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Title: Strife and Peace
Author: Fredrika Bremer
Release Date: December 21, 2006 [eBook #20156]
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
***START OF THE PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK STRIFE AND PEACE***
HENRY G. BOHN, YORK STREET, COVENT GARDEN.
|THE POULTRY. THE WATER OF STRIFE.|
|A MAY DAY.|
|MAN AND WIFE.|
|A FRESH STRIFE.|
|AN EVENING IN THE SITTING-ROOM.|
|RETREATING AND ADVANCING.|
|A GLANCE INTO NORDLAND.|
|THE MOUNTAIN JOURNEY.|
|THE LAST STRIFE.|
Still the old tempests rage around the mountains,
And ocean's billows as of old appear;
The roaring wood and the resounding fountains
Time has not silenced in his long career,
For Nature is the same as ever.
The shadow of God wanders through Nature.
Before yet a song of joy or of mourning had gone forth from the valleys of Norway—before yet a smoke-wreath had ascended from its huts—before an axe had felled a tree of its woods—before yet king Nor burst forth from Jotunhem to seek his lost sister, and passing through the land gave to it his name; nay, before yet there was a Norwegian, stood the high Dovre mountains with snowy summits before the face of the Creator.
Westward stretches itself out the gigantic mountain chain as far as Romsdahlshorn, whose foot is bathed by the Atlantic ocean. Southward it forms under various names (Langfjeld, Sognefjeld, Filefjeld, Hardangerfjeld, and so forth), that stupendous mountainous district which in a stretch of a hundred and fifty geographical miles comprehends all that nature possesses of magnificent, fruitful, lovely, and charming. Here stands yet, as in the first days of the world, in Upper Tellemark, the Fjellstuga, or rock-house, built by an invisible hand, and whose icy walls and towers that hand alone can overthrow: here still, as in the morning of time, meet together at Midsummer, upon the snowy foreheads of the ancient mountains, the rose-tint of morning and the rose-tint of evening for a brotherly kiss; still roar as then the mountain torrents which hurl themselves into the abyss; still reflect [Pg 2]the ice-mirrors of the glaciers the same objects—now delighting, now awakening horror; and still to-day, even as then, are there Alpine tracts which the foot of man never ascended: valleys of wood, "lonesome cells of nature," upon which only the eagle and the Midsummer-sun have looked down. Here is the old, ever young, Norway; here the eye of the beholder is astonished, but his heart expands itself; he forgets his own suffering, his own joy, forgets all that is trivial, whilst with a holy awe he has a feeling that "the shadow of God wanders through nature."
In the heart of Norway lies this country. Is the soul wearied with the tumults of the world or fatigued with the trifles of poor every-day life—is it depressed by the confined atmosphere of the room,—with the dust of books, the dust of company, or any other kind of dust (there are in the world so many kinds, and they all cover the soul with a great dust mantle); or is she torn by deep consuming passions,—then fly, fly towards the still heart of Norway, listen there to the fresh mighty throbbing of the heart of nature; alone with the quiet, calm, and yet so eloquent, objects of nature, and there wilt thou gain strength and life! There falls no dust. Fresh and clear stand the thoughts of life there, as in the days of their creation. "Wilt thou behold the great and the majestic? Behold the Gausta, which raises its colossal knees six thousand feet above the surface of the earth; behold the wild giant forms of Hurrungen, Fannarauken, Mugnafjeld; behold the Rjukan (the rushing), the Vöring, and Vedal rivers foaming and thundering over the mountains and plunging down in the abysses! And wilt though delight thyself in the charming, the beautiful? They exist among these fruitful scenes in peaceful solitude. The Säter-hut stands in the narrow valley; herds of cattle graze on the beautiful grassy meadows; the Säter-maiden, with fresh-colour, blue eyes, and bright plaits of hair, tends them and sings the while the simple, the gentle melancholy airs of the country; and like a mirror for that charming picture, there lies in the middle of the valley a little lake (kjœrn), deep, still, and of a clear blue colour, as is generally peculiar to the glacier water. All breathes an idyllian peace."
But a presentiment of death appears, even in the morning hour of creation, to have impressed its seal upon this country.[Pg 3] The vast shadows of the dark mountain masses fall upon valleys where nothing but moss grows; upon lakes whose still waters are full of never-melted ice—thus the Cold Valley, the Cold Lake (Koledal and Koldesjö), with their dead, grey-yellow shores. The stillness of death reigns in this wilderness, interrupted only by the thunderings of the avalanche and by the noise which occasions the motion of the glaciers. No bird moves its wings or raises its twittering in this sorrowful region; only the melodious sighs of the cuckoo are borne thither by the winds at Midsummer.
Wilt thou, however, see life in its pomp and fairest magnificence? Then see the embrace of the winter and the summer in old Norway; descend into the plain of Svalem, behold the valleys of Aamaadt and Sillejord, or the paradisaically beautiful Vestfjordal, through which the Mån flows still and clear as a mirror, and embraces in its course little, bright green islands, which are overgrown with bluebells and sweet-scented wood-lilies; see how the silver stream winds itself down from the mountains, between groups of trees and fruitful fields; see how, behind the near hills with their leafy woods, the snow-mountains elevate themselves, and like worthy patriarchs look down upon a younger generation; observe in these valleys the morning and evening play of colours upon the heights, in the depths; see the affluent pomp of the storm; see the calm magnificence of the rainbow, as it vaults itself over the waterfall,—depressed spirit, see this, understand it, and—— breathe!
From these beautifully, universally known scenes we withdraw ourselves to a more unknown region, to the great stretch of valley where the Skogshorn rears itself to the clouds; where Urunda flows brightly between rocks,—the waterfalls of Djupadahl stream not the less charmingly and proudly because they are only rarely admired by the eyes of curious travellers. We set ourselves down in a region whose name and situation we counsel nobody to seek out in maps, and which we call[Pg 4]—
Knowest thou the deep, cool dale,
Where church-like stillness doth prevail;
Where neither flock nor herd you meet;
Which hath no name nor track of feet?
Heimdal, we call a branch of Hallingdal, misplace it in the parish of Aal, and turn it over to the learned—that they may wonder at our boldness. Like its mother valley it possesses no historical memories. Of the old kings of Hallingdal one knows but very little. Only a few monumental stones, a few burial-mounds, give a dim intelligence of the mighty who have been. It is true that a people dwelt here, who from untold ages were renowned as well for their simplicity and their contentedness under severe circumstances as for their wild contest-loving disposition; but still, in quiet as in unquiet, built and dwelt, lived and died here, without tumult and without glory, among the ancient mountains and the pine-woods, unobserved by the rest of the world.
One river, the son of Hallen-Jokul, flows through Heimdal. Foaming with wild rage it comes through the narrow mountain-pass down into the valley, finds there a freer field, becomes calm, and flows clear as a mirror between green shores, till its banks become again compressed together by granite mountains. Then is it again seized upon by disquiet, and rushes thence in wild curves till it flings itself into the great Hallingdal river, and there dies.
Exactly there, where the stream spreads itself out in the extended valley, lies a large estate. A well-built, but somewhat decayed, dwelling-house of wood stretches out its arms into the depths of the valley. Thence may be seen a beautiful prospect, far, far into the blue distance. Hills overgrown with, wood stretch upward from the river, and cottages surrounded with inclosed fields and beautiful grassy paths, lie scattered at the foot of the hills. On the other side of the river, a mile-and-half from the Grange, a chapel raises its peaceful tower. Beyond this the valley gradually contracts itself.
On a cool September evening, strangers arrived at the Grange, which had now been long uninhabited. It was an[Pg 5] elderly lady, of a noble but gloomy exterior, in deep mourning. A young, blooming maiden accompanied her. They were received by a young man, who was called there "the Steward." The dark-appareled lady vanished in the house, and after that was seen nowhere in the valley for several months. They called her there "the Colonel's lady," and said Mrs. Astrid Hjelm had experienced a very strange fate, of which many various histories were in circulation. At the estate of Semb, which consisted of the wide-stretching valley of Heimdal, and which was her paternal heritage, had she never, since the time of her marriage, been seen. Now as widow she had again sought out the home of her childhood. It was known also and told, that her attendant was a Swedish girl, who had come with her from one of the Swedish watering-places, where she had been spending the summer, in order to superintend her housekeeping; and it was said, that Susanna Björk ruled as excellently as with sovereign sway over the economical department, over the female portion of the same, Larina the parlour-maid, Karina the kitchen-maid, and Petro the cook, as well as over the farm-servants Mathea, Budeja, and Göran the cattle-boy, together with all their subjects of the four-footed and two-legged races. We will now with these last make a little nearer acquaintance.
The morning was clear and fresh. The September sun shone into the valley; smoke rose from the cottages. The ladies-mantle, on whose fluted cups bright pearls trembled; the silver-weed, with its yellow flowers and silver glittering leaves, shone in the morning sun beside the footpath, which wound along the moss-grown feet of the backs of the mountains. It conducted to a spring of the clearest water, which after it had filled its basin, allowed its playful vein to run murmuring down to the river.[Pg 6]
To this spring, on that beautiful morning, went down Susanna Björk, and there followed her "cocks and hens, and chickens small."
Before her waddled with consequential gabblings a flock of geese, which were all snow-white, excepting one—a grey gander. This one tottered with a desponding look a little behind the others, compelled to this by a tyrant among the white flock, which, as soon as the grey one attempted to approach, drove it back with outstretched neck and yelling cries. The grey gander always fled before the white tyrant; but bald places upon the head and neck proved that he had not come into this depressed condition, without those severe combats having made evident the fruitlessness of protestation. Not one of the goose madams troubled herself about the ill-used gander, and for that reason Susanna all the more zealously took upon herself, with delicate morsels and kind words, to console him for the injustice of his race. After the geese, came the well-meaning but awkward ducks; the turkey-cock, with his choleric temper and his two foolish wives, one white and the other black; lastly, came the unquiet generation of hens, with their handsome, quarrel-loving cocks. The prettiest of all, however, were a flock of pigeons which, confidingly and bashfully at the same time, now alighted down upon Susanna's shoulders and outstretched hand; now flew aloft and wheeled in glittering circles around her head; then settled down again upon the earth, where they neatly tripped, with their little fringed feet, stealing down to the spring to drink, whilst the geese with great tumult bathed themselves in the water and splashed about, throwing the water in pearly rain over the grass. Here also was the grey gander, to Susanna's great vexation, compelled by the white one to bathe itself at a distance from the others.
Susanna looked around her upon the beautiful richly-coloured picture which lay before her, upon the little creatures which played around her and enjoyed themselves, and evident delight beamed from her eyes as she raised them, and with hands pressed together, said softly, "O heavens! how beautiful!"
But she shrunk together in terror, for in that very moment a strong voice just beside her broke forth[Pg 7]—
"How glorious is my fatherland,
The old sea-circled Norroway!"
And the steward, Harald Bergman, greeted smilingly Susanna, who said rather irritated—
"You scream so, that you frighten the doves with your old Norroway."
"Yes," continued Harald, in the same tone of inspiration—
"Yes, glorious is my fatherland,
The ancient, rock-bound Norroway;
With flowery dale, crags old and grey,
That spite of time eternal stand!"
"Old Norway," said Susanna as before; "I consider it a positive shame to hear you talk of your old Norway, as if it were older and more everlasting than the Creator himself!"
"And where in all the world," exclaimed Harald, "do you find a country with such a proud, serious people; such magnificent rivers, and such high, high mountains?"
"We have, thank God, men and mountains also in Sweden," said Susanna; "you should only see them; that is another kind of thing!"
"Another kind of thing! What other kind of thing? I will wager that there is not a single goose in Sweden which could compare with our excellent Norway geese."
"No, not one, but a thousand, and all larger and fatter than these. Everything in Sweden is larger and more excellent than in Norway."
"Larger? The people are decidedly smaller and weaker."
"Weaker? smaller? you should only see the people in Uddevalla, my native city!"
"How can anybody be born in Uddevalla? Does anybody really live in that city? How can anybody live in it? It is a shame to live in such a city; it is a shame also only to drive through it. It is so miserably small, that when the wheels of the travelling-carriage are at one end, the horse has already put his head out at the other. Do not talk about Uddevalla!"
"No, with you it certainly is not worth while to talk about it, because you have never seen anything else besides Norwegian villages, and cannot, on that account, form any idea to yourself of a proper Swedish city."
"Defend me from ever seeing such cities—defend me![Pg 8] And then your Swedish lakes! what wretched puddles they are, beside our glorious Norwegian ocean!"
"Puddles! Our lakes! Great enough to drown the whole of Norway in!"
"Ha, ha, ha! And the whole of Sweden is beside our Norwegian ocean no bigger than my cap! And this ocean would incessantly flow over Sweden, did not our Norway magnanimously defend it with its granite breast."
"Sweden defends itself, and needs no other help! Sweden is a fine country!"
"Not half as fine as Norway. Norway reaches heaven with its mountains; Norway comes nearest to the Creator."
"Norway may well be presumptuous, but God loves Sweden the best."
"Norway, say I!"
"Sweden, say I!"
"Norway! Norway for ever! We will see whose throw goes the highest, who wins for his country. Norway first and highest!" and with this, Harald threw a stone high into the air.
"Sweden first and last!" exclaimed Susanna, whilst she slung a stone with all her might.
Fate willed it that the two stones struck against each other in the air, after which they both fell with a great plump down into the spring around which the small creatures had assembled themselves. The geese screamed; the hens and ducks flew up in terror; the turkey-hens flew into the wood, where the turkey-cock followed them, forgetting all his dignity; all the doves had vanished in a moment,—and with crimsoned cheeks and violent contention as to whose stone went the highest, stood Harald and Susanna alone beside the agitated and muddied water of discord.
The moment is perhaps not the most auspicious, but yet we will make use of it, in order to give a slight sketch of the two contending persons.
Harald Bergman had speaking, somewhat sharp features, in which an expression of great gravity could easily be exchanged for one of equal waggery. The dark hair fell in graceful waves over a brow in which one saw that clear thought was entertained. His figure was finely proportioned, and his movements showed great freedom and vigour.[Pg 9]
He had been brought up in a respectable family, had enjoyed a careful education, and was regarded by friends and acquaintances as a young man of extraordinary promise. Just as he had left the S. seminary, and was intending a journey into foreign countries, in order to increase still more his knowledge of agriculture, chance brought him acquainted with the widow of Colonel Hjelm, at the time in which she was returning to her native country, and in consequence thereof he altered his plans. In a letter to his sister, he expresses himself on this subject in the following manner:
"I cannot properly describe to you, Alette, the impression which she made upon me. I might describe to you her tall growth, her noble bearing, her countenance, where, spite of many wrinkles and a pale-yellow complexion, traces of great beauty are incontrovertible; the lofty forehead, around which black locks sprinkled with grey, press forth from beneath her simple cap. I might tell of her deep, serious eyes, of her low and yet solemn voice; and yet thou couldst form to thyself no representation of that which makes her so uncommon. I have been told that her life has been as much distinguished by exemplary virtue as by suffering—and virtue and suffering have called forth in her a quiet greatness, a greatness which is never attained to by the favourites of fortune and of nature, which stamps her whole being. She seemed to me as if all the frivolities of the world passed by her unremarked. I felt for her an involuntary reverence, such as I had never felt before for any human being; and at the same time a great desire to approach her more nearly, to be useful to her, to deserve, and to win her esteem—it seemed to me that I should thereby become somewhat greater, or at least better; and as I was informed that she sought for a clever and experienced steward for her sorely decayed estate, I offered myself as such, in all modesty, or rather without any; and when accepted, I felt an almost childish joy, and set off immediately to her estate, that I might make myself at home there, and have everything in readiness to receive her."
Thus much for Harald, now for Susanna.
Barbara Susanna Björk was not handsome, could not be even called pretty (for that, she was too large and strong),[Pg 10] but she was good-looking. The blue eyes looked so honestly and openly into the world; the round and full face testified health, kindness, and good spirits; and when Susanna was merry, when the rosy lips opened themselves for a hearty laugh, it made any one right glad only to look at her. But true is it, that she was very often in an ill humour, and then she did not look at all charming. She was a tall, well-made girl, too powerful in movement ever to be called graceful, and her whole being betrayed a certain want of refinement.
Poor child! how could she have obtained this in the home abounding in disorder, poverty, and vanity, in which the greater part of her life had been passed.
Her father was the Burgomaster of Uddevalla; her mother died in the infancy of her daughter. Soon afterwards an aunt came into the house, who troubled herself only about the housekeeping and her coffee-drinking acquaintance, left her brother himself to seek for his pleasures at the club, and the child to take care of herself. The education of the little Susanna consisted in this, that she learned of necessity to read, and that when she was naughty they said to her, "Is Barbra there again? Fie, for shame, Barbra! Get out, Barbra!" and when she was good again, it was, "See now, Sanna is here again! Welcome, sweet Sanna!" A method which certainly was not without its good points, if it had only been wisely applied. But often was the little girl talked to as "Barbra" when there was no occasion for it, and this had often the effect of calling forth the said personage. In the mean time, she was accustomed as a child to go out as Barbra, and to come in again as Sanna, and this gave her early an idea of the two natures which existed in her, as they exist in every person. This idea attained to perfect clearness in Susanna's religious instruction,—the only instruction which poor Susanna ever had. But how infinitely rich is such instruction for an ingenuous mind, when it is instilled by a good teacher. Susanna was fortunate enough to have such a one, and she now became acquainted in Barbra with the earthly demon which should be overcome in Sanna, the child of heaven, which makes free and enlightens; and from this time there began between Barbra and Sanna an open strife, which daily occurred, and in which the latter, for the most part, got the upper hand, if[Pg 11] Susanna was not too suddenly surprised by a naturally proud and violent temper.
When Susanna had attained her twelfth year her father married a second time, but became a second time a widower, after his wife had presented him with a daughter. Two months after this he died also. Near relations took charge of the orphan children. In this new home Susanna learned to—bear hardships; for there, as she was strong and tall, and besides that made herself useful, and was kind-hearted, they made her soon the servant of the whole house. The daughters of the family said that she was fit for nothing else, for she could learn nothing, and had such unrefined manners; and besides that, she had been taken out of charity; she had nothing, and so on: all which they made her feel many a time in no gentle manner, and over which Susanna shed many bitter tears both of pain and anger. One mouth, however, there was which never addressed to Susanna other tones than those of affectionate love, and this was the mouth of the little sister, the little golden-haired Hulda. She had found in Susanna's arms her cradle, and in her care that of the tenderest mother. For from Hulda's birth Susanna had taken the little forlorn one to herself, and never had loved a young mother her first-born child more warmly or more deeply than Susanna loved her little Hulda, who also, under her care, became the loveliest and the most amiable child that ever was seen. And woe to those who did any wrong to the little Hulda! They had to experience the whole force of Susanna's often strong-handed displeasure. For her sake Susanna passed here several years of laborious servitude: as she, however, saw no end to this, yet was scarcely able to dress herself and her sister befittingly, and besides this was prevented by the multitude of her occupations from bestowing upon her sister that care which she required, therefore Susanna, in her twentieth year, looked about her for a better situation.
From the confined situation in which Susanna spent such a weary life, she was able to see one tree behind a fence, which stretched out its branches over the street. Many a spring and summer evening, when the rest of the inhabitants of the house were abroad on parties of pleasure, sate Susanna quietly by the little slumbering Hulda, within the little[Pg 12] chamber which she had fitted up for herself and her sister, and observed with quiet melancholy from her window the green tree, whose twigs and leaves waved and beckoned so kindly and invitingly in the wind.
By degrees the green leaves beckoned into her soul thoughts and plans, which eventually fashioned themselves into a determined form, or rather an estate, whose realisation from this time forth became the paradise of her soul and the object of her life. This estate was a little farm in the country, which Susanna would rent, and cultivate, and make profitable by her own industry and her own management. She planted potatoes; she milked cows and made butter; she sowed, she reaped; and the labour was to her a delight; for there, upon the soft grass, under the green, waving tree, sate the little Hulda, and played with flowers, and her blue eyes beamed with happiness, and no care and no want came near her.
All Susanna's thoughts and endeavours directed themselves to the realising of this idea. The next step towards it was the obtaining a good service, in which, by saving her wages, she could obtain a sum of money sufficient to commence her rural undertaking. Susanna flattered herself, that in a few years she could bring her scheme to bear, and therefore made inquiries after a suitable situation.
There were this year among the visitors at the watering-place of Gustafsberg, which lay near to Uddevalla, a Norwegian Colonel and his lady. He was lame from a paralytic stroke, and had lost the use of his speech and of his hands. He was a large man, of a fierce, stern exterior; and although he seemed to endure nobody near him but his wife, and perpetually demanded her care, still it was evidently not out of love. And although his wife devoted herself unweariedly and self-denyingly to his service, still this evidently was not from love either, but from some other extraordinary power. Her own health was visibly deeply affected, and violent spasms often attacked her breast; but night or day, whenever it was his will to rise, it was her patient, bowed neck around which his arm was laid. She stood by his side, and supported him in the cold shower-bath, which was intended to re-awaken his dormant power of life, at the same time that it destroyed hers. She was ever there, always firm and[Pg 13] active, seldom speaking, and never complaining. By the painful contraction of her countenance alone, and by the peculiarity of laying her hand upon her heart, it could be seen that she suffered. Susanna had an opportunity of seeing all this, and admiration and sympathy filled her breast. Before long she was fortunate enough to assist the noble lady, to offer to her her strong youthful arm as support, and to watch over the sick man when his wife was compelled to close her eyes from fatigue. And fortunately the invalid endured her. Susanna was witness of the last horrible scenes by the death-bed of the Colonel. He seemed to make violent efforts to say something, but—he could not. Then he made signs that he wished to write something; but his fingers could not hold the pen. Then presented itself a horrible disquiet on his distorted features. With that his wife bowed herself over him, and with an expression of the greatest anxiety, seized one of his hands and whispered—"Give me only a sign, as answer! Tell me! Tell me! does he yet live?"
The sick man riveted upon her a strong gaze, and—bowed his head. Was this an assenting answer, or was it the hand of death which forbad an answer? No one could tell, for he never again raised his head. It was his last movement.
For many days afterwards a quick succession of spasmodic attacks seemed to threaten the widowed lady with approaching death. Susanna watched incessantly beside her, and felt herself happy in being able to watch over her and to serve her. Susanna had conceived an almost passionate devotion for Mrs. Astrid; such as young girls often feel for elderly, distinguished women, to whom they look up as to the ideal of their sex. And when Mrs. Astrid returned to Norway, Susanna kissed with tears her little Hulda, but yet felt herself happy to follow such a mistress, and to serve her in the rural solitude to which she betook herself. Susanna journeyed to the foreign country, but retained deep in her heart her little Hulda and her life's plan.[Pg 14]
Did ye but feel, O stars! who see
The whole earth's silent misery,
Then never would your glances rest
With such calm radiance on her breast.
As Susanna withdrew from Harald, and from the water of discord, she was quite in an excited and bad temper; but as soon however as she approached the wing of the house which Mrs. Astrid inhabited, she became calmer. She looked up to her window, and saw there her noble but gloomy profile. It was bent down, and her head seemed as it were depressed by dark thoughts. At this sight, Susanna forgot all her own ill humour. "Oh!" sighed she, "if I could only make her happier!"
This was Susanna's daily subject of thought, but it became to her every day a darker riddle. Mrs. Astrid appeared to be indifferent to everything around her here. Never did she give an order about anything in the house, but let Susanna scold there and govern just as she would. Susanna took all the trouble she could to provide the table of her mistress with everything good and delicious which lay in her power; but to her despair the lady ate next to nothing, and never appeared to notice whether it was prepared well or ill.
Now before Susanna went into the house, she gathered several of the most beautiful flowers which the autumn frost had spared, made a nosegay of them, and with these in her hand stept softly into Mrs. Astrid's room.
"Bowed with grief," is the expression which describes Mrs. Astrid's whole being. The sickly paleness of her noble countenance, the depressed seldom-raised eyelids, the inanimate languor of her movements, the gloomy indifference in which her soul seemed to be wrapped,—like her body in its black mourning habiliments, when she sate for hours in her easy-chair, often without occupation, the head bowed down upon the breast; all this indicated a soul which was severely fettered by long suffering.
Suffering in the north has its own peculiar character. In the south it burns and consumes. In the north it kills slowly; it freezes, it petrifies by degrees. This has been[Pg 15] acknowledged for untold ages, when our forefathers sought for images of that which they felt to be the most terrible in life; thus originated the fable of the subterranean dwelling of Hela, of the terrors of the shore of corpses—in one word, the "Hell of the North, with its infinite, treeless wildernesses; with cold, darkness, mist, clammy rivers, chill, distilling poison, cities resembling clouds filled with rain, feetless hobgoblins," and so on.
In the Grecian Tartarian dance of the Furies there is life and wild strength, there is in its madness a certain intoxication which deprives it of its feeling of deep misery. The heart revolts not so much from these pictures of terror, as from the cold, clammy, dripping ones which the chill north exhibits—ah! not alone in poetry.
As Susanna entered the apartment of Mrs. Astrid, she found her sitting, as usual, sunk in deep melancholy. Upon a table before her lay paper and pens, and a book, in which she appeared to have been reading. It was the Bible; it lay open at the book of Job, and the following passages were underlined:
My soul is weary of my life, for my days are vanity.
Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards.
Mrs. Astrid's eyes were riveted upon these last words, as Susanna softly, and with a warm heart, approached her, and with a cordial "Ah! be so good," presented to her the nosegay.
The lady looked up at the flowers, and an expression of pain passed over her countenance as she turned away her head and said, "They are beautiful, but keep them, Susanna, they are painful to my eyes."
She resumed her former position, and Susanna, much troubled, drew back; after a short silence, however, she again ventured to raise her voice, and said, "We have got to-day a beautiful salmon-trout, will you not, Mrs. Astrid, have it for dinner? Perhaps with egg-sauce, and perhaps I might roast a duck, or a chicken——"
"Do whatever you like, Susanna," said the lady, interrupting her, and with indifference. But there was something so sorrowful in this indifference, that Susanna, who had again approached her, could not contain herself; she[Pg 16] quickly threw herself before her mistress, clasped her knees, and said:
"Ah, if I could only do something to please my lady; if I could only do something."
But Susanna's warm glance, beaming with devotion, met one so dark, that she involuntarily started back.
"Susanna," said Mrs. Astrid, as with gloomy seriousness she laid her hand upon her shoulder and gently put her back, "gratify me in one thing, attach not thyself to me. It will not lead to good. I have no attachment to give—my heart is dead! Go, my child," continued she more kindly, "go, and do not trouble thyself about me. My wish, the only good thing for me, is to be alone."
Susanna went now, her heart filled with the most painful feelings. "Not trouble myself about her!" said she to herself, as she wiped away a tear; "not trouble myself about her, as if that were so easy."
After Susanna was gone, Mrs. Astrid threw a melancholy glance upon the papers which lay before her. She seized the pen, and laid it down again. She seemed to shudder at the thought of using it; at length she overcame herself, and wrote the following letter:
"You wish that I should write to you. I write for that reason; but what—what shall I say to you? My thanks for your letter, my paternal friend, the teacher of my youth; thanks that you wish to strengthen and elevate my soul. But I am old, bowed down, wearied, embittered—there dwells no strength, no living word more in my breast. My friend, it is too late—too late!
"You would raise my glance to heaven; but what is the glory of the sun to the eye that—sees no longer? What is the power of music to the deaf ear? What is all that is beautiful, all that is good in the world, to the heart that is dead, that is turned to stone in a long, severe captivity? Oh, my friend, I am unworthy of your consolation, of your refreshing words. My soul raises itself against them, and throws them from herself as 'words, words, words,' which have sounded beautifully and grandly for thousands of years, whilst thousands of souls are inconsolably speechless.
"Hope? I have hoped so long. I have already said to[Pg 17] myself so long, 'a better day comes! The path of duty conducts to the home of peace and light, be the way ever so full of thorns. Go only steadfastly forward, weary pilgrim, go, go, and thou wilt come to the holy land!' And I have gone—I have gone on through the long, weary day, for above thirty years; but the way stretches itself out farther and farther—my hopes have withered, have died away, the one after the other;—I see now no goal, none, but the grave! Love, love! Ah, if you knew what an inexpressibly bitter feeling this word awakens in me! Have I not loved, loved intensely? And what fruit has my love borne? It has broken my heart, and has brought unhappiness to those whom I loved. It is in vain that you would combat a belief which has taken deep root in me. I believe that there are human beings who are born and pre-ordained to misfortune, and who communicate misfortune to all who approach them, and I believe that I belong to these. Let me, therefore, fly from my kind, fly from every feeling which binds me to them. Why should I occasion more mischief than I have already done?
"Why do you desire me to write? I wish not to pour my bitterness into the heart of another; I wish to grieve no one, and—what have I now done?
"There is a silent combat which goes through the world, which is fought out in the reserved human heart, and at times—fearfully! It is the combat with evil and bitter thoughts. They are such thoughts as sometimes take expression, expression written in fire and blood. Then are they read before the judgment-seat and condemned. In many human hearts, however, they rage silently for long years; then are undermined by degrees, health, temper, love, faith, faith in life and faith in—a good God. With this sinks everything.
