TICKET NO. "9672"
Translated from the French by Laura E. Kendall
"What time is it?" inquired Dame Hansen, shaking the ashes from her pipe, the last curling rings from which were slowly disappearing between the stained rafters overhead.
"Eight o'clock, mother," replied Hulda.
"It isn't likely that any travelers will come to-night. The weather is too stormy."
"I agree with you. At all events, the rooms are in readiness, and if any one comes, I shall be sure to hear them."
"Has your brother returned?"
"Didn't he say he would be back to-night?"
"No, mother. Joel went to take a traveler to Lake Tinn, and as he didn't start until very late, I do not think he can get back to Dal before to-morrow."
"Then he will spend the night at Moel, probably."
"Yes; unless he should take it into his head to go on to Bamble to see Farmer Helmboe."
"And his daughter Siegfrid."
"Yes. Siegfrid, my best friend, whom I love like a sister!" replied the young girl, smiling.
"All, well, Hulda, shut up the house, and let's go to bed."
"You are not ill, are you, mother?"
"No; but I want to be up bright and early to-morrow morning. I must go to Moel."
"Why, we must be laying in our stock of provisions for the coming summer, and—"
"And I suppose the agent from Christiania has come down with his wagon of wines and provisions."
"Yes; Lengling, the foreman at the saw-mill, met him this afternoon, and informed me of the fact as he passed. We have very little left in the way of ham and smoked salmon, and I don't want to run any risk of being caught with an empty larder. Tourists are likely to begin their excursions to the Telemark almost any day now; especially, if the weather should become settled, and our establishment must be in a condition to receive them. Do you realize that this is the fifteenth of April?"
"The fifteenth of April!" repeated the young girl, thoughtfully.
"Yes, so to-morrow I must attend to these matters," continued Dame Hansen. "I can make all my purchases in two hours, and I will return with Joel in the kariol."
"In case you should meet the postman, don't forget to ask him if there is a letter for us—"
"And especially for you. That is quite likely, for it is a month since you heard from Ole."
"Yes, a month—a whole month."
"Still, you should not worry, child. The delay is not at all surprising. Besides, if the Moel postman has nothing for you, that which didn't come by the way of Christiania may come by the way of Bergen, may it not?"
"Yes, mother," replied Hulda. "But how can I help worrying, when I think how far it is from here to the Newfoundland fishing banks. The whole broad Atlantic to cross, while the weather continues so bad. It is almost a year since my poor Ole left me, and who can say when we shall see him again in Dal?"
"And whether we shall be here when he returns," sighed Dame Hansen, but so softly that her daughter did not hear the words.
Hulda went to close the front door of the inn which stood on the Vesfjorddal road; but she did not take the trouble to turn the key in the lock. In hospitable Norway, such precautions are unnecessary. It is customary for travelers to enter these country inns either by night or by day without calling any one to open the door; and even the loneliest habitations are safe from the depredations of thieves or assassins, for no criminal attempts against life or property ever disturb the peace of this primitive land.
The mother and daughter occupied two front rooms on the second story of the inn—two neat and airy, though plainly furnished rooms. Above them, directly under the sloping roof, was Joel's chamber, lighted by a window incased in a tastefully carved frame-work of pine.
From this window, the eye, after roaming over the grand mountain horizon, returned with delight to the narrow valley through which flowed the Maan, which is half river, half torrent.
A wooden staircase, with heavy balusters and highly polished steps, led from the lower hall to the floors above, and nothing could be more neat and attractive than the whole aspect of this establishment, in which the travelers found a comfort that is rare in Norwegian inns.
Hulda and her mother were in the habit of retiring early when they were alone, and Dame Hansen had already lighted her candle, and was on her way upstairs, when a loud knocking at the door made them both start.
"Dame Hansen! Dame Hansen!" cried a voice.
Dame Hansen paused on the stairs.
"Who can have come so late?" she exclaimed.
"Can it be that Joel has met with an accident?" returned Hulda, quickly.
And she hastened toward the door.
She found a lad there—one of the young rascals known as skydskarls, that make a living by clinging to the back of kariols, and taking the horse back when the journey is ended.
"What do you want here at this hour?" asked Hulda.
"First of all to bid you good-evening," replied the boy, mischievously.
"Is that all?"
"No; that isn't all; but a boy oughtn't to forget his manners, ought he?"
"You are right. But who sent you?"
"Your brother Joel."
"And what for?" asked Dame Hansen, advancing to the door with the slow and measured tread that is a characteristic of the inhabitants of Norway. There is quicksilver in the veins of their soil, but little or none in the veins of their bodies.
The reply had evidently caused the mother some anxiety, however, for she added hastily:
"Has anything happened to my son?"
"No, but the Christiania postman gave him a letter, and—"
"A letter from Drammen?" repeated Dame Hansen, in a lower tone.
"I don't know about that," replied the youth. "All I do know is, that Joel can't get home before to-morrow, and he sent me here to deliver the letter."
"It is important then?"
"I should judge so."
"Hand it here," said Dame Hansen, in a tone that betrayed keen anxiety.
"Here it is, clean and not wrinkled in the least. But the letter is not for you."
Dame Hansen seemed to breathe more freely.
"Then who is it for?" she asked.
"For your daughter."
"For me!" cried Hulda. "It is a letter from Ole! I am sure it is—a letter that came by way of Christiania. My brother did not want me to be kept waiting."
Hulda had snatched the letter from the boy's hand, and now taking it to the table upon which her mother had deposited the candle, she examined the address.
"Yes, it is from him. It is certainly from him! Heaven grant that he writes to announce the speedy return of the 'Viking'!"
"Won't you come in?" said Dame Hansen, turning to the boy.
"Only for a minute. I must get back home to-night, for I am to go with a kariol to-morrow morning."
"Very well. Tell Joel, from me, that I expect to go to Moel to-morrow, and that he must wait for me there."
"No; to-morrow morning, and he must not leave Moel until he sees me. We will return to Dal together."
"Very well, Dame Hansen."
"Won't you take a drop of brandevin?"
The boy approached the table, and Dame Hansen handed him a glass of the beverage which is such a powerful protection against the evening fogs. It is needless to say that he drained the glass, then,
"God-aften!" he said.
"God-aften, my son!"
This is the Norwegian good-night. It was simply spoken, without even an inclination of the head, and the lad instantly departed, without seeming to mind in the least the long walk that he had before him. The sound of his footsteps soon died away beneath the trees that border the swiftly flowing river.
Hulda still stood gazing at Ole's letter. Think of it! This frail envelope must have crossed the broad ocean to reach her, the broad ocean in which the rivers of western Norway lose themselves. She examined the different postmarks. Though mailed on the 15th of March, the missive had not reached Dal until the 15th of April. Why! a month had already elapsed since the letter was written! How many things might have happened in a month on the shores of Newfoundland! Was it not still winter, the dangerous season of equinoxes? Are not these fishing banks the most dangerous in the world, swept by terrible gales from the North Pole? A perilous and arduous vocation was this business of fishing which Ole followed! And if he followed it was it not that she, his betrothed, whom he was to marry on his return, might reap the benefits?
Poor Ole! What did he say in this letter? Doubtless that he loved Hulda as faithfully and truly as Hulda loved him, that they were united in thought, in spite of the distance that separated them, and that he longed for the day of his return to Dal.
