned, scarcely
remembered. A meteor!
But what solicitude for existences which neither can nor will be of
any use in the world. That fisherman in Nordland was the only person
who was saved from destruction out of a whole parish. And he lived more
than sixty years as stupid as the codfish he drew out of the sea.
For the sake of others? For the advancement of one's
fellow-creatures? For the good of posterity? Aye, aye, find consolation
in all this, if you can! Before I shall be able to do so I must see the
benefit of it for myself. The mole's life in the dark, with chance
alone for its guide, is not a life that I could lead, even though I
might have a certificate guarantying that light should dawn on me one
day, that is to say, on the other side of the grave. I admire those who
can be content with such a lot.
In other words, you despise them! interposed Rönnaug.
Grong looked at her, but made no reply.
Rönnaug was anxious to know how it was best to advise Magnhild.
Grong promptly answered,
Advise her to go to work.
Without definite object? Merely for the sake of work?
He hesitated a moment, and then said,
I will tell you one thing, my good lady: Magnhild's misfortune has
been that throughout her whole life she has had every want supplied,
every meal, every garment. Had she been obliged to labor hard, or to
bring up children, she would not have indulged so freely in dreams.
So, then, work without definite aim? repeated Rönnaug.
There are so many kinds of aims, said Grong, peevishly,and then
he was silent. It was evident that he had been all round the circle and
had returned to his wrath over what had befallen himself.
They had turned and were retracing their steps in the friendly birch
avenue leading to the parsonage. The tones of a human voice were heard;
they drew nearer, paused, and listened attentively. The windows were
open, and every note rang out, clear and equal.
Yes, there is purity in the voice, said Grong; that is true. But
purity is a mere passive quality.
They went on.
Not technical skill alone, then? queried Rönnaug.
To this Grong made no reply. He had fallen into a new train of
thought. When they had reached the house, he roused himself.
She and I are, both of us, I dare say, bearers of a half-completed
family history. Nevertheless, her family dies out with her; and mine?
Oh, all this is enough to drive one mad! Where is my 'skyds?'
With these words he strode past the main building to the court-yard
behind. Rönnaug slowly followed. The skyds had not yet arrived.
Grumbling considerably, Grong sauntered up to the coach-house, whose
doors stood open, and in which he saw Rönnaug's carriage. She joined
him, and they discussed the carriage together. It was too light for a
traveling carriage, Grong thought. One fore-wheel must already have
been damaged, for it had been taken off. So, then, it depended upon the
blacksmith how long the ladies would remain at the parsonage? But he
would start without further delay; for thereat lastcame the
He bade her a light farewell, as though he were merely going to the
next corner, and then went into the house for his luggage. Rönnaug,
however, determined to wait until he came out again.
She had a kindly feeling for him. She earnestly hoped that the son's
case was not so bad as the father now thought. There was so much unrest
in Grong. Was not this caused by his having a great variety of
talents, but no one special talent? She had once heard Grong half
jestingly make a similar assertion about another person. All these
endowments, however, might be combined in one main tendency, of this
Rönnaug felt sure. It might be the same in the case of Magnhild; but
perhaps there was not sufficient talent there. Technical ability? Aye,
if that were her chief endowment she could doubtless render it
available in singing.
Rönnaug had failed to find the light she needed. This was truly
discouraging; for counsel must be given, a resolution formed. She
prayed God for her friend, and for this gloomy man now coming out of
the house, accompanied by the priest's wife, who seemed to be the only
person to whom he had said farewell.
Present my greetings to my old teacher, he called down from the
cariole, as he grasped the hand of the mistress of the house. Tell
himtell him nothing! and with this he whipped up his horse so
suddenly that the skyds boy came near being left behind.
The priest's wife made some remarks about his surely being very
unhappy, as she stood watching him drive away. While the ladies were
still at the door, a woman came walking up the road toward them. She
nodded and smiled at the mistress of the house as she passed on her way
to the kitchen.
You made your sale?
I thought so from your looks.
Then turning to Rönnaug the priest's wife said,
This woman, you may well believe, made Magnhild happy this
Why, she stopped here with her work on her way to the dealer, who
makes purchases for a merchant in town. Just as she stepped inside
Magnhild came down into the kitchen. When the woman caught sight of
her, she eagerly addressed hershe is a great talkerand she began to
cry and to talk, to talk and to cry, telling how poor she had been and
how well off both she and her children now were. Magnhild, you know,
for many years taught an Industrial School up in these mountains, and
this woman was one of her aptest pupils. This hand-work, I can assure
you, has spread rapidly here; there are scarcely any poor people to be
found in our parish now.
But Magnhildwas she glad?
She certainly must have been glad, for soon afterward we heard her
singing. And the last time she was hereabout four or five years
agowe could not persuade her to go near the piano.
Rönnaug now greeted Miss Roland, who was coming toward her with the
child. A little later, as she was going through the passage to the
sitting-room, the sounds of music once more floated out toward her. The
priest's daughters were at the piano, singing a duet with feeble
voices, one of which was more quavering than the other. They were
All rests in God's paternal hand.
The door stood open. One of the girls sat at the piano, the other
stood at its side. Magnhild sat facing them, leaning against the piano.
Peace radiated from the little hymn, because they who sang it were
at peace. The small, yellow-haired heads above the stiff collars did
not make a single movement, the piano almost whispered. But the
sunshine, playing on the embroidered furniture and the embroidered
covers, blended with the music a harmony from afar.
When they had finished singing, one of the girls told that a lady
traveling that way had taught them the hymn, and the other, that her
part had been arranged by the Fröken. Without uttering a word, without
even changing her position, Magnhild held out her hand, which was
clasped by the young lady nearest her.
At this moment voices were heard out of doors. The priest was
approaching, accompanied by several men. As they stopped at the
door-steps, Rönnaug entered the sitting-room. Soon a tramping of many
feet was heard on the steps; the group at the piano rose, Magnhild
crossed the floor to where Rönnaug stood. First the dog, then the
priest, entered in solemn procession, and slowly following them came
dropping in, one by one, six or seven of the farmers of the little
mountain parish, heavy, toil-worn men, all of them. Magnhild pressed
close up to Rönnaug, who also drew back a little, so that they two
stood in front of the gauze-covered mirror. The priest said
good-morning, first to Mrs. Randon, then to Magnhild, and asked how
they were. Then the men went round the room, one by one, and shook
hands with every one present.
Call mother, said the priest to one of his daughters, and cleared
The mistress of the house soon appeared, and again man after man
stepped forward, shook hands, and returned to his place. The priest
wiped his face, stationed himself in front of the frightened Magnhild,
bowed, and said:
Dear Magnhild, there is no cause for alarm! The representatives of
our little parish chanced to assemble to-day in the school-house, and
as I happened to mention that you were making a journey and had stopped
at the parsonage on your way, some one said: 'It is due to her
exertions that the poor-rates of this parish are so small.' Several
others expressed the same sentiments. And then I told them that this
should be said to your face; they all agreed with me. I do not suppose
thanks have ever been offered to you, my dear child, either here or
down at the Point, where the results of your work are even greater than
here and have spread to the parishes on both sides of the fjord.
Dear child, God's ways are inscrutable. As long as we can discern
them in our own little destinies we are happy, but when we fail to see
them we become very unhappy. (Here Magnhild burst into tears.)
When you were carried downward by the landslide, with your sled in
your little hand, you were saved in order that you might become a
blessing to many.
Do not scorn the gratitude of this humble parish: it is a prayer
for you to the Almighty. You know what He has said: 'Inasmuch as ye
have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done
it unto me.' May you realize this!
The priest now turned toward his wife, and in the same solemn tone
Have refreshments handed to these men!
He strode round among the latter with playful remarks, but the whole
house seemed to shake beneath his tread. The more deeply Magnhild
seemed moved the happier the priest was.
Magnhild felt a strong impulse to say something to him; for had she
not found a refuge in his house, none of the results for which she had
just received such unmerited thanks would have been accomplished. But
the priest's impetuosity restrained her.
Refreshments were handed round; then the men once more shook hands
with every one and withdrew, led by the priest, whose voice could be
heard almost all the way to the school-house.
In the afternoon the mail from the Point arrived, bringing a letter
for Magnhild. She was alarmed, and handed the letter to Rönnaug, who
soon returned it to her, with the information that she need not be
afraid to read it herself.
You will see by this what your journey has already brought about,
The letter was from tall Louise.
DEAR MAGNHILD,I was obliged to go up to your house to-day to
ask for the pattern you had promised to explain to us. But I
found only Skarlie at home, and he was not exactlyah! what
shall I call it? for I have never before seen so unhappy a
person. He said you had gone on a journey.
I heard later that you were traveling with Mrs. Randon, and
thinking it most likely that you are at the parsonage in the
mountains I address you there. For you must not leave us,
Magnhild, or if you do go away, you must come back to us again!
We have all of us plainly seen that you were unhappy; but as you
said nothing, we did not like to say anything either. But can
you not stay with us?
How shall we make progress with the new work which has just been
introduced? We cannot understand it without some one to explain
it to us. And there is the singing, too! Dear Magnhild, so many
people thank me and Marie; she and I take the lead now, it is
true, but we all know to whom we owe our excellent means of
support, the good times we have together, and our opportunities
for helping one another. Now that you have left us it seems
dreadful to think that we never did anything to give you
pleasure, and that you do not really know us.
I can assure you we could do much for you in return for your
kindness to us if you would only let us. Do not leave us! Or if
you must, come back to us when your journey is over!
Your devoted, heartily grateful
There was added to the letter an extremely neat postscript from
I was so grieved when Louise told me you had gone. She has more
energy than I, poor hunchback. She has written and said what we
all, yes, all of us, think of the matter.
But I have the greatest cause to write to you. What in
world would have become of me if you had not come to the school
and made me skillful in work that is just suited to me. Without
you I should have been a burden to others, or at least I should
never have learned to take pleasure in work. Now I feel that I
am engaged in something which is continually growing. Yes, now
I have told you this at last. How often have I wished to open my
heart to you, yet did not quite dare, because you were so
What delightful times we might have had together! But can we not
have them yet?
Postscript.You may think I mean that you took no interest in
us. No: I did not mean that. You were too patient with us for
to have any such thought. But it seemed as if you were
indifferent to everything about you, people as well as all
that is what I had in mind.
Cannot you, as Louise says, come to us? We will gather about
you, as bees about their queen, dear Magnhild.
There is no better way to express what now happened to Magnhild,
than to say that a new life-spring welled up within her. This help from
what she had never thought of as anything but a pastime and a
monotonous routine worked wonders. She felt that she must endeavor to
deserve this devotion; she knew now what it was her duty to do.
She was walking and talking with Rönnaug in the court-yard. Evening
was drawing nigh; the fowls had already sought shelter and were
settling themselves cackling on the roost; the cows were being driven
home from the pasture, and slowly passed by. The perfume of hay was
wafted toward the ladies, ever and anon, for loads were being hauled
into the barn.
Rönnaug was so sure of what she was doing that she did not hesitate
to tell Magnhild what the same mail had brought her: it was a newspaper
containing a telegram from Munich announcing the death of Tande. These
tidings produced no further effect upon Magnhild than to make both her
and Rönnaug pause for an instant and then walk on in silence. Tande had
always been thought of as one very far away, and now he seemed nearer.
What he had recently sent her for her guidance became more profoundly
true than ever.
The first words she uttered were not about Tande but about Skarlie.
Perhaps it would be best to send for him that they might have an
explanation before she started on her journey. Rönnaug was not
disinclined to agree to this; but she thought that she, not Magnhild,
should attend to the explanation. In fact, there was nothing to say
except to announce what Magnhild had resolved upon doing.
The conversation was spasmodic like their walk. All the people of
the house were out making hay. Miss Roland and the child had also gone
to the field. Magnhild and Rönnaug were about going there themselves
when a boy came walking into the yard whistling, with his hands in his
pockets. Seeing the ladies he stood still and stopped whistling. Then
he took a stand on his right foot; the left heel he planted in the
ground, and moved his leg in such a way that the sole of the foot stood
erect and fanned the air.
