Feats on the Fiord, by Harriet Martineau.
This book was first published in a collection of stories, "The Playfellow," along with "The Crofton Boys", "The Peasant and the Prince" and "The Settlers at Home." However, being of a somewhat whimsical nature, it later attracted artists and publishers with a bent in that direction. This is the original version, dating from the mid nineteenth century.
FEATS ON THE FIORD, BY HARRIET MARTINEAU.
ERLINGSEN'S "AT HOME."
Every one who has looked at the map of Norway must have been struck with the singular character of its coast. On the map it looks so jagged, such a strange mixture of land and sea, that it appears as if there must be a perpetual struggle between the two,—the sea striving to inundate the land, and the land pushing itself out into the sea, till it ends in their dividing the region between them. On the spot, however, this coast is very sublime. The long straggling promontories are mountainous, towering ridges of rock, springing up in precipices from the water; while the bays between them, instead of being rounded with shelving sandy shores, on which the sea tumbles its waves, as in bays of our coast, are, in fact, long narrow valleys, filled with sea, instead of being laid out in fields and meadows. The high rocky banks shelter these deep bays (called fiords) from almost every wind; so that their waters are usually as still as those of a lake. For days and weeks together, they reflect each separate tree-top of the pine-forests which clothe the mountain sides, the mirror being broken only by the leap of some sportive fish, or the oars of the boatman as he goes to inspect the sea-fowl from islet to islet of the fiord, or carries out his nets or his rod to catch the sea-trout or char, or cod, or herrings, which abound, in their seasons, on the coast of Norway.
It is difficult to say whether these fiords are the most beautiful in summer or in winter. In summer, they glitter with golden sunshine; and purple and green shadows from the mountain and forest lie on them; and these may be more lovely than the faint light of the winter noons of those latitudes, and the snowy pictures of frozen peaks which then show themselves on the surface: but before the day is half over, out come the stars,—the glorious stars which shine like nothing that we have ever seen. There, the planets cast a faint shadow, as the young moon does with us: and these planets, and the constellations of the sky, as they silently glide over from peak to peak of these rocky passes, are imaged on the waters so clearly that the fisherman, as he unmoors his boat for his evening task, feels as if he were about to shoot forth his vessel into another heaven, and to cleave his way among the stars.
Still as everything is to the eye, sometimes for a hundred miles together along these deep sea-valleys, there is rarely silence. The ear is kept awake by a thousand voices. In the summer, there are cataracts leaping from ledge to ledge of the rocks; and there is the bleating of the kids that browse there, and the flap of the great eagle's wings, as it dashes abroad from its eyrie, and the cries of whole clouds of sea-birds which inhabit the islets; and all these sounds are mingled and multiplied by the strong echoes, till they become a din as loud as that of a city. Even at night, when the flocks are in the fold, and the birds at roost, and the echoes themselves seem to be asleep, there is occasionally a sweet music heard, too soft for even the listening ear to catch by day. Every breath of summer wind that steals through the pine-forests wakes this music as it goes. The stiff spiny leaves of the fir and pine vibrate with the breeze, like the strings of a musical instrument, so that every breath of the night-wind, in a Norwegian forest, wakens a myriad of tiny harps; and this gentle and mournful music may be heard in gushes the whole night through. This music, of course, ceases when each tree becomes laden with snow; but yet there is sound, in the midst of the longest winter night. There is the rumble of some avalanche, as, after a drifting storm, a mass of snow, too heavy to keep its place, slides and tumbles from the mountain peak. There is also, now and then, a loud crack of the ice in the nearest glacier; and, as many declare, there is a crackling to be heard by those who listen when the northern lights are shooting and blazing across the sky. Nor is this all. Wherever there is a nook between the rocks on the shore, where a man may build a house, and clear a field or two;—wherever there is a platform beside the cataract where the sawyer may plant his mill, and make a path from it to join some great road, there is a human habitation, and the sounds that belong to it. Thence, in winter nights, come music and laughter, and the tread of dancers, and the hum of many voices. The Norwegians are a social and hospitable people; and they hold their gay meetings, in defiance of their arctic climate, through every season of the year.
On a January night, a hundred years ago, there was great merriment in the house of a farmer who had fixed his abode within the arctic circle, in Nordland, not far from the foot of Sulitelma, the highest mountain in Norway. This dwelling, with its few fields about it, was in a recess between the rocks, on the shore of the fiord, about five miles from Saltdalen, and two miles from the junction of the Salten's Elv (river) with the fiord. It was but little that Erlingsen's fields would produce, though they were sheltered from the coldest winds, and the summer sunshine was reflected from the rocks, so as to make this little farm much more productive than any near which were in a more exposed situation. A patch of rye was grown, and some beans and oats; and there was a strip of pasture, and a garden in which might be seen turnips, radishes, potatoes, lettuce and herbs, and even some fruits,—a few raspberries, and a great many cherries. There were three or four horses on the farm, five cows, and a small flock of goats. In summer, the cattle and flock were driven up the mountain, to feed on the pastures there; and during the seven months of winter, they were housed and fed on the hay grown at home, and that which was brought from the mountain, and on a food which appears strange enough to us, but of which cows in Norway are extremely fond:—fish-heads boiled into a thick soup with horse-dung. At one extremity of the little beach of white sand which extended before the farmer's door was his boat-house; and on his boat he and his family depended, no less than his cows, for a principal part of their winter subsistence. Except a kid or a calf now and then, no meat was killed on the farm. Cod in winter, herrings in spring, trout and salmon in summer, and salted fish in winter, always abounded. Reindeer meat was regularly purchased from the Lapps who travelled round among the settlements for orders, or drove their fattened herds from farm to farm. Besides this, there was the resource of game. Erlingsen and his housemen brought home from their sporting rambles, sometimes a young bear, sometimes wild ducks, or the noble cock-of-the-woods, as big as a turkey, or a string of snipes, or golden plovers, or ptarmigan. The eggs of sea-birds might be found in every crevice of the islets in the fiord, in the right season; and they are excellent food. Once a year, too, Erlingsen wrapped himself in furs, and drove himself in his sledge, followed by one of his housemen on another and a larger, to the great winter fair at Tronyem, where the Lapps repaired to sell their frozen reindeer meat, their skins, a few articles of manufacture, and where travelling Russian merchants came with the productions of other climates, and found eager customers in the inhabitants who thronged to this fair to make their purchases. Here, in exchange for the salt-fish, feathers, and eider-down which had been prepared by the industry of his family, Erlingsen obtained flax and wool wherewith to make clothing for the household, and those luxuries which no Norwegian thinks of going without,—corn-brandy, coffee, tobacco, sugar, and spices. Large mould candles were also sold so cheap by the Russians that it was worth while to bring them home for the use of the whole family,—even to burn in the stables and stalls, as the supply of bears' fat was precarious, and the pine-tree was too precious, so far north, to be split up into torches, while it even fell so short occasionally as to compel the family to burn peat, which they did not like nearly so well as pine-logs. It was Madame Erlingsen's business to calculate how much of all these foreign articles would be required for the use of her household for a whole year; and, trusting to her calculations, which were never found to be wrong, her husband came home from the winter fair heavily enough laden with good things.
Nor was it only what was required for his own every-day household that he brought. The quantity of provisions, especially corn-brandy, tobacco, coffee, and sugar, consumed in hospitality in Norway, is almost incredible; and retired as the Erlingsens might appear to dwell, they were as hospitable, according to their opportunities, as any inhabitant of Bergen or Christiana. They gave feasts at Christmas, and on every occasion that they could devise. The occasion, on the particular January day mentioned above, was the betrothment of one of the house-maidens to a young farm-servant of the establishment. I do not mean that this festival was anything like a marriage. It was merely an engagement to be married; but this engagement is a much more formal and public affair in Norway (and indeed wherever the people belong to the Lutheran church) than with us. According to the rites of the Lutheran church, there are two ceremonies,—one when a couple become engaged, and another when they are married. In Norway, this betrothment gives the couple a certain dignity beyond that of the unengaged, and more liberty of companionship, together with certain rights in law. This makes up to them for being obliged to wait so long as they often must before they can marry. In a country, scattered over with farmers, like Norway, where there are few money transactions, because people provide for their own wants on their own little estates, servants do not shift their places, and go from master to master, as with us. A young man and woman have to wait long,—probably till some houseman dies or removes, before they can settle; and then they are settled for life,—provided for till death, if they choose to be commonly industrious and honest. The story of this betrothment at Erlingsen's will explain what I have just said.
As Madame Erlingsen had two daughters growing up, and they were no less active than the girls of a Norwegian household usually are, she had occasion for only two maidens to assist in the business of the dwelling and the dairy.