Yes, he said all this, Hulda was sure of it. But perhaps he might add that the day of his return was near at hand—that the fishing cruise which had enticed the inhabitants of Bergen so far from their native land, was nearly at an end. Perhaps Ole would tell her that the "Viking" had finished taking aboard her cargo, that she was about to sail, and that the last days of April would not pass without a blissful meeting in the pleasant home at Vesfjorddal. Perhaps, too, he would assure her, at last, that she might safely appoint the day for the pastor to come to Moel to unite them in the little chapel whose steeple rose from a small grove not a hundred yards from Dame Hansen's inn.
To learn all this, it might only be necessary to break the seal, draw out Ole's letter, and read it, through the tears of joy or sorrow that its contents would be sure to bring to Hulda's eyes, and doubtless more than one impatient girl of the south, or even of Denmark or Holland, would already have known all! But Hulda was in a sort of a dream, and dreams terminate only when God chooses to end them, and how often one regrets them, so bitter is the reality.
"Is it really a letter from Ole that your brother has sent you, my daughter?" inquired Dame Hansen.
"Yes; I recognize the handwriting."
"Well, are you going to wait until to-morrow to read it?"
Hulda took one more look at the envelope, then, after slowly breaking the seal, she drew out the carefully written letter, which read as follows:
"Saint-Pierre-Miquelon, March 17th, 1862.
"My Dearest Hulda,—You will hear, with pleasure, that our fishing venture has prospered, and that it will be concluded in a few days. Yes; we are nearing the end of the season, and after a year's absence how glad I shall be to return to Dal and find myself in the midst of the only friends I have in the world—yours and mine.
"My share in the profits of the expedition amounts to quite a handsome sum, which will start us in housekeeping. Messrs. Help Bros., the owners of the ship, have been informed that the 'Viking' will probably return by the 15th or 20th of May; so you may expect to see me at that time; that is to say, in a few weeks at the very longest.
"My dear Hulda, I trust to find you looking even prettier than at my departure, and in the best of health, you and your mother as well, also that hardy, brave comrade, my cousin Joel, your brother, who asks nothing better than to become mine.
"On receipt of this, give my very best respects to Dame Hansen—I can see her now, sitting in her wooden arm-chair by the old stove in the big hall—and tell her I love her with a twofold love, for she is my aunt as well as your mother.
"Above all, don't take the trouble to come to Bergen to meet me, for it is quite possible that the 'Viking' will arrive at an earlier date than I have mentioned. However that may be, my dear Hulda can count upon seeing me at Dal twenty-four hours after we land. Don't be too much surprised if I should arrive considerably ahead of time.
"We have had a pretty rough time of it, this past winter, the weather having been more severe than any our fishermen have ever encountered; but fortunately fish have been plenty. The 'Viking' brings back nearly five thousand quintals, deliverable at Bergen, and already sold by the efforts of Help Bros. And last, but not least, we have succeeded in selling at a handsome profit, and I, who have a share in the venture, will realize something quite handsome from it.
"Besides, even if I should not bring a small competence home with me, I have an idea, or rather, I have a presentiment that it is awaiting me on my return. Yes; comparative wealth, to say nothing of happiness! In what way? That is my secret, my dearest Hulda, and you will forgive me for having a secret from you! It is the only one! Besides, I will tell you all about it. When? Well, as soon as an opportunity offers—before our marriage, if it should be delayed by some unforeseen misfortune—afterward, if I return at the appointed time, and you become my wife within a week after my arrival, as I trust you will.
"A hundred fond kisses, my darling Hulda. Kiss Dame Hansen, and Joel, too, for me. In fancy, I imprint another kiss upon your brow, around which the shining crown of the brides of the Telemark will cast a saint-like halo. Once more, farewell, dearest Hulda, farewell!
"Your devoted lover,
Dal is a modest hamlet consisting of but a few houses; some on either side of a road that is little more than a bridle-path, others scattered over the surrounding hills. But they all face the narrow valley of Vesfjorddal, with their backs to the line of hills to the north, at the base of which flows the Maan.
A little church erected in 1855, whose chancel is pierced by two narrow stained-glass windows, lifts its square belfry from out a leafy grove hard by. Here and there rustic bridges cross the rivulets that dance merrily along toward the river. In the distance are two or three primitive saw-mills, run by water-power, with a wheel to move the saw, as well as a wheel to move the beam or the tree; and seen from a little distance, the chapel, saw-mills, houses, and cabins, all seem to be enveloped in a soft olive haze that emanates from the dark-green firs and the paler birches which either singly or in groups extend from the winding banks of the Maan to the crests of the lofty mountains.
Such is the fresh and laughing hamlet of Dal, with its picturesque dwellings, painted, some of them, in delicate green or pale pink tints, others in such glaring colors as bright yellow and blood-red. The roofs of birch bark, covered with turf, which is mown in the autumn, are crowned with natural flowers. All this is indescribably charming, and eminently characteristic of the most picturesque country in the world. In short, Dal is in the Telemark, the Telemark is in Norway, and Norway is in Switzerland, with thousands of fiords that permit the sea to kiss the feet of its mountains.
The Telemark composes the broad portion of the immense horn that Norway forms between Bergen and Christiania.
This dependency of the prefecture of Batsberg, has the mountains and glaciers of Switzerland, but it is not Switzerland. It has gigantic water-falls like North America, but it is not America. The landscape is adorned with picturesque cottages, and processions of inhabitants, clad in costumes of a former age, like Holland, but it is not Holland. The Telemark is far better than any or all of these; it is the Telemark, noted above all countries in the world for the beauty of its scenery. The writer has had the pleasure of visiting it. He has explored it thoroughly, in a kariol with relays of post-horses—when he could get them—and he brought back with him such a vivid recollection of its manifold charms that he would be glad to convey some idea of it to the reader of this simple narrative.
At the date of this story, 1862, Norway was not yet traversed by the railroad that now enables one to go from Stockholm to Drontheim, by way of Christiania. Now, an extensive network of iron rails extends entirely across these two Scandinavian countries, which are so averse to a united existence. But imprisoned in a railroad-carriage, the traveler, though he makes much more rapid progress than in a kariol, misses all the originality that formerly pervaded the routes of travel. He misses the journey through Southern Sweden on the curious Gotha Canal, in which the steamboats, by rising from lock to lock, manage to reach an elevation of three hundred feet. Nor does he have an opportunity to visit the falls of Trolletann, nor Drammen, nor Kongsberg, nor any of the beauties of the Telemark.
In those days the railroad existed only upon paper. Twenty years were to elapse before one could traverse the Scandinavian kingdom from one shore to the other in forty hours, and visit the North Cape on excursion tickets to Spitzberg.
In those days Dal was, and may it long remain, the central point for foreign or native tourists, these last being for the most part students from Christiania. From Dal they could wander over the entire Telemark and Hardanger region, explore the valley of Vesfjorddal between Lakes Mjos and Tinn, and visit the wonderful cataracts of the Rjukan Tun. The hamlet boasts of but one inn, but that is certainly the most attractive and comfortable imaginable, and one of the most important also, for it can offer four bed-chambers for the accommodation of its guests. In a word, it is Dame Hansen's inn.
