Fredrika Bremer's Works.
STRIFE AND PEACE.
Translated by Mary Howitt.
London: Henry G. Bohn, York Street, Covent Garden. 1853.
OLD NORWAY HEIMDAL. THE POULTRY. THE WATER OF STRIFE. FIRST STRIFE. MRS. ASTRID. THE BREWHOUSE. THE GARRET. THE DAIRY. EVENING HOURS. CHRISTMAS. QUIET WEEKS. A MAY DAY. SPRING FEELINGS. MAN AND WIFE. A FRESH STRIFE. ALETTE. AN EVENING IN THE SITTING-ROOM. RETREATING AND ADVANCING. A GLANCE INTO NORDLAND. THE RETURN. THE HALLING. AASGAARDSREIJA. THE MOUNTAIN JOURNEY. THE AWAKENING. THE LAST STRIFE. AN AFTER-WORD.
STRIFE AND PEACE.
Still the old tempests rage around the mountains, And ocean's billows as of old appear; The roaring wood and the resounding fountains Time has not silenced in his long career, For Nature is the same as ever.
The shadow of God wanders through Nature.
Before yet a song of joy or of mourning had gone forth from the valleys of Norway—before yet a smoke-wreath had ascended from its huts—before an axe had felled a tree of its woods—before yet king Nor burst forth from Jotunhem to seek his lost sister, and passing through the land gave to it his name; nay, before yet there was a Norwegian, stood the high Dovre mountains with snowy summits before the face of the Creator.
Westward stretches itself out the gigantic mountain chain as far as Romsdahlshorn, whose foot is bathed by the Atlantic ocean. Southward it forms under various names (Langfjeld, Sognefjeld, Filefjeld, Hardangerfjeld, and so forth), that stupendous mountainous district which in a stretch of a hundred and fifty geographical miles comprehends all that nature possesses of magnificent, fruitful, lovely, and charming. Here stands yet, as in the first days of the world, in Upper Tellemark, the Fjellstuga, or rock-house, built by an invisible hand, and whose icy walls and towers that hand alone can overthrow: here still, as in the morning of time, meet together at Midsummer, upon the snowy foreheads of the ancient mountains, the rose-tint of morning and the rose-tint of evening for a brotherly kiss; still roar as then the mountain torrents which hurl themselves into the abyss; still reflect the ice-mirrors of the glaciers the same objects—now delighting, now awakening horror; and still to-day, even as then, are there Alpine tracts which the foot of man never ascended: valleys of wood, "lonesome cells of nature," upon which only the eagle and the Midsummer-sun have looked down. Here is the old, ever young, Norway; here the eye of the beholder is astonished, but his heart expands itself; he forgets his own suffering, his own joy, forgets all that is trivial, whilst with a holy awe he has a feeling that "the shadow of God wanders through nature."
In the heart of Norway lies this country. Is the soul wearied with the tumults of the world or fatigued with the trifles of poor every-day life—is it depressed by the confined atmosphere of the room,—with the dust of books, the dust of company, or any other kind of dust (there are in the world so many kinds, and they all cover the soul with a great dust mantle); or is she torn by deep consuming passions,—then fly, fly towards the still heart of Norway, listen there to the fresh mighty throbbing of the heart of nature; alone with the quiet, calm, and yet so eloquent, objects of nature, and there wilt thou gain strength and life! There falls no dust. Fresh and clear stand the thoughts of life there, as in the days of their creation. "Wilt thou behold the great and the majestic? Behold the Gausta, which raises its colossal knees six thousand feet above the surface of the earth; behold the wild giant forms of Hurrungen, Fannarauken, Mugnafjeld; behold the Rjukan (the rushing), the Voering, and Vedal rivers foaming and thundering over the mountains and plunging down in the abysses! And wilt though delight thyself in the charming, the beautiful? They exist among these fruitful scenes in peaceful solitude. The Saeter-hut stands in the narrow valley; herds of cattle graze on the beautiful grassy meadows; the Saeter-maiden, with fresh-colour, blue eyes, and bright plaits of hair, tends them and sings the while the simple, the gentle melancholy airs of the country; and like a mirror for that charming picture, there lies in the middle of the valley a little lake (kjoern), deep, still, and of a clear blue colour, as is generally peculiar to the glacier water. All breathes an idyllian peace."
But a presentiment of death appears, even in the morning hour of creation, to have impressed its seal upon this country. The vast shadows of the dark mountain masses fall upon valleys where nothing but moss grows; upon lakes whose still waters are full of never-melted ice—thus the Cold Valley, the Cold Lake (Koledal and Koldesjoe), with their dead, grey-yellow shores. The stillness of death reigns in this wilderness, interrupted only by the thunderings of the avalanche and by the noise which occasions the motion of the glaciers. No bird moves its wings or raises its twittering in this sorrowful region; only the melodious sighs of the cuckoo are borne thither by the winds at Midsummer.
Wilt thou, however, see life in its pomp and fairest magnificence? Then see the embrace of the winter and the summer in old Norway; descend into the plain of Svalem, behold the valleys of Aamaadt and Sillejord, or the paradisaically beautiful Vestfjordal, through which the Man flows still and clear as a mirror, and embraces in its course little, bright green islands, which are overgrown with bluebells and sweet-scented wood-lilies; see how the silver stream winds itself down from the mountains, between groups of trees and fruitful fields; see how, behind the near hills with their leafy woods, the snow-mountains elevate themselves, and like worthy patriarchs look down upon a younger generation; observe in these valleys the morning and evening play of colours upon the heights, in the depths; see the affluent pomp of the storm; see the calm magnificence of the rainbow, as it vaults itself over the waterfall,—depressed spirit, see this, understand it, and—— breathe!
From these beautifully, universally known scenes we withdraw ourselves to a more unknown region, to the great stretch of valley where the Skogshorn rears itself to the clouds; where Urunda flows brightly between rocks,—the waterfalls of Djupadahl stream not the less charmingly and proudly because they are only rarely admired by the eyes of curious travellers. We set ourselves down in a region whose name and situation we counsel nobody to seek out in maps, and which we call—
Knowest thou the deep, cool dale, Where church-like stillness doth prevail; Where neither flock nor herd you meet; Which hath no name nor track of feet?
Heimdal, we call a branch of Hallingdal, misplace it in the parish of Aal, and turn it over to the learned—that they may wonder at our boldness. Like its mother valley it possesses no historical memories. Of the old kings of Hallingdal one knows but very little. Only a few monumental stones, a few burial-mounds, give a dim intelligence of the mighty who have been. It is true that a people dwelt here, who from untold ages were renowned as well for their simplicity and their contentedness under severe circumstances as for their wild contest-loving disposition; but still, in quiet as in unquiet, built and dwelt, lived and died here, without tumult and without glory, among the ancient mountains and the pine-woods, unobserved by the rest of the world.
One river, the son of Hallen-Jokul, flows through Heimdal. Foaming with wild rage it comes through the narrow mountain-pass down into the valley, finds there a freer field, becomes calm, and flows clear as a mirror between green shores, till its banks become again compressed together by granite mountains. Then is it again seized upon by disquiet, and rushes thence in wild curves till it flings itself into the great Hallingdal river, and there dies.
Exactly there, where the stream spreads itself out in the extended valley, lies a large estate. A well-built, but somewhat decayed, dwelling-house of wood stretches out its arms into the depths of the valley. Thence may be seen a beautiful prospect, far, far into the blue distance. Hills overgrown with, wood stretch upward from the river, and cottages surrounded with inclosed fields and beautiful grassy paths, lie scattered at the foot of the hills. On the other side of the river, a mile-and-half from the Grange, a chapel raises its peaceful tower. Beyond this the valley gradually contracts itself.
On a cool September evening, strangers arrived at the Grange, which had now been long uninhabited. It was an elderly lady, of a noble but gloomy exterior, in deep mourning. A young, blooming maiden accompanied her. They were received by a young man, who was called there "the Steward." The dark-appareled lady vanished in the house, and after that was seen nowhere in the valley for several months. They called her there "the Colonel's lady," and said Mrs. Astrid Hjelm had experienced a very strange fate, of which many various histories were in circulation. At the estate of Semb, which consisted of the wide-stretching valley of Heimdal, and which was her paternal heritage, had she never, since the time of her marriage, been seen. Now as widow she had again sought out the home of her childhood. It was known also and told, that her attendant was a Swedish girl, who had come with her from one of the Swedish watering-places, where she had been spending the summer, in order to superintend her housekeeping; and it was said, that Susanna Bjoerk ruled as excellently as with sovereign sway over the economical department, over the female portion of the same, Larina the parlour-maid, Karina the kitchen-maid, and Petro the cook, as well as over the farm-servants Mathea, Budeja, and Goeran the cattle-boy, together with all their subjects of the four-footed and two-legged races. We will now with these last make a little nearer acquaintance.
THE POULTRY. THE WATER OF STRIFE.
"For Norway!" "For Sweden!"