Of these two, the younger, Erica, was the maiden betrothed to-day. No one perhaps rejoiced so much at the event as her mistress, both for Erica's sake, and on account of her two young daughters. Erica was not the best companion for them; and the servants of a Norwegian farmer are necessarily the companions of the daughters of the house. There was nothing wrong in Erica's conduct or temper towards the family. She had, when confirmed, [Note 1] borne so high a character, that many places were offered her, and Madame Erlingsen had thought herself very fortunate in obtaining her services. But, since then, Erica had sustained a shock which hurt her spirits, and increased a weakness which she owed to her mother. Her mother, a widow, had brought up her child in all the superstitions of the country, some of which remain in full strength even to this day, and were then very powerful; and the poor woman's death at last confirmed the lessons of her life. She had stayed too long one autumn day at the Erlingsen's; and, being benighted on her return, and suddenly seized and bewildered by the cold, had wandered from the road, and was found frozen to death in a recess of the forest which it was surprising that she should have reached. Erica never believed that she did reach this spot of her own accord. Having had some fears before of the Wood-Demon having been offended by one of the family, Erica regarded this accident as a token of his vengeance. She said this when she first heard of her mother's death; and no reasonings from the zealous pastor of the district, no soothing from her mistress, could shake her persuasion. She listened with submission, wiping away her quiet tears as they discoursed; but no one could ever get her to say that she doubted whether there was a Wood-Demon, or that she was not afraid of what he would do if offended.
Erlingsen and his wife always treated her superstition as a weakness; and when she was not present, they ridiculed it. Yet they saw that it had its effect on their daughters. Erica most strictly obeyed their wish that she should not talk about the spirits of the region with Orga and Frolich; but the girls found plenty of people to tell them what they could not learn from Erica. Besides what everybody knows who lives in the rural districts of Norway,—about Nipen, the spirit that is always so busy after everybody's affairs,—about the Water-sprite, an acquaintance of every one who lives beside a river or lake,—and about the Mountain-Demon, familiar to all who lived so near Sulitelma; besides these common spirits, the girls used to hear of a multitude of others from old Peder, the blind houseman, and from all the farm-people, down to Oddo, the herd-boy. Their parents hoped that this taste of theirs might die away if once Erica, with her sad, serious face and subdued voice, were removed to a house of her own, where they would see her supported by her husband's unfearing mind, and occupied with domestic business more entirely than in her mistress's house. So Madame Erlingsen was well pleased that Erica was betrothed; and she could only have been better satisfied if she had been married at once.
For this marrying, however, the young people must wait. There was no house, or houseman's place, vacant for them at present. There was a prospect, however. The old houseman Peder, who had served Erlingsen's father and Erlingsen himself for fifty-eight years, could now no longer do the weekly work on the farm which was his rent for his house, field, and cow. He was blind and old. His aged wife, Ulla, could not leave the house; and it was the most she could do to keep the dwelling in order, with occasional help from one and another. Housemen who make this sort of contract with farmers in Norway are never turned out. They have their dwelling and field for their own life and that of their wives. What they do, when disabled, is to take in a deserving young man to do their work for the farmer, on the understanding that he succeeds to the houseman's place on the death of the old people. Peder and Ulla had made this agreement with Erica's lover, Rolf; and it was understood that his marriage with Erica should take place whenever the old people should die.
It was impossible for Erica herself to fear that Nipen was offended, at the outset of this festival day. If he had chosen to send a wind, the guests could not have come; for no human frame can endure travelling in a wind in Nordland on a January day. Happily, the air was so calm that a flake of snow, or a lock of eider-down, would have fallen straight to the ground. At two o'clock, when the short daylight was gone, the stars were shining so brightly, that the company who came by the fiord would be sure to have an easy voyage. Almost all came by the fiord, for the only road from Erlingsen's house led to so few habitations, and was so narrow, steep, and rocky, that an arrival by that way was a rare event. The path was now, however, so smooth with frozen snow, that more than one sledge attempted and performed the descent. Erlingsen and some of his servants went out to the porch, on hearing music from the water, and stood with lighted pine-torches to receive their guests, when, approaching from behind, they heard the sound of the sleigh-bells, and found that company was arriving both by sea and land.
It was a pretty sight,—such an arrival. In front, there was the head of a boat driving up upon the white beach, and figure after figure leaping out, and hastening to be welcomed in the porch; while, in the midst of the greeting, the quick and regular beat of a horse's feet was heard on the frozen ground, and the active little animal rushed into the light, shaking his mane and jingling his bells, till suddenly checked by the driver, who stood upright at the back of the sledge, while the ladies reclined, so wrapped in furs that nothing could be seen of them till they had entered the house, and issued forth from the room where they threw off their pelisses and cloaks. Glad had the visitors been, whether they came by land or water, to arrive in sight of the lighted dwelling, whose windows looked like rows of yellow stars, contrasting with the blue ones overhead; and more glad still were they to be ushered into the great room, where all was so light, so warm, so cheerful! Warm it was, to the farthest corner; and too warm near the roaring and crackling fires; for the fires were of pine-wood. Rows upon rows of candles were fastened against the walls, above the heads of the company; the floor was strewn with juniper twigs; and the spinning-wheels, the carding boards, every token of household labour was removed, except a loom, which remained in one corner. In another corner was a welcome sight—a platform of rough boards, two feet from the floor, and on it two stools. This was a token that there was to be dancing; and indeed Oddo, the herd-boy, old Peder's grandson, was seen to have his clarionet in his belt, as he ran in and out on the arrival of fresh parties.
Before four o'clock, the whole company, consisting of about forty, had arrived. They walked about the large room, sipping their strong coffee, and helping one another to the good things on the trays which were carried round,—the slices of bread-and-butter, with anchovies, or shreds of reindeer ham or tongue, or thin slices of salt cheese. When these trays disappeared, and the young women who had served them returned into the room, Oddo was seen to reach the platform with a hop, skip, and jump, followed by a dull-looking young man with a violin. The oldest men lighted their pipes, and sat down to talk, two or three together. Others withdrew to a smaller room, where card-tables were set out; while the younger men selected their partners, and handed them forth for the gallopade. The dance was led by the blushing Erica, whose master was her partner. It had never occurred to her that she was not to take her usual place, and she was greatly embarrassed, not the less so that she knew that her mistress was immediately behind, with Rolf for her partner. Erica might, however, have led the dance in any country in Europe. All the women in Norway dance well, being practised in it from their infancy, as an exercise for which the leisure of their long winter, and the roominess of their houses, afford scope. Every woman present danced well, but none better than Erica.
"Very well!" "very pretty!" "very good!" observed the pastor, M. Kollsen, as he sat, with his pipe in his mouth, looking on. M. Kollsen was a very young man; but the men in Norway smoke as invariably as the women dance. "Very pretty, indeed! They only want double the number to make it as pretty a dance as any in Tronyem."
"What would you have, sir?" asked old Peder, who sat smoking at his elbow. "Are there not eleven couple? Oddo told me there were eleven couple; and I think I counted so many pairs of feet as they passed."
"Let me see:—yes, you are right, Peder; there are eleven couples."
"And what would you have more, sir? In this young man's father's time—"
"No, sir,—Erlingsen's. Ah! I forgot that Erlingsen may not seem to you, or any stranger, to be young, but Ulla and I have been used to call him so, and I fear I always shall, as I shall never see the furrows in his face. It will be always smooth and young to me. My Ulla says there is nothing to be sorry for in that, and she does not object to my thinking so of her face. But, as I was saying, in the elder Erlingsen's time we thought we did well when we set up nine couples at Yule: and since then, the Holbergs and Thores have each made out a new farm within ten miles, and we are accustomed to be rather proud of our eleven couples. Indeed, I once knew it twelve, when they got me to stand up with little Henrica,—the pretty little girl whose grave lies behind, just under the rock. But I suppose there is no question but there are finer doings at Tronyem."
"Of course—of course," said the young clergyman. "But there are many youths in Tronyem that would be glad of so pretty a partner as M. Erlingsen has, if she would not look so frightened."
"Pretty she is," said Peder. "As I remember her complexion, it looks as if it was made by the reflection of our snows in its own clearness. And when you do get a full look into her eyes, how like the summer sky they are—as deep as the heavens in a midsummer noon! Did you say she looks frightened, sir?"
"Yes. When does she not? Some ghost from the grave has scared her, I suppose; or some spirit that has no grave to lie still in, perhaps. It is a great fault in her that she has so little faith. I never met with such a case. I hardly know how to conduct it. I must begin with the people about her,—abolish their superstitions,—and then there may be a chance for her. Meanwhile I have but a poor account to give to the bishop [Note 2] of the religion of the district."
"Did you say, sir, that Erica wants faith? It seems to me that I never knew any one who had so much."
"You think so because there is no idea in this region of what faith is. A prodigious work indeed my bishop has given me to do. He himself cannot be aware what it is, till I send him my report. One might suppose that Christianity had never been heard of here, by the absurd credulity one meets with in the best houses,—the multitude of good and evil spirits one hears of at every turn. I will blow them all to the winds presently. I will root out every superstition in a circle of twenty miles."
"You will, sir?"
"I will. Such is my duty as a Christian pastor."
"Do you suppose you can, sir?"
"Certainly. No doubt of that. What sort of a pastor must he be who cannot vindicate his own religion?"
"These beliefs, sir, were among us long before you were born; and I fancy they will last till some time after you are dead. And, what is more, I should not wonder if your bishop was to tell you the same thing when you send him your report of us."
"I thought you had had more faith, Peder. I thought you had been a better Christian."
"However that may be," said Peder, "I have some knowledge of the people about us, having lived nearly fourscore years in the parish; and perhaps, sir, as you are young, and from a distance, you would allow me to say a word. May I?"
