Friday, November 9, 2007



ON the second day of June, 186--, a
young Norseman, Halfdan Bjerk by
name, landed on the pier at Castle
Garden. He passed through the straight
and narrow gate where he was asked his name,
birthplace, and how much money he had,--at
which he grew very much frightened.
"And your destination?"--demanded the
gruff-looking functionary at the desk.
"America," said the youth, and touched his
hat politely.
"Do you think I have time for joking?"
roared the official, with an oath.
The Norseman ran his hand through his hair,
smiled his timidly conciliatory smile, and tried
his best to look brave; but his hand trembled
and his heart thumped away at an alarmingly
quickened tempo.
"Put him down for Nebraska!" cried a stout
red-cheeked individual (inwrapped in the mingled
fumes of tobacco and whisky) whose function
it was to open and shut the gate.
"There aint many as go to Nebraska."
"All right, Nebraska."
The gate swung open and the pressure from
behind urged the timid traveler on, while an
extra push from the gate-keeper sent him flying
in the direction of a board fence, where he sat
down and tried to realize that he was now in
the land of liberty.
Halfdan Bjerk was a tall, slender-limbed youth
of very delicate frame; he had a pair of
wonderfully candid, unreflecting blue eyes, a smooth,
clear, beardless face, and soft, wavy light hair,
which was pushed back from his forehead without
parting. His mouth and chin were well
cut, but their lines were, perhaps, rather weak
for a man. When in repose, the ensemble of
his features was exceedingly pleasing and somehow
reminded one of Correggio's St. John. He
had left his native land because he was an
ardent republican and was abstractly convinced
that man, generically and individually, lives
more happily in a republic than in a monarchy.
He had anticipated with keen pleasure the large,
freely breathing life he was to lead in a land
where every man was his neighbor's brother,
where no senseless traditions kept a jealous
watch over obsolete systems and shrines, and
no chilling prejudice blighted the spontaneous
blossoming of the soul.
Halfdan was an only child. His father, a
poor government official, had died during his
infancy, and his mother had given music lessons,
and kept boarders, in order to gain the means
to give her son what is called a learned education.
In the Latin school Halfdan had enjoyed
the reputation of being a bright youth, and at
the age of eighteen, he had entered the
university under the most promising auspices. He
could make very fair verses, and play all
imaginable instruments with equal ease, which
made him a favorite in society. Moreover, he
possessed that very old-fashioned accomplishment
of cutting silhouettes; and what was more,
he could draw the most charmingly fantastic
arabesques for embroidery patterns, and he even
dabbled in portrait and landscape painting.
Whatever he turned his hand to, he did well,
in fact, astonishingly well for a dilettante, and
yet not well enough to claim the title of an
artist. Nor did it ever occur to him to make
such a claim. As one of his fellow-students
remarked in a fit of jealousy, "Once when Nature
had made three geniuses, a poet, a musician,
and a painter, she took all the remaining odds
and ends and shook them together at random
and the result was Halfdan Bjerk." This agreeable
melange of accomplishments, however,
proved very attractive to the ladies, who invited
the possessor to innumerable afternoon
tea-parties, where they drew heavy drafts on
his unflagging patience, and kept him steadily
engaged with patterns and designs for embroidery,
leather flowers, and other dainty knickknacks.
And in return for all his exertions
they called him "sweet" and "beautiful," and
applied to him many other enthusiastic adjectives
seldom heard in connection with masculine
names. In the university, talents of this order
gained but slight recognition, and when Halfdan
had for three years been preparing himself
in vain for the examen philosophicum, he found
himself slowly and imperceptibly drifting into
the ranks of the so-called studiosi perpetui, who
preserve a solemn silence at the examination
tables, fraternize with every new generation of
freshmen, and at last become part of the fixed
furniture of their Alma Mater. In the larger
American colleges, such men are mercilessly
dropped or sent to a Divinity School; but the
European universities, whose tempers the centuries
have mellowed, harbor in their spacious
Gothic bosoms a tenderer heart for their
unfortunate sons. There the professors greet them
at the green tables with a good-humored smile
of recognition; they are treated with gentle
forbearance, and are allowed to linger on, until
they die or become tutors in the families of
remote clergymen, where they invariably fall
in love with the handsomest daughter, and thus
lounge into a modest prosperity.
If this had been the fate of our friend Bjerk,
we should have dismissed him here with a confident
"vale" on his life's pilgrimage. But,
unfortunately, Bjerk was inclined to hold the
government in some way responsible for his own
poor success as a student, and this, in connection
with an aesthetic enthusiasm for ancient Greece,
gradually convinced him that the republic was
the only form of government under which men
of his tastes and temperament were apt to flourish.
It was, like everything that pertained to
him, a cheerful, genial conviction, without the
slightest tinge of bitterness. The old institutions
were obsolete, rotten to the core, he said,
and needed a radical renovation. He could sit
for hours of an evening in the Students' Union,
and discourse over a glass of mild toddy, on the
benefits of universal suffrage and trial by jury,
while the picturesqueness of his language, his
genial sarcasms, or occasional witty allusions
would call forth uproarious applause from
throngs of admiring freshmen. These were the
sunny days in Halfdan's career, days long to be
remembered. They came to an abrupt end
when old Mrs. Bjerk died, leaving nothing
behind her but her furniture and some trifling
debts. The son, who was not an eminently
practical man, underwent long hours of misery
in trying to settle up her affairs, and finally in
a moment of extreme dejection sold his entire
inheritance in a lump to a pawnbroker (reserving
for himself a few rings and trinkets) for the
modest sum of 250 dollars specie. He then
took formal leave of the Students' Union in a
brilliant speech, in which he traced the parallelisms
between the lives of Pericles and Washington,--
in his opinion the two greatest men
the world had ever seen,--expounded his theory
of democratic government, and explained the
causes of the rapid rise of the American Republic.
The next morning he exchanged half of
his worldly possessions for a ticket to New
York, and within a few days set sail for the
land of promise, in the far West.
From Castle Garden, Halfdan made his way
up through Greenwich street, pursued by a
clamorous troop of confidence men and hotel
"Kommen Sie mit mir. Ich bin auch
Deutsch," cried one. "Voila, voila, je parle
Francais," shouted another, seizing hold of his
valise. "Jeg er Dansk. Tale Dansk,"[1] roared
a third, with an accent which seriously impeached
his truthfulness. In order to escape
from these importunate rascals, who were every
moment getting bolder, he threw himself into
the first street-car which happened to pass; he
sat down, gazed out of the windows and soon
became so thoroughly absorbed in the animated
scenes which moved as in a panorama before his
eyes, that he quite forgot where he was going.
The conductor called for fares, and received an
English shilling, which, after some ineffectual
expostulation, he pocketed, but gave no change.
At last after about an hour's journey, the car
stopped, the conductor called out "Central
Park," and Halfdan woke up with a start. He
dismounted with a timid, deliberate step, stared
in dim bewilderment at the long rows of palatial
residences, and a chill sense of loneliness
crept over him. The hopeless strangeness of
everything he saw, instead of filling him with
rapture as he had once anticipated, Sent a cold
shiver to his heart. It is a very large affair,
this world of ours--a good deal larger than it
appeared to him gazing out upon it from his
snug little corner up under the Pole; and it was
as unsympathetic as it was large; he suddenly
felt what he had never been aware of before--
that he was a very small part of it and of very
little account after all. He staggered over to a
bench at the entrance to the park, and sat long
watching the fine carriages as they dashed past
him; he saw the handsome women in brilliant
costumes laughing and chatting gayly; the
apathetic policemen promenading in stoic dignity
up and down upon the smooth pavements; the
jauntily attired nurses, whom in his Norse
innocence he took for mothers or aunts of the children,
wheeling baby-carriages which to Norse
eyes seemed miracles of dainty ingenuity, under
the shady crowns of the elm-trees. He did not
know how long he had been sitting there, when
a little bright-eyed girl with light kid gloves, a
small blue parasol and a blue polonaise, quite a
lady of fashion en miniature, stopped in front
of him and stared at him in shy wonder. He
had always been fond of children, and often rejoiced
in their affectionate ways and confidential
prattle, and now it suddenly touched him
with a warm sense of human fellowship to have
this little daintily befrilled and crisply starched
beauty single him out for notice among the
hundreds who reclined in the arbors, or sauntered
to and fro under the great trees.
[1] "I am a Dane. I speak Danish."
"What is your name, my little girl?" he
asked, in a tone of friendly interest.
"Clara," answered the child, hesitatingly;
then, having by another look assured herself of
his harmlessness, she added: "How very funny
you speak!"
"Yes," he said, stooping down to take he
tiny begloved hand. "I do not speak as well
as you do, yet; but I shall soon learn."
Clara looked puzzled.
"How old are you?" she asked, raising her
parasol, and throwing back her head with an
air of superiority.
"I am twenty-four years old."
She began to count half aloud on her fingers:
"One, two, three, four," but, before she reached
twenty, she lost her patience.
"Twenty-four," she exclaimed, "that is a
great deal. I am only seven, and papa gave me
a pony on my birthday. Have you got a pony?"
"No; I have nothing but what is in this valise,
and you know I could not very well get a pony into it."
Clara glanced curiously at the valise and
laughed; then suddenly she grew serious again,
put her hand into her pocket and seemed to be
searching eagerly for something. Presently
she hauled out a small porcelain doll's head,
then a red-painted block with letters on it,
and at last a penny.
"Do you want them?" she said, reaching him
her treasures in both hands. "You may have
them all."
Before he had time to answer, a shrill,
penetrating voice cried out:
"Why, gracious! child, what are you doing ? "
And the nurse, who had been deeply absorbed
in "The New York Ledger," came rushing up,
snatched the child away, and retreated as hastily
as she had come.
Halfdan rose and wandered for hours aimlessly
along the intertwining roads and footpaths.
He visited the menageries, admired the
statues, took a very light dinner, consisting of
coffee, sandwiches, and ice, at the Chinese
Pavilion, and, toward evening, discovered an inviting
leafy arbor, where he could withdraw into the
privacy of his own thoughts, and ponder upon
the still unsolved problem of his destiny. The
little incident with the child had taken the edge
off his unhappiness and turned him into a more
conciliatory mood toward himself and the great
pitiless world, which seemed to take so little
notice of him. And he, who had come here with
so warm a heart and so ardent a will to join in
the great work of human advancement--to find
himself thus harshly ignored and buffeted about,
as if he were a hostile intruder! Before him
lay the huge unknown city where human life
pulsated with large, full heart-throbs, where a
breathless, weird intensity, a cold, fierce
passion seemed to be hurrying everything onward
in a maddening whirl, where a gentle, warmblooded
enthusiast like himself had no place and
could expect naught but a speedy destruction.
A strange, unconquerable dread took possession
of him, as if he had been caught in a swift,
strong whirlpool, from which he vainly struggled
to escape. He crouched down among the
foliage and shuddered. He could not return to
the city. No, no: he never would return. He
would remain here hidden and unseen until
morning, and then he would seek a vessel bound
for his dear native land, where the great
mountains loomed up in serene majesty toward the
blue sky, where the pine-forests whispered their
dreamily sympathetic legends, in the long summer
twilights, where human existence flowed
on in calm beauty with the modest aims, small
virtues, and small vices which were the
happiness of modest, idyllic souls. He even saw
himself in spirit recounting to his astonished
countrymen the wonderful things he had heard
and seen during his foreign pilgrimage, and
smiled to himself as he imagined their wonder
when he should tell them about the beautiful
little girl who had been the first and only one
to offer him a friendly greeting in the strange
land. During these reflections he fell asleep,
and slept soundly for two or three hours. Once,
he seemed to hear footsteps and whispers among
the trees, and made an effort to rouse himself,
but weariness again overmastered him and he
slept on. At last, he felt himself seized
violently by the shoulders, and a gruff voice
shouted in his ear:
"Get up, you sleepy dog."
He rubbed his eyes, and, by the dim light of
the moon, saw a Herculean policeman lifting a
stout stick over his head. His former terror
came upon him with increased violence, and his
heart stood for a moment still, then, again,
hammered away as if it would burst his sides.
"Come along!" roared the policeman, shaking
him vehemently by the collar of his coat.
In his bewilderment he quite forgot where he
was, and, in hurried Norse sentences, assured
his persecutor that he was a harmless, honest
traveler, and implored him to release him. But
the official Hercules was inexorable.
"My valise, my valise;" cried Halfdan.
"Pray let me get my valise."
They returned to the place where he had
slept, but the valise was nowhere to be found.
Then, with dumb despair he resigned himself to
his fate, and after a brief ride on a street-car,
found himself standing in a large, low-ceiled
room; he covered his face with his hands and
burst into tears.
"The grand-the happy republic," he
murmured, "spontaneous blossoming of the soul.
Alas! I have rooted up my life; I fear it will
never blossom."
All the high-flown adjectives he had employed
in his parting speech in the Students' Union,
when he paid his enthusiastic tribute to the
Grand Republic, now kept recurring to him, and
in this moment the paradox seemed cruel. The
Grand Republic, what did it care for such as
he? A pair of brawny arms fit to wield the
pick-axe and to steer the plow it received with
an eager welcome; for a child-like, loving heart
and a generously fantastic brain, it had but the
stern greeting of the law.
The next morning, Halfdan was released
from the Police Station, having first been fined
five dollars for vagrancy. All his money, with
the exception of a few pounds which he had
exchanged in Liverpool, he had lost with his
valise, and he had to his knowledge not a single
acquaintance in the city or on the whole
continent. In order to increase his capital he
bought some fifty "Tribunes," but, as it was
already late in the day, he hardly succeeded in
selling a single copy. The next morning, he
once more stationed himself on the corner of
Murray street and Broadway, hoping in his
innocence to dispose of the papers he had still
on hand from the previous day, and actually
did find a few customers among the people who
were jumping in and out of the omnibuses that
passed up and down the great thoroughfare.
To his surprise, however, one of these gentlemen
returned to him with a very wrathful
countenance, shook his fist at him, and vociferated
with excited gestures something which to
Halfdan's ears had a very unintelligible sound.
He made a vain effort to defend himself; the
situation appeared so utterly incomprehensible
to him, and in his dumb helplessness he looked
pitiful enough to move the heart of a stone.
No English phrase suggested itself to him, only
a few Norse interjections rose to his lips. The
man's anger suddenly abated; he picked up the
paper which he had thrown on the sidewalk,
and stood for a while regarding Halfdan curiously.
"Are you a Norwegian?" he asked.
"Yes, I came from Norway yesterday."
"What's your name?"
"Halfdan Bjerk."
"Halfdan Bjerk! My stars! Who would
have thought of meeting you here! You do not
recognize me, I suppose."
Halfdan declared with a timid tremor in his
voice that he could not at the moment recall
his features.
"No, I imagine I must have changed a good
deal since you saw me," said the man, suddenly
dropping into Norwegian. "I am Gustav Olson,
I used to live in the same house with you once,
but that is long ago now."
Gustav Olson--to be sure, he was the porter's
son in the house, where his mother had once
during his childhood, taken a flat. He well
remembered having clandestinely traded jackknives
and buttons with him, in spite of the
frequent warnings he had received to have nothing
to do with him; for Gustav, with his broad
freckled face and red hair, was looked upon by
the genteel inhabitants of the upper flats as
rather a disreputable character. He had once
whipped the son of a colonel who had been
impudent to him, and thrown a snow-ball at the
head of a new-fledged lieutenant, which offenses
he had duly expiated at a house of correction.
Since that time he had vanished from Halfdan's
horizon. He had still the same broad freckled
face, now covered with a lusty growth of coarse
red beard, the same rebellious head of hair,
which refused to yield to the subduing influences
of the comb, the same plebeian hands and feet,
and uncouth clumsiness of form. But his linen
was irreproachable, and a certain dash in his
manner, and the loud fashionableness of his
attire, gave unmistakable evidences of prosperity.
"Come, Bjerk," said he in a tone of goodfellowship,
which was not without its sting to the
idealistic republican, "you must take up a better
business than selling yesterday's `Tribune.'
That won't pay here, you know. Come along
to our office and I will see if something can't be
done for you."
"But I should be sorry to give you trouble,"
stammered Halfdan, whose native pride, even
in his present wretchedness, protested against
accepting a favor from one whom he had been
wont to regard as his inferior.
"Nonsense, my boy. Hurry up, I haven't
much time to spare. The office is only two
blocks from here. You don't look as if you
could afford to throw away a friendly offer."
The last words suddenly roused Halfdan from
his apathy; for he felt that they were true. A
drowning man cannot afford to make nice
distinctions--cannot afford to ask whether the
helping hand that is extended to him be that of
an equal or an inferior. So he swallowed his
humiliation and threaded his way through the
bewildering turmoil of Broadway, by the side
of his officious friend.
They entered a large, elegantly furnished
office, where clerks with sleek and severely
apathetic countenances stood scribbling at their desks.
"You will have to amuse yourself as best you
can," said Olson. "Mr. Van Kirk will be here
in twenty minutes. I haven't time to entertain you."
A dreary half hour passed. Then the door
opened and a tall, handsome man, with a full
grayish beard, and a commanding presence,
entered and took his seat at a desk in a smaller
adjoining office. He opened, with great dispatch,
a pile of letters which lay on the desk
before him, called out in a sharp, ringing tone
for a clerk, who promptly appeared, handed
him half-a-dozen letters, accompanying each
with a brief direction, took some clean paper
from a drawer and fell to writing. There was
something brisk, determined, and business-like
in his manner, which made it seem very hopeless
to Halfdan to appear before him as a petitioner.
Presently Olson entered the private office, closing
the door behind him, and a few minutes
later re-appeared and summoned Halfdan into
the chief's presence.
"You are a Norwegian, I hear," said the
merchant, looking around over his shoulder at
the supplicant, with a preoccupied air. "You
want work. What can you do?"
What can you do? A fatal question. But
here was clearly no opportunity for mental
debate. So, summoning all his courage, but
feeling nevertheless very faint, he answered:
"I have passed both examen artium and
philosophicum,[2] and got my laud clear in the former,
but in the latter haud on the first point."
[2] Examen artium is the entrance examination to the Norwegian
University, and philosophicum the first degree. The ranks given at
these are Laudabilis prae ceteris (in student's parlance, prae),
laudabilis or laud, haud illaudabilis, or haud, etc.
Mr. Van Kirk wheeled round on his chair and
faced the speaker:
"That is all Greek to me," he said, in a severe
tone. "Can you keep accounts?"
"No. I am afraid not."
Keeping accounts was not deemed a classical
accomplishment in Norway. It was only "traderats"
who troubled themselves about such gross
things, and if our Norseman had not been too
absorbed with the problem of his destiny, he
would have been justly indignant at having
such a question put to him.
"Then you don't know book-keeping?"
"I think not. I never tried it."
"Then you may be sure you don't know it.
But you must certainly have tried your hand at
something. Is there nothing you can think of
which might help you to get a living?"
"I can play the piano--and--and the violin."
"Very well, then. You may come this afternoon
to my house. Mr. Olson will tell you the
address. I will give you a note to Mrs. Van
Kirk. Perhaps she will engage you as a music
teacher for the children. Good morning."
At half-past four o'clock in the afternoon,
Halfdan found himself standing in a large, dimly
lighted drawing-room, whose brilliant
upholstery, luxurious carpets, and fantastically
twisted furniture dazzled and bewildered his
senses. All was so strange, so strange; nowhere
a familiar object to give rest to the
wearied eye. Wherever he looked he saw his
shabbily attired figure repeated in the long
crystal mirrors, and he became uncomfortably
conscious of his threadbare coat, his uncouth
boots, and the general incongruity of his
appearance. With every moment his uneasiness
grew; and he was vaguely considering the
propriety of a precipitate flight, when the rustle of
a dress at the farther end of the room startled
him, and a small, plump lady, of a daintily
exquisite form, swept up toward him, gave a
slight inclination of her head, and sank down
into an easy-chair:
"You are Mr. ----, the Norwegian, who
wishes to give music lessons?" she said, holding
a pair of gold-framed eyeglasses up to her eyes,
and running over the note which she held in her
hand. It read as follows:
DEAR MARTHA,--The bearer of this note is a young
Norwegian, I forgot to ascertain his name, a friend of
Olson's. He wishes to teach music. If you can help the
poor devil and give him something to do, you will oblige,
Yours, H. V. K.
Mrs. Van Kirk was evidently, by at least
twelve years, her husband's junior, and apparently
not very far advanced in the forties. Her
blonde hair, which was freshly crimped, fell
lightly over her smooth, narrow forehead; her
nose, mouth and chin had a neat distinctness of
outline; her complexion was either naturally or
artificially perfect, and her eyes, which were of
the purest blue, had, owing to their near-sightedness,
a certain pinched and scrutinizing look.
This look, which was without the slightest touch
of severity, indicating merely a lively degree of
interest, was further emphasized by three small
perpendicular wrinkles, which deepened and
again relaxed according to the varying intensity
of observation she bestowed upon the object
which for the time engaged her attention.
"Your name, if you please?" said Mrs. Van
Kirk, having for awhile measured her visitor
with a glance of mild scrutiny.
"Halfdan Bjerk."
"Half-dan B----, how do you spell that?"
"B-jerk. Well, but I mean, what is your
name in English?"
Halfdan looked blank, and blushed to his
"I wish to know," continued the lady
energetically, evidently anxious to help him out,
"what your name would mean in plain English.
Bjerk, it certainly must mean something."
"Bjerk is a tree--a birch-tree."
"Very well, Birch,--that is a very respectable
name. And your first name? What did
you say that was?
"Half Dan. Why not a whole Dan and be
done with it? Dan Birch, or rather Daniel
Birch. Indeed, that sounds quite Christian."
"As you please, madam," faltered the victim,;
looking very unhappy.
"You will pardon my straightforwardness,
won't you? B-jerk. I could never pronounce
that, you know."
"Whatever may be agreeable to you, madam,
will be sure to please me."
"That is very well said. And you will find
that it always pays to try to please me. And
you wish to teach music? If you have no
objection I will call my oldest daughter. She is
an excellent judge of music, and if your playing
meets with her approval, I will engage you,
as my husband suggests, not to teach Edith,
you understand, but my youngest child, Clara."
Halfdan bowed assent, and Mrs. Van Kirk
rustled out into the hall where she rang a bell,
and re-entered. A servant in dress-coat
appeared, and again vanished as noiselessly as he
had come. To our Norseman there was some
thing weird and uncanny about these silent
entrances and exits; he could hardly suppress a
shudder. He had been accustomed to hear the
clatter of people's heels upon the bare floors, as
they approached, and the audible crescendo of
their footsteps gave one warning, and prevented
one from being taken by surprise. While
absorbed in these reflections, his senses must
have been dormant; for just then Miss Edith
Van Kirk entered, unheralded by anything but
a hovering perfume, the effect of which was to
lull him still deeper into his wondering abstraction.
"Mr. Birch," said Mrs. Van Kirk, "this is
my daughter Miss Edith," and as Halfdan
sprang to his feet and bowed with visible
embarrassment, she continued:
"Edith, this is Mr. Daniel Birch, whom your
father has sent here to know if he would be
serviceable as a music teacher for Clara. And
now, dear, you will have to decide about the
merits of Mr. Birch. I don't know enough
about music to be anything of a judge."
"If Mr. Birch will be kind enough to play,"
said Miss Edith with a languidly musical
intonation," I shall be happy to listen to him."
Halfdan silently signified his willingness and
followed the ladies to a smaller apartment which
was separated from the drawing-room by folding
doors. The apparition of the beautiful
young girl who was walking at his side had
suddenly filled him with a strange burning and
shuddering happiness; he could not tear his
eyes away from her; she held him as by a powerful
spell. And still, all the while he had a
painful sub-consciousness of his own unfortunate
appearance, which was thrown into cruel relief
by her splendor. The tall, lithe magnificence of
her form, the airy elegance of her toilet, which
seemed the perfection of self-concealing art, the
elastic deliberateness of her step--all wrought
like a gentle, deliciously soothing opiate upon
the Norseman's fancy and lifted him into hitherto
unknown regions of mingled misery and
bliss. She seemed a combination of the most
divine contradictions, one moment supremely
conscious, and in the next adorably child-like
and simple, now full of arts and coquettish
innuendoes, then again nave, unthinking and
almost boyishly blunt and direct; in a word,
one of those miraculous New York girls whom
abstractly one may disapprove of, but in the
concrete must abjectly adore. This easy
predominance of the masculine heart over the masculine
reason in the presence of an impressive
woman, has been the motif of a thousand tragedies
in times past, and will inspire a thousand
more in times to come.
Halfdan sat down at the grand piano and
played Chopin's Nocturne in G major, flinging
out that elaborate filigree of sound with an
impetuosity and superb ABANDON which caused the
ladies to exchange astonished glances behind his
back. The transitions from the light and ethereal
texture of melody to the simple, more concrete
theme, which he rendered with delicate
shadings of articulation, were sufficiently
startling to impress even a less cultivated ear than
that of Edith Van Kirk, who had, indeed,
exhausted whatever musical resources New York
has to offer. And she was most profoundly
impressed. As he glided over the last pianissimo
notes toward the two concluding chords (an ending
so characteristic of Chopin) she rose and hurried
to his side with a heedless eagerness, which was
more eloquent than emphatic words of praise.
"Won't you please repeat this passage?" she
said, humming the air with soft modulations;
"I have always regarded the monotonous repetition
of this strain" (and she indicated it lightly
by a few touches of the keys) "as rather a
blemish of an otherwise perfect composition.
But as you play it, it is anything but monotonous.
You put into this single phrase a more intense
meaning and a greater variety of thought than
I ever suspected it was capable of expressing."
"It is my favorite composition," answered he,
modestly. "I have bestowed more thought
upon it than upon anything I have ever played,
unless perhaps it be the one in G minor, which,
with all its difference of mood and phraseology,
expresses an essentially kindred thought."
"My dear Mr. Birch," exclaimed Mrs. Van
Kirk, whom his skillful employment of technical
terms (in spite of his indifferent accent) had
impressed even more than his rendering of the
music,--"you are a comsummate{sic} artist, and
we shall deem it a great privilege if you will
undertake to instruct our child. I have listened
to you with profound satisfaction."
Halfdan acknowledged the compliment by a
bow and a blush, and repeated the latter part of
the nocturne according to Edith's request.
"And now," resumed Edith, "may I trouble
you to play the G minor, which has even puzzled
me more than the one you have just played."
"It ought really to have been played first,"
replied Halfdan. "It is far intenser in its coloring
and has a more passionate ring, but its conclusion
does not seem to be final. There is no
rest in it, and it seems oddly enough to be a
mere transition into the major, which is its
proper supplement and completes the fragmentary
Mother and daughter once more telegraphed
wondering looks at each other, while Halfdan
plunged into the impetuous movements of the
minor nocturne, which he played to the end with
ever-increasing fervor and animation.
"Mr. Birch," said Edith, as he arose from the
piano with a flushed face, and the agitation of
the music still tingling through his nerves.
"You are a far greater musician than you seem
to be aware of. I have not been taking lessons
for some time, but you have aroused all my musical
ambition, and if you will accept me too, as
a pupil, I shall deem it a favor."
"I hardly know if I can teach you anything,"
answered he, while his eyes dwelt with keen
delight on her beautiful form. "But in my present
position I can hardly afford to decline so
flattering an offer."
"You mean to say that you would decline it if you
were in a position to do so," said she, smiling.
"No, only that I should question my convenience
more closely."
"Ah, never mind. I take all the responsibility.
I shall cheerfully consent to being imposed upon by you."
Mrs. Van Kirk in the mean while had been
examining the contents of a fragrant Russia-leather
pocket-book, and she now drew out two crisp
ten-dollar notes, and held them out toward him.
"I prefer to make sure of you by paying you
in advance," said she, with a cheerfully familiar
nod, and a critical glance at his attire, the meaning
of which he did not fail to detect. "Somebody
else might make the same discovery that
we have made to-day, and outbid us. And we
do not want to be cheated out of our good fortune
in having been the first to secure so valuable a prize."
"You need have no fear on that score,
madam," retorted Halfdan, with a vivid blush,
and purposely misinterpreting the polite subterfuge.
"You may rely upon my promise. I shall be here again,
as soon as you wish me to return."
"Then, if you please, we shall look for you
to-morrow morning at ten o'clock."
And Mrs. Van Kirk hesitatingly folded up
her notes and replaced them in her pocket-book.
To our idealist there was something extremely
odious in this sudden offer of money. It was
the first time any one had offered to pay him,
and it seemed to put him on a level with a common
day-laborer. His first impulse was to resent
it as a gratuitous humiliation, but a glance
at Mrs. Van Kirk's countenance, which was all
aglow with officious benevolence, re-assured him,
and his indignation died away.
That same afternoon Olson, having been
informed of his friend's good fortune, volunteered
a loan of a hundred dollars, and accompanied
him to a fashionable tailor, where he underwent
a pleasing metamorphosis.
In Norway the ladies dress with the innocent
purpose of protecting themselves against the
weather; if this purpose is still remotely present
in the toilets of American women of to-day,
it is, at all events, sufficiently disguised to
challenge detection, very much like a primitive
Sanscrit root in its French and English derivatives.
This was the reflection which was uppermost in
Halfdan's mind as Edith, ravishing to behold
in the airy grace of her fragrant morning toilet,
at the appointed time took her seat at his side
before the piano. Her presence seemed so
intense, so all-absorbing, that it left no thought
for the music. A woman, with all the spiritual
mysteries which that name implies, had always
appeared to him rather a composite phenomenon,
even apart from those varied accessories of
dress, in which as by an inevitable analogy, she
sees fit to express the inner multiformity of her
being. Nevertheless, this former conception
of his, when compared to that wonderful
complexity of ethereal lines, colors, tints and halftints
which go to make up the modern New
York girl, seemed inexpressibly simple, almost
what plain arithmetic must appear to a man who
has mastered calculus.
Edith had opened one of those small redcovered
volumes of Chopin where the rich,
wondrous melodies lie peacefully folded up like
strange exotic flowers in an herbarium. She began
to play the fantasia impromtu, which ought
to be dashed off at a single "heat," whose
passionate impulse hurries it on breathlessly toward
its abrupt finale. But Edith toiled considerably
with her fingering, and blurred the keen
edges of each swift phrase by her indistinct articulation.
And still there was a sufficiently
ardent intention in her play to save it from being
a failure. She made a gesture of disgust
when she had finished, shut the book, and let
her hands drop crosswise in her lap.
"I only wanted to give you a proof of my incapacity,"
she said, turning her large luminous gaze
upon her instructor, "in order to make
you duly appreciate what you have undertaken.
Now, tell me truly and honestly,
are you not discouraged?"
"Not by any means," replied he, while the
rapture of her presence rippled through his
nerves, "you have fire enough in you to make
an admirable musician. But your fingers, as
yet, refuse to carry out your fine intentions.
They only need discipline."
"And do you suppose you can discipline
them? They are a fearfully obstinate set, and
cause me infinite mortification."
"Would you allow me to look at your hand?"
She raised her right hand, and with a sort of
impulsive heedlessness let it drop into his. An
exclamation of surprise escaped him.
`{`}If you will pardon me," he said, "it is a
superb hand--a hand capable of performing miracles--
musical miracles I mean. Only look here"
--(and he drew the fore and second fingers apart)
--"so firmly set in the joint and still so flexible.
I doubt if Liszt himself can boast a finer row
of fingers. Your hands will surely not prevent
you from becoming a second Von Bulow, which to
my mind means a good deal more than a second Liszt."
"Thank you, that is quite enough," she
exclaimed, with an incredulous laugh; "you have
done bravely. That at all events throws the
whole burden of responsibility upon myself, if
I do not become a second somebody. I shall be
perfectly satisfied, however, if you can only
make me as good a musician as you are yourself,
so that I can render a not too difficult piece
without feeling all the while that I am committing
sacrilege in mutilating the fine thoughts
of some great composer."
"You are too modest; you do not--"
"No, no, I am not modest," she interrupted
him with an impetuosity which startled him.
"I beg of you not to persist in paying me
compliments. I get too much of that cheap article
elsewhere. I hate to be told that I am better
than I know I am. If you are to do me any
good by your instruction, you must be perfectly
sincere toward me, and tell me plainly of my
short-comings. I promise you beforehand that
I shall never be offended. There is my hand.
Now, is it a bargain?"
His fingers closed involuntarily over the soft
beautiful hand, and once more the luxury of her
touch sent a thrill of delight through him.
"I have not been insincere," he murmured,
"but I shall be on my guard in future, even
against the appearance of insincerity."
"And when I play detestably, you will say so,
and not smooth it over with unmeaning flatteries?"
"I will try."
"Very well, then we shall get on well
together. Do not imagine that this is a mere
feminine whim of mine. I never was more in
earnest. Men, and I believe foreigners, to a
greater degree than Americans, have the idea
that women must be treated with gentle forbearance;
that their follies, if they are foolish,
must be glossed over with some polite name.
They exert themselves to the utmost to make
us mere playthings, and, as such, contemptible
both in our own eyes and in theirs. No sincere
respect can exist where the truth has to be
avoided. But the majority of American women
are made of too stern a stuff to be dealt with in
that way. They feel the lurking insincerity
even where politeness forbids them to show it,
and it makes them disgusted both with themselves,
and with the flatterer. And now you
must pardon me for having spoken so plainly
to you on so short an acquaintance; but you
are a foreigner, and it may be an act of friendship
to initiate you as soon as possible into our
ways and customs."