The morning was clear and fresh. The September sun shone into the valley; smoke rose from the cottages. The ladies-mantle, on whose fluted cups bright pearls trembled; the silver-weed, with its yellow flowers and silver glittering leaves, shone in the morning sun beside the footpath, which wound along the moss-grown feet of the backs of the mountains. It conducted to a spring of the clearest water, which after it had filled its basin, allowed its playful vein to run murmuring down to the river.
To this spring, on that beautiful morning, went down Susanna Bjoerk, and there followed her "cocks and hens, and chickens small."
Before her waddled with consequential gabblings a flock of geese, which were all snow-white, excepting one—a grey gander. This one tottered with a desponding look a little behind the others, compelled to this by a tyrant among the white flock, which, as soon as the grey one attempted to approach, drove it back with outstretched neck and yelling cries. The grey gander always fled before the white tyrant; but bald places upon the head and neck proved that he had not come into this depressed condition, without those severe combats having made evident the fruitlessness of protestation. Not one of the goose madams troubled herself about the ill-used gander, and for that reason Susanna all the more zealously took upon herself, with delicate morsels and kind words, to console him for the injustice of his race. After the geese, came the well-meaning but awkward ducks; the turkey-cock, with his choleric temper and his two foolish wives, one white and the other black; lastly, came the unquiet generation of hens, with their handsome, quarrel-loving cocks. The prettiest of all, however, were a flock of pigeons which, confidingly and bashfully at the same time, now alighted down upon Susanna's shoulders and outstretched hand; now flew aloft and wheeled in glittering circles around her head; then settled down again upon the earth, where they neatly tripped, with their little fringed feet, stealing down to the spring to drink, whilst the geese with great tumult bathed themselves in the water and splashed about, throwing the water in pearly rain over the grass. Here also was the grey gander, to Susanna's great vexation, compelled by the white one to bathe itself at a distance from the others.
Susanna looked around her upon the beautiful richly-coloured picture which lay before her, upon the little creatures which played around her and enjoyed themselves, and evident delight beamed from her eyes as she raised them, and with hands pressed together, said softly, "O heavens! how beautiful!"
But she shrunk together in terror, for in that very moment a strong voice just beside her broke forth—
"How glorious is my fatherland, The old sea-circled Norroway!"
And the steward, Harald Bergman, greeted smilingly Susanna, who said rather irritated—
"You scream so, that you frighten the doves with your old Norroway."
"Yes," continued Harald, in the same tone of inspiration—
"Yes, glorious is my fatherland, The ancient, rock-bound Norroway; With flowery dale, crags old and grey, That spite of time eternal stand!"
"Old Norway," said Susanna as before; "I consider it a positive shame to hear you talk of your old Norway, as if it were older and more everlasting than the Creator himself!"
"And where in all the world," exclaimed Harald, "do you find a country with such a proud, serious people; such magnificent rivers, and such high, high mountains?"
"We have, thank God, men and mountains also in Sweden," said Susanna; "you should only see them; that is another kind of thing!"
"Another kind of thing! What other kind of thing? I will wager that there is not a single goose in Sweden which could compare with our excellent Norway geese."
"No, not one, but a thousand, and all larger and fatter than these. Everything in Sweden is larger and more excellent than in Norway."
"Larger? The people are decidedly smaller and weaker."
"Weaker? smaller? you should only see the people in Uddevalla, my native city!"
"How can anybody be born in Uddevalla? Does anybody really live in that city? How can anybody live in it? It is a shame to live in such a city; it is a shame also only to drive through it. It is so miserably small, that when the wheels of the travelling-carriage are at one end, the horse has already put his head out at the other. Do not talk about Uddevalla!"
"No, with you it certainly is not worth while to talk about it, because you have never seen anything else besides Norwegian villages, and cannot, on that account, form any idea to yourself of a proper Swedish city."
"Defend me from ever seeing such cities—defend me! And then your Swedish lakes! what wretched puddles they are, beside our glorious Norwegian ocean!"
"Puddles! Our lakes! Great enough to drown the whole of Norway in!"
"Ha, ha, ha! And the whole of Sweden is beside our Norwegian ocean no bigger than my cap! And this ocean would incessantly flow over Sweden, did not our Norway magnanimously defend it with its granite breast."
"Sweden defends itself, and needs no other help! Sweden is a fine country!"
"Not half as fine as Norway. Norway reaches heaven with its mountains; Norway comes nearest to the Creator."
"Norway may well be presumptuous, but God loves Sweden the best."
"Norway, say I!"
"Sweden, say I!"
"Norway! Norway for ever! We will see whose throw goes the highest, who wins for his country. Norway first and highest!" and with this, Harald threw a stone high into the air.
"Sweden first and last!" exclaimed Susanna, whilst she slung a stone with all her might.
Fate willed it that the two stones struck against each other in the air, after which they both fell with a great plump down into the spring around which the small creatures had assembled themselves. The geese screamed; the hens and ducks flew up in terror; the turkey-hens flew into the wood, where the turkey-cock followed them, forgetting all his dignity; all the doves had vanished in a moment,—and with crimsoned cheeks and violent contention as to whose stone went the highest, stood Harald and Susanna alone beside the agitated and muddied water of discord.
The moment is perhaps not the most auspicious, but yet we will make use of it, in order to give a slight sketch of the two contending persons.
Harald Bergman had speaking, somewhat sharp features, in which an expression of great gravity could easily be exchanged for one of equal waggery. The dark hair fell in graceful waves over a brow in which one saw that clear thought was entertained. His figure was finely proportioned, and his movements showed great freedom and vigour.
He had been brought up in a respectable family, had enjoyed a careful education, and was regarded by friends and acquaintances as a young man of extraordinary promise. Just as he had left the S. seminary, and was intending a journey into foreign countries, in order to increase still more his knowledge of agriculture, chance brought him acquainted with the widow of Colonel Hjelm, at the time in which she was returning to her native country, and in consequence thereof he altered his plans. In a letter to his sister, he expresses himself on this subject in the following manner:
"I cannot properly describe to you, Alette, the impression which she made upon me. I might describe to you her tall growth, her noble bearing, her countenance, where, spite of many wrinkles and a pale-yellow complexion, traces of great beauty are incontrovertible; the lofty forehead, around which black locks sprinkled with grey, press forth from beneath her simple cap. I might tell of her deep, serious eyes, of her low and yet solemn voice; and yet thou couldst form to thyself no representation of that which makes her so uncommon. I have been told that her life has been as much distinguished by exemplary virtue as by suffering—and virtue and suffering have called forth in her a quiet greatness, a greatness which is never attained to by the favourites of fortune and of nature, which stamps her whole being. She seemed to me as if all the frivolities of the world passed by her unremarked. I felt for her an involuntary reverence, such as I had never felt before for any human being; and at the same time a great desire to approach her more nearly, to be useful to her, to deserve, and to win her esteem—it seemed to me that I should thereby become somewhat greater, or at least better; and as I was informed that she sought for a clever and experienced steward for her sorely decayed estate, I offered myself as such, in all modesty, or rather without any; and when accepted, I felt an almost childish joy, and set off immediately to her estate, that I might make myself at home there, and have everything in readiness to receive her."
Thus much for Harald, now for Susanna.
Barbara Susanna Bjoerk was not handsome, could not be even called pretty (for that, she was too large and strong), but she was good-looking. The blue eyes looked so honestly and openly into the world; the round and full face testified health, kindness, and good spirits; and when Susanna was merry, when the rosy lips opened themselves for a hearty laugh, it made any one right glad only to look at her. But true is it, that she was very often in an ill humour, and then she did not look at all charming. She was a tall, well-made girl, too powerful in movement ever to be called graceful, and her whole being betrayed a certain want of refinement.
Poor child! how could she have obtained this in the home abounding in disorder, poverty, and vanity, in which the greater part of her life had been passed.
Her father was the Burgomaster of Uddevalla; her mother died in the infancy of her daughter. Soon afterwards an aunt came into the house, who troubled herself only about the housekeeping and her coffee-drinking acquaintance, left her brother himself to seek for his pleasures at the club, and the child to take care of herself. The education of the little Susanna consisted in this, that she learned of necessity to read, and that when she was naughty they said to her, "Is Barbra there again? Fie, for shame, Barbra! Get out, Barbra!" and when she was good again, it was, "See now, Sanna is here again! Welcome, sweet Sanna!" A method which certainly was not without its good points, if it had only been wisely applied. But often was the little girl talked to as "Barbra" when there was no occasion for it, and this had often the effect of calling forth the said personage. In the mean time, she was accustomed as a child to go out as Barbra, and to come in again as Sanna, and this gave her early an idea of the two natures which existed in her, as they exist in every person. This idea attained to perfect clearness in Susanna's religious instruction,—the only instruction which poor Susanna ever had. But how infinitely rich is such instruction for an ingenuous mind, when it is instilled by a good teacher. Susanna was fortunate enough to have such a one, and she now became acquainted in Barbra with the earthly demon which should be overcome in Sanna, the child of heaven, which makes free and enlightens; and from this time there began between Barbra and Sanna an open strife, which daily occurred, and in which the latter, for the most part, got the upper hand, if Susanna was not too suddenly surprised by a naturally proud and violent temper.