But while M. Kollsen gave this permission, he took his pipe from his mouth, and beat time with it upon his knee, and with his foot upon the ground, to carry off his impatience at being instructed.
"My advice would be, sir, with all respect to you," said Peder, "that you should lead the people into everything that you think true and good, and pass over quietly whatever old customs and notions you do not understand or like. I have so much belief in the religion you are to teach as to feel sure that whatever will not agree with it will die out of its way if let alone. But if religion is brought in to hurt the people's feelings and notions, that religion will be the thing to suffer."
"I must judge for myself about such matters, of course," said M. Kollsen. He was meditating a change of place, to escape further lecturing about his duty, when Peder saved him the trouble of leaving his comfortable seat by rising and moving away towards the fire. Peder's pipe was smoked out, and he was going for more tobacco to the place where tobacco was always to be found—in a little recess above the fireplace. He felt his way carefully, that he might not interfere with the dancers, or be jostled by them; but he had not far to go. One friend begged to be sent for anything he wanted; another, with a quicker eye, brought him tobacco; and a third led him to his seat again. All looked with wonder at M. Kollsen, surprised that he, Peder's companion at that moment, young and blessed with eyesight, could let the blind old man leave his seat for such a reason. M. Kollsen whiffed away, however, quite unconscious of what everybody was thinking.
"This waltz," said Peder, when the dancers had begun again, "does not seem to go easily. There is something amiss. I think it is in the music that the fault lies. My boy's clarionet goes well enough; no fear of Oddo's being out. Pray, sir, who plays the violin at this moment?"
"A fellow who looks as if he did not like his business. He is frowning with his red brows as if he would frown out the lights."
"His red brows! O, then it is Hund. I was thinking it would be hard upon him, poor fellow, if he had to play to-night; yet, not so hard as if he had to dance. It is weary work dancing with the heels when the heart is too heavy to move. You may have heard, sir, for everyone knows it, that Hund wanted to have young Rolf's place, and, some say, Erica herself. Is she dancing, sir, if I may ask?"
"Yes, with Rolf. What sort of a man is Rolf—with regard to these superstitions, I mean? Is he as foolish as Erica—always frightened about something?"
"No, indeed. It is to be wished that Rolf was not so light as he is—so inconsiderate about these matters. Rolf has his troubles and his faults; but they are not of that kind."
"Enough," said M. Kollsen, with a voice of authority. "I rejoice to hear that he is superior to the popular delusions. As to his troubles and his faults, they may be left for me to discover all in good time."
"With all my heart, sir. They are nobody's business but his own, and, may be, Erica's. Rolf has a good heart, and I doubt not Ulla and I shall have great comfort in him. He lives with us, sir, from this night forwards. There is no fear that he will wish us in our graves, though we stand between him and his marriage."
"That must be rather a painful consideration to you."
"Not at all, sir, at present. Ulla and I were all the happier, we think, to this day, for having had four such years as these young people have before them to know one another in, and grow suitable in notions and habits, and study to please one another. By the time Rolf and Erica are what we were, one or both of us will be underground, and Rolf will have, I am certain, the pleasant feeling of having done his duty by us. It is all as it should be, sir; and I pray that they may live to say at our age what Ulla and I can say at the same season of our lives."
The pastor made no answer. He had not heard the last few words; for what Peder said of being underground had plunged him into a reverie about Peder's funeral sermon, which he should, of course, have to preach. He was pondering how he should at once do justice to Peder's virtues and mark his own disapprobation of the countenance Peder gave to the superstitions of the region in which he lived. He must keep in view the love and respect in which the old man was held by everybody, and yet he must bear witness against the great fault above mentioned. He composed two or three paragraphs in his imagination which he thought would do, and then committed them to memory. He was roused from this employment by a loud laugh from the man whose funeral he was meditating, and saw that Peder was enjoying life at present as much as the youngest, with a glass of punch in his hand, and a group of old men and women round him recalling the jests of fifty years ago.
"How goes it, Rolf?" said his master, who, having done his duty in the dancing-room, was now making his way to the card-tables, in another apartment, to see how his guests there were entertained. Thinking that Rolf looked very absent, as he stood, in the pause of the dance, in silence by Erica's side, Erlingsen clapped him on the shoulder, and said, "How goes it? Make your friends merry."
Rolf bowed and smiled, and his master passed on.
"How goes it?" repeated Rolf to Erica, as he looked earnestly into her face. "Is all going on well, Erica?"
"Certainly. I suppose so. Why not?" she replied. "If you see anything wrong,—anything omitted, be sure and tell me. Madame Erlingsen would be very sorry. Is there anything forgotten, Rolf?"
"I think you have forgotten what the day is: that is all. Nobody that looked at you, love, would fancy it to be your own day. You look anything but merry. Hardly a smile from you to-night! And that is a great omission."
"O, Rolf, there is something so much better than merriment!"
"Yes, love; but where is it? Not in your heart to-night, Erica."
"Yes, indeed, Rolf."
"You look as dull,—as sad,—you and Hund, as if—"
"Hund!" repeated Erica, glancing around the room for Hund, and not seeing him till her lover reminded her that Hund was the musician. "Hund does seem dull enough to be sure," said she, smiling; "I hope I do not often look like that."
"I am more sorry for him than you are, I see," said Rolf, brightening when he found how entirely Hund had been absent from her thoughts. "I am more sorry for Hund than you are: and with good reason, for I know what the happiness is that he has missed, poor fellow! But yet I think you might feel a little more for him. It would show that you know how to value love."
"Indeed I am very sorry for him; but more for his disappointment about the house than any other. To-day once over, he will soon fix his love on somebody else. Perhaps we shall be dancing on his betrothment-day before the year is out."
"Then I hope his girl will look merrier than you do to-night," muttered Rolf, with a sigh. "O, Erica! I wish you would trust me. I could take care of you, and make you quite happy, if you would only believe it. Ah! I know what that look means. I know you love me, and all that; but you are always tormenting yourself—"
"I think I know one who is cleverer still at tormenting himself," said Erica, with a smile. "Come, Rolf, no more tormenting of ourselves or one another! No more of that after to-day! What is to-day worth, if it is not to put an end to all doubts of one another?"
"But where is the use of that, if you still will not believe that I can keep off all trouble from you—that nothing in the universe shall touch you to your hurt, while—"
"O, hush! hush!" said Erica, turning pale and red at the presumption of this speech. "See, they are waiting for us. One more round before supper."
And in the whirl of the waltz she tried to forget the last words Rolf had spoken; but they rang in her ears; and before her eyes were images of Nipen overhearing this defiance,—and the Water-sprite planning vengeance in its palace under the ice,—and the Mountain-Demon laughing in scorn, till the echoes shouted again,—and the Wood-Demon waiting only for summer to see how he could beguile the rash lover. Erica finished her dance; but when the company and the men of the household were seated at the supper-table, and she had to help her mistress and the young ladies to wait upon them, she trembled so that she could scarcely stand. It was so very wrong of Rolf to be always defying the spirits!
Long was the supper, and hearty was the mirth round the table. People in Norway have universally a hearty appetite,—such an appetite as we English have no idea of. Whether it is owing to the sharp climate, or to the active life led by all,—whatever may be the cause, such is the fact. This night, piles of fish disappeared first; and then joint after joint of reindeer venison. The fine game of the country was handed round, cut up; and little but the bones was left of a score of birds. Then there were preserved fruits, and berries, eaten with thick cream;— almost every dish that could be thought of made of the rich cream of the north. Erica recovered herself as the great business went on, and while her proud lover watched her, forgetting his supper, he thought to himself that no one of the fair attendants trod so lightly as Erica—no one carved so neatly—no one handed the dishes so gracefully, or was so quick at seeing to whom the most respect and attention were owing. Perhaps this last thought was suggested by Rolf's perceiving that, either by her own hand or another's, the hottest dishes and the nicest bits were found, all supper-time, close to his elbow. Madame Erlingsen, he decided, with all her experience, did not do the duties of the table so well; and the young ladies, kind and good-tempered as they were, would never, by any experience, become so graceful as Erica.
At last appeared the final dish of the long feast—the sweet cake, with which dinner and supper in Norway usually conclude. While this was sliced and handed round, Rolf observed that Erica looked anxiously towards him. He took no notice, hoping that she would come and speak to him, and that he should thus be the gainer of a few of her sweet words. She did come, and just said,
"The cake and ale are here, Rolf. Will you carry them?"
"O, the treat for old Nipen. Yes, I will carry them," replied Rolf, rising from his seat.
It is the custom in the country regions of Norway to give the spirit Nipen a share at festival times. His Christmas cake is richer than that prepared for the guests; and, before the feast is finished, it is laid in some place out of doors, where, as might be expected, it is never to be found in the morning. Everybody knew therefore why Rolf rose from his seat, though some were too far off to hear him say that he would carry out the treat for old Nipen.
"Now, pray do not speak so,—do not call him those names," said Erica, anxiously. "It is quite as easy to speak so as not to offend him. Pray, Rolf, to please me, do speak respectfully. And promise me to play no tricks, but just set the things down, and come straight in, and do not look behind you. Promise me, Rolf."