He hardly knew what to answer. Her
vehemence was so sudden, and the sentiments she
had uttered so different from those which he
had habitually ascribed to women, that he could
only sit and gaze at her in mute astonishment.
He could not but admit that in the main she
had judged him rightly, and that his own attitude
and that of other men toward her sex,
were based upon an implied assumption of superiority.
"I am afraid I have shocked you," she
resumed, noticing the startled expression of his
countenance. "But really it was quite inevitable,
if we were at all to understand each other.
You will forgive me, won't you?"
"Forgive!" stammered he, "I have nothing
to forgive. It was only your merciless truthfulness
which startled me. I rather owe you
thanks, if you will allow me to be grateful to
you. It seems an enviable privilege."
"Now," interrupted Edith, raising her
forefinger in playful threat, "remember your
The lesson was now continued without further
interruption. When it was finished, a little girl,
with her hair done up in curl-papers, and a very
stiffly starched dress, which stood out on all sides
almost horizontally, entered, accompanied by
Mrs. Van Kirk. Halfdan immediately recognized
his acquaintance from the park, and it appeared
to him a good omen that this child, whose friendly
interest in him had warmed his heart in a moment
when his fortunes seemed so desperate,
should continue to be associated with his life
on this new continent. Clara was evidently
greatly impressed by the change in his appearance,
and could with difficulty be restrained
from commenting upon it.
She proved a very apt scholar in music, and
enjoyed the lessons the more for her cordial
liking of her teacher.
It will be necessary henceforth to omit the
less significant details in the career of our friend
"Mr. Birch." Before a month was past, he had
firmly established himself in the favor of the
different members of the Van Kirk family.
Mrs. Van Kirk spoke of him to her lady visitors
as "a perfect jewel," frequently leaving them
in doubt as to whether he was a cook or a
coachman. Edith apostrophized him to her
fashionable friends as "a real genius," leaving
a dim impression upon their minds of flowing
locks, a shiny velvet jacket, slouched hat,
defiant neck-tie and a general air of disreputable
pretentiousness. Geniuses of the foreign type
were never, in the estimation of fashionable
New York society, what you would call "exactly
nice," and against prejudices of this order
no amount of argument will ever prevail. Clara,
who had by this time discovered that her teacher
possessed an inexhaustible fund of fairy stories,
assured her playmates across the street that he
was "just splendid," and frequently invited
them over to listen to his wonderful tales. Mr.
Van Kirk himself, of course, was non-committal,
but paid the bills unmurmuringly.
Halfdan in the meanwhile was vainly struggling
against his growing passion for Edith;
but the more he rebelled the more hopelessly
he found himself entangled in its inextricable
net. The fly, as long as it keeps quiet in the
spider's web, may for a moment forget its
situation; but the least effort to escape is apt to
frustrate itself and again reveal the imminent
peril. Thus he too "kicked against the pricks,"
hoped, feared, rebelled against his destiny, and
again, from sheer weariness, relapsed into a
dull, benumbed apathy. In spite of her friendly
sympathy, he never felt so keenly his alienism
as in her presence. She accepted the spontaneous
homage he paid her, sometimes with impatience,
as something that was really beneath
her notice; at other times she frankly
recognized it, bantered him with his "Old World
chivalry," which would soon evaporate in the
practical American atmosphere, and called him
her Viking, her knight and her faithful squire.
But it never occurred to her to regard his
devotion in a serious light, and to look upon him
as a possible lover had evidently never entered
her head. As their intercourse grew more
intimate, he had volunteered to read his favorite
poets with her, and had gradually succeeded in
imparting to her something of his own passionate
liking for Heine and Bjrnson. She had in
return called his attention to the works of
American authors who had hitherto been little
more than names to him, and they had thus
managed to be of mutual benefit to each other,
and to spend many a pleasant hour during the
long winter afternoons in each other's company.
But Edith had a very keen sense of humor, and
could hardly restrain her secret amusement when
she heard him reading Longfellow's "Psalm of
Life" and Poe's "Raven" (which had been
familiar to her from her babyhood), often with
false accent, but always with intense enthusiasm.
The reflection that he had had no part of his
life in common with her,--that he did not love
the things which she loved,--could not share
her prejudices (and women have a feeling akin
to contempt for a man who does not respond to
their prejudices)--removed him at times almost
beyond the reach of her sympathy. It was
interesting enough as long as the experience
was novel, to be thus unconsciously exploring
another person's mind and finding so many
strange objects there; but after a while the
thing began to assume an uncomfortably serious
aspect, and then there seemed to be something
almost terrible about it. At such times a call
from a gentleman of her own nation, even
though he were one of the placidly stupid type,
would be a positive relief; she could abandon
herself to the secure sense of being at home;
she need fear no surprises, and in the smooth
shallows of their talk there were no unsuspected
depths to excite and to baffle her ingenuity.
And, again, reverting in her thought to Halfdan,
his conversational brilliancy would almost
repel her, as something odious and un-American,
the cheap result of outlandish birth and
unrepublican education. Not that she had ever
valued republicanism very highly; she was one
of those who associated politics with noisy
vulgarity in speech and dress, and therefore
thanked fortune that women were permitted to
keep aloof from it. But in the presence of this
alien she found herself growing patriotic; that
much-discussed abstraction, which we call our
country (and which is nothing but the aggregate
of all the slow and invisible influences
which go toward making up our own being),
became by degrees a very palpable and
intelligible fact to her.
Frequently while her American self was thus
loudly asserting itself, Edith inflicted many a
cruel wound upon her foreign adorer. Once,--
it was the Fourth of July, more than a year after
Halfdan's arrival, a number of young ladies and
gentlemen, after having listened to a patriotic
oration, were invited in to an informal luncheon.
While waiting, they naturally enough spent their
time in singing national songs, and Halfdan's
clear tenor did good service in keeping the
straggling voices together. When they had
finished, Edith went up to him and was quite
effusive in her expressions of gratitude.
"I am sure we ought all to be very grateful
to you, Mr. Birch," she said, "and I, for my
part, can assure you that I am."
"Grateful? Why?" demanded Halfdan,
looking quite unhappy.
"For singing OUR national songs, of course.
Now, won't you sing one of your own, please?
We should all be so delighted to hear how a
Swedish--or Norwegian, is it?--national song
"Yes, Mr. Birch, DO sing a Swedish song,"
echoed several voices.
They, of course, did not even remotely suspect
their own cruelty. He had, in his enthusiasm
for the day allowed himself to forget that
he was not made of the same clay as they were,
that he was an exile and a stranger, and must
ever remain so, that he had no right to share
their joy in the blessing of liberty. Edith had
taken pains to dispel the happy illusion, and had
sent him once more whirling toward his cold
native Pole. His passion came near choking
him, and, to conceal his impetuous emotion, he
flung himself down on the piano-stool, and struck
some introductory chords with perhaps a little
superfluous emphasis. Suddenly his voice burst
out into the Swedish national anthem, "Our
Land, our Land, our Fatherland," and the air
shook and palpitated with strong martial melody.
His indignation, his love and his misery,
imparted strength to his voice, and its occasional
tremble in the PIANO passages was something
more than an artistic intention. He was loudly
applauded as he arose, and the young ladies
thronged about him to ask if he "wouldn't
please write out the music for them."
Thus month after month passed by, and every
day brought its own misery. Mrs. Van Kirk's
patronizing manners, and ostentatious kindness,
often tested his patience to the utmost. If he
was guilty of an innocent witticism or a little
quaintness of expression, she always assumed it
to be a mistake of terms and corrected him
with an air of benign superiority. At times, of
course, her corrections were legitimate, as for
instance, when he spoke of WEARING a cane,
instead of CARRYING one, but in nine cases out of
ten the fault lay in her own lack of imagination
and not in his ignorance of English. On such
occasions Edith often took pity on him,
defended him against her mother's criticism, and
insisted that if this or that expression was not
in common vogue, that was no reason why it
should not be used, as it was perfectly
grammatical, and, moreover, in keeping with the
spirit of the language. And he, listening
passively in admiring silence to her argument,
thanked her even for the momentary pain
because it was followed by so great a happiness.
For it was so sweet to be defended by Edith, to
feel that he and she were standing together side
by side against the outer world. Could he only
show her in the old heroic manner how much he
loved her! Would only some one that was
dear to her die, so that he, in that breaking
down of social barriers which follows a great
calamity, might comfort her in her sorrow.
Would she then, perhaps, weeping, lean her
wonderful head upon his breast, feeling but that
he was a fellow-mortal, who had a heart that
was loyal and true, and forgetting, for one brief
instant, that he was a foreigner. Then, to
touch that delicate Elizabethan frill which
wound itself so daintily about Edith's neck--
what inconceivable rapture! But it was quite
impossible. It could never be. These were
selfish thoughts, no doubt, but they were a lover's
selfishness, and, as such, bore a close kinship to
all that is purest and best in human nature.
It is one of the tragic facts of this life, that a
relation so unequal as that which existed between
Halfdan and Edith, is at all possible. As
for Edith, I must admit that she was well aware
that her teacher was in love with her. Women
have wonderfully keen senses for phenomena of
that kind, and it is an illusion if any one
imagines, as our Norseman did, that he has locked
his secret securely in the hidden chamber of his
heart. In fleeting intonations, unconscious
glances and attitudes, and through a hundred
other channels it will make its way out, and the
bereaved jailer may still clasp his key in fierce
triumph, never knowing that he has been
robbed. It was of course no fault of Edith's
that she had become possessed of Halfdan's
heart-secret. She regarded it as on the whole
rather an absurd affair, and prized it very
lightly. That a love so strong and yet so humble,
so destitute of hope and still so unchanging,
reverent and faithful, had something grand and
touching in it, had never occurred to her. It is
a truism to say that in our social code the value
of a man's character is determined by his position;
and fine traits in a foreigner (unless he
should happen to be something very great)
strike us rather as part of a supposed mental
alienism, and as such, naturally suspicious. It
is rather disgraceful than otherwise to have your
music teacher in love with you, and critical
friends will never quite banish the suspicion
that you have encouraged him.
Edith had, in her first delight at the discovery
of Halfdan's talent, frankly admitted him
to a relation of apparent equality. He was a
man of culture, had the manners and bearing of
a gentleman, and had none of those theatrical
airs which so often raise a sort of invisible wall
between foreigners and Americans. Her mother,
who loved to play the patron, especially to young
men, had invited him to dinner-parties and introduced
him to their friends, until almost every one
looked upon him as a protege of the family. He
appeared so well in a parlor, and had really such
a distinguished presence, that it was a pleasure
to look at him. He was remarkably free from
those obnoxious traits which generalizing American
travelers have led us to believe were inseparable
from foreign birth; his finger-nails were
in no way conspicuous; he did not, as a French
count, a former adorer of Edith's, had done,
indulge an unmasculine taste for diamond rings
(possibly because he had none); his politeness
was unobtrusive and subdued, and of his accent
there was just enough left to give an agreeable
color of individuality to his speech. But, for
all that, Edith could never quite rid herself of
the impression that he was intensely un-American.
There was a certain idyllic quiescence
about him, a child-like directness and simplicity,
and a total absence of "push," which were
startlingly at variance with the spirit of American
life. An American could never have been
content to remain in an inferior position without
trying, in some way, to better his fortunes.
But Halfdan could stand still and see, without
the faintest stirring of envy, his plebeian friend
Olson, whose education and talents could bear
no comparison with his own, rise rapidly above
him, and apparently have no desire to emulate
him. He could sit on a cricket in a corner,
with Clara on his lap, and two or three little
girls nestling about him, and tell them fairy
stories by the hour, while his kindly face
beamed with innocent happiness. And if Clara,
to coax him into continuing the entertainment,
offered to kiss him, his measure of joy was full.
This fair child, with her affectionate ways, and
her confiding prattle, wound herself ever more
closely about his homeless heart, and he clung
to her with a touching devotion. For she was
the only one who seemed to be unconscious of
the difference of blood, who had not yet learned
that she was an American and he--a foreigner.
Three years had passed by and still the situation
was unchanged. Halfdan still taught music
and told fairy stories to the children. He had
a good many more pupils now than three years
ago, although he had made no effort to solicit
patronage, and had never tried to advertise his
talent by what he regarded as vulgar and
inartistic display. But Mrs. Van Kirk, who had by
this time discovered his disinclination to assert
himself, had been only the more active; had
"talked him up" among her aristocratic friends;
had given musical soirees, at which she had
coaxed him to play the principal role, and had
in various other ways exerted herself in his
behalf. It was getting to be quite fashionable to
admire his quiet, unostentatious style of playing,
which was so far removed from the noisy
bravado and clap-trap then commonly in vogue.
Even professional musicians began to indorse
him, and some, who had discovered that "there
was money in him," made him tempting offers
for a public engagement. But, with characteristic
modesty, he distrusted their verdict; his
sensitive nature shrank from anything which had
the appearance of self-assertion or display.
But Edith--ah, if it had not been for Edith
he might have found courage to enter at the
door of fortune, which was now opened ajar.
That fame, if he should gain it, would bring
him any nearer to her, was a thought that was
alien to so unworldly a temperament as his.
And any action that had no bearing upon his
relation to her, left him cold--seemed unworthy
of the effort. If she had asked him to play in
public; if she had required of him to go to the
North Pole, or to cut his own throat, I verily
believe he would have done it. And at last
Edith did ask him to play. She and Olson had
plotted together, and from the very friendliest
motives agreed to play into each other's hands.
"If you only WOULD consent to play," said she,
in her own persuasive way, one day as they had
finished their lesson, "we should all be so happy.
Only think how proud we should be of your
success, for you know there is nothing you
can't do in the way of music if you really want
"Do you really think so?" exclaimed he,
while his eyes suddenly grew large and luminous.
"Indeed I do," said Edith, emphatically.
"And if--if I played well," faltered he,
"would it really please you?"
"Of course it would," cried Edith, laughing;
"how can you ask such a foolish question?"
"Because I hardly dared to believe it."
"Now listen to me," continued the girl,
leaning forward in her chair, and beaming all over
with kindly officiousness; "now for once you
must be rational and do just what I tell you. I
shall never like you again if you oppose me in
this, for I have set my heart upon it; you must
promise beforehand that you will be good and
not make any objection. Do you hear?"
When Edith assumed this tone toward him,
she might well have made him promise to perform
miracles. She was too intent upon her
benevolent scheme to heed the possible
inferences which he might draw from her sudden
display of interest.
"Then you promise?" repeated she, eagerly,
as he hesitated to answer.
"Yes, I promise."
"Now, you must not be surprised; but mamma
and I have made arrangements with Mr.
S---- that you are to appear under his auspices
at a concert which is to be given a week from
to-night. All our friends are going, and we
shall take up all the front seats, and I have
already told my gentlemen friends to scatter
through the audience, and if they care anything
for my favor, they will have to applaud vigorously."
Halfdan reddened up to his temples, and
began to twist his watch-chain nervously.
"You must have small confidence in my
ability," he murmured, "since you resort to
precautions like these."
"But my dear Mr. Birch," cried Edith, who
was quick to discover that she had made a
mistake, "it is not kind in you to mistrust me in
that way. If a New York audience were as
highly cultivated in music as you are, I admit
that my precautions would be superfluous. But
the papers, you know, will take their tone from
the audience, and therefore we must make use
of a little innocent artifice to make sure of it.
Everything depends upon the success of your
first public appearance, and if your friends can
in this way help you to establish the reputation
which is nothing but your right, I am sure you
ought not to bind their hands by your foolish
sensitiveness. You don't know the American
way of doing things as well as I do, therefore
you must stand by your promise, and leave
everything to me."
It was impossible not to believe that anything
Edith chose to do was above reproach. She
looked so bewitching in her excited eagerness
for his welfare that it would have been inhuman
to oppose her. So he meekly succumbed, and
began to discuss with her the programme for
the concert.
During the next week there was hardly a day
that he did not read some startling paragraph
in the newspapers about "the celebrated Scandinavian
pianist," whose appearance at S----
Hall was looked forward to as the principal
event of the coming season. He inwardly
rebelled against the well-meant exaggerations;
but as he suspected that it was Edith's influence
which was in this way asserting itself in his behalf,
he set his conscience at rest and remained silent.
The evening of the concert came at last, and,
as the papers stated the next morning, "the
large hall was crowded to its utmost capacity
with a select and highly appreciative audience."
Edith must have played her part of the performance
skillfully, for as he walked out upon
the stage, he was welcomed with an enthusiastic
burst of applause, as if he had been a worldrenowned
artist. At Edith's suggestion, her
two favorite nocturnes had been placed first
upon the programme; then followed one of
those ballads of Chopin, whose rhythmic din and
rush sweep onward, beleaguering the ear like
eager, melodious hosts, charging in thickening
ranks and columns, beating impetuous retreats,
and again uniting with one grand emotion the
wide-spreading army of sound for the final
victory. Besides these, there was one of Liszt's
"Rhapsodies Hongroises," an impromptu by
Schubert, and several orchestral pieces; but the
greater part of the programme was devoted
to Chopin, because Halfdan, with his great,
hopeless passion laboring in his breast, felt that
he could interpret Chopin better than he could
any other composer. He carried his audience
by storm. As he retired to the dressing-room,
after having finished the last piece, his friends,
among whom Edith and Mrs. Van Kirk were
the most conspicuous, thronged about him,
showering their praises and congratulations
upon him. They insisted with much friendly
urging upon taking him home in their carriage;
Clara kissed him, Mrs. Van Kirk introduced
him to her lady acquaintances as "our friend,
Mr. Birch," and Edith held his hand so long in
hers that he came near losing his presence of
mind and telling her then and there that he
loved her. As his eyes rested on her, they
became suddenly suffused with tears, and a vast
bewildering happiness vibrated through his
frame. At last he tore himself away and wandered
aimlessly through the long, lonely streets.
Why could he not tell Edith that he loved her?
Was there any disgrace in loving? This heavenly
passion which so suddenly had transfused
his being, and year by year deadened the
substance of his old self, creating in its stead
something new and wild and strange which he
never could know, but still held infinitely dear
--had it been sent to him merely as a scourge to
test his capacity for suffering?
Once, while he was a child, his mother had
told him that somewhere in this wide world
there lived a maiden whom God had created
for him, and for him alone, and when he should
see her, he should love her, and his life should
thenceforth be all for her. It had hardly
occurred to him, then, to question whether she
would love him in return, it had appeared so
very natural that she should. Now he had
found this maiden, and she had been very kind
to him; but her kindness had been little better
than cruelty, because he had demanded something
more than kindness. And still he had
never told her of his love. He must tell her even
this very night while the moon rode high in the
heavens and all the small differences between
human beings seemed lost in the vast starlit
stillness. He knew well that by the relentless
glare of the daylight his own insignificance
would be cruelly conspicuous in the presence of
her splendor; his scruples would revive, and his
courage fade.
The night was clear and still. A clock struck
eleven in some church tower near by. The Van
Kirk mansion rose tall and stately in the moonlight,
flinging a dense mass of shadow across
the street. Up in the third story he saw two
windows lighted; the curtains were drawn, but
the blinds were not closed. All the rest of the
house was dark. He raised his voice and sang
a Swedish serenade which seemed in perfect
concord with his own mood. His clear tenor
rose through the silence of the night, and a
feeble echo flung it back from the mansion
[3] "Star, sweet star, that brightly beamest,
Glittering on the skies nocturnal,
Hide thine eye no more from me,
Hide thine eye no more from me!"
[3] Free translation of a Swedish serenade, the name of whose author I
have forgotten. H. H. B.
The curtain was drawn aside, the window
cautiously raised, and the outline of Edith's
beautiful head appeared dark and distinct
against the light within. She instantly recognized him.
"You must go away, Mr. Birch," came her
voice in an anxious whisper out of the shadow.
"Pray go away. You will wake up the people."
Her words were audible enough, but they
failed to convey any meaning to his excited
mind. Once more his voice floated upward to
her opened window:
"And I yearn to reach thy dwelling,
Yearn to rise from earth's fierce turmoil;
Sweetest star upward to thee,
Yearn to rise, bright star to thee."
"Dear Mr. Birch," she whispered once more
in tones of distress. "Pray DO go away. Or
perhaps," she interrupted herself "--wait one
moment and I will come down."
Presently the front door was noiselessly
opened, and Edith's tall, lithe form, dressed in a
white flowing dress, and with her blonde hair
rolling loosely over her shoulders, appeared for
an instant, and then again vanished. With one
leap Halfdan sprang up the stairs and pushed
through the half-opened door. Edith closed
the door behind him, then with rapid steps led
the way to the back parlor where the moon broke
feebly through the bars of the closed shutters.
"Now Mr. Birch," she said, seating herself
upon a lounge, "you may explain to me what
this unaccountable behavior of yours means.
I should hardly think I had deserved to be
treated in this way by you."
Halfdan was utterly bewildered; a nervous
fit of trembling ran through him, and he
endeavored in vain to speak. He had been
prepared for passionate reproaches, but this calm
severity chilled him through, and he could only
gasp and tremble, but could utter no word in
his defense.
"I suppose you are aware," continued Edith,
in the same imperturbable manner, "that if I
had not interrupted you, the policeman would
have h*eard you, and you would have been
arrested for street disturbance. Then to-morrow
we should have seen it in all the newspapers,
and I should have been the laughing-stock of
the whole town."
No, surely he had never thought of it in
that light; the idea struck him as entirely new.
There was a long pause. A cock crowed with
a drowsy remoteness in some neighboring yard,
and the little clock on the mantel-piece ticked
on patiently in the moonlit dusk.
"If you have nothing to say," resumed Edith,
while the stern indifference in her voice
perceptibly relaxed, "then I will bid you goodnight."
She arose, and with a grand sweep of her
drapery, moved toward the door.
"Miss Edith," cried he, stretching his hands
despairingly after her, "you must not leave me."
She paused, tossed her hair back with her
hands, and gazed at him over her shoulder. He
threw himself on his knees, seized the hem of
her dress, and pressed it to his lips. It was a
gesture of such inexpressible humility that even
a stone would have relented.
"Do not be foolish, Mr. Birch," she said, trying
to pull her dress away from him. "Get up,
and if you have anything rational to say to me,
I will stay and listen."
"Yes, yes," he whispered, hoarsely, "I shall
be rational. Only do not leave me."
She again sank down wearily upon the
lounge, and looked at him in expectant silence.
"Miss Edith," pleaded he in the same hoarse,
passionate undertone, "have pity on me, and
do not despise me. I love you--oh--if you
would but allow me to die for you, I should be
the happiest of men."
Again he shuddered, and stood long gazing
at her with a mute, pitiful appeal. A tear stole
into Edith's eye and trickled down over her
"Ah, Mr. Birch," she murmured, while a
sigh shook her bosom, "I am sorry--very sorry
that this misfortune has happened to you. You
have deserved a better fate than to love me--to
love a woman who can never give you anything
in return for what you give her."
"Never?" he repeated mournfully, "never?"
"No, never! You have been a good friend
to me, and as such I value you highly, and I had
hoped that you would always remain so. But
I see that it cannot be. It will perhaps be best
for you henceforth not to see me, at least not
until--pardon the expression--you have outlived
this generous folly. And now, you know,
you will need me no more. You have made a
splendid reputation, and if you choose to avail
yourself of it, your fortune is already made. I
shall always rejoice to hear of your success, and
--and if you should ever need a FRIEND, you
must come to no one but me. I know that these
are feeble words, Mr. Birch, and if they seem
cold to you, you must pardon me. I can say
nothing more."
They were indeed feeble words, although
most cordially spoken. He tried to weigh them,
to measure their meaning, but his mind was as
if benumbed, and utterly incapable of thought.
He walked across the floor, perhaps only to do
something, not feeling where he trod, but still
with an absurd sensation that he was taking
immoderately long steps. Then he stopped
abruptly, wrung his hands, and gazed at Edith.
And suddenly, like a flash in a vacuum, the
thought shot through his brain that he had seen
this very scene somewhere--in a dream, in a
remote childhood, in a previous existence, he did
not know when or where. It seemed strangely
familiar, and in the next instant strangely meaningless
and unreal. The walls, the floor--
everything began to move, to whirl about him; he
struck his hands against his forehead, and sank
down into a damask-covered easy-chair. With
a faint cry of alarm, Edith sprang up, seized a
bottle of cologne which happened to be within
reach, and knelt down at his side. She put her
arm around his neck, and raised his head.
"Mr. Birch, dear Mr. Birch," she cried, in a
frightened whisper, "for God's sake come to
yourself! O God, what have I done?"
She blew the eau-de-cologne into his face,
and, as he languidly opened his eyes, he felt the
touch of her warm hand upon his cheeks and his
"Thank heaven! he is better," she murmured,
still continuing to bathe his temples. "How do
you feel now, Mr. Birch?" she added, in a tone
of anxious inquiry.
"Thank you, it was an unpardonable weakness,"
he muttered, without changing his attitude.
"Do not trouble yourself about me. I
shall soon be well."
It was so sweet to be conscious of her gentle
ministry, that it required a great effort, an effort
of conscience, to rouse him once more, as his
strength returned.
"Had you not better stay?" she asked, as he
rose to put on his overcoat. "I will call one of
the servants and have him show you a room.
We will say to-morrow morning that you were
taken ill, and nobody will wonder."
"No, no," he responded, energetically. "I
am perfectly strong now." But he still had to
lean on a chair, and his face was deathly pale.
"Farewell, Miss Edith," he said; and a tender
sadness trembled in his voice. "Farewell. We
shall--probably--never meet again."
"Do not speak so," she answered, seizing his
hand. "You will try to forget this, and you
will still be great and happy. And when fortune
shall again smile upon you, and--and--
you will be content to be my friend, then we
shall see each other as before."
"No, no," he broke forth, with a sudden
hoarseness. "It will never be."
He walked toward the door with the motions
of one who feels death in his limbs; then
stopped once more and his eyes lingered with
inexpressible sadness on the wonderful, beloved
form which stood dimly outlined before him in
the twilight. Then Edith's measure of misery,
too, seemed full. With the divine heedlessness
which belongs to her sex, she rushed up toward
him, and remembering only that he was weak
and unhappy, and that he suffered for her sake,
she took his face between her hands and kissed
him. He was too generous a man to misinterpret
the act; so he whispered but once more:
"Farewell," and hastened away.
After that eventful December night, America
was no more what it had been to Halfdan
Bjerk. A strange torpidity had come over him;
every rising day gazed into his eyes with a fierce
unmeaning glare. The noise of the street
annoyed him and made him childishly fretful, and
the solitude of his own room seemed still more
dreary and depressing. He went mechanically
through the daily routine of his duties as if the
soul had been taken out of his work, and left
his life all barrenness and desolation. He
moved restlessly from place to place, roamed at
all times of the day and night through the city
and its suburbs, trying vainly to exhaust his
physical strength; gradually, as his lethargy
deepened into a numb, helpless despair, it seemed
somehow to impart a certain toughness to his
otherwise delicate frame. Olson, who was now
a junior partner in the firm of Remsen, Van
Kirk and Co., stood by him faithfully in these
days of sorrow. He was never effusive in his
sympathy, but was patiently forbearing with
his friend's whims and moods, and humored him
as if he had been a sick child intrusted to his
custody. That Edith might be the moving
cause of Olson's kindness was a thought which,
strangely enough, had never occurred to Halfdan.
At last, when spring came, the vacancy of his
mind was suddenly invaded with a strong desire
to revisit his native land. He disclosed his plan
to Olson, who, after due deliberation and
several visits to the Van Kirk mansion, decided
that the pleasure of seeing his old friends and
the scenes of his childhood might push the
painful memories out of sight, and renew his
interest in life. So, one morning, while the
May sun shone with a soft radiance upon the
beautiful harbor, our Norseman found himself
standing on the deck of a huge black-hulled
Cunarder, shivering in spite of the warmth, and
feeling a chill loneliness creeping over him at
the sight of the kissing and affectionate leavetakings
which were going on all around him.
Olson was running back and forth, attending to
his baggage; but he himself took no thought,
and felt no more responsibility than if he had
been a helpless child. He half regretted that
his own wish had prevailed, and was inclined to
hold his friend responsible for it; and still he
had not energy enough to protest now when the
journey seemed inevitable. His heart still clung
to the place which held the corpse of his ruined
life, as a man may cling to the spot which hides
his beloved dead.
About two weeks later Halfdan landed in
Norway. He was half reluctant to leave the
steamer, and the land of his birth excited no
emotion in his breast. He was but conscious of
a dim regret that he was so far away from
Edith. At last, however, he betook himself to
a hotel, where he spent the afternoon sitting
with half-closed eyes at a window, watching
listlessly the drowsy slow-pulsed life which
dribbled languidly through the narrow
thoroughfare. The noisy uproar of Broadway
chimed remotely in his ears, like the distant
roar of a tempest-tossed sea, and what had once
been a perpetual annoyance was now a sweet
memory. How often with Edith at his side had
he threaded his way through the surging crowds
that pour, on a fine afternoon, in an unceasing
current up and down the street between Union
and Madison Squares. How friendly, and sweet,
and gracious, Edith had been at such times;
how fresh her voice, how witty and animated
her chance remarks when they stopped to greet
a passing acquaintance; and, above all, how
inspiring the sight of her heavenly beauty.
Now that was all past. Perhaps he should
never see Edith again.
The next day he sauntered through the city,
meeting some old friends, who all seemed
changed and singularly uninteresting. They
were all engaged or married, and could talk of
nothing but matrimony, and their prospects of
advancement in the Government service. One
had an influential uncle who had been a chum
of the present minister of finance; another based
his hopes of future prosperity upon the family
connections of his betrothed, and a third was
waiting with a patient perseverance, worthy of
a better cause, for the death or resignation of
an antiquated chef-de-bureau, which, according
to the promise of some mighty man, would open
a position for him in the Department of Justice.
All had the most absurd theories about American
democracy, and indulged freely in prophecies
of coming disasters; but about their own
government they had no opinion whatever. If
Halfdan attempted to set them right, they at
once grew excited and declamatory; their
opinions were based upon conviction and a
charming ignorance of facts, and they were not
to be moved. They knew all about Tweed and
the Tammany Ring, and believed them to be
representative citizens of New York, if not of
the United States; but of Charles Sumner and
Carl Schurz they had never heard. Halfdan,
who, in spite of his misfortunes in the land of
his adoption, cherished a very tender feeling for
it, was often so thoroughly aroused at the foolish
prejudices which everywhere met him, that his
torpidity gradually thawed away, and he began
to look more like his former self.
Toward autumn he received an invitation
to visit a country clergyman in the North, a
distant relative of his father's, and there whiled
away his time, fishing and shooting, until winter
came. But as Christmas drew near, and the day
wrestled feebly with the all-conquering night,
the old sorrow revived. In the darkness which
now brooded over land and sea, the thoughts
needed no longer be on guard against themselves;
they could roam far and wide as they
listed. Where was Edith now, the sweet, the
wonderful Edith? Was there yet the same
dancing light in her beautiful eyes, the same
golden sheen in her hair, the same merry ring
in her voice? And had she not said that when
he was content to be only her friend, he might
return to her, and she would receive him in the
old joyous and confiding way? Surely there
was no life to him apart from her: why should
he not be her friend? Only a glimpse of her
lovely face--ah, it was worth a lifetime; it
would consecrate an age of misery, a glimpse of
Edith's face. Thus ran his fancies day by day,
and the night only lent a deeper intensity to the
yearnings of the day. He walked about as in a
dream, seeing nothing, heeding nothing, while
this one strong desire--to see Edith once more
--throbbed and throbbed with a slow, feverish
perseverance within him. Edith--Edith, the
very name had a strange, potent fascination.
Every thought whispered "Edith,"--his pulse
beat "Edith,"--and his heart repeated the
beloved name. It was his pulse-beat,--his
heartbeat,--his life-beat.
And one morning as he stood absently
looking at his fingers against the light--and they
seemed strangely wan and transparent--the
thought at last took shape. It rushed upon
him with such vehemence, that he could no more
resist it. So he bade the clergyman good-bye,
gathered his few worldly goods together and
set out for Bergen. There he found an English
steamer which carried him to Hull, and a few
weeks later, he was once more in New York.
It was late one evening in January that a
tug-boat arrived and took the cabin passengers
ashore. The moon sailed tranquilly over the
deep blue dome of the sky, the stars traced their
glittering paths of light from the zenith downward,
and it was sharp, bitter cold. Northward
over the river lay a great bank of cloud, dense,
gray and massive, the spectre of the coming
snow-storm. There it lay so huge and fantastically
human, ruffling itself up, as fowls do, in
defense against the cold. Halfdan walked on
at a brisk rate--strange to say, all the streetcars
he met went the wrong way--startling
every now and then some precious memory, some
word or look or gesture of Edith's which had
hovered long over those scenes, waiting for his
recognition. There was the great jewel-store
where Edith had taken him so often to consult
his taste whenever a friend of hers was to be
married. It was there that they had had an
amicable quarrel over that bronze statue of
Faust which she had found beautiful, while he,
with a rudeness which seemed now quite
incomprehensible, had insisted that it was not.