A few benches surround the base of its pink walls, which are separated from the ground by a substantial granite foundation. The spruce rafters and weather-boarding have acquired such hardness and toughness with age that the sharpest hatchet can make little or no impression upon them. Between the roughly hewn rafters, which are placed horizontally one above the other, a mixture of clay and turf forms a stanch roof, through which the hardest winter rains can not force their way.
Upstairs, in the bedrooms, the ceilings are painted in dark red or black tints to contrast with the more cheerful and delicate hues of the wood-work.
In one corner of the large hall stands a huge cylinder stove, the pipe of which rises nearly to the ceiling, before it disappears in the kitchen chimney. In another corner stands a tall clock which emits a sonorous tick-tack, as its carved hands travel slowly around its enameled face. Here is a secretary, black with age, side by side with a massive iron tripod. Upon the mantel is an immense terra-cotta candlestick which can be transformed into a three-branched candelabrum by turning it upside down. The handsomest furniture in the house adorns this spacious hall—the birch-root table, with its spreading feet, the big chest with its richly wrought brass handles, in which the Sunday and holiday clothing is kept, the tall arm-chair, hard and uncomfortable as a church-pew, the painted wooden chairs, and the spinning-wheel striped with green, to contrast with the scarlet petticoat of the spinner.
Yonder stands the pot in which the butter is kept, and the paddle with which it is worked, and here is the tobacco-box, and the grater of elaborately carved bone.
And, finally, over the door which opens into the kitchen is a large dresser, with long rows of brass and copper cooking-utensils and bright-colored dishes, the little grindstone for sharpening knives, half-buried in its varnished case, and the egg-dish, old enough to serve as a chalice.
And how wonderful and amusing are the walls, hung with linen tapestries representing scenes from the Bible, and brilliant with all the gorgeous coloring of the pictures of Epinal.
As for the guests' rooms, though they are less pretentious, they are no less comfortable, with their spotless neatness, their curtains of hanging-vines that droop from the turf-covered roof, their huge beds, sheeted with snowy and fragrant linen, and their hangings with verses from the Old Testament, embroidered in yellow upon a red ground.
Nor must we forget that the floor of the main hall, and the floors of all the rooms, both upstairs and down, are strewn with little twigs of birch, pine, and juniper, whose leaves fill the house with their healthful and exhilarating odor.
Can one imagine a more charming posada in Italy, or a more seductive fonda in Spain? No. And the crowd of English tourists have not yet raised the scale of prices as in Switzerland—at least, they had not at the time of which I write. In Dal, the current coin is not the pound sterling, the sovereign of which the travelers' purse is soon emptied. It is a silver coin, worth about five francs, and its subdivisions are the mark, equal in value to about a franc, and the skilling, which must not be confounded with the English shilling, as it is only equivalent to a French sou.
Nor will the tourist have any opportunity to use or abuse the pretentious bank-note in the Telemark. One-mark notes are white; five-mark notes are blue; ten-mark notes are yellow; fifty-mark notes, green; one hundred mark notes, red. Two more, and we should have all the colors of the rainbow.
Besides—and this is a point of very considerable importance—the food one obtains at the Dal inn is excellent; a very unusual thing at houses of public entertainment in this locality, for the Telemark deserves only too well its surname of the Buttermilk Country. At Tiness, Listhus, Tinoset, and many other places, no bread is to be had, or if there be, it is of such poor quality as to be uneatable. One finds there only an oaten cake, known as flat brod, dry, black, and hard as pasteboard, or a coarse loaf composed of a mixture of birch-bark, lichens, and chopped straw. Eggs are a luxury, and a most stale and unprofitable one; but there is any quantity of poor beer to be had, a profusion of buttermilk, either sweet or sour, and sometimes a little coffee, so thick and muddy that it is much more like distilled soot than the products of Mocha or Rio Nunez.
In Dame Hansen's establishment, on the contrary, cellar and larder were alike well-stored. What more could the most exacting tourist ask than salmon, either salt or smoked—fresh salmon that have never tasted tainted waters, fish from the pure streams of the Telemark, fowls, neither too fat nor too lean, eggs in every style, crisp oaten and barley cakes, fruits, more especially strawberries, bread—unleavened bread, it is here, but of the very best quality—beer, and some old bottles of that Saint Julien that have spread the fame of French vineyards even to this distant land?
And this being the case, it is not strange that the inn at Dal is well and favorably known in all the countries of Northern Europe.
One can see this, too, by glancing over the register in which many travelers have not only recorded their names, but paid glowing tributes to Dame Hansen's merits as an inn-keeper. The names are principally those of Swedes and Norwegians from every part of Scandinavia; but the English make a very respectable showing; and one of them, who had waited at least an hour for the summit of Gousta to emerge from the morning mist that enveloped it, wrote upon one of the pages:
"Patientia omnia vincit?"
Without being very deeply versed in ethnography, one may be strongly inclined to believe, in common with many savants, that a close relationship exists between the leading families of the English aristocracy and the oldest families of Scandinavia. Numerous proofs of this fact, indeed, are to be found in the ancestral names which are identical in both countries. There is no aristocracy in Norway, however; still, though the democracy everywhere rules, that does not prevent it from being aristocratic to the highest degree. All are equals upon an exalted plane instead of a low one. Even in the humblest hut may be found a genealogical tree which has not degenerated in the least because it has sprung up anew in humble soil; and the walls are adorned with the proud blazons of the feudal lords from whom these plain peasants are descended.
So it was with the Hansens of Dal, who were unquestionably related, though rather remotely, to the English peers created after Rollo's invasion of Normandy, and though rank and wealth had both departed they had at least preserved the old pride, or rather dignity, which becomes all social ranks.
It was a matter of very little consequence, however. Whether he had ancestors of lofty lineage or not, Harald Hansen was simply a village inn-keeper. The house had come down to him from his father and from his grandfather, who were widely known and respected, and after his death his widow continued the business in a way that elicited universal commendation.
Whether or not Harald had made a fortune in the business, no one was able to say; but he had been able to rear his son Joel and his daughter Hulda in comfort; and Ole Kamp, a son of his wife's sister, had also been brought up like one of his own children. But for his uncle Harald, this orphan child would doubtless have been one of those poor creatures who come into the world only to leave it; and Ole Kamp evinced a truly filial devotion toward his parents by adoption. Nothing would ever sever the tie that bound him to the Hansen family, to which his marriage with Hulda was about to bind him still more closely.
Harald Hansen had died about eighteen months before, leaving his wife, in addition to the inn, a small farm on the mountain, a piece of property which yielded very meager returns, if any. This was especially true of late, for the seasons had been remarkably unpropitious, and agriculture of every kind had suffered greatly, even the pastures. There had been many of those "iron nights," as the Norwegian peasants call them—nights of north-easterly gales and ice that kill the corn down to the very root—and that meant ruin to the farmers of the Telemark and the Hardanger.
Still, whatever Dame Hansen might think of the situation of affairs, she had never said a word to any living soul, not even to her children. Naturally cold and reserved, she was very uncommunicative—a fact that pained Hulda and Joel not a little. But with that respect for the head of the family innate in Northern lands, they made no attempt to break down a reserve which was eminently distasteful to them. Besides, Dame Hansen never asked aid or counsel, being firmly convinced of the infallibility of her own judgment, for she was a true Norwegian in that respect.
