STORIES BY FOREIGN AUTHORS
THE FATHER . . . . BY BJORNSTJERNE BJORNSON
WHEN FATHER BROUGHT HOME THE LAMP . . . . BY JUHANI AHO
THE FLYING MAIL . . . . BY M. GOLDSCHMIDT
THE RAILROAD AND THE CHURCHYARD . . . . BY BJORNSTJERNE BJORNSON
TWO FRIENDS . . . . BY ALEXANDER KIELLAND
HOPES . . . . BY FREDERIKA BREMER
From "The Bridal March." Translated by Prof. R. B. Anderson.
The man whose story is here to be told was the wealthiest and most influential person in his parish; his name was Thord Overaas. He appeared in the priest's study one day, tall and earnest.
"I have gotten a son," said he, "and I wish to present him for baptism."
"What shall his name be?"
"Finn,—after my father."
"And the sponsors?"
They were mentioned, and proved to be the best men and women of Thord's relations in the parish.
"Is there anything else?" inquired the priest, and looked up.
The peasant hesitated a little.
"I should like very much to have him baptized by himself," said he, finally.
"That is to say on a week-day?"
"Next Saturday, at twelve o'clock noon."
"Is there anything else?" inquired the priest.
"There is nothing else;" and the peasant twirled his cap, as though he were about to go.
Then the priest rose. "There is yet this, however," said he, and walking toward Thord, he took him by the hand and looked gravely into his eyes: "God grant that the child may become a blessing to you!"
One day sixteen years later, Thord stood once more in the priest's study.
"Really, you carry your age astonishingly well, Thord," said the priest; for he saw no change whatever in the man.
"That is because I have no troubles," replied Thord.
To this the priest said nothing, but after a while he asked: "What is your pleasure this evening?"
"I have come this evening about that son of mine who is to be confirmed to-morrow."
"He is a bright boy."
"I did not wish to pay the priest until I heard what number the boy would have when he takes his place in church to-morrow."
"He will stand number one."
"So I have heard; and here are ten dollars for the priest."
"Is there anything else I can do for you?" inquired the priest, fixing his eyes on Thord.
"There is nothing else."
Thord went out.
Eight years more rolled by, and then one day a noise was heard outside of the priest's study, for many men were approaching, and at their head was Thord, who entered first.
The priest looked up and recognized him.
"You come well attended this evening, Thord," said he.
"I am here to request that the banns may be published for my son; he is about to marry Karen Storliden, daughter of Gudmund, who stands here beside me."
"Why, that is the richest girl in the parish."
"So they say," replied the peasant, stroking back his hair with one hand.
The priest sat a while as if in deep thought, then entered the names in his book, without making any comments, and the men wrote their signatures underneath. Thord laid three dollars on the table.
"One is all I am to have," said the priest.
"I know that very well; but he is my only child, I want to do it handsomely."
The priest took the money.
"This is now the third time, Thord, that you have come here on your son's account."
"But now I am through with him," said Thord, and folding up his pocket-book he said farewell and walked away.
The men slowly followed him.
A fortnight later, the father and son were rowing across the lake, one calm, still day, to Storliden to make arrangements for the wedding.
"This thwart is not secure," said the son, and stood up to straighten the seat on which he was sitting.
At the same moment the board he was standing on slipped from under him; he threw out his arms, uttered a shriek, and fell overboard.
"Take hold of the oar!" shouted the father, springing to his feet and holding out the oar.
But when the son had made a couple of efforts he grew stiff.
"Wait a moment!" cried the father, and began to row toward his son. Then the son rolled over on his back, gave his father one long look, and sank.
Thord could scarcely believe it; he held the boat still, and stared at the spot where his son had gone down, as though he must surely come to the surface again. There rose some bubbles, then some more, and finally one large one that burst; and the lake lay there as smooth and bright as a mirror again.
For three days and three nights people saw the father rowing round and round the spot, without taking either food or sleep; he was dragging the lake for the body of his son. And toward morning of the third day he found it, and carried it in his arms up over the hills to his gard.
It might have been about a year from that day, when the priest, late one autumn evening, heard some one in the passage outside of the door, carefully trying to find the latch. The priest opened the door, and in walked a tall, thin man, with bowed form and white hair. The priest looked long at him before he recognized him. It was Thord.
"Are you out walking so late?" said the priest, and stood still in front of him.
"Ah, yes! it is late," said Thord, and took a seat.
The priest sat down also, as though waiting. A long, long silence followed. At last Thord said:
"I have something with me that I should like to give to the poor; I want it to be invested as a legacy in my son's name."
He rose, laid some money on the table, and sat down again. The priest counted it.
"It is a great deal of money," said he.
"It is half the price of my gard. I sold it today."
The priest sat long in silence. At last he asked, but gently:
"What do you propose to do now, Thord?"
They sat there for a while, Thord with downcast eyes, the priest with his eyes fixed on Thord. Presently the priest said, slowly and softly:
"I think your son has at last brought you a true blessing."
"Yes, I think so myself," said Thord, looking up, while two big tears coursed slowly down his cheeks.
WHEN FATHER BROUGHT HOME THE LAMP
In spite of ethnological and philological distinctions, geographical association makes it more natural to include a Finnish tale in the volume with Scandinavian stories than in any other volume of this collection.
From "Squire Hellman." Translated by R. Nisbet Bain. Published by the Cassell Publishing Co.
WHEN FATHER BROUGHT HOME THE LAMP
When father bought the lamp, or a little before that, he said to mother:
"Hark ye, mother—oughtn't we to buy us a lamp?"
"A lamp? What sort of a lamp?"
"What! Don't you know that the storekeeper who lives in the market town has brought from St. Petersburg lamps that actually burn better than ten PAREA? [Footnote: A pare (pr. payray; Swed., perta; Ger., pergei) is a resinous pine chip, or splinter, used instead of torch or candle to light the poorer houses in Finland.] They've already got a lamp of the sort at the parsonage."
"Oh, yes! Isn't it one of those things which shines in the middle of the room so that we can see to read in every corner, just as if it was broad daylight?"
"That's just it. There's oil that burns in it, and you only have to light it of an evening, and it burns on without going out till the next morning."
"But how can the wet oil burn?"
"You might as well ask—how can brandy burn?"
"But it might set the whole place on fire. When brandy begins to burn you can't put it out, even with water."
"How can the place be set on fire when the oil is shut up in a glass, and the fire as well?"
"In a glass? How can fire burn in a glass—won't it burst?"
"Won't what burst?"
"Burst! No, it never bursts. It might burst, I grant you, if you screwed the fire up too high, but you're not obliged to do that."
"Screw up the fire? Nay, dear, you're joking—how CAN you screw up fire?"
"Listen, now! When you turn the screw to the right, the wick mounts—the lamp, you know, has a wick, like any common candle, and a flame too—but if you turn the screw to the left, the flame gets smaller, and then, when you blow it, it goes out."
"It goes out! Of course! I But I don't understand it a bit yet, however much you may explain—some sort of new-fangled gentlefolk arrangement, I suppose."
"You'll understand it right enough when I've bought one."
"How much does it cost?"
"Seven and a half marks, and the oil separate at one mark the can."
"Seven and a half marks and the oil as well! Why, for that you might buy parea for many a long day—that is, of course, if you were inclined to waste money on such things at all, but when Pekka splits them not a penny is lost."
"And you'll lose nothing by the lamp, either! Pare wood costs money too, and you can't find it everywhere on our land now as you used to. You have to get leave to look for such wood, and drag it hither to the bog from the most out-of-the-way places—and it's soon used up, too."
Mother knew well enough that pare wood is not so quickly used up as all that, as nothing had been said about it up to now, and that it was only an excuse to go away and buy this lamp. But she wisely held her tongue so as not to vex father, for then the lamp and all would have been unbought and unseen. Or else some one else might manage to get a lamp first for his farm, and then the whole parish would begin talking about the farm that had been the FIRST, after the parsonage, to use a lighted lamp. So mother thought the matter over, and then she said to father:
"Buy it, if you like; it is all the same to me if it is a pare that burns, or any other sort of oil, if only I can see to spin. When, pray, do you think of buying it?"
"I thought of setting off to-morrow—I have some other little business with the storekeeper as well."
It was now the middle of the week, and mother knew very well that the other business could very well wait till Saturday, but she did not say anything now either, but, "the sooner the better," thought she.
And that same evening father brought in from the storehouse the big travelling chest in which grandfather, in his time, had stowed his provisions when he came from Uleaborg, and bade mother fill it with hay and lay a little cotton-wool in the middle of it. We children asked why they put nothing in the box but hay and a little wool in the middle, but she bade us hold our tongues, the whole lot of us. Father was in a better humor, and explained that he was going to bring a lamp from the storekeeper, and that it was of glass, and might be broken to bits if he stumbled or if the sledge bumped too much.
That evening we children lay awake a long time and thought of the new lamp; but old scullery-Pekka, the man who used to split up all the parea, began to snore as soon as ever the evening pare was put out. And he didn't once ask what sort of a thing the lamp was, although we talked about it ever so much.
The journey took father all day, and a very long time it seemed to us all. We didn't even relish our food that day, although we had milk soup for dinner. But scullery-Pekka gobbled and guzzled as much as all of us put together, and spent the day in splitting parea till he had filled the outhouse full. Mother, too, didn't spin much flax that day either, for she kept on going to the window and peeping out, over the ice, after father. She said to Pekka, now and then, that perhaps we shouldn't want all those parea any more, but Pekka couldn't have laid it very much to heart, for he didn't so much as ask the reason why.