And when he had failed to convince her, she had
given him her hand in token of reconciliation--
and Edith had a wonderful way of giving her
hand, which made any one feel that it was a
peculiar privilege to press it--and they had
walked out arm in arm into the animated, gaslighted
streets, with a delicious sense of
snugness and security, being all the more closely
united for their quarrel. Here, farther up the
avenue, they had once been to a party, and he
had danced for the first time in his life with
Edith. Here was Delmonico's, where they had
had such fascinating luncheons together; where
she had got a stain on her dress, and he had
been forced to observe that her dress was then
not really a part of herself, since it was a thing
that could not be stained. Her dress had
always seemed to him as something absolute and
final, exalted above criticism, incapable of
As I have said, Halfdan walked briskly up the
avenue, and it was something after eleven when
he reached the house which he sought. The
great cloud-bank in the north had then begun
to expand and stretched its long misty arms
eastward and westward over the heavens. The
windows on the ground-floor were dark, but the
sleeping apartments in the upper stories were
lighted. In Edith's room the inside shutters
were closed, but one of the windows was a little
down at the top. And as he stood gazing
with tremulous happiness up to that window,
a stanza from Heine which he and Edith had
often read together, came into his head. It
was the story of the youth who goes to the
Madonna at Kevlar and brings her as a votive
offering a heart of wax, that she may heal him
of his love and his sorrow.
"I bring this waxen image,
The image of my heart,
Heal thou my bitter sorrow,
And cure my deadly smart!"[4]
[4] Translation, from "Exotics. By J. F. C. & C. L."
Then came the thought that for him, too, as
for the poor youth of Cologne, there was healing
only in death. And still in this moment he
was so near Edith, should see her perhaps, and
the joy at this was stronger than all else,
stronger even than death. So he sat down
beside the steps of the mansion opposite, where
there was some shelter from the wind, and
waited patiently till Edith should close her window.
He was cold, perhaps, but, if so, he hardly
knew it, for the near joy of seeing her throbbed
warmly in his veins. Ah, there--the blinds
were thrown open; Edith, in all the lithe
magnificence of her wonderful form, stood out clear
and beautiful against the light within; she
pushed up the lower window in order to reach
the upper one, and for a moment leaned out
over the sill. Once more her wondrous profile
traced itself in strong relief against the outer
gloom. There came a cry from the street below,
a feeble involuntary one, but still distinctly
audible. Edith peered anxiously out into the
darkness, but the darkness had grown denser
and she could see nothing. The window was
fastened, the shutters closed, and the broad
pathway of light which she had flung out upon
the night had vanished.
Halfdan closed his eyes trying to retain the
happy vision. Yes, there she stood still, and
there was a heavenly smile upon her lips--ugh,
he shivered--the snow swept in a wild whirl up
the street. He wrapped his plaid more closely
about him, and strained his eyes to catch one
more glimpse of the beloved Edith. Ah, yes;
there she was again; she came nearer and
nearer, and she touched his cheek, gently, warily
smiling all the while with a strange wistful smile
which was surely not Edith's. There, she bent
over him,--touched him again,--how cold her
hands were; the touch chilled him to the heart.
The snow had now begun to fall in large scattered
flakes, whirling fitfully through the air,
following every chance gust of wind, but still
falling, falling, and covering the earth with its
white, death-like shroud.
But surely--there was Edith again,--how
wonderful!--in a long snow-white robe, grave
and gracious, still with the wistful smile on her
lips. See, she beckons to him with her hand,
and he rises to follow, but something heavy
clings to his feet and he cannot stir from the
spot. He tries to cry for help, but he cannot,--
can only stretch out his hands to her, and feel
very unhappy that he cannot follow her. But
now she pauses in her flight, turns about, and
he sees that she wears a myrtle garland in her
hair like a bride. She comes toward him, her
countenance all radiant with love and happiness,
and she stoops down over him and speaks:
"Come; they are waiting for us. I will follow
thee in life and in death, wherever thou
goest. Come," repeats Edith, "they have long
been waiting. They are all here."
And he imagines he knows who they all are,
although he has never heard of them, nor can
he recall their names.
"But--but," he stammers, "I--I--am a foreigner "
It appeared then that for some reason this
was an insurmountable objection. And Edith's
happiness dies out of her beautiful face, and she
turns away weeping.
"Edith, beloved!"
Then she is once more at his side.
"Thou art no more a foreigner to me, beloved.
Whatever thou art, I am."
And she presses her lips to his--it was the
sweetest kiss of his life--the kiss of death.
The next morning, as Edith, after having put
the last touch to her toilet, threw the shutters
open, a great glare of sun-smitten snow burst
upon her and for a moment blinded her eyes.
On the sidewalk opposite, half a dozen men
with snow-shovels in their hands and a couple
of policeman had congregated, and, judging by
their manner, were discussing some object of
interest. Presently they were joined by her
father, who had just finished his breakfast and
was on his way to the office. Now he stooped
down and gazed at something half concealed in
the snow, then suddenly started back, and as
she caught a glimpse of his face, she saw that
it was ghastly white. A terrible foreboding
seized her. She threw a shawl about her shoulders
and rushed down-stairs. In the hall she was
met by her father, who was just entering,
followed by four men, carrying something between
them. She well knew what it was. She would
fain have turned away, but she could not:
grasping her father's arm and pressing it hard,
she gazed with blank, frightened eyes at the
white face, the lines of which Death had so
strangely emphasized. The snow-flakes which
hung in his hair had touched him with their
sudden age, as if to bridge the gulf between youth
and death. And still he was beautiful--the
clear brow, the peaceful, happy indolence, the
frozen smile which death had perpetuated.
Smiling, he had departed from the earth which
had no place for him, and smiling entered the
realm where, among the many mansions, there is, perhaps,
also one for a gentle, simple-hearted enthusiast.
THERE was an ancient feud between
the families; and Bjarne Blakstad was
not the man to make it up, neither was
Hedin Ullern. So they looked askance
at each other whenever they met on the
highway, and the one took care not to cross the
other's path. But on Sundays, when the churchbells
called the parishioners together, they could
not very well avoid seeing each other on the
church-yard; and then, one day, many years
ago, when the sermon had happened to touch
Bjarne's heart, he had nodded to Hedin and
said: "Fine weather to-day;" and Hedin had
returned the nod and answered: "True is that."
"Now I have done my duty before God and
men," thought Bjarne, "and it is his turn to
take the next step." "The fellow is proud,"
said Hedin to himself, "and he wants to show
off his generosity. But I know the wolf by his
skin, even if he has learned to bleat like
a ewe-lamb."
What the feud really was about, they had
both nearly forgotten. All they knew was
that some thirty years ago there had been a
quarrel between the pastor and the parish about
the right of carrying arms to the church. And
then Bjarne's father had been the spokesman of
the parish, while Hedin's grandsire had been a
staunch defender of the pastor. There was a
rumor, too, that they had had a fierce encounter
somewhere in the woods, and that the one had
stabbed the other with a knife; but whether that
was really true, no one could tell.
Bjarne was tall and grave, like the weatherbeaten
fir-trees in his mast-forest. He had a
large clean-shaven face, narrow lips, and small
fierce eyes. He seldom laughed, and when he
did, his laugh seemed even fiercer than his
frown. He wore his hair long, as his fathers
had done, and dressed in the styles of two
centuries ago; his breeches were clasped with large
silver buckles at the knees, and his red jerkin
was gathered about his waist with a leathern
girdle. He loved everything that was old, in
dress as well as in manners, took no newspapers,
and regarded railroads and steamboats as inventions
of the devil. Bjarne had married late in
life, and his marriage had brought him two
daughters, Brita and Grimhild.
Hedin Ullern was looked upon as an upstart.
He could only count three generations back,
and he hardly knew himself how his grandfather
had earned the money that had enabled
him to buy a farm and settle down in the
valley. He had read a great deal, and was well
informed on the politics of the day; his name
had even been mentioned for storthingsmand, or
member of parliament from the district, and it
was the common opinion, that if Bjarne Blakstad
had not so vigorously opposed him, he
would have been elected, being the only
"cultivated" peasant in the valley. Hedin was no
unwelcome guest in the houses of gentlefolks,
and he was often seen at the judge's and the
pastor's omber parties. And for all this Bjarne
Blakstad only hated him the more. Hedin's
wife, Thorgerda, was fair-haired, tall and stout,
and it was she who managed the farm, while
her husband read his books, and studied politics
in the newspapers; but she had a sharp tongue
and her neighbors were afraid of her. They
had one son, whose name was Halvard.
Brita Blakstad, Bjarne's eldest daughter, was
a maid whom it was a joy to look upon. They
called her "Glitter-Brita," because she was fond
of rings and brooches, and everything that was
bright; while she was still a child, she once
took the old family bridal-crown out from the
storehouse and carried it about on her head.
"Beware of that crown, child," her father had
said to her, "and wear it not before the time.
There is not always blessing in the bridal
silver." And she looked wonderingly up into
his eyes and answered: "But it glitters,
father;" and from that time forth they had
named her Glitter-Brita.
And Glitter-Brita grew up to be a fair and
winsome maiden, and wherever she went the
wooers flocked on her path. Bjarne shook
his head at her, and often had harsh words
upon his lips, when he saw her braiding fieldflowers
into her yellow tresses or clasping the
shining brooches to her bodice; but a look
of hers or a smile would completely disarm
him. She had a merry way of doing things
which made it all seem like play; but work went
rapidly from her hands, while her ringing laughter
echoed through the house, and her sunny
presence made it bright in the dusky ancestral
halls. In her kitchen the long rows of copper
pots and polished kettles shone upon the walls,
and the neatly scoured milk-pails stood like
soldiers on parade about the shelves under the
ceiling. Bjarne would often sit for hours watching
her, and a strange spring-feeling would steal
into his heart. He felt a father's pride in her
stately growth and her rich womanly beauty.
"Ah!" he would say to himself, "she has the
pure blood in her veins and, as true as I live,
the farm shall be hers." And then, quite
contrary to his habits, he would indulge in a little
reverie, imagining the time when he, as an
aged man, should have given the estate over
into her hands, and seeing her as a worthy matron
preside at the table, and himself rocking
his grandchildren on his knee. No wonder,
then, that he eyed closely the young lads who
were beginning to hover about the house, and
that he looked with suspicion upon those who
selected Saturday nights for their visits.[5]
When Brita was twenty years old, however, her
father thought that it was time for her to make
her choice. There were many fine, brave lads
in the valley, and, as Bjarne thought, Brita
would have the good sense to choose the finest
and the bravest. So, when the winter came, he
suddenly flung his doors open to the youth of
the parish, and began to give parties with ale
and mead in the grand old style. He even
talked with the young men, at times, encouraged
them to manly sports, and urged them to taste
of his home-brewed drinks and to tread the
spring-dance briskly. And Brita danced and
laughed so that her hair flew around her and
the silver brooches tinkled and rang on her
bosom. But when the merriment was at an
end, and any one of the lads remained behind
to offer her his hand, she suddenly grew grave,
told him she was too young, that she did not
know herself, and that she had had no time as yet
to decide so serious a question. Thus the winter
passed and the summer drew near.
[5] In the country districts of Norway Saturday
evening is regarded as "the wooer's eve."
In the middle of June, Brita went to the saeter[6]
with the cattle; and her sister, Grimhild,
remained at home to keep house on the farm. She
loved the life in the mountains; the great
solitude sometimes made her feel sad, but it was
not an unpleasant sadness, it was rather a gentle
toning down of all the shrill and noisy feelings
of the soul. Up there, in the heart of the
primeval forest, her whole being seemed to herself
a symphony of melodious whispers with a
vague delicious sense of remoteness and mystery
in them, which she only felt and did not attempt
to explain. There, those weird legends which,
in former days, still held their sway in the fancy
of every Norsewoman, breathed their secrets
into her ear, and she felt her nearness and kinship
to nature, as at no other time.
[6] The saeter is a place in the mountains where the
Norwegian peasants spend their summers pasturing their cattle.
Every large farm has its own saeter, consisting of one
or more chalets, hedged in by a fence of stone or planks.
One night, as the sun was low, and a purple
bluish smoke hung like a thin veil over the tops
of the forest, Brita had taken out her knitting
and seated herself on a large moss-grown stone,
on the croft. Her eyes wandered over the broad
valley which was stretched out below, and she
could see the red roofs of the Blakstad mansion
peeping forth between the fir-trees. And she
wondered what they were doing down there,
whether Grimhild had done milking, and
whether her father had returned from the ford,
where it was his habit at this hour to ride with
the footmen to water the horses. As she sat
thus wondering, she was startled by a creaking
in the dry branches hard by, and lifting her eye,
she saw a tall, rather clumsily built, young man
emerging from the thicket. He had a broad
but low forehead, flaxen hair which hung down
over a pair of dull ox-like eyes; his mouth was
rather large and, as it was half open, displayed
two massive rows of shining white teeth. His
red peaked cap hung on the back of his head
and, although it was summer, his thick wadmal
vest was buttoned close up to his throat; over
his right arm he had flung his jacket, and in his
hand he held a bridle.
"Good evening," said Brita, "and thanks for
last meeting;" although she was not sure that
she had ever seen him before.
"It was that bay mare, you know," stammered
the man in a half apologetic tone, and
shook the bridle, as if in further explanation.
"Ah, you have lost your mare," said the girl,
and she could not help smiling at his helplessness
and his awkward manner.
"Yes, it was the bay mare," answered he, in
the same diffident tone; then, encouraged by her
smile, he straightened himself a little and
continued rather more fluently: "She never was
quite right since the time the wolves were after
her. And then since they took the colt away
from her the milk has been troubling her, and
she hasn't been quite like herself."
"I haven't seen her anywhere hereabouts,"
said Brita; "you may have to wander far, before
you get on the track of her."
"Yes, that is very likely. And I am tired already."
"Won't you sit down and rest yourself?"
He deliberately seated himself in the grass,
and gradually gained courage to look her
straight in the face; and his dull eye remained
steadfastly fixed on her in a way which bespoke
unfeigned surprise and admiration. Slowly his
mouth broadened into a smile; but his smile had
more of sadness than of joy in it. She had,
from the moment she saw him, been possessed
of a strangely patronizing feeling toward him.
She could not but treat him as if he had been a
girl or some person inferior to her in station.
In spite of his large body, the impression he
made upon her was that of weakness; but she
liked the sincerity and kindness which expressed
themselves in his sad smile and large, honest
blue eyes. His gaze reminded her of that of an
ox, but it had not only the ox's dullness, but
also its simplicity and good-nature.
They sat talking on for a while about the weather,
the cattle, and the prospects of the crops.
"What is your name?" she asked, at last.
"Halvard Hedinson Ullern."
A sudden shock ran through her at the sound
of that name; in the next moment a deep blush
stole over her countenance.
"And my name," she said, slowly, "is Brita
Bjarne's daughter Blakstad."
She fixed her eyes upon him, as if to see
what effect her words produced. But his features
wore the same sad and placid expression;
and no line in his face seemed to betray either
surprise or ill-will. Then her sense of patronage
grew into one of sympathy and pity. "He
must either be weak-minded or very unhappy,"
thought she, "and what right have I then to
treat him harshly." And she continued her
simple, straightforward talk with the young
man, until he, too, grew almost talkative, and
the sadness of his smile began to give way to
something which almost resembled happiness.
She noticed the change and rejoiced. At last,
when the sun had sunk behind the western
mountain tops, she rose and bade him goodnight;
in another moment the door of the saetercottage
closed behind her, and he heard her
bolting it on the inside. But for a long time
he remained sitting on the grass, and strange
thoughts passed through his head. He had
quite forgotten his bay mare.
The next evening when the milking was done,
and the cattle were gathered within the saeter
enclosure, Brita was again sitting on the large
stone, looking out over the valley. She felt a
kind of companionship with the people when
she saw the smoke whirling up from their chimneys,
and she could guess what they were going
to have for supper. As she sat there, she again
heard a creaking in the branches, and Halvard
Ullern stood again before her, with his jacket
on his arm, and the same bridle in his hand.
"You have not found your bay mare yet?"
she exclaimed, laughingly. "And you think
she is likely to be in this neighborhood?"
"I don't know," he answered; "and I don't
care if she isn't."
He spread his jacket on the grass, and sat
down on the spot where he had sat the night
before. Brita looked at him in surprise and
remained silent; she didn't know how to interpret
this second visit.
"You are very handsome," he said, suddenly,
with a gravity which left no doubt as to his
"Do you think so?" she answered, with a
merry laugh. He appeared to her almost a
child, and it never entered her mind to feel
offended. On the contrary, she was not sure but
that she felt pleased.
"I have thought of you ever since yesterday,"
he continued, with the same imperturbable
manner. "And if you were not angry with me, I
thought I would like to look at you once more.
You are so different from other folks."
"God bless your foolish talk," cried Brita,
with a fresh burst of merriment. "No, indeed
I am not angry with you; I should just as soon
think of being angry with--with that calf,"
she added for want of another comparison.
"You think I don't know much," he
stammered. "And I don't." The sad smile again
settled on his countenance.
A feeling of guilt sent the blood throbbing
through her veins. She saw that she had done
him injustice. He evidently possessed more
sense, or at least a finer instinct, than she had
given him credit for.
"Halvard," she faltered, "if I have offended
you, I assure you I didn't mean to do it; and a
thousand times I beg your pardon."
"You haven't offended me, Brita," answered
he, blushing like a girl. "You are the first one
who doesn't make me feel that I am not so wise
as other folks."
She felt it her duty to be open and confiding
with him in return; and in order not to seem
ungenerous, or rather to put them on an equal
footing by giving him also a peep into her
heart, she told him about her daily work, about
the merry parties at her father's house, and
about the lusty lads who gathered in their halls
to dance the Halling and the spring-dance. He
listened attentively while she spoke, gazing
earnestly into her face, but never interrupting
her. In his turn he described to her in his
slow deliberate way, how his father constantly
scolded him because he was not bright, and did
not care for politics and newspapers, and how
his mother wounded him with her sharp tongue
by making merry with him, even in the presence
of the servants and strangers. He did not seem
to imagine that there was anything wrong in
what he said, or that he placed himself in a
ludicrous light; nor did he seem to speak from
any unmanly craving for sympathy. His manner
was so simple and straightforward that
what Brita probably would have found strange
in another, she found perfectly natural in him.
It was nearly midnight when they parted{.}
She hardly slept at all that night, and she was
half vexed with herself for the interest she
took in this simple youth. The next morning
her father came up to pay her a visit and to see
how the flocks were thriving. She understood
that it would be dangerous to say anything to
him about Halvard, for she knew his temper
and feared the result, if he should ever discover
her secret. Therefore, she shunned an opportunity
to talk with him, and only busied herself
the more with the cattle and the cooking.
Bjarne soon noticed her distraction, but, of
course, never suspected the cause. Before he
left her, he asked her if she did not find it too
lonely on the saeter, and if it would not be well
if he sent her one of the maids for a companion.
She hastened to assure him that that was quite
unnecessary; the cattle-boy who was there to
help her was all the company she wanted.
Toward evening, Bjarne Blakstad loaded his
horses with buckets, filled with cheese and butter,
and started for the valley. Brita stood
long looking after him as he descended the
rocky slope, and she could hardly conceal from
herself that she felt relieved, when, at last, the
forest hid him from her sight. All day she had
been walking about with a heavy heart; there
seemed to be something weighing on her breast,
and she could not throw it off. Who was this
who had come between her and her father?
Had she ever been afraid of him before, had
she been glad to have him leave her? A sudden
bitterness took possession of her, for in her
distress, she gave Halvard the blame for all that
had happened. She threw herself down on the
grass and burst into a passionate fit of weeping;
she was guilty, wretchedly miserable, and
all for the sake of one whom she had hardly
known for two days. If he should come in
this moment, she would tell him what he had
done toward her; and her wish must have been
heard, for as she raised her eyes, he stood there
at her side, the sad feature about his mouth and
his great honest eyes gazing wonderingly at her.
She felt her purpose melt within her; he looked
so good and so unhappy. Then again came the
thought of her father and of her own wrong,
and the bitterness again revived.
"Go away," cried she, in a voice half
reluctantly tender and half defiant. "Go away,
I say; I don't want to see you any more."
"I will go to the end of the world if you
wish it," he answered, with a strange firmness.
He picked up his jacket which he had dropped
on the ground, then turned slowly, gave her
mother long look, an infinitely sad and hopeless
one, and went. Her bosom heaved violently
--remorse, affection and filial duty wrestled
desperately in her heart.
"No, no," she cried, "why do you go? I did
not mean it so. I only wanted--"
He paused and returned as deliberately as he
had gone.
Why should I dwell upon the days that followed--
how her heart grew ever more restless,
how she would suddenly wake up at nights and
see those large blue eyes sadly gazing at her,
how by turns she would condemn herself and
him, and how she felt with bitter pain that she
was growing away from those who had hitherto
been nearest and dearest to her. And strange
to say, this very isolation from her father made
her cling only the more desperately to him. It
seemed to her as if Bjarne had deliberately
thrown her off; that she herself had been the
one who took the first step had hardly occurred
to her. Alas, her grief was as irrational as her
love. By what strange devious process of
reasoning these convictions became settled in her
mind, it is difficult to tell. It is sufficient to
know that she was a woman and that she loved.
She even knew herself that she was irrational,
and this very sense drew her more hopelessly
into the maze of the labyrinth from which she
saw no escape.
His visits were as regular as those of the sun.
She knew that there was only a word of hers
needed to banish him from her presence forever.
And how many times did she not resolve to
speak that word? But the word was never
spoken. At times a company of the lads from
the valley would come to spend a merry evening
at the saeter; but she heeded them not, and
they soon disappeared. Thus the summer went
amid passing moods of joy and sorrow. She
had long known that he loved her, and when at
last his slow confession came, it added nothing
to her happiness; it only increased her fears for
the future. They laid many plans together in
those days; but winter came as a surprise to
both, the cattle were removed from the mountains,
and they were again separated.
Bjarne Blakstad looked long and wistfully
at his daughter that morning, when he came to
bring her home. She wore no more rings and
brooches, and it was this which excited Bjarne's
suspicion that everything was not right with
her. Formerly he was displeased because she
wore too many; now he grumbled because she
wore none.
The winter was half gone; and in all this
time Brita had hardly once seen Halvard. Yes,
once,--it was Christmas-day,--she had ventured
to peep over to his pew in the church, and had
seen him, sitting at his father's side, and gazing
vacantly out into the empty space; but as he
had caught her glance, he had blushed, and began
eagerly to turn the leaves of his hymnbook.
It troubled her that he made no effort to
see her; many an evening she had walked alone
down at the river-side, hoping that he might
come; but it was all in vain. She could not but
believe that his father must have made some
discovery, and that he was watched. In the
mean time the black cloud thickened over her
head; for a secret gnawed at the very roots of
her heart. It was a time of terrible suspense
and suffering--such as a man never knows, such
as only a woman can endure. It was almost a
relief when the cloud burst, and the storm broke
loose, as presently it did.
One Sunday, early in April, Bjarne did not
return at the usual hour from church. His
daughters waited in vain for him with the dinner,
and at last began to grow uneasy. It was
not his habit to keep irregular hours. There
was a great excitement in the valley just then;
the America-fever had broken out. A large
vessel was lying out in the fjord, ready to take
the emigrants away; and there was hardly a
family that did not mourn the loss of some
brave-hearted son, or of some fair and cherished
daughter. The old folks, of course, had to
remain behind; and when the children were gone,
what was there left for them but to lie down
and die? America was to them as distant as if
it were on another planet. The family feeling,
too, has ever been strong in the Norseman's
breast; he lives for his children, and seems to
live his life over again in them. It is his greatest
pride to be able to trace his blood back into the
days of Sverre and St. Olaf, and with the same
confidence he expects to see his race spread into
the future in the same soil where once it has
struck root. Then comes the storm from the
Western seas, wrestles with the sturdy trunk,
and breaks it; and the shattered branches fly to
all the four corners of the heavens. No wonder,
then, like a tree that has lost its crown, his
strength is broken and he expects but to
smoulder into the earth and die.
Bjarne Blakstad, like the sturdy old patriot
that he was, had always fiercely denounced the
America rage; and it was now the hope of his
daughters that, perhaps, he had stayed behind
to remind the restless ones among the youth of
their duty toward their land, or to frighten some
bold emigration agent who might have been too
loud in his declamations. But it was already
eight o'clock and Bjarne was not yet to be seen.
The night was dark and stormy; a cold sleet
fiercely lashed the window-panes, and the wind
roared in the chimney. Grimhild, the younger
sister, ran restlessly out and in and slammed the
doors after her. Brita sat tightly pressed up
against the wall in the darkest corner of the
room. Every time the wind shook the house
she started up; then again seated herself and
shuddered. Dark forebodings filled her soul.
At last,--the clock had just struck ten,--there
was a noise heard in the outer hall. Grimhild
sprang to the door and tore it open. A tall,
stooping figure entered, and by the dress she at
once recognized her father.
"Good God," cried she, and ran up to him.
"Go away, child," muttered he, in a voice
that sounded strangely unfamiliar, and he pushed
her roughly away. For a moment he stood
still, then stalked up to the table, and, with a
heavy thump, dropped down into a chair. There
he remained with his elbows resting on his
knees, and absently staring on the floor. His
long hair hung in wet tangles down over his
face, and the wrinkles about his mouth seemed
deeper and fiercer than usual. Now and then
he sighed, or gave vent to a deep groan. In a
while his eyes began to wander uneasily about
the room; and as they reached the corner where
Brita was sitting, he suddenly darted up, as if
stung by something poisonous, seized a brand
from the hearth, and rushed toward her.
"Tell me I did not see it," he broke forth,
in a hoarse whisper, seizing her by the arm and
thrusting the burning brand close up to her face.
"Tell me it is a lie--a black, poisonous lie."
She raised her eyes slowly to his and gazed
steadfastly into his face. "Ah," he continued
in the same terrible voice, "it was what I told
them down there at the church--a lie--an infernal
lie. And I drew blood--blood, I say--I
did--from the slanderer. Ha, ha, ha! What
a lusty sprawl that was!"
The color came and departed from Brita's
cheeks. And still she was strangely self
possessed. She even wondered at her own calmness.
Alas, she did not know that it was a
calmness that is more terrible than pain, the
corpse of a forlorn and hopeless heart.
"Child," continued Bjarne, and his voice
assumed a more natural tone, "why dost thou
not speak? They have lied about thee, child,
because thou art fair, they have envied thee."
Then, almost imploringly, "Open thy mouth,
Brita, and tell thy father that thou art pure--
pure as the snow, child--my own--my beautiful child."
There was a long and painful pause, in which
the crackling of the brand, and the heavy
breathing of the old man were the only sounds
to break the silence. Pale like a marble image
stood she before him; no word of excuse, no
prayer for forgiveness escaped her; only a
convulsive quivering of the lips betrayed the life
that struggled within her. With every moment
the hope died in Bjarne's bosom. His visage
was fearful to behold. Terror and fierce
indomitable hatred had grimly distorted his features,
and his eyes burned like fire-coals beneath his bushy brows.
"Harlot," he shrieked, "harlot!"
A cold gust of wind swept through the room.
The windows shook, the doors flew open, as if
touched by a strong invisible hand--and the old
man stood alone, holding the flickering brand
above his head.
It was after midnight, the wind had abated,
but the snow still fell, thick and silent, burying
paths and fences under its cold white mantle.
Onward she fled--onward and ever onward.
And whither, she knew not. A cold numbness
had chilled her senses, but still her feet drove
her irresistibly onward. A dark current seemed
to have seized her, she only felt that she was
adrift, and she cared not whither it bore her.
In spite of the stifling dullness which oppressed
her, her body seemed as light as air. At last,--
she knew not where,--she heard the roar of the
sea resounding in her ears, a genial warmth
thawed the numbness of her senses, and she
floated joyfully among the clouds--among
golden, sun-bathed clouds. When she opened
her eyes, she found herself lying in a comfortable
bed, and a young woman with a kind motherly
face was sitting at her side. It was all
like a dream, and she made no effort to account
for what appeared so strange and unaccountable.
What she afterward heard was that a fisherman
had found her in a snow-drift on the strand,
and that he had carried her home to his cottage
and had given her over to the charge of his
wife. This was the second day since her arrival.
They knew who she was, but had kept the doors
locked and had told no one that she was there.
She heard the story of the good woman without
emotion; it seemed an intolerable effort to think.
But on the third day, when her child was born,
her mind was suddenly aroused from its lethargy,
and she calmly matured her plans; and for the
child's sake she resolved to live and to act.
That same evening there came a little boy with
a bundle for her. She opened it and found
therein the clothes she had left behind, and--
her brooches. She knew that it was her sister
who had sent them; then there was one who
still thought of her with affection. And yet her
first impulse was to send it all back, or to throw
it into the ocean; but she looked at her child and forbore.
A week passed, and Brita recovered. Of
Halvard she had heard nothing. One night, as
she lay in a half doze, she thought she had Seen
a pale, frightened face pressed up against the
window-pane, and staring fixedly at her and her
child; but, after all, it might have been merely
a dream. For her fevered fancy had in these
last days frequently beguiled her into similar
visions. She often thought of him, but, strangely
enough, no more with bitterness, but with
pity. Had he been strong enough to be wicked,
she could have hated him, but he was weak, and
she pitied him. Then it was that; one evening,
as she heard that the American vessel was to
sail at daybreak, she took her little boy and
wrapped him carefully in her own clothes, bade
farewell to the good fisherman and his wife, and
walked alone down to the strand. Huge clouds
of fantastic shapes chased each other desperately
along the horizon, and now and then the
slender new moon glanced forth from the deep
blue gulfs between. She chose a boat at random
and was about to unmoor it, when she saw the
figure of a man tread carefully over the stones
and hesitatingly approach her.
"Brita," came in a whisper from the strand.
"Who's there?"
"It is I. Father knows it all, and he has
nearly killed me; and mother, too."
"Is that what you have come to tell me?"
"No, I would like to help you some. I have
been trying to see you these many days." And
he stepped close up to the boat.
"Thank you; I need no help."
"But, Brita," implored he, "I have sold my
gun and my dog, and everything I had, and this
is what I have got for it." He stretched out
his hand and reached her a red handkerchief
with something heavy bound up in a corner.
She took it mechanically, held it in her hand for
a moment, then flung it far out into the water.
A smile of profound contempt and pity passed
over her countenance.
"Farewell, Halvard," said she, calmly, and
pushed the boat into the water.
"But, Brita," cried he, in despair, "what
would you have me do?"
She lifted the child in her arms, then pointed
to the vacant seat at her side. He understood
what she meant, and stood for a moment wavering.
Suddenly, he covered his face with his
hands and burst into tears. Within half an
hour, Brita boarded the vessel, and as the first
red stripe of the dawn illumined the horizon, the
wind filled the sails, and the ship glided westward
toward that land where there is a home
for them whom love and misfortune have exiled.
It was a long and wearisome voyage. There
was an old English clergyman on board, who
collected curiosities; to him she sold her rings
and brooches, and thereby obtained more than
sufficient money to pay her passage. She hardly
spoke to any one except her child. Those of
her fellow-parishioners who knew her, and perhaps
guessed her history, kept aloof from her,
and she was grateful to them that they did.
From morning till night, she sat in a corner
between a pile of deck freight and the kitchen
skylight, and gazed at her little boy who was
lying in her lap. All her hopes, her future, and
her life were in him. For herself, she had
ceased to hope.
"I can give thee no fatherland, my child," she
said to him. "Thou shalt never know the name
of him who gave thee life. Thou and I, we
shall struggle together, and, as true as there is
a God above, who sees us, He will not leave either
of us to perish. But let us ask no questions,
child, about that which is past. Thou shalt
grow and be strong, and thy mother must grow
with thee."
During the third week of the voyage, the
English clergyman baptized the boy, and she
called him Thomas, after the day in the almanac
on which he was born. He should never
know that Norway had been his mother's home;
therefore she would give him no name which
might betray his race. One morning, early in
the month of June, they hailed land, and the
great New World lay before them.
Why should I speak of the ceaseless care, the
suffering, and the hard toil, which made the
first few months of Brita's life on this continent
a mere continued struggle for existence? They
are familiar to every emigrant who has come
here with a brave heart and an empty purse.
Suffice it to say that at the end of the second
month, she succeeded in obtaining service as
milkmaid with a family in the neighborhood of
New York. With the linguistic talent peculiar
to her people, she soon learned the English
language and even spoke it well. From her
countrymen, she kept as far away as possible, not
for her own sake, but for that of her boy; for
he was to grow great and strong, and the knowledge
of his birth might shatter his strength and
break his courage. For the same reason she
also exchanged her picturesque Norse costume
for that of the people among whom she was
living. She went commonly by the name of
Mrs. Brita, which pronounced in the English
way, sounded very much like Mrs. Bright, and
this at last became the name by which she was
known in the neighborhood.
Thus five years passed; then there was a great
rage for emigrating to the far West, and Brita,
with many others, started for Chicago. There
she arrived in the year 1852, and took up her
lodgings with an Irish widow, who was living
in a little cottage in what was then termed the
outskirts of the city. Those who saw her in
those days, going about the lumber-yards and
doing a man's work, would hardly have recognized
in her the merry Glitter-Brita, who in
times of old trod the spring-dance so gayly in
the well-lighted halls of the Blakstad mansion.