Dame Hansen was now about fifty years old. Advancing age had not bowed her tall form, though it had whitened her hair; nor had it dimmed the brightness of her dark-blue eyes, whose azure was reflected in the clear orbs of her daughter; but her complexion had taken on the yellow hue of old parchment, and a few wrinkles were beginning to furrow her forehead.
The madame, as they say in Scandinavia, was invariably attired in a full black skirt, for she had never laid aside her mourning since her husband's death. Below the shoulder-straps of a brown bodice appeared the long full sleeves of an unbleached cotton chemise. On her shoulders she wore a small dark-colored fichu that crossed upon her breast, which was also covered by the large bib of her apron. She always wore as a head-dress a close-fitting black-silk cap that covered almost her entire head, and tied behind, a kind of head-dress that is rarely seen nowadays.
Seated stiffly erect in her wooden arm-chair, the grave hostess neglected her spinning-wheel only to enjoy a small birchwood pipe, whose smoke enveloped her in a faint cloud.
Really, the house would have seemed very gloomy had it not been for the presence of the two children.
A worthy lad was Joel Hansen. Twenty-five years of age, well built, tall, like all Norwegian mountaineers, proud in bearing, though not in the least boastful or conceited. He had fine hair, verging upon chestnut, with blue eyes so dark as to seem almost black. His garb displayed to admirable advantage his powerful shoulders, his broad chest, in which his lungs had full play, and stalwart limbs which never failed him even in the most difficult mountain ascents. His dark-blue jacket, fitting tightly at the waist, was adorned on the shoulders with epaulets, and in the back with designs in colored embroidery similar to those that embellish the vests of the Breton peasantry. His yellow breeches were fastened at the knee by large buckles. Upon his head he wore a broad-brimmed brown hat with a red-and-black band, and his legs were usually incased either in coarse cloth gaiters or in long stout boots without heels.
His vocation was that of a mountain guide in the district of the Telemark, and even in the Hardanger. Always ready to start, and untiring in his exertions, he was a worthy descendant of the Norwegian hero Rollo, the walker, celebrated in the legends of that country. Between times he accompanied English sportsmen who repair to that region to shoot the riper, a species of ptarmigan, larger than that found in the Hebrides, and the jerpir, a partridge much more delicate in its flavor than the grouse of Scotland. When winter came, the hunting of wolves engrossed his attention, for at that season of the year these fierce animals, emboldened by hunger, not unfrequently venture out upon the surface of the frozen lake. Then there was bear hunting in summer, when that animal, accompanied by her young, comes to secure its feast of fresh grass, and when one must pursue it over plateaus at an altitude of from ten to twelve thousand feet. More than once Joel had owed his life solely to the great strength that enabled him to endure the embraces of these formidable animals, and to the imperturbable coolness which enabled him to eventually dispatch them.
But when there was neither tourist nor hunter to be guided through the valley of the Vesfjorddal, Joel devoted his attention to the soetur, the little mountain farm where a young shepherd kept guard over half a dozen cows and about thirty sheep—a soetur consisting exclusively of pasture land.
Joel, being naturally very pleasant and obliging, was known and loved in every village in the Telemark; but two persons for whom he felt a boundless affection were his cousin Ole and his sister Hulda.
When Ole Kamp left Dal to embark for the last time, how deeply Joel regretted his inability to dower Hulda and thus avert the necessity for her lover's departure! In fact, if he had been accustomed to the sea, he would certainly have gone in his cousin's place. But money was needed to start them in housekeeping, and as Dame Hansen had offered no assistance, Joel understood only too well that she did not feel inclined to devote any portion of the estate to that purpose, so there was nothing for Ole to do but cross the broad Atlantic.
Joel had accompanied him to the extreme end of the valley on his way to Bergen, and there, after a long embrace, he wished him a pleasant journey and a speedy return, and then returned to console his sister, whom he loved with an affection which was at the same time fraternal and paternal in its character.
Hulda at that time was exactly eighteen years of age. She was not the piga, as the servant in a Norwegian inn is called, but rather the froken, the young lady of the house, as her mother was the madame. What a charming face was hers, framed in a wealth of pale golden hair, under a thin linen cap projecting in the back to give room for the long plaits of hair! What a lovely form incased in this tightly fitting bodice of red stuff, ornamented with green shoulder-straps and surmounted by a snowy chemisette, the sleeves of which were fastened at the wrist by a ribbon bracelet! What grace and perfect symmetry in the waist, encircled by a red belt with clasps of silver filigree which held in place the dark-green skirt, below which appeared the white stocking protected by the dainty pointed toed shoe of the Telemark!
Yes, Ole's betrothed was certainly charming, with the slightly melancholy expression of the daughters of the North softening her smiling face; and on seeing her one instantly thought of Hulda the Fair, whose name she bore, and who figures as the household fairy in Scandinavian mythology.
Nor did the reserve of a chaste and modest maiden mar the grace with which she welcomed the guests who came to the inn. She was well known to the world of tourists; and it was not one of the smallest attractions of the inn to be greeted by that cordial shake of the hand that Hulda bestowed on one and all. And after having said to her, "Tack for mad" (Thanks for the meal), what could be more delightful than to hear her reply in her fresh sonorous voice: "Wed bekomme!" (May it do you good!)
Ole Kamp had been absent a year; and as he said in his letter, his winter's experience on the fishing banks of Newfoundland had been a severe one. When one makes money there one richly earns it. The equinoctial storms that rage there not unfrequently destroy a whole fishing fleet in a few hours; but fish abound, and vessels which escape find ample compensation for the toil and dangers of this home of the tempest.
Besides, Norwegians are excellent seamen, and shrink from no danger. In the numberless fiords that extend from Christiansand to Cape North, among the dangerous reefs of Finland, and in the channels of the Loffoden Islands, opportunities to familiarize themselves with the perils of ocean are not wanting; and from time immemorial they have given abundant proofs of their courage. Their ancestors were intrepid mariners at an epoch when the Hanse monopolized the commerce of northern Europe. Possibly they were a trifle prone to indulge in piracy in days gone by, but piracy was then quite common. Doubtless commerce has reformed since then, though one may perhaps be pardoned for thinking that there is still room for improvement.
However that may be, the Norwegians were certainly fearless seamen; they are to-day, and so they will ever be. Ole Kamp was not the man to belie his origin; besides, he had served his apprenticeship under his father, who was the master of a Bergen coasting vessel. His childhood had been spent in that port, which is one of the most frequented in Scandinavia. Before he ventured out upon the open sea he had been an untiring fisher in the fiords, and a fearless robber of the sea-birds' nests, and when he became old enough to serve as cabin-boy he made a voyage across the North Sea and even to the waters of the Polar Ocean.
Soon afterward his father died, and as he had lost his mother several years before, his uncle Harald Hansen invited him to become a member of his family, which he did, though he continued to follow the same calling.
In the intervals between his voyages he invariably spent his time with the friends he loved; but he made regular voyages upon large fishing vessels, and rose to the rank of mate when he was but twenty-one. He was now twenty-three years of age.
When he visited Dal, Joel found him a most congenial companion. He accompanied him on his excursions to the mountains, and across the highest table-lands of the Telemark. The young sailor seemed as much at home in the fields as in the fiords, and never lagged behind unless it was to keep his cousin Hulda company.