It was not till supper time that we heard the horses' bells in the courtyard.
With the bread crumbs in our mouths, we children rushed out, but father drove us in again and bade scullery-Pekka come and help with the chest. Pekka, who had already been dozing away on the bench by the stove, was so awkward as to knock the chest against the threshold as he was helping father to carry it into the room, and he would most certainly have got a sound drubbing for it from father if only he had been younger, but he was an old fellow now, and father had never in his life struck a man older than himself. Nevertheless, Pekka would have heard a thing or two from father if the lamp HAD gone to pieces, but fortunately no damage had been done.
"Get up on the stove, you lout!" roared father at Pekka, and up on the stove Pekka crept.
But father had already taken the lamp out of the chest, and now let it hang down from one hand.
"Look! there it is now! How do you think it looks? You pour the oil into this glass, and that stump of ribbon inside is the wick— hold that pare a little further off, will you!"
"Shall we light it?" said mother, as she drew back.
"Are you mad? How can it be lighted when there's no oil in it?"
"Well, but can't you pour some in, then?"
"Pour in oil? A likely tale! Yes, that's just the way when people don't understand these things; but the storekeeper warned me again and again never to pour the oil in by firelight, as it might catch fire and burn the whole house down."
"Then when will you pour the oil into it!"
"In the daytime—daytime, d'ye hear? Can't you wait till day? It isn't such a great marvel as all that." "Have you SEEN it burn, then?"
"Of course I have. What a question! I've seen it burn many a time, both at the parsonage and when we tried this one here at the storekeeper's."
"And it burned, did it?"
"Burned? Of course it did, and when we put up the shutters of the shop, you could have seen a needle on the floor. Look here, now! Here's a sort of capsule, and when the fire is burning in this fixed glass here, the light cannot creep up to the top, where it isn't wanted either, but spreads out downward, so that you could find a needle an the floor."
Now we should have all very much liked to try if we could find a needle on the floor, but father rang up the lamp to the roof and began to eat his supper.
"This evening we must be content, once more, with a pare," said father, as he ate; "but to-morrow the lamp shall burn in this very house."
"Look, father! Pekka has been splitting parea all day, and filled the outhouse with them."
"That's all right. We've fuel now, at any rate, to last us all the winter, for we sha'n't want them for anything else."
"But how about the bathroom and the stable?" said mother.
"In the bathroom we'll burn the lamp," said father.
That night I slept still less than the night before, and when I woke in the morning I could almost have wept, if I hadn't been ashamed, when I called to mind that the lamp was not to be lit till the evening. I had dreamed that father had poured oil into the lamp at night and that it had burned the whole day long.
Immediately when it began to dawn, father dug up out of that great travelling chest of his a big bottle, and poured something out of it into a smaller bottle. We should have very much liked to ask what was in this bottle, but we daren't, for father looked so solemn about it that it quite frightened us.
But when he drew the lamp a little lower down from the ceiling and began to bustle about it and unscrew it, mother could contain herself no longer, and asked him what he was doing.
"I am pouring oil into the lamp."
"Well, but you're taking it to pieces! How will you ever get everything you have unscrewed into its proper place again?"
Neither mother nor we knew what to call the thing which father took out from the glass holder.
Father said nothing, but he bade us keep further off. Then he filled the glass holder nearly full from the smaller bottle, and we now guessed that there was oil in the larger bottle also.
"Well, won't you light it now?" asked mother again, when all the unscrewed things had been put back into their places and father hoisted the lamp up to the ceiling again.
"What! in the daytime?"
"Yes—surely we might try it, to see how it will burn."
"It'll burn right enough. Just wait till the evening, and don't bother."
After dinner, scullery-Pekka brought in a large frozen block of wood to split up into parea, and cast it from his shoulders on to the floor with a thud which shook the whole room and set in motion the oil in the lamp.
"Steady!" cries father; "what are you making that row for?"
"I brought in this pare-block to melt it a bit—nothing else will do it—it is regularly frozen."
"You may save yourself the trouble then," said father, and he winked at us.
"Well, but you can't get a blaze out of it at all, otherwise."
"You may save yourself the trouble, I say."
"Are no more parea to be split up, then?"
"Well, suppose I DID say that no more parea were to be split up?"
"Oh! 't is all the same to me if master can get on without 'em."
"Don't you see, Pekka, what is hanging down from the rafters there?" When father put this question he looked proudly up at the lamp, and then he looked pityingly down upon Pekka.
Pekka put his clod in the corner, and then, but not till then, looked up at the lamp.
"It's a lamp," says father, "and when it burns you don't want any more pare light."
"Oh!" said Pekka, and, without a single word more, he went off to his chopping-block behind the stable, and all day long, just as on other days, he chopped a branch of his own height into little fagots; but all the rest of us were scarce able to get on with anything. Mother made believe to spin, but her supply of flax had not diminished by one-half when she shoved aside the spindle and went out. Father chipped away at first at the handle of his axe, but the work must have been a little against the grain, for he left it half done. After mother went away, father went out also, but whether he went to town or not I don't know. At any rate he forbade us to go out too, and promised us a whipping if we so much as touched the lamp with the tips of our fingers. Why, we should as soon have thought of fingering the priest's gold-embroidered chasuble. We were only afraid that the cord which held up all this splendor might break and we should get the blame of it.
But time hung heavily in the sitting-room, and as we couldn't hit upon anything else, we resolved to go in a body to the sleighing hill. The town had a right of way to the river for fetching water therefrom, and this road ended at the foot of a good hill down which the sleigh could run, and then up the other side along the ice rift.
"Here come the Lamphill children," cried the children of the town, as soon as they saw us.
We understood well enough what they meant, but for all that we did not ask what Lamphill children they alluded to, for our farm was, of course, never called Lamphill.
"Ah, ah! We know! You've gone and bought one of them lamps for your place. We know all about it!"
"But how came you to know about it already?"
"Your mother mentioned it to my mother when she went through our place. She said that your father had bought from the storeman one of that sort of lamps that burn so brightly that one can find a needle on the floor—so at least said the justice's maid."
It is just like the lamp in the parsonage drawing-room, your father told us just now. I heard him say so with my own ears," said the innkeeper's lad.
"Then you really have got a lamp like that, eh?" inquired all the children of the town.
"Yes, we have; but it is nothing to look at in the daytime, but in the evening we'll all go there together."
And we went on sleighing down hill and up hill till dusk, and every time we drew our sleighs up to the hilltop, we talked about the lamp with the children of the town.
In this way the time passed quicker than we thought, and when we had sped down the hill for the last time, the whole lot of us sprang off homeward.
Pekka was standing at the chopping block and didn't even turn his head, although we all called to him with one voice to come and see how the lamp was lit. We children plunged headlong into the room in a body.
But at the door we stood stock-still. The lamp was already burning there beneath the rafters so brightly that we couldn't look at it without blinking.
"Shut the door; it's rare cold," cried father, from behind the table.
"They scurry about like fowls in windy weather," grumbled mother from her place by the fireside.
"No wonder the children are dazed by it, when I, old woman as I am, cannot help looking up at it," said the innkeeper's old mother.
"Our maid also will never get over it," said the magistrate's step-daughter.
It was only when our eyes had got a little used to the light that we saw that the room was half full of neighbors.
"Come nearer, children, that you may see it properly," said father, in a much milder voice than just before.
"Knock that snow off your feet, and come hither to the stove; it looks quite splendid from here," said mother, in her turn.
Skipping and jumping, we went toward mother, and sat us all down in a row on the bench beside her. It was only when we were under her wing that we dared to examine the lamp more critically. We had never once thought that it would burn as it was burning now, but when we came to sift the matter out we arrived at the conclusion that, after all, it was burning just as it ought to burn. And when we had peeped at it a good bit longer, it seemed to us as if we had fancied all along that it would be exactly as it was.
But what we could not make out at all was how the fire was put into that sort of glass. We asked mother, but she said we should see how it was done afterward.
The townsfolk vied with each other in praising the lamp, and one said one thing, and another said another. The innkeeper's old mother maintained that it shone just as calmly and brightly as the stars of heaven. The magistrate, who had sad eyes, thought it excellent because it didn't smoke, and you could burn it right in the middle of the hall without blackening the walls in the least, to which father replied that it was, in fact, meant for the hall, but did capitally for the dwelling room as well, and one had no need now to dash hither and thither with parea, for all could now see by a single light, let them be never so many.
When mother observed that the lesser chandelier in church scarcely gave a better light, father bade me take my ABC book, and go to the door to see if I could read it there. I went and began to read: "Our Father." But then they all said: "The lad knows that by heart." Mother then stuck a hymn-book in my hand, and I set off with "By the Waters of Babylon."
"Yes; it is perfectly marvellous!" was the testimony of the townsfolk.
Then said father: "Now if any one had a needle, you might throw it on the floor and you would see that it would be found at once."
The magistrate's step-daughter had a needle in her bosom, but when she threw it on the floor, it fell into a crack, and we couldn't find it at all—it was so small.
It was only after the townsfolk had gone that Pekka came in.
He blinked a bit at first at the unusual lamplight, but then calmly proceeded to take off his jacket and rag boots.
"What's that twinkling in the roof there enough to put your eyes out?" he asked at last, when he had hung his stockings up on the rafters.
"Come now, guess what it is," said father, and he winked at mother and us.