Presently he drew nearer.
Is it you they call Magnhild? he asked, in the ringing dialect of
He addressed the question to the right one, who replied in the
I was sent to ask you to come down to our place, Synstevold; for
there is a fellow there waiting to see you.
What is his name? asked Rönnaug.
I was told not to tell, said the boy, as he planted his left heel
in the ground again, fanned the air with his foot, and stared at the
Rönnaug broke into the dialect as she asked whether the fellow was
That is very possible, answered the boy, with a grin, and an oath.
Here Rönnaug ran to meet old Andreas who was just coming out of the
barn with an empty hay wagon to go after another load; the rumbling of
the wheels prevented him from hearing her call; but she overtook him.
Was it you who took one of the fore-wheels from my carriage? asked
Fore-wheel of the carriage, repeated old Andreas. Is it off?
Stand still, you fool there? he cried, giving the reins such a jerk
that one of the horses started to move backward instead of forward, for
it was a young horse.
But in the mean time Rönnaug had gained light on the question, and
left Andreas. In slow English she told Magnhild what she believed she
had discovered; she did not want the boy who was standing by to
understand. Andreas drove on.
Magnhild laughed: Yes, Skarlie has come. It is undoubtedly he! and
turning to the boy she said that she would accompany him at once.
Rönnaug tried to persuade Magnhild to remain where she was and let
her go. No, Magnhild preferred to go herself. She was already on
her way when Rönnaug called after her that she would soon follow
herself to see how things were going. Magnhild looked back with a
smile, and said,
You may if you like!
So after a time Rönnaug set forth for Synstevold. She knew very well
that Skarlie could offer nothing that would tempt Magnhild, but he
might be annoying, perhaps rough. The fore-wheel was a warning.
There was perhaps no one to whom Skarlie was so repulsive as to
Rönnaug. She knew him well. No one besides Rönnaug could surmise how he
had striven, dastard as he was, to taint the purity of Magnhild's
imagination, to deaden her high sense of honor. Magnhild's frequent
blushes had their history.
What was it that so bound him to her? At the outset, of course, the
hope that failed. But since then? The evening before, when the
conversation had turned on the Catholic cloisters, the priest had
remarked that Skarliewho was a man that had traveled and thought
considerablyhad said that in the cloisters the monks prayed night and
day to make amends for the neglected prayers of the rest of the people.
That was the reason why people were willing to give their money so
freely to the cloisters: it was like making a cash payment on the debt
Rönnaug had sat and pondered. Had not Skarlie hereby explained his
own relations with Magnhild? It was his way of making payments on his
debt of sin.
And so, of course, he grudged giving her up.
Had he but been harsh and impatient, Magnhild would immediately have
left him. That was just the misfortune; he was a coward, and he could
not bear to renounce her. He was very humble whenever he failed in his
attempts to win her, and when he had been especially malicious he
forthwith made amends by being as friendly and interesting as possible.
And this was what had kept the ball rolling.
Amid these and similar reflections, Rönnaug took the way across the
fields in order not to be seen from the place. The grass where she
walked had not been mown; she trampled it mercilessly under foot, but
she paused before a patch of flowers whose varied hues and leaves she
could not help contemplating. Suddenly she heard voices. In front of
her there were several willow copses through whose branches she espied
the pair she was seeking.
There sat Skarlie and Magnhild in the grass, he in his shirt-sleeves
and without a hat.
Half-frightened for Magnhild and utterly without respect for him, Rönnaug immediately stood guard. Concealing herself from view she took
her post between two copses. Skarlie and Magnhild could be seen quite
distinctly, for the space behind them was open.
Then I shall certainly close up down at the Point, and I will
You may if you choose. But spare me further threats. For the last
time: I have resolved to go. I wish to travel in order to see and to
learn. Some day I hope to return and teach others.
Do you intend to come back to me?
That I do not know.
Oh, you do know very well.
Perhaps I do, for if you should lead a better life I presume I
would come back to you; but I do not believe you capable of changing,
and so I might just as well say at once that I shall not return to
You do not know all I mean to do for you.
What, your last will and testament again? Suppose we drop this
She sat twirling a flower, upon which she was intently gazing.
Skarlie had placed his shorter leg under him; his face was all puckered
up and his eyes stung.
You have never appreciated me.
Nothat is true. I have much to thank you for which I have taken
without thanks. Please God, I shall one day show my gratitude.
Cannot we make it right now? What is it you want? To travel? We can
travel; we have means enough.
As I said before, let us drop this subject now.
He sighed, and taking up his cutty, he laid his forefinger over it.
It was already filled; he produced a match-box.
If you can smoke there is hope for you, said Magnhild.
Oh! I am not smoking; it is nothing but habit,he drew a long
sigh. No, Magnhild, it is impossible for things to go well with me if
you leave me. For that is about equal to closing up my house and
driving me out into the world. The gossip of the people would be more
than I could bear.
He looked now positively unhappy. Magnhild plucked several flowers;
but if he expected an answer from her it was in vain.
It is hard for those who have strong natures, said he; the devil
gains the upper-hand over them in many ways. I thought you would
have helped me. One thing I must say: if we two could have had a right
cozy home together, and a child
But here she sprang up quickly, and the flowers fell from her lap.
Let us have no more of this! He who means to do right does not
begin as you did. But in spite of the beginning you might perhaps still
haveYet how did you act? I say: let us have no more of this!
She moved away a few paces and came back again with: No, I was not
to blame when I gave myself to you, for you promised that I should do
and live precisely as I pleased. And I was such an inexperienced child
that I did not in the least understand how you were outwitting me. But
I did wrong when I heard how matters really were and did not at once
leave you. Also when I failed to do so later. However, this is
connected with many things about which we will not talk at present. All
we can do now is to make amends, as far as we can, for the past. Give
me up, and try to do your duty toward others.
What do you mean by that? His eyes blinked and his face grew
I mean that you have outwitted others, so I have heard, for your
own selfish ends. Try to make amends for your evil deeds, if you really
That is not true. If it was, it is nothing to you.
Alas! alas! There is little hope of improvement, I fear, in this as
in other things. Aye, then, farewell! It shall be as I have said.
He looked up and distorted his face to a grin, making the eyes
almost wholly disappear beneath the bushy brows.
You cannot leave here without my consent.
Moreover, have you considered what you are doing? Are you right in
the eyes of God?
You know very well what I think upon this subject.
Pshaw! If you mean that talk about unholy marriages, it is sheer
nonsense. There is not a word in the Bible about it. I have looked.
She stroked the hair from her brow. Then it is written here, said
she, and turned to go.
Skarlie began to get up. He was very angry.
Rönnaug felt the necessity of making haste, for now she was in
danger of being seen.
Suddenly the three stood face to face.
Rönnaug went right up to Skarlie, in the sweetest, most amiable
manner, heartily shook his hand, and said in English that she was
delighted to see him, he had often been so extremely kind to her. Then
she began to jest; she was at once insinuating and daring. Skarlie
could not help laughing and offering some remarks, also in English;
then Rönnaug said something witty to which Skarlie could retaliate;
soon they were both laughing heartily. The impression made on him by
this handsome, finely developed woman, transported him, as it were,
before he was aware, to other scenes and spread a new train of thoughts
over his spirit. The jesting became livelier. English alone was spoken,
which particularly pleased Skarlie; and it put him in a good humor,
too, to have a chance of displaying his ready wit, of which he
possessed an abundance. Finally, Rönnaug held him completely bound by
the spell of her witchery, and thus made no unalloyed good impression
on Magnhild, who was alarmed at this display of the powers Rönnaug had
at her command. She wound her spell about him, with her look, her
words, her challenging figure; but her eyes flashed fire, while she was
laughing: she would have liked, above all things, to give him a good
box on the ear! Women become wonderfully united when they have occasion
to defend or avenge one another.
Amid the stream of conversation she gradually led the limping
Skarlie round the willow copse, and when they stood on the other side
she turned toward the copse which had concealed her while she was
eavesdropping. Thrusting aside some of the branches, she asked Skarlie,
with a laugh, if he would not be gallant enough to aid them in
rolling home the wheel that lay concealed here. He could not possibly
allow the ladies to do it alone, she said.
Skarlie heartily joined in her laughter, but showed no readiness to
give her any assistance. He was in his shirt sleeves, he said; he must
go after his coat if he was to accompany them to the parsonage.
Rönnaug assured him that his coat could be sent after him, and that
he would find it far easier to roll the wheel without it. She went to
work to raise the wheel unaided, shouting Ahoy! No sooner had she,
with great effort, succeeded in getting it up, than it fell over again.
It requires two to do this! said she.
She once more stooped to take hold of the wheel, and while bending
over it flashed her roguish eyes on Skarlie. His were irresistibly
attracted to her face and superb form. The wheel was raised. Rönnaug
and Skarlie rolled it forward between them, she skipping along on one
side, he limping on the other, amid merry words and much laughter.
Magnhild slowly followed. Rönnaug cast back a look at her, over the top
of Skarlie's bald head; it sparkled with mirth and victory. But ere it
was withdrawn, its fire was scorching enough to have left two deeply
seared brown stripes on his neck and shoulders.
The distance was not very short. Skarlie groaned. Soon Rönnaug felt
great drops of sweat rolling down from his face upon her hands. All the
more swiftly did she roll. His sentences became words, his words
syllables; he made a vigorous effort to conceal his exhaustion with a
laugh. At last he could neither roll himself nor the wheel; he dropped
down on the grass, red as a cluster of rowan berries, his eyes fixed in
their sockets, his mouth wide open. He gasped to recover his breath and
Rönnaug called to old Andreas, who at this moment appeared on the
road with a load of hay, to come and take the wheel. Then she drew her
arm through Magnhild's, bowed and thanked Skarliestill in
Englishmany thousand times for his admirable assistance. Now they
could start the next morning earlyand so, farewell!
From the road they looked back. The attitude of Andreas indicated
that he was asking Skarlie how the wheel had come there. Skarlie made a
wrathful movement of the hand, as though he would like to sweep away
both the wheel and Andreas; or perhaps he was consigning them to a
place where the inhabitants of Norway are very apt to consign their
least highly-prized friends. The ladies now saw him turn his face
toward them; Rönnaug promptly waved her handkerchief and cried back to
him, Farewell! The word was echoed through the evening air.
The two friends had not proceeded many steps before Rönnaug paused
to give vent to the residue of her wrath. She poured out a stream of
words, in a half whisper. Magnhild could only distinguish a few of
these words, but those she did make out were from the vocabulary of the
old days of service on the road; they compared with Rönnaug's present
vocabulary as the hippopotamus compares with the fly.
Magnhild recoiled from her. Rönnaug stared wildly at Magnhild, then
composed herself and said in English, You are right! but immediately
gave way to a new outburst of wrath and horror; for she was so forcibly
reminded of the time when she herself crept along as best she could
down among the slimy dwellers of the human abyss where darkness reigns,
and where such as he down on yonder hill sat on the brink and fished.
She thrust her hand into her pocket to draw forth Charles Randon's last
letter, which she always carried about her until the next one came; she
pressed it to her lips and burst into tears. Her emotion was so violent
that she was forced to sit down.
It was the first time Magnhild had ever seen Rönnaug weep. Even upon
the deck of the vessel on which she had set sail for America she had
not wept. Oh, no, quite the contrary!
They remained at the parsonage several days, for when it was
announced that Magnhild was going with Rönnaug to America the good
people were so startled that it was thought best to grant them time to
become accustomed to the idea. Magnhild wished for her own sake, too,
to pass a little time with them.
One day the ladies were all taking a walk along the road. Rönnaug
and Miss Roland had little Harry between them, so they made but slow
progress. From sheer solicitude for the child they all went quite out
of the way of a large carriage which was overtaking them.
Magnhild! was called from the carriage, at the moment those
walking had fully turned their faces toward it.