A close friendship gradually sprung up between Joel and Ole, and quite naturally the same sentiment assumed a different form in respect to the young girl. Joel, of course, encouraged it. Where would his sister ever find a better fellow, a more sympathetic nature, a warmer and more devoted heart? With Ole for a husband, Hulda's happiness was assured. So it was with the entire approval of her mother and brother that the young girl followed the natural promptings of her heart. Though these people of the North are undemonstrative, they must not be accused of a want of sensibility. No! It is only their way; and perhaps their way is as good as any other, after all.
So it came to pass that one day, when all four of them were sitting quietly together, Ole remarked, without any preamble whatever:
"An idea occurs to me, Hulda."
"What is it?"
"It seems to me that we ought to marry."
"I think so too."
"And so do I," added Dame Hansen as coolly as if the matter had been under discussion for some time.
"I agree with you," remarked Joel, "and in that case I shall naturally become your brother-in-law."
"Yes," said Ole; "but it is probable that I shall only love you the better for it."
"That is very possible."
"We have your consent, then?"
"Upon my word! nothing would please me better," replied Joel.
"So it is decided, Hulda?" inquired Dame Hansen.
"Yes, mother," replied the girl, quietly.
"You are really willing?" asked Ole. "I have loved you a long time, Hulda, without saying so."
"And I you, Ole."
"How it came about, I really do not know."
"But it was doubtless seeing you grow more beautiful and good day by day."
"That is saying a little too much, my dear Ole."
"No; I certainly ought to be able to say that without making you blush, for it is only the truth. Didn't you see that I was beginning to love Hulda, Dame Hansen?"
"I suspected as much."
"And you, Joel?"
"I was sure of it."
"Then I certainly think that you ought to have warned me," said Ole, smiling.
"But how about your voyages, Ole?" inquired Dame Hansen. "Won't they seem intolerable to you after you are married?"
"So intolerable that I shall not follow the sea any more after my marriage."
"You will not go to sea any more?"
"No, Hulda. Do you think it would be possible for me to leave you for months at a time?"
"So this is to be your last voyage?"
"Yes, and if we have tolerable luck, this voyage will yield me quite a snug little sum of money, for Help Bros. have promised me a share in the profits."
"They are good men," remarked Joel.
"The best men living," replied Ole, "and well known and highly respected by all the sailors of Bergen."
"But what do you expect to do after you cease to follow the sea, my dear Ole?" inquired Hulda.
"I shall go into partnership with Joel in his business, I have pretty good legs, and if they are not good enough, I will improve them by going into regular training. Besides, I have thought of a plan which will not prove a bad one perhaps. Why can't we establish a messenger service between Drammen, Kongsberg and a few other towns in the Telemark Communication now is neither easy nor regular, and there might be money in the scheme. Besides, I have other plans, to say nothing of—"
"Never mind, now. I will tell you on my return. But I warn you that I am firmly resolved to make my Hulda the happiest woman in the country. Yes, I am."
"If you but knew how easy that will be!" replied Hulda, offering him her hand. "Am I not that already, and is there a home in all Dal as pleasant as ours?"
Dame Hansen hastily averted her head.
"So the matter is settled?" asked Ole, cheerfully.
"Yes," replied Joel.
"And settled beyond recall?"
"And you feel no regret, Hulda?"
"None whatever, my dear Ole."
"I think, however, that it would be better not to appoint the day for your marriage until after your return," remarked Joel.
"Very well, but it will go hard with me if I do not return in less than a year to lead Hulda to the church at Moel, where our friend, Pastor Andersen, will not refuse to make his best prayer for us!"
And it was in this way that the marriage of Hulda Hansen and Ole Kamp had been decided upon.
The young sailor was to go aboard his vessel a week later; but before they parted the lovers were formally betrothed in accordance with the touching custom of Scandinavian countries.
In simple and honest Norway lovers are almost invariably publicly betrothed before marriage. Sometimes the marriage is not solemnized until two or three years afterward, but one must not suppose that the betrothal is simply an interchange of vows which depend only upon the honesty of the parties interested. No, the obligation is much more sacred, and even if this act of betrothal is not binding in the eyes of the law, it is, at least, so regarded by that universal law called custom.
So, in this case, it was necessary to make arrangements for a ceremony over which Pastor Andersen should preside. There was no minister in Dal, nor in any of the neighboring hamlets. In Norway they have what they call Sunday towns, in which the minister resides, and where the leading families of the parish assemble for worship. They even lease apartments there, in which they take up their abode for twenty-four hours or more—time to perform their religious duties—and people return from the town as from a pilgrimage.
Dal, it is true, boasted of a chapel, but the pastor came only when he was summoned.
After all, Moel was not far off, only about eight miles distant, at the end of Lake Tinn, and Pastor Andersen was a very obliging man, and a good walker; so the worthy minister was invited to attend the betrothal in the twofold capacity of minister and family friend. The acquaintance was one of long standing. He had seen Joel and Hulda grow up, and loved them as well as he loved that young sea-dog, Ole Kamp, so the news of the intended marriage was very pleasing to him.
So Pastor Andersen gathered together his robe, his collar, and his prayer-book, and started off for Dal one misty, moisty morning. He arrived there in the company of Joel, who had gone half-way to meet him, and it is needless to say that his coming was hailed with delight at Dame Hansen's inn, that he had the very best room in the house, and that the floor was freshly strewn with twigs of juniper that perfumed it like a chapel.
At one o'clock on the following day the little church was thrown open, and there, in the presence of the pastor and a few friends and neighbors, Ole and Hulda solemnly promised to wed each other when the young sailor should return from the last voyage he intended to make. A year is a long time to wait, but it passes all the same, nor is it intolerable when two persons can trust each other.
And now Ole could not, without good cause, forsake her to whom he had plighted his troth, nor could Hulda retract the promise she had given to Ole; and if Ole had not left Norway a few days after the betrothal, he might have profited by the incontestable right it gave him to visit the young girl whenever he pleased, to write to her whenever he chose, walk out with her arm in arm, unaccompanied by any member of the family, and enjoy a preference over all others in the dances that form a part of all fetes and ceremonies.
But Ole Kamp had been obliged to return to Bergen, and one week afterward the "Viking" set sail for the fishing banks of Newfoundland, and Hulda could only look forward to the letters which her betrothed had promised to send her by every mail.
And these impatiently expected letters never failed her, and always brought a ray of happiness to the house which seemed so gloomy after the departure of one of its inmates. The voyage was safely accomplished; the fishing proved excellent, and the profits promised to be large. Besides, at the end of each letter, Ole always referred to a certain secret, and of the fortune it was sure to bring him. It was a secret that Hulda would have been glad to know, and Dame Hansen, too, for reasons one would not have been likely to suspect.
Dame Hansen seemed to have become even more gloomy and anxious and reticent than ever, and a circumstance which she did not see fit to mention to her children increased her anxiety very considerably.
Three days after the arrival of Ole's last letter, as Dame Hansen was returning alone from the saw-mill, to which place she had gone to order a bag of shavings from the foreman, Lengling, she was accosted near her own door by a man who was a stranger in that part of the country.
"This is Dame Hansen, is it not?" he inquired.
"Yes; but I do not know you," was the reply.
"That doesn't matter," rejoined the man. "I arrived here only this morning from Drammen, and am now on my way back."
"From Drammen?" repeated Dame Hansen, quickly.
"You are acquainted, I think, with a certain Monsieur Sandgoist, who lives there?"