"I can't guess," said Pekka, and he came nearer to the lamp.
"Perhaps it's the church chandelier, eh?" said father jokingly.
"Perhaps," admitted Pekka; but he had become really curious, and passed his thumb along the lamp.
"There's no need to finger it," says father; "look at it, but don't touch it."
"All right, all right! I don't want to meddle with it!" said Pekka, a little put out, and he drew back to the bench alongside the wall by the door.
Mother must have thought that it was a sin to treat poor Pekka so, for she began to explain to him that it was not a church chandelier at all, but what people called a lamp, and that it was lit with oil, and that was why people didn't want parea any more.
But Pekka was so little enlightened by the whole explanation that he immediately began to split up the pare-wood log which he had dragged into the room the day before. Then father said to him that he had already told him there was no need to split parea any more.
"Oh! I quite forgot," said Pekka; "but there it may bide if it isn't wanted any more," and with that Pekka drove his pare knife into a rift in the wall.
"There let it rest at leisure," said father.
But Pekka said never a word more. A little while after that he began to patch up his boots, stretched on tiptoe to reach down a pare from the rafters, lit it, stuck it in a slit fagot, and sat him down on his little stool by the stove. We children saw this before father, who stood with his back to Pekka planing away at his axe-shaft under the lamp. We said nothing, however, but laughed and whispered among ourselves, "If only father sees that, what will he say, I wonder?" And when father did catch sight of him, he planted himself arms akimbo in front of Pekka, and asked him, quite spitefully, what sort of fine work he had there, since he must needs have a separate light all to himself?
"I am only patching up my shoes," said Pekka to father.
"Oh, indeed! Patching your shoes, eh? Then if you can't see to do that by the same light that does for me, you may take yourself off with your pare into the bath-house or behind it if you like."
And Pekka went.
He stuck his boots under his arm, took his stool in one hand and his pare in the other, and off he went. He crept softly through the door into the hall, and out of the hall into the yard. The pare light flamed outside in the blast, and played a little while, glaring red, over outhouses, stalls, and stables. We children saw the light through the window and thought it looked very pretty. But when Pekka bent down to get behind the bath-house door, it was all dark again in the yard, and instead of the pare we saw only the lamp mirroring itself in the dark window-panes.
Henceforth we never burned a pare in the dwelling-room again. The lamp shone victoriously from the roof, and on Sunday evenings all the townsfolk often used to come to look upon and admire it. It was known all over the parish that our house was the first, after the parsonage, where the lamp had been used. After we had set the example, the magistrate bought a lamp like ours, but as he had never learned to light it, he was glad to sell it to the innkeeper, and the innkeeper has it still.
The poorer farmfolk, however, have not been able to get themselves lamps, but even now they do their long evening's work by the glare of a pare.
But when we had had the lamp a short time, father planed the walls of the dwelling-room all smooth and white, and they never got black again, especially after the old stove, which used to smoke, had to make room for another, which discharged its smoke outside and had a cowl.
Pekka made a new fireplace in the bath-house out of the stones of the old stove, and the crickets flitted thither with the stones— at least their chirping was never heard any more in the dwelling room. Father didn't care a bit, but we children felt, now and then, during the long winter evenings, a strange sort of yearning after old times, so we very often found our way down to the bath- house to listen to the crickets, and there was Pekka sitting out the long evenings by the light of his pare.
THE FLYING MAIL
From "The Flying Mail." Translated by Carl Larsen.
THE FLYING MAIL
Fritz Bagger had just been admitted to the bar. He had come home and entered his room, seeking rest. All his mental faculties were now relaxed after their recent exertion, and a long-restrained power was awakened. He had reached a crisis in life: the future lay before him,—the future, the future! What was it to be? He was twenty-four years old, and could turn himself whichever way he pleased, let fancy run to any line of the compass. Out upon the horizon, he saw little rose-colored clouds, and nothing therein but a certain undefined bliss. He put his hands over his eyes, and sought to bring this uncertainty into clear vision; and after a long time had elapsed, he said: "Yes, and so one marries."
"Yes, one marries," he continued, after a pause; "but whom?"
His thoughts now took a more direct course; but the pictures in his mind's eye had not become plainer. Again the horizon widely around was rose-colored, and between the tinted cloud-layers angel-heads peeped out—not Bible angels, which are neither man nor woman; but angelic girls, whom he didn't know, and who didn't know him. The truth was, he didn't know anybody to whom he could give his heart, but longed, with a certain twenty-four-year power, for her to whom he could offer it,—her who was worthy to receive his whole self-made being, and in exchange give him all that queer imagined bliss, which is or ought to be in the world, as every one so firmly believes.
"Oh, I am a fool!" he said, as he suddenly became conscious that he was merely dreaming and wishing. He tried to think of something practical, thought upon a little picnic that was to be held in the evening; but the same dream returned and overpowered him, because the season of spring was in him, because life thrilled in him as in trees and plants when the spring sun shines.
He leaned upon the window-seat—it was in an attic—and let the wind cool his forehead. But while the wind refreshed, the street itself gave his mind new nourishment. Down there it moved, to him unknown, and veiled and hidden as at a masquerade. What a treasure might not that easy virgin foot carry! What a fancy might there not be moving in the head under that little bonnet, and what a heart might there not be beating under the folds of that shawl! But, too, all this preciousness might belong to another.
Alas! yes, there were certainly many amiable ones down there!—and if destiny should lead him to one of them, who was free, lovely, well-bred, of good family, could any one vouch that for her sake he was not giving up HER, the beau-ideal, the expected, whose portrait had shown itself between the tinted clouds? or, in any event, who can vouch for one's success in not missing the right one?
"Oh! life is a lottery, a cruel lottery; for to everybody there is but one drawing, and the whole man is at stake. Woe to the loser!"
After the expiration of some time, Fritz, under the influence of these meditations, had become melancholy, and all bright, smiling, and sure as life had recently appeared to him, so misty, uncertain, and painful it now appeared. For the second time he stroked his forehead, shook these thoughts from him, seeking more practical ones, and for the second time it terminated in going to the window and gazing out.
A whirlwind filled the street, slamming gates and doors, shaking windows and carrying dust with it up to his attic chamber. He was in the act of drawing back, when he saw a little piece of paper whirled in the dust cloud coming closely near him. He shut his eyes to keep out the dust, grasping at random for the paper, which he caught. At the same moment the whirlwind ceased, and the sky was again clear. This appeared to him ominous; the scrap of paper had certainly a meaning to him, a meaning for him; the unknown whom he had not really spoken to, yet had been so exceedingly busy with, could not quite accidentally have thus conveyed this to his hands, and with throbbing heart he retired from the window to read the message.
One side of the paper was blank; in the left-hand corner of the other side was written "beloved," and a little below it seemed as if there had been a signature, but now there was nothing left excepting the letters "geb."
"'Geb,' what does that mean?" asked Fritz Bagger, with dark humor. "If it had been gek, I could have understood it, although it were incorrectly written. Geb, Gebrer, Algebra, Gebruderbuh,—I am a big fool."
"But it is no matter, she shall have an answer," he shouted after a while, and seated himself to write a long, glowing love-letter. When it was finished and read, he tore it in pieces.
"No," said he, "if destiny has intended the least thing by acting to me as mail-carrier through the window, let me act reasonably." He wrote on a little piece of paper:
"As the old Norwegians, when they went to Iceland, threw their high-seat pillars into the sea with the resolution to settle where they should go ashore, so I send this out. My faith follows after; and it is my conviction that where this alights, I shall one day come, and salute you as my chosen, as my—." "Yes, now what more shall I add?" he asked himself. "Ay, as my—'geb'—!" he added, with an outburst of merry humor, that just completed the whole sentimental outburst. He went to the window and threw the paper out; it alighted with a slow quivering. He was already afraid that it would go directly down into the ditch; but then a breeze came lifting it almost up to himself again, then a new current carried it away, lifting it higher and higher, whirling it, till at last it disappeared from his sight in continual ascension, so he thought.
"After all, I have become engaged to-day," he said to himself, with a certain quiet humor, and yet impressed by a feeling that he had really given himself to the unknown.
Six years had passed, and Fritz Bagger had made his mark, although not as a lover. He had become Counsellor, and was particularly distinguished for the skill and energy with which he brought criminals to confession. It is thus that a man of fine and poetic feelings can satisfy himself in such a business, for a time at least: with the half of his soul he can lead a life which to himself and others seems entire only because it is busy, because it keeps him at work, and fills him with a consciousness of accomplishing something practical and good. There is a youthful working power, which needs not to look sharply out into the future for a particular aim of feeling or desire. This power itself, by the mere effort to keep in a given place, is for such an organization, every day, an aim, a relish; and one can for a number of years drive business so energetically, that he, too, slips over that difficult time which in every twenty-four hours threatens to meet him, the time between work and sleep, twilight, when the other half of the soul strives to awaken.