Magnhild looked up; a lady in black was smiling at her. Magnhild
sprang directly toward her; the coachman stopped his horses. It was Fru
The lady drew Magnhild up to her and kissed her. A stout military
man by the lady's side bowed.
The lady was thin. She wore a mourning suit of the latest style. Jet
beads, strewed all over the costume, sparkled with every movement; from
the jaunty hat, with waving plume, flowed a black veil which was wound
about the neck. As from out the depths of night she gazed, with her
glowing eyes, which acquired, in this setting, an especially
fascinating radiance. Melancholy resignation seemed to command, as it
were, the countenance, to hold sway over every nerve, to control the
smile about the mouth, to languish in these eyes.
Yes, I am changed, said she, languidly.
Magnhild turned from the lady to the stout officer. The lady's eyes
Do you not recognize Bang? Or did you not see him?
His size had increased tenfold, the flesh resembling heavy layers of
padding; he occupied at least two thirds of the carriage, crowding his
wife, for one shoulder and arm covered hers. He looked good-natured and
quite contented. But when one looked from his plump, heavy face and
body back to the lady, she appeared spiritualizedaye, to the very
finger-tips of the hand from which she was now drawing the glove.
Steadfastly following Magnhild's eyes, she stroked back from
Magnhild's brow a lock of hair which had crept forward, and then let
her hand pass slowly, softly over her cheek.
You are in mourning? asked Magnhild.
The whole land should be in mourning, my child! And after a pause,
came a whispered, He is dead!
You must remember that there is no time to lose if we would reach
the steamer, said Bang.
The lady did not look up at her husband's words; she was busy with
the lock she had just stroked back. Bang gave the coachman a sign, the
carriage was set in motion.
I am going to America, whispered Magnhild, as she descended from
the carriage step.
The lady gazed after her a moment, then she seemed to grasp in its
full extent what it implied that Skarlie's wife was going far, far
awaywhat suppositions might be therewith connected and what
consequences. For her face resumed somewhat of its old brightness, her
frame regained its elasticity: at once she was on her feet, had turned
completely round, and was waving her handkerchief. With what charming
grace she did it!
Her husband would not permit the carriage to halt again. He
contented himself with following his wife's example by waving one hand.
The movement must have been accompanied by an admonition to sit down,
for the lady disappeared forthwith.
The plume in her hat waved over his shoulder. More could not be
seen; she must have let herself glide back into her place.
The drive from the town to Skogstad, the large gard belonging to the
Atlung family, with its manufacturing establishment on the margin of
the woodland stream, at the usual steady pace, might possibly occupy
two hours; but in the fine sleighing we had been having it could
scarcely take an hour and a half. The road was a chaussée running along
the fjord. All the way from town I had the fjord on the right-hand
side, and on the left broad fields, gently sloping down from the
heights and dotted with villas and gards, surrounded by hedges of trees
and having avenues leading to them.
Farther on, the heights became mountains, and rose more abruptly
from the shore; here, too, they became more and more rugged, and at
last had no other growth than the pine forest, from the uppermost ridge
all the way down to the fjord, forest, forest, far as the eye could
reach. This belonged to Skogstad; the factory on the Skogstad River
prepared the raw material.
The Atlungs were of French descent, having settled here in the times
of the Huguenots, and were people of plain origin who had bettered
their condition by marrying into the once wealthy and influential
Atlung family, taking its name, which sounded not unlike their own.
I thoroughly enjoyed the drive. It had recently been snowing, and
the snow still lay on the trees; not a breath of wind had left its
traces in the wood. On the other hand, it had been thawing a little,
which the deciduous trees that here began to press forward farther down
toward the road could not tolerate; the sole covering they wore was the
new-fallen snow of the morning.
Between both the white landscape and the snow-laden air, the fjord
appeared black. It was not far to the opposite side, and there still
loftier mountains loomed up, now also white, but of that subdued tint
imparted by the atmosphere.
Where I was driving the sea lay close up to the edge of the snow,
only a few sea-weeds, some pebbles, and in some places not so much as
these, separated the two forms and hues of the same elementreality
and poetry, where the poetry is just as real as the reality, simply not
As soon as I had advanced as far as the forest, this attracted my
undivided attention. The fir-trees held great armfuls of snow; in some
places it had been showered around; nevertheless there was still so
much uncovered that a shimmer of dark green overspread the whiteness of
the entire forest. On a nearer view it could be seen that the single
uncovered branches were thrust forth, as it were, defiantly, and that
the red-tinted lower boughs had pierced the snow-drifts.
Higher up mighty trunks were visible, most of them dark, although
some of the younger ones were brighter: taken all together an
assemblage of well-laden giants, and this gave an air of solemnity to
the thicket. The foremost trees, which were low enough not to impede
the view, and which while growing had been disfigured either by man or
beast, perhaps too by the storms (for they had borne the brunt of
these), had not the regular shapes of the others; they were more
gnarled, affording the snow an opportunity to commit what ravages it
chose among them. Their lowest branches were in some places quite bowed
to the ground, often making the tree appear like an unbroken mass of
white; others were fantastically transformed into clumsy dwarfs, with
only upper parts to their bodies, or into sundry human forms, each with
a white sack drawn over the head, or a shirt that was not put on right.
Alongside of these awkward figures I noticed small clusters of
deciduous trees, over which but the faintest suspicion of snow was
spread; a single one, which stood apart from the rest, looked as though
its outmost white branches, as they grew finer and finer, gradually
flowed into the air; then there were young spruce trees which formed
pyramid upon pyramid of regular layers of snow. Close down by the sea,
where there were more stones, might now and then be seen a bramble
bush. The snow had spread itself on every thorn, so that the bush
looked as if it were strewed over with white berries.
I rounded a naze with a crag upon it, and here is where Skogstad
proper begins. The ridge recedes and is broken by the river. Again we
see gently sloping fields, and here lies the gard. The river flows
farther away; the red roof and a row of buildings alongside become
visible. On either side of the gard lie the housemen's places with
their surrounding grounds, but they are separated from the gard by
fields on the one side and by a wood or park on the other.
At the sight of the park I forgot all that had gone before.
Originally it was intended to slope down to the sea; but the stony
ground had evidently rendered this impossible, and so the trees on the
lower square had been felled; but in the course of years, instead of
pine woods a vigorous growth of deciduous trees had shot up. These,
being of the same year's growth, were of an equal height, and extended
all the way up to the venerable pine trees in the park. The effect of
the delicate encircling the ponderous, the light opposed to the heavy,
the low and perpetually level at the foot of the upward-soaring and
powerful, was very fine.
The eye reveled in this, searching for forms; I would combine a
hundred branches in one survey, because they ran parallel in the same
curve, at about the same height; or I would single out one solitary
bough from the rest and follow it from its first ramification through
the branches of its branches to the most delicate twig,a distended,
transparent white wing, or a monstrous fern leaf strewed all over with
white down. Then I was compelled once more to cease following the forms
and turn to the colors; the unequal coating presented an infinite
I turned my back on my traveling companion, the fjord, and wound my
way up to the gard. Where the park ended, the garden began, and the
road followed this in a gradual ascent. Once there had been a wood here
also, and the road had passed through it; but of the wood there was
left but a few yards, on either side, thus forming the avenue. Large,
old trees were about being replaced by young ones, whose growth was so
dense that in some places I could not see the gard I was driving
toward. But the snow-romance followed, decking the sinking giants with
white flags, powdering the young and fresh ones, and playing Christmas
masquerade with the deformed ones.
The impressions of nature play their part in our anticipations of
what we are about to meet. What was there so white and refined in the
experience that awaited me here?
She was not clad in white, to be sure, the last time I saw her, the
bright attractive being whom I was now to meet again. On her wedding
journey, and in Dresden, some nine years previous to this time, we had
last been together. True, she was dressed in gala attire every daya
whim of the young bridegroom, in his blissful intoxication; but most
frequently she wore blue, not once did she appear in white; nor would
it have been becoming to her.
I remember them especially as they sang at the piano, he sitting,
because he was playing the accompaniment, she standing and usually with
her hand on his shoulder; but what they sang was indeed white, at least
it was always of the character of a more or less jubilant anthem. She
was the daughter of a sectarian priest, and they had just come from the
parsonage and from the wedding feast. Since then I had heard of them
from time to time at the parsonage, and from that source I had received
repeatedly renewed urgent entreaties to visit them the next time I was
in their vicinity. I was now on my way to them.
I had heard the dwelling-house spoken of as one of the largest frame
buildings in Norway. It was gray and immensely long. No Atlung had ever
been satisfied with what his predecessor had built, and so the house
had had an addition made to it by every generation and a partial
remodeling of the old portions, so far as it was necessary to make
these correspond with the new. I had heard that many and long passages
(concerning which at festal gatherings rhymes without end were said to
have been made) endeavor to unite the interior in the same successful
or unsuccessful manner as the out-buildings, sloping roof, balconies,
and verandas attempt to keep up the style of the exterior. I have heard
how many rooms there are in the house, but I have forgotten it.
The last addition was made by the present owner, and is in a sort of
modernized gothic style.
Behind the dwelling the other buildings of the gard form a crescent,
which, however, protrudes in rather an unsightly manner on one side.
Between these and the dwelling I now drove in order to alight,
according to the post-boy's advice, at a porch in the gothic wing. I
did not see a living being about the gard, not even a dog. I waited a
little but in vain, then walked through the porch into a passage, where
I took off my wraps, and then passed on into a large bright front room
to the right. Neither did I see any one here; but I heard either two
children's voices and a woman's voice, or two female voices and one
child's voice, and I recognized the song, for it was one that was just
then floating about the country, the lament of a little girl that she
was everywhere in the way except in heaven with God, who was so glad to
have unhappy children with Him. It sounded rather strange to hear such
a lament in this bright, lively room, filled with guns and other
sporting implements, reindeer horns, fox skins, lynx skins, and similar
substantial objects, arranged with the most exquisite taste.
I knocked at the door and entered one of the most charming
sitting-rooms I have seen in this country, so bright its outlook on the
fjord, so large it was, so elegant. The brightly polished wooden panels
of the wall were relieved by carved wooden brackets, each bearing a
bust or a small statue; the stylish furniture was in every direction
gracefully distributed about on the Brussels carpet. Moody and Sankey's
dreamy melody flowed out over this like a white or yellow sheet. This
hymn belongs to a collection of Christian songs which are among the
most beautiful that I know; but it made the same impression here as if
beneath this modern room there was a crypt from the Middle Ages where
immured nuns were taking part in ceremonies for the dead, amidst
smoking lamps, and whence incense and low chanting, inseparably
blended, stole up into the bright conceptions and cheerful art of the
The singing proceeded from one woman and two boys, the elder of the
latter seven years old or a little more, and the younger about six. The
woman turned her face toward the door, and paused quite astonished at
my entrance; the boys were gazing out of the window, and did not look
at her; they were wholly absorbed in their singing, and therefore they
continued a while after she had ceased.
Of these two boys the one resembled the father's family, the other
the mother's; only the mother's eyes had been bestowed on them both.
The elder of the boys had a long face, with high brow and sandy hair,
and he was freckled like his father. The younger one had his mother's
figure, and stooped slightly because the head was set forward on the
shoulders. But in consequence of this his head was usually thrown
somewhat backward in order to recover its equilibrium. The result of
this again was that the lips were habitually parted, and then the
large, questioning eyes and the bright curly hair encircling the fine
arched brow were exactly like the mother's. The elder one was tall and
thin, and had his father's lounging gait and small, outward turned
feet. I observed all this at a glance, while the boys walked across the
room to the table by the sofa, as their companion left them. She had
advanced, after a moment's hesitation, to meet me; she was evidently
not sure whether she knew me or not. On hearing my name, she discovered
with a smile that it was only my portrait she had seen, the portrait in
the album, a souvenir of the wedding journey of the heads of the house.