Rolf did promise, but he was stopped by two voices, calling upon him. Oddo, the herd-boy, came running to claim the office of carrying out Nipen's cake; and M. Kollsen, from his seat, declared that he could not countenance any superstitious observances,—would not indeed permit any so gross as this in his presence. He requested that the company might have the benefit of the cake, and made a speech in ridicule of all spirits and fairies so very bold and contemptuous, that all present who had to go home that night looked in consternation at their host. If such language as M. Kollsen's were allowed, they looked for nothing less than to have their way beset by offended spirits; so that Erlingsen might hear in the morning of some being frozen, some being lost in the fiord, and others tumbled from precipices. M. Erlingsen made haste to speak. He did not use any scruples with the young clergyman. He told him that every one present would be happy at all times to hear him speak on the matters belonging to his office. He had discharged his office in the morning, in betrothing Rolf and Erica he was now resting from his business as a guest at that table; and he would, of course, allow that the direction of the festivity rested with the host and hostess, whose desire it was that everything should be done which was agreeable to the feelings and habits of the greater number of the guests.
It was settled in a moment that Nipen should have his cake; which so shocked and annoyed M. Kollsen that he declared he would not remain to sanction anything so impious, and requested that his boatmen might be called from their suppers, and desired to have his boat ready immediately. No entreaties would soften him: go he would.
It appeared, however, that he could not go. Not a man would row him, after what he had just said of Nipen. All were sure that a gust would blow the boat over, the minute she was out of reach of land; or that a rock would spring up in deep water, where no rock was before; or that some strong hand would grasp the boat from below, and draw it down under the waters. A shudder went round as these things were prophesied, and, of course, M. Kollsen's return home that night was out of the question, unless he would row himself. At first, he declared he should do this; but he was so earnestly entreated to attempt nothing so rash, that he yielded the point, with a supercilious air which perhaps concealed more satisfaction than he chose to avow to himself. He insisted on retiring immediately, however, and was shown to his chamber at once by Erlingsen himself, who found, on his return, that the company were the better for the pastor's absence, though unable to recover the mirth which he had put to flight. Erica had been shedding a few tears, in spite of strong efforts to restrain them. Here was a bad omen already,—on the very day of her betrothment; and she saw that Hund thought so; for there was a gloomy satisfaction in his eye, as he sat silently watching all that passed.
She could not help being glad that Oddo renewed his request to be allowed to carry out Nipen's cake and ale. She eagerly put the ale-can into his hand, and the cake under his arm; and Oddo was going out, when his blind grandfather, hearing that he was to be the messenger, observed that he should be better pleased if it were somebody else; for Oddo, though a good boy, was inquisitive, and apt to get into mischief by looking too closely into everything,—having never a thought of fear. Everybody knew this to be true, though Oddo himself declared that he was as frightened as anybody sometimes. Moreover, he asked what there was to pry into, on the present occasion, in the middle of the night, and appealed to the company whether Nipen was not best pleased to be served by the youngest of a party. This was allowed, and he was permitted to go, when Peder's consent was obtained, his mistress going to the door with him, and seeing him off, putting him in mind that the dancing could not begin again till he returned to take up his clarionet.
Note 1. The rite of confirmation is thought much more of in Norway than with us. The preparation for it is longer and more strict; and the destiny of young people for life depends much on how they pass through it. A person who has not been confirmed is looked upon as one without a character and without knowledge; while those who pass well stand high in credit; and if they have to earn their living, are sure of good situations.—In the newspapers in Norway you may see among the advertisements, "A confirmed shop-boy wants a place." "Wanted a confirmed girl, who can cook;" which means that their having been confirmed proves that they are considered respectable, and not deficient in capacity or knowledge.
Note 2. A hundred years ago Nordland was included in the diocese of Tronyem.
The place where Nipen liked to find his offerings was at the end of the barn, below the gallery which ran round the outside of the building. There, in the summer, lay a plot of green grass, and in the winter a sheet of pure frozen snow. Thither Oddo shuffled on, over the slippery surface of the yard, and across the paddock, along the lane made by the snow-plough between high banks of snow; and he took prodigious pains, between one slip and another, not to spill the ale. He looked more like a prowling cub than a boy, wrapped as he was in his wolf-skin coat and his fox-skin cap doubled down over his ears.
As may be supposed from Oddo's declaring that he was sometimes frightened, he was a brave boy. A cowardly boy would not have said it; a cowardly boy would not have offered to go at all; a cowardly boy would, if he had been sent, have wished that the house-door might be left open, that he might see the cheerful yellow light from within; whereas Oddo begged his mistress to shut the door, that his grandfather might not be made to feel his rheumatism by any draught, as he sat at table. A cowardly boy would have run as fast as he could, perhaps slipping or falling, and spilling the ale; and when his errand was done, he would have fled home, without looking behind him, fancying everything he saw and heard a spirit or a wild beast. Oddo did very differently from this. As usual, he was too busy finding out how everything happened to feel afraid, as a less inquisitive boy would.
The cake steamed up in the frosty air under his nose, so warm, and spicy, and rich, that Oddo began to wonder what so very superior a cake could be like. He had never tasted any cake so rich as this, nor had any one in the house tasted such: for Nipen would be offended if his cake was not richer than anybody's else. Oddo wondered more and more how this would taste, till, before he had crossed the yard, he wondered no longer. He broke a piece off, and ate it; and then wondered whether Nipen would mind his cake being just a little smaller than usual. After a few steps more, the wonder was how far Nipen's charity would go, for the cake was now a great deal smaller, and Oddo next wondered whether anybody could stop eating such a cake when it was once tasted. He was surprised to see, when he came out into the starlight, at the end of the barn, how small a piece was left. He stood listening whether Nipen was coming in a gust of wind, and when he heard no breeze stirring, he looked about for a cloud where Nipen might be. There was no cloud, as far as he could see. The moon had set, but the stars were so bright as to throw a faint shadow from Oddo's form upon the snow. There was no sign of any spirit being angry at present: but Oddo thought Nipen would certainly be angry at finding so very small a piece of cake. It might be better to let the ale stand by itself, and Nipen would perhaps suppose that Madame Erlingsen's stock of groceries had fallen short; at least, that it was in some way inconvenient to make the cake on the present occasion. So, putting down his can upon the snow, and holding the last fragment of the cake between his teeth, he seized a birch pole which hung down from the gallery, and by its help climbed one of the posts, and got over the rails into the gallery, whence he could watch what would happen. To remain on the very spot where Nipen was expected was a little more than he was equal to; but he thought he could stand in the gallery, in the shadow of the broad eaves of the barn, and wait for a little while. He was so very curious to see Nipen, and to learn how it liked its ale!
There he stood in the shadow, hearing nothing but his own munching; though there was not much of that: for as he came near the end, he took only a little crumb at a time, to spin out the treat; for never was anything so good! Then he had nothing to do but listen: but the waterfall was frozen up; and the mill stood as still as if it was not made to move. If the wheel should creak, it would be a sign that Nipen was passing.
Presently he heard something.
"Music!" thought he. "I never heard that it liked music; and I don't think it can know much about music, for this is not at all sweet. There again! That was a sort of screech. O, how stupid I am!" thought he again. "So much for my head being full of Nipen! It is only Hund, tuning his violin, because they have all done supper. They will be waiting for me. I wish this Nipen would make haste. It can't be very hungry;—that is clear."
He grew more and more impatient as the minutes passed on, and he was aware that he was wanted in the house. Once or twice he walked slowly away, looking behind him, and then turned again, unwilling to miss this opportunity of seeing Nipen. Then he called the spirit,—actually begged it to appear. His first call was almost a whisper; but he called louder and louder by degrees, till he was suddenly stopped by hearing an answer.
The call he heard was soft and sweet. There was nothing terrible in the sound itself; yet Oddo grasped the rail of the gallery with all his strength, as he heard it. The strangest thing was, it was not a single cry; others followed,—all soft and sweet; but Oddo thought that Nipen must have many companions: and he had not prepared himself to see more spirits than one. As usual, however, his curiosity grew more intense, from the little he had heard; and he presently called again. Again he was answered, by four or five voices in succession.
"Was ever anybody so stupid!" cried the boy, now stamping with vexation. "It is the echo, after all! As if there was not always an echo here, opposite the rock! It is not Nipen at all. I will just wait another minute, however."
He leaned in silence on his folded arms; and had not so waited for many seconds before he saw something moving on the snow at a little distance. It came nearer and nearer, and at last quite up to the can of ale.
"I am glad I stayed," thought Oddo. "Now I can say I have seen Nipen. It is much less terrible than I expected. Grandfather told me that it sometimes came like an enormous elephant or hippopotamus; and never smaller than a large bear. But this is no bigger than—let me see—I think it is most like a fox. I should like to make it speak to me. They would think so much of me at home, if I had talked with Nipen."
So he began gently, "Is that Nipen?"
The thing moved its bushy tail, but did not answer.
"There is no cake for you to-night, Nipen. I hope the ale will do. Is the ale good, Nipen?"
Off went the dark creature, without a word, as quick as it could go.
"Is it offended?" thought Oddo: "or is it really what it looks like,—a fox? If it does not come back, I will go down presently, and see whether it has drunk the ale. If not, I shall think it is only a fox."