And, indeed, she was sadly changed! Her features
had become sharper, and the firm lines
about her mouth expressed severity, almost
sternness. Her clear blue eyes seemed to have
grown larger, and their glance betrayed secret,
ever-watchful care. Only her yellow hair had
resisted the force of time and sorrow; for it
still fell in rich and wavy folds over a smooth
white forehead. She was, indeed, half ashamed
of it, and often took pains to force it into a
sober, matronly hood. Only at nights, when
she sat alone talking with her boy, she would
allow it to escape from its prison; and he would
laugh and play with it, and in his child's way
even wonder at the contrast between her stern
face and her youthful maidenly tresses.
This Thomas, her son, was a strange child.
He had a Norseman's taste for the fabulous and
fantastic, and although he never heard a tale of
Necken or the Hulder, he would often startle
his mother by the most fanciful combinations
of imagined events, and by bolder personifications
than ever sprung from the legendary soil
of the Norseland. She always took care to
check him whenever he indulged in these imaginary
flights, and he at last came to look upon
them as something wrong and sinful. The boy,
as he grew up, often strikingly reminded her of
her father, as, indeed, he seemed to have
inherited more from her own than from Halvard's
race. Only the bright flaxen hair and his square,
somewhat clumsy stature might have told him
to be the latter's child. He had a hot temper,
and often distressed his mother by his stubbornness;
and then there would come a great burst
of repentance afterwards, which distressed her
still more. For she was afraid it might be a
sign of weakness. "And strong he must be,"
said she to herself, "strong enough to overcome
all resistance, and to conquer a great name for
himself, strong enough to bless a mother who
brought him into the world nameless."
Strange to say, much as she loved this child,
she seldom caressed him. It was a penance she
had imposed upon herself to atone for her guilt.
Only at times, when she had been sitting up late,
and her eyes would fall, as it were, by accident
upon the little face on the pillow, with the
sweet unconsciousness of sleep resting upon it
like a soft, invisible veil, would she suddenly
throw herself down over him, kiss him, and
whisper tender names in his ear, while her tears
fell hot and fast on his yellow hair and his rosy
countenance. Then the child would dream that
he was sailing aloft over shining forests, and
that his mother, beaming with all the beauty of
her lost youth, flew before him, showering
golden flowers on his path. These were the
happiest moments of Brita's joyless life, and
even these were not unmixed with bitterness;
for into the midst of her joy would steal a shy
anxious thought which was the more terrible
because it came so stealthily, so soft-footed and
unbidden. Had not this child been given her
as a punishment for her guilt? Had she then a
right to turn God's scourge into a blessing?
Did she give to God "that which belongeth unto
God," as long as all her hopes, her thoughts,
and her whole being revolved about this one
earthly thing, her son, the child of her sorrow?
She was not a nature to shrink from grave questions;
no, she met them boldly, when once they
were there, wrestled fiercely with them, was
defeated, and again with a martyr's zeal rose to
renew the combat. God had Himself sent her
this perplexing doubt and it was her duty to
bear His burden. Thus ran Brita's reasoning.
In the mean while the years slipped by, and great
changes were wrought in the world about her.
The few hundred dollars which Brita had been
able to save, during the first three years of her
stay in Chicago, she had invested in a piece of
land. In the mean while the city had grown,
and in the year 1859 she was offered five thousand
dollars for her lot; this offer she accepted
and again bought a small piece of property at
a short distance from the city. The boy had
since his eighth year attended the public school,
and had made astonishing progress. Every day
when school was out, she would meet him at the
gate, take him by the hand and lead him home.
If any of the other boys dared to make sport of
her, or to tease him for his dependence upon
her, it was sure to cost that boy a black eye{.}
He soon succeeded in establishing himself in
the respect of his school-mates, for he was the
strongest boy of his own age, and ever ready to
protect and defend the weak and defenseless.
When Thomas Bright (for that was the name
by which he was known) was fifteen years old
he was offered a position as clerk in the office of
a lumber-merchant, and with his mother's consent
he accepted it. He was a fine young lad
now, large and well-knit, and with a clear
earnest countenance. In the evening he would bring
home books to read, and as it had always been
Brita's habit to interest herself in whatever
interested him, she soon found herself studying
and discussing with him things which had in
former years been far beyond the horizon of
her mind. She had at his request reluctantly
given up her work in the lumber-yards, and now
spent her days at home, busying herself with
sewing and reading and such other things as
women find to fill up a vacant hour.
One evening, when Thomas was in his nineteenth
year, he returned from his office with a
graver face than usual. His mother's quick eye
immediately saw that something had agitated
him, but she forbore to ask.
"Mother," said he at last, "who is my father?
Is he dead or alive?"
"God is your father, my son," answered she,
tremblingly. "If you love me, ask me no more."
"I do love you, mother," he said, and gave
her a grave look, in which she thought she
detected a mingling of tenderness and reproach.
"And it shall be as you have said."
It was the first time she had had reason to
blush before him, and her emotion came near
overwhelming her; but with a violent effort
she stifled it, and remained outwardly calm.
He began pacing up and down the floor with
his head bent and his hands on his back. It
suddenly occurred to her that he was a grown
man, and that she could no longer hold the
same relation to him as his supporter and
protector. "Alas," thought she, "if God will but
let me remain his mother, I shall bless and thank Him."
It was the first time this subject had been
broached, and it gave rise to many a doubt and
many a question in the anxious mother's mind.
Had she been right in concealing from him that
which he might justly claim to know? What
had been her motive in keeping him ignorant of
his origin and of the land of his birth? She
had wished him to grow to the strength of manhood,
unconscious of guilt, so that he might
bear his head upright, and look the world
fearlessly in the face. And still, had there not in
all this been a lurking thought of herself, a fear
of losing his love, a desire to stand pure and
perfect in his eye? She hardly dared to answer
these questions, for, alas, she knew not that even
our purest motives are but poorly able to bear a
searching scrutiny. She began to suspect that
her whole course with her son had been wrong
from the very beginning. Why had she not
told him the stern truth, even if he should
despise her for it, even if she should have to stand
a blushing culprit in his presence? Often, when
she heard his footsteps in the hall, as he returned
from the work of the day, she would man herself
up and the words hovered upon her lips:
"Son, thou art a bastard born, a child of guilt,
and thy mother is an outcast upon the earth."
But when she met those calm blue eyes of his,
saw the unsuspecting frankness of his manner
and the hopefulness with which he looked to
the future, her womanly heart shrank from its
duty, and she hastened out of the room, threw
herself on her bed, and wept. Fiercely she
wrestled with God in prayer, until she thought
that even God had deserted her. Thus months
passed and years, and the constant care and
anxiety began to affect her health. She grew
pale and nervous, and the slightest noise would
annoy her. In the mean while, her manner
toward the young man had become strangely
altered, and he soon noticed it, although he
forbore to speak. She was scrupulously mindful
of his comfort, anxiously anticipated his wants,
and observed toward him an ever vigilant consideration,
as if he had been her master instead of her son.
When Thomas was twenty-two years of age,
he was offered a partnership in his employer's
business, and with every year his prospects
brightened. The sale of his mother's property
brought him a very handsome little fortune,
which enabled him to build a fine and comfortable
house in one of the best portions of the
city. Thus their outward circumstances were
greatly improved, and of comfort and luxury
Brita had all and more than she had ever
desired; but her health was broken down, and the
physicians declared that a year of foreign
travel and a continued residence in Italy might
possibly restore her. At last, Thomas, too,
began to urge her, until she finally yielded. It
was on a bright morning in May that they both
started for New York, and three days later they
took the boat for Europe. What countries
they were to visit they had hardly decided, but
after a brief stay in England we find them again
on a steamer bound for Norway.
Warm and gentle as it is, June often comes
to the fjord-valleys of Norway with the voice
and the strength of a giant. The glaciers totter
and groan, as if in anger at their own weakness,
and send huge avalanches of stones and ice
down into the valleys. The rivers swell and
rush with vociferous brawl out over the mountainsides,
and a thousand tiny brooks join in
the general clamor, and dance with noisy chatter
over the moss-grown birch-roots. But later,
when the struggle is at an end, and June has
victoriously seated herself upon her throne, her
voice becomes more richly subdued and brings
rest and comfort to the ear and to the troubled
heart. It was while the month was in this latter
mood that Brita and her son entered once more
the valley whence, twenty-five years ago, they
had fled. Many strange, turbulent emotions
stirred the mother's bosom, as she saw again
the great snow-capped mountains, and the calm,
green valley, her childhood's home, lying so
snugly sheltered in their mighty embrace.
Even Thomas's breast was moved with vaguely
sympathetic throbs, as this wondrous scene
spread itself before him. They soon succeeded
in hiring a farm-house, about half an hour's
walk from Blakstad, and, according to Brita's
wish, established themselves there for the summer.
She had known the people well, when she
was young, but they never thought of identifying
her with the merry maid, who had once
startled the parish by her sudden flight; and
she, although she longed to open her heart to
them, let no word fall to betray her real
character. Her conscience accused her of playing
a false part, but for her son's sake she kept silent.
Then, one day,--it was the second Sunday
after their arrival,--she rose early in the morning,
and asked Thomas to accompany her on a
walk up through the valley. There was Sabbath
in the air; the soft breath of summer, laden
with the perfume of fresh leaves and field-flowers,
gently wafted into their faces. The sun
glittered in the dewy grass, the crickets sung
with a remote voice of wonder, and the air
seemed to be half visible, and moved in trembling
wavelets on the path before them. Resting
on her son's arm, Brita walked slowly up
through the flowering meadows; she hardly
knew whither her feet bore her, but her heart
beat violently, and she often was obliged to
pause and press her hands against her bosom, as
if to stay the turbulent emotions.
"You are not well, mother," said the son.
"It was imprudent in me to allow you to exert
yourself in this way."
"Let us sit down on this stone," answered
she. "I shall soon be better. Do not look so
anxiously at me. Indeed, I am not sick."
He spread his light summer coat on the stone
and carefully seated her. She lifted her veil
and raised her eyes to the large red-roofed mansion,
whose dark outlines drew themselves dimly
on the dusky background of the pine forest.
Was he still alive, he whose life-hope she had
wrecked, he who had once driven her out into
the night with all but a curse upon his lips?
How would he receive her, if she were to
return? Ah, she knew him, and she trembled at
the very thought of meeting him. But was not
the guilt hers? Could she depart from this
valley, could she die in peace, without having
thrown herself at his feet and implored his forgiveness?
And there, on the opposite side of
the valley, lay the home of him who had been
the cause of all her misery. What had been
his fate, and did he still remember those long
happy summer days, ah! so long, long ago?
She had dared to ask no questions of the people
with whom she lived, but now a sudden weakness
had overtaken her, and she felt that to-day
must decide her fate; she could no longer bear
this torture of uncertainty. Thomas remained
standing at her side and looked at her with
anxiety and wonder. He knew that she had
concealed many things from him, but whatever
her reasons might be, he was confident that
they were just and weighty. It was not for
him to question her about what he might have
no right to know. He felt as if he had never
loved her as in this moment, when she seemed
to be most in need of him, and an overwhelming
tenderness took possession of his heart.
He suddenly stooped down, took her pale, thin
face between his hands and kissed her. The
long pent-up emotion burst forth in a flood of
tears; she buried her face in her lap and wept
long and silently. Then the church-bells began
to peal down in the valley, and the slow mighty
sound floated calmly and solemnly up to them.
How many long-forgotten memories of childhood
and youth did they not wake in her bosom
--memories of the time when the merry Glitter-
Brita, decked with her shining brooches, wended
her way to the church among the gayly-dressed
lads and maidens of the parish?
A cluster of white-stemmed birches threw its
shadow over the stone where the penitent
mother was sitting, and the tall grass on both
sides of the path nearly hid her from sight.
Presently the church-folk began to appear, and
Brita raised her head and drew her veil down over
her face. No one passed without greeting the
strangers, and the women and maidens, according
to old fashion, stopped and courtesied. At
last, there came an old white-haired man, leaning
on the arm of a middle-aged woman. His
whole figure was bent forward, and he often
stopped and drew his breath heavily.
"Oh, yes, yes," he said, ill a hoarse, broken
voice, as he passed before them, "age is gaining
on me fast. I can't move about any more
as of old. But to church I must this day. God
help me! I have done much wrong and need to
pray for forgiveness."
"You had better sit down and rest, father,"
said the woman. "Here is a stone, and the
fine lady, I am sure, will allow a weak old man
to sit down beside her."
Thomas rose and made a sign to the old man
to take his seat.
"O yes, yes," he went on murmuring, as if
talking to himself. "Much wrong--much
forgiveness. God help us all--miserable sinners.
He who hateth not father and mother--and
daughter is not worthy of me. O, yes--yes--
God comfort us all. Help me up, Grimhild. I
think I can move on again, now."
Thomas, of course, did not understand a word
of what he said, but seeing that he wished to
rise, he willingly offered his assistance, supported
his arm and raised him.
"Thanks to you, young man," said the peasant.
"And may God reward your kindness."
And the two, father and daughter, moved on,
slowly and laboriously, as they had come.
Thomas stood following them with his eyes,
until a low, half-stifled moan suddenly called
him to his mother's side. Her frame trembled violently.
"Mother, mother," implored he, stooping
over her, "what has happened? Why are you
no more yourself?"
"Ah, my son, I can bear it no longer," sobbed
she. "God forgive me--thou must know it all."
He sat down at her side and drew her closely
up to him and she hid her face on his bosom.
There was a long silence, only broken by the
loud chirruping of the crickets.
"My son," she began at last, still hiding her face,
"thou art a child of guilt."
"That has been no secret to me, mother,"
answered he, gravely and tenderly, "since I was
old enough to know what guilt was."
She quickly raised her head, and a look of
amazement, of joyous surprise, shone through
the tears that veiled her eyes. She could read
nothing but filial love and confidence in those
grave, manly features, and she saw in that
moment that all her doubts had been groundless,
that her long prayerful struggle had been for naught.
"I brought thee into the world nameless," she
whispered, "and thou hast no word of reproach
for me?"
"With God's help, I am strong enough to conquer
a name for myself, mother," was his answer.
It was the very words of her own secret wish,
and upon his lips they sounded like a blessed
assurance, like a miraculous fulfillment of her
motherly prayer.
"Still, another thing, my child," she went on
in a more confident voice. "This is thy native
land,--and the old man who was just sitting
here at my side was--my father."
And there, in the shadow of the birch-trees,
in the summer stillness of that hour, she told
him the story of her love, of her flight, and of
the misery of these long, toilsome five and
twenty years.
Late in the afternoon, Brita and her son were
seen returning to the farm-house. A calm, subdued
happiness beamed from the mother's countenance;
she was again at peace with the world
and herself, and her heart was as light as in the
days of her early youth. But her bodily
strength had given out, and her limbs almost
refused to support her. The strain upon her
nerves and the constant effort had hitherto
enabled her to keep up, but now, when that
strain was removed, exhausted nature claimed
its right. The next day--she could not leave
her bed, and with every hour her strength
failed. A physician was sent for. He gave
medicine, but no hope. He shook his head
gravely, as he went, and both mother and son
knew what that meant.
Toward evening, Bjarne Blakstad was
summoned, and came at once. Thomas left the
room, as the old man entered, and what passed
in that hour between father and daughter, only
God knows. When the door was again opened,
Brita's eyes shone with a strange brilliancy, and
Bjarne lay on his knees before the bed, pressing
her hand convulsively between both of his.
"This is my son, father," said she, in a
language which her son did not understand; and a
faint smile of motherly pride and happiness
flitted over her pale features. "I would give
him to thee in return for what thou hast lost;
but God has laid his future in another land."
Bjarne rose, grasped his grandson's hand, and
pressed it; and two heavy tears ran down his
furrowed cheeks. "Alas," murmured he, "my
son, that we should meet thus."
There they stood, bound together by the
bonds of blood, but, alas, there lay a world
between them.
All night they sat together at the dying
woman's bedside. Not a word was spoken.
Toward morning, as the sun stole into the darkened
chamber, Brita murmured their names, and
they laid their hands in hers.
"God be praised," whispered she, scarcely
audibly, "I have found you both--my father
and my son." A deep pallor spread over her
countenance. She was dead.
Two days later, when the body was laid out,
Thomas stood alone in the room. The windows
were covered with white sheets, and a subdued
light fell upon the pale, lifeless countenance.
Death had dealt gently with her, she seemed
younger than before, and her light wavy
hair fell softly over the white forehead. Then
there came a middle-aged man, with a dull eye,
and a broad forehead, and timidly approached
the lonely mourner. He walked on tip-toe and
his figure stooped heavily. For a long while he
stood gazing at the dead body, then he knelt
down at the foot of the coffin, and began to sob
violently. At last he arose, took two steps toward
the young man, paused again, and departed
silently as he had come. It was Halvard.
Close under the wall of the little red-painted
church, they dug the grave; and a week later
her father was laid to rest at his daughter's side.
But the fresh winds blew over the Atlantic
and beckoned the son to new fields of labor in
the great land of the future.
RALPH GRIM was born a gentleman.
He had the misfortune of coming into
the world some ten years later than
might reasonably have been expected.
Colonel Grim and his lady had celebrated twelve
anniversaries of their wedding-day, and had
given up all hopes of ever having a son and
heir, when this late-comer startled them by his
unexpected appearance. The only previous
addition to the family had been a daughter, and
she was then ten summers old.
Ralph was a very feeble child, and could only
with great difficulty be persuaded to retain his
hold of the slender thread which bound him to
existence. He was rubbed with whisky, and
wrapped in cotton, and given mare's milk to
drink, and God knows what not, and the Colonel
swore a round oath of paternal delight
when at last the infant stopped gasping in that
distressing way and began to breathe like other
human beings. The mother, who, in spite of
her anxiety for the child's life, had found time
to plot for him a career of future magnificence,
now suddenly set him apart for literature,
because that was the easiest road to fame, and
disposed of him in marriage to one of the most
distinguished families of the land. She
cautiously suggested this to her husband when he
came to take his seat at her bedside; but to
her utter astonishment she found that he had
been indulging a similar train of thought, and
had already destined the infant prodigy for the
army. She, however, could not give up her
predilection for literature, and the Colonel, who
could not bear to be contradicted in his own
house, as he used to say, was getting every
minute louder and more flushed, when, happily,
the doctor's arrival interrupted the dispute.
As Ralph grew up from infancy to childhood,
he began to give decided promise of future
distinction. He was fond of sitting down in a
corner and sucking his thumb, which his mother
interpreted as the sign of that brooding disposition
peculiar to poets and men of lofty genius.
At the age of five, he had become sole master
in the house. He slapped his sister Hilda in
the face, or pulled her hair, when she hesitated
to obey him, tyrannized over his nurse, and
sternly refused to go to bed in spite of his
mother's entreaties. On such occasions, the
Colonel would hide his face behind his newspaper,
and chuckle with delight; it was evident
that nature had intended his son for a great
military commander. As soon as Ralph himself
was old enough to have any thoughts about his
future destiny, he made up his mind that he
would like to be a pirate. A few months later,
having contracted an immoderate taste for
candy, he contented himself with the comparatively
humble position of a baker; but when
he had read "Robinson Crusoe," he manifested
a strong desire to go to sea in the hope of being
wrecked on some desolate island. The parents
spent long evenings gravely discussing these
indications of uncommon genius, and each
interpreted them in his or her own way.
"He is not like any other child I ever knew,"
said the mother.
"To be sure," responded the father, earnestly.
"He is a most extraordinary child. I was a
very remarkable child too, even if I do say it
myself; but, as far as I remember, I never
aspired to being wrecked on an uninhabited is
The Colonel probably spoke the truth; but
he forgot to take into account that he had never
read "Robinson Crusoe."
Of Ralph's school-days there is but little to
report, for, to tell the truth, he did not fancy
going to school, as the discipline annoyed him.
The day after his having entered the gymnasium,
which was to prepare him for the Military
Academy, the principal saw him waiting at the
gate after his class had been dismissed. He
approached him, and asked why he did not go
home with the rest.
"I am waiting for the servant to carry my
books," was the boy's answer.
"Give me your books," said the teacher.
Ralph reluctantly obeyed. That day the
Colonel was not a little surprised to see his son
marching up the street, and every now and then
glancing behind him with a look of discomfort
at the principal, who was following quietly in
his train, carrying a parcel of school-books.
Colonel Grim and his wife, divining the teacher's
intention, agreed that it was a great outrage,
but they did not mention the matter to Ralph.
Henceforth, however, the boy refused to be
accompanied by his servant. A week later he
was impudent to the teacher of gymnastics,
who whipped him in return. The Colonel's
rage knew no bounds; he rode in great haste
to the gymnasium, reviled the teacher for
presuming to chastise HIS son, and committed the
boy to the care of a private tutor.
At the age of sixteen, Ralph went to the
capital with the intention of entering the
Military Academy. He was a tall, handsome youth,
slender of stature, and carried himself as erect
as a candle. He had a light, clear complexion
of almost feminine delicacy; blonde, curly hair,
which he always kept carefully brushed; a low
forehead, and a straight, finely modeled nose.
There was an expression of extreme sensitiveness
about the nostrils, and a look of indolence
in the dark-blue eyes. But the ensemble of his
features was pleasing, his dress irreproachable,
and his manners bore no trace of the awkward
self-consciousness peculiar to his age. Immediately
on his arrival in the capital he hired a
suite of rooms in the aristocratic part of the
city, and furnished them rather expensively,
but in excellent taste. From a bosom friend,
whom he met by accident in the restaurant's
pavilion in the park, he learned that a pair of
antlers, a stuffed eagle, or falcon, and a couple
of swords, were indispensable to a well-appointed
apartment. He accordingly bought these articles
at a curiosity-shop. During the first weeks
of his residence in the city he made some feeble
efforts to perfect himself in mathematics, in
which he suspected he was somewhat deficient.
But when the same officious friend laughed at
him, and called him "green," he determined to
trust to fortune, and henceforth devoted himself
the more assiduously to the French ballet, where
he had already made some interesting acquaintances.
The time for the examination came; the
French ballet did not prove a good preparation;
Ralph failed. It quite shook him for the time,
and he felt humiliated. He had not the courage
to tell his father; so he lingered on from
day to day, sat vacantly gazing out of his window,
and tried vainly to interest himself in the
busy bustle down on the street. It provoked
him that everybody else should be so lighthearted,
when he was, or at least fancied himself,
in trouble. The parlor grew intolerable;
he sought refuge in his bedroom. There
he sat one evening (it was the third day after
the examination), and stared out upon the gray
stone walls which on all sides enclosed the
narrow court-yard. The round stupid face of the
moon stood tranquilly dozing like a great Limburger
cheese suspended under the sky.
Ralph, at least, could think of a no more
fitting simile. But the bright-eyed young girl
in the window hard by sent a longing look up
to the same moon, and thought of her distant
home on the fjords, where the glaciers stood
like hoary giants, and caught the yellow moonbeams
on their glittering shields of snow. She
had been reading "Ivanhoe" all the afternoon,
until the twilight had overtaken her quite
unaware, and now she suddenly remembered that
she had forgotten to write her German exercise.
She lifted her face and saw a pair of sad, vacant
eyes, gazing at her from the next window in
the angle of the court. She was a little startled
at first, but in the next moment she thought of
her German exercise and took heart.
"Do you know German?" she said; then
immediately repented that she had said it.
"I do," was the answer.
She took up her apron and began to twist it
with an air of embarrassment.
"I didn't mean anything," she whispered, at last.
"I only wanted to know."
"You are very kind."
That answer roused her; he was evidently
making sport of her.
"Well, then, if you do, you may write my
exercise for me. I have marked the place in
the book."
And she flung her book over to his window,
and he caught it on the edge of the sill, just as
it was falling.
"You are a very strange girl," he remarked,
turning over the leaves of the book, although
it was too dark to read. "How old are you?"
"I shall be fourteen six weeks before
Christmas," answered she, frankly.
"Then I excuse you."
"No, indeed," cried she, vehemently. "You
needn't excuse me at all. If you don't want to
write my exercise, you may send the book back
again. I am very sorry I spoke to you, and I
shall never do it again."
"But you will not get the book back again
without the exercise," replied he, quietly.
The girl stood long looking after him, hoping
that he would return. Then, with a great burst
of repentance, she hid her face in her lap, and
began to cry.
"Oh, dear, I didn't mean to be rude," she
sobbed. "But it was Ivanhoe and Rebecca
who upset me."
The next morning she was up before daylight,
and waited for two long hours in great
suspense before the curtain of his window was
raised. He greeted her politely; threw a hasty
glance around the court to see if he was
observed, and then tossed her book dexterously
over into her hands.
"I have pinned the written exercise to the flyleaf,"
he said. "You will probably have time
to copy it before breakfast."
"I am ever so much obliged to you," she
managed to stammer.
He looked so tall and handsome, and grownup,
and her remorse stuck in her throat, and
threatened to choke her. She had taken him for a boy
as he sat there in his window the evening before.
"By the way, what is your name?" he asked,
carelessly, as he turned to go.
"Well, my dear Bertha, I am happy to have
made your acquaintance."
And he again made her a polite bow, and entered his parlor.
"How provokingly familiar he is," thought
she; "but no one can deny that he is handsome."
The bright roguish face of the young girl
haunted Ralph during the whole next week.
He had been in love at least ten times before, of
course; but, like most boys, with young ladies far
older than himself. He found himself frequently
glancing over to her window in the
hope of catching another glimpse of her face;
but the curtain was always drawn down, and
Bertha remained invisible. During the second
week, however, she relented, and they had many
a pleasant chat together. He now volunteered
to write all her exercises, and she made no
objections. He learned that she was the daughter
of a well-to-do peasant in the sea-districts of
Norway (and it gave him quite a shock to hear
it), and that she was going to school in the city,
and boarded with an old lady who kept a pension
in the house adjoining the one in which he lived.
One day in the autumn Ralph was surprised
by the sudden arrival of his father, and the fact
of his failure in the examination could no longer
be kept a secret. The old Colonel flared up at
once when Ralph made his confession; the large
veins upon his forehead swelled; he grew copperyred
in his face, and stormed up and down
the floor, until his son became seriously alarmed;
but, to his great relief, he was soon made aware
that his father's wrath was not turned against
him personally, but against the officials of the
Military Academy who had rejected him. The
Colonel took it as an insult to his own good
name and irreproachable standing as an officer;
he promptly refused any other explanation, and
vainly racked his brain to remember if any
youthful folly of his could possibly have made
him enemies among the teachers of the Academy.
He at last felt satisfied that it was envy
of his own greatness and rapid advancement
which had induced the rascals to take vengeance
on his son. Ralph reluctantly followed
his father back to the country town where the
latter was stationed, and the fair-haired Bertha
vanished from his horizon. His mother's wish
now prevailed, and he began, in his own easy
way, to prepare himself for the University. He
had little taste for Cicero, and still less for
Virgil, but with the use of a "pony" he soon
gained sufficient knowledge of these authors to
be able to talk in a sort of patronizing way
about them, to the great delight of his fond
parents. He took quite a fancy, however, to the
ode in Horace ending with the lines:
Dulce ridentem,
Dulce loquentem,
Lalagen amabo.
And in his thought he substituted for Lalage the
fair-haired Bertha, quite regardless of the
requirements of the metre.
To make a long story short, three years later
Ralph returned to the capital, and, after having
worn out several tutors, actually succeeded
in entering the University.
The first year of college life is a happy time
to every young man, and Ralph enjoyed its
processions, its parliamentary gatherings, and its
leisure, as well as the rest. He was certainly
not the man to be sentimental over the loss of a
young girl whom, moreover, he had only known
for a few weeks. Nevertheless, he thought of
her at odd times, but not enough to disturb
his pleasure. The standing of his family, his
own handsome appearance, and his immaculate
linen opened to him the best houses of the city,
and he became a great favorite in society. At
lectures he was seldom seen, but more frequently
in the theatres, where he used to come in during
the middle of the first act, take his station in
front of the orchestra box, and eye, through his
lorgnettes, by turns, the actresses and the ladies
of the parquet.
Two months passed, and then came the great
annual ball which the students give at the opening
of the second semester. Ralph was a man
of importance that evening; first, because he
belonged to a great family; secondly, because he
was the handsomest man of his year. He wore
a large golden star on his breast (for his fellowstudents
had made him a Knight of the Golden
Boar), and a badge of colored ribbons in his
The ball was a brilliant affair, and everybody
was in excellent spirits, especially the ladies.
Ralph danced incessantly, twirled his soft
mustache, and uttered amiable platitudes. It was
toward midnight, just as the company was moving
out to supper, that he caught the glance of
a pair of dark-blue eyes, which suddenly drove
the blood to his cheeks and hastened the beating
of his heart. But when he looked once
more the dark-blue eyes were gone, and his
unruly heart went on hammering against his side.
He laid his hand on his breast and glanced
furtively at his fair neighbor, but she looked happy
and unconcerned, for the flavor of the ice-cream
was delicious. It seemed an endless meal, but,
when it was done, Ralph rose, led his partner
back to the ball-room, and hastily excused
himself. His glance wandered round the wide hall,
seeking the well-remembered eyes once more,
and, at length, finding them in a remote corner,
half hid behind a moving wall of promenaders.
In another moment he was at Bertha's side.
"You must have been purposely hiding yourself,
Miss Bertha," said he, when the usual
greetings were exchanged. "I have not caught
a glimpse of you all this evening, until a few
moments ago."
"But I have seen you all the while," answered
the girl, frankly. "I knew you at once as I
entered the hall."
"If I had but known that you were here,"
resumed Ralph, as it were, invisibly expanding
with an agreeable sense of dignity, "I assure
you, you would have been the very first one I
should have sought."
She raised her large grave eyes to his, as if
questioning his sincerity; but she made no
"Good gracious!" thought Ralph. "She
takes things terribly in earnest."
"You look so serious, Miss Bertha," said he,
after a moment's pause. "I remember you as a
bright-eyed, flaxen-haired little girl, who threw
her German exercise-book to me across the yard,
and whose merry laughter still rings pleasantly
in my memory. I confess I don't find it quite
easy to identify this grave young lady with my
merry friend of three years ago."
"In other words, you are disappointed at not
finding me the same as I used to be."
"No, not exactly that; but--"
Ralph paused and looked puzzled. There
was something in the earnestness of her manner
which made a facetious compliment seem grossly
inappropriate, and in the moment no other
escape suggested itself.
"But what?" demanded Bertha, mercilessly.
"Have you ever lost an old friend?"
asked he, abruptly.
"Yes; how so?"
"Then," answered he, while his features
lighted up with a happy inspiration--"then you
will appreciate my situation. I fondly cherished
my old picture of you in my memory. Now I
have lost it, and I cannot help regretting the
loss. I do not mean, however, to imply that
this new acquaintance--this second edition of
yourself, so to speak--will prove less interesting."
She again sent him a grave, questioning look,
and began to gaze intently upon the stone in her bracelet.
"I suppose you will laugh at me," began she,
while a sudden blush flitted over her countenance.
"But this is my first ball, and I feel as
if I had rushed into a whirlpool, from which I
have, since the first rash plunge was made, been
vainly trying to escape. I feel so dreadfully
forlorn. I hardly know anybody here except
my cousin, who invited me, and I hardly think
I know him either."
"Well, since you are irredeemably committed,"
replied Ralph, as the music, after some
prefatory flourishes, broke into the delicious
rhythm of a Strauss waltz, "then it is no use
struggling against fate. Come, let us make the
plunge together. Misery loves company."
He offered her his arm, and she arose,
somewhat hesitatingly, and followed.
"I am afraid," she whispered, as they fell
into line with the procession that was moving
down the long hall, "that you have asked me to
dance merely because I said I felt forlorn. If
that is the case, I should prefer to be led back
to my seat."
"What a base imputation!" cried Ralph.
There was something so charmingly naive in
this self-depreciation--something so altogether
novel in his experience, and, he could not help
adding, just a little bit countrified. His spirits
rose; he began to relish keenly his position as an
experienced man of the world, and, in the
agreeable glow of patronage and conscious
superiority, chatted with hearty ABANDON with his
little rustic beauty.
"If your dancing is as perfect as your German
exercises were," said she, laughing, as they
swung out upon the floor, "then I promise myself
a good deal of pleasure from our meeting."
"Never fear," answered he, quickly reversing
his step, and whirling with many a capricious
turn away among the thronging couples.
When Ralph drove home in his carriage
toward morning he briefly summed up his
impressions of Bertha in the following adjectives:
intelligent, delightfully unsophisticated, a little
bit verdant, but devilish pretty.
Some weeks later Colonel Grim received an
appointment at the fortress of Aggershuus, and
immediately took up his residence in the capital.