"Monsieur Sandgoist!" repeated Dame Hansen, whose face paled at the name. "Yes, I know him."
"Ah, well! When Monsieur Sandgoist heard that I was coming to Dal, he asked me to give his respects to you."
"Was that all?"
"And to say to you that it was more than probable that he would pay you a visit next month. Good health to you, and good-evening, Dame Hansen."
Hulda was considerably surprised at the persistency with which Ole alluded in his letters to the fortune that was to be his on his return. Upon what did the young man base his expectations? Hulda could not imagine, and she was very anxious to know. Was this anxiety due solely to an idle curiosity on her part? By no means, for the secret certainly affected her deeply. Not that she was ambitious, this modest and honest young girl; nor did she in looking forward to the future ever aspire to what we call wealth. Ole's affection satisfied, and would always satisfy her. If wealth came, she would welcome it with joy. If it did not come, she would still be content.
This is precisely what Hulda and Joel said to each other the day after Ole's last letter reached Dal. They agreed perfectly upon this subject, as upon all others, by the way. And then Joel added:
"No; it is impossible, little sister. You certainly must be keeping something from me."
"Keeping something from you!"
"Yes; for I can not believe that Ole went away without giving you some clew to his secret."
"Did he say anything to you about it?"
"No; but you and I are not one and the same person."
"Yes, we are, brother."
"I am not Ole's betrothed, at all events."
"Almost," said the young girl; "and if any misfortune should befall him, and he should not return from this voyage, you would be as inconsolable as I would be, and your tears would flow quite as freely as mine."
"Really, little sister. I forbid you to even speak of such a thing," replied Joel. "Ole not return from his last voyage to the great fishing banks! What can have put such an idea into your head? You surely can not mean what you say, Hulda!"
"No, certainly not. And yet, I do not know. I can not drive away certain presentiments—the result, perhaps, of bad dreams."
"Dreams are only dreams."
"True, brother, but where do they come from?"
"From ourselves, not from heaven. You are anxious, and so your fears haunt you in your slumber. Besides, it is almost always so when one has earnestly desired a thing and the time when one's desires are to be realized is approaching."
"I know it, Joel."
"Really, I thought you were much more sensible, little sister. Yes, and more energetic. Here you have just received a letter from Joel saying that the 'Viking' will return before the end of the month, and it is now the 19th of April, and consequently none too soon for you to begin your preparations for the wedding."
"Do you really think so, Joel?"
"Certainly I think so, Hulda. I even think that we have delayed too long already. Think of it. We must have a wedding that will not only create a sensation in Dal, but in all the neighboring villages. I intend it shall be the grandest one ever known in the district, so I am going to set to work immediately."
An affair of this kind is always a momentous occasion in all the country districts of Norway, particularly in the Telemark, so that every day Joel had a conversation with his mother on the subject. It was only a few moments after Dame Hansen's meeting with the stranger, whose message had so deeply agitated her, and though she had seated herself at her spinning-wheel as usual, it would have been plain to a close observer that her thoughts were far away.
Even Joel noticed that his mother seemed even more despondent than usual, but as she invariably replied that there was nothing the matter with her when she was questioned on the subject, her son decided to speak only of Hulda's marriage.
"Mother," he began, "you, of course, recollect that Ole announced in his last letter that he should probably return to Dal in a few weeks."
"It is certainly to be hoped that he will," replied Dame Hansen, "and that nothing will occur to occasion any further delay."
"Do you see any objection to our fixing upon the twenty-fifth of May as the day of the marriage?"
"None, whatever, if Hulda is willing."
"Her consent is already given. And now I think I had better ask you, mother, if you do not intend to do the handsome thing on that occasion?"
"What do you mean by the handsome thing?" retorted Dame Hansen, without raising her eyes from her spinning-wheel.
"Why, I am anxious, if you approve, of course, that the wedding should correspond with the position we hold in the neighborhood. We ought to invite all our friends to it, and if our own house is not large enough to accommodate them, our neighbors, I am sure, will be glad to lodge our guests."
"Who will these guests be, Joel?"
"Why, I think we ought to invite all our friends from Moel, Tiness and Bamble. I will attend to that. I think, too, that the presence of Help Bros., the shipowners, would be an honor to the family, and with your consent, I repeat, I will invite them to spend a day with us at Dal. They are very fine men, and they think a great deal of Ole, so I am almost sure that they will accept the invitation."
"Is it really necessary to make this marriage such an important event?" inquired Dame Hansen, coldly.
"I think so, mother, if only for the sake of our inn, which I am sure has maintained its old reputation since my father's death."
"Yes, Joel, yes."
"And it seems to me that it is our duty to at least keep it up to the standard at which he left it; consequently, I think it would be advisable to give considerable publicity to my sister's marriage."
"So be it, Joel."
"And do you not agree with me in thinking that it is quite time for Hulda to begin her preparations, and what do you say to my suggestion?"
"I think that you and Hulda must do whatever you think necessary," replied Dame Hansen.
Perhaps the reader will think that Joel was in too much of a hurry, and that it would have been much more sensible in him to have waited until Ole's return before appointing the wedding-day, and beginning to prepare for it, but as he said, what was once done would not have to be done over again; besides, the countless details connected with a ceremonial of this kind would serve to divert Hulda's mind from these forebodings for which there seemed to be no foundation.
The first thing to be done was to select the bride's maid of honor. That proved an easy matter, however, for Hulda's choice was already made. The bride-maid, of course, must be Hulda's intimate friend, Farmer Helmboe's daughter. Her father was a prominent man, and the possessor of a very comfortable fortune. For a long time he had fully appreciated Joel's sterling worth, and his daughter Siegfrid's appreciation, though of a rather different nature, was certainly no less profound; so it was quite probable that at no very distant day after Siegfrid had served as Hulda's maid of honor, Hulda, in turn, would act in the same capacity for her friend. This is the custom in Norway, where these pleasant duties are generally reserved for married women, so it was rather on Joel's account that Siegfrid Helmboe was to serve Hulda Hansen in this capacity.
A question of vital importance to the bride-maid as well as to the bride, is the toilet to be worn on the day of the wedding.
Siegfrid, a pretty blonde of eighteen summers, was firmly resolved to appear to the best possible advantage on the occasion. Warned by a short note from her friend Hulda—Joel had kindly made himself responsible for its safe delivery—she immediately proceeded to devote her closest attention to this important work.
In the first place, an elaborately embroidered bodice must be made to incase Siegfrid's charming figure as if in a coat of enamel. There was also much talk about a skirt composed of a series of jupons which should correspond in number with the wearer's fortune, but in no way detract from her charms of person. As for jewelry, it was no easy matter to select the design of the collar of silver filigree, set with pearls, the heart-shaped ear-rings, the double buttons to fasten the neck of the chemisette, the belt of red silk or woolen stuff from which depend four rows of small chains, the finger-rings studded with tiny bangles that tinkle musically, the bracelets of fretted silver—in short, all the wealth of country finery in which gold appears only in the shape of the thinnest plating, silver in the guise of tin and pearls, and diamonds in the shape of wax and crystal beads. But what does that matter so long as the tout ensemble is pleasing to the eye? Besides, if necessary, Siegfrid would not hesitate to go to the elegant stores of M. Benett, in Christiania, to make her purchases. Her father would not object—far from it! The kind-hearted man allowed his daughter full liberty in such matters; besides, Siegfrid was sensible enough not to draw too heavily upon her father's purse, though everything else was of secondary importance provided Joel would see her at her very best on that particular day.