He presently let himself down to the ground by the way he had come up, and eagerly laid hold of the ale-can. It would not stir. It was as fast on the ground as if it was enchanted, which Oddo did not doubt was the case; and he started back, with more fear than he had yet had. The cold he felt on this exposed spot soon reminded him, however, that the can was probably frozen to the snow,—which it might well be, after being brought warm from the fire-side. It was so. The vessel had sunk an inch into the snow, and was there fixed by the frost.
None of the ale seemed to have been drunk; and so cold was Oddo by this time, that he longed for a sup of it. He took first a sup, and then a draught: and then he remembered that the rest would be entirely spoiled by the frost if it stood another hour. This would be a pity, he thought; so he finished it, saying to himself that he did not believe Nipen would come that night.
At that very moment he heard a cry so dreadful that it shot, like sudden pain, through every nerve of his body. It was not a shout of anger: it was something between a shriek and a wail,—like what he fancied would be the cry of a person in the act of being murdered. That Nipen was here now, he could not doubt; and at length Oddo fled. He fled the faster, at first, for hearing the rustle of wings; but the curiosity of the boy even now got the better of his terror, and he looked up at the barn where the wings were rustling. There he saw, in the starlight, the glitter of two enormous round eyes, shining down upon him from the ridge of the roof. But it struck him at once that he had seen those eyes before. He checked his speed, stopped, went back a little, sprang up once more into the gallery, hissed, waved his cap, and clapped his hands, till the echoes were all awake again; and, as he had hoped, the great white owl spread its wings, sprang off from the ridge, and sailed away over the fiord.
Oddo tossed up his cap, cold as the night was, so delighted was he to have scared away the bird which had for a moment scared him. He hushed his mirth, however, when he perceived that lights were wandering in the yard, and that there were voices approaching. He saw that the household were alarmed about him, and were coming forth to search for him. Curious to see what they would do, Oddo crouched down in the darkest corner of the gallery to watch and listen.
First came Rolf and his master, carrying torches, with which they lighted up the whole expanse of snow as they came. They looked round them without any fear, and Oddo heard Rolf say—
"If it were not for that cry, sir, I should think nothing of it. But my fear is that some beast has got him."
"Search first the place where the cake and ale ought to be," said Erlingsen. "Till I see blood, I shall hope the best."
"You will not see that," said Hund, who followed, his gloomy countenance now distorted by fear, looking ghastly in the yellow light of the torch he carried. "You will see no blood. Nipen does not draw blood."
"Never tell me that any one that was not wounded and torn could send out such a cry as that," said Rolf. "Some wild brute seized him, no doubt, at the very moment that Erica and I were standing at the door listening."
Oddo repented his prank when he saw, in the flickering light behind the crowd of guests, who seemed to hang together like a bunch of grapes, the figures of his grandfather and Erica. The old man had come out in the cold for his sake; and Erica, who looked as white as the snow, had no doubt come forth because the old man wanted a guide. Oddo now wished himself out of the scrape. Sorry as he was, he could not help being amused, and keeping himself hidden a little longer, when he saw Rolf discover the round hole in the snow where the can had sunk, and heard the different opinions of the company as to what this portended. Most were convinced that his curiosity had been his destruction, as they had always prophesied. What could be clearer by this hole than that the ale had stood there, and been carried off with the cake, and Oddo with it, because he chose to stay and witness what is forbidden to mortals?
"I wonder where he is now?" said a shivering youth, the gayest dancer of the evening.
"O, there is no doubt about that; any one can tell you that," replied the elderly and experienced M. Holberg. "He is chained upon a wind, poor fellow, like all Nipen's victims. He will have to be shut up in a cave all the hot summer through, when it is pleasantest to be abroad; and when the frost and snow come again, he will be driven out with a lash of Nipen's whip, and he must go flying wherever his wind flies without resting or stopping to warm himself at any fire in the country. Every winter now, when Erlingsen hears a moaning above his chimney, he may know it is poor Oddo, foolish boy!"
"Foolish boy! but one can't help pitying him," said another. "Chained astride upon the wind, and never to be warm again!"
Oddo had thus far kept his laughter to himself, but now he could contain himself no longer. He laughed aloud, and then louder and louder as he heard the echoes all laughing with him. The faces below, too, were so very ridiculous—some of the people staring up in the air, and others at the rock where the echo came from; some having their mouths wide open, others their eyes starting, and all looking unlike themselves in the torchlight. His mirth was stopped by his master.
"Come down, sir," cried Erlingsen, looking up at the gallery. "Come down this moment. We shall make you remember this night as well perhaps as Nipen could do. Come down, and bring my can and the ale and the cake. The more pranks you play to-night the more you will repent it."
Most of the company thought Erlingsen very bold to talk in this way; but he was presently justified by Oddo's appearance on the balustrade. His master seized him as he touched the ground, while the others stood aloof.
"Where is my ale-can?" said Erlingsen.
"Here, sir;" and Oddo held it up dangling by the handle.
"And the cake? I bade you bring down the cake with you."
"So I did, sir."
And to his master's look of inquiry the boy answered by pointing down his throat with one finger, and laying the other hand upon his stomach. "It is all here, sir."
"And the ale in the same place?"
Oddo bowed, and Erlingsen turned away without speaking. He could not have spoken without laughing.
"Bring this gentleman home," said Erlingsen, presently to Rolf; "and do not let him out of your hands. Let no one ask him any questions till he is in the house." Rolf grasped the boy's arm, and Erlingsen went forward to relieve Peder, though it was not very clear to him at the moment whether such a grandchild was better safe or missing. The old man made no such question, but hastened back to the house with many expressions of thanksgiving.
As the search-party crowded in among the women, and pushed all before them into the large warm room, M. Kollsen was seen standing on the stair-head, wrapped in the bear-skin coverlid.
"Is the boy there?" he inquired.
Oddo showed himself.
"How much have you seen of Nipen, hey?"
"Nobody ever had a better sight of it, sir. It was as plain as I see you now, and no further off."
"Nonsense,—it is a lie," said M. Kollsen.
"Do not believe a word he says," advised the pastor, speaking to the listeners. "There is the folly of giving such an opportunity to a child of making himself important. If he had had his share of the cake, with the rest of us at table, he would have taken it quietly, and been thankful. As it is, it will be harder work than ever to drive out these wicked superstitions. Go, get along!" he cried to Oddo; "I do not want to hear a word you have got to say."
Oddo bowed, and proceeded to the great room, where he took up his clarionet, as if it was a matter of course that the dancing was to begin again immediately. He blew upon his fingers, however, observing that they were too stiff with cold to do their duty well. And when he turned towards the fire, everyone made way for him, in a very different manner from what they would have dreamed of three hours before. Oddo had his curiosity gratified as to how they would regard one who was believed to have seen something supernatural.
Erlingsen saw that something must be done on the spot, to clear up the affair. If his guests went home without having heard the mysteries of the night explained, the whole country would presently be filled with wild and superstitious stories. He requested Peder to examine the boy, as Oddo stood more in awe of his grandfather than of anyone else; and also because Peder was known to be so firm a believer in Nipen, that his judgment would be more readily received than that of an unbeliever. When seriously questioned, Oddo had no wish to say anything but the truth; and he admitted the whole,—that he had eaten the entire cake, drunk all the ale, seen a fox and an owl, and heard the echoes in answer to himself. As he finished his story, Hund, who was perhaps the most eager listener of all, leaped thrice upon the floor, snapping his fingers, as if in a passion of delight. He met Erlingsen's eye full of severity, and was quiet; but his countenance still glowed with exultation.
The rest of the company was greatly shocked at these daring insults to Nipen: and none more so than Peder. The old man's features worked with emotion, as he said in a low voice that he should be very thankful if all the mischief that might follow upon this adventure might be borne by the kin of him who had provoked it. If it should fall upon those who were innocent, never surely had boy been so miserable as his poor lad would then be. Oddo's eyes filled with tears, as he heard this; and he looked up at his master and mistress, as if to ask whether they had no word of comfort to say.
"Neighbour," said Madame Erlingsen to Peder, "is there any one here who does not believe that God is over all, and that he protects the innocent?"
"Is there any one who does not feel," added Erlingsen, "that the innocent should be gay, safe as they are in the good-will of God and man? Come, neighbours,—to your dancing again! You have lost too much time already. Now, Oddo, play your best,—and you, Hund."
"I hope," said Oddo, "that if any mischief is to come, it will fall upon me. We'll see how I shall bear it."
"Mischief enough will befall you, boy,—never doubt it," said his master, "as long as you trifle with people's feelings as you have done to-night. Go. Make up for it all you can."
The dancing was spiritless, and there was little more of it. The mirth of the meeting was destroyed. The party broke up at three, instead of five or six; and it might have been earlier still, but for the unwillingness of every family present to be the first to go upon the lake, or to try the road. At last, all understood one another's feelings by their own; and the whole company departed at once in two bands,—one by water, and the other by land. Those who went in sleighs took care that a heavy stone was fastened by a rope to the back of each carriage, that its bobbing and dancing on the road might keep off the wolves. Glad would they have been of any contrivance by which they might as certainly distance Nipen. Rolf then took a parting kiss from Erica in the porch, pushed Oddo on before, and followed with Peder. Erica watched them quite to the door of their own house, and then came in, and busied herself in making a clearance of some of the confusion which the guests had left behind.