When Susanna had attained her twelfth year her father married a second time, but became a second time a widower, after his wife had presented him with a daughter. Two months after this he died also. Near relations took charge of the orphan children. In this new home Susanna learned to—bear hardships; for there, as she was strong and tall, and besides that made herself useful, and was kind-hearted, they made her soon the servant of the whole house. The daughters of the family said that she was fit for nothing else, for she could learn nothing, and had such unrefined manners; and besides that, she had been taken out of charity; she had nothing, and so on: all which they made her feel many a time in no gentle manner, and over which Susanna shed many bitter tears both of pain and anger. One mouth, however, there was which never addressed to Susanna other tones than those of affectionate love, and this was the mouth of the little sister, the little golden-haired Hulda. She had found in Susanna's arms her cradle, and in her care that of the tenderest mother. For from Hulda's birth Susanna had taken the little forlorn one to herself, and never had loved a young mother her first-born child more warmly or more deeply than Susanna loved her little Hulda, who also, under her care, became the loveliest and the most amiable child that ever was seen. And woe to those who did any wrong to the little Hulda! They had to experience the whole force of Susanna's often strong-handed displeasure. For her sake Susanna passed here several years of laborious servitude: as she, however, saw no end to this, yet was scarcely able to dress herself and her sister befittingly, and besides this was prevented by the multitude of her occupations from bestowing upon her sister that care which she required, therefore Susanna, in her twentieth year, looked about her for a better situation.
From the confined situation in which Susanna spent such a weary life, she was able to see one tree behind a fence, which stretched out its branches over the street. Many a spring and summer evening, when the rest of the inhabitants of the house were abroad on parties of pleasure, sate Susanna quietly by the little slumbering Hulda, within the little chamber which she had fitted up for herself and her sister, and observed with quiet melancholy from her window the green tree, whose twigs and leaves waved and beckoned so kindly and invitingly in the wind.
By degrees the green leaves beckoned into her soul thoughts and plans, which eventually fashioned themselves into a determined form, or rather an estate, whose realisation from this time forth became the paradise of her soul and the object of her life. This estate was a little farm in the country, which Susanna would rent, and cultivate, and make profitable by her own industry and her own management. She planted potatoes; she milked cows and made butter; she sowed, she reaped; and the labour was to her a delight; for there, upon the soft grass, under the green, waving tree, sate the little Hulda, and played with flowers, and her blue eyes beamed with happiness, and no care and no want came near her.
All Susanna's thoughts and endeavours directed themselves to the realising of this idea. The next step towards it was the obtaining a good service, in which, by saving her wages, she could obtain a sum of money sufficient to commence her rural undertaking. Susanna flattered herself, that in a few years she could bring her scheme to bear, and therefore made inquiries after a suitable situation.
There were this year among the visitors at the watering-place of Gustafsberg, which lay near to Uddevalla, a Norwegian Colonel and his lady. He was lame from a paralytic stroke, and had lost the use of his speech and of his hands. He was a large man, of a fierce, stern exterior; and although he seemed to endure nobody near him but his wife, and perpetually demanded her care, still it was evidently not out of love. And although his wife devoted herself unweariedly and self-denyingly to his service, still this evidently was not from love either, but from some other extraordinary power. Her own health was visibly deeply affected, and violent spasms often attacked her breast; but night or day, whenever it was his will to rise, it was her patient, bowed neck around which his arm was laid. She stood by his side, and supported him in the cold shower-bath, which was intended to re-awaken his dormant power of life, at the same time that it destroyed hers. She was ever there, always firm and active, seldom speaking, and never complaining. By the painful contraction of her countenance alone, and by the peculiarity of laying her hand upon her heart, it could be seen that she suffered. Susanna had an opportunity of seeing all this, and admiration and sympathy filled her breast. Before long she was fortunate enough to assist the noble lady, to offer to her her strong youthful arm as support, and to watch over the sick man when his wife was compelled to close her eyes from fatigue. And fortunately the invalid endured her. Susanna was witness of the last horrible scenes by the death-bed of the Colonel. He seemed to make violent efforts to say something, but—he could not. Then he made signs that he wished to write something; but his fingers could not hold the pen. Then presented itself a horrible disquiet on his distorted features. With that his wife bowed herself over him, and with an expression of the greatest anxiety, seized one of his hands and whispered—"Give me only a sign, as answer! Tell me! Tell me! does he yet live?"
The sick man riveted upon her a strong gaze, and—bowed his head. Was this an assenting answer, or was it the hand of death which forbad an answer? No one could tell, for he never again raised his head. It was his last movement.
For many days afterwards a quick succession of spasmodic attacks seemed to threaten the widowed lady with approaching death. Susanna watched incessantly beside her, and felt herself happy in being able to watch over her and to serve her. Susanna had conceived an almost passionate devotion for Mrs. Astrid; such as young girls often feel for elderly, distinguished women, to whom they look up as to the ideal of their sex. And when Mrs. Astrid returned to Norway, Susanna kissed with tears her little Hulda, but yet felt herself happy to follow such a mistress, and to serve her in the rural solitude to which she betook herself. Susanna journeyed to the foreign country, but retained deep in her heart her little Hulda and her life's plan.
Did ye but feel, O stars! who see The whole earth's silent misery, Then never would your glances rest With such calm radiance on her breast.
As Susanna withdrew from Harald, and from the water of discord, she was quite in an excited and bad temper; but as soon however as she approached the wing of the house which Mrs. Astrid inhabited, she became calmer. She looked up to her window, and saw there her noble but gloomy profile. It was bent down, and her head seemed as it were depressed by dark thoughts. At this sight, Susanna forgot all her own ill humour. "Oh!" sighed she, "if I could only make her happier!"
This was Susanna's daily subject of thought, but it became to her every day a darker riddle. Mrs. Astrid appeared to be indifferent to everything around her here. Never did she give an order about anything in the house, but let Susanna scold there and govern just as she would. Susanna took all the trouble she could to provide the table of her mistress with everything good and delicious which lay in her power; but to her despair the lady ate next to nothing, and never appeared to notice whether it was prepared well or ill.
Now before Susanna went into the house, she gathered several of the most beautiful flowers which the autumn frost had spared, made a nosegay of them, and with these in her hand stept softly into Mrs. Astrid's room.
"Bowed with grief," is the expression which describes Mrs. Astrid's whole being. The sickly paleness of her noble countenance, the depressed seldom-raised eyelids, the inanimate languor of her movements, the gloomy indifference in which her soul seemed to be wrapped,—like her body in its black mourning habiliments, when she sate for hours in her easy-chair, often without occupation, the head bowed down upon the breast; all this indicated a soul which was severely fettered by long suffering.
Suffering in the north has its own peculiar character. In the south it burns and consumes. In the north it kills slowly; it freezes, it petrifies by degrees. This has been acknowledged for untold ages, when our forefathers sought for images of that which they felt to be the most terrible in life; thus originated the fable of the subterranean dwelling of Hela, of the terrors of the shore of corpses—in one word, the "Hell of the North, with its infinite, treeless wildernesses; with cold, darkness, mist, clammy rivers, chill, distilling poison, cities resembling clouds filled with rain, feetless hobgoblins," and so on.
In the Grecian Tartarian dance of the Furies there is life and wild strength, there is in its madness a certain intoxication which deprives it of its feeling of deep misery. The heart revolts not so much from these pictures of terror, as from the cold, clammy, dripping ones which the chill north exhibits—ah! not alone in poetry.
As Susanna entered the apartment of Mrs. Astrid, she found her sitting, as usual, sunk in deep melancholy. Upon a table before her lay paper and pens, and a book, in which she appeared to have been reading. It was the Bible; it lay open at the book of Job, and the following passages were underlined:
My soul is weary of my life, for my days are vanity. Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upwards.
Mrs. Astrid's eyes were riveted upon these last words, as Susanna softly, and with a warm heart, approached her, and with a cordial "Ah! be so good," presented to her the nosegay.
The lady looked up at the flowers, and an expression of pain passed over her countenance as she turned away her head and said, "They are beautiful, but keep them, Susanna, they are painful to my eyes."
She resumed her former position, and Susanna, much troubled, drew back; after a short silence, however, she again ventured to raise her voice, and said, "We have got to-day a beautiful salmon-trout, will you not, Mrs. Astrid, have it for dinner? Perhaps with egg-sauce, and perhaps I might roast a duck, or a chicken——"
"Do whatever you like, Susanna," said the lady, interrupting her, and with indifference. But there was something so sorrowful in this indifference, that Susanna, who had again approached her, could not contain herself; she quickly threw herself before her mistress, clasped her knees, and said:
"Ah, if I could only do something to please my lady; if I could only do something."