She informed me that Atlung was at the factories, and would be home to
dinner, that is to say in about an hour, and that the mistress of the
house was at one of the housemen's places I had seen from the road; it
seemed that there was an old man lying at the point of death there.
She made this announcement in a melodious, although rather feeble
voice, and with a pair of searching eyes fastened on me. She had heard
something about me. I had never thought that I should see one of Carlo
Dolci's madonnas step down from a frame to stand in a modern
sitting-room and talk with me, and therefore my eyes were certainly not
less searching than hers. The way the head was poised on the shoulders,
its inclination to one side, the profile of the face, and beyond all
else the eyes and the eyebrows, indeed, the bluish green head kerchief,
which was drawn far forward, imparting to the pale face something of
its own huealtogether a genuine Carlo Dolci!
She walked noiselessly away, and left me alone with the boys, whom I
at once attacked. The elder one was named Anton, and he could walk on
his hands, at least, almost; and the younger one informed me that his
name was Storm, and told me a great deal more about his brother, whom
he regarded with unqualified admiration. The elder, on the other hand,
assured me that his brother Storm was a very bad boy sometimes; he had
recently been caught at some of his naughty tricks, and so papa had
given him a flogging that same day; Stina had told papa about it. Stina
was the name of her who had just left us.
After this not very diplomatic introduction to an acquaintance, they
stood one on each side of me and prattled away about what at present
was working in their minds, with most extraordinary force. They both
now told me, the elder one taking the lead and the younger following
with supplementary details, that yonder at one of the houseman's
places, past which I had driven, lived Hans, little Hans; that is he
had lived there, for the real, true little Hans was with God. He
had come to the gard to play with the boys almost every day; though
sometimes they too had been over at the housemen's places, which I soon
perceived were to the boys the promised land of this earth. Then one
evening, about a fortnight since, Hans had started to go home at dusk;
it was before the snow came, and in the park, through which he had to
pass, the fish pond lay spread before him so smooth and black. Hans
thought he would like to slide on it and he climbed up from the path on
to the pond, for the path ran right along it. But that same day there
had been a hole cut in the ice for the people to fish, and they had
forgotten to put a signal there, and so little Hans slid right into the
hole. A child's cry of distress had reached the gard; the milkmaid had
heard it, but only once, and she had not thought very much about it,
for all the boys were in the habit of playing in the park. So little
Hans had disappeared and no one could say where he was. Then the ice
was cut away from the pond and they found him; but the boys were not
allowed to see him. They had, however, been permitted to be present at
the funeral with all the little boys and girls of the factory school.
But Hans was not buried in the chapel where grandfather and grandmother
lie; he was buried in the churchyard. Oh, what beautiful singing they
had had! The school-master had sung bass with them, and the old brown
horse had drawn Hans, who was in a white painted coffin that papa had
bought in town, and there were garlands of flowers on it. Mamma and
Stina had arranged them. All the children got cakes before they started
and currant wine. And the song was the one the boys had just been
singing; Stina had taught it to them. Hans had been very poor; but now
he had all he wanted; he was with God; it was only the coffin that was
put in the ground. What was in the coffin? Why, it was not the real
Hans that was there, for Hans was quite new now. Angels had come down
to the pond with everything that the new Hans was to wear, so that he
did not feel cold in the pond; he was not there. All children who died
went to God, and that together with a hundred thousand million very
small angels. The angels were all round about us here too; but we could
not see them because they were invisible, and Hans was now with them.
The angels could see us, and they were so kind to us, especially to
children, and they always wanted to have very unhappy little children
with them; that was the reason why they took them. It is ever and ever
and ever so much nicer to be with the angels than to be here. Yes,
indeed, it is, for Stina said so. Stina too would rather be with the
angels than here; it was only for mamma's sake that Stina did not go to
them, for mamma would be so lonely without her. All angels had wings,
and now Hans's father was lying ill, and he would soon be with Hans. He
also would have wings and be a little angel and fly about here and
wherever he himself choseright up to the stars. For the stars were
not only stars, they were as large, as large, when we got up to them,
as large as the whole earth, and that was enormously large, larger than
the largest mountain. And there were people on the stars, and there
were many things that were not here. And that same afternoon Hans's
father was to go right to God, for God was up in heaven. They would
like so much to see Hans's father get his wings; but mamma would not
let them go with her. And Hans's father had already become so
beautiful, as he lay in his bed, that he almost looked like an angel.
Mamma had said so; but they were not allowed to see him.
Stina made her appearance as they came to the last words; she bade
them come with her and they obeyed.
A door stood open to the left; I could see book-shelves in the room
to which it led, so that I presumed the library must be there. I felt a
desire to know what the father of these boys was reading just
thenprovided that he read at all. The first thing I found open on the
desk, by the side of letters, account-books, and factory samples, was
Bain. And Bain's English friends were the first books my eyes beheld on
the nearest shelves. I took out one, and saw that it had been much
read. This accorded with what I had heard of Atlung.
Just then bells were heard outside. I thought it must be the
mistress of the house returning, and put back the books in the same
order I had found them. In so doing I disarranged some behind them (for
the books stood in two rows), and I felt a desire to examine also these
that were hidden from view, which took time. I did not leave the
library until just as the lady was entering the front door.
Fru Atlung was evidently glad to see me. She had a singular walk;
it seemed as though she never fully bent her knees; but with this
peculiar gait she advanced hastily toward me, grasped my hands with
both of hers, and looked long into my eyes, until her own filled with
tears. It was, of course, the wedding journey this look concerned, the
most beautiful days of her life;but the tears?
Nay, unhappy she could not be. She was so thoroughly the same as she
was formerly, that had she not been somewhat plumper, I could notat
all events, not at oncehave detected the slightest change. The
expression of her countenance was exactly the same innocent,
questioning one, not the slightest suggestion of a sterner line or a
change of coloring; even the hair fell in the same ringlets about the
backward thrown head, and the half parted lips had the same gentle
expression, were just as untouched by will, the eyes wore the same look
of mild happiness, even the slightly-veiled tone of the voice had the
same childlike ring as of yore.
You look as though you had not had a single new experience since
last we met, was the first remark I could not help making to her.
She looked up smiling into my face, and not a shadow contradicted my
words. We took our seats, each in a chair that stood out on the carpet,
near the library door; our backs were turned to the windows, and thus
we faced a wall where between the busts and statues that rested on the
carved wooden brackets, there hung an occasional painting on the
I gave an account of my trip, received thanks for coming at last. I
delivered greetings from her parents, of whom we talked a little. She
said she had been thinking of her father to-day, she would have been so
glad to have had him with her; for she had just come from a dying man,
whose death-bed was the most beautiful she had ever witnessed.
Meanwhile, she had assumed her favorite position, that is to say, she
sat slightly bowed forward, with her head thrown back, and her eyes
fixed on the upper part of the wall, or on the ceiling. As she sat
thus, she pressed one finger against her open under lip, not once, but
with a constant repetition of the same movement. Now and then the upper
portion of her body swayed to and fro Her eyes seemed to be fixed; they
did not seek my face, either when she asked a question or when she
received an answer, unless something special had attracted her from her
position. Even then she would promptly resume it.
Do you believe in immortality? she asked, as though this were the
most natural question in the world, and without looking at me.
But as I was surprised, and consequently compelled to look at her, I
perceived that a tear was trickling down her cheek, and that those open
eyes of hers were full of tears.
I felt at once that this question was a pretext; it was her
husband's belief she was thinking of. Therefore I thought I would spare
her further pretexts.
What is your husband's opinion of immortality?
He does not believe in the immortality of the individual, replied
she; we perpetuate ourselves in our intercourse with those about us,
in our deeds, and above all in our children: but this immortality, he
thinks, is sufficient.
Her eyes were fixed as before, and they were still full of tears;
but her voice was mild and calm; not a trace of discontent or reproach
in the simple statement, which doubtless was correct.
No, she is not one of the so-called childlike women, I thought; and
if she has the same innocent, questioning expression she had nine years
ago, it is not because she has been without thought or research.
You talk, then, with Atlung about these subjects, I suppose?
In Dresden you seemed to be thoroughly united about these things;
you sang together
He was under father's influence then. Besides, I think he was not
quite clear in his own mind at that time. The change came gradually.
I saw some books, that are now placed behind the others.
Yes, Albert has changed.
She sat motionless, as she gave this answer, except that her finger
continued its play on the under lip.
But who, then, attends to the education of the children? asked I.
Now she turned half toward me. I thought for a while that she did
not intend to answer but after a long time she did speak.
No one, said she.
Albert prefers to have it so for the present.
But, my dear lady, if no one teaches them, at least one thing or
another is told to them?
Yes, there is no objection to that; and it is usually Stina who
talks with them.
And so it is left entirely to chance?
She had turned from me, and sat in her former attitude.
Entirely to chance, she replied, in a tone that was almost one of
I briefly related to her what Stina had told the boys about the life
beyond the grave, about angels, etc., and I inquired if she approved of
She turned her face toward me. Yes; why not? said she. Her great
eyes viewed me so innocently; but as I did not answer immediately the
blood slowly coursed up into her face.
If anything of the kind is to be told to them, said she, it must
be something that will take hold of their childish imaginations.
It confuses the reality for them, my dear lady, and that is
the same thing as to disturb the development of their faculties.
Make them stupid, do you mean?
Well, if not exactly stupid, it would at least hinder them from
using their faculties rightly.
I do not understand you.
When you teach children that life here below is nothing to the life
above, that to be visible is nothing in comparison to being invisible,
that to be a human being is far inferior to being an angel, that to
live is not by any means equal to being dead, is that the way to
teach them to view life properly, or to love life, to gain courage for
life, vigor for work, and patriotism?
Ah, in that way! Why, that is our duty to them later.
Later, my dear lady? After all this dust has settled upon their
She turned away from me, assumed her old position, stared fixedly at
the ceiling, and became absorbed in thought.
Why do you use the word dust? she began presently.
By the word dust I mean chiefly that which has been, but which now
having become disintegrated, floats about and settles in vacant
She remained silent a little while.
I have read of dust which carries the poison from putrified matter.
You do not mean that, I suppose?
There was neither irony nor anger in the tone, so I failed to
understand at what she was aiming.
That depends on where the dust falls, my dear lady; in healthy
human beings it only creates a cloud of mist, prejudices which prevent
them from seeing clearly; if there be stagnation this dust will
oftentimes collect an inch thick, until the machinery is thoroughly
She turned toward me with more vivacity than she had yet shown, and
leaning on the arm of her chair brought her face nearer to mine.
How did you happen upon this idea? asked she. Is it because you
have seen how much dust there is in this house?
I admitted that I had seen this.
And yet the chambermaid and Stina do nothing else but clean away
the dust, and I did nothing else either at first. I cannot understand
it. At home at my mother's, there was nothing I heard so much about as
dust. She was always busied about father with a damp cloth; he was
constantly annoyed because she would disturb his books and papers. But
she insisted that he gathered more dust than any one else. He never
left his study that she was not after him with a clothes-brush. And
later it came to be my turn. I was like my father, she said I
accumulated dust, and I never could dust well enough to satisfy her. I
was so weary of dust that when I married a Paradise seemed in prospect
because I thought I should escape this annoyance and have some one to
dust for me. But therein I was greatly in error. And now I have given
it up. It is of no use. I evidently have no talent for getting rid of
And so it is very singular, she continued, as she sank back in her
chair, that you too should come with this talk about dust.
I hope I have not hurt your feelings?
How can you think? and then, in the calmest, most innocent voice
in the world, she added: It would not be easy to hurt the feelings of
any one who had lived nine years with Albert.
I became greatly embarrassed. What possible good could it do for me
to become entangled in the affairs of this household? I did not say
another word. She too sat, or rather reclined in her seat, for a long
time in silence, drumming with her fingers on the arms of her chair.
Finally I heard, as from far away, the words: Butterfly dust is very
beautiful, though. And then some time afterward there glided forth
from the midst of a long chain of thought which she did not reveal, the
query, refracted raysthe various prismatic colors? She paused,
listened, rose to her feet; she had heard Atlung's step in the front
I also rose.