"Could I believe that my devoted, true pilgrimage by the side of a husband whom I once so tenderly loved, and for whose sake I dragged on life in the fortress of which he was the commander, in comparison of which the life of the condemned criminal is joy; whom I followed faithfully, though I no longer loved him, because it was needful to him; because, without me, he would have been given over to dark spirits—followed, because right and duty demanded it; be[Pg 18]cause I had promised it before God—Oh! could I believe that this fidelity had operated beneficially—that my endeavours had borne any fruit—I should not then, as now, ask 'why was I born? why have I lived?' But nothing, nothing!
"Could I think that on the other side of the grave I should meet the gentle loving look of my only sister—would I gladly die. But what should I reply to her, if she asked after her child of sorrow? How would she look upon the unfaithful protectress?
"Oh, my friend! My misfortune has nothing in common with that of romances, nothing with that of which most the deep shades only serve to set off the most beautiful lights. It is a wearisome winter twilight; which only conducts to a deeper night. And am I alone in this condition? Open the pages of history, look around you in the present day, and you will see a thousand-fold sufferings, unmerited sufferings, which, after a long agony lead—to despair. But another, a happier life! Only consolation, only hope, only true point of light in the darkness of earthly existence!—no, no! I will not abandon thee! I will trust in thee; and in this belief will be silenced the murmurings which so often arise against the Creator of the world.
"I am ill, and do not believe that I shall live over this winter. Breathing is difficult to me; and perhaps the inexpressible heaviness which burdens me may contribute to this torment. When I sit up sleepless in my bed through the long nights, and see the night in myself, behind me and before me, then dark, horrible phantasies surround me, and I often think that insanity, with ashy cheeks, stony and rigid gaze, approaches me, will darken my reason and bewilder my mind. How can I wish to live? When it is evening, I wish it were morning; and when it is morning, I wish that the day was over, and that it were again evening. Every hour is to me a burden and a torment.
"For this cause, my friend, pray God for me that I may soon die! Farewell! Perhaps I may write no more. But my last clear thought will be for you. Forgive the impatience, the bitterness, which shows itself in this letter. Pray for me, my friend and teacher, pray that I may be able to compose myself, and to pray yet before I die!"[Pg 19]
We're living a peculiar life,
With serious words and serious strife.
Whilst we leave the pale Mrs. Astrid alone with her dark thoughts, we are led by certain extraordinary discords to look around in
Harald found himself there for the purpose of tasting the new beer which Susanna had brewed; but before he had swallowed down a good draught, he said, with a horrible grimace, "It is good for nothing—good for nothing at all!"
Somewhat excited, Susanna made reply, "Perhaps you will also assert that Baroness Rosenhjelm's brewing-recipe is good for nothing!"
"That I assert decidedly. Does not she give coffee-parties? And a coffee-bibber is always a bad housewife; and as Baroness Rosenhjelm is a coffee-bibber, therefore——"
"I must tell you," interrupted Susanna, vehemently, "that it is unbecoming and profane of you to talk in this way of such an excellent lady, and a person of such high rank!"
"High! How high may she be?"
"A deal higher than you are, or ever can be, that I can assure you!"
"Higher than me! then of a certainty she goes on stilts. Now, I must say that is the very tip-top of gentility and politeness. One may forgive a lady giving coffee-parties, and decorating and dressing herself up, but to go on stilts, only on purpose to be higher than other folks, and to be able to look over their heads, that is coming it strong over us. How can such a high person ever come down low enough to brew good beer? But a Swedish woman can never brew good beer, for——"
"She will not brew a single drop for you abominable Norwegians, for you have neither reason, nor understanding, nor taste, nor——"[Pg 20]
Out of the brewhouse flew Susanna, in the highest indignation, throwing down a glass of beer which Harald had poured out during the contention for her, but which now would have gone right over if he had not saved it by a spring.
Towards the evening of the same day we see the contending parties again met in
"Are you yet angry?" asked Harald, jokingly, as he stretched in his head through the garret-door, where Susanna was sitting upon a flour-tub, as on a throne, with all the importance and dignity of a store-room queen, holding in her hand a sceptre of the world-famous sweet herbs—thyme, marjoram, and basil, which she was separating into little bundles, whilst she cast a searching glance around her well-ordered kingdom.
The bread-chests were heaped up, for she had just baked oaten-bread; bacon-sausages and hams hung full of gravy, from the roof, as well as great bundles of dried fish; little bags full of all kinds of vegetables stood in their appointed places, and so on.
Harald looked also around the garret, and truly with the eye of a connoisseur, and said, although he had yet received no answer to his question—
"It is certain that I never saw a better provided or better arranged store-room!"
Susanna would not exhibit one gleam of the pleasure she felt at this praise.
"But," continued Harald, "you must confess that it does not require so very much skill to preserve the store-room and cellar well supplied in a country so rich in all the good things of life as our Norway—
Well-beloved land, with heaven-high mountains,
Fruit-bearing valleys, and fish-giving shores!"
"Fish also have we, thank God, in Sweden," replied Susanna, drily.
"Oh, but not to compare with our fish! Or would you seriously set your perch and carp against our mackerel, herrings, haddocks, flounders, and all our unparalleled quantities of fish?"[Pg 21]
"All your Norwegian kind of fish I would give for one honest Swedish pike."
"A pike! Is there then in Sweden really nothing but pike?"
"In Sweden there are all kinds of fish that there are in Norway, and a great deal bigger and fatter."
"Yes, then they come from our coasts. We take what we want, and that which remains we let swim to Sweden, that down there they may have somewhat also. But I have forgotten that I myself am going a-fishing, and will catch little fishes, great fishes, a deal of fish. Adieu, Mamsel Susanna. I shall soon come back with fish."
"You had best stop with your Norwegian fishes," cried Susanna after him.
But Harald did not stop with the fishes. On the morrow we see him following Susanna into
"I see that we are going to have to-day for dinner onion-milk, one of our most delicious national dishes, and my favourite eating."
"Usch! One gets quite stupid and sleepy when one only thinks on your national dishes. And still more horrible than your onion-milk, and more unnatural too, is your fruit-soup with little herrings."
"Fruit-soup with little herrings! Nay, that is the most superexcellent food on the earth, a food which I might call a truly Christian dish."
"And I might call it a heathenish dish, which no true Christian man could eat."
"From untold ages it has been eaten by free Norwegian men in the beautiful valleys of Norway."
"That proves that you free Norwegians are still heathens."
"I can prove to you that the Norwegians were a Christian people before the Swedes."
"That you may prove as much as you like, but I shall not believe it."
"But I will show it to you in print."
"Then I shall be certain that it is a misprint."
Harald laughed, and said something about the impossibility of disputing with a Swedish woman. Should now anybody wish to know how it happens that one finds Harald[Pg 22] so continually in Susanna's company in the brewhouse, in the store-room, in the dairy, we can only reply that he must be a great lover of beer, and flour, and milk, or of a certain spice in the every-day soup of life, called bantering.
Mrs. Astrid always breakfasted in her own room, but dined with Harald and Susanna, and saw them often for an hour in the evening. Often during dinner did the contention about Norway and Sweden break out; for the slightest occasion was sufficient to make the burgomaster's daughter throw herself blindly into the strife for fatherland; and, strange enough, Mrs. Astrid herself sometimes seemed to find pleasure in exciting the contest, as she brought upon the carpet one question or another, as—
"I should like to know whether cauliflower is better in Norway or in Sweden?" or, "I should like to know whether the corn is better in Sweden or in Norway?"
"Quite certainly in Norway," said Harald.
"Quite decidedly in Sweden," cried Susanna. And vegetables, and fish, and the coinage, and measures and weights, were all handled and contended for in this way.
Of the corn in Norway, Susanna said, "I have not seen upon this whole estate one single straw which may bear a comparison with that which I have seen in Sweden."
"The cause of that," said Harald, "is because you saw here good corn for the first time."
Of the Norwegian weights, Susanna said, "I never know what I am about with your absurd, nasty Norwegian weights."
"They are heavier than the Swedish," replied Harald.
Whenever Susanna became right vehement and right angry, then—it is shocking to say it—Harald laughed with his whole heart, and at times a faint smile brightened also Mrs. Astrid's pale face, but it resembled the gleam of sunshine which breaks forth in a dark November sky, only to be immediately concealed behind clouds.
Susanna never thought in the least, on these occasions, of putting the bridle on the Barbra temper. She considered it as a holy duty to defend the fatherland in this manner.
But the spirit of contention did not always reign between Harald and Susanna. At intervals the spirit of peace also turned towards them, although as a timid dove, which is always ready soon to fly away hence. When Susanna spoke,[Pg 23] as she often did, of that which lived in the inmost of her heart; of her love to her little sister, and the recollections of their being together; of her longings to see her again, and to be able to live for her as a mother for her child,—then listened Harald ever silently and attentively. No jeering smile nor word came to disturb these pure images in Susanna's soul. And how limningly did Susanna describe the little Hulda's beauty; the little white child, as soft as cotton-wool, the pious blue eyes, the white little teeth, which glanced out whenever she laughed like bright sunshine, which then lay spread over her whole countenance; and the golden locks which hung so beautifully over forehead and shoulders, the little pretty hands, and temper and heart lively, good, affectionate! Oh! she was in short an angel of God! The little chamber, which Susanna inhabited with her little Hulda, and which she herself had changed from an unused lumber-room into a pretty chamber, and whose walls she herself painted, she painted now from memory yet once more for Harald; and the bed of the little Hulda was surrounded with a light-blue muslin curtain, and how a sunbeam stole into the chamber in the morning, in order to shine on the pillow of the child, and to kiss her little curly head. How roguish was the little one when Susanna came in late at night to go to bed, and cast her first glance on the bed in which her darling lay. But she saw her not, for Hulda drew her little head under the coverlet to hide herself from her sister. Susanna then would pretend to seek for the little one; but she needed only to say with an anxious voice, "where—ah, where is my little Hulda?" in order to decoy forth the head of the little one, to see her arms stretched out, and to hear her say, "here I am, Sanna! here is thy little Hulda!" And she had then her little darling in her arms, and pressed her to her heart; then was Susanna happy, and forgot all the cares and the fatigues of the day.
At the remembrance of these hours Susanna's tears often flowed, and prevented her remarking the tearful glow which sometimes lit up Harald's eyes.
Harald, however, had also his relations; not, it is true, of so tender a nature, but yet interesting enough to lay claim to all Susanna's attention, and to give us occasion to commence a new chapter.[Pg 24]
I like the life, where rule and line appeareth,
In the mill's clapping and the hammer's blow;
I give to him the path who burthens beareth,
He worketh for a useful end I know.
But he, who for the klip-klap never heareth
The call of bells to feeling's holiday—
Hath but sham-life, mechanically moving,
Soul-less he is, unconscious and unloving.
Fly agile arrow, rattling in thy speeding
Over the busy emmet's roof of clay,
And waken spiritual life!
Harald related willingly, and related uncommonly well;—an entertaining and a happy gift, which one often meets with in Norway among all classes, both in men and women, and which they appear to have inherited from their ancestors the Scalds; and besides this, he was well acquainted with the natural wonders and legends of the mountain region.
And it is precisely in mountain regions where the most beautiful blossoms of the people's poetry have sprung as if from her heart. The ages of the Sagas and the heathens have left behind their giant traces. River and mountain have their traditions of spectres and transformations; giant "cauldrons" resound in the mountains, and monumental stones are erected over warriors, who "buckled on their belts," and fell in single combat. From Hallingdal went forth the national Polska (the Halling), and only the Hardanger-fela (the Hallingdal fiddle) can rightly give its wild, extraordinary melody. Most beautiful are the flowers of remembrance which the Christian antiquity exhibits, and the eternal snow upon the crowns of the ancient mountains is not more imperishable than these innocent roses at their feet. So long as Gausta stands, and the Rjukan sings his thunder-song, will the memory of Mari-Stien live, and his tales of joy and sorrow be told; so long as the ice-sea of Folgefond rests over his silent, dark secrets, so long will[Pg 25] the little island become green, of which it is said, that it is eternally wetted with the tears of true love.
Be it who it may—they who write with their own life, song and legend, who express the depths of being by the silent but mighty language of deeds—they are the real authors, the first poets of the earth. In the second rank stand those who relate that which the others have lived.
When the day's work was over, and Mrs. Astrid had again betaken herself to her chamber after her slight evening meal, it gave Harald great pleasure to read aloud or to relate histories to Susanna, whilst she sewed, or her spinning-wheel hummed often in lively emulation of Larina and Karina, and whilst the flames of the fire danced up the chimney, and threw their warm joyous gleams over the assembled company. It pleased Harald infinitely to have Susanna for his auditor, to hear her exclamation of childish terror and astonishment, or also her hearty laughter, or to see her tears over his now merry and now sorrowful tales.
How deeply was Susanna's heart touched by the relation of Mari-Stien, whose path over the mountain on the edge of the abyss of Rjukan-force, which in these days the traveller treads with dread, was discovered by a young girl guided by the courage of love. It was by this path that the beautiful Mary of Vestfjordal went with light and firm foot to meet the friend of her childhood and her beloved, Ejstein Halfvordsen. But the avarice of her father separated them, and Mary's tears and prayers obliged Ejstein to fly, in order to escape the schemes of a treacherous rival against his life. Years passed on, and Mary remained steadfast in her faith. Her father died. Ejstein had, by his bravery and his magnanimity, made his former enemy his friend, and the lovers were now about to meet after a long separation, never again to be divided. Ejstein hastened by the shorter road of the Mari-Stien to meet his beloved. Long had she awaited him. She saw him coming, and his name escaped her with a cry of joy. He saw her—stretched forth his arms, as his whole soul, eagerly towards her, and he forgot—that he had no pinions. He fell, and the Rjukan swallowed him in its foaming depths. For many years after this there wandered daily upon Mari-Stien, a pale figure, whose beautiful features spoke of silent insanity, and stood bent down over the[Pg 26] stream, and seemed to talk with some one down in its depths. With melancholy joy in her countenance returned she ever from her wandering, and said to her people in the cottage, "I have spoken with him, and he besought me to come to him every day, and to tell him how I love. It would be wrong to refuse him this; he is so good and loves me so truly."
Thus went she, even when the wind blew her silver hair around her wrinkled cheeks; thus she went until a merciful voice called the weary wanderer to ascend the path of heaven to rest and joy, in the arms of the beloved.
Less mournful, but not the less interesting for Susanna, was the old legend of Halgrim.
Stormannadauen (the Black Death) had raged through Norway, and cut off more than two-thirds of its population, and desolated whole extents of country and large populous districts. In Uldvig's Valley, in Hardanger, a young peasant of the name of Halgrim alone, of all the people who had died there, remained alive. He raised himself from the sick bed on which he lay surrounded by the dead, and went out in order to seek for living people.
It was spring, and the larks sang loud in the blue clear air; the birch-wood clothed itself in tender green; the stream, with its melting snow-drifts, wound down the mountains singing on its way; but no plough furrowed the loosened earth, and from the heights was heard no wood-horn calling the cattle at feeding time. All was still and dead in the habitations of men. Halgrim went from valley to valley, from cottage to cottage; everywhere death stared him in the face, and he recognised the corpses of early friends and acquaintance. Upon this, he began to believe that he was alone in the world, and despair seized on his soul, and he determined also to die. But as he was just about to throw himself down from a rock, his faithful dog sprang up to him, caressed him, and lamented in the expressive language of anguish. Halgrim bethought himself, and stepped back from the brink of the abyss; he embraced his dog; his tears flowed, and despair withdrew from his softened heart. He began his wandering anew. Thoughts of love led him towards the parish of Graven, where he had first seen and won the love of Hildegunda.[Pg 27]
It was evening, and the sun was setting as Halgrim descended into the valley, which was as still and dead as those through which he had wandered. Dark stood the fir-trees in the black shadow of the rocky wall, and silently rolled on the river between the desolate banks. On the opposite side of the river a little wooded promontory shot out into the blue water, and upon the light green tops of the birch-trees played the last rays of the sun.
Suddenly it seemed to Halgrim as if a light smoke rose up from among the trees. But he trusted not his eyes; he stared upon it breathlessly. He waited however hardly a second, when he saw a blue column curling slowly upwards in the peaceful evening air. With a cry of joy Halgrim darted forwards, waded through the stream, and soon stood on its opposite shore. Barking and whining his dog ran onwards to the cottage whence the smoke ascended. Upon its hearth clearly burned the fire, and a young maiden stepped forward to the door—one cry of inexpressible joy, and Halgrim and Hildegunda lay in each other's arms! Hildegunda was also the only living person in her valley after the terrible visit of the Black Death.
On the following day, after mutual agreement, they went to church, and as there was no priest to marry them, and nobody to witness the plighting of their faith, they stepped alone together to God's altar, and extended to each other a hand, whilst Halgrim said with a solemn voice, "In the name of God the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost!"
And God blessed the faith plighted in His name. From this happy pair descended generations who peopled anew this region, and the names of Halgrim and Hildegunda are to this day in use among its inhabitants.
Through Harald also was Susanna made acquainted with the legends of the kings of Norway; with the deeds of Olaf Haraldsen, the blood-baptizer; with those of the noble Olof Tryggveson; and with admiration heard she of king Sverre, with the little body and the large truly-royal soul. It flattered also somewhat her womanly vanity to hear of women as extraordinary in the old history of Norway; as for example, the proud peasant's daughter, Gyda, who gave occa[Pg 28]sion to the hero-deeds of Harald Haarfager, who first made Norway into a kingdom; and although the action of Gunild, the king's mother, awakened her abhorrence, yet it gave her pleasure to see how a woman, by the supremacy of her mind, governed seven kings and directed their actions.
Darker pictures were presented by the citizen-wars, which hurried "blood-storm upon blood-storm" through the land, and in which it at length "bled liberty to death."
Now the wild strawberry blooms in the ruins of former strongholds, and upon blood-drenched fields grow golden forests,
As the scar groweth o'er the healed wound.—Tegner.
A milder generation lived in the place of the "Bloody Axe," and looked serenely and hopefully towards the future, whilst in their peaceful, beautiful valleys, they listened willingly to the memories of the old times.
Upon the hill-tops stands the ancient stone,
Where legend hovers like a singing lark,
With morning brightness on its downy breast.
One subject of conversation and of dispute also between Harald and Susanna, was their pale lady. As soon as the discourse turned to her, Harald assumed a very grave demeanour, and replied only to Susanna's earnest inquiries of what he knew about her, "she must have been very unfortunate!" If, however, Susanna began to assail him with questions about this misfortune, in what it consisted, whether one could not help her in some way or other—Susanna would have gone up and down the world for this purpose—then began Harald to tell a story.
Tales of women, powerful and distinguished in their valleys, are not rare in Norway. The story of the lady in Hallingdal, called the Shrieking Lady, is well known, who was so magnificent that she was drawn by elks; one hears of the rich Lady Belju, also of Hallingdal, who built Naes church, and by means of fire and butter split the Beja rock, so that a road was carried over it, which road is called to this day the Butter Rock. One hears tell of the Ladies of Solberg and Sköndal, of their great quarrel about a pig, and of the false oath which one of them swore in the lawsuit[Pg 29] which thence ensued; and to every one of these ladies belongs the story, that the preacher did not dare to have the church-bells rung until the great lady had arrived there.
They tell further the history of the wife of the knight Knut Eldhjerna, who, from grief for the criminal lives of her seven sons, retired from the world, and lived as a hermit in a lonesome dale, where, by fasting and alms, she endeavoured to atone for the misdeeds of her children. Yes, indeed, there are many histories of this kind. But as concerns the history which Harald related to Susanna, of Mrs. Astrid, its like had not yet been heard in the valleys of Norway. There occurred in it so many strange and horrible things, that the credulous Susanna, who during it had become ever paler and paler, might have been petrified with horror if, precisely at the most terrible part of the catastrophe, the suspicion had not suddenly occurred to her, that she was horrifying herself—at a mere fiction! And Harald's countenance, when she expressed her conjectures, made this certainty; and the hearty laughter with which he received her exclamations and reproaches excited her highest indignation, and she rose up and left him, with the assurance that she never again would ask him anything, never believe a word that he said.
This lasted till—the next time. Then if Harald promised to tell the truth as regarded their lady—the whole pure truth, then Susanna let herself be befooled, listened, grew pale, wept, till the increasing marvels of the story awoke afresh her suspicion, which she again plainly expressed as before, and again Barbra stood up, scolded, threatened, banged the door after her in anger, and Harald—laughed.
In one point, however, Harald and Susanna always perfectly agreed, and that was in serving their lady with the greatest zeal; and this, without themselves being aware of it, increased their esteem for each other, which, however, by no means prevented their boldly attacking each other, and slandering—he Sweden, she Norway.
Thus, amid perpetual alternations of strife and peace, slid away the autumn months unobserved, with its darkening days and its increasing cold; and the season came, in which important business demanded the time of the ladies, as well in great as in small houses; the time for lights and tarts, dance, play, and children's joy, in one word[Pg 30]—
 Several districts, wicked as Sodom and Gomorrah, are said to be buried under the gigantic pall, and it is related that people have heard the cock crow below the snow covering. If the sun appears above the Fond, it is believed that swarms of innumerable birds of all colours, white, black, green, yellow, and red, are seen flying up and down over the snowy sea. It was thought in early times, that these were the souls of the wicked inhabitants of the valley which swarmed about here in the shapes of birds.—Faye.
 Eric, king of Norway, so called because of his cruelty.
Come hither little birds, merry of mood,
By barn-door and dwelling-house corn ears are strewed;
Christmas comes hither,
Then may ye gather,
Food from the bread-giving straw, golden hued.
The sun shall warm and illumine the whole earth, therefore is the earth glad of his coming.—The King's Play.
Thanks be to God for the sun! So many friends, so many joys, desert us during our pilgrimage through life; the sun remains true to us, and lights and warms us from the cradle to the grave. This is it which unites the Pagan and the Christian in one common worship, inasmuch as it lifts the hearts of both to the God who has created the sun. The highest festival of the year among the Northern Heathens and Christians occurs also at the season in which the sun, as it were, is born anew to the earth, and his strength is converted from waning to waxing. With the greatest cordiality is this festival celebrated in the Scandinavian countries. Not alone in the houses of the wealthy blaze up fires of joy, and are heard the joyful cries of children; from the humblest cottages also resounds joy; in the prisons it becomes bright, and the poor partake of—plenty. In the country, doors, hearths, and tables, stand open to every wanderer. In many parts of Norway the innkeeper demands no payment from the traveller either for board or lodging. This is the time in which the earth seems to feel the truth of the heavenly words—"It is more blessed to give than to receive." And not only human beings, but animals also, have their good things at Christmas. All the inhabitants of the farm-yard, all domestic animals, are entertained in the best manner; and the little birds of heaven rejoice too, for at every barn a tall stake raises itself, on the top of which rich sheaves of oats invite them to a magnificent meal; even the poorest day-labourer, if he himself possesses no corn, asks and receives from the peasant a bundle of corn, raises it aloft, and makes the birds rejoice beside his empty barn.
Susanna had much to care for in the Christmas week, and was often up late at night: in part, on account of her own business; in part, on account of some Christmas gifts with[Pg 31] which she wished to surprise several persons around her. And this certainly was the cause of her somewhat oversleeping herself on the morning of Christmas-eve. She was awoke by a twittering of birds before her window, and her conscience reproached her with having, amid the business of the foregoing day, quite forgotten the little birds, to which she was accustomed to throw out upon the snow, corn and bread crumbs; and they were now come to remind her of it. Ah! were but all remembrances like to the twittering of birds! With real remorse for her forgetfulness Susanna hastened to dress herself, and to draw aside the window-curtain. And behold! outside, before her window, stood a tall slender fir-tree, in whose green top, cut in the form of a garland, was stuck a great bunch of gold-yellow oats, around which great flocks of sparrows and bulfinches swarmed, picking and chirping. Susanna blushed, and thought "Harald!" The people in the house answered with smiles to Susanna's questions, the Steward had, indeed, planted the tree. The Steward, however, himself appeared as if he were quite a stranger to the whole affair, betrayed astonishment at the tree with the sheaf of oats, and could not conceive how it had come there.
"It must," said he, "have shot forth of itself during the night;" and this could only be proved from the wonderful strength of the excellent Norwegian earth—every morsel of which is pulverised primary rock. Such a soil only can bring forth such a miraculous growth.
In the forenoon, Harald went with Susanna into the farm-yard, where she with her own hands divided oats among the cows; bread among the sheep; and among the little poultry corn in abundant measure. In the community of hens was there with this a great difference of character observable. Some snatched greedily, whilst they drove the others away by force; others, on the contrary, kept at a modest distance, and picked up well pleased the corn which good fortune had bestowed upon them; others, again, seemed to enjoy for others more than for themselves. Of this noble nature was one young cock in particular, with a high comb, and a rich cape of changeful gold-coloured feathers, and of a peculiarly proud and lofty bearing; he gave up his portion to the hens, so that he had scarcely a single grain for himself; regarding, however, the while, with a noble chanticleer-demeanour the crowd[Pg 32] which pecked and cackled at his feet. On account of this beautiful behaviour, he was called the Knight, by Susanna, which name he always preserved after that time. Among the geese, she perceived with vexation that the grey one was still more oppressed and pecked at by his white tyrant than ever. Harald proposed to kill the grey one; but Susanna declared warmly, that if either of the rivals were sacrificed it must be the white one.
In a house where there are no children, where neither family nor friends assemble, where the mistress sits with her trouble in darkness, there can Christmas bring no great joy. But Susanna had made preparations to diffuse pleasure, and the thoughts of it had through the whole week, amid her manifold occupations, illumined her heart; and, besides, she was of that kind that her life would have been dark had it not been that the prospect of always making somebody happy had glimmered like a star over her path. Larina, Karina, and Petro tasted on this day of the fruits of Susanna's night-watching; and when it was evening, and Susanna had arranged the Christmas-table in the hall, and had seen it adorned with lut-fish, and roast meat, and sweet groats, cakes and butter, tarts and apples, and lighted with four candles; when the farm-people assembled round the table with eyes that flashed with delight and appetite; when the oldest among them struck up a hymn of thanksgiving, and all the rest joined in with folded hands and solemn voices—then seemed it to Susanna as if she were no longer in a foreign land: and after she had joined in with the hymn of the people, she seated herself at the table as the most joyous, cordial hostess; clinked her glass with those of men and maid servants; animated even the most colossal passion for eating, and placed the nicest things before the weak and the timid.
Mrs. Astrid had told Susanna that she would remain alone in her chamber this evening, and only take a glass of milk. Susanna wished, however, to decoy her into enjoyment by a little surprise; and had laid the following little plot against her peace. At the time when the glass of milk was to be carried in to her, instead of this a very pretty boy, dressed to represent an angel, according to Susanna's idea of one, with[Pg 33] a crown of light upon his head, should softly enter her room and beckon her out. So beautiful and bright a messenger the lady would find it impossible to withstand, and he would then conduct her out into the great hall, where, in a grove of fir-trees, a table was covered with the sweetest groats, and the most delicious of tarts, and behind the fir-trees the people of the house were to be assembled, and to strike up a song to a well-known air of the country, in praise of their lady, and full of good wishes for her future life.
Harald, to whom Susanna had imparted her scheme, shook his head over it, at first, doubtfully, but afterwards fell into it, and lent a helping hand to its accomplishment, as well by obtaining the fir-trees, as by fitting out the angel. Susanna was quite charmed with her beautiful little messenger, and followed silently and softly at his heels, as with some anxiety about his own head and its glittering crown he tripped lightly to Mrs. Astrid's chamber.
Harald softly opened the door for the boy. From thence they saw the lady sitting in an easy-chair in her room, her head bowed upon her hands. The lamp upon the table cast a faint light upon her black-appareled figure. The audible movement at the door roused her; she looked up, and stared for some time with a wild glance at the apparition which met her there. Then she arose hastily, pressed her hands to her breast, uttered a faint cry of horror, and sank lifeless to the floor. Susanna pushed her angel violently aside, and rushed to her mistress, who with indescribable feelings of anguish she raised in her arms and carried to bed. Harald, on the contrary, busied himself with the poor angel, who with his crown had lost his balance, and while the hot tallow ran down over brow and cheeks broke out into the most deplorable tones of lamentation.
Susanna soon succeeded in recalling her mistress to life; but for a long time her mind seemed to be confused, and she spoke unintelligible unconnected sentences, of which Susanna only understood the words, "Apparition—unfortunate child—death!" Susanna concluded therefore that the fabricated angel had frightened her, and exclaimed with tears, "Ah, it was only Hans Guttormson's little fellow that I had dressed up as an angel in order to give you pleasure!"
Susanna saw now right well how little fortunate had been[Pg 34] this thought; but Mrs. Astrid listened with great eagerness to Susanna's explanation respecting the apparition which had shook her so much, and at length her convulsive state passed off in a flood of tears. Susanna beside herself for grief, that instead of joy she had occasioned trouble to her lady, kissed, with tears, her dress, hands, feet, amid heartfelt prayers for forgiveness.
Mrs. Astrid answered mildly, but with excitement: "Thou meant it well, Susanna. Thou couldst not know how thou wouldst grieve me. But—think no more about it; never more attempt to give me pleasure. I can never more be joyful, never more happy! There lies a stone upon my breast which never can be raised, until the stone shall be laid on my grave. But go now, Susanna, it is necessary for me to be alone. I shall soon be better."