He saw that his son cut a fine figure in the
highest circles of society, and expressed his
gratification in the most emphatic terms. If he
had known, however, that Ralph was in the
habit of visiting, with alarming regularity, at
the house of a plebeian merchant in a somewhat
obscure street, he would, no doubt, have been
more chary of his praise. But the Colonel
suspected nothing, and it was well for the peace of
the family that he did not. It may have been
cowardice in Ralph that he never mentioned
Bertha's name to his family or to his aristocratic
acquaintances; for, to be candid, he himself felt
ashamed of the power she exerted over him, and
by turns pitied and ridiculed himself for pursuing
so inglorious a conquest. Nevertheless
it wounded his egotism that she never showed
any surprise at seeing him, that she received
him with a certain frank unceremoniousness,
which, however, was very becoming to her;
that she invariably went on with her work heedless
of his presence, and in everything treated
him as if she had been his equal. She persisted
in talking with him in a half sisterly fashion
about his studies and his future career, warned
him with great solicitude against some of his
reprobate friends, of whose merry adventures
he had told her; and if he ventured to compliment
her on her beauty or her accomplishments,
she would look up gravely from her sewing, or
answer him in a way which seemed to banish
the idea of love-making into the land of the
impossible. He was constantly tormented by the
suspicion that she secretly disapproved of him,
and that from a mere moral interest in his welfare
she was conscientiously laboring to make
him a better man. Day after day he parted
from her feeling humiliated, faint-hearted, and
secretly indignant both at himself and her, and
day after day he returned only to renew the
same experience. At last it became too intolerable,
he could endure it no longer. Let it make
or break, certainty, at all risks, was at least
preferable to this sickening suspense. That he
loved her, he could no longer doubt; let his
parents foam and fret as much as they pleased;
for once he was going to stand on his own legs.
And in the end, he thought, they would have to
yield, for they had no son but him.
Bertha was going to return to her home on
the sea-coast in a week. Ralph stood in the
little low-ceiled parlor, as she imagined, to bid
her good-bye. They had been speaking of her
father, her brothers, and the farm, and she had
expressed the wish that if he ever should come
to that part of the country he might pay them
a visit. Her words had kindled a vague hope
in his breast, but in their very frankness and
friendly regard there was something which
slew the hope they had begotten. He held her
hand in his, and her large confiding eyes shone
with an emotion which was beautiful, but was
yet not love.
"If you were but a peasant born like myself,"
said she, in a voice which sounded almost tender,
"then I should like to talk to you as I would to
my own brother; but--"
"No, not brother, Bertha," cried he, with
sudden vehemence; "I love you better than I ever
loved any earthly being, and if you knew how
firmly this love has clutched at the roots of my
heart, you would perhaps--you would at least
not look so reproachfully at me."
She dropped his hand, and stood for a moment silent.
"I am sorry that it should have come to this,
Mr. Grim," said she, visibly struggling for
calmness. "And I am perhaps more to blame
than you."
"Blame," muttered he, "why are you to blame?"
"Because I do not love you; although I sometimes
feared that this might come. But then again
I persuaded myself that it could not be so."
He took a step toward the door, laid his hand
on the knob, and gazed down before him.
"Bertha," began he, slowly, raising his head,
"you have always disapproved of me, you have
despised me in your heart, but you thought you
would be doing a good work if you succeeded
in making a man of me."
"You use strong language," answered she,
hesitatingly; "but there is truth in what you
Again there was a long pause, in which the
ticking of the old parlor clock grew louder and
"Then," he broke out at last, "tell me before
we part if I can do nothing to gain--I will not
say your love--but only your regard? What
would you do if you were in my place?"
"My advice you will hardly heed, and I do
not even know that it would be well if you did.
But if I were a man in your position, I should
break with my whole past, start out into the
world where nobody knew me, and where I
should be dependent only upon my own strength,
and there I would conquer a place for myself,
if it were only for the satisfaction of knowing
that I was really a man. Here cushions are
sewed under your arms, a hundred invisible
threads bind you to a life of idleness and
vanity, everybody is ready to carry you on his
hands, the road is smoothed for you, every stone
carefully moved out of your path, and you will
probably go to your grave without having ever
harbored one earnest thought, without having
done one manly deed."
Ralph stood transfixed, gazing at her with
open mouth; he felt a kind of stupid fright, as
if some one had suddenly seized him by the
shoulders and shaken him violently. He tried
vainly to remove his eyes from Bertha. She
held him as by a powerful spell. He saw that
her face was lighted with an altogether new
beauty; he noticed the deep glow upon her
cheek, the brilliancy of her eye, the slight
quiver of her lip. But he saw all this as one
sees things in a half-trance, without attempting
to account for them; the door between his soul
and his senses was closed.
"I know that I have been bold in speaking to
you in this way," she said at last, seating
herself in a chair at the window. "But it was
yourself who asked me. And I have felt all the
time that I should have to tell you this before
we parted."
"And," answered he, making a strong effort
to appear calm, "if I follow your advice, will
you allow me to see you once more before you
"I shall remain here another week, and shall,
during that time, always be ready to receive you."
"Thank you. Good-bye."
Ralph carefully avoided all the fashionable
thoroughfares; he felt degraded before himself,
and he had an idea that every man could read
his humiliation in his countenance. Now he
walked on quickly, striking the sidewalk with
his heels; now, again, he fell into an uneasy,
reckless saunter, according as the changing
moods inspired defiance of his sentence, or a
qualified surrender. And, as he walked on, the
bitterness grew within him, and he pitilessly
reviled himself for having allowed himself to be
made a fool of by "that little country goose,"
when he was well aware that there were hundreds
of women of the best families of the land
who would feel honored at receiving his attentions.
But this sort of reasoning he knew to he
both weak and contemptible, and his better
self soon rose in loud rebellion.
"After all," he muttered, "in the main thing
she was right. I am a miserable good-fornothing,
a hot-house plant, a poor stick, and if I
were a woman myself, I don't think I should
waste my affections on a man of that calibre."
Then he unconsciously fell to analyzing
Bertha's character, wondering vaguely that a
person who moved so timidly in social life,
appearing so diffident, from an ever-present fear
of blundering against the established forms of
etiquette, could judge so quickly, and with such
a merciless certainty, whenever a moral question,
a question of right and wrong, was at issue.
And, pursuing the same train of thought, he
contrasted her with himself, who moved in the
highest spheres of society as in his native
element, heedless of moral scruples, and conscious
of no loftier motive for his actions than the
immediate pleasure of the moment.
As Ralph turned the corner of a street, he
heard himself hailed from the other sidewalk by
a chorus of merry voices.
"Ah, my dear Baroness," cried a young man,
springing across the street and grasping Ralph's
hand (all his student friends called him the
Baroness), "in the name of this illustrious
company, allow me to salute you. But why the
deuce--what is the matter with you? If you
have the Katzenjammer,[7] soda-water is the
thing. Come along,--it's my treat!"
[7] Katzenjammer is the sensation a man has
the morning after a carousal.
The students instantly thronged around
Ralph, who stood distractedly swinging his cane
and smiling idiotically.
"I am not quite well," said he; "leave me
"No, to be sure, you don't look well," cried a
jolly youth, against whom Bertha had
frequently warned him; "but a glass of sherry
will soon restore you. It would be highly
immoral to leave you in this condition without
taking care of you."
Ralph again vainly tried to remonstrate; but
the end was, that he reluctantly followed.
He had always been a conspicuous figure in
the student world; but that night he astonished
his friends by his eloquence, his reckless humor,
and his capacity for drinking. He made a
speech for "Woman," which bristled with wit,
cynicism, and sarcastic epigrams. One young
man, named Vinter, who was engaged, undertook
to protest against his sweeping condemnation,
and declared that Ralph, who was a Universal
favorite among the ladies, ought to be
the last to revile them.
"If," he went on, "the Baroness should propose
to six well-known ladies here in this city
whom I could mention, I would wager six
Johannisbergers, and an equal amount of
champagne, that every one of them would accept
The others loudly applauded this proposal,
and Ralph accepted the wager. The letters were
written on the spot, and immediately dispatched.
Toward morning, the merry carousal broke up,
and Ralph was conducted in triumph to his
Two days later, Ralph again knocked on
Bertha's door. He looked paler than usual,
almost haggard; his immaculate linen was a little
crumpled, and he carried no cane; his lips were
tightly compressed, and his face wore an air of
desperate resolution.
"It is done," he said, as he seated himself
opposite her. "I am going."
"Going!" cried she, startled at his unusual
appearance. "How, where?"
"To America. I sail to-night. I have followed
your advice, you see. I have cut off the
last bridge behind me."
"But, Ralph," she exclaimed, in a voice of
alarm. "Something dreadful must have happened.
Tell me quick; I must know it."
"No; nothing dreadful," muttered he, smiling
bitterly. "I have made a little scandal, that is
all. My father told me to-day to go to the
devil, if I chose, and my mother gave me five
hundred dollars to help me along on the way.
If you wish to know, here is the explanation."
And he pulled from his pocket six perfumed
and carefully folded notes, and threw them into
her lap.
"Do you wish me to read them?" she asked,
with growing surprise.
"Certainly. Why not?"
She hastily opened one note after the other,
and read.
"But, Ralph," she cried, springing up from
her seat, while her eyes flamed with indignation,
"what does this mean? What have you
"I didn't think it needed any explanation,"
replied he, with feigned indifference. "I
proposed to them all, and, you see, they all
accepted me. I received all these letters to-day.
I only wished to know whether the whole world
regarded me as such a worthless scamp as you
told me I was."
She did not answer, but sat mutely staring at
him, fiercely crumpling a rose-colored note in
her hand. He began to feel uncomfortable under
her gaze, and threw himself about uneasily
in his chair.
"Well," said he, at length, rising, "I suppose
there is nothing more. Good-bye."
"One moment, Mr. Grim," demanded she,
sternly. "Since I have already said so much,
and you have obligingly revealed to me a new
side of your character, I claim the right to
correct the opinion I expressed of you at our last
"I am all attention."
"I did think, Mr. Grim," began she, breathing
hard, and steadying herself against the
table at which she stood, "that you were a
very selfish man--an embodiment of selfishness,
absolute and supreme, but I did not believe that
you were wicked."
"And what convinced you that I was selfish,
if I may ask?"
"What convinced me?" repeated she, in a
tone of inexpressible contempt. "When did
you ever act from any generous regard for
others? What good did you ever do to anybody?"
"You might ask, with equal justice,
what good I ever did to myself."
"In a certain sense, yes; because to gratify
a mere momentary wish is hardly doing one's
self good."
"Then I have, at all events, followed the
Biblical precept, and treated my neighbor very
much as I treat myself."
"I did think," continued Bertha, without
heeding the remark, "that you were at bottom
kind-hearted, but too hopelessly well-bred ever
to commit an act of any decided complexion,
either good or bad. Now I see that I have
misjudged you, and that you are capable of
outraging the most sacred feelings of a woman's
heart in mere wantonness, or for the sake of
satisfying a base curiosity, which never could
have entered the mind of an upright and generous man."
The hard, benumbed look in Ralph's face
thawed in the warmth of her presence, and her
words, though stern, touched a secret spring in
his heart. He made two or three vain attempts
to speak, then suddenly broke down, and cried:
"Bertha, Bertha, even if you scorn me, have
patience with me, and listen."
And he told her, in rapid, broken sentences,
how his love for her had grown from day to
day, until he could no longer master it; and
how, in an unguarded moment, when his pride
rose in fierce conflict against his love, he had
done this reckless deed of which he was now
heartily ashamed. The fervor of his words
touched her, for she felt that they were sincere.
Large mute tears trembled in her eyelashes as
she sat gazing tenderly at him, and in the depth
of her soul the wish awoke that she might have
been able to return this great and strong love
of his; for she felt that in this love lay the germ
of a new, of a stronger and better man. She
noticed, with a half-regretful pleasure, his
handsome figure, his delicately shaped hands, and the
noble cast of his features; an overwhelming
pity for him rose within her, and she began to
reproach herself for having spoken so harshly,
and, as she now thought, so unjustly. Perhaps
he read in her eyes the unspoken wish. He
seized her hand, and his words fell with a warm
and alluring cadence upon her ear.
"I shall not see you for a long time to come,
Bertha," said he, "but if, at the end of five or
six years your hand is still free, and I return
another man--a man to whom you could safely
intrust your happiness--would you then listen
to what I may have to say to you? For I promise,
by all that we both hold sacred--"
"No, no," interrupted she, hastily. "Promise
nothing. It would be unjust to--yourself, and
perhaps also to me; for a sacred promise is a
terrible thing, Ralph. Let us both remain free;
and, if you return and still love me, then come,
and I shall receive you and listen to you. And
even if you have outgrown your love, which is,
indeed, more probable, come still to visit me
wherever I may be, and we shall meet as friends
and rejoice in the meeting."
"You know best," he murmured. "Let it be
as you have said."
He arose, took her face between his hands,
gazed long and tenderly into her eyes, pressed
a kiss upon her forehead, and hastened away.
That night Ralph boarded the steamer for Hull,
and three weeks later landed in New York.
The first three months of Ralph's sojourn in
America were spent in vain attempts to obtain a
situation. Day after day he walked down
Broadway, calling at various places of business
and night after night he returned to his cheerless
room with a faint heart and declining spirits.
It was, after all, a more serious thing than he
had imagined, to cut the cable which binds one
to the land of one's birth. There a hundred
subtile influences, the existence of which no one
suspects until the moment they are withdrawn,
unite to keep one in the straight path of rectitude,
or at least of external respectability; and
Ralph's life had been all in society; the opinion
of his fellow-men had been the one force to
which he implicitly deferred, and the conscience
by which he had been wont to test his actions
had been nothing but the aggregate judgment
of his friends. To such a man the isolation and
the utter irresponsibility of a life among
strangers was tenfold more dangerous; and Ralph
found, to his horror, that his character contained
innumerable latent possibilities which the easygoing
life in his home probably never would
have revealed to him. It often cut him to the
quick, when, on entering an office in his daily
search for employment, he was met by hostile
or suspicious glances, or when, as it occasionally
happened, the door was slammed in his face, as
if he were a vagabond or an impostor. Then
the wolf was often roused within him, and he
felt a momentary wild desire to become what
the people here evidently believed him to be.
Many a night he sauntered irresolutely about
the gambling places in obscure streets, and the
glare of light, the rude shouts and clamors in
the same moment repelled and attracted him.
If he went to the devil, who would care? His
father had himself pointed out the way to him;
and nobody could blame him if he followed the
advice. But then again a memory emerged from
that chamber of his soul which still he held
sacred; and Bertha's deep-blue eyes gazed upon
him with their earnest look of tender warning
and regret.
When the summer was half gone, Ralph had
gained many a hard victory over himself, and
learned many a useful lesson; and at length he
swallowed his pride, divested himself of his
fine clothes, and accepted a position as assistant
gardener at a villa on the Hudson. And as he
stood perspiring with a spade in his hand, and
a cheap broad-brimmed straw hat on his head,
he often took a grim pleasure in picturing to
himself how his aristocratic friends at home
would receive him, if he should introduce himself
to them in this new costume.
"After all, it was only my position they
cared for," he reflected, bitterly; "without my
father's name what would I be to them?"
Then, again, there was a certain satisfaction
in knowing that, for his present situation, humble
as it was, he was indebted to nobody but
himself; and the thought that Bertha's eyes, if
they could have seen him now would have dwelt
upon him with pleasure and approbation, went
far to console him for his aching back, his
sunburned face, and his swollen and blistered hands.
One day, as Ralph was raking the gravelwalks
in the garden, his employer's daughter, a
young lady of seventeen, came out and spoke
to him. His culture and refinement of manner
struck her with wonder, and she asked him to
tell her his history; but then he suddenly grew
very grave, and she forbore pressing him. From
that time she attached a kind of romantic interest
to him, and finally induced her father to obtain
him a situation that would be more to his
taste. And, before winter came, Ralph saw the
dawn of a new future glimmering before him.
He had wrestled bravely with fate, and had
once more gained a victory. He began the
career in which success and distinction awaited
him, as proof-reader on a newspaper in the city.
He had fortunately been familiar with the English
language before he left home, and by the
strength of his will he conquered all difficulties.
At the end of two years he became attached to
the editorial staff; new ambitious hopes, hitherto
foreign to his mind, awoke within him;
and with joyous tumult of heart he saw life
opening its wide vistas before him, and he
labored on manfully to repair the losses of the
past, and to prepare himself for greater usefulness
in times to come. He felt in himself a
stronger and fuller manhood, as if the great
arteries of the vast universal world-life pulsed in
his own being. The drowsy, indolent existence
at home appeared like a dull remote dream from
which he had awaked, and he blessed the destiny
which, by its very sternness, had mercifully
saved him; he blessed her, too, who, from the
very want of love for him, had, perhaps, made
him worthier of love.
The years flew rapidly. Society had flung its
doors open to him, and what was more, he had
found some warm friends, in whose houses he
could come and go at pleasure. He enjoyed
keenly the privilege of daily association with
high-minded and refined women; their eager
activity of intellect stimulated him, their
exquisite ethereal grace and their delicately chiseled
beauty satisfied his aesthetic cravings, and the
responsive vivacity of their nature prepared him
ever new surprises. He felt a strange fascination
in the presence of these women, and the
conviction grew upon him that their type of
womanhood was superior to any he had hitherto
known. And by way of refuting his own
argument, he would draw from his pocket-book
the photograph of Bertha, which had a secret
compartment there all to itself, and, gazing
tenderly at it, would eagerly defend her against the
disparaging reflections which the involuntary
comparison had provoked. And still, how could
he help seeing that her features, though well
molded, lacked animation; that her eye, with
its deep, trustful glance, was not brilliant, and
that the calm earnestness of her face, when
compared with the bright, intellectual beauty of his
present friends, appeared pale and simple, like
a violet in a bouquet of vividly colored roses?
It gave him a quick pang, when, at times,
he was forced to admit this; nevertheless,
it was the truth.
After six years of residence in America,
Ralph had gained a very high reputation as a
journalist of rare culture and ability, and, in
1867 he was sent to the World's Exhibition in
Paris, as correspondent of the paper on which
he had during all these years been employed.
What wonder, then, that he started for Europe
a few weeks before his presence was needed in
the imperial city, and that he steered his course
directly toward the fjord valley where Bertha
had her home? It was she who had bidden him
Godspeed when he fled from the land of his
birth, and she, too, should receive his first
greeting on his return.
The sun had fortified itself behind a citadel
of flaming clouds, and the upper forest region
shone with a strange ethereal glow, while the
lower plains were wrapped in shadow; but the
shadow itself had a strong suffusion of color.
The mountain peaks rose cold and blue in the distance.
Ralph, having inquired his way of the
boatman who had landed him at the pier, walked
rapidly along the beach, with a small valise in
his hand, and a light summer overcoat flung
over his shoulder. Many half-thoughts grazed
his mind, and ere the first had taken shape, the
second, and the third came and chased it away.
And still they all in some fashion had reference
to Bertha; for in a misty, abstract way, she
filled his whole mind; but for some indefinable
reason, he was afraid to give free rein to the
sentiment which lurked in the remoter corners
of his soul.
Onward he hastened, while his heart throbbed
with the quickening tempo of mingled expectation
and fear. Now and then one of those chill
gusts of air which seem to be careering about
aimlessly in the atmosphere during early summer,
would strike into his face, and recall him
to a keener self-consciousness.
Ralph concluded, from his increasing agitation,
that he must be very near Bertha's home.
He stopped and looked around him. He saw a
large maple at the roadside, some thirty steps
from where he was standing, and the girl who
was sitting under it, resting her head in her
hand and gazing out over the sea, he recognized
in an instant to be Bertha. He sprang up on the
road, not crossing, however, her line of vision,
and approached her noiselessly from behind.
"Bertha," he whispered.
She gave a little joyous cry, sprang up, and
made a gesture as if to throw herself in his arms;
then suddenly checked herself, blushed crimson,
and moved a step backward.
"You came so suddenly," she murmured.
"But, Bertha," cried he (and the full bass of
his voice rang through her very soul), "have I
gone into exile and waited these many years for
so cold a welcome?"
"You have changed so much, Ralph," she
answered, with that old grave smile which he
knew so well, and stretched out both her hands
toward him. "And I have thought of you so
much since you went away, and blamed myself
because I had judged you so harshly, and wondered
that you could listen to me so patiently,
and never bear me any malice for what I said."
"If you had said a word less," declared Ralph,
seating himself at her side on the greensward,
"or if you had varnished it over with politeness,
then you would probably have failed to produce
any effect and I should not have been burdened
with that heavy debt of gratitude which
I now owe you. I was a pretty thick-skinned
animal in those days, Bertha. You said the
right word at the right moment; you gave me
a hold and a good piece of advice, which my
own ingenuity would never have suggested to
me. I will not thank you, because, in so grave
a case as this, spoken thanks sound like a mere
mockery. Whatever I am, Bertha, and whatever
I may hope to be, I owe it all to that hour."
She listened with rapture to the manly assurance
of his voice; her eyes dwelt with unspeakable
joy upon his strong, bronzed features, his
full thick blonde beard, and the vigorous
proportions of his frame. Many and many a time
during his absence had she wondered how he
would look if he ever came back, and with that
minute conscientiousness which, as it were,
pervaded her whole character, she had held herself
responsible before God for his fate, prayed for
him, and trembled lest evil powers should gain
the ascendency over his soul.
On their way to the house they talked together
of many things, but in a guarded, cautious fashion,
and without the cheerful abandonment of
former years. They both, as it were, groped their
way carefully in each other's minds, and each
vaguely felt that there was something in the
other's thought which it was not well to touch
unbidden. Bertha saw that all her fears for
him had been groundless, and his very appearance
lifted the whole weight of responsibility
from her breast; and still, did she rejoice at her
deliverance from her burden? Ah, no, in this
moment she knew that that which she had foolishly
cherished as the best and noblest part of
herself, had been but a selfish need of her own
heart. She feared that she had only taken that
interest in him which one feels in a thing of
one's own making; and now, when she saw that
he had risen quite above her; that he was free
and strong, and could have no more need of her,
she had, instead of generous pleasure at his
success, but a painful sense of emptiness, as if
something very dear had been taken from her.
Ralph, too, was loath to analyze the impression
his old love made upon him. His feelings
were of so complex a nature, he was anxious to
keep his more magnanimous impulses active, and
he strove hard to convince himself that she was
still the same to him as she had been before they
had ever parted. But, alas! though the heart
be warm and generous, the eye is a merciless
critic. And the man who had moved on the
wide arena of the world, whose mind had housed
the large thoughts of this century, and expanded
with its invigorating breath,--was he to blame
because he had unconsciously outgrown his old
provincial self, and could no more judge by its
Bertha's father was a peasant, but he had,
by his lumber trade, acquired what in Norway
was called a very handsome fortune. He received
his guest with dignified reserve, and
Ralph thought he detected in his eyes a lurking
look of distrust. "I know your errand," that
look seemed to say, "but you had better give it
up at once. It will be of no use for you to try."
And after supper, as Ralph and Bertha sat
talking confidingly with each other at the window,
he sent his daughter a quick, sharp glance,
and then, without ceremony, commanded her to
go to bed. Ralph's heart gave a great thump
within him; not because he feared the old man,
but because his words, as well as his glances,
revealed to him the sad history of these long,
patient years. He doubted no longer that the
love which he had once so ardently desired was
his at last; and he made a silent vow that,
come what might, he would remain faithful.
As he came down to breakfast the next
morning, he found Bertha sitting at the window,
engaged in hemming what appeared to be a
rough kitchen towel. She bent eagerly over
her work, and only a vivid flush upon her cheek
told him that she had noticed his coming. He
took a chair, seated himself opposite her, and
bade her "good-morning." She raised her head,
and showed him a sweet, troubled countenance,
which the early sunlight illumined with a high
spiritual beauty. It reminded him forcibly of
those pale, sweet-faced saints of Fra Angelico,
with whom the frail flesh seems ever on the
point of yielding to the ardent aspirations of
the spirit. And still, even in this moment he
could not prevent his eyes from observing that
one side of her forefinger was rough from sewing,
and that the whiteness of her arm, which
the loose sleeves displayed, contrasted strongly
with the browned and sun-burned complexion of
her hands.
After breakfast they again walked together
on the beach, and Ralph, having once formed
his resolution, now talked freely of the New
World--of his sphere of activity there; of his
friends and of his plans for the future; and she
listened to him with a mild, perplexed look in
her eyes, as if trying vainly to follow the flight
of his thoughts. And he wondered, with secret
dismay, whether she was still the same strong,
brave-hearted girl whom he had once accounted
almost bold; whether the life in this narrow
valley, amid a hundred petty and depressing
cares, had not cramped her spiritual growth,
and narrowed the sphere of her thought. Or
was she still the same, and was it only he who
had changed? At last he gave utterance to his
wonder, and she answered him in those grave,
earnest tones which seemed in themselves to be
half a refutation of his doubts.
"It was easy for me to give you daring
advice, then, Ralph," she said. "Like most schoolgirls,
I thought that life was a great and glorious
thing, and that happiness was a fruit which
hung within reach of every hand. Now I have
lived for six years trying single-handed to
relieve the want and suffering of the needy people
with whom I come in contact, and their squalor
and wretchedness have sickened me, and, what
is still worse, I feel that all I can do is as a drop
in the ocean, and after all, amounts to nothing.
I know I am no longer the same reckless girl,
who, with the very best intention, sent you
wandering through the wide world; and I thank
God that it proved to be for your good,
although the whole now appears quite incredible
to me. My thoughts have moved so long within
the narrow circle of these mountains that they
have lost their youthful elasticity, and can no
more rise above them."
Ralph detected, in the midst of her despondency,
a spark of her former fire, and grew eloquent
in his endeavors to persuade her that she
was unjust to herself, and that there was but a
wider sphere of life needed to develop all the
latent powers of her rich nature.
At the dinner-table, her father again sat eyeing
his guest with that same cold look of distrust
and suspicion. And when the meal was
at an end, he rose abruptly and called his
daughter into another room. Presently Ralph
heard his angry voice resounding through the
house, interrupted now and then by a woman's
sobs, and a subdued, passionate pleading. When
Bertha again entered the room, her eyes were
very red, and he saw that she had been weeping.
She threw a shawl over her shoulders,
beckoned to him with her hand, and he arose
and followed her. She led the way silently
until they reached a thick copse of birch and
alder near the strand. She dropped down upon
a bench between two trees, and he took his seat
at her side.
"Ralph," began she, with a visible effort, "I
hardly know what to say to you; but there is
something which I must tell you--my father
wishes you to leave us at once."
"And YOU, Bertha?"
"Well--yes--I wish it too."
She saw the painful shock which her words
gave him, and she strove hard to speak. Her
lips trembled, her eyes became suffused with
tears, which grew and grew, but never fell; she
could not utter a word.
"Well, Bertha," answered he, with a little
quiver in his voice, "if you, too, wish me to go,
I shall not tarry. Good-bye."
He rose quickly, and, with averted face, held
out his hand to her; but as she made no motion
to grasp the hand, he began distractedly to
button his coat, and moved slowly away.
He turned sharply, and, before he knew it,
she lay sobbing upon his breast.
"Ralph," she murmured, while the tears
almost choked her words, "I could not have you
leave me thus. It is hard enough--it is hard
"What is hard, beloved?"
She raised her head abruptly, and turned
upon him a gaze full of hope and doubt, and
sweet perplexity.
"Ah, no, you do not love me," she whispered,
"Why should I come to seek you, after these
many years, dearest, if I did not wish to make
you my wife before God and men? Why
should I--"
"Ah, yes, I know," she interrupted him with
a fresh fit of weeping, "you are too good and
honest to wish to throw me away, now when
you have seen how my soul has hungered for
the sight of you these many years, how even
now I cling to you with a despairing clutch.
But you cannot disguise yourself, Ralph, and I
saw from the first moment that you loved me
no more."
"Do not be such an unreasonable child," he
remonstrated, feebly. "I do not love you with
the wild, irrational passion of former years;
but I have the tenderest regard for you, and
my heart warms at the sight of your sweet
face, and I shall do all in my power to make
you as happy as any man can make you who--"
"Who does not love me," she finished.
A sudden shudder seemed to shake her whole frame,
and she drew herself more tightly up to him.
"Ah, no," she continued, after a while,
sinking back upon her seat. "It is a hopeless thing
to compel a reluctant heart. I will accept no
sacrifice from you. You owe me nothing, for
you have acted toward me honestly and uprightly,
and I shall be a stronger, or--at least--
a better woman for what you gave me--and--
for what you could not give me, even though
you would."
"But, Bertha," exclaimed he, looking mournfully
at her, "it is not true when you say that I
owe you nothing. Six years ago, when first I
wooed you, you could not return my love, and
you sent me out into the world, and even refused
to accept any pledge or promise for the future."
"And you returned," she responded, "a man,
such as my hope had pictured you; but, while I
had almost been standing still, you had outgrown
me, and outgrown your old self, and,
with your old self, outgrown its love for me,
for your love was not of your new self, but of
the old. Alas! it is a sad tale, but it is true."
She spoke gravely now, and with a steadier
voice, but her eyes hung upon his face with an
eager look of expectation, as if yearning to detect
there some gleam of hope, some contradiction
of the dismal truth. He read that look
aright, and it pierced him like a sharp sword.
He made a brave effort to respond to its appeal,
but his features seemed hard as stone, and he
could only cry out against his destiny, and
bewail his misfortune and hers.
Toward evening, Ralph was sitting in an
open boat, listening to the measured oar-strokes
of the boatmen who were rowing him out to the
nearest stopping-place of the steamer. The
mountains lifted their great placid heads up
among the sun-bathed clouds, and the fjord
opened its cool depths as if to make room for
their vast reflections. Ralph felt as if he were
floating in the midst of the blue infinite space,
and, with the strength which this feeling
inspired, he tried to face boldly the thought from
which he had but a moment ago shrunk as from
something hopelessly sad and perplexing.
And in that hour he looked fearlessly into the
gulf which separates the New World from the
Old. He had hoped to bridge it; but, alas! it
cannot be bridged.
THE steamer which as far back as 1860
passed every week on its northward
way up along the coast of Norway,
was of a very sociable turn of mind. It
ran with much shrieking and needless bluster in
and out the calm, winding fjords, paid unceremonious
little visits in every out-of-the-way nook
and bay, dropped now and then a black heap of
coal into the shining water, and sent thick volleys
of smoke and shrill little echoes careering
aimlessly among the mountains. It seemed, on
the whole, from an aesthetic point of view, an
objectionable phenomenon--a blot upon the perfect
summer day. By the inhabitants, however,
of these remote regions (with the exception
of a few obstinate individuals, who had at
first looked upon it as the sure herald of doomsday,
and still were vaguely wondering what the
world was coming to,) it was regarded in a
very different light. This choleric little monster
was to them a friendly and welcome visitor,
which established their connection with the outside
world, and gave them a proud consciousness
of living in the very heart of civilization.
Therefore, on steamboat days they flocked en
masse down on the piers, and, with an ever-fresh
sense of novelty, greeted the approaching boat
with lively cheers, with firing of muskets and
waving of handkerchiefs. The men of condition,
as the judge, the sheriff, and the parson,
whose dignity forbade them to receive the
steamer in person, contented themselves with
watching it through an opera-glass from their
balconies; and if a high official was known to be
on board, they perhaps displayed the national
banner from their flag-poles, as a delicate
compliment to their superior.
But the Rev. Mr. Oddson, the parson of whom
I have to speak, had this day yielded to the
gentle urgings of his daughters (as, indeed, he
always did), and had with them boarded the
steamer to receive his nephew, Arnfinn Vording,
who was returning from the university for his
summer vacation. And now they had him
between them in their pretty white-painted parsonage
boat, with the blue line along the
gunwale, beleaguering him with eager questions
about friends and relatives in the capital, chums,
university sports, and a medley of other things
interesting to young ladies who have a collegian
for a cousin. His uncle was charitable enough
to check his own curiosity about the nephew's
progress in the arts and sciences, and the result
of his recent examinations, till he should have
become fairly settled under his roof; and Arnfinn,
who, in spite of his natural brightness and
ready humor, was anything but a "dig," was
grateful for the respite.
The parsonage lay snugly nestled at the end
of the bay, shining contentedly through the
green foliage from a multitude of small sunsmitten
windows. Its pinkish whitewash, which
was peeling off from long exposure to the
weather, was in cheerful contrast to the broad
black surface of the roof, with its glazed tiles,
and the starlings' nests under the chimney-tops.
The thick-leaved maples and walnut-trees which
grew in random clusters about the walls seemed
loftily conscious of standing there for purposes
of protection; for, wherever their long-fingered
branches happened to graze the roof, it was
always with a touch, light, graceful, and airily
caressing. The irregularly paved yard was
inclosed on two sides by the main building, and on
the third by a species of log cabin, which, in
Norway, is called a brew-house; but toward the
west the view was but slightly obscured by an
elevated pigeon cot and a clump of birches,
through whose sparse leaves the fjord beneath
sent its rapid jets and gleams of light, and its
strange suggestions of distance, peace and
unaccountable gladness.
Arnfinn Vording's career had presented that
subtle combination of farce and tragedy which
most human lives are apt to be; and if the tragic
element had during his early years been preponderating,
he was hardly himself aware of it; for
he had been too young at the death of his
parents to feel that keenness of grief which the
same privation would have given him at a later
period of his life. It might have been humiliating
to confess it, but it was nevertheless true
that the terror he had once sustained on being
pursued by a furious bull was much more vivid
in his memory than the vague wonder and
depression which had filled his mind at seeing his
mother so suddenly stricken with age, as she lay
motionless in her white robes in the front parlor.