As for Hulda, her anxiety on the subject was no less serious, for fashions are pitiless, and give, besides, not a little trouble in the selection of their wedding-toilet.
Hulda would now be obliged to abandon the long plaits tied with bright ribbons, which had heretofore hung from under her coquettish cap, the broad belt with fancy buckles that kept her apron in place upon her scarlet skirt, the girdle to which were appended several small embroidered leather cases containing a silver tea-spoon, knife, fork, needle-case and scissors—articles which a woman makes constant use of in the household.
No, on the fast approaching day of the nuptials, Hulda's hair would be allowed to float down upon her shoulders, and it was so abundant that it would not be necessary for her to have recourse to the jute switches used by Norwegian girls less favored by nature. Indeed, for her clothing, as well as for her ornaments, Hulda would only be obliged to resort to her mother's big chest. In fact, these articles of clothing are transmitted from marriage to marriage through all the different generations of the same family. So one sees reappearing again and again upon the scene the bodice embroidered in gold, the velvet sash, the skirt of striped silk, the gold chain for the neck, and the crown—the famous Scandinavian crown—carefully preserved in the most secure of all the chests, and made of pasteboard covered with embossed gilt paper, and studded with stars, or garlanded with leaves—that takes the place of the wreath of orange-blossoms worn by brides in other European countries.
In this case the crowned betrothed, as the bride is styled, would certainly do honor to her husband; and he would be worthy of her in his gay wedding suit: a short jacket trimmed with silver buttons, silk-embroidered waistcoat, tight breeches fastened at the knee with a bunch of bright ribbons, a soft felt hat, yellow top-boots, and in his belt the Scandinavian knife—the dolknife—with which the true Norwegian is always provided.
Consequently, there was plenty to occupy the attention of the young ladies for some time to come. Two or three weeks would barely suffice if they wished to have everything in readiness before Ole's return; but even if Ole should arrive sooner than he expected, and Hulda should not be quite ready, she would not be inconsolable, nor would he.
The last weeks of April and the first weeks of May were devoted to these matters. Joel assumed charge of the invitations, taking advantage of the fact that his vocation of guide gave him considerable leisure at this season of the year. One would have supposed that he had a large number of friends in Bamble, for he went there very often. He had already written to Help Bros., inviting them to attend his sister's wedding, and in accordance with his prediction, these worthy shipowners had promptly accepted the invitation.
The fifteenth of May came, and any day now they might expect Ole to alight from his kariol, throw open the door, and shout in his hearty, cheerful voice:
"It is I! Here I am!"
A little patience was all that was needed now, for everything was in readiness, and Siegfrid needed only a word to appear before them in all her splendor.
The 16th and 17th passed, and still no Ole, nor did the postman bring any letter from Newfoundland.
"There is no cause for anxiety, little sister," Joel said, again and again. "A sailing-vessel is always subject to delays. It is a long way from St. Pierre-Miquelon to Bergen. How I wish the 'Viking' were a steamer and I the engine. How I would drive along against wind and tide, even if I should burst my boiler on coming into port."
He said all this because he saw very plainly that Hulda's uneasiness was increasing from day to day.
Just at this time, too, the weather was very bad in the Telemark. Violent gales swept the high table-lands, and these winds, which blew from the west, came from America.
"They ought to have hastened the arrival of the 'Viking,'" the young girl repeated again and again.
"Yes, little sister," replied Joel; "but they are so strong that they may have hindered its progress, and compelled it to face the gale. People can't always do as they like upon the sea."
"So you are not uneasy, Joel?"
"No, Hulda, no. It is annoying, of course, but these delays are very common. No; I am not uneasy, for there is really not the slightest cause for anxiety."
On the 19th a traveler arrived at the inn, and asked for a guide to conduct him over the mountains to the Hardanger, and though Joel did not like the idea of leaving Hulda, he could not refuse his services. He would only be absent forty-eight hours at the longest, and he felt confident that he should find Ole at Dal on his return, though, to tell the truth, the kind-hearted youth was beginning to feel very uneasy. Still, he started off early the next morning, though with a heavy heart, we must admit.
On the following day, at precisely one o'clock, a loud rap resounded at the door of the inn.
"It is Ole!" cried Hulda.
She ran to the door.
There, in a kariol, sat a man enveloped in a traveling-cloak, a man whose face was unknown to her.
"Is this Dame Hansen's inn?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," answered Hulda.
"Is Dame Hansen at home?"
"No; but she will soon return, and if you wish to speak to her—"
"I do not. There is nothing I want to say to her."
"Would you like a room?"
"Yes; the best in the house."
"Shall we prepare dinner for you?"
"As soon as possible, and see to it that everything is of the very best quality."
These remarks were exchanged between Hulda and the traveler before the latter had alighted from the kariol, in which he had journeyed to the heart of the Telemark across the forests, lakes, and valleys of Central Norway.
Every one who has visited Scandinavia is familiar with the kariol, the means of locomotion so dear to the hearts of her people. Two long shafts, between which trots a horse wearing a square wooden collar, painted yellow and striped with black, and guided with a simple rope passed, not through his mouth, but around his nose, two large, slender wheels, whose springless axle supports a small gay-colored, shell-shaped wagon-body, scarcely large enough to hold one person—no covering, no dash-board, no step—but behind, a board upon which the skydskarl perches himself. The whole vehicle strongly reminds one of an enormous spider between two huge cobwebs represented by the wheels of the vehicle.
At a sign from the traveler the skydskarl sprung to the horse's head, and the stranger rose, straightened himself out, and finally alighted, though not without some difficulty, judging from two or three muttered curses.
"Will they put my kariol under shelter?" he asked, curtly, pausing upon the threshold.
"Yes, sir," replied Hulda.
"And find my horse?"
"I will have him put in the stable immediately."
"Have him well cared for."
"Certainly, sir. May I ask if you intend to remain in Dal several days?"
"I don't know yet."
The kariol and horse were taken to a small barn built under the shelter of some trees at the foot of the mountain. It was the only stable connected with the inn, but it sufficed for the requirements of its guests.
In a few moments the traveler was duly installed in the best chamber, where, after removing his cloak, he proceeded to warm himself before the fire he had ordered lighted. In the meantime, Hulda, to satisfy this exacting guest, bade the piga (a sturdy peasant-girl, who helped in the kitchen, and did the rough work of the inn during the summer) prepare the best dinner possible.
A strong, hardy man was this new-comer, though he had already passed his sixtieth year. Thin, slightly round-shouldered, of medium stature, with an angular head, smoothly shaven face, thin, pointed nose, small eyes that looked you through and through from behind large spectacles, a forehead generally contracted by a frown, lips too thin for a pleasant word ever to escape them, and long, crooked fingers, he was the very personification of an avaricious usurer or miser, and Hulda felt a presentiment that this stranger would bring no good fortune to Dame Hansen's house.
He was a Norwegian unquestionably, but one of the very worst type. His traveling costume consisted of a broad-brimmed, low-crowned hat, a snuff-colored suit, the breeches fastened at the knee with a leather strap, and over all a large brown cloak, lined with sheep-skin to protect its wearer from the chilly night air.