"Oddo could not get a word from you, Erica," observed her mistress; "not even a look in answer to his 'good night'."
"I could not, madam," answered Erica, tears and sobs breaking forth. "When I think of it all, I am so shocked,—so ashamed!"
"Nipen has been so favourable to us to-day, madam! not a breath of wind stirring all the morning, so that nobody was disappointed of coming! And then to serve it in this way! To rob it, and mock it, and brave it as we have done!—So ungrateful!—so very wrong!"
"We are very sorry for Oddo's trick,—your master and I," said Madame Erlingsen; "but we are not in the least afraid of any further harm happening. You know we do not believe that God permits his children to be at the mercy of evil or capricious spirits. Indeed, Erica, we could not love God as we should wish to love Him, if we could not trust in Him as a just and kind protector. Go to rest now, Erica. You have done quite enough since you left your bed. Go to rest now. Rest your heart upon Him who has blessed you exceedingly this day. Whatever others do, do not you be ungrateful to Him. Good sleep to you, Erica! Sleep off your troubles, that Rolf may see nothing of them in the morning."
Erica smiled; and when Orga and Frolich saw the effect of what their mother had said, they too went to rest without trembling at every one of the noises with which a house built of wood is always resounding.
OLAF AND HIS NEWS.
When M. Kollsen appeared the next morning, the household had so much of its usual air that no stranger would have imagined how it had been occupied the day before. The large room was fresh strewn with evergreen sprigs; the breakfast-table stood at one end, where each took breakfast, standing, immediately on coming downstairs. At the bottom of the room was a busy group. The shoemaker, who travelled this way twice a year, had appeared this morning, and was already engaged upon the skins which had been tanned on the farm, and kept in readiness for him. He was instructing Oddo in the making of the tall boots of the country; and Oddo was so eager to have a pair in which he might walk knee-deep in the snow when the frosts should be over, that he gave all his attention to the work. Peder was twisting strips of leather, thin and narrow, into whips. Rolf and Hund were silently intent upon a sort of work which the Norwegian peasant delights in,—carving wood. They spoke only to answer Peder's questions about the progress of the work. Peder loved to hear about their carving, and to feel it; for he had been remarkable for his skill in the art, as long as his sight lasted.
Erlingsen was reading the newspaper, which must go away in the pastor's pocket. Madame was spinning; and her daughters sat busily plying their needles with Erica, in a corner of the apartment. The three were putting the last stitches to the piece of work which the pastor was also to carry away with him, as his fee for his services of yesterday. It was an eider-down coverlid, of which Rolf had procured the down, from the islets in the fiord frequented by the eider-duck, and Erica had woven the cover and quilted it, with the assistance of her young ladies, in an elegant pattern. The other house-maiden was in the chambers, hanging out the bedding in an upper gallery to air, as she did on all days of fair weather.
The whole party rose when M. Kollsen entered the room, but presently resumed their employments, except Madame Erlingsen, who conducted the pastor to the breakfast-table, and helped him plentifully to reindeer ham, bread-and-butter, and corn-brandy,—the usual breakfast. M. Kollsen carried his plate and ate, as he went round to converse with each group. First, he talked politics a little with his host, by the fire-side; in the midst of which conversation Erlingsen managed to intimate that nothing would be heard of Nipen to-day, if the subject was let alone by themselves: a hint which the clergyman was willing to take, as he supposed it meant in deference to his views. Then he complimented Madame Erlingsen on the excellence of her ham, and helped himself again; and next drew near the girls.
Erica blushed, and was thinking how she should explain that she wished his acceptance of her work, when Frolich saved her the awkwardness by saying—
"We hope you will like this coverlid, for we have made an entirely new pattern on purpose for it. Orga, you have the pattern. Do show M. Kollsen how pretty it looks on paper."
M. Kollsen did not know much about such things; but he admired as much as he could.
"That lily of the valley, see, is mamma's idea; and the barberry, answering to it, is mine. That tree in the middle is all Erica's work— entirely; but the squirrel upon it, we never should have thought of. It was papa who put that in our heads; and it is the most original thing in the whole pattern. Erica has worked it beautifully, to be sure."
"I think we have said quite enough about it," observed Erica, smiling and blushing. "I hope M. Kollsen will accept it. The down is Rolfs present."
Rolf rose, and made his bow, and said he had had pleasure in preparing his small offering.
"And I think," said Erlingsen, "it is pretty plain that my little girls have had pleasure in their part of the work. It is my belief that they are sorry it is so nearly done."
M. Kollsen graciously accepted the gift,—took up the coverlid and weighed it in his hand, in order to admire its lightness, compared with its handsome size; and then bent over the carvers, to see what work was under their hands.
"A bell-collar, sir," said Hund, showing his piece of wood. "I am making a complete set for our cows, against they go to the mountain, come summer."
"A pulpit, sir," explained Rolf, showing his work in his turn.
"A pulpit! Really! And who is to preach in it?"
"You, sir, of course," replied Erlingsen. "Long before you came,—from the time the new church was begun, we meant it should have a handsome pulpit. Six of us, within a round of twenty miles, undertook the six sides; and Rolf has great hopes of having the basement allotted to him afterwards. The best workman is to do the basement, and I think Rolf bids fair to be the one. This is good work, sir."
"Exquisite," said the pastor. "I question whether our native carvers may not be found to be equal to any whose works we hear so much of in Popish churches, in other countries. And there is no doubt of the superiority of their subjects. Look at these elegant twining flowers, and that fine brooding eagle! How much better to copy the beautiful works of God that are before our eyes, than to make durable pictures of the Popish idolatries and superstitions, which should all have been forgotten as soon as possible! I hope that none of the impious idolatries which, I am ashamed to say, still linger among us, will find their way into the arts by which future generations will judge us."
The pastor stopped, on seeing that his hearers looked at one another, as if conscious. A few words, he judged, would be better than more; and he went on to Peder, passing by Oddo without a word of notice. The party had indeed glanced consciously at each other; for it so happened that the very prettiest piece Rolf had ever carved was a bowl on which he had shown the water-sprite's hand (and never was hand so delicate as the water-sprite's) beckoning the heron to come and fish when the river begins to flow.
When Erica heard M. Kollsen inquiring of Peder about his old wife, she started up from her work, and said she must run and prepare Ulla for the pastor's visit. Poor Ulla would think herself forgotten this morning, it was growing so late, and nobody had been over to see her.
Ulla, however, was far from having any such thoughts. There sat the old woman, propped up in bed, knitting as fast as fingers could move, and singing, with her soul in her song, though her voice was weak and unsteady. She was covered with an eider-down quilt, like the first lady in the land; but this luxury was a consequence of her being old and ill, and having friends who cared for her infirmities. There was no other luxury. Her window was glazed with thick flaky glass, through which nothing could be seen distinctly. The shelf, the table, the clothes-chest, were all of rough fir-wood; and the walls of the house were of logs, well stuffed with moss in all the crevices, to keep out the cold. There are no dwellings so warm in winter and cool in summer as well-built log-houses; and this house had everything essential to health and comfort: but there was nothing more, unless it was the green sprinkling of the floor, and the clean appearance of everything the room contained, from Ulla's cap to the wooden platters on the shelf.
"I thought you would come," said Ulla. "I knew you would come, and take my blessing on your betrothment, and my wishes that you may soon be seen with the golden crown [Note 1]. I must not say that I hope to see you crowned, for we all know,—and nobody so well as I,—that it is I that stand between you and your crown. I often think of it, my dear—"
"Then I wish you would not, Ulla: you know that."
"I do know it, my dear, and I would not be for hastening God's appointments. Let all be in His own time. And I know, by myself, how happy you may be,—you and Rolf,—while Peder and I are failing and dying. I only say that none wish for your crowning more than we. O, Erica! you have a fine lot in having Rolf."
"Indeed, I know it, Ulla."
"Do but look about you, dear, and see how he keeps the house. And if you were to see him give me my cup of coffee, and watch over Peder, you would consider what he is likely to be to a pretty young thing like you, when he is what he is to two worn-out old creatures like us."
Erica did not need convincing about these things, but she liked to hear them.
"Where is he now?" asked Ulla. "I always ask where everybody is, at this season; people go about staring at the snow, as if they had no eyes to lose. That is the way my husband did. Do make Rolf take care of his precious eyes, Erica. Is he abroad to-day, my dear?"
"By this time he is," replied Erica, "I left him at work at the pulpit—"
"Ay! trying his eyes with fine carving, as Peder did!"
"But," continued Erica, "there was news this morning of a lodgment of logs at the top of the foss [Note 2]; and they were all going, except Peder, to slide them down the gully to the fiord. The gully is frozen so slippery, that the work will not take long. They will make a raft of the logs in the fiord, and either Rolf or Hund will carry them out to the islands when the tide ebbs."
"Will it be Rolf, do you think, or Hund, dear?"
"I wish it may be Hund. If it be Rolf, I shall go with him. O, Ulla! I cannot lose sight of him, after what happened last night. Did you hear? I do wish Oddo would grow wiser."