Since then his uncle, who was his guardian and
nearest relative, had taken him into his family,
had instructed him with his own daughters, and
finally sent him to the University, leaving the little
fortune which he had inherited to accumulate
for future use. Arnfinn had a painfully distinct
recollection of his early hardships in trying to
acquire that soft pronunciation of the r which is
peculiar to the western fjord districts of Norway,
and which he admired so much in his
cousins; for the merry-eyed Inga, who was less
scrupulous by a good deal than her older sister,
Augusta, had from the beginning persisted in
interpreting their relation of cousinship as an
unbounded privilege on her part to ridicule him
for his personal peculiarities, and especially for
his harsh r and his broad eastern accent. Her
ridicule was always very good-natured, to be
sure, but therefore no less annoying.
But--such is the perverseness of human nature--
in spite of a series of apparent rebuffs,
interrupted now and then by fits of violent
attachment, Arnfinn had early selected this dimpled
and yellow-haired young girl, with her piquant
little nose, for his favorite cousin. It was the
prospect of seeing her which, above all else,
had lent, in anticipation, an altogether new
radiance to the day when he should present himself
in his home with the long-tasseled student
cap on his head, the unnecessary "pinchers" on
his nose, and with the other traditional
paraphernalia of the Norwegian student. That
great day had now come; Arnfinn sat at Inga's
side playing with her white fingers, which lay
resting on his knee, and covering the depth of
his feeling with harmless banter about her
"amusingly unclassical little nose." He had
once detected her, when a child, standing before
a mirror, and pinching this unhappy feature in
the middle, in the hope of making it "like
Augusta's;" and since then he had no longer felt
so utterly defenseless whenever his own foibles
were attacked.
"But what of your friend, Arnfinn?" exclaimed
Inga, as she ran up the stairs of the
pier. "He of whom you have written so much.
I have been busy all the morning making the
blue guest-chamber ready for him."
"Please, cousin," answered the student, in a
tone of mock entreaty, "only an hour's respite!
If we are to talk about Strand we must make a
day of it, you know. And just now it seems so
grand to be at home, and with you, that I
would rather not admit even so genial a subject
as Strand to share my selfish happiness."
"Ah, yes, you are right. Happiness is too
often selfish. But tell me only why he didn't
come and I'll release you."
"He IS coming."
"Ah! And when?"
"That I don't know. He preferred to take
the journey on foot, and he may be here at
almost any time. But, as I have told you, he is
very uncertain. If he should happen to make
the acquaintance of some interesting snipe, or
crane, or plover, he may prefer its company to
ours, and then there is no counting on him any
longer. He may be as likely to turn up at the
North Pole as at the Gran Parsonage."
"How very singular. You don't know how
curious I am to see him."
And Inga walked on in silence under the
sunny birches which grew along the road, trying
vainly to picture to herself this strange
phenomenon of a man.
"I brought his book," remarked Arnfinn,
making a gigantic effort to be generous, for he
felt dim stirrings of jealousy within him. "If
you care to read it, I think it will explain him
to you better than anything I could say."
The Oddsons were certainly a happy family
though not by any means a harmonious one.
The excellent pastor, who was himself neutrally
good, orthodox, and kind-hearted, had often, in
the privacy of his own thought, wondered what
hidden ancestral influences there might have
been at work in giving a man so peaceable and
inoffensive as himself two daughters of such
strongly defined individuality. There was
Augusta, the elder, who was what Arnfinn called
"indiscriminately reformatory," and had a
universal desire to improve everything, from the
Government down to agricultural implements
and preserve jars. As long as she was content
to expend the surplus energy, which seemed to
accumulate within her through the long eventless
winters, upon the Zulu Mission, and other
legitimate objects, the pastor thought it all
harmless enough; although, to be sure, her
enthusiasm for those naked and howling savages
did at times strike him as being somewhat
extravagant. But when occasionally, in her own
innocent way, she put both his patience and his
orthodoxy to the test by her exceedingly puzzling
questions, then he could not, in the depth
of his heart, restrain the wish that she might
have been more like other young girls, and less
ardently solicitous about the fate of her kind.
Affectionate and indulgent, however, as the pastor
was, he would often, in the next moment, do
penance for his unregenerate thought, and thank
God for having made her so fair to behold, so
pure, and so noble-hearted.
Toward Arnfinn, Augusta had, although of
his own age, early assumed a kind of elder-sisterly
relation; she had been his comforter during
all the trials of his boyhood; had yielded
him her sympathy with that eager impulse which
lay so deep in her nature, and had felt forlorn
when life had called him away to where her
words of comfort could not reach him. But
when once she had hinted this to her father, he
had pedantically convinced her that her feeling
was unchristian, and Inga had playfully remarked
that the hope that some one might soon
find the open Polar Sea would go far toward
consoling her for her loss; for Augusta had
glorious visions at that time of the open Polar Sea.
Now, the Polar Sea, and many other things, far
nearer and dearer, had been forced into uneasy
forgetfulness; and Arnfinn was once more with
her, no longer a child, and no longer appealing
to her for aid and sympathy; man enough, apparently,
to have outgrown his boyish needs
and still boy enough to be ashamed of having
ever had them.
It was the third Sunday after Arnfinn's
return. He and Augusta were climbing the hillside
to the "Giant's Hood," from whence they
had a wide view of the fjord, and could see the
sun trailing its long bridge of flame upon the
water. It was Inga's week in the kitchen,
therefore her sister was Arnfinn's companion.
As they reached the crest of the "Hood,"
Augusta seated herself on a flat bowlder, and the
young student flung himself on a patch of
greensward at her feet. The intense light of
the late sun fell upon the girl's unconscious face,
and Arnfinn lay, gazing up into it, and wondering
at its rare beauty; but he saw only the clean
cut of its features and the purity of its form,
being too shallow to recognize the strong and
heroic soul which had struggled so long for
utterance in the life of which he had been a blind
and unmindful witness.
"Gracious, how beautiful you are, cousin!"
he broke forth, heedlessly, striking his leg with
his slender cane; "pity you were not born a
queen; you would be equal to almost anything,
even if it were to discover the Polar Sea."
"I thought you were looking at the sun,
Arnfinn," answered she, smiling reluctantly.
"And so I am, cousin," laughed he, with an
other-emphatic slap of his boot.
"That compliment is rather stale."
"But the opportunity was too tempting."
"Never mind, I will excuse you from further
efforts. Turn around and notice that wonderful
purple halo which is hovering over the forests
below. Isn't it glorious?"
"No, don't let us be solemn, pray. The sun I
have seen a thousand times before, but you I
have seen very seldom of late. Somehow, since
I returned this time, you seem to keep me at a
distance. You no longer confide to me your
great plans for the abolishment of war, and the
improvement of mankind generally. Why don't
you tell me whether you have as yet succeeded
in convincing the peasants that cleanliness is a
cardinal virtue, that hawthorn hedges are more
picturesque than rail fences, and that salt meat
is a very indigestible article?"
"You know the fate of my reforms, from long
experience," she answered, with the same sad,
sweet smile. "I am afraid there must be some
thing radically wrong about my methods; and,
moreover, I know that your aspirations and
mine are no longer the same, if they ever have
been, and I am not ungenerous enough to force
you to feign an interest which you do not feel."
"Yes, I know you think me flippant and
boyish," retorted he, with sudden energy, and
tossing a stone down into the gulf below.
"But, by the way, my friend Strand, if he ever
comes, would be just the man for you. He has
quite as many hobbies as you have, and, what is
more, he has a profound respect for hobbies in
general, and is universally charitable toward
those of others."
"Your friend is a great man," said the girl,
earnestly. "I have read his book on `The
Wading Birds of the Norwegian Highlands,'
and none but a great man could have written it."
"He is an odd stick, but, for all that, a capital
fellow; and I have no doubt you would get on
admirably with him."
At this moment the conversation was interrupted
by the appearance of the pastor's man,
Hans, who came to tell the "young miss" that
there was a big tramp hovering about the barns
in the "out-fields," where he had been sleeping
during the last three nights. He was a dangerous
character, Hans thought, at least judging
from his looks, and it was hardly safe for the
young miss to be roaming about the fields at
night as long as he was in the neighborhood.
"Why don't you speak to the pastor, and
have him arrested?" said Arnfinn, impatient of
Hans's long-winded recital.
"No, no, say nothing to father," demanded
Augusta, eagerly. "Why should you arrest
a poor man as long as he does nothing worse
than sleep in the barns in the out-fields?"
"As you say, miss," retorted Hans, and departed.
The moon came up pale and mist-like over
the eastern mountain ridges, struggled for a few
brief moments feebly with the sunlight, and
then vanished.
"It is strange," said Arnfinn, "how
everything reminds me of Strand to-night. What
gloriously absurd apostrophes to the moon he
could make! I have not told you, cousin, of a
very singular gift which he possesses. He can
attract all kinds of birds and wild animals to
himself; he can imitate their voices, and they
flock around him, as if he were one of them,
without fear of harm."
"How delightful," cried Augusta, with sudden
animation. "What a glorious man your friend
must be!"
"Because the snipes and the wild ducks like him?
You seem to have greater confidence in their judgment
than in mine."
"Of course I have--at least as long as you
persist in joking. But, jesting aside, what a
wondrously beautiful life he must lead whom
Nature takes thus into her confidence; who has,
as it were, an inner and subtler sense, corresponding
to each grosser and external one; who is
keen-sighted enough to read the character of
every individual beast, and has ears sensitive to
the full pathos of joy or sorrow in the song of
the birds that inhabit our woodlands."
"Whether he has any such second set of
senses as you speak of, I don't know; but there
can be no doubt that his familiarity, not to say
intimacy, with birds and beasts gives him a
great advantage as a naturalist. I suppose you
know that his little book has been translated
into French, and rewarded with the gold medal
of the Academy."
"Hush! What is that?" Augusta sprang
up, and held her hand to her ear.
"Some love-lorn mountain-cock playing yonder
in the pine copse," suggested Arnfinn,
amused at his cousin's eagerness.
"You silly boy! Don't you know the mountaincock
never plays except at sunrise?"
"He would have a sorry time of it now, then,
when there IS no sunrise."
"And so he has; he does not play except in
early spring."
The noise, at first faint, now grew louder. It
began with a series of mellow, plaintive clucks
that followed thickly one upon another, like
smooth pearls of sound that rolled through the
throat in a continuous current; then came a few
sharp notes as of a large bird that snaps his
bill; then a long, half-melodious rumbling,
intermingled with cacklings and snaps, and at last,
a sort of diminuendo movement of the same
round, pearly clucks. There was a whizzing of
wing-beats in the air; two large birds swept
over their heads and struck down into the copse
whence the sound had issued.
"This is indeed a most singular thing," said
Augusta, under her breath, and with wide-eyed wonder.
"Let us go nearer, and see what it can be."
"I am sure I can go if you can," responded
Arnfinn, not any too eagerly. "Give me your
hand, and we can climb the better."
As they approached the pine copse, which
projected like a promontory from the line of
the denser forest, the noise ceased, and only the
plaintive whistling of a mountain-hen, calling
her scattered young together, and now and then
the shrill response of a snipe to the cry of its
lonely mate, fell upon the summer night, not as
an interruption, but as an outgrowth of the very
silence. Augusta stole with soundless tread
through the transparent gloom which lingered
under those huge black crowns, and Arnfinn
followed impatiently after. Suddenly she motioned
to him to stand still, and herself bent forward
in an attitude of surprise and eager observation.
On the ground, some fifty steps from
where she was stationed, she saw a man
stretched out full length, with a knapsack under
his head, and surrounded by a flock of downy,
half-grown birds, which responded with a low,
anxious piping to his alluring cluck, then scattered
with sudden alarm, only to return again
in the same curious, cautious fashion as before.
Now and then there was a great flapping of
wings in the trees overhead, and a heavy brown
and black speckled mountain-hen alighted close
to the man's head, stretched out her neck toward
him, cocked her head, called her scattered brood
together, and departed with slow and deliberate
Again there was a frightened flutter overhead,
a shrill anxious whistle rose in the air,
and all was silence. Augusta had stepped on a
dry branch--it had broken under her weight--
hence the sudden confusion and flight. The
unknown man had sprung up, and his eye, after a
moment's search, had found the dark, beautiful
face peering forth behind the red fir-trunk.
He did not speak or salute her; he greeted her
with silent joy, as one greets a wondrous vision
which is too frail and bright for consciousness
to grasp, which is lost the very instant one is
conscious of seeing. But, while to the girl the
sight, as it were, hung trembling in the range
of mere physical perception, while its suddenness
held it aloof from moral reflection, there
came a great shout from behind, and Arnfinn,
whom in her surprise she had quite forgotten,
came bounding forward, grasping the stranger
by the hand with much vigor, laughing heartily,
and pouring forth a confused stream of
delighted interjections, borrowed from all manner
of classical and unclassical tongues.
"Strand! Strand!" he cried, when the first
tumult of excitement had subsided; "you most
marvelous and incomprehensible Strand! From
what region of heaven or earth did you jump
down into our prosaic neighborhood? And
what in the world possessed you to choose our
barns as the centre of your operations, and
nearly put me to the necessity of having you
arrested for vagrancy? How I do regret that
Cousin Augusta's entreaties mollified my heart
toward you. Pardon me, I have not introduced
you. This is my cousin, Miss Oddson, and this
is my miraculous friend, the world-renowned
author, vagrant, and naturalist, Mr. Marcus Strand."
Strand stepped forward, made a deep but
somewhat awkward bow, and was dimly aware
that a small soft hand was extended to him,
and, in the next moment, was enclosed in his
own broad and voluminous palm. He grasped
it firmly, and, in one of those profound abstractions
into which he was apt to fall when under
the sway of a strong impression, pressed it with
increasing cordiality, while he endeavored to
find fitting answers to Arnfinn's multifarious
"To tell the truth, Vording," he said, in a
deep, full-ringing bass, "I didn't know that
these were your cousin's barns--I mean that
your uncle"--giving the unhappy hand an emphatic
shake--"inhabited these barns."
"No, thank heaven, we are not quite reduced
to that," cried Arnfinn, gayly; "we still boast a
parsonage, as you will presently discover, and a
very bright and cozy one, to boot. But, whatever
you do, have the goodness to release
Augusta's hand. Don't you see how desperately
she is struggling, poor thing?"
Strand dropped the hand as if it had been a
hot coal, blushed to the edge of his hair, and
made another profound reverence. He was a
tall, huge-limbed youth, with a frame of
gigantic mold, and a large, blonde, shaggy head,
like that of some good-natured antediluvian
animal, which might feel the disadvantages of
its size amid the puny beings of this later stage
of creation. There was a frank directness in
his gaze, and an unconsciousness of self, which
made him very winning, and which could not
fail of its effect upon a girl who, like Augusta,
was fond of the uncommon, and hated smooth,
facile and well-tailored young men, with the
labels of society and fashion upon their coats,
their mustaches, and their speech. And Strand,
with his large sun-burned face, his wild-growing
beard, blue woolen shirt, top boots, and unkempt
appearance generally, was a sufficiently
startling phenomenon to satisfy even so exacting
a fancy as hers; for, after reading his book
about the Wading Birds, she had made up her
mind that he must have few points of resemblance
to the men who had hitherto formed part
of her own small world, although she had not
until now decided just in what way he was to
"Suppose I help you carry your knapsack,"
said Arnfinn, who was flitting about like a small
nimble spaniel trying to make friends with some
large, good-natured Newfoundland. "You must
be very tired, having roamed about in this
Quixotic fashion!"
"No, I thank you," responded Strand, with
an incredulous laugh, glancing alternately from
Arnfinn to the knapsack, as if estimating their
proportionate weight. "I am afraid you would
rue your bargain if I accepted it."
"I suppose you have a great many stuffed
birds at home," remarked the girl, looking
with self-forgetful admiration at the large
brawny figure.
"No, I have hardly any," answered he,
seating himself on the ground, and pulling a thick
note-book from his pocket. "I prefer live
creatures. Their anatomical and physiological
peculiarities have been studied by others, and
volumes have been written about them. It is
their psychological traits, ii you will allow the
expression, which interest me, and those I can
only get at while they are alive."
"How delightful!"
Some minutes later they were all on their way
to the Parsonage. The sun, in spite of its midsummer
wakefulness, was getting red-eyed and
drowsy, and the purple mists which hung in
scattered fragments upon the forest below had
lost something of their deep-tinged brilliancy.
But Augusta, quite blind to the weakened light
effects, looked out upon the broad landscape in
ecstasy, and, appealing to her more apathetic
companions, invited them to share her joy at the
beauty of the faint-flushed summer night.
"You are getting quite dithyrambic, my
dear," remarked Arnfinn, with an air of cousinly
superiority, which he felt was eminently
becoming to him; and Augusta looked up with
quick surprise, then smiled in an absent way,
and forgot what she had been saying. She had
no suspicion but that her enthusiasm had been
all for the sunset.
In a life so outwardly barren and monotonous
as Augusta's--a life in which the small external
events were so firmly interwoven with the
subtler threads of yearnings, wants, and desires
--the introduction of so large and novel a fact
as Marcus Strand would naturally produce some
perceptible result. It was that deplorable
inward restlessness of hers, she reasoned, which
had hitherto made her existence seem so empty
and unsatisfactory; but now his presence filled
the hours, and the newness of his words, his
manner, and his whole person afforded
inexhaustible material for thought. It was now a
week since his arrival, and while Arnfinn and
Inga chatted at leisure, drew caricatures, or
read aloud to each other in some shady nook of
the garden, she and Strand would roam along
the beach, filling the vast unclouded horizon
with large glowing images of the future of the
human race. He always listened in sympathetic
silence while she unfolded to him her
often childishly daring schemes for the
amelioration of suffering and the righting of social
wrongs; and when she had finished, and he met
the earnest appeal of her dark eye, there would
often be a pause, during which each, with a
half unconscious lapse from the impersonal,
would feel more keenly the joy of this new
and delicious mental companionship. And
when at length he answered, sometimes gently
refuting and sometimes assenting to her
proposition, it was always with a slow, deliberate
earnestness, as if he felt but her deep sincerity,
and forgot for the moment her sex, her
youth, and her inexperience. It was just this
kind of fellowship for which she had hungered
so long, and her heart went out with a
great gratitude toward this strong and
generous man, who was willing to recognize her
humanity, and to respond with an ever-ready
frankness, unmixed with petty suspicions and
second thoughts, to the eager needs of her halfstarved
nature. It is quite characteristic, too,
of the type of womanhood which Augusta
represents (and with which this broad continent
of ours abounds), that, with her habitual disregard
of appearances, she would have scorned
the notion that their intercourse had any ultimate
end beyond that of mutual pleasure and instruction.
It was early in the morning in the third week
of Strand's stay at the Parsonage. A heavy
dew had fallen during the night, and each tiny
grass-blade glistened in the sun, bending under
the weight of its liquid diamond. The birds
were improvising a miniature symphony in the
birches at the end of the garden; the songthrush
warbled with a sweet melancholy his
long-drawn contralto notes; the lark, like a
prima donna, hovering conspicuously in mid
air, poured forth her joyous soprano solo; and
the robin, quite unmindful of the tempo, filled
out the pauses with his thoughtless staccato
chirp. Augusta, who was herself the early bird
of the pastor's family, had paid a visit to the
little bath-house down at the brook, and was
now hurrying homeward, her heavy black hair
confined in a delicate muslin hood, and her lithe
form hastily wrapped in a loose morning gown.
She had paused for a moment under the birches
to listen to the song of the lark, when suddenly
a low, half articulate sound, very unlike the
voice of a bird, arrested her attention; she
raised her eyes, and saw Strand sitting in the
top of a tree, apparently conversing with himself,
or with some tiny thing which he held in
his hands.
"Ah, yes, you poor little sickly thing!" she
heard him mutter. "Don't you make such an
ado now. You shall soon be quite well, if you
will only mind what I tell you. Stop, stop!
Take it easy. It is all for your own good, you
know. If you had only been prudent, and not
stepped on your lame leg, you might have been
spared this affliction. But, after all, it was not
your fault--it was that foolish little mother of
yours. She will remember now that a skein of
hemp thread is not the thing to line her nest
with. If she doesn't, you may tell her that it
was I who said so."
Augusta stood gazing on in mute astonishment;
then, suddenly remembering her hasty
toilet, she started to run; but, as chance would
have it, a dry branch, which hung rather low,
caught at her hood, and her hair fell in a black
wavy stream down over her shoulders. She
gave a little cry, the tree shook violently, and
Strand was at her side. She blushed crimson
over neck and face, and, in her utter bewilderment,
stood like a culprit before him, unable to
move, unable to speak, and only returning with
a silent bow his cordial greeting. It seemed to
her that she had ungenerously intruded upon
his privacy, watching him, while he thought
himself unobserved. And Augusta was quite
unskilled in those social accomplishments which
enable young ladies to hide their inward emotions
under a show of polite indifference, for,
however hard she strove, she could not suppress
a slight quivering of her lips, and her intense
self-reproach made Strand's words fall dimly on
her ears, and prevented her from gathering the
meaning of what he was saying. He held in
his hands a young bird with a yellow line along
the edge of its bill (and there was something
beautifully soft and tender in the way those
large palms of his handled any living thing),
and he looked pityingly at it while he spoke.
"The mother of this little linnet," he said,
smiling, "did what many foolish young mothers
are apt to do. She took upon her the responsibility
of raising offspring without having acquired
the necessary knowledge of housekeeping.
So she lined her nest with hemp, and the
consequence was, that her first-born got his legs
entangled, and was obliged to remain in the
nest long after his wings had reached their full
development. I saw her feeding him about a
week ago, and, as my curiosity prompted me to
look into the case, I released the little cripple,
cleansed the deep wound which the threads had
cut in his flesh, and have since been watching
him during his convalescence. Now he is quite
in a fair way, but I had to apply some salve,
and to cut off the feathers about the wound, and
the little fool squirmed under the pain, and grew
rebellious. Only notice this scar, if you please,
Miss Oddson, and you may imagine what the
poor thing must have suffered."
Augusta gave a start; she timidly raised her
eyes, and saw Strand's grave gaze fixed upon
her. She felt as if some intolerable spell had
come over her, and, as her agitation increased,
her power of speech seemed utterly to desert
"Ah, you have not been listening to me?"
said Strand, in a tone of wondering inquiry.
"Pardon me for presuming to believe that my
little invalid could be as interesting to you as
he is to me."
"Mr. Strand," stammered the girl, while the
invisible tears came near choking her voice.
"Mr. Strand--I didn't mean--really--"
She knew that if she said another word she
should burst into tears. With a violent effort,
she gathered up her wrapper, which somehow
had got unbuttoned at the neck, and, with
heedlessly hurrying steps, darted away toward the
Strand stood looking after her, quite unmindful
of his feathered patient, which flew chirping
about him in the grass. Two hours later Arnfinn
found him sitting under the birches with
his hands clasped over the top of his head, and
his surgical instruments scattered on the ground
around him.
"Corpo di Baccho," exclaimed the student,
stooping to pick up the precious tools; "have
you been amputating your own head, or is it I
who am dreaming?"
"Ah," murmured Strand, lifting a large,
strange gaze upon his friend, "is it you?"
"Who else should it be? I come to call you
to breakfast."
"I wonder what is up between Strand and
Augusta?" said Arnfinn to his cousin Inga. The
questioner was lying in the grass at her feet,
resting his chin on his palms, and gazing with
roguishly tender eyes up into her fresh, blooming
face; but Inga, who was reading aloud from
"David Copperfield," and was deep in the
matrimonial tribulations of that noble hero, only
said "hush," and continued reading. Arnfinn,
after a minute's silence, repeated his remark,
whereupon his fair cousin wrenched his cane
out of his hand, and held it threateningly over
his head.
"Will you be a good boy and listen?" she
exclaimed, playfully emphasizing each word
with a light rap on his curly pate.
"Ouch! that hurts," cried Arnfinn, and
"It was meant to hurt," replied Inga, with
mock severity, and returned to "Copperfield."
Presently the seed of a corn-flower struck the
tip of her nose, and again the cane was lifted;
but Dora's housekeeping experiences were too
absorbingly interesting, and the blue eyes could
not resist their fascination.
"Cousin Inga," said Arnfinn, and this time
with as near an approach to earnestness as he
was capable of at that moment, "I do believe
that Strand is in love with Augusta."
Inga dropped the book, and sent him what
was meant to be a glance of severe rebuke, and
then said, in her own amusingly emphatic way:
"I do wish you wouldn't joke with such
things, Arnfinn."
"Joke! Indeed I am not joking. I wish to
heaven that I were. What a pity it is that she
has taken such a dislike to him!"
"Dislike! Oh, you are a profound philosopher,
you are! You think that because she
Here Inga abruptly clapped her hand over
her mouth, and, with sudden change of voice
and expression, said:
"I am as silent as the grave."
"Yes, you are wonderfully discreet," cried
Arnfinn, laughing, while the girl bit her under
lip with an air of penitence and mortification
which, in any other bosom than a cousin's would
have aroused compassion.
"Aha! So steht's!" he broke forth, with
another burst of merriment; then, softened by the
sight of a tear that was slowly gathering beneath
her eyelashes, he checked his laughter,
crept up to her side, and in a half childishly
coaxing, half caressing tone, he whispered:
"Dear little cousin, indeed I didn't mean to
hurt your feelings. You are not angry with
me, are you? And if you will only promise me
not to tell, I have something here which I should
like to show you."
He well knew that there was nothing which
would sooner soothe Inga's wrath than confiding
a secret to her; and while he was a boy, he had,
in cases of sore need, invented secrets lest his
life should be made miserable by the sense that
she was displeased with him. In this instance
her anger was not strong enough to resist the
anticipation of a secret, probably relating to
that little drama which had, during the last
weeks, been in progress under her very eyes.
With a resolute movement, she brushed her
tears away, bent eagerly forward, and, in the
next moment, her face was all expectancy and
Arnfinn pulled a thick black note-book from
his breast pocket, opened it in his lap, and read:
"August 3, 5 A. M.--My little invalid is doing
finely; he seemed to relish much a few dozen
flies which I brought him in my hand. His
pulse is to-day, for the first time, normal. He
is beginning to step on the injured leg without
apparent pain.
"10 A. M.--Miss Augusta's eyes have a strange,
lustrous brilliancy whenever she speaks of subjects
which seem to agitate the depths of her
being. How and why is it that an excessive
amount of feeling always finds its first expression
in the eye? One kind of emotion seems to widen
the pupil, another kind to contract it. TO be
noticed in future, how particular emotions affect
the eye.
"6 P. M.--I met a plover on the beach this
afternoon. By imitating his cry, I induced him
to come within a few feet of me. The plover,
as his cry indicates, is a very melancholy bird.
In fact I believe the melancholy temperament to
be prevailing among the wading birds, as the
phlegmatic among birds of prey. The singing
birds are choleric or sanguine. Tease a thrush,
or even a lark, and you will soon be convinced.
A snipe, or plover, as far as my experience goes,
seldom shows anger; you cannot tease them.
To be considered, how far the voice of a bird may
be indicative of its temperament.
"August 5, 9 P. M.--Since the unfortunate
meeting yesterday morning, when my intense
pre-occupation with my linnet, which had torn
its wound open again, probably made me commit
some breach of etiquette, Miss Augusta
avoids me.
"August 7--I am in a most singular state.
My pulse beats 85, which is a most unheard-of
thing for me, as my pulse is naturally full and
slow. And, strangely enough, I do not feel at
all unwell. On the contrary, my physical wellbeing
is rather heightened than otherwise.
The life of a whole week is crowded into a day,
and that of a day into an hour."
Inga, who, at several points of this narrative,
had been struggling hard to preserve her gravity,
here burst into a ringing laugh.
"That is what I call scientific love-making,"
said Arnfinn, looking up from the book with an
expression of subdued amusement.
"But Arnfinn," cried the girl, while the laughter
quickly died out of her face, "does Mr.
Strand know that you are reading this?"
"To be sure he does. And that is just what
to my mind makes the situation so excessively
comical. He has himself no suspicion that this
book contains anything but scientific notes. He
appears to prefer the empiric method in love as
in philosophy. I verily believe that he is
innocently experimenting with himself, with a view
to making some great physiological discovery."
"And so he will, perhaps," rejoined the girl,
the mixture of gayety and grave solicitude
making her face, as her cousin thought, particularly
"Only not a physiological, but possibly a
psychological one," remarked Arnfinn. "But
listen to this. Here is something rich:
"August 9--Miss Augusta once said something
about the possibility of animals being immortal.
Her eyes shone with a beautiful animation
as she spoke. I am longing to continue
the subject with her. It haunts me the whole
day long. There may be more in the idea than
appears to a superficial observer."
"Oh, how charmingly he understands how to
deceive himself," cried Inga.
"Merely a quid pro quo," said Arnfinn.
"I know what I shall do!"
"And so do I."
"Won't you tell me, please?"
"Then I sha'n't tell you either."
And they flew apart like two thoughtless little
birds ("sanguine," as Strand would have called
them), each to ponder on some formidable plot
for the reconciliation of the estranged lovers.
During the week that ensued, the multifarious
sub-currents of Strand's passion seemed
slowly to gather themselves into one clearly defined
stream, and, after much scientific speculation,
he came to the conclusion that he loved
Augusta. In a moment of extreme discouragement,
he made a clean breast of it to Arnfinn,
at the same time informing him that he had
packed his knapsack, and would start on his
wanderings again the next morning. All his
friend's entreaties were in vain; he would and
must go. Strand was an exasperatingly headstrong
fellow, and persuasions never prevailed
with him. He had confirmed himself in the belief
that he was very unattractive to women, and
that Augusta, of all women, for some reason
which was not quite clear to him, hated and
abhorred him. Inexperienced as he was, he could
see no reason why she should avoid him, if she
did not hate him. They sat talking until midnight,
each entangling himself in those passionate
paradoxes and contradictions peculiar to
passionate and impulsive youth. Strand paced
the floor with large steps, pouring out his long
pent-up emotion in violent tirades of selfaccusation
and regret; while Arnfinn sat on the bed,
trying to soothe his excitement by assuring him
that he was not such a monster as, for the moment,
he had believed himself to be, but only
succeeding, in spite of all his efforts, in pouring
oil on the flames. Strand was scientifically
convinced that Nature, in accordance with some
inscrutable law of equilibrium, had found it
necessary to make him physically unattractive,
perhaps to indemnify mankind for that excess
of intellectual gifts which, at the expense of the
race at large, she had bestowed upon him.
Early the next morning, as a kind of etherealized
sunshine broke through the white muslin
curtains of Arnfinn's room, and long streaks of
sun-illumined dust stole through the air toward
the sleeper's pillow, there was a sharp rap at the
door, and Strand entered. His knapsack was
strapped over his shoulders, his long staff was in
his hand, and there was an expression of
conscious martyrdom in his features. Arnfinn
raised himself on his elbows, and rubbed his
eyes with a desperate determination to get
awake, but only succeeded in gaining a very
dim impression of a beard, a blue woolen shirt,
and a disproportionately large shoe buckle. The
figure advanced to the bed, extended a broad,
sun-burned hand, and a deep bass voice was
heard to say:
"Good-bye, brother."
Arnfinn, who was a hard sleeper, gave another
rub, and, in a querulously sleepy tone, managed
to mutter:
"Why,--is it as late as that--already?"
The words of parting were more remotely
repeated, the hand closed about Arnfinn's halfunfeeling
fingers, the lock on the door gave a
little sharp click, and all was still. But the
sunshine drove the dust in a dumb, confused dance
through the room.
Some four hours later, Arnfinn woke up with
a vague feeling as if some great calamity had
happened; he was not sure but that he had slept
a fortnight or more. He dressed with a sleepy,
reckless haste, being but dimly conscious of the
logic of the various processes of ablution which
he underwent. He hurried up to Strand's room,
but, as he had expected, found it empty.
During all the afternoon, the reading of "David
Copperfield" was interrupted by frequent
mutual condolences, and at times Inga's hand
would steal up to her eye to brush away a
treacherous tear. But then she only read the
faster, and David and Agnes were already safe
in the haven of matrimony before either she or
Arnfinn was aware that they had struggled
successfully through the perilous reefs and quicksands
of courtship.
Augusta excused herself from supper, Inga's
forced devices at merriment were too transparent,
Arnfinn's table-talk was of a rambling,
incoherent sort, and he answered dreadfully
malapropos, if a chance word was addressed to him,
and even the good-natured pastor began, at last,
to grumble; for the inmates of the Gran Parsonage
seemed to have but one life and one soul in
common, and any individual disturbance immediately
disturbed the peace and happiness of the
whole household. Now gloom had, in some
unaccountable fashion, obscured the common
atmosphere. Inga shook her small wise head, and
tried to extract some little consolation from the
consciousness that she knew at least some things
which Arnfinn did not know, and which it would
be very unsafe to confide to him.
Four weeks after Strand's departure, as the
summer had already assumed that tinge of sadness
which impresses one as a foreboding of
coming death, Augusta was walking along the
beach, watching the flight of the sea-birds. Her
latest "aberration," as Arnfinn called it, was an
extraordinary interest in the habits of the eiderducks,
auks, and sea-gulls, the noisy monotony
of whose existence had, but a few months ago,
appeared to her the symbol of all that was vulgar
and coarse in human and animal life. Now
she had even provided herself with a note-book,
and (to use once more the language of her
unbelieving cousin) affected a half-scientific interest
in their clamorous pursuits. She had made
many vain attempts to imitate their voices and
to beguile them into closer intimacy, and had
found it hard at times to suppress her indignation
when they persisted in viewing her in the
light of an intruder, and in returning her amiable
approaches with shy suspicion, as if they
doubted the sincerity of her intentions.