 Fru corresponds to the German Frau, and means
The door was thrown wide open, and Atlung came lounging in. This
tall, slender man, in these capacious clothes that showed many a trace
of the factories he had been visiting, bore in his face, his movements,
his bearing, the unconcerned ease of several generations.
The gray eyes, beneath the invisible eyebrows, blinked a little when
he saw me, and then the long face broadened into a smile. His superb
teeth glittered between the full, short lips, as he exclaimed: Is that
you! He took both my hands between his hard, freckled ones, then
dropping one of them threw his arm around his wife's waist. Was not
that delightful, Amalie? What? Those days in Dresden, my dear?
When he had relaxed his hold, he made eager inquiries about myself
and my journey,he knew I was to make a short trip abroad. Then he
began to tell me what occupied him the most, and meanwhile he
strolled up and down the room, took up one article between his fingers,
handled it, then took up another. He did not hold any little thing as
others do with the extreme tips of his fingers; he firmly grasped it in
his hand so that his fingers closed over it. In conversation, too, it
was just the same: there was a certain fullness in the way he took up
each subject and flung it away again at once for something else.
His wife had left the room, but returned very soon and invited us to
dinner. Just at that moment Atlung was sauntering past the piano, on
which was open a new musical composition, whose character he described
in a few words. Then he began to play and sing verse after verse of a
long song. When he was through, his wife again reminded him of the
meal. This probably first called his attention to her presence in the
See here, Amalie, let us try this duet! he cried, and struck up
Looking at me with a smile, she took her place at his side and
joined in the song. Her somewhat veiled, sweet soprano blended with his
rich baritone, just as I had heard it nine years before. The voices of
both had acquired that deeper, fuller meaning which life gives when it
has meaning itself; their skill, on the other hand, was about the same
as of old.
Any one who but a moment before might perhaps have found it
difficult to understand how these two had come together, only needed to
be near them while they sang. A lyric abandonment of feeling was common
to both, and where there was any difference of sentiment they were
perfectly content to waive it. They floated onward like two children in
a boat, leaving the dinner behind them to grow cold, the servants to
become impatient, the guest to think what he pleased, and the order of
the house and their own plans for the day to be upset.
In their singing there was no energy, no school, no delicate finish
of style of this simple number, which, moreover, they were doubtless
singing for the first time; but there was a smooth, lazy, happy gliding
over the melody. The light coloring of the voices blended together like
a caress; and there was a charm in the way it was done.
They sang verse after verse, and the longer they continued the
better they sang together, and the more joyously. When finally they
were through and the wife, with her somewhat labored step, walked into
the dining-room on my arm, and Atlung sauntered on before to give Stina
the key to the wine-cellar, there was no longer any question in Fru
Atlung's eyes, only joy, mild, beautiful joy, and her husband warbled
like a canary bird.
We sat down to table while he was still out, we waited an
interminable time for him; either he had not found Stina or she had not
understood him: he had gone himself to the cellar and had returned so
covered with dust and dirt that we could not help laughing. His wife,
however, paused in the midst of her laughter, and sat silent while he
changed his clothes and washed.
He swallowed spoonful after spoonful of the soup in greedy haste,
regained his spirits when his first hunger was satisfied, and began to
talk in one unbroken stream, until suddenly, while carving the roast,
he inquired for the boys. They had had their dinner; they could not
wait so long.
Have you seen the boys? he asked.
Yes, I replied, and I spoke of their extreme artlessness, and what
a strong likeness I thought one bore to his and the other to his wife's
But, he interposed, it is unfortunate that both families have
comparatively too much imagination; there is an element of weakness in
it, and the boys have inherited their share from both families. A very
sorrowful occurrence took place here about a fortnight since. A little
playfellow was drowned in the fish-pond. What the boys have made out of
thisof course, with Stina's aidis positively incredible. I was
thinking about it to-day. I have not said anything, for after all it
was extremely amusing, and I did not want to spoil their intercourse
with Stina. But, indeed, it is most absurd. See here, Amalie, it would
almost be better to send them away to school than to let them run wild
in this way and get into all kinds of nonsense.
His wife made no reply.
I wanted to divert his attention, and inquired if he had read
Spencer's Essay on Education.
Then he became animated! He had just settled himself to eat, but now
he forgot to do so; he took a few bites and forgot again. Indeed, I
should judge we sat over this one course a whole hour, while he
expatiated on Spencer. That I who had asked if he had read the book in
all probability had read it myself, did not trouble him in the least.
He gave me a synopsis of the book, often point after point, with his
own comments. One of these was that even if as Spencer desires,
pedagogics was introduced into every school, as one of its most
important branchesmost people would nevertheless lack the ability to
bring up their own children; for teaching is a talent which but few
possess. He for his part proposed to send the boys, as soon as they
were old enough, to a lady whom he knew to possess this talent and who
also had the indispensable knowledge. She was an enthusiastic disciple
He spoke as though this were a matter long since decided upon; his
wife listened as though it were an old decision. I was much surprised
that she had not told me of it when we were talking about the children
a little while before.
I do not now remember what theme we were drifting into when Atlung
suddenly looked at his watch.
I had entirely forgotten Hartmann! I should have been in town! Yes,
yesit is not yet too late! Excuse me!
He threw down his napkin, drank one more glass of wine, rose and
left the room. His wife explained apologetically that Hartmann was his
attorney; that unfortunately there was no telegraphic communication
between the gard and the town, and that unquestionably there was some
business that must be settled within an hour or thereabout.
It would take an hour at least to drive to town, if for nothing else
than to spare the horse; at least an hour there; and then an hour and a
half back, for no one would drive such a long distance equally fast
back and forth with the same horse. I sat calculating this while I
finished eating, and became aware at the same time that my coming was
most inopportune. Therefore I resolved that after coffee I too would
take my leave.
We had both finished and now rose from the table. My hostess excused
herself and went out into the kitchen, and I who was thus left alone
thought I would look round the gard.
When I got out on the steps in front of the porch, I was met by a
burst of loud laughter from the boys, immediately followed by a word
which I should not have thought they would take in their mouths, to say
nothing of shouting it out with all their might, and this in the open
yard. The elder boy called it out first, the younger repeated it after
They were standing up on the barn bridge, and the word was addressed
to a girl who stood in the frame shed opposite them, bending over a
sledge. The boys shouted out yet another word, and still another and
another, without cessation. Between each word came peals of merriment.
It was clear that they were being prompted by some one inside of the
barn door. The girl made no reply; but once in a while she looked up
from her work and glanced over her shouldernot at the boys but at
some one behind the barn where the carriage-shed was situated.
Then I heard the sound of bells from that direction. Atlung came
forth, dressed for his trip and leading his horse. Great was the alarm
of the boys when they saw their father! For they suddenly realized,
though perhaps not distinctly, what they had been shouting,at least
they felt they had been making mischief for some one.
Wait until I get home, boys, the father shrieked, and you shall
surely both have a whipping.
He took his seat in his sledge and applied the lash to his horse. As
he drove past me, he looked at me and shook his head.
The boys stood for a moment as though turned into stone. Then the
elder one took to his heels with all his strength. The younger
followed, crying, Wait for me! Say, Anton, do not run away from me!
He burst into tears. They disappeared behind the carriage-shed; but for
a long time I heard the sobbing of the younger one.
I felt quite out of spirits, and determined to leave at once; but as
I entered the sitting-room my hostess was seated on the large gothic
settee or sofa, near the dining-room door, and no sooner did she
perceive me than she leaned forward across the table in front of her
What do you think of Spencer's theory of education? Do you
believe we can put it into practice?
I did not wish to be drawn into an argument, and so merely
Your husband's practice, at all events, does not accord with
My husband's practice? Why, he has none.
Here she smiled.
You mean he takes no interest in the children?
Oh, he is like most other men, I suppose, she replied; they amuse
themselves with their children, now and then, and whip them
occasionally, too, when anything occurs to annoy them.
You believe that husband and wife should have equal
responsibilities in such matters?
Yes, to be sure I do. But even in this respect men have made what
division they chose.
I expressed a desire to take my leave. She appeared much astonished,
and asked if I would not first drink coffee; but, it is true, she
added, you have no one to talk with.
She is not the first married woman, I thought, who makes covert
attacks on her husband.
Fru Atlung! I said, you have no reason to speak so to me.
No, I have not. You must excuse me.
It was growing dusk; but unless I was greatly in error, she was
almost ready to weep.
So I took my seat on the other side of the table. I have a feeling,
dear Fru Atlung, that you desire to talk to some one; but I am surely
not the right person.
And why not? she asked.
She sat with both elbows on the table, looking into my face.
Well, if for no other reason, at least because such a conversation
needs to be entered into more than once, because there are so many
things to consider, and I am going away again to-day.
But cannot you come again?
Do you wish it?
She was silent a moment, then she said slowly: As a rule, I have
but one great wish at a time. And it was fully in keeping with the one
I now have that you should come here.
What is it, my dear lady?
Ah, that I cannot tell you, unless you will promise me to come
Well, then, I will promise you to do so.
She extended her hand across the table with the words: Thank you.
I turned on my chair toward her, and took her hand.
What is it, my dear lady?
No, not now, she replied; but when you come again. You must help
meif you believe it to be right to do so.
Because you, I know, think in many particulars as Atlung does. He
will listen to you.
Do you think so?
He will not listen to me, at all events.
Did you ever make an effort to be heard?
No, that would be the worst thing I could do. With Atlung
everything must come as by chance.
But, dear me! I noticed that on the whole you seemed to hold most
blessed relations with each other.
Yes, to be sure we do! We often amuse ourselves exceedingly well
I had a feeling that she did not wish me to look at her, and I had
turned away, so that I sat with my side to the table as before. The
twilight deepened about us.
You remember us, I dare say, as we were in Dresden?
We were two young people who were playing with life; it had been
very amusing to be engaged, but to be married must be still more
diverting, and then to come home and keep house, oh! so immensely
entertaining; but not equal to having children. Well, here I am now
with a house which I am utterly powerless to manage, and two children
which neither of us can educate; at least Atlung thinks so.
But do not you try to take hold?
Of the house, do you mean?
Well, yes, of the house.
Dear me! of what use would that be? I usually get a scolding when I
But you have plenty of help, I suppose?
Yes, that is just the misfortune.
I was about to ask what she meant by this when the dining-room door
was noiselessly opened; Stina entered with the lamps. She passed in and
out two or three times; but the large room was far from being lighted
by the lamps she brought in. Meanwhile, conversation ceased.
When Stina was about to leave, Fru Atlung asked for the children.
Stina informed her they were being searched for; they were not on the
gard. The mother paid no further attention to this, and Stina left the
Who is Stina? I asked, as the door closed behind her.
Oh, she is a very unhappy person. She had a drunken father who beat
her, and afterwards she had a husband, a bank cashier, who also became
a hard drinker and beat her. Now he is dead.
Has she been here long?
Since before my first child was born.
But this is sad company for you, my dear lady.
Yes, she is not very enlivening.
Then most surely she should be sent away.
That would be contrary to the traditions of this house. An older
person must always take charge of the children, and this older person
must live and die in the family. Stina is a very worthy woman.
Again the subject of our conversation came noiselessly into the
room; this time with the coffee. There was upon the whole something
ghost-like about this blue-green Carlo Dolci portrait flitting thus
over the rugs in the large room, where she was searching for a shade
for the lamp on the coffee table, as though it were not dark enough
here before. The shade was, moreover, a perforated picture of St.
Peter's at Rome.
Stina departed, and the lady of the house poured out the coffee.
And so you men are going to take from us the hope in immortality,
with all the rest? she abruptly asked.
To what this all the rest referred, I was allowed to form my own
conjectures. She handed me a cup of coffee and continued,
When I was driving this morning to the other side of the park to
visit the dying man, it occurred to me that the snow on the barren
trees is, upon the whole, the most exquisite symbol that could be
imagined of the hope of immortality spread over the earth; is it not
so? So purely from above, and so merciful!