Be it because his professional duties gave him no time or opportunity for courtship, or for some other reason, Fritz Bagger remained a bachelor; and a bachelor with the income of his profession is looked upon as a rich man. Counsellor Bagger would, when business allowed, enter into social life, treating it in that elegant, independent, almost poetic manner, which in most cases is denied to married men, and which is one reason why they press the hand of a bachelor with a sigh, a mixture of envy, admiration, and compassion. If we add here that a bachelor with such a professional income is the possible stepping-stone to an advantageous marriage, it is easily seen that Fritz Bagger was much sought for in company. He went, too, into it as often as allowed by his legal duties, from which he would hasten in the black "swallow-tail" to a dinner or soiree, and often amused himself where most others were weary; because conversation about anything whatever with the cultivated was to him a refreshment, and because he brought with him a good appetite and good humor, resting upon conscientious work. He could show interest in divers trifles, because in their nothingness (quite contrary to the trifles in which half an hour previous, with painful interest, he had ferreted out crime), they appeared to him as belonging to an innocent, childish world; and if conversation approached more earnest things, he spoke freely, and evidently gave himself quite up to the subject, letting the whole surface of his soul flow out. And this procured him friendship and reputation.
In this way, then, six years had slipped by, when Counsellor Bagger, or rather Fritz Bagger as we will call him, in remembrance of his examination-day, and his notes by the flying mail, was invited to a wedding-party on the shooting-ground. The company was not very large,—only thirty couples,—but very elegant. Bagger was a friend in the families of both bride and bridegroom, and consequently being well known to nearly all present he felt himself as among friends gathered by a mutual joy, and was more than usually animated. A superb wine, which the bride's father had himself brought, crowned their spirits with the last perfect wreath. Although the toast to the bridal pair had been officially proposed, Bagger took occasion to offer his congratulations in a second encomium of love and matrimony; which gave a solid, prosaic man opportunity for the witty remark and hearty wish that so distinguished a practical office-holder as Counsellor Bagger would carry his fine theories upon matrimony into practice. The toast was drunk with enthusiasm, and just at that moment a strong wind shook the windows, and burst open one of the doors, blowing so far into the hall as to cause the lights to flicker much.
Bagger became, through the influence of the wine, the company, and the sight of the happy bridal pair, six years younger. His soul was carried away from criminal and police courts, and found itself on high, as in the attic chamber, with a vision of the small tinted clouds and the angel-heads. The sudden gust of wind carried him quite back to the moment when he sent out his note as the Norwegian heroes their high-seat pillars: the spirit of his twenty-fourth year came wholly over him, queerly mixed with the half-regretful reflection of the thirtieth year, with fun, inclination to talk and to breathe; and he exclaimed, as he rose to acknowledge the toast:
"I am engaged."
"Ay! ay! Congratulate! congratulate!" sounded from all sides.
"This gust of wind, which nearly extinguished the lights, brought me a message from my betrothed!"
"What?" "What is it?" asked the company, their heads at that moment not in the least condition for guessing charades.
"Counsellor Bagger, have you, like the Doge of Venice, betrothed yourself to the sea or storm?" asked the bridegroom.
"Hear him, the fortunate! sitting upon the golden doorstep to the kingdom of love! Let him surmise and guess all that concerns Cupid, for he has obtained the inspiration, the genial sympathy," exclaimed Bagger. "Yes," he continued, "just like the Doge of Venice, but not as aristocratic! From my attic chamber, where I sat on my examination-day, guided by Cupid, in a manner which it would take too long to narrate, I gave to the whirlwind a love- letter, and at any moment SHE can step forward with my letter, my promise, and demand me soul and body."
"Who is it, then?" asked bridegroom and bride, with the most earnest interest.
"Yes, how can I tell that? Do I know the whirlwind's roads?"
"Was the letter signed with your name?"
"No; but don't you think I will acknowledge my handwriting?" replied Bagger, quite earnestly.
This earnestness with reference to an obligation which no one understood became comical; and Bagger felt at the moment that he was on the brink of the ridiculous. Trying to collect himself, he said:
"Is it not an obligation we all have? Do not both bride and bridegroom acknowledge that long before they knew each other the obligation was present?"
"Yes, yes!" exclaimed the bridegroom.
"And the whirlwind, accident, the unknown power, brought them together so that the obligation was redeemed?"
"Let us, then," continued Bagger, "drink a toast to the wind, the accident, the moving power, unknown and yet controlling. To those of us who, as yet, are unprovided for and under forty, it will at some time undoubtedly bring a bride; to those who are already provided for will come the expected in another form. So a toast to the wind that came in here and flickered the lights; to the unknown, that brings us the wished for; and to ourselves, that we may be prepared to receive it when announced."
"Bravo!" exclaimed the bridegroom, looking upon his bride.
"Puh-h-h!" thought Bagger, seating himself with intense relief, "I have come out of it somewhat decently after all. The deuce take me before I again express a sentimentality."
How Counsellor Bagger that night could have fallen asleep, between memory, or longing and discontent, is difficult to tell, had he not on his arrival home found a package of papers, an interesting theft case. He sat down instantly to read, and day dawned ere they were finished. His last thought, before his eyelids closed, was,— Two years in the House of Correction.
A month later, toward the close of September, two ladies, twenty or twenty-two years of age, were walking in a garden about ten miles from Copenhagen. Although the walks were quite wide, impediments in them made it difficult for the ladies to go side by side. The autumn showed itself uneven and jagged. The currant and gooseberry boughs, that earlier hung in soft arches, now projected stiffly forth, catching in the ladies' dresses; branches from plum and apple trees hung bare and broken, and required attention above also. One of the ladies apparently was at home there: this was evident partly from her dress, which, although elegant, was domestic, and partly by her taking the lead and paying honor, by drawing boughs and branches aside, holding them until the other lady, who was more showily dressed, had slipped past. On account of the hindrances of the walk there were none of those easy, subdued, familiar conversations, which otherwise so naturally arise when young ladies, acquaintances, or "friends," visit each other, and from the house slip out alone into garden or wood. An attentive observer meanwhile, by scrutinizing the physiognomy of both, would, perhaps, have come to the conclusion, that even if these two had been together on the most unobstructed road, no confidence would have arisen between them, and would have suspected the hostess of trying to atone for her lack of interest, by being polite and careful. She was not strikingly handsome, but possessed of a fine nature, which manifested itself in the whole figure, and perhaps, especially, in the uncommonly well-formed nose; yet it was by peering into her eyes that one first obtained the idea of a womanhood somewhat superior to the generality of her sex. Their expression was not to be caught at once: they told of both meditation and resolve, and hinted at irony or badinage, which works so queerly when it comes from deep ground. The other lady was "burgherly-genteel," a handsome, cultivated girl, had certainly also some soul, but yet was far less busy with a world in her own heart than with the world of fashion. It was about the world, the world of Copenhagen, that Miss Brandt at this moment was giving Miss Hjelm an account, interrupted by the boughs and branches, and although Miss Hjelm was not, nun-like, indifferent either to fashions or incidents in high life, the manner in which Miss Brandt unmistakably laid her soul therein, caused her to go thus politely before.
"But you have heard about Emmy Ibsen's marriage?" asked Miss Brandt.
"Yes, it was about a month ago, I think."
"Yes, I was bridesmaid."
"Indeed!" said Miss Hjelm, in a voice which atoned for her brevity.
"The party was at the shooting-ground."
"So!" said Miss Hjelm again, with as correct an intonation as if she had learned it for "I don't care." "Take care, Miss Brandt," she added, stooping to avoid an apple-branch.
"Take care?—oh, for that branch!" said Miss Brandt, and avoided it as charmingly and coquettishly as if it had been living.
"It was very gay," she added, "even more so than wedding-parties commonly are; but this was caused a good deal by Counsellor Bagger."
"Yes, he was very gay ... I was his companion at table.
"Oh, only to think! at the table he stands up declaring that he is engaged."
"Was his lady present?"
"No, that she was not, I think. Do you know who it was?"
"No, how should I know that, Miss Brandt?"
"Yes. He said that he, as a young man, in a solemn moment had sent his love letter or his promise out with the wind, and he was continually waiting for an answer: he had given his promise, was betrothed!—Ou!"
"What is it?" asked Miss Hjelm, sympathetically. The truth was, the young hostess at this moment had relaxed her polite care, and a limb of a gooseberry-bush had struck against Miss Brandt's ankle.
The pain was soon over; and the two ladies, who now had reached the termination of the walk, turned toward the house side by side, each protecting herself, unconscious that any change had occurred.
"But I hardly believe it," continued Miss Brandt: "he said it perhaps only to make himself conspicuous, for certain gentlemen are just as coquettish as ... as they accuse us of being."
Miss Hjelm uttered a doubting, "Um!"
"Yes, that they really are! Have you ever seen any lady as coquettish as an actor?"
"I don't know any of them, but I should suppose an actress might be."
"No: no actress I have ever met of the better sort was really coquettish. I don't know how it is with them, but I believe they have overcome coquettishness."
"But you think, then, Counsellor Bang is coquettish?"
"Not Bang—Bagger. Yes; for although he said he had this romantic love for a fairy, he often does court to modest earthly ladies. He is properly somewhat of a flirt."
"That is unbecoming an old man."
"Yes; but he is not old."
"Oh!" said Miss Hjelm, laughing: "I have only known one war counsellor, and he was old; so I thought of all war counsellors as old."
"Yes; but Counsellor Bagger is not war counsellor, but a real Superior Court Counsellor."
"Oh, how earnest that is! And so he is in love with a fairy?"
"Yes: it is ridiculous!" said Miss Brandt, laughing. During this conversation they had reached the house, and Miss Brandt complained that something was yet pricking her ankle. They went into Miss Hjelm's room, and here a thorn was discovered and taken out.
"How pretty and cosy this room really is!" said Miss Brandt, looking around. "In a situation like this one can surely live in the country summer and winter. Out with us at Taarback it blows in through the windows, doors, and very walls."
"That must be bad in a whirlwind."