She was a little paler now, perhaps, than before,
but her eyes had still the same lustrous
depth, and the same sweet serenity was still
diffused over her features, and softened, like a
pervading tinge of warm color, the grand
simplicity of her presence. She sat down on a
large rock, picked up a curiously twisted shell,
and seeing a plover wading in the surf, gave a
soft, low whistle, which made the bird turn
round and gaze at her with startled distrust.
She repeated the call, but perhaps a little too
eagerly, and the bird spread its wings with a
frightened cry, and skimmed, half flying, half
running, out over the glittering surface of the
fjord. But from the rocks close by came a long
melancholy whistle like that of a bird in
distress, and the girl rose and hastened with eager
steps toward the spot. She climbed up on a
stone, fringed all around with green slimy seaweeds,
in order to gain a wider view of the
beach. Then suddenly some huge figure started
up between the rocks at her feet; she gave a
little scream, her foot slipped, and in the next
moment she lay--in Strand's arms. He offered
no apology, but silently carried her over the
slippery stones, and deposited her tenderly upon
the smooth white sand. There it occurred to
her that his attention was quite needless, but at
the moment she was too startled to make any
"But how in the world, Mr. Strand, did you
come here?" she managed at last to stammer.
"We all thought that you had gone away."
"I hardly know myself," said Strand, in a
beseeching undertone, quite different from his
usual confident bass. "I only know that--that
I was very wretched, and that I had to come
Then there was a pause, which to both seemed
quite interminable, and, in order to fill it out in
some way, Strand began to move his head and
arms uneasily, and at length seated himself at
Augusta's side. The blood was beating with
feverish vehemence in her temples, and for the
first time in her life she felt something akin to
pity for this large, strong man, whose strength
and cheerful self-reliance had hitherto seemed
to raise him above the need of a woman's aid
and sympathy. Now the very shabbiness of his
appearance, and the look of appealing misery in
his features, opened in her bosom the gate
through which compassion could enter, and,
with that generous self-forgetfulness which was
the chief factor of her character, she leaned
over toward him, and said:
"You must have been very sick, Mr. Strand.
Why did you not come to us and allow us to
take care of you, instead of roaming about here
in this stony wilderness?"
"Yes; I have been sick," cried Strand, with
sudden vehemence, seizing her hand; "but it is
a sickness of which I shall never, never be
And with that world-old eloquence which is
yet ever new, he poured forth his passionate
confession in her ear, and she listened, hungrily
at first, then with serene, wide-eyed happiness.
He told her how, driven by his inward restlessness,
he had wandered about in the mountains,
until one evening at a saeter, he had heard a
peasant lad singing a song, in which this stanza
"A woman's frown, a woman's smile,
Nor hate nor fondness prove;
For maidens smile on him they hate,
And fly from him they love."
Then it had occurred to him for the first time
in his life that a woman's behavior need not be
the logical indicator of her deepest feelings,
and, enriched with this joyful discovery,
inspired with new hope, he had returned, but had
not dared at once to seek the Parsonage, until
he could invent some plausible reason for his
return; but his imagination was very poor, and
he had found none, except that he loved the
pastor's beautiful daughter.
The evening wore on. The broad mountainguarded
valley, flooded now to the brim with a
soft misty light, spread out about them, and
filled them with a delicious sense of security.
The fjord lifted its grave gaze toward the sky,
and deepened responsively with a bright, everreceding
immensity. The young girl felt this
blessed peace gently stealing over her; doubt
and struggle were all past, and the sun shone
ever serene and unobscured upon the widening
expanses of the future. And in his breast, too,
that mood reigned in which life looks boundless
and radiant, human woes small or impossible,
and one's own self large and all-conquering.
In that hour they remodeled this old and
obstinate world of ours, never doubting that, if
each united his faith and strength with the
other's, they could together lift its burden.
That night was the happiest and most memorable
night in the history of the Gran Parsonage.
The pastor walked up and down on the floor,
rubbing his hands in quiet contentment. Inga,
to whom an engagement was essentially a solemn
affair, sat in a corner and gazed at her
sister and Strand with tearful radiance. Arnfinn
gave vent to his joy by bestowing embraces
promiscuously upon whomsoever chanced to
come in his way.
This story, however, has a brief but not
unimportant sequel. It was not many weeks after
this happy evening that Arnfinn and the maiden
with the "amusingly unclassical nose" presented
themselves in the pastor's study and asked for
his paternal and unofficial blessing. But the
pastor, I am told, grew very wroth, and
demanded that his nephew should first take his
second and third degrees, attaching, besides,
some very odious stipulations regarding average
in study and college standing, before there could
be any talk about engagement or matrimony.
So, at present, Arnfinn is still studying, and the
fair-haired Inga is still waiting.
HE was born in the houseman's lodge;
she in the great mansion. He did not
know who his father was; she was
the daughter of Grim of Skogli, and
she was the only daughter he had. They were
carried to baptism on the same day, and he was
called Truls, because they had to call him something;
she received the name of Borghild, because
that had been the name of every eldest
born daughter in the family for thirty
generations. They both cried when the pastor poured
the water on their heads; his mother hushed
him, blushed, and looked timidly around her;
but the woman who carried Borghild lifted her
high up in her arms so that everybody could
see her, and the pastor smiled benignly, and the
parishioners said that they had never seen so
beautiful a child. That was the way in which
they began life--he as a child of sin, she as the
daughter of a mighty race.
They grew up together. She had round
cheeks and merry eyes, and her lips were redder
than the red rose. He was of slender
growth, his face was thin and pale, and his eyes
had a strange, benumbed gaze, as if they were
puzzling themselves with some sad, life-long
riddle which they never hoped to solve. On
the strand where they played the billows came
and went, and they murmured faintly with a
sound of infinite remoteness. Borghild laughed
aloud, clapped her hands and threw stones out
into the water, while he sat pale and silent, and
saw the great white-winged sea-birds sailing
through the blue ocean of the sky.
"How would you like to live down there in
the deep green water?" she asked him one day,
as they sat watching the eider-ducks which
swam and dived, and stood on their heads
among the sea-weeds.
"I should like it very well," he answered, "if
you would follow me."
"No, I won't follow you," she cried. "It is
cold and wet down in the water. And I should
spoil the ribbons on my new bodice. But
when I grow up and get big and can braid my
hair, then I shall row with the young lads to the
church yonder on the headland, and there the
old pastor will marry me, and I shall wear the
big silver crown which my mother wore when
she was married."
"And may I go with you?" asked he, timidly.
"Yes, you may steer my boat and be my
helmsman, or--you may be my bridegroom, if
you would like that better."
"Yes, I think I should rather be your
bridegroom," and he gave her a long, strange look
which almost frightened her.
The years slipped by, and before Borghild
knew it, she had grown into womanhood. The
down on Truls's cheeks became rougher, and he,
too, began to suspect that he was no longer a
boy. When the sun was late and the breeze
murmured in the great, dark-crowned pines,
they often met by chance, at the well, on the
strand, or on the saeter-green. And the oftener
they met the more they found to talk about; to
be sure, it was she who did the talking, and he
looked at her with his large wondering eyes and
listened. She told him of the lamb which had
tumbled down over a steep precipice and still
was unhurt, of the baby who pulled the pastor's
hair last Sunday during the baptismal ceremony,
or of the lumberman, Lars, who drank the kerosene
his wife gave him for brandy, and never
knew the difference. But, when the milkmaids
passed by, she would suddenly forget what she
had been saying, and then they sat gazing at
each other in silence. Once she told him of the
lads who danced with her at the party at Houg;
and she thought she noticed a deeper color on
his face, and that he clinched both his fists and
--thrust them into his pockets. That set her
thinking, and the more she thought, the more
curious she grew. He played the violin well;
suppose she should ask him to come and fiddle
at the party her father was to give at the end
of the harvest. She resolved to do it, and he,
not knowing what moved her, gave his promise
eagerly. It struck her, afterward, that she had
done a wicked thing, but, like most girls, she
had not the heart to wrestle with an uncomfortable
thought; she shook it off and began to hum
a snatch of an old song.
"O'er the billows the fleet-footed storm-wind rode,
The billows blue are the merman's abode,
So strangely that harp was sounding."
The memory of old times came back to her,
the memory of the morning long years ago,
when they sat together on the strand, and he
said; "I think I would rather be your bridegroom,
Borghild." The memory was sweet
but it was bitter too; and the bitterness rose
and filled her heart. She threw her head back
proudly, and laughed a strange, hollow laugh.
"A bastard's bride, ha, ha! A fine tale were
that for the parish gossips." A yellow butterfly
lighted on her arm, and with a fierce frown on
her face she caught it between her fingers.
Then she looked pityingly on the dead wings,
as they lay in her hand, and murmured between
her teeth: "Poor thing! Why did you come
in my way, unbidden?"
The harvest was rich, and the harvest party
was to keep pace with the harvest. The broad
Skogli mansion was festively lighted (for it was
already late in September); the tall, straight
tallow candles, stuck in many-armed candlesticks,
shone dimly through a sort of misty halo,
and only suffused the dusk with a faint glimmering
of light. And every time a guest entered,
the flames of the candles flickered and
twisted themselves with the wind, struggling
to keep erect. And Borghild's courage, too,
rose and fell with the flickering motion of a
flame which wrestles with the wind. Whenever
the latch clicked she lifted her eyes and looked
for Truls, and one moment she wished that she
might never see his face again, and in the next
she sent an eager glance toward the door. Presently
he came, threw his fiddle on a bench, and
with a reckless air walked up to her and held
out his hand. She hesitated to return his greeting,
but when she saw the deep lines of suffering
in his face, her heart went forward with a
great tenderness toward him, a tenderness such
as one feels for a child who is sick, and suffers
without hope of healing. She laid her hand in
his, and there it lay for a while listlessly; for
neither dared trust the joy which the sight of
the other enkindled. But when she tried to
draw her hand away, he caught it quickly, and
with a sudden fervor of voice he said:
"The sight of you, Borghild, stills the hunger
which is raging in my soul. Beware that you
do not play with a life, Borghild, even though
it be a worthless one."
There was something so hopelessly sad in his
words, that they stung her to the quick. They
laid bare a hidden deep in her heart, and she
shrank back st the sight of her own vileness.
How could she repair the injury she had done
him? How could she heal the wound she had
inflicted? A number of guests came up to greet
her and among them Syvert Stein, a bold-looking
young man, who, during that summer, had
led her frequently in the dance. He had a
square face, strong features, and a huge crop of
towy hair. His race was far-famed for wit and
"Tardy is your welcome, Borghild of Skogli,"
quoth he. "But what a faint heart does not
give a bold hand can grasp, and what I am not
offered I take unbidden."
So saying, he flung his arm about her waist,
lifted her from the floor and put her down in
the middle of the room. Truls stood and gazed
at them with large, bewildered eyes. He tried
hard to despise the braggart, but ended with
envying him.
"Ha, fiddler, strike up a tune that shall ring
through marrow and bone," shouted Syvert
Stein, who struck the floor with his heels and
moved his body to the measure of a spring-dance.
Truls still followed them with his eyes;
suddenly he leaped up, and a wild thought burned
in his breast. But with an effort he checked
himself, grasped his violin, and struck a wailing
chord of lament. Then he laid his ear close
to the instrument, as if he were listening to
some living voice hidden there within, ran warily
with the bow over the strings, and warbled,
and caroled, and sang with maddening glee, and
still with a shivering undercurrent of woe. And
the dusk which slept upon the black rafters was
quickened and shook with the weird sound;
every pulse in the wide hall beat more rapidly,
and every eye kindled with a bolder fire.
Pressently{sic} a Strong male voice sang out to the
measure of the violin:
"Come, fairest maid, tread the dance with me;
O heigh ho!"
And a clear, tremulous treble answered:
"So gladly tread I the dance with thee;
O heigh ho!"
Truls knew the voices only too well; it was Syvert Stein
and Borghild who were singing a stave.[8]
[8] A stave is an improvised responsive song. It is an ancient pastime
in Norway, and is kept up until this day, especially among the peasantry.
The students, also, at their social gatherings, throw improvised
rhymes to each other across the table, and the rest of the company
repeat the refrain.
Syvert--Like brier-roses thy red cheeks blush,
Borghild--And thine are rough like the thorny bush;
Both--An' a heigho!
Syvert--So fresh and green is the sunny lea;
O heigh ho!
Borghild--The fiddle twangeth so merrily;
O heigh ho!
Syvert--So lightly goeth the lusty reel,
Borghild--And round we whirl like a spinning-wheel;
Both--An' a heigho!
Syvert--Thine eyes are bright like the sunny fjord;
O heigh ho!
Borghild--And thine do flash like a Viking's sword;
O heigh ho!
Syvert--So lightly trippeth thy foot along,
Borghild--The air is teeming with joyful song;
Both--An' a heigh ho!
Syvert--Then fairest maid, while the woods are green,
O heigh ho!
Borghild--And thrushes sing the fresh leaves between;
O heigh ho!
Syvert--Come, let us dance in the gladsome day,
Borghild--Dance hate, and sorrow, and care away;
Both--An' a heigh ho!
The stave was at an end. The hot and flushed
dancers straggled over the floor by twos and
threes, and the big beer-horns were passed from
hand to hand. Truls sat in his corner hugging
his violin tightly to his bosom, only to do
something, for he was vaguely afraid of himself--
afraid of the thoughts that might rise--afraid
of the deed they might prompt. He ran his
fingers over his forehead, but he hardly felt the
touch of his own hand. It was as if something
was dead within him--as if a string had
snapped in his breast, and left it benumbed and
Presently he looked up and saw Borghild
standing before him; she held her arms akimbo,
her eyes shone with a strange light, and her
features wore an air of recklessness mingled
with pity.
"Ah, Borghild, is it you?" said he, in a hoarse
voice. "What do you want with me? I
thought you had done with me now."
"You are a very unwitty fellow," answered
she, with a forced laugh. "The branch that
does not bend must break."
She turned quickly on her heel and was lost
in the crowd. He sat long pondering on her
words, but their meaning remained hidden to
him. The branch that does not bend must
break. Was he the branch, and must he bend
or break? By-and-by he put his hands on his
knees, rose with a slow, uncertain motion, and
stalked heavily toward the door. The fresh
night air would do him good. The thought
breathes more briskly in God's free nature,
under the broad canopy of heaven. The white
mist rose from the fields, and made the valley
below appear like a white sea whose nearness
you feel, even though you do not see it. And
out of the mist the dark pines stretched their
warning hands against the sky, and the moon
was swimming, large and placid, between silvery
islands of cloud. Truls began to beat his arms
against his sides, and felt the warm blood
spreading from his heart and thawing the numbness
of his limbs. Not caring whither he went,
he struck the path leading upward to the
mountains. He took to humming an old air
which happened to come into his head, only to
try if there was life enough left in him to sing.
It was the ballad of Young Kirsten and the
"The billows fall and the billows swell,
In the night so lone,
In the billows blue doth the merman dwell,
And strangely that harp was sounding."
He walked on briskly for a while, and, looking
back upon the pain he had endured but a
moment ago, he found it quite foolish and
irrational. An absurd merriment took possession
of him; but all the while he did not know where
his foot stepped; his head swam, and his pulse
beat feverishly. About midway between the
forest and the mansion, where the field sloped
more steeply, grew a clump of birch-trees,
whose slender stems glimmered ghostly white in
the moonlight. Something drove Truls to leave
the beaten road, and, obeying the impulse, he
steered toward the birches. A strange sound
fell upon his ear, like the moan of one in
distress. It did not startle him; indeed, he was in
a mood when nothing could have caused him
wonder. If the sky had suddenly tumbled
down upon him, with moon and all, he would
have taken it as a matter of course. Peering
for a moment through the mist, he discerned
the outline of a human figure. With three
great strides he reached the birch-tree; at his
feet sat Borghild rocking herself to and fro and
weeping piteously. Without a word he seated
himself at her side and tried to catch a glimpse
of her face; but she hid it from him and went
on sobbing. Still there could be no doubt that
it was Borghild--one hour ago so merry, reckless,
and defiant, now cowering at his feet and
weeping like a broken-hearted child.
"Borghild," he said, at last, putting his arm
gently about her waist, "you and I, I think,
played together when we were children."
"So we did, Truls," answered she, struggling
with her tears.
"And as we grew up, we spent many a pleasant
hour with each other."
"Many a pleasant hour."
She raised her head, and he drew her more
closely to him.
"But since then I have done you a great
wrong," began she, after a while.
"Nothing done that cannot yet be undone,"
he took heart to answer.
It was long before her thoughts took shape,
and, when at length they did, she dared not
give them utterance. Nevertheless, she was all
the time conscious of one strong desire, from
which her conscience shrank as from a crime;
and she wrestled ineffectually with her weakness
until her weakness prevailed.
"I am glad you came," she faltered. "I
knew you would come. There was something I
wished to say to you."
"And what was it, Borghild?"
"I wanted to ask you to forgive me--"
"Forgive you--"
He sprang up as if something had stung him.
"And why not?" she pleaded, piteously.
"Ah, girl, you know not what you ask,"
cried he, with a sternness which startled her.
"If I had more than one life to waste--but you
caress with one hand and stab with the other.
Fare thee well, Borghild, for here our paths
He turned his back upon her and began to
descend the slope.
"For God's sake, stay, Truls," implored she,
and stretched her arms appealingly toward him;
"tell me, oh, tell me all."
With a leap he was again at her side, stooped
down over her, and, in a hoarse, passionate
whisper, spoke the secret of his life in her ear.
She gazed for a moment steadily into his face,
then, in a few hurried words, she pledged him
her love, her faith, her all. And in the stillness
of that summer night they planned together
their flight to a greater and freer land, where no
world-old prejudice frowned upon the union of
two kindred souls. They would wait in patience
and silence until spring; then come the fresh
winds from the ocean, and, with them, the birds
of passage which awake the longings in the
Norsernen's breasts, and the American vessels
which give courage to many a sinking spirit,
strength to the wearied arm, hope to the hopeless heart.
During that winter Truls and Borghild seldom
saw each other. The parish was filled
with rumors, and after the Christmas holiday
it was told for certain that the proud maiden of
Skogli had been promised in marriage to Syvert
Stein. It was the general belief that the families
had made the match, and that Borghild, at
least, had hardly had any voice in the matter.
Another report was that she had flatly refused
to listen to any proposal from that quarter, and
that, when she found that resistance was vain,
she had cried three days and three nights, and
refused to take any food. When this rumor
reached the pastor's ear, he pronounced it an
idle tale; "for," said he, "Borghild has always
been a proper and well-behaved maiden, and she
knows that she must honor father and mother,
that it may be well with her, and she live long
upon the land."
But Borghild sat alone in her gable window
and looked longingly toward the ocean. The
glaciers glittered, the rivers swelled, the buds of
the forest burst, and great white sails began to
glimmer on the far western horizon.
If Truls, the Nameless, as scoffers were wont
to call him, had been a greater personage in the
valley, it would, no doubt, have shocked the
gossips to know that one fine morning he sold
his cow, his gun and his dog, and wrapped sixty
silver dollars in a leathern bag, which he sewed
fast to the girdle he wore about his waist. That
same night some one was heard playing wildly
up in the birch copse above the Skogli mansion;
now it sounded like a wail of distress, then like a
fierce, defiant laugh, and now again the music
seemed to hush itself into a heart-broken, sorrowful
moan, and the people crossed themselves, and
whispered: "Our Father;" but Borghild sat at
her gable window and listened long to the weird
strain. The midnight came, but she stirred not.
With the hour of midnight the music ceased.
From the windows of hall and kitchen the light
streamed out into the damp air, and the darkness
stood like a wall on either side; within,
maids and lads were busy brewing, baking, and
washing, for in a week there was to be a
wedding on the farm.
The week went and the wedding came.
Truls had not closed his eyes all that night,
and before daybreak he sauntered down along
the beach and gazed out upon the calm fjord,
where the white-winged sea-birds whirled in
great airy surges around the bare crags. Far
up above the noisy throng an ospray sailed on
the blue expanse of the sky, and quick as
thought swooped down upon a halibut which
had ventured to take a peep at the rising sun.
The huge fish struggled for a moment at the
water's edge, then, with a powerful stroke of
its tail, which sent the spray hissing through
the air, dived below the surface. The bird of
prey gave a loud scream, flapped fiercely with
its broad wings, and for several minutes a
thickening cloud of applauding ducks and seagulls
and showers of spray hid the combat from
the observer's eye. When the birds scattered,
the ospray had vanished, and the waters again
glittered calmly in the morning sun. Truls
stood long, vacantly staring out upon the scene
of the conflict, and many strange thoughts
whirled through his head.
"Halloo, fiddler!" cried a couple of lads who
had come to clear the wedding boats, "you are
early on foot to-day. Here is a scoop. Come
on and help us bail the boats."
Truls took the scoop, and looked at it as if he
had never seen such a thing before; he moved
about heavily, hardly knowing what he did, but
conscious all the while of his own great misery.
His limbs seemed half frozen, and a dull pain
gathered about his head and in his breast--in
fact, everywhere and nowhere.
About ten o'clock the bridal procession
descended the slope to the fjord. Syvert Stein,
the bridegroom, trod the earth with a firm,
springy step, and spoke many a cheery word to
tho bride, who walked, silent and with downcast
eyes, at his side. She wore the ancestral
bridal crown on her head, and the little silver
disks around its edge tinkled and shook as she
walked. They hailed her with firing of guns
and loud hurrahs as she stepped into the boat;
still she did not raise her eyes, but remained
silent. A small cannon, also an heir-loom in the
family, was placed amidships, and Truls, with
his violin, took his seat in the prow. A large
solitary cloud, gold-rimmed but with thunder
in its breast, sailed across the sky and threw its
shadow over the bridal boat as it was pushed
out from the shore, and the shadow fell upon
the bride's countenance too; and when she
lifted it, the mother of the bridegroom, who sat
opposite her, shrank back, for the countenance
looked hard, as if carved in stone--in the eyes
a mute, hopeless appeal; on the lips a frozen
prayer. The shadow of thunder upon a life
that was opening--it was an ill omen, and its
gloom sank into the hearts of the wedding
guests. They spoke in undertones and threw
pitying glances at the bride. Then at length
Syvert Stein lost his patience.
"In sooth," cried he, springing up from his
seat, "where is to-day the cheer that is wont to
abide in the Norseman's breast? Methinks I
see but sullen airs and ill-boding glances. Ha,
fiddler, now move your strings lustily! None
of your funeral airs, my lad, but a merry tune
that shall sing through marrow and bone, and
make the heart leap in the bosom."
Truls heard the words, and in a slow,
mechanical way he took the violin out of its case and
raised it to his chin. Syvert in the mean while
put a huge silver beer-jug to his mouth, and,
pledging his guests, emptied it even to the
dregs. But the bride's cheek was pale; and it
was so still in the boat that every man could
hear his own breathing.
"Ha, to-day is Syvert Stein's wedding-day!"
shouted the bridegroom, growing hot with
wrath. "Let us try if the iron voice of the
cannon can wake my guests from their slumber."
He struck a match and put it to the touchhole
of the cannon; a long boom rolled away
over the surface of the waters and startled the
echoes of the distant glaciers. A faint hurrah
sounded from the nearest craft, but there came
no response from the bridal boat. Syvert pulled
the powder-horn from his pocket, laughed a
wild laugh, and poured the whole contents of
the horn into the mouth of the cannon.
"Now may the devil care for his own," roared
he, and sprang up upon the row-bench. Then
there came a low murmuring strain as of wavelets
that ripple against a sandy shore. Borghild
lifted her eyes, and they met those of the fiddler.
"Ah, I think I should rather be your
bridegroom," whispered she, and a ray of life stole
into her stony visage.
And she saw herself as a little rosy-cheeked
girl sitting at his side on the beach fifteen years
ago. But the music gathered strength from
her glance, and onward it rushed through the
noisy years of boyhood, shouting with wanton
voice in the lonely glen, lowing with the cattle
on the mountain pastures, and leaping like the
trout at eventide in the brawling rapids; but
through it all there ran a warm strain of boyish
loyalty and strong devotion, and it thawed her
frozen heart; for she knew that it was all for
her and for her only. And it seemed such a
beautiful thing, this long faithful life, which
through sorrow and joy, through sunshine and
gloom, for better for worse, had clung so fast
to her. The wedding guests raised their heads,
and a murmur of applause ran over the waters.
"Bravo!" cried the bridegroom. "Now at
last the tongues are loosed."
Truls's gaze dwelt with tender sadness on the
bride. Then came from the strings some airy
quivering chords, faintly flushed like the petals
of the rose, and fragrant like lilies of the valley;
and they swelled with a strong, awakening
life, and rose with a stormy fullness until they
seemed on the point of bursting, when again
they hushed themselves and sank into a low,
disconsolate whisper. Once more the tones
stretched out their arms imploringly, and again
they wrestled despairingly with themselves, fled
with a stern voice of warning, returned once
more, wept, shuddered, and were silent.
"Beware that thou dost not play with a life!"
sighed the bride, "even though it be a worthless one."
The wedding guests clapped their hands and
shouted wildly against the sky. The bride's
countenance burned with a strange feverish
glow. The fiddler arose in the prow of the
boat, his eyes flamed, he struck the strings
madly, and the air trembled with melodious
rapture. The voice of that music no living
tongue can interpret. But the bride fathomed
its meaning; her bosom labored vehemently,
her lips quivered for an instant convulsively,
and she burst into tears. A dark
suspicion shot through the bridegroom's mind.
He stared intently upon the weeping Borghild
then turned his gaze to the fiddler, who, still
regarding her, stood playing, with a half-frenzied
look and motion.
"You cursed wretch!" shrieked Syvert, and
made a leap over two benches to where Truls was
standing. It came so unexpectedly that Truls
had no time to prepare for defense; so he merely
stretched out the hand in which he held the
violin to ward off the blow which he saw was
coming; but Syvert tore the instrument from
his grasp and dashed it against the cannon, and,
as it happened, just against the touch-hole.
With a tremendous crash something black
darted through the air and a white smoke
brooded over the bridal boat. The bridegroom
stood pale and stunned. At his feet lay Borghild--
lay for a moment still, as if lifeless, then
rose on her elbows, and a dark red current
broke from her breast. The smoke scattered.
No one saw how it was done; but a moment
later Truls, the Nameless, lay kneeling at
Borghild's side.
"It WAS a worthless life, beloved," whispered
he, tenderly. "Now it is at an end."
And he lifted her up in his arms as one lifts
a beloved child, pressed a kiss on her pale lips,
and leaped into the water. Like lead they fell
into the sea. A throng of white bubbles whirled
up to the surface. A loud wail rose from
the bridal fleet, and before the day was at an
end it filled the valley; but the wail did not
recall Truls, the Nameless, or Borghild his
What life denied them, would to God that
death may yield them!
IT was right up under the steel mountain
wall where the farm of Kvaerk
lay. How any man of common sense
could have hit upon the idea of building
a house there, where none but the goat and
the hawk had easy access, had been, and I am
afraid would ever be, a matter of wonder to the
parish people. However, it was not Lage Kvaerk
who had built the house, so he could hardly be
made responsible for its situation. Moreover,
to move from a place where one's life has once
struck deep root, even if it be in the chinks and
crevices of stones and rocks, is about the same
as to destroy it. An old tree grows but poorly
in a new soil. So Lage Kvaerk thought, and so
he said, too, whenever his wife Elsie spoke of
her sunny home at the river.
Gloomy as Lage usually was, he had his
brighter moments, and people noticed that these
were most likely to occur when Aasa, his daughter,
was near. Lage was probably also the only
being whom Aasa's presence could cheer; on
other people it seemed to have the very opposite
effect; for Aasa was--according to the testimony
of those who knew her--the most peculiar creature
that ever was born. But perhaps no one
did know her; if her father was right, no one
really did--at least no one but himself.
Aasa was all to her father; she was his past
and she was his future, his hope and his life;
and withal it must be admitted that those who
judged her without knowing her had at least in
one respect as just an opinion of her as he; for
there was no denying that she was strange,
very strange. She spoke when she ought to be
silent, and was silent when it was proper to
speak; wept when she ought to laugh, and
laughed when it was proper to weep; but her
laughter as well as her tears, her speech like her
silence, seemed to have their source from within
her own soul, to be occasioned, as it were, by
something which no one else could see or hear.
It made little difference where she was; if the
tears came, she yielded to them as if they were
something she had long desired in vain. Few
could weep like her, and "weep like Aasa
Kvaerk," was soon also added to the stock of
parish proverbs. And then her laugh! Tears
may be inopportune enough, when they come
out of time, but laughter is far worse; and when
poor Aasa once burst out into a ringing laughter
in church, and that while the minister was
pronouncing the benediction, it was only with
the greatest difficulty that her father could
prevent the indignant congregation from seizing
her and carrying her before the sheriff for
violation of the church-peace. Had she been poor
and homely, then of course nothing could have
saved her; but she happened to be both rich
and beautiful, and to wealth and beauty much
is pardoned. Aasa's beauty, however, was also
of a very unusual kind; not the tame sweetness
so common in her sex, but something of the
beauty of the falcon, when it swoops down upon
the unwatchful sparrow or soars round the lonely
crags; something of the mystic depth of the
dark tarn, when with bodeful trembling you
gaze down into it, and see its weird traditions
rise from its depth and hover over the pine-tops
in the morning fog. Yet, Aasa was not dark;
her hair was as fair and yellow as a wheat-field
in August, her forehead high and clear, and her
mouth and chin as if cut with a chisel; only her
eyes were perhaps somewhat deeper than is
common in the North, and the longer you
looked at them the deeper they grew, just like
the tarn, which, if you stare long enough into
it, you will find is as deep as the heavens above,
that is, whose depth only faith and fancy can
fathom. But however long you looked at Aasa,
you could never be quite sure that she looked at
you; she seemed but to half notice whatever
went on around her; the look of her eye was
always more than half inward, and when it
shone the brightest, it might well happen that
she could not have told you how many years
she had lived, or the name her father gave her
in baptism.
Now Aasa was eighteen years old, and could
knit, weave, and spin, and it was full time that
wooers should come. "But that is the consequence
of living in such an out-of-the-way
place," said her mother; "who will risk his
limbs to climb that neck-breaking rock? and the
round-about way over the forest is rather too
long for a wooer." Besides handling the loom
and the spinning-wheel, Aasa had also learned
to churn and make cheese to perfection, and
whenever Elsie grieved at her strange behavior
she always in the end consoled herself with the
reflection that after all Aasa would make the
man who should get her an excellent housewife.
The farm of Kvaerk was indeed most singularly
situated. About a hundred feet from the
house the rough wall of the mountain rose steep
and threatening; and the most remarkable part
of it was that the rock itself caved inward and
formed a lofty arch overhead, which looked like
a huge door leading into the mountain. Some
short distance below, the slope of the fields
ended in an abrupt precipice; far underneath
lay the other farm-houses of the valley, scattered
like small red or gray dots, and the river wound
onward like a white silver stripe in the shelter
of the dusky forest. There was a path down
along the rock, which a goat or a brisk lad
might be induced to climb, if the prize of the
experiment were great enough to justify the
hazard. The common road to Kvaerk made a
large circuit around the forest, and reached the
valley far up at its northern end.
It was difficult to get anything to grow at
Kvaerk. In the spring all the valley lay bare
and green, before the snow had begun to think
of melting up there; and the night-frost would
be sure to make a visit there, while the fields
along the river lay silently drinking the summer
dew. On such occasions the whole family at
Kvaerk would have to stay up during all the
night and walk back and forth on either side of
the wheat-fields, carrying a long rope between
them and dragging it slowly over the heads of
the rye, to prevent the frost from settling; for
as long as the ears could be kept in motion,
they could not freeze. But what did thrive at
Kvaerk in spite of both snow and night-frost was
legends, and they throve perhaps the better for
the very sterility of its material soil. Aasa of
course had heard them all and knew them by
heart; they had been her friends from childhood,
and her only companions. All the servants,
however, also knew them and many others
besides, and if they were asked how the mansion
of Kvaerk happened to be built like an eagle's
nest on the brink of a precipice, they would tell
you the following:
Saint Olaf, Norway's holy king, in the time of
his youth had sailed as a Viking over the wide
ocean, and in foreign lands had learned the
doctrine of Christ the White. When he came
home to claim the throne of his hereditary
kingdom, he brought with him tapers and black
priests, and commanded the people to overthrow
the altars of Odin and Thor and to believe alone
in Christ the White. If any still dared to
slaughter a horse to the old gods, he cut off
their ears, burned their farms, and drove them
houseless from the smoking ruins. Here in the
valley old Thor, or, as they called him, Asathor,
had always helped us to vengeance and victory,
and gentle Frey for many years had given us
fair and fertile summers. Therefore the peasants
paid little heed to King Olaf's god, and
continued to bring their offerings to Odin and
Asathor. This reached the king's ear, and he
summoned his bishop and five black priests, and
set out to visit our valley. Having arrived
here, he called the peasants together, stood up
on the Ting-stone, told them of the great things
that the White Christ had done, and bade them
choose between him and the old gods. Some
were scared, and received baptism from the
king's priests; others bit their lips and were
silent; others again stood forth and told Saint
Olaf that Odin and Asathor had always served
them well, and that they were not going to give
them up for Christ the White, whom they had
never seen and of whom they knew nothing.