Ulla shook her head, and then nodded, to intimate that they would not talk of Nipen; and she began to speak of something else.
"How did Hund conduct himself yesterday? I heard my husband's account: but you know Peder could say nothing of his looks. Did you mark his countenance, dear?"
"Indeed, there was no helping it, any more than one can help watching a storm-cloud as it comes up."
"So it was dark and wrathful, was it,—that ugly face of his? Well it might be, dear; well it might be!"
"The worst was,—worse than all his dark looks together,—O, Ulla! the worst was his leap and cry of joy when he heard what Oddo had done, and that Nipen was made our enemy. He looked like an evil spirit when he fixed his eyes on me, and snapped his fingers."
Ulla shook her head mournfully, and then asked Erica to put another peat on the fire.
"I really should like to know," said Erica, in a low voice, when she resumed her seat on the bed, "I am sure you can tell me if you would, what is the real truth about Hund, what it is that weighs upon his heart."
"I will tell you," replied Ulla. "You are not one that will go babbling it, so that Hund shall meet with taunts, and have his sore heart made sorer. I will tell you, my dear, though there is no one else but our mistress that I would tell, and she, no doubt, knows it already. Hund was born and reared a good way to the south, not far from Bergen. In mid-winter four years since, his master sent him on an errand of twenty miles, to carry some provisions to a village in the upper country. He did his errand, and so far all was well. The village people asked him for charity to carry three orphan children on his sledge some miles on the way to Bergen, and to leave them at a house he had to pass on his road, where they would be taken care of till they could be fetched from Bergen. Hund was an obliging young fellow then, and he made no objection. He took the little things, and saw that the two elder were well wrapped up from the cold. The third he took within his arms and on his knee as he drove, clasping it warm against his breast. So those say who saw them set off; and it is confirmed by one who met the sledge on the road, and heard the children prattling to Hund, and Hund laughing merrily at their little talk. Before they had got half-way, however, a pack of hungry wolves burst out upon them from a hollow to the right of the road. The brutes followed close at the back of the sledge, and—"
"O, stop!" cried Erica; "I know that story. Is it possible that Hund is the man? No need to go on, Ulla."
But Ulla thought there was always need to finish a story that she had begun, and she proceeded.
"Closer and closer the wolves pressed, and it is thought Hund saw one about to spring at his throat. It was impossible for the horse to go faster than it did, for it went like the wind; but so did the beasts. Hund snatched up one of the children behind him, and threw it over the back of the sledge, and this stopped the pack for a little. On galloped the horse, but the wolves were soon crowding round again, with the blood freezing on their muzzles. It was easier to throw the second child than the first, and Hund did it. It was harder to give up the third—the dumb infant that nestled to his breast, but Hund was in mortal terror; and a man beside himself with terror has all the cruelty of a pack of wolves. Hund flung away the infant, and just saved himself. Nobody at home questioned him, for nobody knew about the orphans, and he did not tell. But he was unsettled and looked wild; and his talk, whenever he did speak, night or day, was of wolves, for the three days that he remained after his return. Then there was a questioning along the road about the orphan children; and Hund heard of it, and started off into the woods. By putting things together—what Hund had dropped in his agony of mind, and what had been seen and heard on the road, the whole was made out, and the country rose to find Hund. He was hunted like a bear in the forest and on the mountain; but he had got to the coast in time, and was taken in a boat, it is thought, to Hammerfest. At any rate, he came here as from the north, and wishes to pass for a northern man."
"And does Erlingsen know all this?"
"Yes. The same person who told me told him. Erlingsen thinks he must meet with mercy, for that none need mercy so much as the weak; and Hund's act was an act of weakness."
"Weakness!" cried Erica, with disgust.
"He is a coward, my dear; and death stared him in the face."
"I have often wondered," said Erica, "where on the face of the earth that wretch was wandering: and it is Hund! And he wanted to live in this very house," she continued, looking round the room.
"And to marry you, dear. Erlingsen would never have allowed that. But the thought has plunged the poor fellow deeper, instead of saving him, as he hoped. He now has envy and jealousy at his heart, besides the remorse which he will carry to his grave."
"And revenge!" said Erica, shuddering. "I tell you he leaped for joy that Nipen was offended. Here is some one coming," she exclaimed, starting from her seat, as a shadow flitted over the thick window-pane, and a hasty knock was heard at the door.
"You are a coward, if ever there was one," said Ulla, smiling. "Hund never comes here, so you need not look so frightened. What is to be done if you look so at dinner, or the next time you meet him? It will be the ruin of some of us. Go,—open the door, and do not keep the pastor waiting."
There was another knock before Erica could reach the door, and Frolich burst in.
"Such news!" she cried; "you never heard such news."
"I wish there never was any news," exclaimed Erica, almost pettishly.
"Good or bad?" inquired Ulla.
"O, bad,—very bad," declared Frolich, who yet looked as if she would rather have it than none. "Here is company. Olaf, the drug-merchant, is come. Father did not expect him these three weeks."
"This is not bad news, but good," said Ulla. "Who knows but he may bring me a cure?"
"We will all beg him to cure you, dear Ulla," said Frolich, stroking the old woman's white hair smooth upon her forehead. "But he tells us shocking things. There is a pirate-vessel among the islands. She was seen off Soroe, some time ago; but she is much nearer to us now. There was a farm-house seen burning on Alten fiord, last week; and as the family are all gone, and nothing but ruins left, there is little doubt the pirates lit the torch that did it. And the cod has been carried off from the beach, in the few places where any has been caught yet."
"They have not found out our fiord yet?" inquired Ulla.
"O, dear! I hope not. But they may, any day. And father says, the coast must be raised, from Hammerfest to Tronyem, and a watch set till this wicked vessel can be taken or driven away. He was going to send a running message both ways; but here is something else to be done first."
"Another misfortune?" asked Erica, faintly.
"No: they say it is a piece of very good fortune;—at least, for those who like bears' feet for dinner. Somebody or other has lighted upon the great bear that got away in the summer, and poked her out of her den, on the fjelde. She is certainly abroad, with her two last year's cubs; and their traces have been found just above, near the foss. Olaf had heard of her being roused; and Rolf and Hund have found her traces. Oddo has come running home to tell us: and father says he must get up a hunt before more snow falls, and we lose the tracks, or the family may establish themselves among us, and make away with our first calves."
"Does he expect to kill them all?"
"I tell you, we are all to grow stout on bears' feet. For my part, I like bears' feet best on the other side of Tronyem."
"You will change your mind, Miss Frolich, when you see them on the table," observed Ulla.
"That is just what father said. And he asked how I thought Erica and Stiorna would like to have a den in their neighbourhood when they go up to the mountain for the summer. O, it will be all right when the hunt is well over, and all the bears dead. Meantime, I thought they were at my heels as I crossed the yard."
"And that made you burst in as you did. Did Olaf say anything about coming to see me? Has he plenty of medicines with him?"
"O, certainly. That was the thing I came to say. He is laying out his medicines, while he warms himself; and then he is coming over, to see what he can do for your poor head. He asked about you, directly; and he is frowning over his drugs, as if he meant to let them know that they must not trifle with you."
Ulla was highly pleased, and gave her directions very briskly about the arrangement of the room. If it had been the grandest apartment of a palace, she could not have been more particular as to where everything should stand. When all was to her mind, she begged Erica to step over, and inform Olaf that she was ready.
When Erica opened the door, she instantly drew back, and shut it again.
"What now?" asked Frolich. "Are all the bears in the porch?"
"Olaf is there," replied Erica, in a whisper, "talking with Hund."
"Hund wants a cure for the head-ache," Frolich whispered in return; "or a charm to make some girl betroth herself to him;—a thing which no girl will do, but under a charm: for I don't believe Stiorna would when it came to the point, though she likes to be attended to."
When Olaf entered, and Hund walked away, Frolich ran home, and Erica stood by the window, ready to receive the travelling doctor's opinion and directions if he should vouchsafe any.
"So I am not the first to consult you to-day," said Ulla. "It is rather hard that I should not have the best chance of luck, having been so long ill."
Olaf assured her that he would hear no complaints from another till he had given her the first-fruits of his wisdom in this district of his rounds. Hund was only inquiring of him where the pirate-schooner was, having slid down from the height, as fast as his snow-skaits would carry him, on hearing the news from Oddo. He was also eager to know whence these pirates came,—what nation they were of, or whether a crew gathered from many nations. Olaf had advised Hund to go and ask the pirates themselves all that he wanted to know; for there was no one else who could satisfy him. Whereupon Hund had smiled grimly, and gone back to his work.
Erica observed that she had heard her master say that it was foolish to boast that Norway need not mind when Denmark went to war, because it would be carried on far out of sight and hearing. So far from this, Erlingsen had said, that Denmark never went to war but pirates came to ravage the coast, from the North Cape to the Naze. Was not this the case now? Denmark had gone to war; and here were the pirates come to make her poor partner suffer.
Olaf said this explained the matter: and he feared the business of the coast would suffer till a time of peace. Meanwhile, he must mind his business. When he had heard all Ulla's complaints, and ordered exactly what she wished—large doses of camphor and corn-brandy to keep off the night-fever and daily cough, he was ready to hear whatever else Erica had to ask, for Ulla had hinted that Erica wanted advice.