"Yes—yes: still, it might be quite amusing when the whirlwind carried such billets: not that one would care for them; yet they might be interesting for a while."
"Oh, yes! perhaps."
"Yes: how do you think a young girl would like it, when there came from Heaven a billet, in which one pledged himself to her for time and eternity?"
"That isn't easy to say; but I don't believe the occurrence quite so uncommon. A friend of mine once had such a billet blown to her, and she presented me with it."
"Does one give such things away? Have you the billet?"
"I will look for it," answered Miss Hjelm; and surely enough, after longer search in the sewing-table, in drawers, and small boxes, than was really necessary, she found it. Miss Brandt read it, taking care not to remark that it very much appeared to her as if it resembled the one the counsellor had mentioned.
"And such a billet one gives away!" she said after a pause.
"Yes: will you have it?" asked Miss Hjelm, as though after a sudden resolution.
Miss Brandt's first impulse was an eager acceptance; but she checked herself almost as quickly, and answered:
"Oh, yes, thank you, as a curiosity." Then slowly put it between her glove and hand.
As Miss Brandt and her company rode away, said Miss Hjelm's cousin, a handsome, middle-aged widow, to her:
"How is it, Ingeborg? It appears to me you laugh with one eye and weep with the other."
"Yes: a soap-bubble has burst for me, and glitters, maybe, for another."
"You know I seldom understand the sentimental enigmas: can you not interpret your words?"
"Yes: to-day an illusion has vanished, that had lasted for six years."
"For six years?" said her cousin, with an inquiring or sympathizing look. "So it began when you were hardly sixteen years."
"Now do you believe, that when I was in my sixteenth year I saw an ideal of a man, and was enamoured of him, and to-day I hear that he is married."
"No, I don't know as I believe just that," answered the cousin, dropping her eyes; "but I suppose that then you had a pretty vision, and have carried it along with you in silence—and with faith."
"But it was something more than a vision; it was a letter—a love- letter."
The cousin looked upon Ingeborg so inquiringly, so anxiously, that words were unnecessary. Beside this the cousin knew, that when Ingeborg was inclined to talk, she did so without being asked, and if she wished to be silent, she was silent.
Ingeborg continued: "One time, I drove to town with sainted father. Father was to go no further than to Noerrebro, and I had an errand at Vestervold. So I stepped out and went through the Love-path. As I came to the corner of the path, and the Ladegaardsway, the wind blew so violently against me, that I could hardly breathe; and something blew against my veil, fluttering with wings like a humming-bird. I tried to drive it away, for it blinded one of my eyes; but it blew back again. So I caught it and was going to let it fly away over my head, but that moment I saw it was written upon, and read it. It was a love-letter! A man wrote that he sent this as in old times the Norwegian emigrants let their high-seat pillars be carried by the sea, and where it came he would one time come, and bring his faith to his destined— Geb.'"
"'Geb'? What is that?" asked the cousin. "That is Ingeborg," answered Miss Hjelm, with a plain simplicity, showing how deeply she had believed in the earnestness of the message.
"It was really remarkable!" said the cousin, and added with a smile which perhaps was somewhat ironical: "And did you then resolve to remain unmarried, until the unknown letter-writer should come and redeem his vow?"
"I will not say that," answered Ingeborg, who quickly became more guarded; "but the letter perhaps contained some stronger requirements than under the circumstances could be fulfilled."
"So! and now?"
"Now I have presented the letter to Miss Brandt."
"You gave it away? Why?"
"Because I learned that the man, who perhaps or probably wrote it in his youth, has spoken about it publicly, and is counsellor in one of the courts."
"Oh, I understand," said the cousin, half audibly: "when the ideal is found out to be a counsellor, then—"
"Then it is not an ideal any longer? No. The whole had been spoiled by being fumbled in public. I would get away from the temptation to think of him. Do court to him, announce myself to him as the happy finder,—I could not."
"That I understand very well," said the cousin, putting her arm affectionately around Ingeborg's waist; "but why did you just give Miss Brandt the letter?"
"Because she is acquainted with the counsellor, and indeed, as far as I could understand, feels somewhat for him. They two can get each other; and what a wonderful consecration it will be when she on the marriage-day gives him the letter!"
The cousin said musingly: "And such secrets can live in one whole year, without another surmising it!" Suddenly she added: "But how will Miss Brandt on that occasion interpret the word 'Geb'?"
"Oh! I suppose a single syllable is of no consequence; and, besides, Miss Brandt is a judicious girl," answered Ingeborg, with an inexpressible flash in the dark eyes.
Good fortune seldom comes singly. One morning Criminal and Court Counsellor Bagger got, at his residence at Noerre Street, official intelligence that from the first of next month he was transferred to the King's Court, and in grace was promoted to be veritable counsellor of justice there; rank, fourth-class, number three. As, gratified by this friendly smile from above, he went out to repair to the court-house, he met in the porch a postman, who delivered him a letter. With thoughts yet busy with new title and court, Counsellor Bagger broke the letter, but remained as if fixed to the ground. In it he read:
"The high-seat pillars have come on shore.
One says well, that a man's love or season of courtship lasts till his thirtieth year, and after that time he is ambitious; but it is not always so, and with Counsellor Bagger it was in all respects the contrary. His ambition was already, if not fully reached, yet in some degree satisfied. The faculty of love had not been at all employed, and the letter came like a spark in a powder-cask; it ran glowing through every nerve. The youthful half of his soul, which had slept within him, wakened with such sudden, revolutionary strength, that the other half soul, which until now had borne rule, became completely subject; yes, so wholly, that Counsellor Bagger went past the court-house and came down in Court-house Street without noticing it. Suddenly he missed the big building with the pillars and inscription: "With law shall Lands be built;" looked around confused, and turned back.
So much was he still at this moment Criminal Examiner, that among the first thoughts or feelings which the mysterious letter excited in him was this: It can be a trick, a foolery. But in the next moment it occurred to him, that never to any living soul had he mentioned his bold figure of the high-seat pillars, and still less revealed the mysterious, to him so valued, syllable—geb—. No doubt could exist: the fine, perfumed paper, the delicate lady handwriting, and the few significant words testified, that the billet which once in youthful, sanguine longing he had entrusted to the winds of heaven, had come to a lady, and that in one way or another she had found him out. He remembered very well, that a single time, five or six weeks before, he had in a numerous company mentioned that incident, and he did not doubt that the story had extended itself as ripples do, when one throws a stone into the water; but where in the whole town, or indeed the land, had the ripple hit the exact point? He looked again at the envelope. It bore the stamp of the Copenhagen city mail: that was all. But that showed with some probability that the writer lived in Copenhagen, and maybe at this moment she looked down upon him from one of the many windows; for now he stood by the fountain. There was something in the paper, the handwriting, or more properly perhaps in the secrecy, that made her seem young, spirited, beautiful, piquant. There was something fairy-like, exalted, intoxicating, in the feeling that the object of the longing and hope of his youth had been under the protection of a good spirit, and that the great unknown had taken care of and prepared for him a companion, a wife, just at the moment when he had become Counsellor of Justice of the Superior Court. But who was she? This was the only thing painful in the affair; but this intriguing annoyance was not to be avoided, if the lady was to remain within her sphere, surrounded by respect and esteem.
"What would I have thought of a lady, a woman, who came straight forward and handed out the billet, saying: 'Here I am'?" he asked himself, at the moment when at last he had found the court-house stairs and was ascending.
How it fared that day with the examinations is recorded in criminal and police court documents; but a veil is thrown over it in consideration of the fact, that a man only once in his life is made Counsellor of Justice in the King's Court. The day following it went better; although it is pretty sure that a horse thief went free from further reproof, because the counsellor was busy rolling that stone up the mountain: Where shall I seek her if she does not write again? Will she write again? If she would do that, why did she not write a little more at first?
A couple of weeks after the receipt of the letter, one evening about seven o'clock, the counsellor sat at home, not as before by his writing-table busy with acts, but on a corner of the sofa, with drooping arms, deeply absorbed in a mixture of anxious doubts and dreaming expectations. Hope built air-castles, and doubt then puffed them over like card-houses. One of his fancies was, that she summoned him—he would not even in thought use the expression: gave him an interview—at a masquerade. It was consequently no common masquerade, but a grand, elegant masked ball, to which a true lady could repair. The clock was at eleven, the appointed hour: he waited anxiously the pressing five minutes; then she came and extended him the fine hand in the finest straw-colored glove—
"Letter to the Counsellor of Justice," said Jens, with strong Funen accent, and short, soldierly pronunciation.
It is so uncommon that what one longs for comes just at the moment of most earnest desire; but notwithstanding the letter was from her, the Counsellor of Justice knew the superscription, would have known it among a hundred thousand. The letter read thus:
"I ought to be open towards you; and, as we shall never meet, I can be so."
Here the Counsellor of Justice stopped a moment and caught for breath. A good many of our twenty-year-old beaux, who have never been admitted to the bar, far less have been Court Counsellors, would, under similar circumstances, have said to themselves: "She writes that she will be open; that is to say, now she will fool me: we will never meet; that is to say, now I shall soon see her." But Counsellor Bagger believed every word as gospel, and his knees trembled. He read further:
"I am ashamed of the few words I last wrote you; but my apology is, that it is only two days since I learned that you are married. I have been mistaken, but more in what may be imputed to me than in what I have thought. My only comfort is, that I shall never be known by you or anybody, and that I shall be forgotten, as I shall forget."