Do you believe it falls from the skies, my dear lady?
It certainly falls down on the earth.
That is true, but it comes also from the earth.
She appeared not to want to hear this, but continued,
You spoke a little while ago of dust. But this white, pure dust on
the frozen boughs and on the gray earth is truly like the poetry of
eternity; so it seems to me, and she placed a singing emphasis on the
Who is the author of this poetry, my dear lady?
She turned on me her large eyes, now larger than ever, but this time
not questioningly; no, there was certainly in her look.
If there is no revelation from without, there is one from within;
every human being who feels thus possesses it.
She had never been more beautiful. At this moment steps were heard
in the front room. She turned her head in a listening attitude.
It is Atlung back again! said she, as she rose and rang for
She was right; it was Atlung, who as soon as he had removed his
out-door wraps opened wide the door and came in. His attorney,
Hartmann, had grown anxious and had come to meet him. Atlung had
attended to the entire business with him on the highway.
His wife's questioning eyes followed him as he sauntered across the
floor. Either she did not like his having interrupted us, or she
noticed that he was out of humor. As he took the coffee cup from her
hand, he recounted to her his recent experience with the boys. He did
not mention any of the words the little fellows had shouted out with
such jubilant merriment; but he added enough to lead her to surmise
what they were. And while he was drinking his coffee, he repeated to
her that he had promised them a whipping; but, said he, something
more than the rod is needed in this case.
As she stood when she handed him the cup, so she remained standing
after he had finished his coffee and gone. Terror was depicted in both
face and attitude. Her eyes followed him as he walked about the room;
she was waiting to hear this something else which was more than the
Now I will tell you what it is, Amalie, came from across the room,
the boys must leave to-morrow at latest.
She sank slowly down on the sofa, so slowly that I do not think she
was aware that she was seating herself. She watched him intently. A
more helpless, unhappy object I had never seen.
You surely think enough of the boys, Amalie, to submit? You see now
the result of my humoring you the last time.
But if he goes on thus he will kill her! Why does he not look at
Whether she noticed my sympathy or not, she suddenly turned her
eyes, her hands, toward me, while her husband walked from us across the
floor; there was a despairing entreaty in this glance, in this little
movement. I comprehended at once what was her sole wish: this was the
matter in which I was to help her.
She had sunk down on her hands, and she remained lying thus without
stirring. I did not hear sounds of weeping; probably she was praying.
He strode up and down the room; he saw her; but his step kept
continually growing firmer. The articles he picked up and crushed in
his hand, he flung each time farther and farther away from him, and
with increased vehemence.
The dining-room door slowly opened. Stina appeared again, but this
time she remained standing on the threshold, paler than usual. Atlung,
who had just turned toward us, stood still and cried: What is it,
She did not reply at once; she looked at the mistress of the house,
who had raised her head and was staring at her, and who at last burst
out: What is it, Stina?
The boys, said Stina, and paused.
The boys? repeated both parents, Atlung standing motionless, his
wife springing up.
They are neither on the gard, nor at the housemen's places; we have
searched everywhere, even through the manufactory.
Where did you see them last? asked Atlung, breathless.
The milkmaid says she saw them running toward the park crying, when
you promised to give them a whipping.
The fish-pond! escaped my lips before I had time to reflect, and
the effect upon myself, and upon all the others, was the same as if
something had been dashed to pieces in our midst.
Stina! shouted Atlung,it was not a reproach, no, it was a cry of
pain, the bitterest I have ever heard,and out he rushed. His wife ran
after him, calling him by name.
Send for lanterns! I cried to the people I saw behind Stina in the
dining-room. I went out and found my things, and returning again, met
Stina, who was moving round in a circle with clasped hands.
Come now, said I, and show me the way!
Without reply, perhaps without being conscious of what she was
doing, she changed her march from round in a circle to forward, with
hands still clasped, and praying aloud: Father in heaven, for Christ's
sake! Father in heaven, for Christ's sake! in touching, vigorous
tones; and thus she continued through the yard, past the houses,
through the garden, and into the park.
It was not very cold; it was snowing. As one in a dream, I walked
through the snow-mist, following this tall, dark spectre in front of
me, with its trail of prayer, in and out among the lofty, snow-covered
trees. I said to myself that two small boys might of course go to the
fish-pond in the hope of finding God and the angels and new clothes;
but to spring into a hole if there was one, when there were two of them
togetherimpossible, unnatural, absurd! How in all the world had I
come to think of or suggest such a thing? But all the sensible things
one can say to one's self at such a moment are of no avail; the worst
and most improbable suppositions keep gaining force in spite of them;
and this Father in heaven, for Christ's sake! Father in heaven, for
Christ's sake! which soughed about me, in tones of the utmost anguish,
kept continually increasing my own anxiety.
Even if the boys had not gone to the fish-pond, or if they had been
there and had not dared jump into the water, they might have tumbled
into some other place. The father of little Hans was to receive wings
that afternoon; might not they, with their troubled hearts, be sitting
under a tree somewhere waiting for wings to be given them? If such were
the case, they would freeze to death. And I could see these two little
frozen mortals, who dared not go home, the younger one crying, the
elder one finally crying too. I positively seemed to hear themHush!
What is that? said Stina, and turned in sudden hope. Do you hear
We both stood still; but there was nothing to hear except my own
panting when I could no longer hold my breath. Nor was there anything
resembling two little human beings huddled together.
I told her what I had just been thinking about, and drawing near me
she clasped her hands, and, in tones of suppressed anguish, whispered:
Pray with me! Oh, pray with me!
What shall I pray for? That the boys may die, and go to heaven and
She stared at me in alarm, then turned and walked on as before, but
now without a word.
We followed a foot-path through the wood: it led to the fish-pond,
as I remembered from the story about little Hans; but we had to go more
than half the length of the park in order to reach the latter. Through
a ravine flowed a brook, and here a dam had been made. It was large so
that the fish-pond had a considerable circumference. We had to step up
from the foot-path in order to reach the edge of the pond. Stina
continued to walk in front of me, and when she had climbed the bank and
could see the pond and the two parents standing on it, she kneeled
down, praying and sobbing. Now I was sorry for her.
When I also stood upon the bank and saw the parents, I was deeply
affected. At the same time I heard voices in the wood behind me. They
came from the people with the lanterns. The flickering light of the
four lanterns that, subdued by the falling snow, was shed over human
beings, the snow itself, the lower trunks of the trees, and the shadows
into which some individuals in the party and some of the trees and
certain portions of the landscape occasionally fell, all became fixed
forever in my memory with the words I at that moment heard from the
pond: There is no hole in the ice!
It was Atlung's voice, quivering with emotion. I turned and saw his
wife on his neck. Stina had sprung up with an exclamation which ended
in a long but hushed: God be praised and thanked!
But the two on the ice still clung together, with some difficulty I
climbed down from the bank and crossed to where they stood; the wife
still hung on Atlung's neck and he was bowed over her. I paused
reverently at a little distance; they were whispering together. The
light shed by the lanterns on the pond was the first thing that roused
But what next? Where shall we seek now? asked Atlung.
I drew nearer. I now repeated to the parents, although more
cautiously, what I had already said to Stina, that perhaps the children
were sitting somewhere under a tree, waiting in their distress of mind
for compassionate angels, and in that case there would be danger of
their being already so cold that they would be ill. Before I had
finished speaking, Atlung had called up to those on the bank: Had the
boys their out-door things on when they were last seen?
No, replied two of the by-standers.
He inquired if they had their caps on; and here opinions differed. I
insisted that they did have them on; some one else said No. Atlung
himself could not remember. Finally some one declared that the elder
boy had his cap on, but not the younger one.
Ah, my poor little Storm! wailed the mother.
Among the people on the edge of the pond there were some who wept so
loud that they were heard below. I think there were about twenty
people, side by side, about the lanterns.
Atlung shouted up to them: We must search the whole park through;
we will begin with the housemen's places. And he came toward the bank,
climbed up and helped his wife up after him.
They were met by Stina. My dear, dear lady! she whispered,
beseechingly; but neither of the parents paid any attention to her.
I stared into the ravine below us. To look down on snow-laden trees
from above is like gazing on a petrified forest.
Dear Atlung! will not you call? begged the wife.
He took a position far in advance of the rest; all became still. And
then he called aloud through the wood, slowly and distinctly: Anton
and little Storm! Come home to papa and mamma! Papa is no longer
Was it the air thus set in motion, or did the last flake of snow
needed to break an overladen branch fall just then, or had some one
come into contact with such a branch; suffice it to say, Atlung
received for an answer the snow-fall from a large bough, partly at one
side, partly in front of us. It gave a hollow crash, rousing the echoes
of the wood, the bough swayed to and fro, and rose to its place, and
snow was showered over us. But this swaying motion finally caused all
the heavy branches to loose their burdens; crash followed crash, and
snow enveloped us; before we knew what was coming the nearest tree had
cast the burden from all its branches at once. The atmospheric pressure
now became so great that two more, then five, six, ten, twenty trees
freed themselves, with violent din, from their heavy loads, sending an
echo through the wood and a mist as from mighty snow-drifts. This was
followed by cluster after cluster of trees, some at our sides, some at
a long distance off, some right in front of us; the movement first
passed through two great arms, which gradually spread into manifold
divisions; ere long the whole forest trembled. The thunder rolled far
away from us, close by us, now at intervals, now all at once, and
seemed interminable. Before us everything was surrounded by a white
mist; this loud rumbling of thunder through the wood had at first
appalled us; gradually as it passed farther on and grew in proportion
it became so majestic that we forgot all else.
The trees stood once more proudly erect, fresh and green; we
ourselves looked like snow-men. All the lanterns were extinguished, we
lighted them again, and we shook the snow from us. Then we heard in a
moaning tone: What if the little boys are lying under a snow-drift!
It was the mother who spoke. Several hastened to say that it could
not in any way harm them, that the worst possible result would be that
they might be thrown down, perhaps stifled for a little while; but they
would surely be able to work their way out again. There was one who
said that unquestionably the children would scream as soon as they were
free from the snow, and Atlung called out: Hark! We stood for more
than a minute listening; but we heard nothing except a far-off echo
from some solitary cluster of trees that had just been drawn into the
vortex with the rest.
But if the boys were in one of the remote recesses of the wood,
their voices could scarcely reach us; on either side of us the edges of
the ravine were higher than the banks of the pond where we stood.
Yes, let us go search for them, said Atlung, deeply moved; as he
spoke, he went close to the brink of the pond, turned toward the rest
of us who were beginning to step down, and bade us pause. Then he
cried: Anton and little Storm! Come home again to papa and mamma! Papa
is no longer angry! It was heart-rending to hear him. No answer came.
We waited a long time. No answer.
Despondently he returned, and came down on the path with the rest of
us; his wife took his arm.
We reached the edge of the wood, and then our party divided, keeping
at such a distance apart that we could see one another and everything
between us; we walked the whole length of the wood up and then took the
next section down, but slowly; for all the snow from the trees was now
spread over the old snow on the ground; in some places it was packed
down so hard that it bore our weight, but in other places we sank in to
our knees. When we assembled the next time, in order to disperse anew,
I inquired if after all it were likely that two small boys would have
the courage to remain in the wood after it had grown dark. But this
suggestion met with opposition from all. The boys were accustomed to be
busied in the wood the whole day long and in the evenings too; they had
other boys who constructed snow-men for them, forts and snow-houses, in
which they often sat with lights, after it was dark.
This naturally drew our thoughts to all these buildings, and the
possibility of the boys having taken refuge in one or other of them.
But no one knew where they were situated this year, as the snow had
come so recently. Moreover, they were in the habit of building now in
one place, now in another, and so nothing remained but to continue as
It so happened that Stina walked next to me this time, and as we two
were in the ravine, and this was winding in some places, we were
brought close together, and had no locality to search. She was
evidently in a changed frame of mind. I asked her why this was.