"I do not mind Ulla hearing my words," said Erica. "She knows my trouble."
"It is of the mind," observed Olaf, solemnly, on discovering that Erica did not desire to have her pulse felt.
"Yesterday was—I was—" Erica began.
"She was betrothed yesterday," said Ulla, "to the man of her heart. Rolf is such a young man—"
"Olaf knows Rolf," observed Erica. "An unfortunate thing happened at the end of the day, Olaf. Nipen was insulted." And she told the story of Oddo's prank, and implored the doctor to say if anything could be done to avert bad consequences.
"No doubt," replied Olaf. "Look here! This will preserve you from any particular evil that you dread." And he took from the box he carried under his arm a round piece of white paper, with a hole in the middle, through which a string was to be passed, to tie the charm round the neck. Erica shook her head. Such a charm would be of no use, as she did not know under what particular shape of misfortune Nipen's displeasure would show itself. Besides, she was certain that nothing would make Rolf wear a charm; and she disdained to use any security which he might not share. Olaf could not help her in any other way; but inquired with sympathy when the next festival would take place. Then, all might be repaired by handsome treatment of Nipen. Till then, he advised Erica to wear his charm, as her lover could not be the worse for her being so far safe. Erica blushed: she knew, but did not say, that harm would be done which no charm could repair if her lover saw her trying to save herself from dangers to which he remained exposed: and she did not know what their betrothment was worth, if it did not give them the privilege of suffering together. So she put back the charm into its place in the box, and, with a sigh, rose to return to the house.
In the porch she found Oddo, eating something which caused him to make faces. Though it was in the open air, there was a strong smell of camphor, and of something else less pleasant.
"What are you doing, Oddo?" asked Erica: the question which Oddo was asked every day of his life.
Oddo had observed Olaf's practice among his patients of the household, and perceived that, for all complaints, of body or mind, he gave the two things camphor and asafoetida,—sometimes together, and sometimes separately; and always in corn-brandy. Oddo could not refrain from trying what these drugs were like; so he helped himself to some of each; and, as he could get no corn-brandy till dinner-time, he was eating the medicines without. Such was the cause of his wry faces. If he had been anything but a Norway boy, he would have been the invalid of the house to-day, from the quantity of rich cake he had eaten: but Oddo seemed to share the privilege, common to Norwegians, of being able to eat anything, in any quantity, without injury. His wry faces were from no indigestion, but from the savour of asafoetida, unrelieved by brandy.
Wooden dwellings resound so much as to be inconvenient for those who have secrets to tell. In the porch of Peder's house, Oddo had heard all that passed within. It was good for him to have done so. He became more sensible of the pain he had given, and more anxious to repair it. "Dear Erica," said he, "I want you to do a very kind thing for me. Do get leave for me to go with Rolf after the bears. If I get one stroke at them,—if I can but wound one of them, I shall have a paw for my share; and I will lay it out for Nipen. You will, will you not?"
"It must be as Erlingsen chooses, Oddo: but I fancy you will not be allowed to go just now. The bears will think the doctor's physic-sledge is coming through the woods, and they will be shy. Do stand a little further off. I cannot think how it is that you are not choked."
"Suppose you go for an airing," said the doctor, who now joined them. "If you must not go in the way of the bears, there is a reindeer,—"
"O, where?" cried Oddo.
"I saw one,—all alone,—on the Salten heights. If you run that way, with the wind behind you, the deer will give you a good run;—up Sulitelma, if you like, and you will have got rid of the camphor before you come back. And be sure you bring me some Iceland moss, to pay me for what you have been helping yourself to."
When Oddo had convinced himself that Olaf really had seen a reindeer on the heights, three miles off, he said to himself, that if deer do not like camphor, they are fond of salt; and he was presently at the salt-box, and then quickly on his way to the hills with his bait. He considered his chance of training home the deer much more probable than that Erlingsen and his grandfather would allow him to hunt the bears: And he doubtless judged rightly.
Note 1. Peasant brides in Norway wear, on their wedding-day, a coronet of pasteboard, covered with gilt paper.
Note 2. Waterfall. Pine-trunks felled in the forest are drawn over the frozen snow to the banks of a river, or to the top of a waterfall, whence they may be either slid down over the ice, or left to be carried down by the floods, at the melting of the snows in the spring.
ROVING HERE AND ROVING THERE.
The establishment was now in a great hurry and bustle for an hour, after which time it promised to be unusually quiet.
M. Kollsen began to be anxious to be on the other side of the fiord. It was rather inconvenient, as the two men were wanted to go in different directions, while their master took a third, to rouse the farmers for the bear-hunt. The hunters were all to arrive before night within a certain distance of the thickets where the bears were now believed to be. On calm nights it was no great hardship to spend the dark hours in the bivouac of the country. Each party was to shelter itself under a bank of snow, or in a pit dug out of it, an enormous fire blazing in the midst, and brandy and tobacco being plentifully distributed on such occasions. Early in the morning the director of the hunt was to go his rounds, and arrange the hunters in a ring enclosing the hiding-place of the bears, so that all might be prepared, and no waste made of the few hours of daylight which the season afforded. As soon as it was light enough to see distinctly among the trees, or bushes, or holes of the rocks where the bears might be couched, they were to be driven from their retreat, and disposed of as quickly as possible. Such was the plan, well understood, in such cases throughout the country. On the present occasion it might be expected that the peasantry would be ready at the first summons, as Olaf had told his story of the bears all along the road. Yet, the more messengers and helpers the better; and Erlingsen was rather vexed to see Hund go with alacrity to unmoor the boat, and offer officiously to row the pastor across the fiord. His daughters knew what he was thinking about, and after a moment's consultation, Frolich asked whether she and the maid Stiorna might not be the rowers.
Nobody would have objected if Hund had not. The girls could row, though they could not hunt bears; and the weather was fair enough; but Hund shook his head, and went on preparing the boat. His master spoke to him, but Hund was not remarkable for giving up his own way. He would only say that there would be plenty of time for both affairs, and that he could follow the hunt when he returned, and across the lake he went.
Erlingsen and Rolf presently departed, accompanied by Olaf, who was glad of an escort for a few miles, though nothing was further from his intention than going near the bears. The women and Peder were thus left behind.
They occupied themselves to keep away anxious thoughts. One began some new nets, for the approaching fishing season; another sat in the loom, and the girls appealed to their mother very frequently, about the beauties of a new quilting pattern they were drawing. Old Peder sang to them too; but Peder's songs were rather melancholy, and they had not the effect of cheering the party. Hour after hour they looked for Hund. His news of his voyage, and the sending him after his master, would be something to do and to think of; but Hund did not come. Stiorna at last let fall that she did not think he would come yet, for that he meant to catch some cod before his return; he had taken tackle with him for that purpose, she knew, and she should not wonder if he did not appear till the morning.
Every one was surprised, and Madame Erlingsen highly displeased. At the time when her husband would be wanting every strong arm that could be mustered, his servant chose to be out fishing, instead of obeying orders. The girls pronounced him a coward, and Peder observed that to a coward, as well as a sluggard, there was ever a lion in the path. Erica doubted whether this act of disobedience arose from cowardice, for there were dangers in the fiord, for such as went out as far as the cod. She supposed Hund had heard—
She stopped short, as a sudden flash of suspicion crossed her mind. She had seen Hund inquiring of Olaf about the pirates, and his strange obstinacy about this day's boating looked much as if he meant to learn more.
"Danger in the fiord!" repeated Orga. "O, you mean the pirates; they are far enough from our fiord, I suppose. If ever they do come, I wish they would catch Hund, and carry him off. I am sure we could spare them nothing they would be so welcome to."
Madame Erlingsen saw that Erica was turning red and white, and resolved to ask, on the first good opportunity, what was in her mind about Hund, for no one was more disposed to distrust and watch him than the lady herself.
The first piece of amusement that occurred was the return of Oddo, who passed the windows, followed at a short distance by a wistful-looking deer, which seemed afraid to come quite up to him, but kept its branched head outstretched towards the salt which Oddo displayed, dropping a few grains from time to time. At the sight all crowded to the windows but Frolich, who left the room on the instant. Before the animal had passed the servants' house (a separate dwelling in the yard), she appeared in the gallery which ran round the outside of it, and showed to Oddo a cord which she held; he nodded, and threw down some salt on the snow immediately below where she stood. The reindeer stooped its head, instead of looking out for enemies above, and thus gave Frolich a good opportunity to throw her cord over its antlers. She had previously wound one end round the balustrade of the gallery, so that she had not with her single strength to sustain the animal's struggles.
The poor animal struggled violently when it found its head no longer at liberty, and, by throwing out its legs, gave Oddo an opportunity to catch and fasten it by the hind leg, so as to decide its fate completely. It could now only start from side to side, and threaten with its head when the household gathered round to congratulate Oddo and Frolich on the success of their hunting. The women durst only hastily stroke the palpitating sides of the poor beast; but, Peder, who had handled many scores in his lifetime, boldly seized its head, and felt its horns and the bones from whence they grew, to ascertain its age.