But Susanna's warm glance, beaming with devotion, met one so dark, that she involuntarily started back.
"Susanna," said Mrs. Astrid, as with gloomy seriousness she laid her hand upon her shoulder and gently put her back, "gratify me in one thing, attach not thyself to me. It will not lead to good. I have no attachment to give—my heart is dead! Go, my child," continued she more kindly, "go, and do not trouble thyself about me. My wish, the only good thing for me, is to be alone."
Susanna went now, her heart filled with the most painful feelings. "Not trouble myself about her!" said she to herself, as she wiped away a tear; "not trouble myself about her, as if that were so easy."
After Susanna was gone, Mrs. Astrid threw a melancholy glance upon the papers which lay before her. She seized the pen, and laid it down again. She seemed to shudder at the thought of using it; at length she overcame herself, and wrote the following letter:
"You wish that I should write to you. I write for that reason; but what—what shall I say to you? My thanks for your letter, my paternal friend, the teacher of my youth; thanks that you wish to strengthen and elevate my soul. But I am old, bowed down, wearied, embittered—there dwells no strength, no living word more in my breast. My friend, it is too late—too late!
"You would raise my glance to heaven; but what is the glory of the sun to the eye that—sees no longer? What is the power of music to the deaf ear? What is all that is beautiful, all that is good in the world, to the heart that is dead, that is turned to stone in a long, severe captivity? Oh, my friend, I am unworthy of your consolation, of your refreshing words. My soul raises itself against them, and throws them from herself as 'words, words, words,' which have sounded beautifully and grandly for thousands of years, whilst thousands of souls are inconsolably speechless.
"Hope? I have hoped so long. I have already said to myself so long, 'a better day comes! The path of duty conducts to the home of peace and light, be the way ever so full of thorns. Go only steadfastly forward, weary pilgrim, go, go, and thou wilt come to the holy land!' And I have gone—I have gone on through the long, weary day, for above thirty years; but the way stretches itself out farther and farther—my hopes have withered, have died away, the one after the other;—I see now no goal, none, but the grave! Love, love! Ah, if you knew what an inexpressibly bitter feeling this word awakens in me! Have I not loved, loved intensely? And what fruit has my love borne? It has broken my heart, and has brought unhappiness to those whom I loved. It is in vain that you would combat a belief which has taken deep root in me. I believe that there are human beings who are born and pre-ordained to misfortune, and who communicate misfortune to all who approach them, and I believe that I belong to these. Let me, therefore, fly from my kind, fly from every feeling which binds me to them. Why should I occasion more mischief than I have already done?
"Why do you desire me to write? I wish not to pour my bitterness into the heart of another; I wish to grieve no one, and—what have I now done?
"There is a silent combat which goes through the world, which is fought out in the reserved human heart, and at times—fearfully! It is the combat with evil and bitter thoughts. They are such thoughts as sometimes take expression, expression written in fire and blood. Then are they read before the judgment-seat and condemned. In many human hearts, however, they rage silently for long years; then are undermined by degrees, health, temper, love, faith, faith in life and faith in—a good God. With this sinks everything.
"Could I believe that my devoted, true pilgrimage by the side of a husband whom I once so tenderly loved, and for whose sake I dragged on life in the fortress of which he was the commander, in comparison of which the life of the condemned criminal is joy; whom I followed faithfully, though I no longer loved him, because it was needful to him; because, without me, he would have been given over to dark spirits—followed, because right and duty demanded it; because I had promised it before God—Oh! could I believe that this fidelity had operated beneficially—that my endeavours had borne any fruit—I should not then, as now, ask 'why was I born? why have I lived?' But nothing, nothing!
"Could I think that on the other side of the grave I should meet the gentle loving look of my only sister—would I gladly die. But what should I reply to her, if she asked after her child of sorrow? How would she look upon the unfaithful protectress?
"Oh, my friend! My misfortune has nothing in common with that of romances, nothing with that of which most the deep shades only serve to set off the most beautiful lights. It is a wearisome winter twilight; which only conducts to a deeper night. And am I alone in this condition? Open the pages of history, look around you in the present day, and you will see a thousand-fold sufferings, unmerited sufferings, which, after a long agony lead—to despair. But another, a happier life! Only consolation, only hope, only true point of light in the darkness of earthly existence!—no, no! I will not abandon thee! I will trust in thee; and in this belief will be silenced the murmurings which so often arise against the Creator of the world.
"I am ill, and do not believe that I shall live over this winter. Breathing is difficult to me; and perhaps the inexpressible heaviness which burdens me may contribute to this torment. When I sit up sleepless in my bed through the long nights, and see the night in myself, behind me and before me, then dark, horrible phantasies surround me, and I often think that insanity, with ashy cheeks, stony and rigid gaze, approaches me, will darken my reason and bewilder my mind. How can I wish to live? When it is evening, I wish it were morning; and when it is morning, I wish that the day was over, and that it were again evening. Every hour is to me a burden and a torment.
"For this cause, my friend, pray God for me that I may soon die! Farewell! Perhaps I may write no more. But my last clear thought will be for you. Forgive the impatience, the bitterness, which shows itself in this letter. Pray for me, my friend and teacher, pray that I may be able to compose myself, and to pray yet before I die!"
We're living a peculiar life, With serious words and serious strife.
Whilst we leave the pale Mrs. Astrid alone with her dark thoughts, we are led by certain extraordinary discords to look around in
Harald found himself there for the purpose of tasting the new beer which Susanna had brewed; but before he had swallowed down a good draught, he said, with a horrible grimace, "It is good for nothing—good for nothing at all!"
Somewhat excited, Susanna made reply, "Perhaps you will also assert that Baroness Rosenhjelm's brewing-recipe is good for nothing!"
"That I assert decidedly. Does not she give coffee-parties? And a coffee-bibber is always a bad housewife; and as Baroness Rosenhjelm is a coffee-bibber, therefore——"
"I must tell you," interrupted Susanna, vehemently, "that it is unbecoming and profane of you to talk in this way of such an excellent lady, and a person of such high rank!"
"High! How high may she be?"
"A deal higher than you are, or ever can be, that I can assure you!"
"Higher than me! then of a certainty she goes on stilts. Now, I must say that is the very tip-top of gentility and politeness. One may forgive a lady giving coffee-parties, and decorating and dressing herself up, but to go on stilts, only on purpose to be higher than other folks, and to be able to look over their heads, that is coming it strong over us. How can such a high person ever come down low enough to brew good beer? But a Swedish woman can never brew good beer, for——"
"She will not brew a single drop for you abominable Norwegians, for you have neither reason, nor understanding, nor taste, nor——"
Out of the brewhouse flew Susanna, in the highest indignation, throwing down a glass of beer which Harald had poured out during the contention for her, but which now would have gone right over if he had not saved it by a spring.
Towards the evening of the same day we see the contending parties again met in
"Are you yet angry?" asked Harald, jokingly, as he stretched in his head through the garret-door, where Susanna was sitting upon a flour-tub, as on a throne, with all the importance and dignity of a store-room queen, holding in her hand a sceptre of the world-famous sweet herbs—thyme, marjoram, and basil, which she was separating into little bundles, whilst she cast a searching glance around her well-ordered kingdom.
The bread-chests were heaped up, for she had just baked oaten-bread; bacon-sausages and hams hung full of gravy, from the roof, as well as great bundles of dried fish; little bags full of all kinds of vegetables stood in their appointed places, and so on.
Harald looked also around the garret, and truly with the eye of a connoisseur, and said, although he had yet received no answer to his question—
"It is certain that I never saw a better provided or better arranged store-room!"
Susanna would not exhibit one gleam of the pleasure she felt at this praise.
"But," continued Harald, "you must confess that it does not require so very much skill to preserve the store-room and cellar well supplied in a country so rich in all the good things of life as our Norway—
Well-beloved land, with heaven-high mountains, Fruit-bearing valleys, and fish-giving shores!"
"Fish also have we, thank God, in Sweden," replied Susanna, drily.
"Oh, but not to compare with our fish! Or would you seriously set your perch and carp against our mackerel, herrings, haddocks, flounders, and all our unparalleled quantities of fish?"
"All your Norwegian kind of fish I would give for one honest Swedish pike."
"A pike! Is there then in Sweden really nothing but pike?"
"In Sweden there are all kinds of fish that there are in Norway, and a great deal bigger and fatter."
"Yes, then they come from our coasts. We take what we want, and that which remains we let swim to Sweden, that down there they may have somewhat also. But I have forgotten that I myself am going a-fishing, and will catch little fishes, great fishes, a deal of fish. Adieu, Mamsel Susanna. I shall soon come back with fish."
"You had best stop with your Norwegian fishes," cried Susanna after him.
But Harald did not stop with the fishes. On the morrow we see him following Susanna into
"I see that we are going to have to-day for dinner onion-milk, one of our most delicious national dishes, and my favourite eating."