Susanna prayed that she might bring her a glass of milk, and Mrs. Astrid consented; but when she had brought it in she was obliged again to withdraw, her heart full of anguish. When she came out to Harald she poured out to him all her pain over the unfortunate project, and related to him the deep agitation of mind, and the dark, despairing words of her lady.
At this Harald became pale and thoughtful, and Susanna at that was still more depressed. To be sure she had yet a little mine of pleasures remaining, on whose explosion she had very much pleased herself, but this in the disturbed state of mind produced but little effect. It is true that Harald smiled, and exclaimed, "The cross!" when a waistcoat made its appearance out of a wheaten loaf; it is true that he thanked Susanna and pressed her hand, but he had evidently so little pleasure in her present, his thoughts were so plainly directed to something else, that now every gleam of pleasure vanished for Susanna from the Christmas joy. When she was alone in her chamber, and saw from her window how a little beam of light proceeded from every cottage in the valley, and she thought how within them were assembled in confidential circles, parents, children, brothers and sisters, and friends, then felt she painfully that she was lonesome in a strange land; and as she remembered how formerly on this evening she made her little Hulda happy, and how fortunate her projects had always been, she took out a handkerchief which[Pg 35] had been worn on the neck of the little beloved sister, and covered it with hot tears and kisses. Great part of the night she passed on the threshold of her lady's door, listening full of anguish to the never-ceasing footsteps within. But with the exception of several deep sighs, Susanna heard no expression of pain which might justify her in breaking in upon the solitude of her mistress.
We will now turn ourselves to a somewhat more lively picture.
There exists in Norway a pleasant custom, which is called Tura-jul, or Christmas-turns. In Christmas week, namely, people go out to visit one another by turns, and then in the hospitable houses is there feasting, sporting, and dancing. That is called "the Christmas-turns."
And the "turns" extended also to the remote-lying solitary Heimdal. The pastor of the mother parish, the friendly and hospitable pastor, Middelberg, had sent an invitation to friends and acquaintances in the whole neighbourhood, which included also the inhabitants of Semb, to a feast at the parsonage, on the second day of Christmas.
Mrs. Astrid excused herself, but besought Harald and Susanna to drive there. It had frozen a few days before, and had freshly snowed, so that the sledging was excellent, and Harald now again in good humour seemed disposed to make a little festival of driving Susanna to the parsonage in a small sledge with jingling bells.
Mrs. Astrid had regained her accustomed manner and appearance, and thus Susanna was easy as to all consequences of her unfortunate scheme on Christmas-eve, and could give herself up with a free mind to the agreeable impressions which the winter-drive offered. And these were manifold and rich to a person who was so little used to pleasure of any kind as Susanna, and who, besides this, was of a fresh, open spirit. The air was so clear, the snow was so dazzling, mountain and woods so splendid, the horse so spirited, and Harald drove so indescribably well, the most difficult places being to him mere play-work, that Susanna exclaimed every now and then, "Oh, how beautiful! Oh, how divine!"
With all this, Harald was uncommonly polite and entertaining. Attentive in the extreme that Susanna sate com[Pg 36]fortably, was warm about the feet, and so on, laid himself out at the same time to make her acquainted with all wonders and beauties of the district; besides which he related much that was interesting of the peculiarities of the neighbourhood, of its woods, mountains, and kinds of stones, spoke of the primeval mountains and transition-formations, of that which had existed before the Flood, and of that which had been formed after it, so that Susanna was astonished at his great learning, and a feeling of reverence for him was excited in her mind. It is true that she forgot this for one while, in a quarrel which suddenly arose between them respecting the sun, which, according to Harald's assertion, must appear brighter in Norway than in Sweden, which Susanna contended against most vehemently, and assured him of exactly the opposite; and about the strata of air, of which Susanna asserted that they lay in Norway different to Sweden; upon the whole, however, the drive was harmonious, and in the highest degree advantageous to Harald's appearance. By his driving, his politeness, and his learning, he had attained to something quite grand and extraordinary in Susanna's eyes.
When, after a drive of about six miles, they approached the parsonage-house, they saw from all sides the little sledges issuing from the passes of the valleys, and then hastening forward in the same direction as themselves across the fields of snow. Steaming breath came from the nostrils of the snorting horses, and merrily jingled the bells in the clear air. Susanna was enraptured.
No less was she enraptured by the cordiality with which she saw herself received at the parsonage—she, a foreign serving-maiden—by foreign, wealthy, and respectable people. Susanna was, besides this, very curious to see bow things looked, and how they went on, in a respectable parsonage in Norway; and it was therefore very agreeable to her, when the kind Madame Middelberg invited her to see the house, and allowed her to be conducted by her eldest daughter, Thea Middelberg, everywhere, from the cellar even to the garret. Susanna, after this, felt great esteem for the arrangements in the parsonage-house; thought that she could learn various things from it; other things, however, she thought would have been better according to her Swedish method. Returned to the company, Susanna found much to[Pg 37] notice and much to reflect upon. For the rest, she was through the whole of this day in a sort of mental excitement. It seemed to her, as if she saw the picture of comfort and happiness of which she had sometimes dreamed, here realised. It seemed to her, that life amid these grand natural scenes and simple manners must be beautiful. The relationship between parents and children, between masters and servants, appeared so cordial, so patriarchal. She heard the servants in the house of the clergyman call him and his wife, father and mother; she saw the eldest daughter of the house assist in waiting on the guests, and that so joyously and easily, that one saw that she did it from her heart; saw a frank satisfaction upon all faces, a freedom from care, and a simplicity in the behaviour of all; and all this made Susanna feel quite light at heart, whilst it called forth a certain tearful glance in her eye.
"Have you pleasure in flowers?" inquired the friendly Thea Middelberg; and when Susanna declared that she had, she broke off the most beautiful rose which bloomed in the window and gave to her.
But the greatest pleasure to Susanna was in the two youngest children of the house, and she thought that the heartful "mora mi" (my mother), was the most harmonious sound which she had ever heard. And in that Susanna was right also, for more lovely words than these "mora mi," spoken by affectionate childish lips, are not in the earth. The little Mina, a child about Hulda's age, and full of life and animation, was in particular dear to Susanna, who only wished that the little romp would have given to herself a longer rest upon her knee. Susanna herself won quite unwittingly the perfect favour of the hostess, by starting up at table at a critical moment when the dinner was being served, and with a light and firm hand saving the things from danger. After this she continued to give a helpful hand where it was needful. This pleased much, and they noticed the young Swede with ever kinder eyes; she knew it, and thought all the more on those who thought of her.
Towards the end of the substantial and savoury dinner, skål was drunk and songs were sung. Susanna's glass must clink with her neighbours, right and left, straight before her and crosswise, and animated by the general spirit, she joined[Pg 38] in with the beautiful people's song, "The old sea-girded Norway," and seemed to have forgotten all spirit of opposition to Norway and Norwegians. And how heartily did not she unite in the last skål which was proposed by the host, with beaming and tearful eyes, "To all those who love us!" and she thought on her little Hulda.
But now we must go on to that which made this day a remarkable one for Susanna.
After dinner and coffee were over, the company divided, as is customary in Norway. The ladies remained sitting on the sofa and in armed chairs round about, and talked over the occurrences in the neighbourhood, domestic affairs, and the now happily-concluded Christmas business, and "yes, indeed!" "yes, indeed!" was often heard among them.
The young girls grouped themselves together in the window, and there was heard talk of "dress" and "ornament," "heavens, how pretty!" and jest and small-talk.
In the next room sate the gentlemen together with pipes and politics.
Susanna was near to the open door of this room, and as she felt but little interest in the subjects that were spoken of in her neighbourhood, she could not avoid listening to that which was said by the gentlemen within the room, for she heard how there a coarse voice was abusing Sweden and the Swedes in the most defamatory manner. Susanna's blood boiled, and involuntarily she clenched her fist.
"Oh, heavens!" sighed she, "that I were but a man!"
The patriotic burgomaster's daughter burned with desire to fall upon those who dared to despise her fatherland. She could not hear this coolly, and almost fearing her own anger she was about to rise and take another place, but she restrained herself, for she heard a grave, manly voice raised in defence of that foreign calumniated country. And truly it was refreshing for Susanna to hear Sweden defended with as much intelligence as zeal; truly it was a joy to her to hear the assertions of the coarser voice repelled by the other less noisy, but more powerful voice, and at length to hear it declaim, as master of the field, the following lines, which were addressed to his native land on the occasion of the death of Gustavus Adolphus the Great:[Pg 39]
At once is dimmed thy glory's ray;
Thy flowery garland fades away.
Bowed mother! But thy brightness splendid
Shall never more be ended.
The grateful world on thee her love will cast,
Who mother of Gustavus wast!
Yes, truly was all this a feeling of delight for Susanna; but the voice which spoke so beautifully—the voice which defended Sweden—the voice which called forth the feeling of delight, this voice operated more than all the rest on Susanna, for it was that of—Harald. Susanna could not trust her ears, she called her eyes to their assistance, and then, as she could no longer doubt that the noble defender of her country was Harald, she was so surprised and so joyful that in the overflowing of her feelings she might almost have done something foolish, had not at that very moment one of the elderly ladies of the party come to her, and led her into a quieter corner of the room, in order to be able there quietly to question her of all that she wished to know. This lady belonged to that class (scattered in every country of the world) which has a resemblance to the parasite growth, inasmuch as it grows and flourishes by the nourishment which it seeks from the plants on which it fixes itself. As this lady wore a brown dress, and had brown ribbons in her cap, we find it very appropriate to call her Madame Brun. Susanna must now give Madame Brun an account of her family, her home, all her connexions, why she was come into Norway, how she liked living there, and so on. In all this Susanna was tolerably open-hearted; but when the discourse was turned upon her present situation, and her lady, she became more reserved. On this subject, however, Madame Brun was less disposed to question than to relate herself.
"I knew Mrs. Astrid," said she, "in our younger days, very well. She was a very handsome lady, but always rather proud. However, I did not mind that, and we were right good friends. People told me that I ought to pay a visit to Semb, but—I don't know—I have never seen her since she has been so strange. My God, dear friend, how can you live with her? She must be so horribly gloomy and anxious!"
Susanna replied by a warm burst of praise of her lady, and[Pg 40] said, "that she was always sorrowful, and appeared to be unhappy, but that this only bound her to her all the more."
"Unhappy!" began Madame Brun again. "Yes, if that were all—but alas!"
Susanna asked in astonishment what she meant.
Madame Brun answered, "I say and think nothing bad of her, and always defend her, but in any case there is something odd about her. Could you really believe that there are people wicked enough to speak——to suspect——a murder?"
Susanna could neither think nor speak—she only stared at the speaker.
"Yes, yes," continued Madame Brun, fluently; "so people say! To be sure the Colonel, who was a monster, was most guilty in the affair; but yet, nevertheless, she must have known of it—so people assert. See you—they had a boy with them, the son of her sister. The mother died, after having confided her child to the care of her sister and her brother-in-law. What happens then? One fine day the boy has vanished—— never again comes to light——nobody knows what has become of him; but his cloak is found on a rock, by the lake, and drops of blood on the stone under it! The boy had vanished, and his property came in well for his relations, since the Colonel had gambled away everything which he and his wife possessed. But our Lord, in his justice, smote the Colonel, so that for five years he remained lame and speechless, and his wife never since that has had one joyful day on earth."
Susanna turned pale with emotion, and as zealously as she had before defended the honour of her native land, now defended she the innocence of her lady. But in this she was interrupted by the friendly hostess, who invited her to join the other young people in games and dancing. But Susanna was so excited by that which she had heard, and longed so much to be at home with her mistress, for whom, now that she had heard her so cruelly maligned, she felt more affection than ever; she prayed to be excused from taking any part in the Christmas games, and announced her intention of driving home. She wished not, however, to take Harald from the company, and intended, unfearingly, to drive home alone. She could drive very well, and should easily find the way.[Pg 41]
No, sooner, however, did Harald become aware of her intentions than he prepared to accompany her; and it was of no avail that Susanna opposed herself to it. Host and hostess, however, in their cordiality, opposed warmly their guests leaving them so early, and threatened them with "Aasgaardsreija," who was accustomed to rage in Christmas time, and would meet them by the way if they persisted in their unwise resolve. Notwithstanding this they did so, and were accompanied by their hosts to the sledge. Susanna thanked them from her moved heart for all their kindness, promised the amiable Thea that they would see one another often, and kissed tenderly the little Mina, who hung upon her neck.
Scarcely was Susanna seated in the sledge, and was amid mountains and woods, than she gave vent to her heart, and related to Harald the story which she had just heard. And her abhorrence had not been less than was now Harald's anger at such a shameful calumniation, and at the person who had exhibited such an evidence of her own dark soul. Yes, he fell into such a rage with old Madame Brun, and made such threatening demonstrations against her well-being, and the horse made such violent springs and plunges, that Susanna endeavoured to lead the conversation to other subjects. She therefore asked Harald what was meant by Aasgaardsreija, and why they had threatened her with it.
Harald on this returned to his customary temper, and assured her that this was by no means to be jested with. "The Aasgaardsreija," said he, "are the spirits which are not good enough to deserve heaven, and yet not bad enough to be sent to hell; they consist of tipplers, polite deceivers—in one word, of all those who from one cause or another have given themselves to evil. For punishment, therefore, must they ride about till the end of the world. At the head of the troop rides Guro-Rysse, or Reisa-Rova, who is to be known by her long train. After her follows a long numerous band of both sexes. The horses are coal black, and their eyes flash in the darkness like fire. They are guided by bits of red-hot iron, ride over land and water, and the halloo of the riders, the snorting of the horses, the rattling of the iron bits, occasion a tumult which is heard from far. Whenever they throw a saddle over a house, there must some one[Pg 42] die, and wherever they perceive that there will be bloodshed or murder, they enter, and seating themselves on the posts by the door, make a noise and laugh in their sleeve. When one hears the Aasgaardsreija coming, one must throw oneself on the ground and pretend that one sleeps. If one does this not, one is carried away by the troop, and struck down in a fainting-fit in a place far distant from where one was. People often, after this, are low-spirited and melancholy all their days. But the virtuous, who throw themselves down immediately on the approach of the troop, suffer nothing, excepting that every one of the airy company spits upon him in passing; when the troop has passed by, then one spits again, and the affair has then no further consequence."
Harald added that this troop was commonly out at Christmas, and nothing was more possible than that they themselves might meet it on this very evening, and in that case Susanna had nothing more to do than to dismount from the sledge, throw herself with her nose on the ground, and bury her face in the snow, till the wild herd were gone over.
Susanna declared, it is true, that she had not any faith in the story; but Harald said so gravely that one of these days she would see that the affair was true, and Susanna was naturally so inclined to believe in the marvellous, that she very often, especially in narrow passes of the valleys, directed her glance to the heights, half fearing, half wishing, that the black horses, with the fiery eyes and the red-hot bridlebits, might make their appearance. But she only saw bright stars look down upon her, now and then dimmed by the Northern lights, which waved their shining, fleeting veils over the vault of heaven.
Arrived at Semb, she saw the customary faint light in the windows of her lady. Susanna's heart was affected, and with a deep sigh she said, "Ah, how wicked this world is! To lay yet stones upon the burden, and to make misfortune[Pg 43] into crime. What, what can we do to shield her from the attacks of malice?"
"Madame Brun shall at least not spread her lies further," said Harald. "I will drive to her to-morrow morning, compel her to swallow her own words, and terrify her from ever letting them again pass her lips."
"Yes, that is good!" exclaimed Susanna, delighted.
"If an accident happens to a child," continued Harald, excitedly, "then directly to charge those belonging to it with a wilful murder! Can one imagine anything more shameful or more absurd. No, such snakes, at least, shall not hiss about the unhappy lady. And to crush them shall be my business!"
And with this Harald pressed Susanna's hand at parting, and left her.
"And my business," thought Susanna, with tearful eyes, "shall be to love her and to serve her faithfully. Perhaps, when order and comfort are diffused more and more around her, when many pleasures daily surround her, perhaps she may again feel an inclination for life."
 A kind of codfish, which has been soaked in lye for several weeks, and is a general Christmas dish in Norway and Sweden.
 The Battle of Lüzen. By Rein.
 The rushing noise and tumult in the air which attends violent storms, especially in mountain countries, has probably given occasion to the legend of the Aasgaardsreija. There is no doubt of its having its origin in heathen times, but it may also have reference to the procession towards Aasgaard of the heroes who have fallen in battle, or to the aërial journey of the Nornor and Valkyrior. The legend has taken its present form under Christianity, in which the old divinities have been transformed in popular belief into evil powers and servants of the devil.—Faye.
When clouds hang heavy on the face of earth,
And woods stand leafless in their mourning plight,—
Then gentle sympathy has twofold might,
And kindness on the social winter's hearth
Within our hearts the glow of spring's delight.
Hast thou heard the fall of water-drops in deep caves, where heavily, and perpetually, and gnawingly, they eat into the ground on which they fall? Hast thou heard the murmuring of the brook that flows on sportively between green banks, whilst nodding flowers and beaming lights of heaven mirror themselves in its waters? There is a secret twittering and whispering of joy in it. There hast thou pictures of two kinds of still life, which are different the one from the other as hell and heaven. Both of them are lived on earth; both of them, at Semb in Heimdal, were lived through the following months: the first by Mrs. Astrid, the second[Pg 44] by Harald and Susanna, only that sometimes the wearing drops were blown aside by a favourable breeze, and that sometimes mud of various kinds made turbid the waters of the dancing brook.
January passed away with his growing sunshine and his increasing winter pomp. Waterfalls planted their edges with flowers, palms, grapes—yes, whole fruit-trees of—ice. The bulfinches, with their red breasts, shone like hopping flames upon the white snow. The winter bloomed in sparkling crystals, which were strewn over wood and earth, in the song of the throstle, in the glittering whiteness of the snow-fields. Timber was felled in the woods, and songs from Tegnér's Frithof resounded thereto. People drove in sledges through the valleys, and on snow-skates over the mountains. There was fresh life everywhere.
The contest at Semb, about Sweden and Norway, had ceased ever since Christmas. It is true that Harald attempted various attacks upon Swedish iron, the Swedish woods, and so on, but Susanna seemed not rightly to believe in their seriousness, and would not on that account take up the strife; and his last attempt on the Swedish wind fell so feebly, that Harald determined to let the subject rest, and to look about for some other matter of contention wherewith to keep himself warm during the winter.
February and March came on. This is the severest time of a northern winter. In January it is young, but it becomes now old, and grey and heavy, especially in cottages, where there is no great provision for the family. The autumn provision, as well in the house as in the yard, is nearly consumed. It is hard for hungry children to trail home wood from the forests, which is to boil for them in their kettle only thin water-gruel, and not always that.
April came. It is called the spring month, and the larks sing in the woods. But in the deep valley often prevails then the greatest anxiety and want. Often then scatters the needy peasant ashes and sand upon the snow which covers his acres, that it may melt all the sooner, and thus he may be able to plough up his land between the snow walls which surround it. Susanna during this month became well known in the cottages of the valley, and her warm heart found rich material for sympathy and help.[Pg 45]
Harald thought this too good an opportunity to be lost for infusing into Susanna a horror of himself and his character, and showed himself cold and immovable to her description of the wants which she had witnessed, and had a proud ability to say "no" to all her proposals for their assistance. He spoke much of severity and of wholesome lectures, and so on; and Susanna was not slow in calling him the most cruel of men, another "tyrant Christjern," a regular misanthrope; "wolves and bears had more heart than he had. Never again would she ask him for anything; one might just as well talk to a stock or a stone!" And Susanna set off to weep bitter tears. But when she afterwards found that much want was silently assisted from the hand of the misanthrope; when she found that in various instances her suggestions were adopted; then, indeed, she also shed in silence tears of joy, and soon forgot all her plans of hostile reserve. By degrees, also, Harald forgot his contention in the subject, the interest of which was too good and important; and before they were rightly aware of it, they found themselves both busied for the same purpose in various ways. Susanna had begun by giving away all that she possessed. As she had now no more to give, she began to give ear to Harald's views; that for the poor which surrounded them, generally speaking, direct almsgiving was less needful than a friendly and rational sympathy in their circumstances, a fatherly and motherly guardianship which would sustain the "broken heart," and strengthen the weary hands, which were almost sinking, to raise themselves again to labour and to hope. In the class which may be said to labour for their daily bread, there are people who help themselves; others there are whom nobody can help; but the greater number are those who, through prudent help in word and deed, can attain to helping themselves, and obtaining comfort and independence.
Harald considered it important to direct the attention of the people to the keeping of cattle, knowing that this was the certain way of this region's advancing itself. And as soon as the snow melted, and the earth was clear, he went out with labourers and servants, and occupied himself busily in carrying away from the meadows the stones with which they, in this country, are so abundantly strewn, and sowed[Pg 46] new kinds of grass, as a source of more abundant fodder; and Susanna's heart beat for joy as she saw his activity, and how he himself went to work, and animated all by his example and his cheerful spirit. Harald now also often found his favourite dishes for his dinner; nay, Susanna herself began to discover that one and another of them were very savoury, and among these may particularly be mentioned groat gruel with little herrings. This course, with which dinners in Norway often begin, is so served, that every guest has a little plate beside him, on which lie the little white herrings, and they eat alternately a piece of herring and a spoonful of gruel, which looks very well, and tastes very good.
Harald, towards spring, was very much occupied with work and workpeople, so that he had but little time to devote to Susanna, either for good or bad. But he had discovered that possibly in time he might have a weak chest, and he visited her, therefore, every morning in the dairy that he might receive a cup of new milk from her hand. For this, he gave her in return fresh spring-flowers, or, by way of change, a nettle (which was always thrown violently into a corner), and for the rest attentively remarked the occurrences in the dairy, and Susanna's movements, whilst she poured the milk out of the pails through a sieve into the pans, and arranged them on their shelves, whereby it happened that he would forget himself in the following monologue—
"See, that one may call a knack! How well she looks at her work, and with that cheerful, friendly face! Everything that she touches is well done;—everything improves and flourishes under her eye. If she were only not so violent and passionate!—but it is not in her heart, there never was a better heart than hers. Men and animals love her, and are well off under her care—Happy the man who—hum!"
Shall we not at the same time cast a glance into Susanna's heart? It is rather curious there. The fact was, that Harald had,—partly by his provocativeness and naughtiness, and partly by his friendship, his story-telling, and his native worth, which Susanna discovered more and more,—so rooted himself into all her thoughts and feelings, that it was impossible for her to displace him from them. In anger, in gratitude, in evil, in good, at all times, must she think of him.[Pg 47] Many a night she lay down with the wish never to see him again, but always awoke the next morning with the secret desire to meet with him again. The terms on which she stood with him resembled April weather, which we may be able the clearest to see on—
The first time, yes, the first time flings
A glory even on trivial things;
It passes soon, a moment's falling,
Then it is also past recalling.
The grass itself has such a prime;
Man prizes most spring's flowery time,
When first the verdure decks earth's bosom,
And the heart-leaf foretels the blossom.
Thus God lets all, however low,
In "the first time" a triumph know;
Even in the hour when death impendeth,
And life itself to heaven ascendeth.
It was in the beginning of May. A heavy shower of rain had just ceased. The wind sprang up in the south, blew mild and fresh, and chased herds of white clouds over the brightening heaven.
The court at Semb, which had been desolate during the rain, now began to be full of life and movement.
Six ducks paddled up and down with great delight in a puddle of water, bathing and beautifying themselves.
The chanticleer, called the Knight, scratched in the earth, and thereupon began to crow merrily, in order to make it known that he had something nice to invite to, and as two neat grey-speckled hens sprang towards him, he let first one grain of corn and then another fall out of his beak, of which, agreeably to a clever hen-instinct, they availed themselves without ceremony or compliments. How easily the creatures live!
The turkey-cock was in great perplexity, and had a deal of trouble to keep his countenance. His white lady had accepted the invitation of the chanticleer (which she probably thought was general), and sprang forward as fast as she could with her long legs, and stuck her head between the two hens[Pg 48] to have a share of their treat. The knightly young chanticleer on this, with some surprise and a certain astonished sound in his throat, drew himself a little proudly back, but for all that was too much of the "gentleman" to mortify, in the least, the foreign presumptuous beauty. But the grey-speckled hens turned their backs upon her. Her neglected spouse gobbled in full desperation, and swelled himself out, his countenance flaming with anger, by the side of his black wife, who was silent, and cast deprecating eyes up to heaven.
By the kitchen-wall, the black cat and her kittens romped amid a thousand twists and turns; whilst above them the mice, in the waterspout, peeped peeringly and curiously forth, drank of the rain-water, snuffed in the fresh air, and afterwards crept quietly again under the house tiles.
The flies stretched their legs, and began to walk about in the sunshine.
In the court stood a tall ash, in whose top waved a magpie nest. A many magpies, candidates for the airy palace, made their appearance there, flew screaming round about, wished to get possession of it, and chased one another away. At length two remained as conquerors of the nest. There laughed they and kissed under the spring-blue heaven, rocked by the south wind. Those that were chased away consoled themselves by fluttering down upon the yard-dog's provision-trough, and plucking out of it, whilst the proud Alfiero, sitting outside his kennel, contemplated them in dignified repose.
The starlings struck up their quaver, and sent forth their melodious whistling, whilst they congregated together on the edge of the roof.
The grapes shook from themselves the rain-drops in the wind, and the little stellaria, which is so dear to the singing birds, raised again its head to the sun, and was saluted by the jubilant song of the lark.
The geese waddled, gabbling over the grassy fields, biting the young green herbage. In this way, a change was revealed, which had taken place in the company. The bully, the white gander, had by accident become lame, and had with this lost his power and his respect. The grey gander had now an opportunity of exhibiting a beautiful character, a noble disposition; but no! The grey gander showed nothing of that; but as the white gander had done to him, did he now in re[Pg 49]turn; stretching out his neck against him, and keeping him at a distance with cries and blows; and the geese-madams troubled themselves not about it, and the white gander must now think himself well off to see his rival ruling the assembly, whilst he himself crept behind, hapless and forsaken. Susanna, who saw this, lost now all regard for the grey gander, without having any higher respect for the white one. She found the one no better than the other.
Just now Susanna returned from a visit to a peasant's cottage, where some time ago she had helped the wife to set up a piece of weaving, and now had been assisting her in taking it down, and her countenance beamed with pleasure at the scene which she had witnessed there. The cow had calved there that same morning, and the milk ran in foaming and abundant streams, to the unspeakable joy of four small pale boys, who now were divided in their joy over this, and their admiration of the little, lively, black-and-white spotted calf; which admiration, however, in the mind of the youngest, was mixed with fear. The web, also, had turned out beyond expectation: Susanna helped the housewife to cut out the piece of cloth in the most advantageous manner, and her cheerful words and cordial sympathy were like the cream to the milk breakfast. It was with this glad impression on her soul, that Susanna entered the court at Semb, and was saluted by Alfiero and all the poultry with great joy. In the mean time she heard the cries and lamentations of birds, and this led her to the orchard. Here she saw a pair of starlings, which with anxiety and screams were flying about the lowest branches of an oak. In the grass below, something black was hopping about, and Susanna saw that it was a young starling, which had ventured itself too early out of the nest and had fallen down. It now raised its weak cries to its parents, which, as it appeared, sought by their fluttering to keep at a respectful distance a grey cat, whose greedy eyes gleamed forth from under a hawthorn-bush. Susanna drove away the cat, and took up and warmed the little bird in her breast. But this did not at all pacify the starling papa and mamma; their uneasiness seemed rather to increase. Susanna would gladly from her heart have allayed it; but when she looked up and saw the starling nest high up in the oak trunk, many ells[Pg 50] above her head, she was quite in despair. With that the noon-day bell rang; Alfiero howled to it in his tragical manner, and Harald, at the head of his workpeople, returned from the field. Susanna hastened to ask counsel from him, and showed him the young one. "Give it here," said Harald, "I will twist its neck, and so we can have a nice little roast for dinner."
"No! can you be so cruel?" replied Susanna.
Harald laughed without answering, looked up to the oak to see where the starling nest was, and swung himself with great agility up the tree. Standing now upon the lowest boughs, he bent himself down to Susanna, and said, "Give it here to me, I will manage it." And Susanna now gave him the bird, without any further remark. Lightly and nimbly sprang Harald now from bough to bough, holding the bird in his left hand, and accompanied by the crying starling-parents, who flew terrified around his head. It was certainly a surprise to them when the young one was placed uninjured in the nest, but it was no longer so for Susanna; and as Harald, glowing and warm, sprang down from the tree, he was received by Susanna's most friendly glances and cordial thanks.
At this moment came several travelling tradespeople with their packs into the court, and were observed by Harald, who said that he had some little purchases to make, and besought Susanna's advice. Susanna was a woman, and women give advice willingly. Always good, of course!
After some time Harald had made various purchases, and had always asked counsel of Susanna, who thereby felt herself somewhat flattered, but could not help thinking the while of Harald "yet he must be a regular egotist. He always thinks about himself, and always buys for himself, and never anything for his sister, of whom he, however, talks so much, and seems to love so well! But—the Norwegian men, they love themselves most!"
And this time it did not seem without reason that Susanna thought so, for it was terrible how thoughtful Harald was for himself, and what a deal he needed for this self.