Oh, said she, God has so plainly spoken to me. We are going to
find the boys! Now I know why all this has happened! Oh, I know so
Her Madonna eyes glowed with a dreamy happiness; her pale, delicate
face wore an expression of ecstasy.
What is it, Stina?
You were so hard toward me before. But I forgive you. Dear Lord,
did not I sin myself? Did not I doubt God? Did not I murmur against the
decrees of God? Oh, His ways are marvelous! I see it so plainlyso
But what do you mean?
What do I mean? Fru Atlung has for the last half year prayed God
for only one single thing. Yes, it is her way to do so. She learned it
of her father. Just for one single thing she has prayed, and we have
helped her. It is that the boys may not be separated from her; Atlung
has threatened to send them away. Had it not been for what has happened
this evening he would surely have kept his word; but God has heard her
prayer! Perhaps I too have been an instrument in his hands; I almost
dare believe that I have. And the death of little Hans, yes, most
certainly the death of little Hans! If those two sweet little souls are
sitting and freezing somewhere, waiting for the angels, oh, the dear,
dear boys, they surely have these with them! Do you doubt this? Ah, do
not doubt! If the boys are made illand they most surely will be
illit will be most fortunate for them! For when the father and mother
sit together beside the sick-bed, oh, then the boys will never be sent
away. Never, no never! Then Atlung will see that it would be the death
of his wife. Oh, he sees it this evening. Yes, he unquestionably sees
it. He has already made her a solemn promise; for the last time we met,
she gave me a look of such heartfelt kindness, and that she did not do
a little while ago. It was as though she had something to say to
meand what else could it possibly be in the midst of her anxiety than
this? She has discerned God's ways, she too God's marvelous ways. She
thanks and praises Him, as I do; yes, blessed be the name of God, for
Jesus Christ's sake, through all eternity!
She spoke in a whisper, but decidedly, aye, vehemently; the last, or
words of thanksgiving, on the contrary, with bowed head, clasped hands,
and softly, as to her own soul.
We drifted apart, although now and then we drew near together again,
when the ravine obliged us to do so, and all attempt at searching on
our part ceased.
There is one thing I need to have explained, I whispered to her.
If everything from the time of the sorrowful death of little Hans has
happened in order that Atlung's boys may remain with their mother; then
this great fall of snow we have recently seen and heard must be part of
the whole plan. But I cannot see how?
That? Why that was simply a natural occurrence; a pure accident.
Is there such a thing?
Yes, replied she; and it often has its influence on the rest. To
be sure, in this instance I cannot see how. It is a great mercy though,
that I can see what I do. Why should I ask more?
We peered about us; but we felt convinced that the boys were not in
the ravine. What I had last said seemed to absorb Stina.
What did you think about the snow-fall? asked she, softly,
the next time we were thrown together.
I will tell you. Shortly before we came out into the park, Fru
Atlung had been saying to me that the hope of immortality descended
from heaven on our lives, just as hushed, white, and soft as the snow
on the naked earth
Oh, how beautiful! interposed Stina.
And so I thought when the shock came, and the whole forest
trembled, and the snow fell from the trees with the sound of
thunder,now do not be angry,that in the same way the hope of
immortality had fallen from the mother of the boys, and you and all of
us, in our great anxiety for the lives of the little fellows. We rushed
about in sorrow and lamentation, and some of us in ill-concealed
frenzy, lest the boys had received a call from the other life, or lest
some occurrence here had led them to the brink of eternity.
O my God, yes!
Now we have had this hope of immortality hanging over us for many
thousand years, for it is older, much older than Christianity; and we
have progressed no farther than this.
Oh, you are right! Yes, you are a thousand times right! Think of
it! she exclaimed, and walked on in silent brooding.
You said before that I was hard toward you, and then I had done
nothing but remind you of the belief in immortality you had taught the
Oh, that is true; forgive me! Oh, yes indeed!
For you know that you had taught them that it was far, far better
to be with God than to be here; and that to have wings and be an angel
was the highest glory a little child could attain; indeed, that the
angels themselves came and carried away unhappy little children.
Oh, I beg of you, no more! she moaned, placing both hands on her
ears. Oh, how thoughtless I have been! she added.
Do not you believe all this yourself, then?
Yes, to be sure I believe it! There have been times in my life when
such thoughts were my sole consolation. But you really confuse me
And then she told me in a most touching way that her head was no
longer very strong; she had wept and suffered so much; but the hope of
a better life after this had often been her one consolation.
Atlung's mournful call, with always the same words, was heard ever
and anon, and just at this moment fell on our ears. With a start we
were back again in the dreadful reality that the boys were not yet
found, and that the longer the time that elapsed before they were
found, the greater the certainty that they must pay the penalty of a
dangerous illness. It continued to snow so that notwithstanding the
moonlight we walked in a mist.
Then a cry rang through forest and snow from another voice than
Atlung's and one of quite a different character. I could not
distinguish what was said; but it was followed by a fresh call from
another, then again from a third, and this last time could be
distinctly heard the words: I hear them crying! It was a woman's
voice. I hastened forward, the rest ran in front of and behind me, all
in the direction whence came the call. We had become weary of wading in
the heavy snow; but now we sped onward as easily as though there were
firm ground beneath our feet. The light from the lanterns skipping
about among us and over our heads, shone in our eyes and dazzled us; no
one spoke, our breathing alone was heard.
Hush! cried a young girl, suddenly halting, and the rest of us
also stood still; for we heard the voices of the two little ones
uplifted in that piteous wail of lamentation common to children who
have been weeping in vain for long, long hours and to whom sympathy has
Good gracious! exclaimed an elderly man,he well knew the sound
of such weeping. We perceived that the boys were no longer alone; we
walked onward, but more calmly. We reached and passed the fish-pond,
and came to a place a little beyond the ravine, where the trees were
regular in their growth; for the spot was sheltered and hidden. The
weeping, of course, became more distinct the nearer we approached, and
at last we heard voices blended with it. They were those of the father
and mother, who had been the first to gain the spot. When we had
reached an opening where we could see between the trees into the snow,
our gaze was met by two black objects against something extremely
white; it was the father and mother, on their knees, each clinging to a
boy; behind them was a snow fort, or rather a crushed snow house, in
which, sure enough, the boys had sought refuge. When the lanterns were
brought near, we saw how piteously benumbed with the cold the little
fellows were: they were blue, their fingers stiff, they could not stand
well on their feet; neither of them had on caps; these no doubt lay in
the heap of snow, if the boys had had them with them at all. They
replied to none of the tokens of endearment or questions of their
parents; not once did they utter a word, they only wept and wept. We
stood around them, Stina sobbing aloud. The weeping of the boys, and
the lamentations, questions, and tokens of endearment of the parents,
together with the accents of despair and joy, which alternately blended
therewith, were very affecting.
Atlung rose and took up one child; it was the elder one. His wife
rose also, and gathered up the other in her arms. Several offered to
carry the boy for her; but she made no reply, only walked on with him,
consoling him, moaning over him, without a moment's pause between the
words, until she made a misstep and plunging forward fell prostrate on
the ground over her boy. She would not have help, but scrambled up with
the boy still in her arms, walked on, and fell again.
Then she cast a look up to heaven, as though she would ask how this
could happen, how it could be that this was possible!
Whenever I now recall her in her faith and in her helplessness, I
remember her thus, with the boy in front of her stretched out in the
snow, and she bending over him on her knees, tears streaming from the
eyes which were uplifted with a questioning gaze toward heaven.
Some one picked up the boy, and Stina helped his mother. But when
the little fellow found himself in the arms of another, he began to
cry: Mamma, mamma! and stretched forth his benumbed hands toward her.
She wanted to go to him at once and take him again in her arms, but he
who carried the child hastened onward, pretending not to hear her,
although she begged most humbly at last. They had scarcely come down on
the footpath before she hastened forward and stopped the man; then with
many loving words she took her boy again in her arms. Atlung was no
longer in sight.
I allowed them all to go on in advance of me.
But when I saw them a short distance from me, enveloped in snow
between the trees and heard the weeping and the soothing words, I
drifted back into my old thoughts.
These two poor little boys had accepted literally the words of the
grown peopleto the utter dismay of the latter! If we were right in
our conjectures (for the boys themselves had not yet told us anything
and would not be likely to tell anything until after the illness they
must unquestionably pass through); but if we were right in our
conjectures, then these two little ones had sought a reality far
greater than ours.
They had believed in beings more loving than those about us, in a
life warmer and richer than our own; because of this belief they had
braved the cold, although amid tears and terror, waiting resolutely for
the miracle. When the thunder rolled over them, they had doubtless
tremblingly expected the changeand were only buried.
How many had there been before them with the same experience?
I left Skogstad at once, and without taking leave of the parents,
who were with their children. I got a horse to the next station, and
was soon slowly driving along the chaussée. The snow which had fallen
made the road heavier than when I had come that way. A few atoms still
swept about through the air but the fall was lightening more and more,
so that the moonlight gradually gained in force. It fell on the
snow-clad forest, which still stood unchanged, with fantastic power;
for although the details were lost the contrasts were striking.
I was weary, and the mood I was in harmonized with my fatigue. In
the still subdued moonlight the forest looked like a bowed-down,
conquered people; its burden was greater than it could bear.
Nevertheless, it stood there patiently, tree after tree, without end,
bowed to the ground. It was like a people from the far-distant past to
the present day, a people buried in dust. Yonder heaven-fallen,
And just as all symbols, even those from the times of old, which
mythology dimly reveals to us, became fixed in the imagination, and
gradually worked their way out to independence, so it was now with
mine. I saw the past generations enveloped in a cloud of dust, in which
they could not recognize one another, and that was why they fought
against one another, slaying one another by the millions. Dust was
being continually strewed over them. But I saw that it was the same
with all those who were wounded, or who must die. I saw in the midst of
these poor sufferers many kind, refined souls, who in thus strewing
dust were rendering the highest, most beautiful service they knew, like
those priestly physicians of Egypt, who offered to the sick and dying
magic formulas as the most effectual preventive of death, and placed on
the wounds a medicine, the greater part of which was composed of mystic
And I saw all the relations of life, even the soundest,
strewed over with a coating of dust, and the attempt at deliverance to
be the world's most complete revolution, which would wholly shatter
these relations themselves.
And as I grew more and more weary and these fancies left me, but
what I had recently experienced kept rising uppermost in my mind, then
I plainly heard weeping in among the snow-flakes that were no longer
falling; it was the boys I heard. They wept so sorely, they lamented so
bitterly, while we tenderly bore them from dust to more dust.
I passed through the forest and drove along its margin up to the
station. When I had nearly reached this I cast one more look downward
over the tree-tops, which were radiant in the moonlight. The forest was
magnificent in its snowy splendor.
The majesty of the view struck me now, and the symbol presented
A dream hovering over all people, originating infinitely long before
all history, continually assuming new forms, each of which denoted the
downfall of an earlier one, and always in such a manner that the most
recent form lay more lightly over the reality than those just preceding
it, concealing less of it, affording freer breathing-spaceuntil the
last remnants should evaporate in the air. When shall that be?
The infinite will always remain, the incomprehensible with it; but
it will no longer stifle life. It will fill it with reverence; but not
I sat down in the sledge once more, and the monotonous jingle of the
bells caused drowsiness to overcome me. And then the weeping of the
boys began to ring in my ears together with the bells. And weary as I
was I could not help thinking about what further must have happened to
the two little fellows, and how it must appear at first in the
sick-room at Skogstad, and in the surroundings of those I had just
How different was the scene I imagined from what actually occurred!
I could not but recall it when, two months later, I drove over the
same road with Atlung and he related to me what had taken place. I had
then been abroad and he met me in town.
And when I now repeat this, it is not in his words, for I should be
totally unable to reproduce them; but the substance of his story is
The boys were attacked with fever, and this passed into inflammation
of the lungs. From the outset every one saw that the illness must take
a serious turn; but the mother was so sure that all had come to pass
solely in order that she might keep her boys, that she inspired the
rest of the household with her faith.