"Never! But who can have spread the infamous slander! What dreadful treachery of some wretch or gossiping wench, who knows nothing about me! And how can she believe it! How in such a town as Copenhagen can it be a matter of doubt for five minutes, if a Superior Court Counsellor is married or not! Or maybe there is some other Counsellor Bagger married,—a Chamber Counsellor or the like? Or maybe she lives at a distance, in a quiet world, so that the truth of it does not easily reach her? So there is no sunshine more!
"If she should sometime meet me, and know that I was, am, and have been unmarried, that meanwhile we have both become old and gray,— can one think of anything more sad? It is enough to make the heart cease beating! But suppose, too, that to-morrow she finds out that she has been deceived: she has once written, 'I was mistaken,' and cannot, as a true woman, write it again, unless she first heard from me, and learned how I longed—and so I am cut off from her, as if I lived in the moon. More, more! for I can meet her upon the street and touch her arm without surmising it. It is insupportable! Our time has mail, steamboats, railroads, telegraphs: to me these do not exist; for of what use are they altogether, when one knows not where to search."
A thought came suddenly, like a meteor in the dark: advertise. What family in Copenhagen did not the Address Paper reach? He would put in an advertisement,—but how? "Fritz Bagger is not married."—No: that was too plain.—"F. B. is not married."—No: that was not plain enough. As he could find no successful use for his own name, it flashed into his mind to use hers,—geb—; and although it was painful to him to publish this, to him, almost sacred syllable for profane eyes to gaze upon, yet it comforted him, that only one, she herself, would understand it. Yet he hesitated. But one cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs; and although the heart's finest fibres ache at the thought of sending a message to a fairy through the Address Paper, yet one yields to this rather than lose the fairy.
At last, after numerous efforts he stopped at this: "—geb—! It is a mistake: he waits only for—geb—." It appeared to him to contain the approach to a happy result, and tired out by emotion he fell asleep on his sofa.
Some days after came a new letter with the dear handwriting: its contents were:
"Well! appear eight days from to-day at Mrs. Canuteson's, to congratulate her upon her birthday."
This was sunshine after thunder; this was hope's rainbow which arched itself up to heaven from the earth, yet wet with tears.
"And so she belongs to good society," said the Counsellor of Justice, without noticing how by these words he discovered to himself that a doubt or suspicion had lain until now behind his ecstasy. "But," he added, "consequently, it is my own friends who have spread the rumor of my marriage. Friends indeed! A wife is a man's only friend. It is hard, suicidal, to remain a bachelor."
On the appointed day he went too early. Mrs. Canuteson was yet alone. She was surprised at his congratulatory visit; but, however, as it was a courtesy, the surprise was mingled with delight, and Bagger was not the man whose visit a lady would not receive with pleasure. With that ingenuity of wit one can sometimes have, just when the heart is full and taken possession of, he did wonders, and entertained the lady in so lively a manner that she did not perceive how long a time he was passing with her. As the door at length opened, the lady exclaimed:
"Oh, that is charming! Heartily welcome! Thank you for last time, [Footnote: In Sweden and Norway when the guest meets the host or hostess for the first time after an entertainment, the first greeting on the part of the former is always, "Thank you for the last time."] and for all the good in your house! How does your mother do? This amiable young lady's acquaintance I made last summer when we were in the country, and at last she is so good as to keep her promise and visit me. Counsellor Bagger—Miss Hjelm."
The Counsellor wasn't sure that it was She, but he was convinced that it ought to be. Not to speak of Ingeborg Hjelm's being really amiable and distinguee, his heart was now prepared, as a photographer's glass which has received collodium, and took the first girl picture that met it. He was quite afraid that there would come more to choose among. Yet the fairy brightness of the unknown had at this moment lost itself for him; for, however brilliant it may appear to the fancy, it cannot be compared with the warm, beautiful reality, particularly so long as this itself is new and unknown.
He approached and spoke to Miss Hjelm with painful hidden emotion of soul. She was friendly and open, for the name Counsellor Bagger did not occur to her; and the idea she had formed of him did not at all compare with the young, elegant, handsome man she was now speaking with. True enough, his manner was somewhat peculiarly gallant, which a lady cannot easily mistake; but this gallantry was united with such an unmistakable respect, or more properly awe, that he gave her the impression of a poetical, knightly nature.
By and by there came more ladies, both married and unmarried, but Bagger had almost forgotten what errand they could have with him. At last Miss Brandt came also, accompanied by her sister. As she opened the door, and saw Bagger by the side of Miss Hjelm, she gave a little, a very little, cry, or, more properly, gasped aloud for breath, and made a movement, as if something kept her back.
"Oh! my dress caught," she said, arranged it a little, and then approached Mrs. Canuteson, with smiling face, to offer her congratulation.
Bagger looked at the watch: he had been there two hours! After yet lingering to exchange a few polite words with Miss Brandt, he took leave. His visit had in all respects been so unusual, and had given occasion for so much comment, that it required more time than could be given there; and his name was not at all mentioned after he left.
Now it is certainly true, that whenever Counsellor Bagger was seen for quite a time, he was mostly dreaming and suffering; and people who have not themselves experienced something similar, or have not a fancy for putting themselves in his place, will say, perhaps, that they could have managed themselves better. But, at all events, it cannot be said, that from this time forward he was unpractical; for within eight days from Mrs. Canuteson's birthday he had not only learned where Miss Hjelm lived, but had established himself in a tavern close by the farm, and obtained admittance to the house, which last was not so difficult, since Mrs. Hjelm was a friendly, hospitable lady, and since neither her daughter nor niece thought they ought to prejudice her against him.
In this manner four or five days passed away, which, to judge from Bagger's appearance, were to him very pleasant. He wrote to his colleagues in the Superior Court, that one could only value an autumn in Nature's lap after so laborious and health-destroying work as his life for many years had been. Then one day he received a letter from the unknown, reading thus:
"Be more successful than last time, at Mrs. Emmy Lund's on Tuesday, two o'clock. Please notice, two o'clock precisely."
"Does she mean so? Is she really coquettish? Yet I think I have been successful so far," said Bagger to himself, and waited for the Tuesday with comparative ease; in truth he did not at all understand why he should be troubled to go to town.
As early on Tuesday forenoon as proper, he went over to the farm, and was somewhat surprised that there was to be seen no preparation for a town journey. Ingeborg, in her usual morning dress, was seated at the sewing-table. He waited until towards twelve o'clock, calculating that two hours was the least she needed in which to dress and drive to town. The long hand threatened to touch the short hand at the number twelve, without any appearance of Ingeborg's noticing it. She only now and then cast a stealthy look at him, for it had not escaped her, nor the others, that he was in expectancy and excitement. When the clock struck twelve,—he was just alone with her,—he asked suddenly, in a quick, trembling voice:
"Miss Hjelm, you know I am Superior Court Counsellor?"
"No: that I did not know," she said almost with dread, and arose. "No: that I have never known!"
"But allow me, dear lady, so you know it now," he said, surprised that the title or profession produced so strong an effect.
"Yes, now I know it," she said, and held her hand upon her heart. "Why do you tell me that? What does that signify?"
"Nothing else, Miss Hjelm, than that you may understand that I don't believe in witchcraft."
A speaker's physiognomy is often more intelligible than his words; and as Miss Hjelm saw the both hearty and spirited or jovial expression in the counsellor's face, she had not that inclination, which she under other circumstances would have had, quickly to break off the conversation and go away. It is possible, also, that his situation as Superior Court Counsellor—as that counsellor mentioned by Miss Brandt—did not, after a moment's consideration, appear to her so dreadful as at the first moment of surprise. So she answered:
"But, Mr. Counsellor, is there then anybody who has accused you of believing in witchcraft?"
"No, dear madam; but for all that I can assure you, that at the moment the clock struck twelve I thought that you, by two o'clock, most fly away in the form of a bird."
"As the clock struck twelve now, at noon?—not at midnight?"
"No, just a little since."
"That is remarkable. Can you satisfy my curiosity, and tell me why?"
"Because under ordinary circumstances it appears to me impossible for a lady to make her toilette and drive ten miles in less than two hours."
"That is quite true, Mr. Counsellor; but neither do I intend to drive ten miles to-day."
"It was for that reason that I said, fly."
"Neither fly. And to convince you and quite certainly rid you of the idea of witchcraft, you can stay here, if you please, until— what time was it?"
"That is two long hours; but the Counsellor can, if he please, lay that offering upon the altar of education."
"Oh! I know another altar, upon which I would rather offer the two only all too short hours"—.
"Let it now be upon that of education. You promised my cousin and me that you would read to us about popular science of nature and interesting facts in the life of animals."
"Yes, dear madam; but I cannot fly: my carriage stands waiting at the tavern."
"Oh, I beg pardon! an agreeable journey, Mr. Counsellor."
"Yes; but I don't understand why I shall drive the ten miles."
"Every one knows his own concerns best."
"Oh, yes! that is true. But I at least don't know mine."
Miss Hjelm made no answer to this, and there was a little pause.
"I would," continued the counsellor, somewhat puzzled, "take the great liberty to propose that you should ride with me."
"I have already told the Counsellor that I did not intend to go to town to-day," answered Miss Hjelm, coldly.
"Yes," continued Bagger, following his own ideas, "and so I thought, also, that we could as well stay here."
At this moment Bagger was so earnest and impassioned, that Ingeborg, in hearing words so very wide of what she regarded as reasonable, began to suspect his mind of being a little disordered, and with an inquiring anxiousness looked at him.