This piece of damask he would have for his table; this muslin for his curtains; these pocket-handkerchiefs for his nose; and so on.[Pg 51]
Susanna could not avoid saying, on purpose to try him, when they came to a handsome piece for a dress—
"How pretty that is! Certainly that would become your sister very nicely!"
"What? my sister!" returned Harald. "No; it is best that she clothe herself. This is exactly the thing that I want for my sofa. One is always nearest to oneself. One must care a little for oneself."
"Then care you for yourself! I have no time!" said Susanna, quite excited, as she turned her back upon him and his wares, and went.
Heaven has strewn thoughts o'er the sweet vernal dale,
These on the hearts of the flowers bestowing,
Therefore, when open the chalices glowing,
Whispers each petal a secret tale.
May strides on, and June approaches. From their nests in the airy, leaf-garlanded grottoes, which mother nature has prepared for them in the lofty oaks and ashes, the starlings send their deep, lively whistlings, their love-breathing trills. Song and fragrances fill the woods of Norway. Rustic maidens wander with their herds and flocks up to the Säter dales, singing joyously:
To draw to the Säter is good and blessed.
Come, Böling mine!
Come cow, come calf, come greatest and least;
To the Queen your steps incline.
The labour of the spring was closed; the harvests ripened beneath the care of heaven. Harald had now more leisure, and much of this he devoted to Susanna. He taught her to know the flowers of the dale, their names and properties; and was as much amused at her mangling of the Latin words, as he was charmed at the quickness with which she comprehended and applied their economical and medicinal uses.
The dale and its beauties became to her continually more known and beloved. She went now again in the morning to the spring, where the ladies-mantle and the silver-weed grew[Pg 52] so luxuriantly, and let the feathery creatures bathe and rejoice themselves. On Sunday afternoon, too, she sometimes took a ramble to a grove of oaks and wild rose-bushes, at the foot of the mountain called Krystalberg, which in the glow of the evening sun glittered with a wonderful radiance. She was sometimes followed thither by Harald, who related many a strange legend of Huldran, who lived in the mountain; of the dwarfs who shaped the six-sided crystals, called thence dwarf-jewels; of the subterranean world and doings, as these were fashioned in the rich imagination of ancient times, and as they still darkly lived on, in the silent belief of the northern people. Susanna's active mind seized on all this with the intensest interest. She visioned herself in the mountain's beautiful crystal halls; seemed to hear the song of the Neck in the rushing of the river; and tree and blossom grew more beautiful in her eyes, as she imagined elves and spirits speaking out of them.
Out of the prosaic soil of her life and action sprang a flower of poetry, half reality, half legend, which diffused a delightful radiance over her soul.
Susanna was not the only one at Semb on whom this spring operated
beneficially. The pale Mrs. Astrid seemed to raise herself out of her
gloomy trance, and to imbibe new vigour of life from the fresh vernal
air. She went out sometimes when the sun shone warmly, and she was seen
sitting long hours on a mossy stone in the wood, at the foot of the
Krystalberg. When Susanna observed that she seemed to love this spot,
she carried thither silently out of the wood, turfs with the flowering
Linnea and the fragrant single-flowered Pyrola, and planted them so that
the south wind should bear their delicious aroma to the spot where Mrs.
Astrid sate; and Susanna felt a sad pleasure in the thought that these
balsamic airs would give to her mistress an evidence of a devotion that
did not venture otherwise to show itself. Susanna would have been richly
rewarded, could she at this time have seen into her mistress's soul, and
also have read a letter which she wrote, and from which we present a
"TO BISHOP S——.
"Love does not grow weary. Thus was I constrained to say to myself to-day as your letter reached me, and penetrated[Pg 53] me with the feeling of your goodness, of your heavenly patience! And you do not grow weary of those who almost grow weary of themselves! And always the same spring in your hopes—the same mountain-fast, beautiful faith. Ah! that I better deserved your friendship! But to-day I have a glad word to say to you, and I will not withhold it from you.
"You wish to know how it is with me? Better! For some time I have breathed more lightly. Quiet days have passed over me; mild stars have glanced down upon my head; the waterfall has sung its cradle-song to me by night, till it has lulled me to sleep, and it has become calmer and better with me. The spring exerts its beneficent influence upon me. All rises round me so great, so rich in its life and beauty, I forget myself sometimes in admiration. It is more than thirty years since I lived in the country.
"At times, feelings arise in me like vernal gales. I have then experienced a certain consolation in the thought, that throughout my long conflict I have yet striven to do right, to endure to the utmost; that in a world where I have shed so many tears, I have also forborne to shed many. Sometimes, out of the vernally blue heaven, something falls on me like a tender glance, an anticipation. But, perhaps, these brightenings are merely spring flowers, which perish with the spring.
"I go sometimes out. I enjoy sitting in the beautiful grove of oaks down in the dale, and there, mild and beneficial feelings pass over me. The breeze bears to me odours ineffably delicious. These odours remind me of the world of beneficent, healing, invigorating powers which shoot forth around me, and manifest themselves so silently, so unpretendingly, merely through their fragrance and their still beauty. I sate there this evening, at the foot of the mountain. The sun was hastening towards his setting, but gleamed warmly into the grove. Near me grazed some sheep with their tender lambs. They gazed at me with a wondering but unalarmed air; a little bell tinkled clear and softly, as they wandered to and fro on the green sward; it was so calm and still that I heard the small insects which hummed in the grass at my feet, and there passed over me I know not what feeling of satisfaction and pleasure. I en[Pg 54]joyed existence in this hour like the lambs, like the insects—I can then still enjoy! Mild, affluent Nature! on thy heart might yet mine—but there stands the pale, bloody boy,—there stands the murderer, everlastingly between me and peace of mind! If I could sometimes hear your voice, if I could see frequently your clear, solace-inspiring glance, I might perhaps yet teach myself to—look up! But I ask you not to come. Ah! I desire no one to approach me. But be no longer so uneasy concerning me, my friend, I am better. I have about me good people, who make my outward life safe and agreeable. Let your affectionate thoughts, as hitherto, rest upon me; perhaps they will some time force light into my heart!"
 Böling is the collected flock. Queen is the fold for the night.
And I will show what a fellow I am!
My master—I am incensed!
We have said that Harald, just as little as Griselda's blessed husband, appeared to like a life which flowed like oil. Perhaps it seemed to him that his intercourse with Susanna was now assuming this character, and therefore was it perhaps that, as he could no longer excite her abhorrence as a misanthropist, one fine day he undertook to irritate her as a woman-tyrant.
"I am expecting my sister here one of these days," said he one evening in a disrespectful tone to Susanna; "I have occasion for her, to sew a little for me, and to put my things in order. Alette is a good, clever girl, and I think of keeping her with me till I marry, and can be waited on by my wife."
"Waited on by your wife!" exclaimed Susanna—one may easily conceive in what a tone.
"Yes, certainly. The woman is made to be subject to the man; and I do not mean to teach my wife otherwise. I mean to be master in my house, I."
"The Norwegian men must be despots, tyrants, actual Heathens and Turks!" said Susanna.[Pg 55]
"Every morning," said Harald, "precisely at six o'clock, my wife shall get up and prepare my coffee."
"But if she will not?"
"Will not? I will teach her to will, I. And if she will not by fair means, then she shall by foul. I tolerate no disobedience, not I; and this I mean to teach in the most serious manner; and if she does not wish to experience this, why then I advise her to rise at six o'clock, boil my coffee, and bring it me up to bed."
"Nay, never did I hear anything like this! You are the sole—God have mercy on the wives of this abominable country!"
"And a good dinner," continued Harald, "shall she set before me every day at noon, or—I shall not be in the best temper! And she must not come with her 'Fattig Leilighed' more than once a fortnight; and then I demand that it shall be made right savoury."
"If you will have good eating, then you must make good provision for the housekeeping," said Susanna.
"That I shall not trouble myself about; that my wife must care for. She shall provide stores for housekeeping how she can."
"I hope, then," said Susanna, "you will never have a wife, except she be a regular Xantippe."
"For that we know a remedy; and therefore, to begin with, every evening she shall pull off my boots. All that is necessary is, for a man to begin in time to maintain his authority; for the women are by nature excessively fond of ruling."
"And that because the men are tyrants," said Susanna.
"And besides," continued Harald, "so horribly petty-minded."
"Because," retorted Susanna, "the men have engrossed to themselves all matters of importance."
"And are so full of caprice," said Harald.
"Because the men," said Susanna, "are so brimful of conceit."
"And so fickle," added Harald.[Pg 56]
"Because the men," retorted Susanna, "are not deserving of constancy."
"And so obstinate and violent," continued Harald.
"When the men," said Susanna, "are absurd."
"But I," proceeded Harald, very sharply, "do not like an obstinate, passionate, imperious woman. It is in general the men themselves who spoil them; they are too patient, too conceding, too obliging. But in my house it shall be different. I do not intend to spoil my wife. On the contrary, she shall learn to show herself patient, devoted, and attentive to me; and for this purpose I intend to send for my dear sister. She must not expect that I shall move from the spot for her sake; she must not——"
At this moment a carriage was heard to drive into the court, and stop before the door. Harald looked through the window, made an exclamation of surprise and joy, and darted like an arrow out of the room. Susanna in her turn looked with anxiety through the window, and saw Harald lift a lady from the carriage, whom he then warmly and long folded in his arms, and quitted only to take from her the boxes and packages which she would bring out, and loaded himself with them.
"Oh, indeed!" thought Susanna, "it is thus then that it stands with his tyranny:" and satisfied that it was Harald's sister whom she thus received, she went into the kitchen to make some preparations for supper.
When she returned to the sitting-room, she found the brother and sister there. With beaming eyes Harald presented to Susanna—"My sister Alette!" And then he began to dance about with her, laughing and singing. Never had Susanna seen him so thoroughly glad at heart.
At supper Harald had eyes only for his sister, whom he did nothing but wait upon with jest and merriment, now and then playing her, indeed, some joke, for which she scolded him; and this only seemed to enliven him still more. Mrs. Astrid had this evening never quitted her room, and Harald could therefore all the more enjoy himself with Alette. After supper, he took his seat beside her on the sofa, and with her hand in his, he reminded her of the days of childhood, and how little they were then able to endure each other.[Pg 57]
"You were then so intolerably provoking," said Alette.
"And you so unbearably genteel and high," said Harald. "Do you remember how we used to wrangle at breakfast? That is, how I did, for you never made much answer, but carried yourself so excessively knowingly and loftily, because you were then a little taller than I."
"And I remember, too, how you sometimes quitted the field, left the breakfast, and complained to our mother you could not support my genteel airs."
"Yes, if that had but in the end availed me anything. But I was compelled to hear, 'Alette is much more sensible than you. Alette is much more steady than you.' That had a bitter taste with it; but as some amends, I ate up your confectionary."
"Yes, you rogue you, that you did; and then persuaded me into the bargain that a rat had done it."
"Ay, I was a graceless lad, good for nothing, conceited, intolerable!"
"And I a tiresome girl, a little old woman, peevish and sanctified. For every trick you played me I gave you a moral lecture."
"Nay, not one, my sister, but seven, and more than that. That was too strong for anything!" exclaimed Harald, laughing, and kissing Alette's hand. "But," continued he, "they were necessary, and well merited. But I, unworthy one, was rather glad when I escaped from them, and went to the University."
"Nor was I either at all sorry to have my pincushion and things left in peace. But when you came home three years later, then the leaf had turned itself over; then it was otherwise. Then became I truly proud of my brother."
"And I of my sister. Do you know, Alette, I think you must actually break off with Lexow. I really cannot do without you. Remain with me, instead of going with him up into the shivering, cold North, which you really never can like."
"You must ask Lexow about that, my brother."
Thus continued the conversation long, and became by degrees more serious and still. The brother and sister seemed to talk of their future, and that is always a solemn matter, but ever and anon burst forth a hearty laughter from the[Pg 58] midst of their consultations. It went on to midnight, but neither of them appeared to mark this.
Susanna, during the conversation of the relatives, had retired to the next room, so as to leave them the more freedom. Her bosom was oppressed by unwonted and melancholy feelings. With her brow leaned against the cool window panes, she gazed out into the lovely summer evening, while she listened to the soft and familiar voices within. The twilight cast its soft dusky veil over the dale; and tree and field, hill and plain, heaven and earth, seemed to mingle in confidential silence. In the grass slumbered the flowers, leaning on each other; and from amongst the leaves, which gently waved themselves side by side, Susanna seemed to hear whispered the words, "Brother! Sister!" With an ineffable yearning opened she her arms as if she would embrace some one—but when they returned again empty to her bosom, tears of anguish rolled over her cheeks, while her lips whispered, "Little Hulda!"
Little Hulda, all honour to thy affections, to thy radiant locks; but I do not believe that Susanna's tears now flowed alone for thee.
 "Fattig Leilighed"—"poor opportunity"—is the name given in merriment to the cooking-up the remains of the week's provisions, which generally is brought out on a Saturday.
I see thine eyes in beauty fling
Back the tall taper's splendour;
Yet can still, and clear, and tender,
Dwell on an angel's wing.
When Susanna the next morning went in to Alette, to inquire how she had slept and so on, she found Harald already with his sister, and around her were outspread the linen, the neckerchiefs, the pocket-handkerchiefs, the tablecloths, etc., which he told Susanna he had purchased for himself, but which in reality were presents for his sister, on the occasion of her approaching marriage. Scarcely had Susanna entered the room, when to her great amazement the brother and sister both united in begging her to accept the very handsome dress which she had once proposed that Harald should buy for his sister. She blushed and hesitated, but could not resist the cordiality of Harald, and[Pg 59] received the gift with thanks, though glad was she not. Tears were ready to start into her eyes, and she felt herself poor in more than one respect. When Harald immediately after this went out, Alette broke forth into a hearty panegyric upon him, and concluded with these words: "Yes, one may probably three times a day get angry with him before we can rightly get to know him; but this is certain, that if he wishes it, you cannot get clear of him without first loving him." Susanna sate silent; listened to Alette's words; and her heart beat at once with painful and affectionate feelings. The call to breakfast broke off the conversation.
Alette was something more than twenty years of age, and had the beautiful growth, the pure complexion, the fine features, with which mother Nature seems especially to have endowed her daughters of Norway. Something fine and transparent lay in her appearance; and her body seemed merely to be a light garment for the soul, so full of life. Her manner of action and of speaking had something fascinating in them, and betrayed happy endowments of nature and much accomplishment. Betrothed to a wealthy merchant of Nordland, she was to be married in the autumn; but in the meanwhile came to spend some time with her brother, and with some other near relatives in Hallingdal.
Susanna felt herself but little at ease with Alette, beside whose fine, half-ethereal being, she perceived in herself for the first time, an unpleasant consciousness of being—lumpish.
From the moment of Alette's arrival in Semb, there commenced a change there. Her charming disposition and great talents made her quickly the centre round which all assembled. Even Mrs. Astrid felt her influence, and remained in the evenings with the rest, and took part in the conversation, which Alette knew how to make interesting. But Mrs. Astrid herself contributed not the less thereto, when she for hours together, as it were, forgot herself in the subjects of the conversation, and then uttered words which gave evidence of a deeply feeling and thinking spirit. Susanna regarded her with joy and admiration. Yet often a painful thought seemed to snatch her away from the genial impression, some dark memory appeared spectre-like to step between her and gladness; the words then died on her pallid lips, the hand was laid on the heart, and she heard and saw[Pg 60] no more of what was going on around her, till the interest of the conversation was again able to take hold of her.
There was frequently reading aloud. Alette had a real talent for this, and it was a genuine enjoyment to hear from her lips, poems of Velhaven and Vergeland; which two young men, although personal enemies, in this respect have extended to each other a brotherly hand, because they sincerely love their native land, and have exhibited much that is beautiful and ennobling in its literature.
In the mean time, Susanna became continually less at ease in her mind; Harald no longer, as before, sought her company, and seemed almost to have forgotten her in Alette. In the conversations, at which she was now often present, there was much which touched her feelings, and awoke in her questions and imaginations; but when she attempted to express any of these, when she would take part and would show that she too could think and speak, then fell the words so ill, and her thoughts came forth so obscurely, that she herself was compelled to blush for them; especially when on this, Alette would turn her eyes upon her with some astonishment, and Harald cast down his; and she vowed to herself never again to open her mouth on subjects which she did not understand.
But all this sunk deep into her bosom; and in her self-humiliation she lamented bitterly the want of a more careful education, and sighed from the depths of her heart, "Ah! that I did but know a little more! That I did but possess some beautiful talent!"
And is it once morning, then is it noon-day,
For the light must eternally conquer.
It was a lovely summer evening. Through the open windows of the sitting-room streamed in the delicious summer air with the fragrance of the hay, which now lay in swath in the dale. At one table, Susanna prepared the steaming tea, which the Norwegians like almost as much as the English; at another sate Mrs. Astrid with Harald and Alette, occupied with the newly-published beautiful work, "Snorre Sturleson's Sagas of the Norwegian Kings, translated from[Pg 61] the Icelandic of J. Aal." The fourth number of this work lay before Harald, open at the section "The Discovery of Vineland." He had just read aloud Mr. Aal's interesting introduction to the Sagas of Erik Röde and Karlefne, and now proceeded to read these two Sagas themselves, which contained the narrative of the first discovery of America, and of which we here give a brief compendium.
"At the end of the tenth century, at the period when the Northmen sought with warlike Viking hosts the south, and the Christianity with the Gospel of Peace made its way towards the North, there lived in Iceland a man of consequence, named Herjulf. His son was called Bjarne, and was a courageous young man. His mind was early turned towards travel and adventures. He soon had the command of his own ship, and sailed in it for foreign lands. As he one summer returned to the island of his ancestors, his father had shortly before sailed for Greenland, and had settled himself there. Then also steered Bjarne out to sea, saying, 'He would, after the old custom, take up his winter's board with his father, and would sail for Greenland.'
"After three days' sail, a fierce north wind arose, followed by so thick a fog that Bjarne and his people could no longer tell where they were. This continued many days. After that they began to see the sun again, and could discern the quarters of the heaven. They saw before them land, which was overgrown with wood, and had gentle eminences. Bjarne would not land there, because it could not be Greenland, where he knew that they should find great icebergs. They sailed on with a south-west wind for three days, and got sight of another land, which was mountainous, and had lofty icebergs. But Bjarne perceived that neither was this Greenland, and sailed farther, till he at length discovered the land which he sought, and his father's court.
"On a visit to Erik Jarl in Norway, Bjarne related his voyage, and spoke of the strange country which he had seen. But people thought that he had had little curiosity not to have been able to say more about this country, and some blamed him much on this account. Erik Röde's son Leif, the descendant of a distinguished line, was filled with zeal at Bjarne's relation, to pursue the discovery, and purchased of him a ship, which he manned with five-and-thirty men, and so set out to[Pg 62] sea, to discover this new land. They came first to a country full of snow and mountains, which seemed to them to be destitute of all magnificence. They then came in sight of one whose shore was of white sand, and its surface overgrown with woods. They sailed yet farther westward, and arrived at a splendid country, where they found grapes and Indian corn and the noble tree 'Masur.'
"This country they called 'Vineland,' and built a house, and remained there through the winter, which was so mild that the grass was but little withered. Moreover, the day and night were of more equal length than in Iceland or Greenland. And Leif was a tall and strong man, of a manly aspect, and at the same time wise and prudent in all matters. After this expedition, he grew both in consideration and wealth, and was universally called 'The Happy.'
"Amongst the voyages to this new country which followed on that of Leif, Karlefne's is the most remarkable. But the new colonists were attacked with heavy sickness; and the peculiar home-sickness of the inhabitants of the North might perhaps, in part, drive them back from the grapes of Vineland to their own snowy home: certain it is, that they retained no permanent settlement in the new country. They were also continually assaulted by the natives, whom their weapons were not powerful enough to restrain.
"In the mean time, several Icelandic annalists have recorded that, in every age, from the time of Leif to that of Columbus, America was visited by the Northmen. Testimonies and memories of these voyages we have now only in these relations, and in the remarkable stone called 'Dighton written Rock,' on the bank of Taunton river, in Massachusetts, and whose ruins and hieroglyphics, at length, in 1830, copied by learned Americans, corroborate the truth of these relations."
Harald now commented on these figures with great zeal, remarking that, in Norway, similar ones were yet found engraven on the face of rocks, on tombstones, etc. "Do you see, Alette," continued he, eagerly, "this represents a woman and a little child; probably Karlefne's wife, who bore a son during this visit to Vineland. And this must be a bull;[Pg 63] and in Karlefne's Saga a bull is mentioned, which terrified the natives by his bellowings; and these figures to the right represent the natives. This must be a shield, and these Runic letters."
"It requires a right good strength of imagination for all this, my brother," here interrupted Alette, smilingly, who was not altogether so patriotic as Harald; "but granted that all this was evidence of the first discovery of America by our ancestors, what then? What good, what advantage has the world derived thence? Is it not rather sorrowful to see that such important discoveries should have been lost, that they could be obliterated, as if they had never been, and must be made anew? Had not Columbus, some centuries later, braved both the narrow-mindedness of men and the yet unmeasured tracks of the ocean, it is probable that to-day we should know nothing of America, and of these stones, the traces of our forefathers on this foreign soil."
"But, my dear Alette," exclaimed Harald in astonishment, "is it not then clear as the sun, that without the Vineland voyages of the Northmen, Columbus could certainly never have fallen upon the idea of seeking a land beyond the great ocean? In the time of Columbus, the Northmen sailed in their Snäckor about all the coasts of Europe; they made voyages to Spain, and rumours of the Vineland voyages went with them. Besides—and this is worthy of notice—Columbus himself visited Iceland a few years prior to his great voyage of discovery; and, as Robertson says, rather to extend his knowledge of sea affairs than to augment his property."
"But," said Alette, "Washington Irving, in his 'Columbus,' which I have recently read, speaks indeed of his voyage to Iceland, but denies that he derived thence any clue to his great discovery."
"But that is incredible, impossible, after what we here see and hear! Listen now to what Aal says of the time when Columbus made his sojourn in Iceland: 'In Iceland flourished then the written Sagas, and the various Sagas passed from hand to hand in various copies, serving then, as now, but in a higher degree, to shorten the winter evenings. Our old manuscript Sagas thus certainly kindled a light in his[Pg 64] dim conceptions; and this must have so much the more brought him upon the track, as it was nearer to the events themselves, and could in part be orally communicated by those who were the direct lineal descendants of the discoverers.'
"Is not this most natural and essential? Can you doubt any longer, Alette? I pray you convert and improve yourself. Convert yourself from Irving to Aal."
"I am disposed to take Harald's side," said now Mrs. Astrid, with a lively voice and look. "Great, and for mankind, important discoveries have never occurred without preparatory circumstances, often silently operating through whole centuries, till in a happy moment the spirit of genius and of good fortune has blown up the fire which glowed beneath the ashes, into a clear, and for the world, magnificent flame. Wherever we see a flower we can look down to a stem, to the roots hidden in the earth, and finally look to a seed, which in its dark form contained the yet undeveloped but living plant. And may not everything in the world be regulated by the same law of development? In the tempestuous voyages of the Northmen through the misty seas, I could see the weather-driven seed which, under the guidance of Providence, from the soil of Vineland, stretched its roots through centuries, till a mighty genius was guided by them to complete the work, and to the Old World to discover the New."
Harald was delighted with this idea, which blew fresh wind into his sails; and thereby enlivened, he gave vent to the admiration of the ancient times of the North, which lived in his bosom.
"It belonged," said he, "to those men of few words but of powerful deeds; those men to whom danger was a sport, the storm music, and the swell of waves a dance: to this race of youths it belonged to discover new worlds without imagining that to be any exploit. Great achievements were their every-day occupation."
Alette shook her beautiful head at this enthusiasm for antiquity. She would not deny these times had a certain greatness, but she could not pronounce them truly great. She spoke of the revenge, the violence, the base cruelties which the past ages of the North openly paid homage to.[Pg 65]
"But," continued Harald, "the contempt of pain and death, this noble contempt, so universal amongst the men of that time, deprived cruelty of its sting. Our degenerate race has scarcely a conception of the strength which made the men of past times find a pleasure even in pains, since they spurred their courageous souls to the highest pitch of heroism; since in such moments they felt themselves able to be more than men. Therefore sung heroes amid the very pains of death. Thus died the Swedish Hjalmar, in the arms of his friend Odd, the Norwegian, while he greeted the eagles which came to drink his blood. Thus died Ragnar Lodbrok, in the den of serpents; and while the snakes hissing, gnawed their way into his heart, he sung his victories, and concluded with the words—
Gone are the hours of existence!
Smiling shall I die.
"How noble and admirable is this strength, amid torments and death! Could we but thus die!"
"But the rudest savages of America," said Alette, "know and practise this species of heroism; before me floats another ideal, both of life and death. The strong spirit of past ages, which you, my brother, so highly prize, could not support old age, the weary days, the silent suffering, the great portion of the lot of man. I will prize the spirit which elevates every condition of humanity; which animates the dying hero to praise, not himself, but God, and die; and which to the lonely one, who wanders through the night of life towards his unnoticed grave, imparts a strength, a peace, and enables him in his darkness to triumph over all the powers of darkness. Ah! I who deeply feel myself to be one of the weak ones in the earth, who possess no single drop of Northern heroic blood; I rejoice that we can live and die in a manner which is noble, which is beautiful, which requires not the Berserker-mood, and of which the strongest spirit need not be ashamed. Do you remember, my brother, 'The old poet' of Rein? This poem perfectly expresses the tone of mind which I would wish to possess in my last hour."
Harald recollected but faintly "The old poet," and both he and Mrs. Astrid begged Alette to make them better acquainted with him. Alette could not remember the whole[Pg 66] of the poem, but gave an account of the most essential of its contents in these words—
"It is spring. The aged poet wanders through wood and mead, in the country where he once sung, where he had once been happy, amongst those whom he had made glad. His voice is now broken; his strength, his fire, are over. Like a shadow of that which once he was, he goes about in the young world still fresh with life. The birds of spring gather around him, welcome him with joy, and implore him to take his harp and sing to it of the new-born year, of the smiling spring. He answers—
O ye dear little singer quire,
No more can I strike the harp with fire;
No more in youth is renewed my spring;
No more the old poet can gaily sing;
And yet I am so blest—
In my heart is heavenly rest.
"He wanders farther through wood and meadow. The brook murmuring between green banks, whispers to him its joy over its loosed bands, and greets the singer as the messenger of spring and freedom:
Thy harp, my fleet stream fondly haileth—
It leaps, it exults, it bewaileth;
Let it sound then—O make no delay!—
Like me the days hasten away.
"The aged singer replies:
O spring! which dost leap in thy sheen,
No more am I what I have been.
The name of the past I hear alone—
A feeble echo of days that are flown.
And yet I am so blest;
In my heart is heavenly rest.
"He wanders farther. The Dryads surround him in their dance; the Flowers present him garlands, and beg him to sing their festival; the Zephyrs, which were wont to play amid his harp-strings, seek in the bushes, and ask whether he has forgotten them there; caress the old man, and seek again, but in vain. They are about to fly, but he entreats:[Pg 67]
O dear ones, depart not I pray!
O flowers, spread with beauty my way!
My harp is broken, but no sigh
Spring's spirits gay shall cause to fly.
And I am still so blest;
In my heart is heavenly rest.
"He wanders farther, and seeks out every beloved nook. The youth of the country assemble, and surround the aged singer—'the friend of youth and gladness.' They entreat him with his music to beautify their festival:
For spring is dead, with all its pleasure,
Without the harp and song's glad measure.
"The old man replies:
Quenched, ye youth, is my fire so wild;
My evening twilight is cool, but mild;
And the blissful hours of my youth are brought,
By your lively songs, into my thought.
Bewail me not; I am still so blest—
In my heart lieth heaven's own rest.
"And now he exhorts the songsters of the wood, flowers, youth, everything that is lovely in nature and in life, to rejoice in its existence, and to praise the Creator. The beauty and joy of all creatures are the garland in his silver hair; and grateful and happy, admiring and singing praises, he sinks softly into the maternal bosom of Nature."
Alette was silent; a tender emotion trembled in her voice as she uttered the last words, and beamed in her charming countenance. The tears of Mrs. Astrid flowed; her hands were convulsively clasped together, whilst she exclaimed, "Oh thus to feel before one dies! and thus to be permitted to die!" She drew Alette to her with a kind of vehemence, kissed her, and then wept silently, leaning on her shoulder. Harald, too, was affected; but he appeared to restrain his feelings, and gazed with earnest and tearful eyes on the group before him.
Silently and unobserved stole Susanna out of the room. She felt a sting in her heart; a serpent raged in her bosom. Driven by a nameless agonised disquiet, she hastened forth into the free air, and ascended, almost without being aware of it herself, the steep footpath up the mountain, where many a time, in calmer moments, she had admired the beautiful prospect.
Great and beautiful scenes had, during the foregoing con[Pg 68]versation, arisen before her view;—she felt herself so little, so poor beside them. Ah! she could not once speak of the great and beautiful, for her tongue was bound. She felt so warmly, and yet could warm no one! The happy Alette won without trouble, perhaps even without much valuing it, a regard, an approval, which Susanna would have purchased with her life. The Barbra-spirit boiled up in her, and with a reproachful glance to heaven she exclaimed, "Shall I then, for my whole life remain nothing but a poor despised maid-servant!"