However serious the illness might be, it would only be the precursor
of happiness and peace. While yet in the wood she had obtained a solemn
promise from her husband that their children should not be sent away;
but that a tutor should be engaged for them who would have them
continually under his charge. And by the sick-bed, when through the
long nights and silent days they met there, Atlung repeated this
promise as often as his wife wished. She had never been more beautiful,
he had never loved her more devotedly; she was in one continual state
of ecstasy. She confided to Atlung that from the first time, about half
a year before, he had declared that the boys must go away, she had
prayed the Lord to prevent it, prayed incessantly, and in all this time
had prayed for nothing else. She knew that a prayer offered in the name
of Jesus must be granted. She had prayed in this way several times
before in regard to circumstances which seemed to herself to be brought
into her life under the guidance of faith, brought into it in the most
natural way. This time she had called her father to her aid and finally
Stina; both of them had promised to pray only for this one thing. It
did not seem to occur to her for a moment that there was another way of
gaining her point, for instance, as far as lay within her power, and as
far as her faith permitted it, to study Atlung's ideas on education,
and to endeavor to persuade him to unite with her in an attempt, that
it might be proved whether they were equal to the task. She started
from the standpoint that she was utterly incompetent; what, indeed, was
she able to do? But God could do what He would. This was his own cause,
and that to a far higher degree than any other matter concerning which
he had granted her prayers, and so she was sure He would hear her.
Every occurrence, every individual who came to the gard, was sent; in
one way or another everything must be a link in the chain of events,
which was to lead Atlung to other thoughts. When she told Atlung this,
in her innocence and her faith, he felt that, at all events, there was
no human power which could resist her. He was so completely borne along
in the current of her fancies that he not only became convinced that
the boys would recover, but he even failed to perceive how ill she was.
The long stay in the park, without any out-door wraps and with wet
feet, the overstrained mental condition and long night vigils, the
pursuit of one fixed idea, without any regard to its effect on herself,
being so wholly absorbed in it that she forgot to eat, indeed, no
longer felt the need of foodwholly robbed her of strength at last.
But the first symptoms of illness were closely united with her
restless, ecstatic condition; neither she herself, nor the rest of the
household paid any heed to them. When finally she was obliged to go to
bed, there still hovered over her such joy, aye, and peace, that the
others had no time for anxiety. Her feverish fancies blended in such a
way with her life, her wishes, her faith, that it was often not well to
separate them. They all understood that she was ill and that she was
often delirious, but not that she was in any danger. The physician was
one of those who rarely express an opinion; but they all thought that
had there been danger he would have spoken. Stina, who had undertaken
the supervision of the sick-room, was absorbed in her own fancies and
hope, and explained away everything when Atlung showed any uneasiness.
Then one noon he came home from the factories, and after warming
himself, went up-stairs to the large chamber where the invalids all
lay, for the mother wanted to be where the boys were. Her bed was so
placed that she could see them both. Atlung softly entered the room. It
was airy and pleasant there, and deep peace reigned. No one besides the
invalids, as far as he could see at first, was in the room; but he
afterwards discovered that the sick-nurse was there asleep in a large
arm-chair, which she had drawn to the corner nearest the stove. He did
not wake her; he stood a little while bending over each of the boys,
who were either sleeping or lying in a stupor, and thence he stepped
very softly to his dear wife's bed, rejoicing in the thought that she
too was now peaceful, perhaps sleeping; for he did not hear her babble
which usually greeted him. A screen had been placed between the bed and
the window, so he could not see distinctly until he came close to her.
She lay with wide-open eyes; but tear after tear trickled down from
What is it? he whispered, startled. In her changed mood he saw at
once how worn, how frightfully worn, she was. Why, in all the world,
had he not seen this before. Or had he observed it, yet been so far
governed by her security that he had not paid any attention to it. For
a moment it seemed as if he would swoon away, and only the fear that he
might fall across her bed gave him strength to keep up.
As soon as he could he whispered anew, What is it, Amalie?
I see by your looks that you know it yourself, she whispered
slowly, in reply; her lips quivered, the tears filled her eyes and
rolled down her cheeks: but otherwise she lay quite still. Her
handsoh, how thin they were; the ring was much too large on her
finger, and this he remembered having noticed before; but why had he
not reflected on what it meant?
Her hands lay stretched out on either side of the body which seemed
to him so slender beneath the coverlet and sheet. The lace about her
wrists was unrumpled, as though she had not stirred since she was
dressed for the morning, and that must now be several hours since.
Why, Amalie, he burst out, and knelt down at her bedside.
It was not thus I meant it, replied she, but in so soft a whisper
that under other circumstances he could not have heard it.
What do you mean by 'thus,' Amalie? Oh, try once more to answer me!
He saw that she wanted to reply, but either could not, or else had
thought better of it. Tears filled her eyes and trickled down her
cheeks, filled her eyes and were shed again, her lips quivered, but as
noiselessly as this occurred, just so still she lay. Finally she raised
her large eyes to his face. He bowed closer to her to catch the words:
I would not take them fromyou, spoken in a whisper as before; the
word you was uttered by itself, and in the same low tone as the rest,
encompassed with a tenderness and a mournfulness which nothing on earth
could exceed in strength.
He dared not question further, although he failed to understand his
wife. He only comprehended that something had occurred that same
forenoon which had turned the current of life to that of death. She lay
there paralyzed. Her immobility was that of terror; something
extraordinary had weighed her down to this speechless silence, had
crushed her. But he also comprehended that behind this noiseless
immobility there was an agitation so great that her heart was ready to
burst; he knew that there was danger, that his presence increased the
danger, that there must be help sought; in other words, he comprehended
that if he did not go away himself, his face as it must now look was
enough to kill her. He never knew how he got away. He can remember that
he was on a stairway, for he recollects seeing a picture that his wife
herself must have hung up, it was one representing St. Christopher
carrying the child Jesus over a brook. He found himself lying on the
sofa in the large sitting-room, with something wet on his brow, and a
couple of people at his side, of whom one was Stina. He struggled for a
long time as with a bad dream. At the sight of Stina his terror
returned. Stina, how is it with Amalie? The answer was that she was
in a raging fever.
But what happened this forenoon while I was absent?
Stina knew nothing. She did not even understand his question. She
was not the one who had attended Fru Atlung in the forenoon; she had
watched in the night, and then the patient's fever fancies were happy
ones, as they had again become. Had the doctor been with her in the
forenoon? No, he was expected now. He had said yesterday that to-day he
would not come until later than usual. This indicated a feeling of
security on the doctor's part.
Had Fru Atlung spoken with any one else? If so it must be the
sick-nurse. Bring her here! Stina left the room. Atlung also sent
away the others who had assembled around him, he needed to collect his
thoughts. He sat up, with his head between his hands, and before he
knew it he was weeping aloud. He heard his own sobs resounding through
the large room and he shuddered. He felt sure; oh, he felt but too
sure, that he would sit here alone and hear this wail of misery for
weeks. And in this sense of boundless bereavement, her image stood
forth distinctly: she came from her bed in her white garment and told
him word for word what she had meant. Her prayer to God had been to be
allowed to keep her boys, and now this had been granted in a terrible
way for she was to have them with her in death. It was this which had
paralyzed her. And the beloved one repeated: I did not mean it thus, I
would not take them fromyou.
But how had this idea suddenly occurred to her? Why was her
security transformed into something so terrible?
The sick-nurse knew nothing. Toward morning the dear lady had fallen
into a slumber, and this had gradually become more and more calm. When
she awoke rather late in the morning, she lay still a little while
before she was waited on. She was excessively weak; the housekeeper
helped care for her. Not a word was said to her about her condition,
not a single word. She had not spoken herself, except once; it was
after she had had a little broth, then she said: Oh, no, never mind!
She lay back and closed her eyes. Her attendants urged her to take some
more; but she made no reply. They stood a little and waited; then they
left her in peace.
As the evening wore on, the fever increased; by the doctor's advice
she was carried into the next room. She understood this to mean that
she was being borne into Paradise, and while they were moving her, she
sang in a somewhat hoarse voice. She talked, too, now, without
cessation; but with the exception of that hymn about Paradise there was
nothing in her words which indicated that she remembered anything that
had occupied her thoughts in her moments of consciousness. All was now
happiness and laughter once more. Toward morning she slept; but she
woke very soon, and at once the unspeakable pain she had had before
came over her, but at the same time came also the death-struggle. Amid
this she became aware that the beds of the boys were not near hers. She
looked at Atlung and opened her hand, as if she would clasp his. He
understood that she thought the boys had gone on before and wanted to
console him. With this cold little hand in his, and with its gentle
pressure through the struggle with the last message from this receding
life, he sat until the end came.
But then, too, he gave way wholly to his boundless grief. The
responsibility he felt for not having attempted to draw her into his
own vigorous reading and thought; for having left her to live a weak
dream-life; to bear the burden of the housekeeping and the bringing up
of the children, but not in community of spirit and will, partly out of
consideration for her, partly from a careless desire to leave her as
she was when he took her; for having amused himself with her when it
struck his fancy to do so, but not having made an effort to work in the
same direction with her,this was what tormented his mind and could
find no consolation, no answer, no forgiveness.
Not until the following night when he was wandering about out of
doors, beneath a bright starlit sky, came the first soothing thoughts.
Would she under any circumstances have forsaken the ideas of her
childhood to follow his? Were not they an inheritance, so deeply rooted
in her nature that an attempt to alter them would only have made her
unhappy? This he had always believed, and it was this which ultimately
determined him to live his life while she lived hers. The image
of his beautiful darling hovered about him, and the two boys always
accompanied her. Whether it was because of his own weariness, or
whether his self-reproaches had exhausted themselves and let things
speak their own natural languagehis guilt toward her and toward them
was shifted slightly and spread over many other matters, which were
painful enough; but not as these were.
What these matters were, he did not tell me; but he looked ten years
older than before.
The doctor sought an interview with him the next day, and said that
he felt obliged to tell him that if he had not pronounced his wife's
condition dangerous it was because he had felt sure that she would
recover. Her own happy frame of mind would help her, he thought. But
something most have happened that forenoon.
Atlung made no reply. The doctor then added that the boys were past
all danger; the elder one, indeed, had never been in any.
Atlung had not yet for a moment separated mother and boys in his
thoughts. During their illness he felt with her that they must live;
for the last twenty-four hours he had been convinced that they must
follow her in death. He could not think of the mother without them.
And now that he must separate them, the first feeling wasnot one
of joy: no, it was dismay that even in this matter the dear one had
been disappointed! It seemed as though she were living and could see
that it was all a mistake, and that this last mistake had needlessly
The two little boys, clad in mourning, were the first objects we met
on the gard. They looked pale and frightened. They did not come to meet
us, nor did they return their father's caress.
In the passage Stina met us; she too looked worn. I expressed my
honest sympathy for her. She answered calmly that God's ways were
inscrutable. He alone knew what was for our good.
Atlung took me with him to the family burial-place, a little stone
chapel in a grove near the river. On the way there, he told me that
every time he tried to talk confidentially with the boys and endeavor
to be both father and mother to them, his loss rushed over him so
overwhelmingly that he was forced to stop. He would learn with time to
do his duty.
The sepulchral chamber was a friendly little chapel, in which the
coffins stood on the floor. The door, however, was not an ordinary
door, but an iron grating which now stood open; for there was work
going on in the chapel. We removed our hats, and walked forward to her
little coffin. We did not exchange a word. Not until after we had left
it and were looking at the other coffins and their inscriptions, did
Atlung inform me that his wife's coffin was to be placed in one of
stone. I remarked that in this way we would eventually have more of our
ancestors preserved than would be good for us. But there is reverence
in it, he replied, as we walked out.
There was warmth in the atmosphere. Over the bluish snow, the forest
rose green or dark gray and the fjord was defiantly fresh. Spring was
in the air, although we were still in the midst of winter.