"Usch! One gets quite stupid and sleepy when one only thinks on your national dishes. And still more horrible than your onion-milk, and more unnatural too, is your fruit-soup with little herrings."
"Fruit-soup with little herrings! Nay, that is the most superexcellent food on the earth, a food which I might call a truly Christian dish."
"And I might call it a heathenish dish, which no true Christian man could eat."
"From untold ages it has been eaten by free Norwegian men in the beautiful valleys of Norway."
"That proves that you free Norwegians are still heathens."
"I can prove to you that the Norwegians were a Christian people before the Swedes."
"That you may prove as much as you like, but I shall not believe it."
"But I will show it to you in print."
"Then I shall be certain that it is a misprint."
Harald laughed, and said something about the impossibility of disputing with a Swedish woman. Should now anybody wish to know how it happens that one finds Harald so continually in Susanna's company in the brewhouse, in the store-room, in the dairy, we can only reply that he must be a great lover of beer, and flour, and milk, or of a certain spice in the every-day soup of life, called bantering.
Mrs. Astrid always breakfasted in her own room, but dined with Harald and Susanna, and saw them often for an hour in the evening. Often during dinner did the contention about Norway and Sweden break out; for the slightest occasion was sufficient to make the burgomaster's daughter throw herself blindly into the strife for fatherland; and, strange enough, Mrs. Astrid herself sometimes seemed to find pleasure in exciting the contest, as she brought upon the carpet one question or another, as—
"I should like to know whether cauliflower is better in Norway or in Sweden?" or, "I should like to know whether the corn is better in Sweden or in Norway?"
"Quite certainly in Norway," said Harald.
"Quite decidedly in Sweden," cried Susanna. And vegetables, and fish, and the coinage, and measures and weights, were all handled and contended for in this way.
Of the corn in Norway, Susanna said, "I have not seen upon this whole estate one single straw which may bear a comparison with that which I have seen in Sweden."
"The cause of that," said Harald, "is because you saw here good corn for the first time."
Of the Norwegian weights, Susanna said, "I never know what I am about with your absurd, nasty Norwegian weights."
"They are heavier than the Swedish," replied Harald.
Whenever Susanna became right vehement and right angry, then—it is shocking to say it—Harald laughed with his whole heart, and at times a faint smile brightened also Mrs. Astrid's pale face, but it resembled the gleam of sunshine which breaks forth in a dark November sky, only to be immediately concealed behind clouds.
Susanna never thought in the least, on these occasions, of putting the bridle on the Barbra temper. She considered it as a holy duty to defend the fatherland in this manner.
But the spirit of contention did not always reign between Harald and Susanna. At intervals the spirit of peace also turned towards them, although as a timid dove, which is always ready soon to fly away hence. When Susanna spoke, as she often did, of that which lived in the inmost of her heart; of her love to her little sister, and the recollections of their being together; of her longings to see her again, and to be able to live for her as a mother for her child,—then listened Harald ever silently and attentively. No jeering smile nor word came to disturb these pure images in Susanna's soul. And how limningly did Susanna describe the little Hulda's beauty; the little white child, as soft as cotton-wool, the pious blue eyes, the white little teeth, which glanced out whenever she laughed like bright sunshine, which then lay spread over her whole countenance; and the golden locks which hung so beautifully over forehead and shoulders, the little pretty hands, and temper and heart lively, good, affectionate! Oh! she was in short an angel of God! The little chamber, which Susanna inhabited with her little Hulda, and which she herself had changed from an unused lumber-room into a pretty chamber, and whose walls she herself painted, she painted now from memory yet once more for Harald; and the bed of the little Hulda was surrounded with a light-blue muslin curtain, and how a sunbeam stole into the chamber in the morning, in order to shine on the pillow of the child, and to kiss her little curly head. How roguish was the little one when Susanna came in late at night to go to bed, and cast her first glance on the bed in which her darling lay. But she saw her not, for Hulda drew her little head under the coverlet to hide herself from her sister. Susanna then would pretend to seek for the little one; but she needed only to say with an anxious voice, "where—ah, where is my little Hulda?" in order to decoy forth the head of the little one, to see her arms stretched out, and to hear her say, "here I am, Sanna! here is thy little Hulda!" And she had then her little darling in her arms, and pressed her to her heart; then was Susanna happy, and forgot all the cares and the fatigues of the day.
At the remembrance of these hours Susanna's tears often flowed, and prevented her remarking the tearful glow which sometimes lit up Harald's eyes.
Harald, however, had also his relations; not, it is true, of so tender a nature, but yet interesting enough to lay claim to all Susanna's attention, and to give us occasion to commence a new chapter.
I like the life, where rule and line appeareth, In the mill's clapping and the hammer's blow; I give to him the path who burthens beareth, He worketh for a useful end I know. But he, who for the klip-klap never heareth The call of bells to feeling's holiday— Hath but sham-life, mechanically moving, Soul-less he is, unconscious and unloving. Fly agile arrow, rattling in thy speeding Over the busy emmet's roof of clay, And waken spiritual life!
Harald related willingly, and related uncommonly well;—an entertaining and a happy gift, which one often meets with in Norway among all classes, both in men and women, and which they appear to have inherited from their ancestors the Scalds; and besides this, he was well acquainted with the natural wonders and legends of the mountain region.
And it is precisely in mountain regions where the most beautiful blossoms of the people's poetry have sprung as if from her heart. The ages of the Sagas and the heathens have left behind their giant traces. River and mountain have their traditions of spectres and transformations; giant "cauldrons" resound in the mountains, and monumental stones are erected over warriors, who "buckled on their belts," and fell in single combat. From Hallingdal went forth the national Polska (the Halling), and only the Hardanger-fela (the Hallingdal fiddle) can rightly give its wild, extraordinary melody. Most beautiful are the flowers of remembrance which the Christian antiquity exhibits, and the eternal snow upon the crowns of the ancient mountains is not more imperishable than these innocent roses at their feet. So long as Gausta stands, and the Rjukan sings his thunder-song, will the memory of Mari-Stien live, and his tales of joy and sorrow be told; so long as the ice-sea of Folgefond rests over his silent, dark secrets, so long will the little island become green, of which it is said, that it is eternally wetted with the tears of true love.
Be it who it may—they who write with their own life, song and legend, who express the depths of being by the silent but mighty language of deeds—they are the real authors, the first poets of the earth. In the second rank stand those who relate that which the others have lived.
When the day's work was over, and Mrs. Astrid had again betaken herself to her chamber after her slight evening meal, it gave Harald great pleasure to read aloud or to relate histories to Susanna, whilst she sewed, or her spinning-wheel hummed often in lively emulation of Larina and Karina, and whilst the flames of the fire danced up the chimney, and threw their warm joyous gleams over the assembled company. It pleased Harald infinitely to have Susanna for his auditor, to hear her exclamation of childish terror and astonishment, or also her hearty laughter, or to see her tears over his now merry and now sorrowful tales.
How deeply was Susanna's heart touched by the relation of Mari-Stien, whose path over the mountain on the edge of the abyss of Rjukan-force, which in these days the traveller treads with dread, was discovered by a young girl guided by the courage of love. It was by this path that the beautiful Mary of Vestfjordal went with light and firm foot to meet the friend of her childhood and her beloved, Ejstein Halfvordsen. But the avarice of her father separated them, and Mary's tears and prayers obliged Ejstein to fly, in order to escape the schemes of a treacherous rival against his life. Years passed on, and Mary remained steadfast in her faith. Her father died. Ejstein had, by his bravery and his magnanimity, made his former enemy his friend, and the lovers were now about to meet after a long separation, never again to be divided. Ejstein hastened by the shorter road of the Mari-Stien to meet his beloved. Long had she awaited him. She saw him coming, and his name escaped her with a cry of joy. He saw her—stretched forth his arms, as his whole soul, eagerly towards her, and he forgot—that he had no pinions. He fell, and the Rjukan swallowed him in its foaming depths. For many years after this there wandered daily upon Mari-Stien, a pale figure, whose beautiful features spoke of silent insanity, and stood bent down over the stream, and seemed to talk with some one down in its depths. With melancholy joy in her countenance returned she ever from her wandering, and said to her people in the cottage, "I have spoken with him, and he besought me to come to him every day, and to tell him how I love. It would be wrong to refuse him this; he is so good and loves me so truly."
Thus went she, even when the wind blew her silver hair around her wrinkled cheeks; thus she went until a merciful voice called the weary wanderer to ascend the path of heaven to rest and joy, in the arms of the beloved.
Less mournful, but not the less interesting for Susanna, was the old legend of Halgrim.
Stormannadauen (the Black Death) had raged through Norway, and cut off more than two-thirds of its population, and desolated whole extents of country and large populous districts. In Uldvig's Valley, in Hardanger, a young peasant of the name of Halgrim alone, of all the people who had died there, remained alive. He raised himself from the sick bed on which he lay surrounded by the dead, and went out in order to seek for living people.