Meeting the look from these eyes, Bagger could no longer continue the inquisition which he had carried on for the sake of involving Miss Hjelm in self-contradiction and bringing her to confession. He himself came to confession, and exclaimed:
"Miss Ingeborg, I ask you for Heaven's sake have pity on me, and tell me if you expect me at two o'clock to-day at Mrs. Lund's!"
"I expect you at Mrs. Lund's!" exclaimed Miss Hjelm.
"Is it not you, then, who have written me that—"
"I have never written to you!" cried Ingeborg, and almost tore away the hand which Bagger tried to hold.
"For God's sake, don't go, Miss—! My dear madam, you must forgive me: you shall know all!"
And now he began to tell his tale, not according to rules of rhetoric and logic, but on the contrary in a way which certainly showed how little even our abler lawyers are educated to extemporize.
But, however, there was in his words a certain almost wild eloquence; and, beside, Miss Hjelm had some foreknowledge, that helped her to understand and fill up what was wanting under the counsellor's restless eloquence. At last he came to the point; while his words were of whirlwind and letters, his tone and eye spoke, unconsciously to him, a true, honest, though fanciful language of passion; and however comical a disinterested spectator might have found it, it sounded very earnest to her who was the object and sympathetic listener.
"Yes; but what then?" at last asked Ingeborg, with a soft smile and not withdrawing the hand that Bagger had seized. "The proper meaning of what you have told me is that your troth is plighted to another, unknown lady."
"No: that isn't the proper meaning—"
"But yet it is a fact. At the moment when you stand at the altar with one, another can step forward and claim you."
"Oh, that kind of a claim! A piece of paper without signature, sent away in the air! In law it has no validity at all, and morally it has no power, when I love another as I love you, Ingeborg!"
"That I am not sure of. It appears to me there is something painful in not being faithful to one's youth and its promises, and in the consciousness of having deceived another."
"You say this so earnestly, Ingeborg, that you make me desperate. I confess that there is something ... something I would wish otherwise ... but for Heaven's sake, make it not so earnest!"
As Ingeborg knew so well about it, she could not regard the matter as earnestly as her words denoted; but for another reason she had suddenly conceived or felt an earnestness. It would not do to have a husband with so much fancy as Bagger, always having something unknown, fairy-like, lying out upon the horizon, holding claim upon him from his youth; and on the other hand it was against her principles, notwithstanding her confidence in his silence, to convey to him the knowledge that it was Miss Brandt who played fairy.
She said to him, "You must have your letter, your obligation, your marriage promise back."
"Yes," he answered with a sigh of discouragement: "it is true enough I ought; but where shall I turn? That is just the immeasurable difficulty."
"Write by the same mail as before."
"Let the whirlwind, that brought the first letter to its destination, also take care of this, in which you demand your word back."
"Oh, that you do not mean! Or, if you mean it, then I may honestly confess that I am not young any more or have not received another youth. I have not courage to write anything, for fear it should come to others than to you."
"So I see that, after all, I may act as witch to-day. Write, and I will take care of the letter: do you hesitate?"
"No: only it took me a moment to comprehend the promise involved in this that you will take care of my letter. I obey you blindly; but what shall I write?"
"Write: 'Dear fairy,—Since I woo Miss Hjelm's hand and heart,'—"
"Oh, you acknowledge it! O Ingeborg, the Lord's blessing upon you!" said Bagger, and would rise.
"'I ask you to send me my billet back.'—Have you that?"
"Yes, Ingeborg, my Ingeborg, my unspeakably loved Ingeborg! How poor language is, when the heart is so full!"
"Now, name, date, and address. Have you that? 'Postscriptum. I give you my word of honor, that I neither know who you are, or how this letter shall reach you.'—Have you that?"
"That I can truly give. I am as blind as"...
"Let me add the witch-formulae."
"O Ingeborg, you will write upon the same paper with me, in a letter where I have written your name!"
"Hand me the pen. We must have the letter sent to the mail before two o'clock."
"Two o'clock. How queer! The last letter reads: 'Take notice of the striking two.'"
"That we will," said Ingeborg.
She wrote: "Dear Miss Brandt, I, too, ask you to send the Counsellor his billet, and I pray you to write upon it: 'Given me by Miss Hjelm.' It is best for all parties that the fun does not come out in gossip. You shall, by return of mail, receive back your letters."
It is allowed to charitable minds to remain in doubt about what had really been Miss Brandt's design. Perhaps she only wished to make roguish psychological experiments, to convince herself to how many forenoon congratulatory visits a Counsellor of Justice of the Superior Court could be brought to appear. The emotion she almost exposed, when at Mrs. Canuteson's she saw Bagger by Miss Hjelm's side, may have been pure surprise at the working of the affair. Every one of the rest of us who have been conversant with the whirlwind, the letter, and Ingeborg's relinquishment of the same, would also have been surprised at seeing her and the letter-writer brought together notwithstanding, and would not, perhaps, have been able with as much ease and success to hide our surprise. The letter to Bagger, in which Miss Brandt, contrary to her better knowledge, spoke of him as married, may have been a sincere attempt to end the whole in a way which repentance and anxiety quickly seized upon to put an insurmountable hindrance before herself; but it may surely enough have had also the aim to see how far Bagger had gone and how much spirit and fancy he had to carry the intrigue out. The more one thinks upon it, the less one feels able to give either of the two interpretations absolute preference. Yet one will have remarked, that Ingeborg herself in her little note mentioned the matter as "fun." On the other side, if it was earnestness, if she had felt "somewhat" for Counsellor Bagger, then let us take comfort in the fact that Miss Brandt was a well-cultivated girl, and that her intellect held dominion over her heart. She could with one eye see that the campaign had ended, and further, that she, by receiving peace pure and simple, had certainly not gained any conquest, but obtained the status quo ante bellum, which often between antagonists has been considered so respectable, that both parties officially have sung Te Deum, although surely only one could sing it from the heart. Now it is and may remain undecided what the real state of the case was: from either point of view there was a plain and even line drawn for her, and she followed it. Next day the letter came in an envelope directed to the counsellor.
As Bagger in the presence of Ingeborg opened the letter and again saw the long-lost epistle of his early days, he trembled like a man before whom the spirit-world apparently passes. But as he perceived the added words, he exclaimed in utter perplexity: "Am I awake? Do I dream? How is this possible?"
"Why should it not be possible?" asked Ingeborg. "To whom else should the letter originally have come, than to—geb—?"
"—Geb—?—geb—? Yes, who is—geb—?" asked Bagger with bewildered look.
"Who other than Ingeborg? is it not the third fourth, and fifth letters of my name?"
"Oh!" exclaimed Bagger, pressing his hand upon his forehead, and, as he at the next moment seized Ingeborg's hand, added with an eye which had become dim with joy, "Truly, I have had more fortune than sense."
Ingeborg answered, smiling:
"That ought he to expect who entrusts his fate to the wind's flying mail."
THE RAILROAD AND THE CHURCHYARD
From "The Flying Mail" Translated by Carl Larsen.
THE RAILROAD AND THE CHURCH-YARD
Canute Aakre belonged to an ancient family of the parish, where it had always been distinguished for its intelligence and care for the public good. His father through self-exertion had attained to the ministry, but had died early, and his widow being by birth a peasant, the children were brought up as farmers. Consequently, Canute's education was only of the kind afforded by the public school; but his father's library had early inspired him with a desire for knowledge, which was increased by association with his friend Henrik Wergeland, who often visited him or sent him books, seeds for his farm, and much good counsel. Agreeably to his advice, Canute early got up a club for practice in debating and study of the constitution, but which finally became a practical agricultural society, for this and the surrounding parishes. He also established a parish library, giving his father's books as its first endowment, and organized in his own house a Sunday- school for persons wishing to learn penmanship, arithmetic, and history. In this way the attention of the public was fixed upon him, and he was chosen a member of the board of parish- commissioners, of which he soon became chairman. Here he continued his endeavors to advance the school interests, which he succeeded in placing in an admirable condition.
Canute Aakre was a short-built, active man, with small sharp eyes and disorderly hair. He had large lips which seemed constantly working, and a row of excellent teeth which had the same appearance, for they shone when he spoke his clear sharp words, which came out with a snap, as when the sparks are emitted from a great fire.
Among the many he had helped to an education, his neighbor Lars Hogstad stood foremost. Lars was not much younger than Canute, but had developed more slowly. Being in the habit of talking much of what he read and thought, Canute found in Lars—who bore a quiet, earnest manner—a good listener, and step by step a sensible judge. The result was, that he went reluctantly to the meetings of the board, unless first furnished with Lars Hogstad's advice, concerning whatever matter of importance was before it, which matter was thus most likely to result in practical improvement. Canute's influence, therefore, brought his neighbor in as a member of the board, and finally into everything with which he himself was connected. They always rode together to the meetings, where Lars never spoke, and only on the road to and from, could Canute learn his opinion. They were looked upon as inseparable.
One fine autumn day, the parish-commissioners were convened, for the purpose of considering, among other matters, a proposal made by the Foged, to sell the public grain-magazine, and with the proceeds establish a savings-bank. Canute Aakre, the chairman, would certainly have approved this, had he been guided by his better judgment; but, in the first place, the motion was made by the Foged, whom Wergeland did not like, consequently, neither did Canute; secondly, the grain-magazine had been erected by his powerful paternal grandfather, by whom it was presented to the parish. To him the proposal was not free from an appearance of personal offence; therefore, he had not spoken of it to any one, not even to Lars, who never himself introduced a subject.