The next night the red cock crew[9] over ten
farms in the valley, and it happened to he theirs
who had spoken against King Olaf's god. Then
the peasants flocked to the Ting-stone and
received the baptism of Christ the White. Some
few, who had mighty kinsmen in the North,
fled and spread the evil tidings. Only one
neither fled nor was baptized, and that one was
Lage Ulfson Kvaerk, the ancestor of the present
Lage. He slew his best steed before Asathor's
altar, and promised to give him whatever he
should ask, even to his own life, if he would
save him from the vengeance of the king. Asathor
heard his prayer. As the sun set, a storm
sprung up with thick darkness and gloom, the
earth shook, Asathor drove his chariot over the
heavens with deafening thunder and swung his
hammer right and left, and the crackling lightning
flew through the air like a hail-storm of
fire. Then the peasants trembled, for they knew
that Asathor was wroth. Only the king sat
calm and fearless with his bishop and priests,
quaffing the nut-brown mead. The tempest
raged until morn. When the sun rose, Saint
Olaf called his hundred swains, sprang into the
saddle and rode down toward the river. Few
men who saw the angry fire in his eye, and the
frown on his royal brow, doubted whither he
was bound. But having reached the ford, a
wondrous sight met his eye. Where on the day
before the highway had wound itself up the
slope toward Lage Kvaerk's mansion, lay now a
wild ravine; the rock was shattered into a
thousand pieces, and a deep gorge, as if made
by a single stroke of a huge hammer, separated
the king from his enemy. Then Saint Olaf
made the sign of the cross, and mumbled the
name of Christ the White; but his hundred
swains made the sign of the hammer under their
cloaks, and thought, Still is Asathor alive.
[9] "The red cock crew" is the expression used
in the old Norwegian Fagas for incendiary fire.
That same night Lage Ulfson Kvaerk slew a
black ram, and thanked Asathor for his deliverance;
and the Saga tells that while he was
sprinkling the blood on the altar, the thundering
god himself appeared to him, and wilder he
looked than the fiercest wild Turk. Rams, said
he, were every-day fare; they could redeem no
promise. Brynhild, his daughter, was the
reward Asathor demanded. Lage prayed and
besought him to ask for something else. He
would gladly give him one of his sons; for he
had three sons, but only one daughter. Asathor
was immovable; but so long Lage continued to
beg, that at last he consented to come back in a
year, when Lage perchance would be better
reconciled to the thought of Brynhild's loss.
In the mean time King Olaf built a church to
Christ the White on the headland at the river,
where it stands until this day. Every evening,
when the huge bell rumbled between the mountains,
the parishioners thought they heard heavy,
half-choked sighs over in the rocks at Kvaerk;
and on Sunday mornings, when the clear-voiced
chimes called them to high-mass, a suppressed
moan would mingle with the sound of the bells,
and die away with the last echo. Lage Ulfson
was not the man to be afraid; yet the churchbells
many a time drove the blood from his cheeks;
for he also heard the moan from the mountain.
The year went, and Asathor returned. If he
had not told his name, however, Lage would not
have recognized him. That a year could work
so great a change in a god, he would hardly
have believed, if his own eyes had not testified
to it. Asathor's cheeks were pale and bloodless,
the lustre of his eye more than half
quenched, and his gray hair hung in disorder
down over his forehead.
"Methinks thou lookest rather poorly to-day,"
said Lage.
"It is only those cursed church-bells," answered
the god; "they leave me no rest day or night."
"Aha," thought Lage, "if the king's bells are
mightier than thou, then there is still hope of
safety for my daughter."
"Where is Brynhild, thy daughter?" asked Asathor.
"I know not where she is," answered the
father; and straightway he turned his eyes
toward the golden cross that shone over the
valley from Saint Olaf's steeple, and he called
aloud on the White Christ's name. Then the
god gave a fearful roar, fell on the ground,
writhed and foamed and vanished into the
mountain. In the next moment Lage heard a
hoarse voice crying from within, "I shall return,
Lage Ulfson, when thou shalt least expect me!"
Lage Ulfson then set to work clearing a way
through the forest; and when that was done, he
called all his household together, and told them
of the power of Christ the White. Not long
after he took his sons and his daughter, and
hastened with them southward, until he found
King Olaf. And, so the Saga relates, they all
fell down on their knees before him, prayed for
his forgiveness, and received baptism from the
king's own bishop.
So ends the Saga of Lage Ulfson Kvaerk.
Aasa Kvaerk loved her father well, but
especially in the winter. Then, while she sat
turning her spinning-wheel in the light of the
crackling logs, his silent presence always had a
wonderfully soothing and calming effect upon
her. She never laughed then, and seldom wept;
when she felt his eyes resting on her, her
thoughts, her senses, and her whole being
seemed by degrees to be lured from their hidingplace
and concentrate on him; and from him
they ventured again, first timidly, then more
boldly, to grasp the objects around him. At
such times Aasa could talk and jest almost like
other girls, and her mother, to whom "other
girls" represented the ideal of womanly perfection,
would send significant glances, full of hope
and encouragement, over to Lage, and he would
quietly nod in return, as if to say that he
entirely agreed with her. Then Elsie had bright
visions of wooers and thrifty housewives, and
even Lage dreamed of seeing the ancient honor
of the family re-established. All depended on
Aasa. She was the last of the mighty race.
But when summer came, the bright visions fled;
and the spring winds, which to others bring life
and joy, to Kvaerk brought nothing but sorrow.
No sooner had the mountain brooks begun to
swell, than Aasa began to laugh and to weep;
and when the first birches budded up in the
glens, she could no longer be kept at home.
Prayers and threats were equally useless. From
early dawn until evening she would roam about
in forests and fields, and when late at night she
stole into the room and slipped away into some
corner, Lage drew a deep sigh and thought of
the old tradition.
Aasa was nineteen years old before she had a
single wooer. But when she was least expecting it,
the wooer came to her.
It was late one summer night; the young
maiden was sitting on the brink of the ravine,
pondering on the old legend and peering down
into the deep below. It was not the first
time she had found her way hither, where but
seldom a human foot had dared to tread. To
her every alder and bramble-bush, that clothed
the naked wall of the rock, were as familiar as
were the knots and veins in the ceiling of the
chamber where from her childhood she had
slept; and as she sat there on the brink of the
precipice, the late summer sun threw its red lustre
upon her and upon the fogs that came drifting
up from the deep. With her eyes she followed
the drifting masses of fog, and wondered, as
they rose higher and higher, when they would
reach her; in her fancy she saw herself dancing
over the wide expanse of heaven, clad in the
sun-gilded evening fogs; and Saint Olaf, the
great and holy king, came riding to meet her,
mounted on a flaming steed made of the glory
of a thousand sunsets; then Saint Olaf took her
hand and lifted her up, and she sat with him on
the flaming steed: but the fog lingered in the
deep below, and as it rose it spread like a thin,
half-invisible gauze over the forests and the
fields, and at last vanished into the infinite
space. But hark! a huge stone rolls down over
the mountain-side, then another, and another;
the noise grows, the birches down there in the
gorge tremble and shake. Aasa leaned out over
the brink of the ravine, and, as far as she could
distinguish anything from her dizzying height,
thought she saw something gray creeping slowly
up the neck-breaking mountain path; she
watched it for a while, but as it seemed to
advance no farther she again took refuge in her
reveries. An hour might have passed, or perhaps
more, when suddenly she heard a noise
only a few feet distant, and, again stooping out
over the brink, saw the figure of a man struggling
desperately to climb the last great ledge
of the rock. With both his hands he clung to
a little birch-tree which stretched its slender
arms down over the black wall, but with every
moment that passed seemed less likely to
accomplish the feat. The girl for a while stood
watching him with unfeigned curiosity, then,
suddenly reminding herself that the situation
to him must be a dangerous one, seized hold
of a tree that grew near the brink, and leaned
out over the rock to give him her assistance.
He eagerly grasped her extended hand, and
with a vigorous pull she flung him up on the
grassy level, where he remained lying for a
minute or two, apparently utterly unable to
account for his sudden ascent, and gazing around
him with a half-frightened, half-bewildered
look. Aasa, to whom his appearance was no
less strange than his demeanor, unluckily hit
upon the idea that perhaps her rather violent
treatment had momentarily stunned him, and
when, as answer to her sympathizing question
if he was hurt, the stranger abruptly rose to his
feet and towered up before her to the formidable
height of six feet four or five, she could no
longer master her mirth, but burst out into a
most vehement fit of laughter. He stood calm
and silent, and looked at her with a timid but
strangely bitter smile. He was so very different
from any man she had ever seen before;
therefore she laughed, not necessarily because
he amused her, but because his whole person
was a surprise to her; and there he stood, tall
and gaunt and timid, and said not a word, only
gazed and gazed. His dress was not the national
costume of the valley, neither was it like
anything that Aasa had ever known. On his head
he wore a cap that hung all on one side, and
was decorated with a long, heavy silk tassel.
A threadbare coat, which seemed to be made
expressly not to fit him, hung loosely on his
sloping shoulders, and a pair of gray pantaloons,
which were narrow where they ought to have
been wide, and wide where it was their duty to
be narrow, extended their service to a little
more than the upper half of the limb, and, by a
kind of compromise with the tops of the boots,
managed to protect also the lower half. His
features were delicate, and would have been called
handsome had they belonged to a proportionately
delicate body; in his eyes hovered a dreamy
vagueness which seemed to come and vanish,
and to flit from one feature to another, suggesting
the idea of remoteness, and a feeling of
hopeless strangeness to the world and all its
"Do I inconvenience you, madam?" were the
first words he uttered, as Aasa in her usual
abrupt manner stayed her laughter, turned her
back on him, and hastily started for the house.
"Inconvenience?" said she, surprised, and
again slowly turned on her heel; "no, not that
I know."
"Then tell me if there are people living here
in the neighborhood, or if the light deceived
me, which I saw from the other side of the river."
"Follow me," answered Aasa, and she navely
reached him her hand; "my father's name is
Lage Ulfson Kvaerk; he lives in the large house
you see straight before you, there on the hill;
and my mother lives there too."
And hand in hand they walked together,
where a path had been made between two
adjoining rye-fields; his serious smile seemed to
grow milder and happier, the longer he lingered
at her side, and her eye caught a ray of more
human intelligence, as it rested on him.
"What do you do up here in the long winter?"
asked he, after a pause.
"We sing," answered she, as it were at random,
because the word came into her mind;
"and what do you do, where you come from?"
"I gather song."
"Have you ever heard the forest sing?"
asked she, curiously.
"That is why I came here."
And again they walked on in silence.
It was near midnight when they entered the
large hall at Kvaerk. Aasa went before, still
leading the young man by the hand. In the
twilight which filled the house, the space
between the black, smoky rafters opened a vague
vista into the region of the fabulous, and every
object in the room loomed forth from the dusk
with exaggerated form and dimensions. The
room appeared at first to be but the haunt of
the spirits of the past; no human voice, no human
footstep, was heard; and the stranger
instinctively pressed the hand he held more
tightly; for he was not sure but that he was
standing on the boundary of dream-land, and some
elfin maiden had reached him her hand to lure
him into her mountain, where he should live
with her forever. But the illusion was of brief
duration; for Aasa's thoughts had taken a
widely different course; it was but seldom she
had found herself under the necessity of making
a decision; and now it evidently devolved upon
her to find the stranger a place of rest for the
night; so instead of an elf-maid's kiss and a
silver palace, he soon found himself huddled into
a dark little alcove in the wall, where he was
told to go to sleep, while Aasa wandered over
to the empty cow-stables, and threw herself down
in the hay by the side of two sleeping milkmaids.
There was not a little astonishment manifested
among the servant-maids at Kvaerk the
next morning, when the huge, gaunt figure
of a man was seen to launch forth from Aasa's
alcove, and the strangest of all was, that Aasa
herself appeared to be as much astonished as
the rest. And there they stood, all gazing at
the bewildered traveler, who indeed was no less
startled than they, and as utterly unable to
account for his own sudden apparition. After a
long pause, he summoned all his courage, fixed
his eyes intently on the group of the girls, and
with a few rapid steps advanced toward Aasa,
whom he seized by the hand and asked, "Are
you not my maiden of yester-eve?"
She met his gaze firmly, and laid her hand on
her forehead as if to clear her thoughts; as the
memory of the night flashed through her mind,
a bright smile lit up her features, and she
answered, "You are the man who gathers song.
Forgive me, I was not sure but it was all a
dream; for I dream so much."
Then one of the maids ran out to call Lage
Ulfson, who had gone to the stables to harness
the horses; and he came and greeted the unknown
man, and thanked him for last meeting,
as is the wont of Norse peasants, although they
had never seen each other until that morning.
But when the stranger had eaten two meals in
Lage's house, Lage asked him his name and his
father's occupation; for old Norwegian
hospitality forbids the host to learn the guest's
name before he has slept and eaten under his
roof. It was that same afternoon, when they
sat together smoking their pipes under the huge
old pine in the yard,--it was then Lage inquired
about the young man's name and family; and
the young man said that his name was Trond
Vigfusson, that he had graduated at the
University of Christiania, and that his father had
been a lieutenant in the army; but both he and
Trond's mother had died, when Trond was only
a few years old. Lage then told his guest
Vigfusson something about his family, but of
the legend of Asathor and Saint Olaf he spoke
not a word. And while they were sitting there
talking together, Aasa came and sat down at
Vigfusson's feet; her long golden hair flowed in
a waving stream down over her back and
shoulders, there was a fresh, healthful glow on
her cheeks, and her blue, fathomless eyes had a
strangely joyous, almost triumphant expression.
The father's gaze dwelt fondly upon her, and
the collegian was but conscious of one thought:
that she was wondrously beautiful. And still
so great was his natural timidity and awkwardness
in the presence of women, that it was only
with the greatest difficulty he could master his
first impulse to find some excuse for leaving
her. She, however, was aware of no such restraint.
"You said you came to gather song," she
said; "where do you find it? for I too should
like to find some new melody for my old
thoughts; I have searched so long."
"I find my songs on the lips of the people,"
answered he, "and I write them down as the
maidens or the old men sing them."
She did not seem quite to comprehend that.
"Do you hear maidens sing them?" asked she,
astonished. "Do you mean the troll-virgins
and the elf-maidens?"
"By troll-virgins and elf-maidens, or what the
legends call so, I understand the hidden and still
audible voices of nature, of the dark pine forests,
the legend-haunted glades, and the silent
tarns; and this was what I referred to when I
answered your question if I had ever heard the
forest sing."
"Oh, oh!" cried she, delighted, and clapped
her hands like a child; but in another moment
she as suddenly grew serious again, and sat
steadfastly gazing into his eye, as if she were
trying to look into his very soul and there to
find something kindred to her own lonely heart.
A minute ago her presence had embarrassed
him; now, strange to say, he met her eye, and
smiled happily as he met it.
"Do you mean to say that you make your
living by writing songs?" asked Lage.
"The trouble is," answered Vigfusson, "that
I make no living at all; but I have invested a
large capital, which is to yield its interest in the
future. There is a treasure of song hidden in
every nook and corner of our mountains and
forests, and in our nation's heart. I am one of
the miners who have come to dig it out before
time and oblivion shall have buried every trace
of it, and there shall not be even the will-o'-thewisp
of a legend to hover over the spot, and
keep alive the sad fact of our loss and our
blamable negligence."
Here the young man paused; his eyes gleamed,
his pale cheeks flushed, and there was a
warmth and an enthusiasm in his words which
alarmed Lage, while on Aasa it worked like the
most potent charm of the ancient mystic runes;
she hardly comprehended more than half of the
speaker's meaning, but his fire and eloquence
were on this account none the less powerful.
"If that is your object," remarked Lage, "I
think you have hit upon the right place in
coming here. You will be able to pick up many an
odd bit of a story from the servants and others
hereabouts, and you are welcome to stay here
with us as long as you choose."
Lage could not but attribute to Vigfusson the
merit of having kept Aasa at home a whole day,
and that in the month of midsummer. And
while he sat there listening to their conversation,
while he contemplated the delight that
beamed from his daughter's countenance and, as
he thought, the really intelligent expression of
her eyes, could he conceal from himself the paternal
hopes that swelled his heart? She was
all that was left him, the life or the death of his
mighty race. And here was one who was likely
to understand her, and to whom she seemed
willing to yield all the affection of her warm
but wayward heart. Thus ran Lage Ulfson's
reflections; and at night he had a little consultation
with Elsie, his wife, who, it is needless to
add, was no less sanguine than he.
"And then Aasa will make an excellent housewife,
you know," observed Elsie. "I will speak
to the girl about it to-morrow."
"No, for Heaven's sake, Elsie!" exclaimed
Lage, "don't you know your daughter better
than that? Promise me, Elsie, that you will
not say a single word; it would be a cruel thing,
Elsie, to mention anything to her. She is not
like other girls, you know."
"Very well, Lage, I shall not say a single
word. Alas, you are right, she is not like other
girls." And Elsie again sighed at her husband's
sad ignorance of a woman's nature, and at the
still sadder fact of her daughter's inferiority to
the accepted standard of womanhood.
Trond Vigfusson must have made a rich
harvest of legends at Kvaerk, at least judging by
the time he stayed there; for days and weeks
passed, and he had yet said nothing of going.
Not that anybody wished him to go; no, on the
contrary, the longer he stayed the more
indispensable he seemed to all; and Lage Ulfson
could hardly think without a shudder of the
possibility of his ever having to leave them.
For Aasa, his only child, was like another being
in the presence of this stranger; all that weird,
forest-like intensity, that wild, half supernatural
tinge in her character which in a measure
excluded her from the blissful feeling of fellowship
with other men, and made her the strange,
lonely creature she was,--all this seemed to vanish
as dew in the morning sun when Vigfusson's
eyes rested upon her; and with every day that
passed, her human and womanly nature gained
a stronger hold upon her. She followed him
like his shadow on all his wanderings, and when
they sat down together by the wayside, she
would sing, in a clear, soft voice, an ancient lay
or ballad, and he would catch her words on his
paper, and smile at the happy prospect of
perpetuating what otherwise would have been lost.
Aasa's love, whether conscious or not, was to
him an everlasting source of strength, was a
revelation of himself to himself, and a clearing
and widening power which brought ever more
and more of the universe within the scope of
his vision. So they lived on from day to day
and from week to week, and, as old Lage
remarked, never had Kvaerk been the scene of so
much happiness. Not a single time during
Vigfusson's stay had Aasa fled to the forest, not a
meal had she missed, and at the hours for
family devotion she had taken her seat at the
big table with the rest and apparently listened
with as much attention and interest. Indeed,
all this time Aasa seemed purposely to avoid the
dark haunts of the woods, and, whenever she
could, chose the open highway; not even
Vigfusson's entreaties could induce her to tread the
tempting paths that led into the forest's gloom.
"And why not, Aasa?" he would say; "summer
is ten times summer there when the drowsy
noonday spreads its trembling maze of shadows
between those huge, venerable trunks. You can
feel the summer creeping into your very heart
and soul, there!"
"Oh, Vigfusson," she would answer, shaking
her head mournfully, "for a hundred paths that
lead in, there is only one that leads out again,
and sometimes even that one is nowhere to be found."
He understood her not, but fearing to ask, he
remained silent.
His words and his eyes always drew her nearer
and nearer to him; and the forest and its
strange voices seemed a dark, opposing influence,
which strove to take possession of her
heart and to wrest her away from him forever;
she helplessly clung to him; every thought and
emotion of her soul clustered about him, and every
hope of life and happiness was staked on him.
One evening Vigfusson and old Lage Ulfson
had been walking about the fields to look at the
crop, both smoking their evening pipes. But
as they came down toward the brink whence
the path leads between the two adjoining ryefields,
they heard a sweet, sad voice crooning
some old ditty down between the birch-trees at
the precipice; they stopped to listen, and soon
recognized Aasa's yellow hair over the tops
the rye; the shadow as of a painful emotion
flitted over the father's countenance, and he
turned his back on his guest and started to go;
then again paused, and said, imploringly, "Try
to get her home if you can, friend Vigfusson.'
Vigfusson nodded, and Lage went; the song
had ceased for a moment, now it began again:
"Ye twittering birdlings, in forest and glen
I have heard you so gladly before;
But a bold knight hath come to woo me,
I dare listen to you no more.
For it is so dark, so dark in the forest.
"And the knight who hath come a-wooing to me,
He calls me his love and his own;
Why then should I stray through the darksome woods,
Or dream in the glades alone?
For it is so dark, so dark in the forest."
Her voice fell to a low unintelligible murmur;
then it rose, and the last verses came, clear, soft,
and low, drifting on the evening breeze:
"Yon beckoning world, that shimmering lay
O'er the woods where the old pines grow,
That gleamed through the moods of the summer day
When the breezes were murmuring low
(And it is so dark, so dark in the forest);
"Oh let me no more in the sunshine hear
Its quivering noonday call;
The bold knight's love is the sun of my heart--
Is my life, and my all in all.
But it is so dark, so dark in the forest."
The young man felt the blood rushing to his
face--his heart beat violently. There was a
keen sense of guilt in the blush on his cheek, a
loud accusation in the throbbing pulse and the
swelling heart-beat. Had he not stood there behind
the maiden's back and cunningly peered
into her soul's holy of holies? True, he loved
Aasa; at least he thought he did, and the
conviction was growing stronger with every day
that passed. And now he had no doubt that he
had gained her heart. It was not so much the
words of the ballad which had betrayed the
secret; he hardly knew what it was, but somehow
the truth had flashed upon him, and he could
no longer doubt.
Vigfusson sat down on the moss-grown rock
and pondered. How long he sat there he did
not know, but when he rose and looked around,
Aasa was gone. Then remembering her father's
request to bring her home, he hastened up the
hill-side toward the mansion, and searched for
her in all directions. It was near midnight
when he returned to Kvaerk, where Aasa sat in
her high gable window, still humming the weird
melody of the old ballad.
By what reasoning Vigfusson arrived at his
final conclusion is difficult to tell. If he had
acted according to his first and perhaps most
generous impulse, the matter would soon have
been decided; but he was all the time possessed
of a vague fear of acting dishonorably, and it
was probably this very fear which made him do
what, to the minds of those whose friendship
and hospitality he had accepted, had something
of the appearance he wished so carefully to
avoid. Aasa was rich; he had nothing; it was
a reason for delay, but hardly a conclusive one.
They did not know him; he must go out in the
world and prove himself worthy of her. He
would come back when he should have compelled
the world to respect him; for as yet he had done
nothing. In fact, his arguments were good and
honorable enough, and there would have been
no fault to find with him, had the object of his
love been as capable of reasoning as he was
himself. But Aasa, poor thing, could do nothing
by halves; a nature like hers brooks no delay;
to her love was life or it was death.
The next morning he appeared at breakfast
with his knapsack on his back, and otherwise
equipped for his journey. It was of no use that
Elsie cried and begged him to stay, that Lage
joined his prayers to hers, and that Aasa stood
staring at him with a bewildered gaze. Vigfusson
shook hands with them all, thanked them for their
kindness to him, and promised to return;
he held Aasa's hand long in his, but when
he released it, it dropped helplessly at her side.
Far up in the glen, about a mile from Kvaerk,
ran a little brook; that is, it was little in summer
and winter, but in the spring, while the snow
was melting up in the mountains, it overflowed
the nearest land and turned the whole glen into
a broad and shallow river. It was easy to cross,
however; a light foot might jump from stone to
stone, and be over in a minute. Not the hind
herself could be lighter on her foot than Aasa
was; and even in the spring-flood it was her
wont to cross and recross the brook, and to sit
dreaming on a large stone against which the
water broke incessantly, rushing in white
torrents over its edges.
Here she sat one fair summer day--the day
after Vigfusson's departure. It was noon, and
the sun stood high over the forest. The water
murmured and murmured, babbled and whispered,
until at length there came a sudden unceasing
tone into its murmur, then another, and
it sounded like a faint whispering song of small
airy beings. And as she tried to listen, to fix
the air in her mind, it all ceased again, and she
heard but the monotonous murmuring of the
brook. Everything seemed so empty and
worthless, as if that faint melody had been the
world of the moment. But there it was again;
it sung and sung, and the birch overhead took
up the melody and rustled it with its leaves, and
the grasshopper over in the grass caught it and
whirred it with her wings. The water, the trees,
the air, were full of it. What a strange melody!
Aasa well knew that every brook and river
has its Neck, besides hosts of little water-sprites.
She had heard also that in the moonlight at
midsummer, one might chance to see them
rocking in bright little shells, playing among
the pebbles, or dancing on the large leaves of
the water-lily. And that they could sing also,
she doubted not; it was their voices she heard
through the murmuring of the brook. Aasa
eagerly bent forward and gazed down into the
water: the faint song grew louder, paused
suddenly, and sprang into life again; and its sound
was so sweet, so wonderfully alluring! Down
there in the water, where a stubborn pebble
kept chafing a precipitous little side current,
clear tiny pearl-drops would leap up from the
stream, and float half-wonderingly downward
from rapid to rapid, until they lost themselves
in the whirl of some stronger current. Thus
sat Aasa and gazed and gazed, and in one moment
she seemed to see what in the next moment
she saw not. Then a sudden great hush stole
through the forest, and in the hush she could
hear the silence calling her name. It was so
long since she had been in the forest, it seemed
ages and ages ago. She hardly knew herself;
the light seemed to be shining into her eyes as
with a will and purpose, perhaps to obliterate
something, some old dream or memory, or to
impart some new power--the power of seeing
the unseen. And this very thought, this fear of
some possible loss, brought the fading memory
back, and she pressed her hands against her
throbbing temples as if to bind and chain it
there forever; and it was he to whom her
thought returned. She heard his voice, saw
him beckoning to her to follow him, and she
rose to obey, but her limbs were as petrified,
and the stone on which she was sitting held her
with the power of a hundred strong arms. The
sunshine smote upon her eyelids, and his name
was blotted out from her life; there was nothing
but emptiness all around her. Gradually
the forest drew nearer and nearer, the water
bubbled and rippled, and the huge, barestemmed
pines stretched their long gnarled
arms toward her. The birches waved their
heads with a wistful nod, and the profile of the
rock grew into a face with a long, hooked nose,
and a mouth half open as if to speak. And the
word that trembled on his lips was, "Come."
She felt no fear nor reluctance, but rose to obey.
Then and not until then she saw an old man
standing at her side; his face was the face of
the rock, his white beard flowed to his girdle,
and his mouth was half open, but no word
came from his lips. There was something in
the wistful look of his eye which she knew so
well, which she had seen so often, although she
could not tell when or where. The old man
extended his hand; Aasa took it, and fearlessly
or rather spontaneously followed. They
approached the steep, rocky wall; as they drew
near, a wild, fierce laugh rang through the
forest. The features of the old man were twisted
as it were into a grin; so also were the features
of the rock; but the laugh blew like a mighty
blast through the forest.
Aasa clung to the old man's hand and followed
him--she knew not whither.
At home in the large sitting-room at Kvaerk
sat Lage, brooding over the wreck of his hopes
and his happiness. Aasa had gone to the woods
again the very first day after Vigfusson's
departure. What would be the end of all this?
It was already late in the evening, and she had
not returned. The father cast anxious glances
toward the door, every time he heard the latch
moving. At last, when it was near midnight, he
roused all his men from their sleep, and
commanded them to follow him. Soon the dusky
forests resounded far and near with the blast
of horns, the report of guns, and the calling and
shouting of men. The affrighted stag crossed
and recrossed the path of the hunters, but not a
rifle was leveled at its head. Toward morning--
it was before the sun had yet risen--Lage,
weary and stunned, stood leaning up against a
huge fir. Then suddenly a fierce, wild laugh
rang through the forest. Lage shuddered,
raised his hand slowly and pressed it hard
against his forehead, vainly struggling to clear
his thoughts. The men clung fearfully
together; a few of the more courageous ones drew
their knives and made the sign of the cross with
them in the air. Again the same mad laugh
shook the air, and swept over the crowns of the
pine-trees. Then Lage lifted his eyes toward
heaven and wrung his hands: for the awful
truth stood before him. He remained a long
while leaning against that old fir as in a dead
stupor; and no one dared to arouse him. A
suppressed murmur reached the men's ears.
"But deliver us from evil" were the last words
they heard.
When Lage and his servants came home to
Kvaerk with the mournful tidings of Aasa's
disappearance, no one knew what to do or say.
There could be no doubt that Aasa was "mountaintaken,"
as they call it; for there were Trolds
and dwarfs in all the rocks and forests round
about, and they would hardly let slip the chance
of alluring so fair a maiden as Aasa was into
their castles in the mountains. Elsie, her
mother, knew a good deal about the Trolds,
their tricks, and their way of living, and when
she had wept her fill, she fell to thinking of
the possibility of regaining her daughter from
their power. If Aasa had not yet tasted of food
or drink in the mountain, she was still out of
danger; and if the pastor would allow the
church-bell to be brought up into the forest and
rung near the rock where the laugh had been
heard, the Trolds could be compelled to give
her back. No sooner had this been suggested
to Lage, than the command was given to muster
the whole force of men and horses, and before
evening on the same day the sturdy swains of
Kvaerk were seen climbing the tower of the
venerable church, whence soon the huge old bell
descended, to the astonishment of the throng
of curious women and children who had flocked
together to see the extraordinary sight. It was
laid upon four large wagons, which had been
joined together with ropes and planks, and
drawn away by twelve strong horses. Long
after the strange caravan had vanished in the
twilight, the children stood gazing up into the
empty bell-tower.
It was near midnight, when Lage stood at the
steep, rocky wall in the forest; the men were
laboring to hoist the church-bell up to a staunch
cross-beam between two mighty fir-trees, and
in the weird light of their torches, the wild
surroundings looked wilder and more fantastic.
Anon, the muffled noise and bustle of the work
being at an end, the laborers withdrew, and a
strange, feverish silence seemed to brood over
the forest. Lage took a step forward, and
seized the bell-rope; the clear, conquering toll
of the metal rung solemnly through the silence,
and from the rocks, the earth, and the treetops,
rose a fierce chorus of howls, groans, and
screams. All night the ringing continued; the
old trees swayed to and fro, creaked, and
groaned, the roots loosened their holds in the
fissures of the rock, and the bushy crowns
bowed low under their unwonted burden.
It was well-nigh morn, but the dense fog still
brooded over the woods, and it was dark as
night. Lage was sitting on the ground, his
head leaning on both his elbows; at his side lay
the flickering torch, and the huge bell hung
dumb overhead. In the dark he felt a hand
touch his shoulder; had it happened only a few
hours before, he would have shuddered; now
the physical sensation hardly communicated
itself to his mind, or, if it did, had no power to
rouse him from his dead, hopeless apathy.
Suddenly--could he trust his own ears?--the
church-bell gave a slow, solemn, quivering
stroke, and the fogs rolled in thick masses to
the east and to the west, as if blown by the
breath of the sound. Lage seized his torch,
sprang to his feet, and saw--Vigfusson. He
stretched his arm with the blazing torch closer
to the young man's face, stared at him with
large eyes, and his lip quivered; but he could
not utter a word.
"Vigfusson?" faltered he at last.
"It is I;" and the second stroke followed,
stronger and more solemn than the first. The
same fierce, angry voices chorused forth from
every nook of the rock and the woods. Then
came the third--the noise grew; fourth--and it
sounded like a hoarse, angry hiss; when the
twelfth stroke fell, silence reigned again in the
forest. Vigfusson dropped the bell-rope, and
with a loud voice called Lage Kvaerk and his
men. He lit a torch, held it aloft over his head,
and peered through the dusky night. The men
spread through the highlands to search for the
lost maiden; Lage followed close in Vigfusson's
footsteps. They had not walked far when they
heard the babbling of the brook only a few feet
away. Thither they directed their steps. On
a large stone in the middle of the stream the
youth thought he saw something white, like a
large kerchief. Quick as thought he was at
its side, bowed down with his torch, and--fell
backward. It was Aasa, his beloved, cold and
dead; but as the father stooped over his dead
child the same mad laugh echoed wildly throughout
the wide woods, but madder and louder
than ever before, and from the rocky wall came
a fierce, broken voice:
"I came at last."
When, after an hour of vain search, the men
returned to the place whence they had started,
they saw a faint light flickering between the
birches not fifty feet away; they formed a firm
column, and with fearful hearts drew nearer.
There lay Lage Kvaerk, their master, still
bending down over his child's pale features, and
staring into her sunken eyes as if he could not
believe that she were really dead. And at his
side stood Vigfusson, pale and aghast, with the
burning torch in his hand. The footsteps of
the men awakened the father, but when he
turned his face on them they shuddered and
started back. Then Lage rose, lifted the maiden
from the stone, and silently laid her in
Vigfusson's arms; her rich yellow hair flowed down
over his shoulder. The youth let his torch fall
into the waters, and with a sharp, serpent-like
hiss its flame was quenched. He crossed the
brook; the men followed, and the dark pine-trees
closed over the last descendant of Lage Ulfson's
mighty race.

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