The heaven looked clown on the young maiden mildly, but smilingly; soft rain-drops sprinkled her forehead; and all nature around her stood silent, and, as it were, in sorrow. This sorrowing calm operated on Susanna like the tenderly accusing glance of a good mother. She looked down into her heart, and saw there envy and pride, and she shuddered at herself. She gazed down into the stream which waved beneath her feet, and she thought with longing, "Oh, that one could but plunge down, deep, deep into these waves, and then arise purified—improved!"
But already this wish had operated like a purifying baptism on Susanna's soul; and she felt fresh and light thoughts ascend within her. "A poor maid-servant!" repeated now Sanna; "and why should that be so contemptible a lot? The Highest himself has served on earth; served for all, for the very least; yes, even for me. Oh!—" and it became continually lighter and warmer in her mind.—"I will be a true maid-servant, and place my honour in it, and desire to be nothing else! Charm I cannot; beauty and genius, and beautiful talents, I have not; but—I can love and I can serve, and that will I do with my whole heart, and with all my strength, and in all humility; and if men despise me, yet God will not forsake the poor and faithful maid-servant!"
When Susanna again cast her tearful eyes on the ground, they fell on a little piece of moss, one of those very least children of nature, which in silence and unheeded pass through the metamorphoses of their quiet life. The little plant stood in fresh green, on its head hung the clear rain-drops, and the sun which now shone through the clouds, glittered in them.
Susanna contemplated the little moss, and it seemed to[Pg 69] say to her: "See thou! though I am so insignificant, yet I enjoy the dew of heaven and the beams of the sun, as fully as the roses and the lilacs of the garden!" Susanna understood the speech of the little plant, and grateful and calmed, she repeated many times to herself, with a species of silent gladness—"a humble, a faithful maid-servant!"
When Susanna came home, she found Mrs. Astrid not well. She had been much excited, and on such occasions an attack of the spasms was always to be apprehended. Susanna begged earnestly, and received the permission to watch by her to-night; at least, till Mrs. Astrid slept. Mrs. Astrid had, indeed, another maid with her, but she was old and very deaf, and Susanna had no confidence in her.
Mrs. Astrid retired to rest. Susanna seated herself on a stool by the window, silently occupied with her thoughts, and with knitting a stocking. The window had stood open during the day, and a host of flies had entered the room. Mrs. Astrid was much disturbed by them, and complained that they prevented her sleeping. Quietly Susanna laid bare her white shoulders, neck, and arms, and when the flies in swarms darted down upon her, and her mistress now left at peace slept calmly, Susanna sate still, let the flies enjoy themselves, and enjoyed herself thereby more than one can believe.
 Probably Newfoundland.
 Probably spotted maple.
 Upper Canada.
 Snails or cockles, as they called their light craft.
 I have not wished to attempt a translation of these verses, convinced that for the Swedish reader it is not necessary; and why unnecessarily brush off the golden dust from the butterfly's wings.—Fredrika Bremer.
As, however, the English reader may find it rather more necessary to give a translation of the Norwegian verses, I have made it, and that as much in the simplicity of the original as I could.—M. H.
True delicacy, that most beautiful heart-leaf of humanity, exhibits itself most significantly in little things. Those which we in general call so, are not by any means so little.
It is with our faults as with horseradish; it is terribly difficult to extirpate it from the earth in which it has once taken root; and nothing is more discouraging to the cultivator who will annihilate this weed from his ground, than to see it, so lately plucked up, shooting forth again freshly to the light from roots which remained buried in the earth. One can get quite out of patience; with the weedy soil, and one is, when this soil is one's own dear self, possessed by the most cordial desire to set off far, far from one's self. But how!!!
Susanna was often conscious of this feeling, as she daily[Pg 70] laboured to repress the excitements which arose up within her at this time. Still the thoughts and resolutions which awoke within her on the evening just described, had taken hold upon her too strongly for them to be again effaced, and with the motto—"a humble and regular servant-girl," she struggled boldly through the dangers and the events of the day. Her demeanour was calmer; she quietly withdrew herself from taking part in conversation which went beyond her education; in a friendly spirit, she endeavoured to renounce the attentions and interest of others, and busied herself only in attending to the comforts and pleasures of all, as well as in accomplishing, and when possible, anticipating every wish. And such an activity has, more than people imagine, an influence upon the well-being of every-day life. The affectionate will lends even to dead things soul and life. But heavy to the ministering spirits is this life of labour and care for others, where no sunbeam of love, no cordial acknowledgment, falls upon their laborious day.
In the beginning of August, Harald set off, to return in about fourteen days with Alf Lexow, the betrothed of Alette. During his absence, Alette was to pay a visit to her uncle in Hallingdal; but, according to Mrs. Astrid's wish, she yet spent another week at Semb. During these days, Alette and Susanna became better friends, for Alette was touched involuntarily by Susanna's unwearied and unpretending attentions, and besides this, she found in her such a frank mind and such cordial sympathy, that she could not deny herself the pleasure of communicating much of that which lived in the heart of the happy bride. Happy,—indeed Alette was, for long and warmly had she loved Alf Lexow, and should shortly be united to him for ever; and yet often stole a melancholy expression over her charming surface, when the conversation turned to this marriage and to her removal into Nordland. Susanna asked her several times of the cause of this, and as often Alette jestingly evaded the question; but one evening when they had chatted together more friendly than common, Alette said—
"It is a strange feeling to get everything ready for one's own marriage in the belief that one shall not long survive it! This removal to Nordland will be my death, that I know certainly. No, do not look so terrified! It is in no case so[Pg 71] dangerous. And thoughts of an early death I have long borne in my mind, and therefore I am accustomed to them."
"Ah!" said Susanna, "those who love and are loved, the happy, should never die! But why this strange foreboding?"
"I do not know myself!" replied Alette, "but it has accompanied me from my earliest youth. My mother was born under the beautiful heaven of Provence, and passed the greater part of her youth in that warm country. The love of my father made her love in our Norway a second country, and here she spent the remainder of her life; she never, however, could rightly bear this cold climate, longed secretly for that warmer land, and died with the longing. To me has she bequeathed this feeling; and although I have never seen those orange groves, that warm blue heaven, of which she so gladly spoke, I drew in from childhood a love to them; I have, besides, inherited my mother's suffering from cold;—my chest is not strong, ah!—the long, dark winters of Nordland; the residence on the sea-shore in a climate which is twice as cold as that to which I have been accustomed, the sea-mists and storms—ah! I cannot long withstand them. But Susanna, you must promise me not to say one word of what I have confided to you, either to Harald or to Lexow!"
"But if they know it," said Susanna, "then you certainly need not go there. Certainly your bridegroom would for your sake seek out a milder country——"
"And not feel at home there, and die of longing for his dear Nordland! No, no, Susanna! I know his love for his native land, and know that this winterly nature which I dread so much, is precisely his life and his health. Alf is a Nordlander in heart and soul, and has, as it were, grown up with the district which his fathers inhabited, and whose advance and prosperity is his favourite scheme, the principal object of his activity. No, no! for my sake he shall not tear himself from his home, his noble efforts. Rather would I, if it must be so, find an early grave in his Nordland!"
Susanna now desired to know, and Alette communicated to her, various particulars of the country which was she thought so terrible, and we will now, with the young friends, cast[Pg 72]—
All is cold and hard.
The spirit of God yet rests upon Nordland.
A great part of Norway has, as it were, its face turned away from life. "The Old Night," which the ancient world considered to be the original mother of all things, here held the giant child in her dark bosom, and bound it tight in swaddling bands, out of which it could not shape itself to joy and freedom. Neither Nordland nor Finmark see the sun for many months in the year, and the difficulties and dangers of the road shut them out from intercourse with the southern world. The spirit of the North Pole rests oppressively over this region, and when in still August nights it breathes from hence over southern Norway, then withers the half-ripened harvests of the valleys and the plains, and the icy-grey face of hunger stares stiffly from the northern cliffs upon laborious but unhappy human multitudes. The sea breaks upon this coast against a palisadoed fence of rocks and cliffs, around which swarm flocks of polar birds with cries and screams. Storms alternate with thick mists. The cliffs along this coast have extraordinary shapes; now ascend they upwards like towers, now resemble beasts, now present gigantic and terrific human profiles; and one can easily imagine how the popular belief sees in them monsters and giants turned to stone, and why their ancestors laid their Jotunhem in this desolate wilderness.
And a dark fragment of Paganism still lingers about this region even to this day. It is frozen fast into the people's imagination; it is turned to stone in the horrible shapes of nature, which once gave it life. The light of the Gospel endeavours in vain to dissipate the shadows of a thousand years; the Old Night holds them back. In vain the Holy Cross is raised upon all the cliffs; the belief in magic and magic arts lives still universally among the people. Witches sit, full of malice, in their caves, and blow up storms for the sea-wanderers, so that they must be unfortunate; and the ghost Stallo, a huge man, dressed in black, with a staff in[Pg 73] his hand, wanders about in the wildernesses, and challenges the solitary traveller to meet him in the contest for life and death.
The Laplander, the nomade of the North, roving free with his reindeer over undivided fields, appears like a romantic feature in this life; but it must be viewed from afar. Near, every trace of beauty vanishes in the fumes of brandy and the smoke of the Lapland hut.
Along the coasts, between the cliffs, and the rocks, and the hundreds of islands which surround this strand, live a race of fishermen, who, rivalling the sea-mew, skim the sea. Night and day, winter and summer, swarm their boats upon the waves; through the whistling tempest, through the foaming breakers, speed they unterrified with their light sails, that from the depths of the sea they may catch the silvery shoals of herrings, the greatest wealth of the country. Many annually are swallowed up of the deep; but more struggle with the elements, and conquer. Thus amid the daily contest are many powers developed, many a hero-deed achieved, and people harden themselves against danger and death, and also against the gentler beauty of life.
Yet it is in this severe region that the eider-duck has its home; it is upon those naked cliffs where its nest is built, from feathers plucked from its own breast, that silky soft down which is scattered abroad over the whole world, that people in the North and in the South may lie warm and soft. How many suffering limbs, how many aching heads, have not received comfort from the hard cliffs of Norway.
Upon the boundaries between Nordland and Finmark lies the city of Tromsö, the now flourishing centre of these provinces. It was here that Alette was to spend her life; it was here that affection prepared for her a warm and peaceful nest, like the eider-duck drawing from its own breast the means of preparing a soft couch in the bosom of the hard rock. And after Alette had described to Susanna what terrified her so much in her northern retreat, she concealed not from her that which reconciled her so forcibly to it; and Susanna comprehended this very well, as Alette read to her the following letter:[Pg 74]
Tromsö. May 28th.
Were you but here, my Alette! I miss you every moment whilst I am arranging my dwelling for your reception, and feel continually the necessity of asking, "How do you wish it? what think you of it?" Ah, that you were here, my own beloved, at this moment! and you would be charmed with this "ice and bear land," before which, I know, you secretly shudder. The country around here is not wild and dark; as, for example, at Helgoland. Leafy woods garland the craggy shores of our island, and around them play the waves of the sea in safe bays and creeks. Our well-built little city lies sweetly upon the southern side of the island, only divided from the mainland by a narrow arm of the sea. My house is situated in the street which runs along the large convenient harbour. At this moment above twenty vessels lie at anchor, and the various flags of the different nations wave in the evening wind. There are English, German, and especially Russian, which come to our coast, in order to take our fish, our eider-down, and so on, in exchange for their corn and furs. Besides these, the inhabitants of more southern regions bring hither a vast number of articles of luxury and fashion, which are eagerly purchased by the inhabitants of Kola, and the borders of the White Sea. Long life to Commerce! My soul expands at the sight of its life. What has not commerce done from the beginning of the world for the embellishment of life, for promoting the friendly intercourse of countries and people, for the refinement of manners! It has always given me the most heartfelt delight, that the wisest and most humane of the lawgivers of antiquity—Solon—was a merchant. "By trade," says one of his biographers, "by wisdom and music was his soul fashioned. Long life to commerce! What lives not through it?" What is all fresh life, all movement, in reality, but trade, exchange, gift for gift! In love, in friendship, in the great life of the people, in the quiet family circle, everywhere where I see happiness and prosperity, see I also trade; nay, what is the whole earth if not a colony from the mother country of heaven, and whose well-being and happy condition depend upon free export and import! The simile might be still further carried out, yet—thou good Giver above, pardon us that we have ventured upon it![Pg 75]
And you must not fancy, Alette, that the great interest for trade here excludes the nobler and more refined mental culture. Among the thousand people who inhabit the city, one can select out an interesting circle for social intercourse. We also have a theatre, and many pleasures of refined life. I was yesterday at a ball, where they danced through the whole night, till—daylight. The good music, the tasteful dresses and lovely dancing of the ladies; but above all, the tone of social life, the cordial cheerfulness, astonished several foreigners who were present, and caused them to inquire whether they were really here under the seventieth degree of latitude?
But the winter! Methinks I hear you say, "in summer it may be well enough, but in the long, dark winter." Well then, my Alette, winter—goes on right excellently when people love one another, when it is warm at home. Do you remember, Alette, last autumn, how we read together at Christiansand, in the Morning Paper, the following paragraph from the Tromsö News of the fourteenth of October:
"Already for several days successively have we had snow storms, and at this moment the snow-plough is working to form a road for the church-going people. The grave-like stillness of night and winter spread itself with tempest speed over meadow and valley, and only a few cows wander now like spectres over the snow-covered fields, to pluck their scanty fare from the twigs which are not yet snowed up."
That little winter-piece pleased me, but at the expression, "the grave-like stillness of night and winter," you bowed your loving dear face, with closed eyes, to my breast. Oh, my Alette! thus shall you do in future, when dread of darkness and cold seize upon you; and upon my breast, listening to the beating of my heart and to my love, shall you forget the dark pictures which stand without before your home. Close your eyes; slumber beloved, whilst I watch over you, and then you will, with brightening eyes and blooming cheeks, look upon the night and winter, and feel that its power is not great. Oh, truly can love, this Geiser of the soul, smelt ice and snow, wherever they may be on earth; truly, wherever its warm springs swell forth, a southern clime can bloom; yes, even at the North Pole itself.
Whilst I write this, I hear music, which makes upon me[Pg 76] a cheerful and a melancholy impression at the same time. They are eight Russians, who sing one of their national songs, whilst in the quiet evening they sail down the Tromsö-sound. They sing a quartet, and with the most complete purity and melody. They sing in a minor key, but yet not mournfully. They row in the deep shadow of the shore, and at every stroke of the oars the water shines around the boat, and drops, as of fire, fall from the oars. The phenomenon is not uncommon on the Atlantic; and know you not, my Alette, what it is which shines and burns so in the sea? It is love! At certain moments, the consciousness of the sea-insects rises to a high pitch of vividness, and millions of existences invisible to the naked human eye, then celebrate the bliss of their being. In such moments the sea kindles; then every little worm, inspired by love, lights up its tiny lamp. Yet only for a moment burns its flame, then all the quicker to be extinguished. But it dies without pain—dies joyfully. Rich nature! Good Creator!
My heart also burns. I look upon the illuminated element, which may be said to be full of enjoyment; I listen to the melody of the singers, full of joy and pain, and—I stretch forth my arms to you, Alette, my Alette!
"Oh!" exclaimed Susanna, "how this man loves you, and how you must love him! Certainly you must live long, that you may be happy together!"
"And if not long," said Alette, "yet for a short time; yes, a short time I hope to live and to make him happy, to thank him for all his love. And then——"
Alette stooped down and plucked a beautiful full-blown water-lily which grew in the river, by whose banks they stood; she showed it to Susanna, whilst she continued with a pensive smile—
What more then than this?
One moment she is
A friendly ray given,
From her home's shining heaven;
Then is she the flame,
High mid the temple's resounding acclaim—
One moment like this
Bears you up through death's sleep into bliss.—Munch.
 The stormy winter of 1839 abounded in misfortunes to the fishermen of Lofodne, but abounded also in the most beautiful instances of heroic courage, where life was ventured, and sometimes lost, in order to save a suffering fellow-creature.
To meet, to part;
The welcome, the farewell;
Behold the sum of life!—Bjerregaard.
Alette set off to fulfil her promise to her uncle in Hallingdal; but in a few weeks she was again at Semb, in company with Harald and Alf Lexow, who had fetched her there. Yet this visit could last only for a short time, for then she had to set out with her bridegroom and her uncle's family on the journey to Trondhjem, where her marriage was to be celebrated at the house of a rich and cordial aunt, who had long been rejoicing in it, and had now for several months been baking and boiling in preparation for it. Harald also was to accompany them on this journey.
Alf Lexow was a man in his best years, with an open and generous manner. His face was small, marked by the smallpox, but otherwise handsome and full of life and benevolence. He was one of those men whose first glance attracts one and inspires confidence. Susanna felt great pleasure on seeing the affectionate, confidential understanding between the betrothed. She herself also was now happier, because Harald now left Alette much with her bridegroom, and sought as before for Susanna's society.
Alette was lively, agreeable, and well-educated; but she liked best to hear herself talk. So in reality did Harald; and a better listener than Susanna could nobody have. Contentions occurred no longer; but there was a something in Susanna which attracted Harald to her more than the former passion for strife had ever done. He found Susanna's manners altered for the better; there was in them a something quieter, and, at the same time, gentler than before; whilst she was now always so kind, so attentive, and thought of everything which could give pleasure to others. He saw, at the same time, with what silent solicitude her thoughts followed Mrs. Astrid, who now, at the approach of autumn—it was then the end of August—appeared to have relapsed into her dark and silent mood, out of which she had been aroused for some time. She now very rarely left her room, except at the hour of dinner.[Pg 78]
Harald wished that his sister and brother-in-law elect should witness, before their departure from the dale, some of the popular assemblings for games and dancings, and had therefore prepared a rural festival, to which he invited them and Susanna, and to which we also will now betake ourselves.
This peculiar, wild, affecting music, is our national poetry.
The violins ringing;
Not blither the singing
Of birds in the woods and the meadows.
Hurrah! hand round the foaming can—
Skål for the fair maid who dancing began!
Skål for the Jente mine! And
Skål for the Jente thine! And
Skål for the fathers and mothers on benches!
One lovely afternoon in the early part of September were seen two young festally-attired peasant maidens gaily talking, hastening along the footpath through the little wood in Heimdal towards a green open space surrounded by trees, and where might be seen a crowd of persons of both sexes assembled, all in peasant dresses. Here was the "Leikevold," or dancing-ground; and as the young girls approached it, the one said to the other, "It is certain, Susanna, that the dress becomes you excellently! Your lovely bright hair shines more beautifully than ever, plaited with red ribbons. I fancy the costume does not suit me half so well."
"Because you, best Alette, look like a disguised princess, and I in mine like a regular peasant girl."
"Susanna, I perceive that you are a flatterer. Let us now see whether Alf and Harald will recognise the Tellemark 'jente' girls."
They did not long remain in uncertainty on this subject; for scarcely were they come to the dancing-ground, when two peasants in Halling-jackets, and broad girdles round their waists, came dancing towards them, whilst they sang with the others the following peasant-song:
And I am bachelor, and am not roving;
And I am son unto Gulleig Boë;
And wilt thou be to me faithful and loving,
Then I will choose thee, dear maiden, for me.
Susanna recognised Harald in the young peasant, who thus singing gaily, politely took her hand, and led her along the lively springing-dance, which was danced to singing. Alette danced with her Alf, who bore himself nobly as a Halling-youth.
Never had Susanna looked so well and so happy; but then neither had she ever enjoyed such pleasure. The lovely evening; the tones of the music; the life of the dance; Harald's looks, which expressed in a high degree his satisfaction; the delighted happy faces which she saw around her—never before had she thought life so pleasant! And nearly all seemed to feel so too, and all swung round from the joy of their hearts; silver buckles jingled, and shilling after shilling danced down into the little gaily painted Hardanger-fiddle, which was played upon with transporting spirit by an old man, of an expressive and energetic exterior.
After the first dance, people rested for a moment. They ate apples, and drank Hardanger-ale out of silver cans. After this there rose an almost universal cry, which challenged Harald and another young man who was renowned for his agility and strength, to dance together a "lös Halling." They did not require much persuasion, and stepped into the middle of the circle, which enlarged itself, and closed around them.
The musician tuned his instrument, and with his head bowed upon his breast, began to play with an expression and a life that might be called inspired. It was one of the wild Maliserknud's most genial compositions. Was it imagined with the army, in the bivouac under the free nightly heaven, or in—"slavery," amid evil-doers? Nobody knows; but in both situations has it charmed forth tones, like his own restless life, which never will pass from the memory of the people. Now took the Hardanger-fiddle for the first time its right sound.
Universal applause followed the dancing of the young men; but the highest interest was excited by Harald, who, in the dance, awoke actual astonishment.
Perhaps there is no dance which expresses more than the Halling the temper of the people who originated it, which better reflects the life and character of the inhabitants of the North.[Pg 80]
It begins, as it were, upon the ground, amid jogging little hops, accompanied by movements of the arms, in which, as it were, a great strength plays negligently. It is somewhat bear-like, indolent, clumsy, half-dreaming. But it wakes, it becomes earnest. Then the dancers rise up and dance, and display themselves in expressions of power, in which strength and dexterity seem to divert themselves by playing with indolence and clumsiness, and to overcome them. The same person who just before seemed fettered to the earth, springs aloft, and throws himself around in the air as though he had wings. Then, after many break-neck movements and evolutions, before which the unaccustomed spectator grows dizzy, the dance suddenly assumes again its first quiet, careless, somewhat heavy character, and closes, as it began, sunk upon the earth.
Loud shouts of applause, bestowed especially upon Harald, resounded on all sides as the dance closed. And now they all set themselves in motion for a great Halling-polska, and every "Gut" chose himself a "Jente." Harald had scarcely refreshed and strengthened himself with a can of ale before he again hastened up to Susanna, and engaged her for the Halling-polska. She had danced it several times in her own country, and joyfully accepted Harald's invitation.
This dance, too, is deeply characteristic. It paints the Northern inhabitant's highest joy in life; it is the Berserker-gladness in the dance. Supported upon the arm of the woman the man throws himself high in the air; then he catches her in his arms, and swings round with her in wild circles; then they separate; then they unite again, and whirl again round, as it were, in superabundance of life and delight. The measure is determined, bold, and full of life. It is a dance-intoxication, in which people for the moment release themselves from every care, every burden and oppression of existence.
Thus felt also at this time Harald and Susanna. Young, strong, agile, they swung themselves around with certainty and ease, which seemed to make the dance a sport without any effort; and with eyes steadfastly riveted on each other, they had no sense of giddiness. They whirled round, as it were, in a magic circle, to the strange magical music. The understrings sounded strong and strange. The peculiar en[Pg 81]chanted power which lies in the clear deeps of the water, in the mysterious recesses of the mountains, in the shades of dark caves, which the skalds have celebrated under the names of mermaids, mountain-kings, and wood-women, and which drag down the heart so forcibly into unknown, wondrous deeps—this dark song of Nature is heard in the understrings of the Halling's playful, but yet at the same time melancholy, tones. It deeply seized upon Susanna's soul, and Harald also seemed to experience this enchantment: Leaving the wilder movements of the dance, they moved around ever quieter, arm-in-arm.
"Oh, so through life!" whispered Harald's lips, almost involuntarily, as he looked deep into Susanna's beaming, tearful eyes; and, "Oh, so through life!" was answered in Susanna's heart, but her lips remained closed. At this moment she was seized by a violent trembling, which obliged her to come from dancing, and to sit down, whilst the whole world seemed going round with her. It was not until she had drunk a glass of water, which Harald offered to her, that she was able to reply to his heartfelt and anxious inquiries after her health. Susanna attributed it to the violent dancing, but declared that she felt herself again quite well. At that moment Susanna's eyes encountered those of Alette. She sate at a little distance from them, and observed Harald and Susanna with a grave, and as it seemed to Susanna, a displeased look. Susanna felt stung at the heart; and when Alette came to her, and asked rather coldly how she found herself, she answered also coldly and shortly.
The sun was going down, and the evening began to be cool. The company was therefore invited by Harald to a commodious hut, decorated with foliage and flowers. At Harald's desire, a young girl played now upon the "langleg," and sung thereto with a clear lively voice the Hal[Pg 82]lingdal song, "Gjetter-livet" (Shepherd-life), which so naïvely describes the days of a shepherd-girl in the solitary dales with the flocks, which she pastures and tends during the summer, without care, and joyous of mood, although almost separated from her kind;—almost, for Havor, the goatherd, blows his horn on the rocks in the neighbourhood, and ere long sits beside her on the crags—
The boy with his jew's-harp charms the kine,
And plays upon the flute so fine,
And I sing this song of mine.
So approaches the evening, and "all my darlings," with "song and love," are called by their names;—
Come Laikeros, Gullstjerna fine;
Come Dokkerose, darling mine;
Come Bjölka, Qvittelin!
And cows and sheep come to the well-known voice, and assemble at the Säter-hut, lowing and bleating joyfully. Now begins the milking; the goatherd maiden sings—
When I have milked in these pails of mine,
I lay me down, and sleep divine,
Till day upon the cliffs doth shine.
After the song, the dancing began again with new spirit. An iron hook was driven into the beam in the middle of the roof, and the dancer who, during the whirl of the Halling-polska, succeeded in striking it with his heel, so that it was bent, obtained the prize for dancing this evening. Observing the break-neck efforts of the competitors, Susanna seated herself upon a bench. Several large leafy branches which were reared between the benches and window, prevented her from seeing two persons who stood in quiet conversation, but she remained sitting, as if enchanted, as she heard the voice of Alette, saying:
"Susanna is to be sure an excellent and good girl, and I really like her; but yet, Harald, it would distress me if you seriously were attached to her."
"And why?" asked Harald.
"Because I think that she would not be suitable for your wife. She has an unreasonable and violent temper, and—"
"But that may be changed, Alette. She has already changed very much. Of her violent temper I have no fear—that I should soon remove."[Pg 83]
"Greater wizards than you, my brother, have erred in such a belief. At the same time she is much too uneducated, too ignorant to be a suitable companion for you through life. And neither would she be suitable for the social circles into which you must sometime come. Best Harald! let me beseech you, do not be over-hasty. You have so long thought of taking a journey into foreign countries to improve your knowledge of agriculture. Carry out this plan now; travel, and look about you in the world before you fetter yourself for life."
"I fancy you are right, Alette; and I shall follow your advice, but——"
"Besides," said Alette, interrupting him in her zeal, "it is time enough for you to think of marrying. You are still young; have time to look about you, and choose. You can easily, if you will, in every point of view, form a good connexion. Susanna is poor, and you yourself have not wealth enough entirely to disregard——"
Susanna would hear no more; and, in truth, she had heard enough. Wounded pride and sickness of heart drove the blood to her head and chest, till she felt ready to be choked. She rose hastily, and after she had begged an acquaintance to tell Alette and Harald that a mere headache compelled her to leave the dance, she hurried by the wood-path back to Semb.
The evening was beautiful, but Susanna was blind to all its splendours; she remarked not the twinkling of the bright stars, not how they mirrored themselves in the ladies-mantle, which stood full of pure crystal water; she heard not the rushing of the river, nor the song of the pine-thrush; for never before, in her breast, had Barbra and Sanna contended more violently.
"They despise me!" cried the former; "they cast me off, they trample me under their feet. They think me not worthy to be near them; the haughty, heartless people! But have they indeed a right to hold themselves so much above me, because I am not so fine, so learned as they; because I am—poor? No, that have they not, for I can earn my own bread, and go my own way through the world as well as any of them. And if they will be proud, then I can be ten times prouder. I need not to humble myself before them! One is just as good as another!"[Pg 84]
"Ah!" now began Sanna, and painful tears began to flow down her cheeks, "one is not just as good as another, and education and training make a great difference between people. It is not pleasant for a man to blush for the ignorance of his wife; neither can one expect that anybody would teach a person of my age; nor can they look into my heart and see how willingly I would learn, and—and Harald, whom I thought wished me well, whom I loved so much, whom I would willingly serve with my whole heart and life—how coldly he spoke of me, who just before so warmly—Harald, why shouldst thou fool my heart so, if thou carest so little for what it feels, what it suffers?"
"But," and here again began Barbra, "thou thinkest merely on thyself; thou art an egotist, like all thy sex. And he seems to be so sure of me! He seems not to ask whether I will; no—only whether he graciously should. Let him try! let him make the attempt! and he shall see that he has deceived himself, the proud gentleman! He shall see that a poor girl, without connexions, without friends, solitary in the wide world, can yet refuse him who thinks that he condescends so to her. Be easy, Miss Alette! the poor despised Susanna is too proud to thrust herself into a haughty family; because, in truth, she feels herself too good for that."
But Susanna was very much excited, and very unhappy, as she said this. She had now reached Semb. Lights streamed from the bedroom of the Colonel's widow. Susanna looked up to the window, and stood in mute astonishment; for at the window stood the Colonel's widow, but no longer the gloomy, sorrowful lady. With her hands pressed upon her breast, she looked up to the clear stars with an expression of glowing gratitude. There was, however, something wild and overstrained in her appearance, which made Susanna, who was possessed by astonishment and strange feelings, determine to go to her immediately.