As chairman, Canute read the proposal without comment, but, according to his habit, looked over to Lars, who sat as usual a little to one side, holding a straw between his teeth; this he always did when entering upon a subject, using it as he would a toothpick, letting it hang loosely in one corner of his mouth, or turning it more quickly or slowly, according to the humor he was in. Canute now saw with surprise, that the straw moved very fast. He asked quickly, "Do you think we ought to agree to this?"
Lars answered dryly, "Yes, I do."
The whole assembly, feeling that Canute was of quite a different opinion, seemed struck, and looked at Lars, who said nothing further, nor was further questioned. Canute turned to another subject, as if nothing had happened, and did not again resume the question till toward the close of the meeting, when he asked with an air of indifference if they should send it back to the Foged for closer consideration, as it certainly was contrary to the mind of the people of the parish, by whom the grain-magazine was highly valued; also, if he should put upon the record, "Proposal deemed inexpedient."
"Against one vote," said Lars.
"Against two," said another instantly.
"Against three," said a third, and before the chairman had recovered from his surprise, a majority had declared in favor of the proposal.
He wrote; then read in a low tone, "Referred for acceptance, and the meeting adjourned." Canute, rising and closing the "Records," blushed deeply, but resolved to have this vote defeated in the parish meeting. In the yard he hitched his horse to the wagon, and Lars came and seated himself by his side. On the way home they spoke upon various subjects, but not upon this.
On the following day Canute's wife started for Lars' house, to inquire of his wife if anything had happened between their husbands; Canute had appeared so queerly when he returned home the evening previous. A little beyond the house she met Lars' wife, who came to make the same inquiry on account of a similar peculiar behavior in her husband. Lars' wife was a quiet, timid thing, easily frightened, not by hard words, but by silence; for Lars never spoke to her unless she had done wrong, or he feared she would do so. On the contrary, Canute Aakre's wife spoke much with her husband, and particularly about the commissioners' meetings, for lately they had taken his thoughts, work, and love from her and the children. She was jealous of it as of a woman, she wept at night about it, and quarrelled with her husband concerning it in the day. But now she could say nothing; for once he had returned home unhappy; she immediately became much more so than he, and for the life of her she must know what was the matter. So as Lars' wife could tell her nothing, she had to go for information out in the parish, where she obtained it, and of course was instantly of her husband's opinion, thinking Lars incomprehensible, not to say bad. But when she let her husband perceive this, she felt that, notwithstanding what had occurred, no friendship was broken between them; on the contrary, that he liked Lars very much.
The day for the parish meeting came. In the morning, Lars Hogstad drove over for Canute Aakre, who came out and took a seat beside him. They saluted each other as usual, spoke a little less than they were wont on the way, but not at all of the proposal. The meeting was full; some, too, had come in as spectators, which Canute did not like, for he perceived by this a little excitement in the parish. Lars had his straw, and stood by the stove, warming himself, for the autumn had begun to be cold. The chairman read the proposal in a subdued and careful manner, adding, that it came from the Foged, who was not habitually fortunate. The building was a gift, and such things it was not customary to part with, least of all when there was no necessity for it.
Lars, who never before had spoken in the meetings, to the surprise of all, took the floor. His voice trembled; whether this was caused by regard for Canute, or anxiety for the success of the bill, we cannot say; but his arguments were clear, good, and of such a comprehensive and compact character as had hardly before been heard in these meetings. In concluding, he said:
"Of what importance is it that the proposal is from the Foged?— none,—or who it was that erected the house, or in what way it became the public property?"
Canute, who blushed easily, turned very red, and moved nervously as usual when he was impatient; but notwithstanding, he answered in a low, careful tone, that there were savings banks enough in the country, he thought, quite near, and almost too near. But if one was to be instituted, there were other ways of attaining this end, than by trampling upon the gifts of the dead, and the love of the living. His voice was a little unsteady when he said this, but recovered its composure, when he began to speak of the grain magazine as such, and reason concerning its utility.
Lars answered him ably on this last, adding: "Besides, for many reasons I would be led to doubt whether the affairs of this parish are to be conducted for the best interests of the living, or for the memory of the dead; or further, whether it is the love and hate of a single family which rules, rather than the welfare of the whole."
Canute answered quickly: "I don't know whether the last speaker has been the one least benefited not only by the dead of this family, but also by its still living representative."
In this remark he aimed first at the fact that his powerful grandfather had, in his day, managed the farm for Lars' grandfather, when the latter, on his own account, was on a little visit to the penitentiary.
The straw, which had been moving quickly for a long time, was now still:
"I am not in the habit of speaking everywhere of myself and family," said he, treating the matter with calm superiority; then he reviewed the whole matter in question, aiming throughout at a particular point. Canute was forced to acknowledge to himself, that he had never looked upon it from that standpoint, or heard such reasoning; involuntarily he had to turn his eye upon Lars. There he stood tall and portly, with clearness marked upon the strongly-built forehead and in the deep eyes. His mouth was compressed, the straw still hung playing in its corner, but great strength lay around. He kept his hands behind him, standing erect, while his low deep intonations seemed as if from the ground in which he was rooted. Canute saw him for the first time in his life, and from his inmost soul felt a dread of him; for unmistakably this man had always been his superior! He had taken all Canute himself knew or could impart, but retained only what had nourished this strong hidden growth.
He had loved and cherished Lars, but now that he had become a giant, he hated him deeply, fearfully; he could not explain to himself why he thought so, but he felt it instinctively, while gazing upon him; and in this forgetting all else, he exclaimed:
"But Lars! Lars! what in the Lord's name ails you?"
He lost all self-control,—"you, whom I have"—"you, who have"—he couldn't get out another word, and seated himself, only to struggle against the excitement which he was unwilling to have Lars see; he drew himself up, struck the table with his fist, and his eyes snapped from below the stiff disorderly hair which always shaded them. Lars appeared as if he had not been interrupted, only turning his head to the assembly, asking if this should be considered the decisive blow in the matter, for in such a case nothing more need be said.
Canute could not endure this calmness.
"What is it that has come among us?" he cried. "Us, who to this day have never debated but in love and upright zeal? We are infuriated at each other as if incited by an evil spirit;" and he looked with fiery eyes upon Lars, who answered:
"You yourself surely bring in this spirit, Canute, for I have spoken only of the case. But you will look upon it only through your own self-will; now we shall see if your love and upright zeal will endure, when once it is decided agreeably to our wish."
"Have I not, then, taken good care of the interests of the parish?"
No reply. This grieved Canute, and he continued:
"Really, I did not think otherwise than that I had accomplished something;—something for the good of the parish;—but may be I have deceived myself."
He became excited again, for it was a fiery spirit within him, which was broken in many ways, and the parting with Lars grieved him, so he could hardly control himself. Lars answered:
"Yes, I know you give yourself the credit for all that is done here, and should one judge by much speaking in the meetings, then surely you have accomplished the most."
"Oh, is it this!" shouted Canute, looking sharply upon Lars: "it is you who have the honor of it!"
"Since we necessarily talk of ourselves," replied Lars, "I will say that all matters have been carefully considered by us before they were introduced here."
Here little Canute Aakre resumed his quick way of speaking:
"In God's name take the honor, I am content to live without it; there are other things harder to lose!"
Involuntarily Lars turned his eye from Canute, but said, the straw moving very quickly: "If I were to speak my mind, I should say there is not much to take honor for;—of course ministers and teachers may be satisfied with what has been done; but, certainly, the common men say only that up to this time the taxes have become heavier and heavier."
A murmur arose in the assembly, which now became restless. Lars continued:
"Finally, to-day, a proposition is made which, if carried, would recompense the parish for all it has laid out; perhaps, for this reason, it meets such opposition. It is the affair of the parish, for the benefit of all its inhabitants, and ought to be rescued from being a family matter." The audience exchanged glances, and spoke half audibly, when one threw out a remark as he rose to go to his dinner-pail, that these were "the truest words he had heard in the meetings for many years." Now all arose, and the conversation became general. Canute Aakre felt as he sat there that the case was lost, fearfully lost; and tried no more to save it. He had somewhat of the character attributed to Frenchmen, in that he was good for first, second, and third attacks, but poor for self-defence—his sensibilities overpowering his thoughts.
He could not comprehend it, nor could he sit quietly any longer; so, yielding his place to the vice-chairman, he left,—and the audience smiled.
He had come to the meeting accompanied by Lars, but returned home alone, though the road was long. It was a cold autumn day; the way looked jagged and bare, the meadow gray and yellow; while frost had begun to appear here and there on the roadside. Disappointment is a dreadful companion. He felt himself so small and desolate, walking there; but Lars was everywhere before him, like a giant, his head towering, in the dusk of evening, to the sky. It was his own fault that this had been the decisive battle, and the thought grieved him sorely: he had staked too much upon a single little affair. But surprise, pain, anger, had mastered him; his heart still burned, shrieked, and moaned within him. He heard the rattling of a wagon behind; it was Lars, who came driving his superb horse past him at a brisk trot, so that the hard road gave a sound of thunder. Canute gazed after him, as he sat there so broad-shouldered in the wagon, while the horse, impatient for home, hurried on unurged by Lars, who only gave loose rein. It was a picture of his power; this man drove toward the mark! He, Canute, felt as if thrown out of his wagon to stagger along there in the autumn cold.