It was spring, and the larks sang loud in the blue clear air; the birch-wood clothed itself in tender green; the stream, with its melting snow-drifts, wound down the mountains singing on its way; but no plough furrowed the loosened earth, and from the heights was heard no wood-horn calling the cattle at feeding time. All was still and dead in the habitations of men. Halgrim went from valley to valley, from cottage to cottage; everywhere death stared him in the face, and he recognised the corpses of early friends and acquaintance. Upon this, he began to believe that he was alone in the world, and despair seized on his soul, and he determined also to die. But as he was just about to throw himself down from a rock, his faithful dog sprang up to him, caressed him, and lamented in the expressive language of anguish. Halgrim bethought himself, and stepped back from the brink of the abyss; he embraced his dog; his tears flowed, and despair withdrew from his softened heart. He began his wandering anew. Thoughts of love led him towards the parish of Graven, where he had first seen and won the love of Hildegunda.
It was evening, and the sun was setting as Halgrim descended into the valley, which was as still and dead as those through which he had wandered. Dark stood the fir-trees in the black shadow of the rocky wall, and silently rolled on the river between the desolate banks. On the opposite side of the river a little wooded promontory shot out into the blue water, and upon the light green tops of the birch-trees played the last rays of the sun.
Suddenly it seemed to Halgrim as if a light smoke rose up from among the trees. But he trusted not his eyes; he stared upon it breathlessly. He waited however hardly a second, when he saw a blue column curling slowly upwards in the peaceful evening air. With a cry of joy Halgrim darted forwards, waded through the stream, and soon stood on its opposite shore. Barking and whining his dog ran onwards to the cottage whence the smoke ascended. Upon its hearth clearly burned the fire, and a young maiden stepped forward to the door—one cry of inexpressible joy, and Halgrim and Hildegunda lay in each other's arms! Hildegunda was also the only living person in her valley after the terrible visit of the Black Death.
On the following day, after mutual agreement, they went to church, and as there was no priest to marry them, and nobody to witness the plighting of their faith, they stepped alone together to God's altar, and extended to each other a hand, whilst Halgrim said with a solemn voice, "In the name of God the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost!"
And God blessed the faith plighted in His name. From this happy pair descended generations who peopled anew this region, and the names of Halgrim and Hildegunda are to this day in use among its inhabitants.
* * * * *
Through Harald also was Susanna made acquainted with the legends of the kings of Norway; with the deeds of Olaf Haraldsen, the blood-baptizer; with those of the noble Olof Tryggveson; and with admiration heard she of king Sverre, with the little body and the large truly-royal soul. It flattered also somewhat her womanly vanity to hear of women as extraordinary in the old history of Norway; as for example, the proud peasant's daughter, Gyda, who gave occasion to the hero-deeds of Harald Haarfager, who first made Norway into a kingdom; and although the action of Gunild, the king's mother, awakened her abhorrence, yet it gave her pleasure to see how a woman, by the supremacy of her mind, governed seven kings and directed their actions.
Darker pictures were presented by the citizen-wars, which hurried "blood-storm upon blood-storm" through the land, and in which it at length "bled liberty to death."
Now the wild strawberry blooms in the ruins of former strongholds, and upon blood-drenched fields grow golden forests,
As the scar groweth o'er the healed wound.—TEGNER.
A milder generation lived in the place of the "Bloody Axe," and looked serenely and hopefully towards the future, whilst in their peaceful, beautiful valleys, they listened willingly to the memories of the old times.
Upon the hill-tops stands the ancient stone, Where legend hovers like a singing lark, With morning brightness on its downy breast.
One subject of conversation and of dispute also between Harald and Susanna, was their pale lady. As soon as the discourse turned to her, Harald assumed a very grave demeanour, and replied only to Susanna's earnest inquiries of what he knew about her, "she must have been very unfortunate!" If, however, Susanna began to assail him with questions about this misfortune, in what it consisted, whether one could not help her in some way or other—Susanna would have gone up and down the world for this purpose—then began Harald to tell a story.
Tales of women, powerful and distinguished in their valleys, are not rare in Norway. The story of the lady in Hallingdal, called the Shrieking Lady, is well known, who was so magnificent that she was drawn by elks; one hears of the rich Lady Belju, also of Hallingdal, who built Naes church, and by means of fire and butter split the Beja rock, so that a road was carried over it, which road is called to this day the Butter Rock. One hears tell of the Ladies of Solberg and Skoendal, of their great quarrel about a pig, and of the false oath which one of them swore in the lawsuit which thence ensued; and to every one of these ladies belongs the story, that the preacher did not dare to have the church-bells rung until the great lady had arrived there.
They tell further the history of the wife of the knight Knut Eldhjerna, who, from grief for the criminal lives of her seven sons, retired from the world, and lived as a hermit in a lonesome dale, where, by fasting and alms, she endeavoured to atone for the misdeeds of her children. Yes, indeed, there are many histories of this kind. But as concerns the history which Harald related to Susanna, of Mrs. Astrid, its like had not yet been heard in the valleys of Norway. There occurred in it so many strange and horrible things, that the credulous Susanna, who during it had become ever paler and paler, might have been petrified with horror if, precisely at the most terrible part of the catastrophe, the suspicion had not suddenly occurred to her, that she was horrifying herself—at a mere fiction! And Harald's countenance, when she expressed her conjectures, made this certainty; and the hearty laughter with which he received her exclamations and reproaches excited her highest indignation, and she rose up and left him, with the assurance that she never again would ask him anything, never believe a word that he said.
This lasted till—the next time. Then if Harald promised to tell the truth as regarded their lady—the whole pure truth, then Susanna let herself be befooled, listened, grew pale, wept, till the increasing marvels of the story awoke afresh her suspicion, which she again plainly expressed as before, and again Barbra stood up, scolded, threatened, banged the door after her in anger, and Harald—laughed.
In one point, however, Harald and Susanna always perfectly agreed, and that was in serving their lady with the greatest zeal; and this, without themselves being aware of it, increased their esteem for each other, which, however, by no means prevented their boldly attacking each other, and slandering—he Sweden, she Norway.
Thus, amid perpetual alternations of strife and peace, slid away the autumn months unobserved, with its darkening days and its increasing cold; and the season came, in which important business demanded the time of the ladies, as well in great as in small houses; the time for lights and tarts, dance, play, and children's joy, in one word—
 Several districts, wicked as Sodom and Gomorrah, are said to be buried under the gigantic pall, and it is related that people have heard the cock crow below the snow covering. If the sun appears above the Fond, it is believed that swarms of innumerable birds of all colours, white, black, green, yellow, and red, are seen flying up and down over the snowy sea. It was thought in early times, that these were the souls of the wicked inhabitants of the valley which swarmed about here in the shapes of birds.—FAYE.
 Eric, king of Norway, so called because of his cruelty.
Come hither little birds, merry of mood, By barn-door and dwelling-house corn ears are strewed; Christmas comes hither, Then may ye gather, Food from the bread-giving straw, golden hued.
The sun shall warm and illumine the whole earth, therefore is the earth glad of his coming.—THE KING'S PLAY.
Thanks be to God for the sun! So many friends, so many joys, desert us during our pilgrimage through life; the sun remains true to us, and lights and warms us from the cradle to the grave. This is it which unites the Pagan and the Christian in one common worship, inasmuch as it lifts the hearts of both to the God who has created the sun. The highest festival of the year among the Northern Heathens and Christians occurs also at the season in which the sun, as it were, is born anew to the earth, and his strength is converted from waning to waxing. With the greatest cordiality is this festival celebrated in the Scandinavian countries. Not alone in the houses of the wealthy blaze up fires of joy, and are heard the joyful cries of children; from the humblest cottages also resounds joy; in the prisons it becomes bright, and the poor partake of—plenty. In the country, doors, hearths, and tables, stand open to every wanderer. In many parts of Norway the innkeeper demands no payment from the traveller either for board or lodging. This is the time in which the earth seems to feel the truth of the heavenly words—"It is more blessed to give than to receive." And not only human beings, but animals also, have their good things at Christmas. All the inhabitants of the farm-yard, all domestic animals, are entertained in the best manner; and the little birds of heaven rejoice too, for at every barn a tall stake raises itself, on the top of which rich sheaves of oats invite them to a magnificent meal; even the poorest day-labourer, if he himself possesses no corn, asks and receives from the peasant a bundle of corn, raises it aloft, and makes the birds rejoice beside his empty barn.