On Susanna's entrance into the room Mrs. Astrid turned hastily to her. She held a letter clasped to her breast, and said with restless delight and a kind of vehemence—
"To Bergen, to Bergen! Susanna, I set off to-morrow morning to Bergen. Get all in readiness for my journey as soon as you can."
Susanna was confounded. "To Bergen?" stammered she,[Pg 85] inquiringly; "and the road thither is so difficult, so dangerous, at this time——"
"And if death threatened me upon it, I should yet travel!" said Mrs. Astrid, with impatient energy. "But I desire that no one accompany me. You can stay here at home."
"Lord God!" said Susanna, painfully excited, "I spoke not for myself. Could I die to save my lady from any danger, any sorrow, heaven knows that I would do it with joy! Let me go with you to Bergen."
"I have been very unhappy, Susanna!" resumed Mrs. Astrid, without remarking her agitated state of mind; "life has been a burden to me. I have doubted the justice of Providence; doubted whether our destinies were guided by a fatherly hand; but now—now I see—now all may be very different.—But go, Susanna, I must compose myself; and you also seem to need rest. Go, my child."
"Only one prayer," said Susanna—"I may go with you to-morrow morning? Ah! refuse me not, for I shall still go with my lady."
"Well, well," said Mrs. Astrid, almost joyfully, "then it would be no use my saying no."
Susanna seized and kissed her hand, and was ready to weep, from all the pain and love which filled her soul; but her lady withdrew her hand, and again desired her kindly but commandingly to go.
When she was alone, she turned her eyes upon the letter which she held in her hands.
Upon the envelope of the letter stood these words, written by an unsteady hand.
"To my wife, after my death."
The letter was as follows:
"I feel that a great change is about to take place in me. Probably I may die, or become insane. In the first place, I will thank my wife for her angel-patience with me during my life, and tell her, that it is owing to her conduct that I have at this moment my faith left in virtue and a just Providence. I will now reward her in the only way which is possible to me. Know then, my wife, that the boy, for whom thou hast loved and deplored—is not dead! Let it also lessen the abhorrence of my deed, when I assure thee, that it was solicitude for your well-being which led me in part to it. I[Pg 86] was totally ruined—and could not endure the thoughts of seeing thee destitute! For this reason I sent away the boy, and gave it out that he was dead. He has suffered no want, he has——"
Here followed several illegible lines, after which might be read:
"I am confused, and cannot say that which I would. Speak with the former Sergeant Rönn, now in the Customs at Bergen; he will——"
Here the letter broke off. It was without date, the paper old and yellow. But Mrs. Astrid kissed it with tears of joy and gratitude, whilst she whispered,
"Oh, what a recompense! What light! Wonderful, merciful, good Providence!"
 About a farthing.
 The understrings of the so-called Hardanger-fiddle are four metal strings, which lie under the sounding-board. They are tuned in unison with the upper catgut strings, whereby, as well as by the peculiar form of the violin itself, this gives forth a singular strong, almost melancholy sound.
 The langoleik, or langleg, is a four-stringed instrument, probably of the same form as the psaltry. The peasant girls in mountain-districts play gladly upon it, and often with great dexterity. In the so-called "Elskov's Song," from Vestfjordal it is said—
Ho som so gjilt kan po Langoleik spelo,
Svanaug den vena, ska no væra mi!
Wildly the misty troop the tempest rideth,
The ghosts of heroes seek the Northern fjorde;
There goes the iron-boat; the serpent glideth,
The ravens flutter round the lofty board.
Dark, silent shades the high mast are surrounding;
Lightnings are flashing from the weapons bright;
Rise up from ocean-cliff's thou horn resounding,
To-night ride forth the Daughters of the fight!
Susanna went into her quiet room, but within her it was not quiet—a hard fight was fought there. It was necessary now to abandon all her own wishes and hopes, for Susanna found now that she almost unconsciously to herself had cherished such as regarded her mistress and Harald. She had hoped that through her love she might win this, through her attentions might become necessary to them; and now she saw how infinitely little she was to them. She blushed at her own self-delusion, and reproached herself with having been untrue to her little Hulda; in having attached herself so deeply to strange people, and allowed her favourite scheme to be dimmed by new impressions and views. Susanna punished herself severely for it; called herself foolish and weak; and determined to fly from Harald, and from the place where he dwelt.[Pg 87]
"When I have attended my lady over the dangerous mountains,"—thus thought Susanna,—"when I see her in safety and happy, then I will leave her—her and him, and this country for ever. Poor came I hither, poorer shall I go away from it, for I shall leave a part of my heart behind in a foreign land. But a pure conscience shall I take with me to my home. They could not love me; but when I am gone, they will perhaps think with esteem, perhaps with friendship, upon Susanna!"
The silent stars mirrored themselves in Susanna's tears, which flowed abundantly during this quiet discourse with herself, and the tears and the stars calmed her mind, and she felt herself strengthened by the resolution which she had taken.
After this she entirely directed her thoughts upon that which would be necessary for the journey, and passed the remainder of the night partly in these preparations, and partly in setting the domestic affairs in order, that she might with a good conscience leave the house.
In the mean time the journey was not so quickly undertaken as was at first intended, for a safe guide and good safe horses for the journey over the mountains had to be obtained, and this occupied the greater part of the next day. Before the morning of the following day, it was not possible that they could set out. Harald, greatly amazed at this sudden determination, endeavoured to delay the journey, by representations of its difficulties and even dangers during this season, for, "from the beginning of September, they may every day look for falls of snow and stormy tempests in this mountain region." But Mrs. Astrid, without further explaining herself, adhered to her resolution, and Harald promised to make all preparations for the journey, so that it might be performed as speedily and as safely as possible. They had the choice between four equally difficult mountain-roads which led from this part of Hallingdal towards the diocese of Bergen; and of these, the shortest was that which went through Hardanger. Mrs. Astrid determined upon this. This, however, would require at least two days and a half. Harald, who knew the way, and said that in case of need he could serve as guide, made preparations to attend the lady on her adventurous journey. Alette, in the mean[Pg 88] time, with her Alf, should, in company with her uncle in Hallingdal and his family, set off on the journey to Trondhjem, where Harald promised afterwards to meet them for Alette's marriage.
Harald wished to inquire from Susanna the cause of this extraordinary journey; but Susanna at this time was not much to be spoken with, she had so much to attend to both within and out of the house, and she was always surrounded by Larina and Karina, and Petro. And Susanna was glad that her household affairs gave her a good excuse for absenting herself from the company, and even from avoiding intercourse with the world. A certain bitterness both towards him and Alette was rooted into her heart.
Among many noble and valuable qualities, man has that of being able to condemn and sentence himself. And if we are justly displeased with any one, if we are wounded and repelled by word or deed, we should depend upon this quality, and permit it to operate reconcilingly upon our feelings. For while we are embittered by his offence, perhaps he himself may have wept in silence over it, waked in the silent hours of the night unpityingly to punish himself in the severe sanctuary of his conscience; and the nobler the human being, all the greater is his pang, even over failings which before the judgment-seat of the world are very small or no faults at all; nay, he will not at all forgive himself if he cannot make atonement for his faults; and the hope of so doing is, in such painful hours, his only comfort.
Thus even would every bitter feeling have vanished out of Susanna's soul, could she have seen how deeply dissatisfied was Harald at this time with himself,—how warmly he upbraided himself for the words which, during the yesterday's dawn, had passed his lips, without there being any actual seriousness in them; and how displeased he was by the promise which he had given to Alette, and with the resolve he had made, in consequence of her anxieties and advice.
This dissatisfaction was the more increased, when he saw by Susanna's swollen eyelids that she had wept much, and remarked in her manner a certain uneasiness and depression which was so entirely the reverse of her usually fresh and lively deportment. Uneasy and full of foreboding, he questioned himself as to the cause, whilst he followed her with inquiring looks.[Pg 89]
At dinner, Mrs. Astrid did not join them at the table, and the others sate there silent and out of spirits, with the exception of Lexow, who in vain endeavoured to enliven the rest with his good humour.
In the afternoon, whilst they were taking coffee, Susanna slipped silently away, to carry to a sick peasant woman, before her journey, some medicines, together with some children's clothes. Harald, who had stood for some time observing the barometer, and who seemed to suspect her intention, turned round to her hastily as she went out at the door, and said to her—
"You cannot think of going out now? It is not advisable. In a few minutes we shall probably have a severe storm."
"I am not afraid of it," replied Susanna, going.
"But you do not know our storms!" answered Harald. "Lexow, come here! See here,"—and Harald pointed to the barometer, whilst he said half aloud, "the quicksilver has fallen two degrees in half an hour; now it sinks again; now it stands near the earthquake point! we shall have in a moment a true 'Berg-röse,' here."
Lexow shook his head mournfully, and said—
"It is a bad look out for the morrow's journey! But I presume that your storms here are mere child's play, compared with those that we have in certain districts of Nordland!" And Alf went to his Alette, who looked inquiringly and uneasily at him.
Harald hastened after Susanna, and found her at the door, just about going out with a bundle under her arm. He placed himself in the way before her, and said to her gravely—
"You cannot go! I assure you that danger is at hand."
"What danger?" asked Susanna, gloomily, and with an obstinate determination to act in opposition to Harald.
"Aasgaardsreija," answered Harald, smiling, "and it is nothing to joke about. Soon enough will it come riding here and may take you with it, if you do not stop at home. No! You must not go now!" And he seized her hand in order to lead her into the house.
Susanna, who fancied that he was joking in his customary[Pg 90] manner, and who was not at all in a joking humour, released her hand, and said, crimsoning and proudly—
"I shall go, sir! I shall go, because I will do so; and you have no right to prevent me."
Harald looked at her confounded, but said afterwards, in a tone which very much resembled Susanna's—
"If I cannot prevent your going, neither can you prevent my following you!"
"I would rather go alone!" said Susanna, in a tone of defiance, and went.
"I, even so!" said Harald, in the same tone, and followed her, yet ever at the distance of from fifteen to twenty paces. As he passed the kitchen door, he went in and said to those whom he found there, "Look to the fire, and extinguish it at the first gale of wind; we shall have a tempest."
At the same moment, Alfiero sprang towards Susanna, howling and leaping up with his paws upon her shoulder, as if he would prevent her from going forward on her way. But repulsed by her, he sprang anxiously sneaking into his kennel, as if seeking there for shelter from danger.
The weather, however, was beautiful; the wind still; the heaven bright; nothing seemed to foretel the approaching tempest, excepting the smoke, which, as it ascended from the cottages in the dale, was immediately depressed, and, whirling round, sunk to the earth.
Susanna went rapidly on her way; hearing all the time Harald's footsteps a little behind her, and yet not venturing to turn round to look at him. As by chance she cast her eyes to heaven, she perceived a little white cloud, which took the fantastical shape of a dragon, and which, with the speed of an arrow, came hastening over the valley. Immediately afterwards was heard a loud noise, which turned Susanna's glance to the heights, where she saw, as it were, a pillar of smoke whirlingly ascend upwards. At the same moment Harald was at her side, and said to her seriously and hastily, "To the ground! throw yourself down on the ground instantly!"
Susanna would have protested; but in the same moment was seized by Harald, lifted from the earth, and in the next moment found herself lying with her face upon the ground. She felt a violent gust of wind; heard near to her a report[Pg 91] like that of a pistol-shot, and then a loud cracking and rattling, which was followed by a roar resembling the rolling of successive peals of thunder; and all was again still.
Quite confounded by what had taken place, Susanna raised her head, and looked around her as she slowly raised herself. Over all reigned a dead stillness; not a blade of grass moved. But just near to her, two trees had been torn up, and stones had been loosened from the crags and rolled into the dale. Susanna looked around for Harald with uneasiness, but he was nowhere to be found, and she thought upon the story of Aasgaardsreija. In her distress she called upon his name, and had great joy in hearing his voice reply to her.
She perceived him at a little distance from her, slowly raising himself near an angular wall of rock. He was pale, and seemed to feel pain. Busied about Susanna's safety, Harald had assumed too late the humble posture into which he had compelled Susanna, and had been caught by the whirlwind, and slung violently against the corner of a rock, whereby he had sustained a severe blow upon the left collar-bone and shoulder. He, however, assured Susanna, who was now anxious about him, that it was of no consequence; it would soon be better, he added jestingly.
"But was I not right in saying that Aasgaardsreija is not to be played with? And we have not yet done with it. In a few moments it will be upon us again; and as soon as we hear it roaring and whistling in the mountains, it is best that we humble ourselves. It may otherwise fare ill with us."
Scarcely had Harald uttered these words before the signals were heard from the mountains, and the tempest arose with the same violence as before, and passed over as quickly too. In a few moments all was again still.
"We have now again a few moments' breathing time," said Harald, rising up, and looking inquiringly around him; "but the best is, that we now endeavour to find a shelter over head, so that we may be defended from the shower of stones. There shoots out a wall of rock. Thither will we hasten before the tempest comes again. If I am not mistaken, other wanderers have thought as we."
And, in truth, two persons had before them sought shelter under the rocky projection, and Harald soon recognised them. The elder of them was the guide whom Harald had sent for[Pg 92] to conduct them over the mountain road—a handsome old man in the Halling costume; the younger was his grandson, a brisk youth of sixteen, who was to accompany him. On their way to Semb, they had been overtaken by the tempest.
It was perhaps welcome to both Harald and Susanna, that in this moment of mutual constraint, they were prevented by the presence of these persons from being alone together. From their place of refuge they had an extensive prospect over the dale, and their attention was directed to that which had occurred there. They saw that the cottages had ceased to smoke; a sign that the people, as is customary in such tempests, had universally extinguished their fires. They saw several horses, which had been out to graze, standing immovably, with their heads turned in the direction from whence the tempest came; in this manner they divided the wind-shocks, and could withstand its force. A little farther off a singular atmospheric scene presented itself. They saw thick masses of clouds from different sides rush across the sky, and stormily tumult backwards and forwards. The singularly-formed masses drew up against each other, and had a regular battle in the air. It continued some time; but at length the columns which had been driven on by the weaker wind withdrew, the conquerors advanced tempestuously onwards, and spread themselves over the whole vault of heaven, which now dark and heavy as lead, sunk down to the earth. In the mean time the tempest began somewhat to abate, and after about three hours' continuance, had sufficiently subsided to allow the company under the rock-roof to betake themselves to their homeward way. Susanna longed impatiently to be at home, as well on account of her mistress as of Harald, whose contusion evidently caused him much pain, although he endeavoured to conceal it under a cheerful and talkative manner.
Not without danger, but without any further injury, they arrived at Semb, where every one, in the mean time, had been in the greatest uneasiness on their account. The wind entirely abated towards evening. Harald's shoulder was fomented; he soon declared that he had lost all pain; and although every one urgently discouraged him, yet he resolutely adhered to his determination of accompanying Mrs. Astrid across the mountains.[Pg 93]
Poor Susanna was so full of remorse for her wilfulness, which had occasioned Harald's accident, so grateful for his care for her, that every bitter feeling as well towards him as to Alette, had vanished from her heart. She felt now only a deep, almost painful necessity of showing her devotion to them; and to give them some pleasure, she would gladly have given her right hand for that purpose.
 Röse or Ryse (giant) is the name given in Norway to the strong whirlwinds, which are heard howling among the rocks, and which, in certain mountain districts are so dangerous.
Forwards! forwards! fly swift as a hind,
See how it laughs behind Fanaranktind!
The party which next morning set out from Heimdal and ascended Ustefjell, did not look in the least gay. They moved along also in a thick mist, which hung over the valley, enveloped all the heights, and concealed every prospect around them. Before them rode the guide, the old trusty Halling peasant, whose strong and tall figure gave an impression of security to those who followed after. Then came Mrs. Astrid; then Susanna; then Harald, who carried his arm in a sling. The train was closed by the young boy, and a peasant, who led two horses with the luggage upon hurdles.
After they had ascended for a considerable time, the air became clearer, and the travellers had mounted above the regions of mist; soon saw they the blue colour of the heavens, and the sun greeted them with his beams, and lighted up the wild, singular region which now began to surround them. This scene operated upon Susanna's young, open mind with wonderful power. She felt herself altogether freer and lighter of mood, and, glancing around with bright eyes, she thought that she had left behind her all strife and all pain, and now ascended upwards to a future of light and tranquillity. Now her mistress would indeed be happy; and Susanna would, with liberated heart, and bound no longer by selfish feelings, easily follow the calls of duty and the will of Providence. So felt, so thought she.
The road was untracked, often steep and terrific, but the horses stepped safely over it, and thus in a little time they came to a Säter-hut, which lay upon the shore of Ustevand,[Pg 94] one of the inland lakes which lie at the foot of Hallingskarv. This Säter lies above the boundary of the birch-tree vegetation, and its environs have the strong features peculiar to the rocky character; but its grass-plots, perpetually watered from the snowy mountains, were yet of a beautiful green, and many-coloured herds of cattle swarmed upon them. Like dazzling silver ribbons shimmered the brooks between the green declivities and the darker cliffs. The sun now shone bright, and they mutually congratulated each other on the cheering prospect of a happy journey. At this Säter the company rested for an hour, and made a hasty breakfast of the simple viands which are peculiar to this region. Before each guest was placed a bowl of "Lefsetriangle," on which was laid a cake of rye-meal, about the size of a plate. Upon the table stood large four-cornered pieces of butter, and a dish of excellent mountain-fish. Cans of Hardanger ale were not wanting; and a young girl, with light plaited hair, light-yellow leather jacket, black thickly-plaited petticoat, and a red kerchief tied round her neck, with a face as pretty and innocent as ever an idyl bestowed upon its shepherdess, waited upon the guests, and entertained them with her simple, good-humoured talk.
After breakfast the journey was continued. Upon the heights of Ustefjell they saw two vast mountain ranges, whose wavy backs reared themselves into the regions of perpetual snow. They were Hallingskarv and Halling-Jokul.
Slowly advanced the caravan up the Barfjell. By degrees all trees disappeared; the ground was naked, or only covered by low black bushes; between, lay patches of snow-lichen, which increased in extent the higher they ascended. The prospect around had in it something indescribably cold and terrific. But Susanna felt herself in a peculiar manner enlivened by this wild, and to her new spectacle. To this the old Halling peasant contributed, who, whilst they travelled through this desolate mountain track, related to the party various particulars of the "subterranean folk" who dwelt there, and whom he described as a spectre herd, with little, ugly, pale, or bluish human shapes, dotted in grey, and with black head-gear. "They often draw," said he, "people down into their subterranean dwellings, and there murder them; and if anybody escape living out of their power, they[Pg 95] remain from that time through the whole of their lives dejected and insane, and have no more pleasure on the earth. Certain people they persecute; but to others they afford protection, and bring to them wealth and good fortune." The Halling peasant was himself perfectly convinced of the actual existence of these beings; he had himself seen in a mountain district a man who hastily sunk into the earth and vanished!
One of his friends had once seen in a wood a whole farm, with house, people, and cattle; but when he reached the place, all these had immediately vanished.
Harald declared that here the imagination had played its pranks well; but the old man endeavoured to strengthen the affair by relating the following piece out of Hans Lauridsen's "Book of the Soul."
"The devil has many companions; such as elfin-women, elfin-men, dwarfs, imps, nightmares, hobgoblins with red-hot fire-tongs, Var-wolves, giants, spectres, which appear to people when they are about to die."
And as Harald smilingly expressed some doubt on the subject, the old man said warmly—
"Why, does it not stand written in the Bible that all knees, as well those that are in heaven and on the earth, and under the earth, shall bow at the name of the Lord? And who, indeed, can they be under the earth, if not the subterranean? And do you take care," continued he gaily, with an arch look at Susanna, "take care when the 'Thusmörk' (twilight) comes, for then is the time when they are about; and they have a particular fancy for young girls, and drag them gladly down to their dwellings. Take care! for if they get you once down into their church—for they have churches too, deep under ground—you will never see the sun and God's clear heaven again as long as ever you live; and it would not be pleasant, that you may believe, to dwell with Thuserne."
Susanna shuddered involuntarily at this jest. She cast a glance upon the wild rock-shapes around her, which the Halling-peasant assured her were all spectres, giants, and giantesses, turned into stone. Harald remarked the impression which all this made on Susanna; but he, who had so often amused himself by exciting her imagination, became now altogether rectifying reason, and let his light shine for Susanna on the darkness of superstition.[Pg 96]
Higher yet ascended the travellers, and more desolate became the country. The whole of this mountain region is scattered over with larger and smaller blocks of stone; and these have assisted people as waymarks through this country, when, without these, people must infallibly lose themselves. Stones have, therefore, been piled upon the large blocks in the direction which the road takes; and if a stone fall down, the passer-by considers it a sacred duty to replace it. "Comfortable waymarks," as Professor Hansten, in his interesting "Mountain Journey," calls these guides; "for," continues he, "they are upon this journey the only traces of man; and if only once one has failed to see one such stone of indication, the next which one discovers expels the awakened anxiety by the assurance, 'thou art still upon the right way.'"
In dark or foggy weather, however, those friendly watchers are almost useless, and the journey is then in the highest degree dangerous. People become so easily bewildered and frozen in this desert, or they are overwhelmed by the falls of snow. They who perish in this manner are called after death "Drauge," and are supposed to haunt the gloomy mountain passes. The guide pointed out a place near the road where had been found the corpses of two tradespeople, who one autumn had been surprised by a snow-storm upon the mountains, and there lost their lives. He related this with great indifference, for every year people perish in the mountain regions, and this kind of death is not considered worse than any other. But dreadful thoughts began to rise in Susanna's mind. There was, however, no reason to anticipate misfortune, for the weather was lovely, and the journey, although difficult, went on safely and well. It was continued uninterruptedly till evening. As no Säter could be reached before dark, they were to pass the night in a place called "Monsbuheja," because in its neighbourhood there was grass for the horses. Here our travellers happily arrived shortly before sunset. They found here a cave, half formed by nature and half by the hands of men, which last had rolled large stones around its entrance. Its walls were covered with moss, and decorated with horns of the reindeer fastened into the crevices of the rock. Soon had Susanna formed here, out of carpet-bags, cloaks, and shawls, a comfortable couch for her wearied lady, who thanked her for it with such[Pg 97] a friendly glance as Susanna had never before seen in her eyes.
Harald, in the mean time, with the servants had cared for the horses, and in collecting fuel for the night. A few hundred paces from the cave, a river flowed between ice-covered banks; on the edge of this river, and on the shores of the snow-brook, they found roots of decayed junipers, rock-willows, and moor-weed, which they collected together to a place outside the cave, where they kindled the nocturnal watch-fire.
During this, Susanna ascended a little height near the cave, and saw the sun go down behind Halling-Jokul. Like a red globe of fire, it now stood upon the edge of the immeasurable snow-mountains, and threw splendid, many-coloured rays of purple, yellow, and blue, upon the clouds of heaven, as well as upon the snow-plains which lay below. It was a magnificent sight.
"Good heavens! how great, how glorious!" exclaimed Susanna, involuntarily, whilst with her hands pressed upon her breast, she bowed herself as though in adoration before the descending ruler of the day.
"Yes, great and glorious!" answered a gentle echo near; Susanna looked around, and saw Harald standing beside her. There stood they, the two alone, lighted by the descending sun, with the same feelings, the same thoughts, ardent and adoring in the waste, dead solitude. Susanna could not resist the feelings of deep and solemn emotion which filled her heart. She extended her hand to Harald, and her tearful look seemed to say, "Peace! peace!" Susanna felt this a leave-taking, but a leave-taking in love. In that moment she could have clasped the whole world to her breast. She felt herself raised above all contention, all spite, all littleness. This great spectacle had awakened something great within her, and in her countenance Sanna beamed in beautiful and mild illumination.
Harald, on the contrary, seemed to think of no leave-taking; for he held Susanna's hand fast in his, and was about to speak; but she hastily withdrew it, and, turning herself from him, said:
"We must now think about supper!"
The fire outside the cave blazed up cheerfully, and in the eastern heaven uprose the moon amid rose-coloured clouds.[Pg 98]
Soon was Susanna, lively and cheerful, busied by the fire. From cakes of bouillon and prepared groats which she had brought with her, she prepared an excellent soup, in which pieces of veal were warmed. Whilst this boiled, she distributed bread, cheese, and brandy to the men who accompanied them, and cared with particular kindness for the old guide. Harald allowed her to do all this, without assisting her in the least. He sate upon a stone, at a little distance, supported on his gun, and observed her good and cheerful countenance lighted up by the fire, her lively movements and her dexterity in all which she undertook. He thought upon her warm heart, her ingenuous mind, her activity; he thought upon the evenings of the former winter, or when he read aloud, related stories to her, and how she listened and felt the while. All at once it seemed to him that the ideal of a happy life, which for so many years had floated before his mind, now was just near to him. It stood there, beside the flames of the nocturnal fire, and was lighted up by them. Alette's warnings flitted from before him like the thence-hastening night-mists, without shape or reality. He saw himself the possessor of an estate which he would ennoble as Oberlin has done the sunken rocky valley; saw himself surrounded by dependents and neighbours, to whose happiness he really contributed; he saw himself in his home—he contemplated it in the most trying light—the long winter evenings; but it dimmed not thereby. For he saw himself as before, on the winter evenings with Susanna; but yet not as before, for he now sate nearer to her and she was his wife, and he read aloud to her, and enjoyed her lively, warm sympathy; but he rested at intervals his eyes upon her and upon the child, which lay in the cradle at her feet, and Susanna glanced at him as she had just now done upon the rock in the evening sun. The flames which now danced over the snow were the flames of his own hearth, and it was his wife who, happy and hospitable, was busied about them, diffusing comfort and joy around her.
"What is the use of a finer education?" thought he, "it cannot create a heart, a soul, and qualities like this girl's!" He could not turn his eyes from Susanna; every moment she seemed more beautiful to him.—The sweet enchantment of love had come over him.[Pg 99]
In the mean time the evening meal was ready, and Harald was called to it. What wonder if he, after a fatiguing day's journey, and after the observations which he had just been making, found Susanna's meal beyond all description excellent and savoury?! He missed only Susanna's presence during it, for Susanna was within the cave, and upon her knees before Mrs. Astrid, holding in her hand a bowl of soup, and counting with quiet delight every spoonful which her lady with evident satisfaction conveyed to her lips. "That was the best soup that I ever tasted!" said she, when the bowl was emptied; "it is true, Susanna, that you are very clever!" It was the first time that Mrs. Astrid had paid attention to her eating, and the first praise which Susanna had received from her mouth,—and no soup, not even nectar, can taste so charming, so animating, as the first word of praise from beloved lips!
When Susanna went out of the cave, she was welcomed by Harald's looks; and they spoke a language almost irresistibly enchanting for a heart to which affection was so needful as was Susanna's: and in her excited and grateful spirit she thought that she could be content for all eternity to be up in these mountains, and wait upon and prepare soup for those beloved beings who here seemed first to have opened their hearts to her.
They now made preparations for the night, which promised to be clear, but cold. The peasants laid themselves around the fire. Mrs. Astrid, anxious on account of Harald's shoulder, prayed him to come into the cave, where it was sheltered from the keen air; but Harald preferred to keep watch on the outside, and sate before the fire wrapped in his cloak. Susanna laid herself softly down at his mistress's feet, which she hoped by this means to keep warm. Strange shapes flitted before her inward sight whilst her eyelids were closed. Shapes of snow and ice came near to her, and seemed to wish to surround her—but suddenly vanished, and were melted before the warm looks of love, and the sun shone forth in glory; and happy, sweet feelings blossomed forth in her soul. Amid such she slept. Then a new image showed itself. She was again in Heimdal; she stood upon the bank of the river, and looked with fearful wonder on the opposite shore; for there, amid the dark fir-trees, shone[Pg 100] forth something white, mist-like, but which became ever plainer; and as it approached the brink of the river, Susanna saw that it was a child, and she knew again her little Hulda. But she was pale as the dead, and tears rolled down her snow-white cheeks, while she stretched forth her little arms to Susanna, and called her name. Susanna was about to throw herself into the waves which separated them, but could not; she felt herself fettered by an invisible power. At this, as she turned round with inexpressible anguish to free herself, she perceived that it was Harald who thus held her; he looked so cold, so severe, and Susanna felt at the game time both love and hatred for him. Again anxiously called the tender child's voice, and Susanna saw her little sister sink upon the stones of the shore, and the white waves beat over her. With a feeling of wild despair Susanna now awoke from sleep, and sprang up. Cold perspiration stood upon her brow, and she looked bewildered around. The cave darkly vaulted itself above her; and the blazing fire outside threw red confused beams upon its fantastically decorated walls. Susanna went softly out of the cave; she wished to see the heavens, the stars; she must breathe the free fresh air, to release herself from the terrors of her dream. But no beaming star looked down upon her, for the heavens were covered with a grey roof of cloud, and the pale moonlight which pressed through cast a troubled light over the dead country, and gloomy and hideous shapes. The fire had burnt low, and flickered up, as if sleepily, now and then, with red flames. The peasants slept heavily, lying around it. Susanna saw not Harald at this moment, and she was glad of it. In order to dissipate the painful impression she had experienced, Susanna took a water-jug, and went down to the river with it, to fetch water for the morrow's breakfast. On the way thither she saw Harald, who with his gun upon his shoulder, walked backwards and forwards some little distance from the cave. Unobserved by him, she, however, came down to the river, and filled her jug with the snow-mingled water. This little bodily exertion did her good; but the solitary ramble was not much calculated to enliven her spirits. The scene was indescribably gloomy, and the monotonous murmuring of the snow-brook was accompanied by gusts of wind, which, like giant sighs, went mournfully whistling[Pg 101] through the desert. She seated herself for a moment at the foot of a rock. It was midnight, and deep silence reigned over the country. The rocks around her were covered with mourning-lichen, and the pale snow-lichens grew in crevices of the mountains; here and there stuck out from the black earth-rind the bog-lichen, a little pale-yellow sulphur-coloured flower, which the Lapland sagas use in the magic arts, and which here gives the impression of a ghastly smile upon these fields of death. Susanna could not free herself from the remembrance of her dream; and wherever she turned her glance she thought that she saw the image of her little dying sister. Perhaps in this dream she had received a warning, perhaps a foretelling; perhaps she might never leave this desert; perhaps she should die here, and then——what would become of her little Hulda? Would not neglect and want let her sink upon the hard stones of life, and the waves of misery go over her? In the midst of these gloomy thoughts, Susanna was surprised by Harald. He saw that she had been weeping, and asked, with a voice so kind it went to Susanna's heart—
"Why so dejected? Are you uneasy or displeased? Ah! tell it openly to me as a friend! I cannot bear to see you thus!"