Susanna had much to care for in the Christmas week, and was often up late at night: in part, on account of her own business; in part, on account of some Christmas gifts with which she wished to surprise several persons around her. And this certainly was the cause of her somewhat oversleeping herself on the morning of Christmas-eve. She was awoke by a twittering of birds before her window, and her conscience reproached her with having, amid the business of the foregoing day, quite forgotten the little birds, to which she was accustomed to throw out upon the snow, corn and bread crumbs; and they were now come to remind her of it. Ah! were but all remembrances like to the twittering of birds! With real remorse for her forgetfulness Susanna hastened to dress herself, and to draw aside the window-curtain. And behold! outside, before her window, stood a tall slender fir-tree, in whose green top, cut in the form of a garland, was stuck a great bunch of gold-yellow oats, around which great flocks of sparrows and bulfinches swarmed, picking and chirping. Susanna blushed, and thought "Harald!" The people in the house answered with smiles to Susanna's questions, the Steward had, indeed, planted the tree. The Steward, however, himself appeared as if he were quite a stranger to the whole affair, betrayed astonishment at the tree with the sheaf of oats, and could not conceive how it had come there.
"It must," said he, "have shot forth of itself during the night;" and this could only be proved from the wonderful strength of the excellent Norwegian earth—every morsel of which is pulverised primary rock. Such a soil only can bring forth such a miraculous growth.
In the forenoon, Harald went with Susanna into the farm-yard, where she with her own hands divided oats among the cows; bread among the sheep; and among the little poultry corn in abundant measure. In the community of hens was there with this a great difference of character observable. Some snatched greedily, whilst they drove the others away by force; others, on the contrary, kept at a modest distance, and picked up well pleased the corn which good fortune had bestowed upon them; others, again, seemed to enjoy for others more than for themselves. Of this noble nature was one young cock in particular, with a high comb, and a rich cape of changeful gold-coloured feathers, and of a peculiarly proud and lofty bearing; he gave up his portion to the hens, so that he had scarcely a single grain for himself; regarding, however, the while, with a noble chanticleer-demeanour the crowd which pecked and cackled at his feet. On account of this beautiful behaviour, he was called the Knight, by Susanna, which name he always preserved after that time. Among the geese, she perceived with vexation that the grey one was still more oppressed and pecked at by his white tyrant than ever. Harald proposed to kill the grey one; but Susanna declared warmly, that if either of the rivals were sacrificed it must be the white one.
In a house where there are no children, where neither family nor friends assemble, where the mistress sits with her trouble in darkness, there can Christmas bring no great joy. But Susanna had made preparations to diffuse pleasure, and the thoughts of it had through the whole week, amid her manifold occupations, illumined her heart; and, besides, she was of that kind that her life would have been dark had it not been that the prospect of always making somebody happy had glimmered like a star over her path. Larina, Karina, and Petro tasted on this day of the fruits of Susanna's night-watching; and when it was evening, and Susanna had arranged the Christmas-table in the hall, and had seen it adorned with lut-fish, and roast meat, and sweet groats, cakes and butter, tarts and apples, and lighted with four candles; when the farm-people assembled round the table with eyes that flashed with delight and appetite; when the oldest among them struck up a hymn of thanksgiving, and all the rest joined in with folded hands and solemn voices—then seemed it to Susanna as if she were no longer in a foreign land: and after she had joined in with the hymn of the people, she seated herself at the table as the most joyous, cordial hostess; clinked her glass with those of men and maid servants; animated even the most colossal passion for eating, and placed the nicest things before the weak and the timid.
Mrs. Astrid had told Susanna that she would remain alone in her chamber this evening, and only take a glass of milk. Susanna wished, however, to decoy her into enjoyment by a little surprise; and had laid the following little plot against her peace. At the time when the glass of milk was to be carried in to her, instead of this a very pretty boy, dressed to represent an angel, according to Susanna's idea of one, with a crown of light upon his head, should softly enter her room and beckon her out. So beautiful and bright a messenger the lady would find it impossible to withstand, and he would then conduct her out into the great hall, where, in a grove of fir-trees, a table was covered with the sweetest groats, and the most delicious of tarts, and behind the fir-trees the people of the house were to be assembled, and to strike up a song to a well-known air of the country, in praise of their lady, and full of good wishes for her future life.
Harald, to whom Susanna had imparted her scheme, shook his head over it, at first, doubtfully, but afterwards fell into it, and lent a helping hand to its accomplishment, as well by obtaining the fir-trees, as by fitting out the angel. Susanna was quite charmed with her beautiful little messenger, and followed silently and softly at his heels, as with some anxiety about his own head and its glittering crown he tripped lightly to Mrs. Astrid's chamber.
Harald softly opened the door for the boy. From thence they saw the lady sitting in an easy-chair in her room, her head bowed upon her hands. The lamp upon the table cast a faint light upon her black-appareled figure. The audible movement at the door roused her; she looked up, and stared for some time with a wild glance at the apparition which met her there. Then she arose hastily, pressed her hands to her breast, uttered a faint cry of horror, and sank lifeless to the floor. Susanna pushed her angel violently aside, and rushed to her mistress, who with indescribable feelings of anguish she raised in her arms and carried to bed. Harald, on the contrary, busied himself with the poor angel, who with his crown had lost his balance, and while the hot tallow ran down over brow and cheeks broke out into the most deplorable tones of lamentation.
Susanna soon succeeded in recalling her mistress to life; but for a long time her mind seemed to be confused, and she spoke unintelligible unconnected sentences, of which Susanna only understood the words, "Apparition—unfortunate child—death!" Susanna concluded therefore that the fabricated angel had frightened her, and exclaimed with tears, "Ah, it was only Hans Guttormson's little fellow that I had dressed up as an angel in order to give you pleasure!"
Susanna saw now right well how little fortunate had been this thought; but Mrs. Astrid listened with great eagerness to Susanna's explanation respecting the apparition which had shook her so much, and at length her convulsive state passed off in a flood of tears. Susanna beside herself for grief, that instead of joy she had occasioned trouble to her lady, kissed, with tears, her dress, hands, feet, amid heartfelt prayers for forgiveness.
Mrs. Astrid answered mildly, but with excitement: "Thou meant it well, Susanna. Thou couldst not know how thou wouldst grieve me. But—think no more about it; never more attempt to give me pleasure. I can never more be joyful, never more happy! There lies a stone upon my breast which never can be raised, until the stone shall be laid on my grave. But go now, Susanna, it is necessary for me to be alone. I shall soon be better."
Susanna prayed that she might bring her a glass of milk, and Mrs. Astrid consented; but when she had brought it in she was obliged again to withdraw, her heart full of anguish. When she came out to Harald she poured out to him all her pain over the unfortunate project, and related to him the deep agitation of mind, and the dark, despairing words of her lady.
At this Harald became pale and thoughtful, and Susanna at that was still more depressed. To be sure she had yet a little mine of pleasures remaining, on whose explosion she had very much pleased herself, but this in the disturbed state of mind produced but little effect. It is true that Harald smiled, and exclaimed, "The cross!" when a waistcoat made its appearance out of a wheaten loaf; it is true that he thanked Susanna and pressed her hand, but he had evidently so little pleasure in her present, his thoughts were so plainly directed to something else, that now every gleam of pleasure vanished for Susanna from the Christmas joy. When she was alone in her chamber, and saw from her window how a little beam of light proceeded from every cottage in the valley, and she thought how within them were assembled in confidential circles, parents, children, brothers and sisters, and friends, then felt she painfully that she was lonesome in a strange land; and as she remembered how formerly on this evening she made her little Hulda happy, and how fortunate her projects had always been, she took out a handkerchief which had been worn on the neck of the little beloved sister, and covered it with hot tears and kisses. Great part of the night she passed on the threshold of her lady's door, listening full of anguish to the never-ceasing footsteps within. But with the exception of several deep sighs, Susanna heard no expression of pain which might justify her in breaking in upon the solitude of her mistress.
We will now turn ourselves to a somewhat more lively picture.
There exists in Norway a pleasant custom, which is called Tura-jul, or Christmas-turns. In Christmas week, namely, people go out to visit one another by turns, and then in the hospitable houses is there feasting, sporting, and dancing. That is called "the Christmas-turns."
And the "turns" extended also to the remote-lying solitary Heimdal. The pastor of the mother parish, the friendly and hospitable pastor, Middelberg, had sent an invitation to friends and acquaintances in the whole neighbourhood, which included also the inhabitants of Semb, to a feast at the parsonage, on the second day of Christmas.
Mrs. Astrid excused herself, but besought Harald and Susanna to drive there. It had frozen a few days before, and had freshly snowed, so that the sledging was excellent, and Harald now again in good humour seemed disposed to make a little festival of driving Susanna to the parsonage in a small sledge with jingling bells.
Mrs. Astrid had regained her accustomed manner and appearance, and thus Susanna was easy as to all consequences of her unfortunate scheme on Christmas-eve, and could give herself up with a free mind to the agreeable impressions which the winter-drive offered. And these were manifold and rich to a person who was so little used to pleasure of any kind as Susanna, and who, besides this, was of a fresh, open spirit. The air was so clear, the snow was so dazzling, mountain and woods so splendid, the horse so spirited, and Harald drove so indescribably well, the most difficult places being to him mere play-work, that Susanna exclaimed every now and then, "Oh, how beautiful! Oh, how divine!"