"I have had a bad dream!" said Susanna, wiping away her tears and standing up, "all is so ghastly, so wild here around us. It makes me think on all the dark and sad things in the world! But it is no use troubling oneself about them," continued she more cheerfully, "it will be all well enough when the day dawns. It is the hour of darkness, the hour in which the under-earth spirits have rule!" And Susanna attempted to smile. "But what is that?" continued she, and her smile changed itself suddenly to an expression of anxiety, which made her involuntarily approach Harald. There was heard in the air a low clattering and whistling, and at the same time a mass resembling a grey cloud came from the north, spreading over the snow-fields and approaching the place where they stood. In the pale moonlight Susanna seemed to see wild shapes with horns and claws, moving themselves in the mass, and the words, "the under-earth spirits," were nearly escaping her lips.
"It is a herd of reindeer!" said Harald, smiling, who[Pg 102] seemed to divine her thoughts, and went a few paces towards the apparition, whilst he mechanically shouldered his gun. But at the same moment the herd took another direction, and fled with wild speed towards the east. The wind rose, and swept with a mournful wail through the ice-desert.
"It is here really fearful!" said Susanna, and shuddered.
"But to-morrow evening," said Harald, cheerfully, "we shall reach Storlie-Säter, which lies below the region of snow, and then we shall find birch-woods, quite green yet, and shall meet with friendly people, and can have there a regularly comfortable inn. The day afterwards we shall have a heavy piece of road; but on that same day we shall have a view of scenes so magnificent, that you certainly will think little of the trouble, on account of the pleasure you will enjoy, for there the beautiful far exceeds the terrific. That spot between Storlie-Säter and Tverlic, where the wild Leira-river, as if in frenzy, hurls itself down over Högfjell, and with the speed of lightning and the noise of thunder rushed between and over splintered masses of rock, in part naked, in part clothed in wood, to tumble about with its rival the furious Björöja,—that spot exceeds in wild grandeur anything that man can imagine."
Thus spake Harald, to dissipate Susanna's dejection; but she listened to him half-dreaming, and said as if to herself—
"Would that we were well there, and passed it, and at our destination, and then——"
"And then?" said Harald, taking up the unfinished sentence—"what then?"
"Home with my Hulda again!" said Susanna, deeply sighing.
"What, Susanna? Will you then leave us? Do you really hate Norway?"
"No, no!—a long way from that!—But one cannot serve two masters, that I now feel. Hulda calls me. I shall have no rest till I return to her, and never will I part from her again, I have dreamed of her to-night; and she was so pale, so pale—Ah! But you are pale too, terribly pale!" continued Susanna, as she looked at Harald with astonishment; "you are certainly ill!"
"It is this lovely moonlight and this sweet scenery which gives me this ashy-grey colour," said Harald jokingly, who[Pg 103] wished to conceal the true cause of his paleness; which was, that his shoulder began to be acutely painful during the night. And he endeavoured to turn Susanna's attention to another object.
The two had in the mean time reached the cave. Harald revived the smouldering fire with fresh fuel, and Susanna crept softly into the cave, and resumed her former place at the feet of her mistress. But it was not till late that she sunk into an uneasy sleep.
She was awoke by a loud and rushing noise. A pale light came into the cave, and she heard Harald's voice saying aloud outside, "It is time that we are preparing for the journey, that as soon as possible we may get into quarters. We have a laborious day before us."
Susanna looked around her for her lady. She stood quite ready near Susanna, and was regarding her with a gentle, attentive look.
Susanna sprang up, shocked at her own tardiness, and went all the quicker now to make arrangements for breakfast. The bouillon was again had recourse to, the servants were refreshed with salmon, bacon, and curds thawed in snow-water.
A tempest had blown up after midnight, which promised our travellers not at all an agreeable travelling-day. The river and the brooks roared loudly, and raged and thundered amid the rocks around them. In the course of the morning the wind, however, abated, but Harald cast now and then thoughtful glances upon the grey roof of cloud which grew ever thicker above their heads. Susanna saw him once cast an inquiring glance upon the guide, and he shook his grey head. In the mean time all the men seemed cheerful; and Harald seemed to wish by his animation, to remove the impression which his continued unusual paleness might occasion.
Through the whole forenoon they continued to ascend higher into the region of winter, and the snow-fields stretched out wider and wider. No one living thing showed itself in this desert, but they frequently saw traces of reindeer, and here and there flies lay upon the snow in deep winter-sleep. The wind fortunately subsided more and more, and let its icy breath be felt only in short gusts. But ever and anon were heard peals and roarings, as if of loud thunder. They were[Pg 104] the so-called "Fjellskred;" or falls of great masses of rocks and stones, which separate themselves from the mountains, and plunge down, and which in these mountain-regions commonly occur during and after tempests. The peasants related many histories of houses and people who were crushed under them.
The road became continually more and more difficult. They were often obliged to wade through running rivers, and to pass over snow-bridges, under which the rivers had made themselves a path. Harald, alike bold, as prudent and determined, often averted danger at his own risk, from Mrs. Astrid and Susanna. Neither was he pale any longer. The exertions and fever, which nobody suspected, made his cheeks glow with the finest crimson.
In the afternoon, they had reached the highest point of the rocks. Here were piled up two great heaps of stones, in the neighbourhood of a little sea called Skiftesjö, which is covered with never-melted ice in the hottest summer. Here the brooks begin to run westward, and the way begins from here to descend. The giant shapes of the Vasfjern and Ishaug, together with other lofty snow-mountains, showed themselves in perspective.
The wind was now almost still; but it began to snow violently, and the cloudy sky sank down, dark and heavy as lead, upon the travellers.
"We must hasten, hasten," said the old Halling peasant, as he looked round with an intelligent glance to the party whom he led, "else we shall be snowed up on the mountains, as it happened to the late Queen Margaret, when——"
He ended not, for his horse stumbled suddenly on a steep descent, and threw him over. The old man's head struck violently against a stone, and he remained lying senseless. It was a full hour before they succeeded in bringing him to consciousness. But the blow had been so severe, and the old man was so confused in his head, that he could no longer serve as guide. They were obliged to place him on the same horse as his grandson rode, and the high-spirited young man took charge of him with the greatest tenderness. Harald rode now at the head of the party, but every moment increased the difficulties of his undertaking, for the snow fell with such terrible rapidity, and the thickness of the air pre[Pg 105]vented him distinguishing with certainty "the comfortable waymarks,"—the traveller's only means of safety. They were obliged often to make windings and turnings, to come again upon the right path. Nevertheless, they succeeded in reaching Björöi-Säter, an uninhabited Säter, but which stands upon the broad and rapid Björöia.
Here they halted to take counsel. The Björöia was now so swollen, and rushed along so violently, that they soon saw the pure impossibility of passing it at this place. The old Halling-peasant advised them to make a circuit to another place, where they might with safety cross the river; this would take them near to the Storlie-Säter, and near to the great waterfall of the same name, the roar of which might be heard at three miles' distance. It is true that they must make a circuit of some miles, but what could they do? Great was the danger of pursuing the journey in this storm, but greater yet to stand still in this desert, where the snow frequently fell to the depth of many yards. The old Hallinger, however, chose this last; for he found himself unable to sit on the horse, and prayed to be left quiet in the hut, with provisions for a few days, in which time he hoped that the snow would cease and begin to thaw. He did not wish that his grandson should remain with him, but he was resolute not to leave his old grandfather, and the rest considered it alike proper and necessary; and the two, therefore, were hastily supplied with whatever they might require in this winterly solitude. Their horses were supplied with provender, and led likewise into the hut.
Susanna bound up the old man's head with the carefulness of a daughter. It was to her infinitely difficult to leave the old man behind them there. "And if no thaw come?" said she; "if snow and winter still continue, and thou art buried in here and frozen?"
"That has happened before now to many a better fellow than me," said the old man calmly. "One cannot die more than once, and God is also at home in the wilderness. And he who rightly can utter the Lord's Prayer need not to fear the under-earth spirits. With me, an old man, it may go as it will. My best time is, in any case, past; I am anxious only for the youth. Think on him when thou comest to human beings."[Pg 106]
Susanna was affected. She impressed a kiss upon the old man's forehead, and a warm tear fell from her cheek upon his. The old man looked up to her with a cordial, bright-beaming glance. "God's angel guide thee!" cried he after her, as she left the hut to attend the rest.
Again was the little train in motion, and wandered over snow-fields, naked rocks, and half-thawed morasses. The snow reached high up the legs of the horses, and only slowly and almost reluctantly went they forward. It grew darker and darker. No one spoke a word. Thus they went on for an hour's space.
With great uneasiness had Susanna fancied for some time that she observed Harald to reel in his saddle; but she endeavoured to persuade herself that it might be only a delusion, which the unequal paces of the horse occasioned, and by the thick snow-mist through which she saw him. All around her had, in fact, a bewildering appearance, and seemed to her waving and spectral. A dull cry from Mrs. Astrid broke the ghostly silence—was this also a delusion? Harald's horse stood still, and was without its rider. Of a truth, it was only too certain! Harald had, seized by dizziness, fallen down beside his horse. He had borne for long in silence the increasing pain in his shoulder and breast, and endeavoured to conceal from himself, as well as from others, feelings of feverish dizziness which seized his head. Even now, when it threatened to overpower him, he would not allow it to be of any consequence. With the help of the servant, he made several attempts to seat himself again upon his horse, but in vain. He could no longer lift up his fevered head. Lying upon the snow on his knees, and with silent misery, he leaned his burning forehead against a piece of rock.
"Here, then, here shall we die!" said Mrs. Astrid, half aloud to herself, in a gloomy voice; "and this young man must be sacrificed for my sake. My fate is always the same!"
Then followed a moment of fearful silence. Men and animals stood immoveable, and as if turned to stone, whilst the snow fell over them, and seemed to threaten to bury them. But now a clear, cheerful voice raised itself, and said[Pg 107]—
"I see a flat rock yonder, which will shelter us from the snow. We must carry him there!" And Susanna raised up Harald and seized his arm, whilst the servant went before and made a path through the snow. About forty paces from the place where they stood, a vaulted projecting rock stretched forth, under which they could obtain shelter from the snow, which reared itself in high walls around the open space.
"Support yourself on me; better—better! Fear not; I am strong!" said Susanna, whilst she, with a soft but vigorous arm, embraced Harald. He allowed himself to be led like a child: although he was not properly conscious, still he felt a certain pleasure in submitting himself to the young girl's guidance, who talked to him with such a mild and courageous voice.
As commodiously as possible was Harald laid under the sheltering rock, and Susanna took off her shawl, which she wore under her fur cloak, and made of it a soft pillow for Harald. "Ah! that is good!" said he softly, and pressed Susanna's hand, as he found himself relieved by this position. Susanna returned now to her mistress.
"Susanna," said she, "I would also gladly get there. It seems safe resting there; but I am so stiff that I can scarcely move myself."
Susanna helped her lady from her horse; and guided and supported by her, Mrs. Astrid reached the sheltering vault. Here, in comparison with that of the open plain, the air was almost of a mild temperature, for the rock walls and the piled-up snow prevented the cold wind from entering. Here Susanna placed softly her lady, who was almost stiffened with cold and fatigue.
Susanna also was frozen and weary; but, oh, what a southern clime of life and warmth cannot love and a strong will call forth in a human being! It was these powers which now impelled the young girl's pulse, and let the blood rush warm from the chambers of her heart to her very finger ends. She rubbed the stiffened limbs of her mistress, she warmed them with kisses and tears, she warmed her with her throbbing breast. She prevailed upon her to drink from a bottle of wine, and prepared also for Harald's parched and thirsty lips a refreshing draught of wine and water. She[Pg 108] moistened her handkerchief with snow, and laid it upon his aching brow. Around them both she piled cloaks and articles of clothing, so that both were protected from the cold. Then stood she for a moment silent, with a keen and serious look. She was thinking on what was further to be done to save these two.
Harald had raised himself on his sound arm, and looked silently down with the pain which a manly nature experiences when it is compelled to renounce one of its noblest impulses—sustaining and helping the weak who are confided to their care. A tear—the first Susanna had ever seen him shed, ran down his cheek.
Mrs. Astrid gazed with a mournful look up to the grave-like vault.
But Susanna's eyes beamed even brighter. "Hark, hark!" said she, and listened.
Mrs. Astrid and Harald fixed upon her inquiring looks.
"I hear a noise," resumed Susanna, "a noise like that of a great waterfall."
"It is the roar of the Storlie-force!" exclaimed Harald, for a moment animated—"but what good of that?" continued he, and sunk down disheartened, "we are three miles off—and cannot get there!"
"Yes, we can, we will," said Susanna, with firm resolution. "Courage, courage, my dear lady! Be calm, Mr. Bergman! We will reach it, we will be saved!"
"And how?" said Harald, "the servant is a stupid fellow, he never could find his way."
"But I can find it, be sure of that," replied Susanna; "and come back hither with people and help; tell me only the signs by which I may know the right way. These and the roar of Storlie-force will guide me."
"It is in vain! You would perish, alone, and in the snow-*storm!"
"I shall not perish! I am strong! No one shall hinder me. And if you will not tell me the way, I shall, nevertheless, find it out."
When Harald saw her so firmly resolved, and her cheerful and determined tone had inspired him with some degree of confidence, he endeavoured to point out to her the objects by which she must direct herself, and which consisted of rock[Pg 109] and crag, which, however, in the snowy night, she probably could no longer distinguish.
With deep attention, Susanna listened, and then said cheerfully, "Now I have it! I shall find the way! God preserve you! I shall soon be back again with help!"
When she came out into the open air, she found the servant seeking his comfort in the brandy-bottle, and the horses sunk in a spiritless stupor. She admonished him to take care of these, and charged him earnestly both with threats and promises of reward, to think about his employers and watch over their safety. She herself gave to her horse fodder and water, patting him the while, and speaking to him kind and encouraging words. After that she mounted to commence her solitary, dangerous journey. But it was only with great difficulty that she could make the horse part from his companions, and when it had gone about twenty paces forward, it stopped, and would return again to its company. This manœuvre it repeated several times, at length it would obey neither blows nor encouragement. Susanna therefore dismounted and let the horse go. A few tears filled her eyes as she saw him thus abandon her, and beseechingly she lifted her hands to Him, who here alone saw the solitary defenceless maiden.
After that she pursued her way on foot.
This indeed was not long, and the length of it was not the difficulty; but he who had seen Susanna making her way through the deep snow, then clambering up rocks, then wandering over morasses, where at every step she feared to sink, would have been filled with amazement at her courage and her strength. But "God's angel," whom the old man had prayed might guide her, seemed to be with her on the way, for the fall of snow ceased, and ever and anon shot a moonbeam forth, and showed her some of the objects which Harald had described as landmarks. Besides, the din of the Storlie-force grew ever louder and louder, like the trumpet of the resurrection in her ears. A strong resolve to attempt the uttermost, a secret joy in testifying her affection, even though it should be with the sacrifice of her life, gave wings to her feet, and prevented her courage falling for a single minute.
So passed two hours. Susanna now heard the water roaring[Pg 110] beneath her feet. She seemed to be on the point of plunging into an abyss; all around was darkness and snow. She stood still. It was a moment of terrible uncertainty. Then parted the clouds, and the half-moon in full glory beamed forth, just as it was about to sink behind a rock. Susanna now saw the abyss on whose brink she stood; she saw the Storlie-force spread its white masses of water in the moonlight, saw the Säter-huts there below!...
Beneath the stone vault where Mrs. Astrid and Harald found themselves, prevailed for some time after Susanna's departure, a deep and wild silence. This was at length broken by Mrs. Astrid, who said in a solemn tone—
"I have a request to make of you, Harald!"
"Command me," answered he. "Might I but be able to fulfil your wish!"
"We seem both," resumed Mrs. Astrid, "now to stand near the grave; but you are stronger and younger than I, you I hope will be rescued. I must confide to you an important commission, and I rely on the honour and the soundness of heart which I have observed in you, that you will conscientiously execute it, in case I myself am not in a condition to do, and you as I trust, will outlive me!"
Mrs. Astrid had uttered this with a firm voice, but during the following relation, she was frequently agitated by contending emotions. She spoke rapidly, and in short, abrupt sentences, as thus—
"I had a sister. How I loved her I am not able to express. She was as gay and gentle in her mood as I was serious. When I married, she accompanied me to my house. But there was no good luck.—The fortune which my sister possessed placed her in a condition to follow her own heart's bias, and she gave her hand to a poor but amiable young man, a Lieutenant Wolf, and lived with him some months of the highest earthly felicity. But brief was the happiness to be. Wolf perished on a sea-voyage, and his inconsolable wife sunk under her sorrow. She died some hours after she had given birth to a son, and after she had laid her tender babe in my arms, and prayed me to become its mother.
"And I became a mother to this child. An own son could not have possibly been dearer to me. I was proud of the handsome lively child. I saw a beautiful future for him.[Pg 111] He should realise the ideal of my youth, he should.... Oh! amid my own poor and desolate life I was yet rich in this boy. But the man who had received my hand endured not that my heart should belong to this child. He took a hatred to the poor boy, and my life became more than ever bitter.—Once I was obliged to make a journey to visit a sick relative. I wished to take the seven-year-old boy with me, for he had never been separated from me. But my husband would retain him with him, and assumed a tone of tenderness to persuade me. This I could not resist; and spite of the boy's entreaties, and an anxiety which seemed to me ominous—I left my poor child. I persuaded myself that I was acting strongly, and I was really weak. I had promised the child's mother to protect it—I knew that I left it in hard and hostile hands, and yet!—-- When after a week's absence I returned from my journey, the boy—had vanished. He had gone out one day, it was said, and never came back again. They had sought for him everywhere, and at length had found his little hat upon a rock on the edge of the sea—it was held for certain that he had fallen over it.—I found my husband busy in taking possession of my sister's property, which in case of the boy's death should, according to her will, fall to us. From this moment, my soul was seized with the most horrible suspicions!... God be praised that these were false! God forgive me that I ever entertained them!
"For twenty years have they gnawed at my heart; for twenty years have they hung the weight of lead on the fulfilment of my duties. All my researches were fruitless: no one could be suspected; no one seemed to have acted herein, except a dreadful fate. This was all:—the boy had had permission to go out and play, had left the house alone, and no one had seen him afterwards.
"Twenty years—long, dark years—had passed since this period, and hope had by degrees expired in my heart, the feeble hope, which sometimes revived in it, that I should yet recover my beloved child. After having been many years deprived of both bodily and mental vigour by his paralysis, my husband died. I was free; but wherefore should I live!... I had lost my faith in everything which makes life dear, and I stood alone, on the verge of old age, surrounded by darkness and bitter memories. Thus did I still[Pg 112] feel but a few days ago, when I received a writing from the present Commandant of K——. Within lay an unsealed letter, which he said had been found in a drawer into which my husband was wont to throw old letters and papers, of no worth or importance.—And this letter ... Oh! how it would have changed my heart, and my future! This letter was written by my husband, apparently immediately after his severe paralytic stroke; but its words, in an unsteady hand, said, that the lost child still lived, and directed me for further explanation to a certain Sergeant Rönn, in Bergen. Here the letter appeared to have been broken off by a sudden increase of his attack. I was, as it chanced, absent from home on this day. When I returned I found my husband speechless, and nearly lifeless. Life was indeed restored through active exertions, but consciousness continued dark, and half of the body powerless;—thus he lived on for some years. In a moment of clearness which occurred to him shortly before he expired, I am convinced that he desired to unfold to me the condition of the boy, or the existence of the aforesaid letter—but death prevented him ... How this letter became thrown amongst the old papers I do not understand—perhaps it might be done by my husband's own hand, in that moment of privation of consciousness in which the letter closed—enough, the hand of Providence saved it from destruction, and allowed it to reach me!...
"You know now the cause of my hasty journey. And if it should for me terminate here—if I shall never achieve the highest wish, and the last hope of my life—if I never may see again my sister's son, and myself deliver into his hands that which has been unjustly withheld from him—then, listen to my prayer, my solemn injunction! Seek out, as soon as you can, in Bergen, the person whom I have named, and whose address you will further find in the paper. Tell him, that in my last hour I commissioned you to act in my stead; spare no expense which may be necessary—promise, threaten—but search out where my sister's son is to be found! And then—go to him. Bear to him my last affectionate greeting; deliver to him this;—it is my Will, and it will put him in possession of all that I possess, which is properly that of his mother, for my own is nearly consumed. Tell him that care on his account has worn away my life, that—my God! What do you? Why do you thus seize my hand?—you weep!"[Pg 113]
"Tell me—" stammered forth Harald, with a voice nearly choked by emotion; "did this child wear on a ribbon round his neck a little cross of iron?—the head of a winged cherub in its centre?"
"From his mother's neck," said Mrs. Astrid, "I transferred it to his!"
"And here——here it yet rests!" exclaimed Harald, as he led Mrs. Astrid's hand to the little cross hanging to his neck. "What recollections awake now! Yes, it must be so! I cannot doubt——you are my childhood's first cherisher, my mother's sister!"
A cry of indescribable emotion interrupted Harald. "Good God!" exclaimed Mrs. Astrid, "you are——"
"Your sister's son; the child that you mourn. At this moment I recognise again myself and you."
"And I—— Your voice, Harald, has often struck me as strangely familiar. At this moment I seem again to hear your father's voice. Ah, speak! speak! for heaven's sake, explain to me——make me certain—— you give me then more than life."
"What shall I say?" continued Harald, in the highest excitement and disquiet; "much is obscure to myself——incomprehensible. But your narrative has at this moment called up in me recollections, impressions, which make me certain that I neither deceive you nor myself. At this instant I remember with perfect clearness, how I, as a child, one day ran my little sledge on the hill before the fortress, and how I was there addressed by the, to me, well-known Sergeant Rönn, but whose name till this moment had entirely escaped me, who invited me to ascend his sledge, and take a drive with him. I desired nothing better, and I got in. I remember also now extremely well that my hat blew off, that I wished to fetch it, but was prevented by the Sergeant, who threw a cloak round me, and drove off at full speed. And long did the drive continue——but from this moment my recollection becomes dark, and I look back into a time as into a dark night, which ever and anon is illuminated by lightning. Probably I fell then, into the heavy sickness which long afterwards checked my growth. I recollect it as a dream, that I would go home to my mother, but that my cries were hushed by the Sergeant, first with good words and then with menaces. I remember dimly, that I at one time[Pg 114] found myself in a foul and wretched house, where hideous men treated me harshly, and I longed to die.—— Then comes, like a sunbeam, the impression of another home, of a clear heaven, pure air, green meadows, and of friendly, mild people, who, with infinite tenderness, cherished the sick and weakly child which I then was. This home was Alette's; and her excellent parents, after they had recalled me to life, adopted me as their son. My new relationships became unspeakably dear to me; I was happy; my illness and the long succeeding weakness had almost wholly obliterated the memory of the past. I had forgotten the names of both people and places, yet never did I forget my childhood's earliest, motherly cherisher. Like a lovely and holy image has she followed me through life, although, with the lapse of years, she, as it were, folded herself continually in a thicker veil.
"When I was older, I requested and received from my foster-father an explanation of my reception into his house. I then found that he had one day called on Mr. K—— in Christiansand, and had seen there a most feeble and pale child, who sate in the sunshine on the floor. The child began to weep, but hushed itself in terror when Mr. K——went up sharply to it, and threatened it with the dark room. Moved by this occurrence, my benefactor inquired to whom the boy belonged, and received for answer that it was a poor child without connexions, and who had been taken in charity and committed to K——'s care. Alette's father resolved at once, cost what it would, to take the child out of this keeping, and offered to take the boy himself, and try what the country air would do for the restoration of his health. It was in this manner that I came into the family which I thence called my own. I could obtain no explanation respecting my parents, nor respecting my peculiar connexion with Mr. K——. K—— died a few weeks after my removal from his house, and his wife either knew or pretended to know nothing whatever about me.
"But my excellent foster-parents never allowed me to feel that I had no real relatives. They made no difference between me and their own child, and Alette became to me the tenderest and best of sisters. Death deprived us of this beloved support; Alette's father has been now dead two years: Alette removed to some near relatives, in order[Pg 115] after a certain time, to give her hand to a man whom she has long loved; and I sought in travel to dissipate the feeling of desolation which had seized on my heart. It was at this moment that business, or rather Providence, conducted me to you. Admiration, and an interest whose power I cannot describe, drew me towards you; perhaps, unknown to me, darkly operated in me the delightful recollections of my childhood. At this moment they have ascended in all their clearness. I seem now again transported into the years of boyhood, when I called you mother, and loved you even to adoration; and now—" and with passionate tenderness Harald seized the hand of Mrs. Astrid, while he stammered forth—"now ... what says your heart?... Can you trust this dim recollection ... this narrative without all testimony?... May I again call you mother? Can you, will you, receive me as son?"
"Do I wish it?... Feel these tears of joy! I have not shed many such upon earth. I cannot doubt ... I believe ... I am happy!... Thou art my sister's son, my child ... I have thee again. But oh! have I found thee merely to see thee die—die here—for my sake? Am I then born to be unfortunate? This moment is bitter."
"But delightful also!" exclaimed Harald, with warmth; "we have found each other; we are united."
"Rescue is yet possible!"
"But only through a miracle."
"Providence permits wonderful things to happen; we have just had evidence of it!" said Harald, with a gentle, admonitory tone.
"Thou art right, Harald; but I have been so unhappy! I have difficulty to believe in happy miracles. But, at all events, God be praised for this moment, and let His will be done!"
"Amen!" said Harald softly, but with manly fortitude; and both ceased, exhausted, and all was in deep darkness around them, for the moon was gone down, and the snow fell thickly. They seemed to be entombed alive.
But the miracle of rescue was near. There gleamed a light—there were heard voices out of the snowy wilderness.
"Susanna!" exclaimed, with one voice, Mrs. Astrid and Harald. "Susanna, our angel of salvation!"[Pg 116]
And it was Susanna, who, with a blazing torch in her hand, rushed into the dark vault. It glittered at once as with a million of diamonds. Some of these gleamed in human eyes.
"You are saved, God be praised!" exclaimed Susanna. "Here are good, strong men who will help you. But we must hasten; the snow falls heavily."
Several peasants, bearing lights and two litters, were now seen; and Mrs. Astrid and Harald were each laid on one of these, and covered with soft skins.
"Susanna," said Mrs. Astrid, "come and rest here by me!"
"Nay," answered Susanna, lifting aloft her torch; "I shall go on before and light the way. Fear not for me; I am strong!"
But a strange sensation suddenly seized her, as if her heart would sink, and her knees failed her. She stood now a moment, then made a step forward as to go, then felt her breast, as it were, crushed together. She dropped on her knees, and the torch fell from her hands. "Hulda!" she whispered to herself, "my little darling ... farewell!"
"Susanna! gracious Heaven!" exclaimed now two voices at once; and, strong with terror and surprise, sprang up Mrs. Astrid and Harald, and embraced Susanna. She sank more and more together. She seized the hands of her mistress and of Harald, and said with great difficulty, earnestly praying—"My little Hulda! The fatherless ... motherless ... think of her!"
"Susanna! my good, dear child!" exclaimed Mrs. Astrid, "thou wilt not, thou shalt not now die!" And for the first time fell a beam of anxious love from her dark eyes upon the young, devoted maiden. It was the first time that Susanna had enjoyed such a glance, and she looked up as joyfully as if she had gazed into the opened heaven.
"Oh, Harald!" said Susanna, while she gazed at him with inexpressible tenderness and clearness, "I know that I could not make you happy in life, but I thank God that I can die for you. Now—now despise not my love!"—and seizing his hand and that of her mistress, she pressed them to her bosom, saying, with a sobbing voice, "Pardon my fault, for—my love's sake!"[Pg 117]
A slight shiver passed through her frame, her head sank upon her breast. Without a sign of life, they laid Susanna by her mistress, who held her in her arms, and bathed with her tears the young, pallid countenance.
 "Lefse" are thin cakes of dough, which are cut in pieces and baked.
I woke, for life assumed victorious sway,
And found my being in its weakness lay.
There the beloved ones round my couch I saw.
Months went on, and life was for Susanna merely a wild, uneasy dream. In the delirious fantasies of fever she again lived over the impressions of the mountain journey, but in darker colours. She saw the subterranean spirits, how in terrible shapes they raged about in the now wilderness, and sought to suffocate her beneath piles of snow and ice, which they flung upon her. Susanna combated with desperate exertions against them, for she knew that if she fell, the defence for those she loved would be taken away, and that the subterranean ones could seize upon it; and therefore any mass of snow which the spirits cast upon her, she cast back upon them. Finally, the subterranean ones desired a parley, and promised that if she would voluntarily accompany them, they would permit her friends to be at peace; yes, even heap upon them wealth and happiness. Then strove Susanna no longer; but saluting the beautiful heaven, and earth with its green dales and beloved people, whom she should behold no more, let herself be dragged down in silence by the spirits, into their subterranean dwellings, and experienced there inexpressible torments. But she was contented to suffer for those she loved; and out of the dark, cold abyss, where she was doomed to dwell, she sent up the most affectionate, moving farewells to her Hulda, to her mistress, to Harald, and Alette, revealing thereby, unknown, to herself, all her heart's secrets, conflicts, and sufferings.
One day it seemed to her that she had already dwelt hundreds of years in the under world, and she was now in their church, for her time was up, and she should now die, and in death (that she knew) should she be delivered from[Pg 118] the power of the mountain spirits. But she could feel no joy over this, so faint was her heart, so chilled was her bosom. She lay stretched out upon a stone floor, and over her vaulted itself a roof of ice. That was her funeral vault, and there should she die. And by degrees all feelings and senses grew benumbed, all torments vanished, and there came a sleep so deep, but so secret and peaceful, that Susanna, who still retained her consciousness, regarded death as a salutary repose, and wished not to awaken. But it seemed to her that the door of the vault opened, and she saw a light, like that of the sun; and some one approached her, and touched her lips with a flame—a flame as of life. Then beat her heart more rapidly, the blood streamed warmly through her veins, and she looked up and saw a female figure stand by her pillow, which bent over her with a look full of love and compassion. The look, the beautiful life-giving look, Susanna seemed to have seen some time before, and the longer she gazed on the face of this female shape, the better she seemed to recognise familiar features—the noble and beloved features of her mistress. But she looked younger and fairer than formerly. At her feet she saw roses standing, and the sun shone upon them; but all appeared to her so beautiful, so wonderful, that she involuntarily whispered:
"Are we now in heaven?"
"Still on the earth," replied a voice, full of tenderness. "Thou wilt here live for those who love thee."
"Ah! who loves me?" said Susanna, faint and spiritless.
"I!" answered the voice; "I and others. But be calm and quiet—a mother watches over thee."
And Susanna continued calm and quiet, and resigned herself, in her great state of weakness, with gratified confidence to the motherly guardian. Mrs. Astrid's presence, the mere sound of her light tread, the mere sight of her shadow, operated beneficially on her mind; all that she received from her hand was to her delicious and healing. There arose between them a relationship full of pleasantness. Mrs. Astrid, who saw the young girl as it were born anew under her hands, conceived for her an attachment which surprised herself, much as it made her happy. The strong and healthy Susanna had stood too distant from her; the weak, and in her weakness the so child-like affectionate one, had stolen[Pg 119] into her heart, and she felt her heart thereby bloom, as it were, anew.
Such is the operation of all true devotion, all true affection, and that in every stage of life; for affection is the summer of life and of the heart.
So soon as strength and clear memory again revived in Susanna, she begged to be informed of the fate of all those who had made the mountain journey. With astonishment and joy did she then learn how Mrs. Astrid had discovered in Harald her sister's son; and how, by this, much darkness had vanished from her life.
Through Sergeant Rönn, and the subsequent inquiries to which his statement led, within a short time perfect clearness was obtained on all that concerned the circumstances of Harald's childhood. It was then discovered that Mr. K. had been a confidant of Colonel Hjelm's, and was of a sufficiently worthless character to enter, for the sake of gain, into the plans of the Colonel, and to receive Harald, and cause him by degrees to forget his former circumstances. Sickness came in aid of severe treatment; and after a sojourn of some months in K.'s house, he found the poor boy so much stupified, that he could, without fear of the betrayal of the secret, yield to the solicitations of Mr. Bergman, and make over to him a child whose daily aspect was a torment to him. But we return now to the present.
Harald, under skilful medical care in Bergen, after the mountain journey, was quickly restored to health. When he had attended the marriage of Alette, he had travelled abroad, but would, in the course of the summer, return to Semb, where he would settle down, in order to live for the beloved relative whom he had again discovered.
The guide, the honest old peasant of Hailing, had met with his death on the mountains. His grandson wept by his corpse till he was himself half dead with hunger and cold, when the people from the dales, sent by Mrs. Astrid and Harald, succeeded in making a way through the snow-drifts to the Björöja-säter, and in rescuing him.
Susanna dropt a tear for the old man's fate, but felt within her a secret regret not to have died like him. She looked towards the future with disquiet. But when she could again leave her bed, when Mrs. Astrid drove her out[Pg 120] with her, when she felt the vernal air, and saw the sea, and the clear heaven above the mountains, and the green orchards at their feet; then awoke she again vividly to the feeling of the beauty of the earth, and of life. And she contemplated with admiration and delight the new objects which surrounded her, as well the magnificent forms of nature, as the life and the changing scenes in the city; for Susanna found herself in the lovely and splendidly situated Bergen, the greatest mercantile city of Norway, the birthplace of Hollberg, Dahl, and Ole Bull.
Yet would she speedily separate herself from all this, and what was still harder, from her adored mistress; for Susanna had firmly determined never again to see Harald. Crimson blushes covered her cheeks when she recollected her confession in the mountains, at the moment when she thought herself at the point of death, and she felt that after this they could not meet, much less live in the same house without mutually painful embarrassment. She would, therefore, not return again to Semb; but, so soon as her health would permit it, would go from Bergen by sea to Sweden, to her native town again, and there, in the bosom of her little darling, seek to heal her own heart, and draw new strength to live and labour.
But it was not easy for poor Susanna to announce this resolve to her mistress. She trembled violently, and could not restrain her tears.
It was at the same time calming and disturbing to her feelings, when Mrs. Astrid, after she had quietly listened to Susanna, answered with much composure—
"You are at liberty, Susanna, to act as you find it best; but in three or four months, for so long will my affairs yet retain me here—in a few months I shall again return, to Semb, and it would be a trial to me to be without you on the journey."
"Then I shall accompany you," replied Susanna, glad that she was needed, "but then ..."
"Then," began again Mrs. Astrid, "when you will leave me, I shall arrange for your safe return to your native place."
"So then yet some months!" thought Susanna with a melancholy pleasure. And these months were for her inex[Pg 121]pressibly pleasant and strengthening. Mrs. Astrid occupied herself much with her, and sought in many particulars to supply the defects of her neglected education. And Susanna was a quick pupil, and more affectionately than ever did she attach herself to her mistress, while she on her part experienced even more and more the truth of the adage: "the breath of youth is wholesome."
In the beginning of the month of July, Mrs. Astrid travelled again with Susanna over the mountains which had once threatened them with death; but at this season of the year, the journey was not dangerous, though always laborious. Mrs. Astrid was the whole time in the highest spirits, and seemed every day to become more joyous. Susanna's mood of mind, on the contrary, became every day more depressed. Even Mrs. Astrid's gaiety contributed to this. She felt herself infinitely solitary.
It was a beautiful July evening when they descended into Heimdal. Susanna's heart swelled with sadness as she saw again the places and the objects which were so dear to her, and which she should now soon quit for ever. Never had they struck her as so enchanting. She saw the sun's beams fall on the Kristallberg, and she called to mind Harald's sagas; she saw the grove of oaks where Mrs. Astrid had sate and had enjoyed the fragrance which Susanna's hand had prepared for her in silence. And the spring where the silver-weed and the ladies-mantle grew, the clear spring where she had spent so many happy hours; Susanna seemed to thirst for it. The windows in Semb burned with the radiance of the sun, the house seemed to be illuminated;—in that house she had worked and ordered; there she had loved; there the flame of the winter evenings had burned so brightly during Harald's stories. Silently ascended the pillars of smoke from the cottages in the dale, where she was at home, knew each child and each cow, knew the cares and the joys which dwelt there, and where she had first learned rightly to comprehend Harald's good-heartedness—always Harald—always did she find his image as the heart in all these reminiscences. But now—- now should she soon leave all this, all that was beautiful and dear!
They arrived now in Semb, and were greeted by Alfiero with barkings of clamorous delight.—Susanna, with a tear[Pg 122] in her eye, greeted and nodded to all beloved acquaintances, both people and animals.
The windows in Mrs. Astrid's room stood open, and through them were seen charming prospects over the dale, with its azure stream, its green heights and slopes, and the peaceful spire of its church in the background. She herself stood, as in astonishment, at the beauty of the grove, and her eyes flashed as she exclaimed—
"See, Susanna! Is not our dale beautiful? And will it not be beautiful to live here, to make men happy, and be happy oneself?"
Susanna answered with a hasty Yes, and left the room. She felt herself ready to choke, and yet once more arose Barbra in her, and spoke thus—
"Beautiful? Yes, for her. She thinks not of me; troubles herself not the least about me! Nor Harald neither! The poor maid-servant, whom they had need of in the mountain journey is superfluous in the dale. She may go; they are happy now; they are sufficient to themselves. Whether I live or die, or suffer, it is indifferent to them. Good, I will therefore no longer trouble them. I will go, go far, far from here. I will trouble myself no farther about them; I will forget them as they forget me."
But tears notwithstanding rolled involuntarily over Susanna's cheeks, and the Barbra wrath ran away with them, and Sanna resumed—
"Yes, I will go: but I will bless them wherever I go. May they find a maid equally faithful, equally devoted! May they never miss Susanna! And then, my little Hulda, then my darling and sole joy, soon will I come to thee. I will take thee into my arms, and carry thee to some still corner, where undisturbed I may labour for thee. A bit of bread and a quiet home, I shall find sufficient for us both. And when my heart aches, I will clasp thee to me, thou little soft child, and thank God that I have yet some one on earth whom I can love, and who loves me!"
Just as Susanna finished this ejaculation, she was at the door of her room. She opened it—entered—and stood dumb with astonishment. Were her senses yet confused, or did she now first wake out of year-long dreams? She saw herself again in that little room in which she had spent so many years of her youth, in that little room which she herself had[Pg 123] fitted up, had painted and embellished, and had often described to Harald;—and there by the window stood the little Hulda's bed, with its flowery coverlet, and blue muslin hangings. This scene caused the blood to rush violently to Susanna's heart, and, out of herself, she cried—"Hulda! my little Hulda!"
"Here I am, Sanna! Here is thy little Hulda!" answered the clear joyous voice of a child, and the coverlet of the bed moved, and an angelically beautiful child's head peeped out, and two small white arms stretched themselves towards Susanna. With a cry of almost wild joy Susanna sprang forward, and clasped the little sister in her arms.
Susanna was pale, wept and laughed, and knew not for some time what went on around her. But when she had collected herself, she found herself sitting on Hulda's bed, with the child folded in her arms, and over the little, light-locked head, lifted itself a manly one, with an expression of deep seriousness and gentle emotion.
"Entreat, Susanna, little Hulda," said Harald, "that she bestow a little regard on me, and that she does not say nay to what you have granted me; beg that I may call little Hulda my daughter, and that I may call your Susanna, my Susanna!"
"Oh, yes! That shalt thou, Susanna!" exclaimed little Hulda, while she, with child-like affection, threw her arms about Susanna's neck, and continued zealously: "Oh, do like him, Susanna! He likes thee so much; that he has told me so often, and he has himself brought me hither to give thee joy. And seest thou this beautiful necklace he has given me, and he has promised to tell me such pleasant stories in winter. He can tell so many, do you know! Hast thou heard about Rypan in Justedale, Sanna? He has told me that! And about the good lady who went about after the Black Death, and collected all the motherless little children, and was a mother to them. Oh, Sanna! Do like him, and let him be my father!"
Susanna let the little prattler go on without being able to say a word. She buried her face in her bosom, and endeavoured to collect her confused thoughts.
"Susanna," prayed Harald, restlessly and tenderly. "Look at me! Speak to me a kind word!"
Then raised Susanna her burning and tear-bathed coun[Pg 124]tenance, saying, "Oh! how shall I ever be able to thank you?"
"How?" said Harold. "By making me happy, Susanna. By becoming my wife."
Susanna stood up, while she said with as much candour as cordiality, "God knows best how happy I should feel myself, if I could believe—if words were spoken for your own sake, and not merely for mine. But, ah! I cannot do it. I know that it is your generosity and goodness——"
"Generosity? Then am I right generous towards myself. For I assure you, Susanna, that I never thought more of my own advantage than at this moment; that I am now as completely egotistical as you could desire."
"And your sister Alette," continued Susanna, with downcast eyes; "I know that she does not wish to call me her sister, and——"
"And since Alette once was so stupid," said now a friendly female voice, "therefore is she here to deprecate it." And Alette embraced heartily the astonished Susanna, whilst she continued—"Oh, Susanna! without you I should now no longer have a brother. I know you better now, and I have read in the depths of his heart and know that he can now no longer be happy but through you. Therefore I implore you, Susanna, implore you earnestly, to make him happy. Be his wife, Susanna, and be my sister."
"And you, too, Alette," said Susanna, deeply moved; "will you too mislead me with your sweet words? Ah! could you make me forget that it is my weakness——that is, I who, through my confession have called forth—— But that can I never; and therefore can I not believe you, ye good, ye noble ones! And therefore I implore and adjure you——"
"What fine speeches are making here?" now interrupted a solemn voice, and Mrs. Astrid stood before the affectionately contending group, and spoke thus with an assumed sternness. "I will hope that my young relatives and my daughter Susanna do not take upon them to transact and to determine important affairs without taking me into the council. But yes, I perceive by your guilty countenances that this is the fact; and therefore I shall punish you altogether. Not another word of the business then till eight days are over; and then I de[Pg 125]mand and require, as lady and mistress of this house, that the dispute be brought before me, and that I have a word to say in the decision. Susanna remains here in the mean time in safe keeping, and I myself shall undertake to watch her. Dost thou believe seriously, Susanna," and Mrs. Astrid's voice changed into the most affectionate tones, while she clasped the young maiden in her arms, "dost thou believe that thou canst so easily escape me? No, no, my child! Thou deceivest thyself there. Since thou hast saved our lives, thou hast become our life-captive—thou, and with thy little Hulda! But supper is laid under the lime-trees in the garden, my child; and let us gather strength from it for the approaching strife."
The wingéd troops hie
From the black woods outpouring;
Under them fly
Storms and waves roaring.
Over them waken
Mild stars, and beckon
The troop to the sheltering palms.
Autumn Song, by Velhaven.
There is on earth much sorrow and much darkness; there is crime and sickness,—the shriek of despair, and the deep, long, silent torture. Ah! who can name them all, the sufferings of humanity, in their manifold, pale dispensations? But, God be praised! there is also an affluence of goodness and joy; there are noble deeds, fulfilled hopes, moments of rapture, decades of blissful peace, bright marriage-days, and calm, holy death-beds.
Three months after the strife just mentioned, there was solemnised at Semb, in Heimdal, one of those bright wedding-days, when the suns of nature and of men's hearts combined to call forth on earth a paradise, which is always to be found there, though frequently hidden, fettered, deeply bound by the subterranean powers.
Yet from the faces of the fallen shine out
The lofty features of their heavenly birth,
And Daphne's heart beats 'neath the rugged bark.
It was an autumn day, but one of those autumn days when a sun warm as summer and a crystally pure air cause the earth to stand forth in the brightest splendour before the azure-blue eyes of heaven; when Nature resembles a novice, who adorns herself the most at the moment that she is about to take the nun's veil, and to descend into her winterly grave. The heights of the dale shone in the most gorgeous play of colours. The dark pines, the soft-green firs, the golden-tinged birches, the hazels with their pale leaves, and the mountain ashes with their bunches of scarlet berries, arranged themselves on these in a variety of changing masses; while the Heimdal river, intoxicated with the floods of heaven, roared onward more impetuous and powerful than ever. Many-coloured herds, which had returned fat and plump from the Säters, wandered on its green banks. The chapel-bells rung joyously in the clear air, while the church-going people streamed along the winding footpath from their cottages towards the house of God. From the margin of the river at Semb ran a little fleet of festally adorned boats. In the most stately of these sate, under a canopy of leaves and flowers, the Lady of Semb; but no longer the pale, sorrowful one, whose glances seemed to seek the grave. A new youth appeared now to play upon her cheeks, to breathe upon her lips, while the clear eyes, with a glad and quiet enjoyment, gazed around her, now on the beauties of nature, and now on a more beautiful sight which she had immediately before her eyes—a happy human pair. Near her, more like a little angel than a mortal child, sate little Hulda, with a wreath of the flowers called by the Norwegians "thousand-peace," in her bright locks. All looks, however—as they ought—were fixed on the bride and bridegroom; and both were, in truth, handsome and charming to look upon; the more so, because they appeared so perfectly happy. In a following boat was seen a little strife between a young lady and her husband, who would wrap round her a cloak, which she would not willingly have. The spectators were tempted to take part with him in his tender care for the young wife, who was soon to become a mother. The issue of this strife was, that—Alf got the upper hand of Alette. Other boats contained other wedding guests. The men who rowed the boats had all wreaths round their yellow[Pg 127] straw hats. And thus so advanced the little fleet, amid joyous music, along the river to the chapel.
The chapel was a simple building, without any other ornament than a beautiful altar-piece, and an abundance of flowers and green branches, which now, for the occasion, adorned the seats, the walls, and the floor.
The sermon was simple and cordial, the singing pure; in a word, no dissonant tone came hither to disturb the devotion which the arrangement of divine service in Norway is so well adapted to call forth and maintain.
Here Harald and Susanna called on heaven, from faithful and earnest hearts, to bless their sincere intention, in joy and in trouble on the earth, to love one another, and were declared by the congregation to be a pair.
Many people had come this day to church; and when the wedding-train returned homewards, many boats joined themselves to it, and followed it to the opposite shore with singing and loud huzzas.
But Susanna did not feel herself truly calm and happy till in Mrs. Astrid's quiet room she had bowed her forehead on her knee, and had felt her maternal hands laid in blessing upon her head. Her heart was so full of gratitude it seemed ready to burst.
"I have then a mother!" she exclaimed, as she embraced Mrs. Astrid's knees, and looked up to her with the warmest and most child-like affection;—"Ah! I am too happy, far too happy! God has given me, the poor solitary one, a home and a mother——"
"And a husband, too! Forget him not, I beseech! He too will be included!" said Harald, as he gently embraced Susanna, and also bent his knee before the maternal friend.
Mrs. Astrid clasped them both warmly in her arms, and said, with a still, inward voice, as she went with them to the window, whence was seen the beautiful dale in all its whole[Pg 128] extent: We begin to-day together a new life, and we will together endeavour to make it happy. At this moment when I stand, surrounded by you, my children, and looking forward as it were into a beautiful future, I seem to myself so well to understand how that may be. We have not here the treasures of art; we have not the life of the great world, with its varying scenes to enliven and entertain us; but our lives need not therefore be heavy and earth-bound. We have Heaven, and we have—Nature! We will call down the former into our hearts and into our home, and we will inquire of the latter concerning its silent wonders, and through their contemplation elevate our spirits. By the flame of our quiet hearth we will sometimes contemplate the movements of the great world-drama, in order thereafter with the greater joy to return to our own little scene, and consider how we can best, each of us play out our part. "And I promise you beforehand," continued Mrs. Astrid, assuming a playful tone, "that mine shall not be, to make so long a speech as now."
But both Harald and Susanna joined in assuring Mrs. Astrid that she could not possibly speak too long.
"Well, well," said she kindly; "if you will sometimes listen to the old woman's preachings, she, on the other hand, will often be a child with you, and learn with you, and of you. I am at this moment equally curious about nature, and long to make a closer acquaintance with her. The thought of it throws a kind of vernal splendour over my autumn."
"And assuredly," said Harald, "the intercourse with nature operates beneficently, and with a youth-restoring power upon the human heart. I always remember with delight the words of Goethe, when in his eightieth year, he returned one spring from a visit in the country, sunburnt and full of gladness: 'I have had a conversation with the vine,' said he, 'and you cannot believe what beautiful things it has said to me.' Do we not seem here to behold a new golden age beam forth, in which the voices of nature become audible to the ear of man, and he in conversation with her to acquire higher wisdom and tranquillity of life?"
"Our wisdom," said Mrs. Astrid, as she looked smilingly around, "has not in the mean time prevented Susanna from[Pg 129] being more sensible than us, for she has thought of the wedding-guests, while we have quite forgotten them. But we will now follow her!"
After the wedding-dinner spiced with skåls and songs, and especially with hearty merriment, Mrs. Astrid retired to her own room, and Alette assumed the hostess's office in the company.
Sitting at her writing-table, Mrs. Astrid, with an animated air, and quick respiration, sketched the following lines:
"Now come, come, my paternal friend, and behold your wishes, your prognostications fulfilled; come and behold happiness and inexpressible gratitude living in the bosom which so long was closed even to hope. Come, and receive my contrition for my pusillanimity, for my murmurings; come and help me to be thankful! I long to tell you orally how much is changed within me; how a thousand germs of life and gladness, which I believed to be dead, now spring up in my soul restored to youth. I wonder daily over the feelings, the impressions which I experience; I scarcely know myself again. Oh, my friend! how right you were—it is never TOO LATE!
"Ah! that I could be heard by all oppressed, dejected souls! I would cry to them—'Lift up your head, and confide still in the future, and believe that it is never TOO LATE!' See! I too was bowed down by long suffering, and old age had moreover overtaken me, and I believed that all my strength had vanished; that my life, my sufferings were in vain—and behold; my head has been again lifted up, my heart appeased, my soul strengthened; and now, in my fiftieth year, I advance into a new future, attended by all that life has of beautiful and worthy of love!
"The change in my soul has enabled me better to comprehend life and suffering, and I am now firmly convinced that there is no fruitless suffering, and that no virtuous endeavour is in vain. Winter days and nights may bury beneath their pall of snow the sown corn; but when the spring arrives, it will be found equally true, that 'there grows much bread in the winter night.' It has pleased Providence to remove the covering from my eyes here upon earth; for[Pg 130] many others will this only be removed when their eyes have closed on the earthly day; all will, however, one day see what I now see, and acknowledge what I now acknowledge with joy and thankfulness.
"Clear and bright now lies my way before me. In concert with my beloved children, with the teacher of my youth, and my friend, who I hope will spend in my house the evening of his days, I will convert this place into a vale of peace. And when I shall leave it and them, may peace still remain amongst them with my memory! And now, thou advancing age, which already breathes coldly on my forehead; thou winter twilight of earthly life, in which my days will sink more and more, come and welcome! I fear thee no longer; for it has become warm and light in my heart. Even under bodily spasms and pains, I will no more misconceive the value of life; but with an eye open to all the good upon earth, I will say to my dear ones:
Bewail me not, for I am still so blest,
The peace of heaven doth dwell within my breast."
Mrs. Astrid laid down her pen, and lifted up her tear-bright and beaming eyes; she caught sight of Harald and Susanna, who arm-in-arm wandered down the dale. They went on in gladness, and yet seemed to contend; and the question between them was, indeed, upon a most important matter—namely, which of them should hereafter have in their house the last word. Harald wished that this should hereafter be, as lord and master, his exclusive prerogative. Susanna declared that she should not trouble herself about his prerogative; but when she was in the right intended to persist in it to the uttermost. In the mean time they had unconsciously advanced to the spring—the Water of Strife—which had witnessed their first contention, and over which now doves, as at the first time, circled with silver-glancing wings. And here Harald seized Susanna's hand, led her to the spring, and said solemnly—
"My wife! I have hitherto spoken jestingly, but now is the moment of seriousness. Our forefathers swore by the bright water of Leipter, and I now swear by the water of this clear spring, that if thou hereafter shalt oppose me beyond the power of my mind to bear, I will silence thee, and compel thee to hold thy peace in this manner——"
The doves, attracted by some wonderful sympathy, now[Pg 131] flew rapidly down upon the head and shoulders of the young couple. All strife was hushed, and you might hear the soft and playful murmur of the spring, which seemed to whisper about—what?
Oh, heaven-azure well,
Say what thou now didst see!
The well whispered—
By a kiss—two disputants
"Aha! here we have them!" exclaimed a merry voice, a little way behind the two who were kissing; "but I must tell you that it is not polite thus to leave your guests, to——"
"Come, Susanna," interposed Alette, smiling, whilst she took the arm of the deeply blushing Susanna, "come, and let us leave these egotistical gentlemen, who always will be waited upon, to themselves a little. It does them an infinite deal of good. We will in the mean time go together, and open our hearts to each other about them."
"Sweet Alette!" said Susanna, glad in this way to be released from Brother-in-law Lexow's jokes, "how happy it makes me to see you so gay and healthy, spite of your residence up in the North, which you feared so much."
"Ah!" said Alette, softly and sincerely, "a husband like my Lexow can make summer and happiness blossom forth all over the earth; but——" and now again the melancholy expression crept over Alette's countenance; but she constrained herself, and continued joyfully, "but we need not now hold forth in praise of these good gentlemen, who, I observe, have nothing better to do than to come and listen to us; and therefore—(and here Alette raised her voice significantly)—since we have done with my dear husband, we will give yours his well-merited share. Has he not shockingly many faults? Is he not—between us two—selfish and despotic?"
"That I deny!" exclaimed Harald, as he sprang forward, and placed himself before Susanna; "and thou, my wife, contradict it if thou—dare."
"Dare!" exclaimed Alette; "she must dare it, for you strengthen my word by your deed. Is he not a despot, Susanna?"[Pg 132]
"Am I a despot, Susanna? I say a thousand times 'No!' thereto. What dost thou say?"
"I say—nothing," said Susanna, blushing, with a graceful movement, and drew closer to Alette; "but—I think what I will."
"It is good, however," cried Harald, "that I have found out a way to have the last word!"
"Have you discovered that, brother-in-law?" said Lexow, laughing; "now, that is almost a more important discovery than that which Columbus made. Impart it to me above all things."
"It will serve you nothing at all," said Alette, as, with jesting defiance, she turned her pretty little head towards him; "because my last word is, in every case, a different kind of one to yours."
"Yes. My last word, as well as my last thought, remains—Alf!"
"My Alette! my sweet Alette! why these tears?"
"Susanna," whispered Harald, "I will prepare you for it in time, that my last word remains—Sanna!"
Susanna went now again on Harald's arm, Alette on her Alf's.
After we have, towards the end of our relation, presented such cheerful scenes—ah! why must we communicate one of a more tragical nature? But so fate commands, and we are compelled to relate, that——the grey and the white ganders—weep not, sentimental reader!—which already, three weeks before Susanna's marriage, had been put up to fatten, closed a contentious life a few days before the same, and were united in a magnificent à la daube, which was served up and eaten, to celebrate the day of Harald's and Susanna's Last Strife and the beginning of an eternal union.
Often afterwards, during her happy married life, stood Susanna by the clear spring, surrounded by the feathered herd, which she fed, whilst she sang to two little, healthy, brown-eyed boys, and to a young blooming girl, this little song, with the conviction of a happy heart:[Pg 133]
At times a little brawl
Injures not at all,
If we only love each other still
Cloudy heaven clears
Itself, and bright appears,
For such is Nature's will.
The heart within its cage
Is a bird in rage,
Which doth madly strive to fly!
Love and truth can best
Flatter it to rest,
Flatter it to rest so speedily.
 The divine service in Norway is not, as still in Sweden, mingled with worldly affairs. After the sermon merely some short prayers are read, in which the clergyman blesses the people in the same words which for thousands of years have been uttered over the wanderers of the deserts. They have not here the barbaric custom of reading from the pulpit announcements of all possible things—inquiries after thieves and stolen pieces of clothing, etc., which, to the worshippers, and especially to the partakers of the sacrament, are so unspeakably painful, and in cold winter days are enough to freeze all devotion.
Friendly reader! Now that thou hast arrived at a happy conclusion of the foregoing contentions, thou perhaps dost not dream that now a contest exists between—thee and—me! But it will infallibly be so, if thou, as often has happened before, wilt call that a Novel which I have called Sketches, and which have no pretension to the severe connexion and development of the novel; although, to be sure, they be connected. If thou wilt, on the contrary, regard them—for example—as blades of grass, or as flowers upon a meadow molehill, which wave in the wind upon their several stalks, but which have their roots in the same soil, and unfold themselves in the light of one common sun; behold then, we conclude in peace, and I wish only that they may whisper to thy heart some friendly word, respecting the point of light which may be found in every circumstance, in every portion of existence,—respecting the spring, which, for noble souls, sooner or later, reveals itself from its wintry concealment. To the Norwegian authors, who in the mountain journey, or in my wandering among the legends of the country, were my guides, I here offer my thanks; and also from the depth of my heart to many benevolent and amiable people, whom I have become acquainted with in that beautiful country, in whose woods one breathes so fresh and free, in whose hospitable bosom I also once found a dear and peaceful home.
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