With all this, Harald was uncommonly polite and entertaining. Attentive in the extreme that Susanna sate comfortably, was warm about the feet, and so on, laid himself out at the same time to make her acquainted with all wonders and beauties of the district; besides which he related much that was interesting of the peculiarities of the neighbourhood, of its woods, mountains, and kinds of stones, spoke of the primeval mountains and transition-formations, of that which had existed before the Flood, and of that which had been formed after it, so that Susanna was astonished at his great learning, and a feeling of reverence for him was excited in her mind. It is true that she forgot this for one while, in a quarrel which suddenly arose between them respecting the sun, which, according to Harald's assertion, must appear brighter in Norway than in Sweden, which Susanna contended against most vehemently, and assured him of exactly the opposite; and about the strata of air, of which Susanna asserted that they lay in Norway different to Sweden; upon the whole, however, the drive was harmonious, and in the highest degree advantageous to Harald's appearance. By his driving, his politeness, and his learning, he had attained to something quite grand and extraordinary in Susanna's eyes.
When, after a drive of about six miles, they approached the parsonage-house, they saw from all sides the little sledges issuing from the passes of the valleys, and then hastening forward in the same direction as themselves across the fields of snow. Steaming breath came from the nostrils of the snorting horses, and merrily jingled the bells in the clear air. Susanna was enraptured.
No less was she enraptured by the cordiality with which she saw herself received at the parsonage—she, a foreign serving-maiden—by foreign, wealthy, and respectable people. Susanna was, besides this, very curious to see bow things looked, and how they went on, in a respectable parsonage in Norway; and it was therefore very agreeable to her, when the kind Madame Middelberg invited her to see the house, and allowed her to be conducted by her eldest daughter, Thea Middelberg, everywhere, from the cellar even to the garret. Susanna, after this, felt great esteem for the arrangements in the parsonage-house; thought that she could learn various things from it; other things, however, she thought would have been better according to her Swedish method. Returned to the company, Susanna found much to notice and much to reflect upon. For the rest, she was through the whole of this day in a sort of mental excitement. It seemed to her, as if she saw the picture of comfort and happiness of which she had sometimes dreamed, here realised. It seemed to her, that life amid these grand natural scenes and simple manners must be beautiful. The relationship between parents and children, between masters and servants, appeared so cordial, so patriarchal. She heard the servants in the house of the clergyman call him and his wife, father and mother; she saw the eldest daughter of the house assist in waiting on the guests, and that so joyously and easily, that one saw that she did it from her heart; saw a frank satisfaction upon all faces, a freedom from care, and a simplicity in the behaviour of all; and all this made Susanna feel quite light at heart, whilst it called forth a certain tearful glance in her eye.
"Have you pleasure in flowers?" inquired the friendly Thea Middelberg; and when Susanna declared that she had, she broke off the most beautiful rose which bloomed in the window and gave to her.
But the greatest pleasure to Susanna was in the two youngest children of the house, and she thought that the heartful "mora mi" (my mother), was the most harmonious sound which she had ever heard. And in that Susanna was right also, for more lovely words than these "mora mi," spoken by affectionate childish lips, are not in the earth. The little Mina, a child about Hulda's age, and full of life and animation, was in particular dear to Susanna, who only wished that the little romp would have given to herself a longer rest upon her knee. Susanna herself won quite unwittingly the perfect favour of the hostess, by starting up at table at a critical moment when the dinner was being served, and with a light and firm hand saving the things from danger. After this she continued to give a helpful hand where it was needful. This pleased much, and they noticed the young Swede with ever kinder eyes; she knew it, and thought all the more on those who thought of her.
Towards the end of the substantial and savoury dinner, skal was drunk and songs were sung. Susanna's glass must clink with her neighbours, right and left, straight before her and crosswise, and animated by the general spirit, she joined in with the beautiful people's song, "The old sea-girded Norway," and seemed to have forgotten all spirit of opposition to Norway and Norwegians. And how heartily did not she unite in the last skal which was proposed by the host, with beaming and tearful eyes, "To all those who love us!" and she thought on her little Hulda.
But now we must go on to that which made this day a remarkable one for Susanna.
After dinner and coffee were over, the company divided, as is customary in Norway. The ladies remained sitting on the sofa and in armed chairs round about, and talked over the occurrences in the neighbourhood, domestic affairs, and the now happily-concluded Christmas business, and "yes, indeed!" "yes, indeed!" was often heard among them.
The young girls grouped themselves together in the window, and there was heard talk of "dress" and "ornament," "heavens, how pretty!" and jest and small-talk.
In the next room sate the gentlemen together with pipes and politics.
Susanna was near to the open door of this room, and as she felt but little interest in the subjects that were spoken of in her neighbourhood, she could not avoid listening to that which was said by the gentlemen within the room, for she heard how there a coarse voice was abusing Sweden and the Swedes in the most defamatory manner. Susanna's blood boiled, and involuntarily she clenched her fist.
"Oh, heavens!" sighed she, "that I were but a man!"
The patriotic burgomaster's daughter burned with desire to fall upon those who dared to despise her fatherland. She could not hear this coolly, and almost fearing her own anger she was about to rise and take another place, but she restrained herself, for she heard a grave, manly voice raised in defence of that foreign calumniated country. And truly it was refreshing for Susanna to hear Sweden defended with as much intelligence as zeal; truly it was a joy to her to hear the assertions of the coarser voice repelled by the other less noisy, but more powerful voice, and at length to hear it declaim, as master of the field, the following lines, which were addressed to his native land on the occasion of the death of Gustavus Adolphus the Great:
At once is dimmed thy glory's ray; Thy flowery garland fades away. Bowed mother! But thy brightness splendid Shall never more be ended. The grateful world on thee her love will cast, Who mother of Gustavus wast!
Yes, truly was all this a feeling of delight for Susanna; but the voice which spoke so beautifully—the voice which defended Sweden—the voice which called forth the feeling of delight, this voice operated more than all the rest on Susanna, for it was that of—Harald. Susanna could not trust her ears, she called her eyes to their assistance, and then, as she could no longer doubt that the noble defender of her country was Harald, she was so surprised and so joyful that in the overflowing of her feelings she might almost have done something foolish, had not at that very moment one of the elderly ladies of the party come to her, and led her into a quieter corner of the room, in order to be able there quietly to question her of all that she wished to know. This lady belonged to that class (scattered in every country of the world) which has a resemblance to the parasite growth, inasmuch as it grows and flourishes by the nourishment which it seeks from the plants on which it fixes itself. As this lady wore a brown dress, and had brown ribbons in her cap, we find it very appropriate to call her Madame Brun. Susanna must now give Madame Brun an account of her family, her home, all her connexions, why she was come into Norway, how she liked living there, and so on. In all this Susanna was tolerably open-hearted; but when the discourse was turned upon her present situation, and her lady, she became more reserved. On this subject, however, Madame Brun was less disposed to question than to relate herself.
"I knew Mrs. Astrid," said she, "in our younger days, very well. She was a very handsome lady, but always rather proud. However, I did not mind that, and we were right good friends. People told me that I ought to pay a visit to Semb, but—I don't know—I have never seen her since she has been so strange. My God, dear friend, how can you live with her? She must be so horribly gloomy and anxious!"
Susanna replied by a warm burst of praise of her lady, and said, "that she was always sorrowful, and appeared to be unhappy, but that this only bound her to her all the more."
"Unhappy!" began Madame Brun again. "Yes, if that were all—but alas!"
Susanna asked in astonishment what she meant.
Madame Brun answered, "I say and think nothing bad of her, and always defend her, but in any case there is something odd about her. Could you really believe that there are people wicked enough to speak——to suspect——a murder?"
Susanna could neither think nor speak—she only stared at the speaker.
"Yes, yes," continued Madame Brun, fluently; "so people say! To be sure the Colonel, who was a monster, was most guilty in the affair; but yet, nevertheless, she must have known of it—so people assert. See you—they had a boy with them, the son of her sister. The mother died, after having confided her child to the care of her sister and her brother-in-law. What happens then? One fine day the boy has vanished—— never again comes to light——nobody knows what has become of him; but his cloak is found on a rock, by the lake, and drops of blood on the stone under it! The boy had vanished, and his property came in well for his relations, since the Colonel had gambled away everything which he and his wife possessed. But our Lord, in his justice, smote the Colonel, so that for five years he remained lame and speechless, and his wife never since that has had one joyful day on earth."
Susanna turned pale with emotion, and as zealously as she had before defended the honour of her native land, now defended she the innocence of her lady. But in this she was interrupted by the friendly hostess, who invited her to join the other young people in games and dancing. But Susanna was so excited by that which she had heard, and longed so much to be at home with her mistress, for whom, now that she had heard her so cruelly maligned, she felt more affection than ever; she prayed to be excused from taking any part in the Christmas games, and announced her intention of driving home. She wished not, however, to take Harald from the company, and intended, unfearingly, to drive home alone. She could drive very well, and should easily find the way.