Hulda did not ask him his name, but she would soon learn it, as he would have to enter it upon the inn register.
Just then Dame Hansen returned, and her daughter announced the arrival of a guest who demanded the best room and the best food that the inn afforded, but who vouchsafed no information in regard to the probable length of his stay.
"And he did not give his name?" asked Dame Hansen.
"Nor say whence he came?"
"If he is not a tourist, what can have brought him to Dal?" said Dame Hansen to herself rather than to her daughter, and in a tone that indicated some uneasiness.
But Hulda could not answer this question, as the new-comer had acquainted her with none of his plans.
About an hour after his arrival the man came out into the main hall, from which his door opened, but seeing Dame Hansen sitting there, he paused upon the threshold.
Evidently he was as much of a stranger to his hostess as his hostess was to him; but he finally walked toward her, and after a long look at her from over his spectacles:
"You are Dame Hansen, I suppose?" he said, without even touching the hat he had not yet removed from his head.
In the presence of this man the widow, strange to say, experienced, like her daughter, an uneasiness for which she could not account, but which her guest must have noticed.
"So you are really Dame Hansen, of Dal?" he continued.
"Certainly, sir. Have you anything particular to say to me?"
"Nothing; I only wished to make your acquaintance. Am I not your guest? And now I should like you to see that I have my dinner as soon as possible."
"Your dinner is ready," interposed Hulda, "and if you will step into the dining-room—"
As he spoke, the stranger directed his steps toward the door indicated, and a moment afterward he was seated near the window in front of a small, neatly spread table.
The dinner was certainly good. The most fastidious traveler could not have found fault with it; nevertheless, this ill-tempered individual was not sparing in his signs and words of dissatisfaction—especially signs, for he did not appear to be very loquacious. One could hardly help wondering whether this fault-finding was due to a poor digestion or a bad temper. The soup of cherries and gooseberries did not suit him, though it was excellent, and he scarcely tasted his salmon and salt-herring. The cold ham, broiled chicken and nicely seasoned vegetables did not seem to please him, and his bottle of claret and his half bottle of champagne seemed to be equally unsatisfactory, though they came from the best cellars in France; and when the repast was concluded the guest had not even a "tack for mad" for his hostess.
After dinner the old curmudgeon lighted his pipe and went out for a walk along the river bank.
On reaching the stream he turned and fixed his eyes upon the inn. He seemed to be studying it under all its varied aspects, as if trying to form a correct estimate of its value.
He counted every door and window, and finally on his return to the inn he stuck his knife into the horizontal beams at its base, as if to test the quality of the wood and its state of preservation. Could it be that he was trying to find out how much Dame Hansen's inn was really worth? Did he aspire to become the owner of it, though it was not for sale? All this was certainly very strange, especially as he afterward turned his attention to the little yard, the trees and shrubs of which he counted carefully, and finally measured both sides of the inclosure with regular strides, after which the movement of his pencil over a page of his memorandum-book seemed to indicate that he was multiplying one by the other.
All the while Dame Hansen and her daughter were watching him from one of the windows of the inn. What strange creature was this, and what could be the object of his visit? It was greatly to be regretted that all this took place during Joel's absence, especially as the eccentric individual was going to spend the night at the inn.
"What if he is a madman?" said Hulda.
"A madman? no," replied Dame Hansen. "But he is a very eccentric person, to say the least."
"It is always unpleasant to be ignorant of the name of the person you are entertaining," remarked the young girl.
"Before he re-enters the house, Hulda, be sure that you carry the register into his room. Perhaps he will conclude to write his name in it."
Just at dusk a fine rain began to fall, so the stranger returned to the inn. He asked for a small glass of brandy, then without saying a word, or even bidding any one good-night, he took his wooden candlestick, and entering his room bolted the door behind him, and nothing further was heard from him that night.
The skydskarl had taken refuge in the barn, where he was already sound asleep in company with the sorrel horse.
Dame Hansen and her daughter rose with the sun the next morning, but no sound came from the room of their guest, who was probably still sleeping. A little after nine o'clock he made his appearance even more glum and ill-tempered than the evening before, complaining that his bed had been hard, and that the noise in the house had kept, him awake; then he opened the door and looked out at the sky.
The prospect was not very cheering, certainly, for the wind was blowing a gale, and the stranger concluded not to venture out. Still he did not waste his time. With his pipe in his mouth he walked about the inn as if trying to familiarize himself with the arrangement of the interior. He visited all the different rooms, examined the furniture, and peered into cupboards and sideboards with as much coolness as if he had been in his own house.
Though the man was singular in appearance, his actions were certainly even more singular. Finally he seated himself in the big arm-chair, and proceeded to question Dame Hansen in a curt, almost rude tone. How long had the inn been built? Was it her husband that built it, or did he inherit it? How much land was there around it, and what was the extent of the adjoining souter? Was the inn well patronized, and did it pay well? How many tourists came there on an average during the summer? Did they usually spend one or several days there? etc., etc.
It was evident that the stranger had not looked at the register that had been placed in his room, for that would have given him all the information he desired upon this last point.
In fact, the book was still on the table where Hulda had placed it the evening before, and the traveler's name was not in it.
"I do not understand how and why these matters can interest you, sir," said Dame Hansen at last; "but if you wish to know the state of our business, nothing could be easier. You have only to examine the register, in which you would greatly oblige me by entering your name according to custom."
"My name? I will write my name in it, certainly. I will write it there before I leave, which will be immediately after breakfast, as I am anxious to get back to Drammen by to-morrow evening."
"Drammen!" repeated Dame Hansen, hastily.
"Yes. Will you give me my breakfast as soon as possible?"
"Do you live in Drammen?"
"Yes. May I ask if there is anything astonishing about the fact that I reside in Drammen?"
So, after spending scarcely twenty-four hours in Dal, or rather at the inn, the traveler left without making the slightest effort to see anything of the surrounding country, Gousta, and Rjukanfos, and the wonders of the valley of the Vesfjorddal were entirely ignored.
It certainly could not have been for pleasure that he left Drammen, so he must have come on business, and the sole object of his visit seemed to have been a careful examination of Dame Hansen's establishment.
It was plain to Hulda that her mother was deeply troubled, for she seated herself in her big arm-chair, and pushing aside her spinning-wheel, remained there silent and motionless.
In the meantime the traveler had gone into the dining-room and seated himself at the table. Though the breakfast was as carefully prepared as the dinner of the evening before, it seemed to give no better satisfaction; and yet the guest eat and drank in the same leisurely fashion. His attention seemed to be chiefly bestowed upon the silver—a luxury highly prized among Norwegian peasants, where the few forks and spoons which are handed down from father to son are carefully preserved with the family jewels.
Meanwhile the skydskarl busied himself with his preparations for departure; and by eleven o'clock the horse and kariol were standing before the door of the inn.
The weather was still threatening; the sky was dull and overcast, and now and then big drops of rain dashed against the window-panes; but this traveler with his heavy cloak lined with sheep-skin was not a man to worry about the weather.
Breakfast over, he called for one more glass of brandy, lighted his pipe, and put on his coat, then stepping out into the hall he called for his bill.
"I will make it out immediately," replied Hulda, seating herself at a small desk.
"Be quick about it," said the traveler. "And now," he added, "you had better bring me your book so I can write my name in it."
Dame Hansen rose and left the room to get the register, which, on her return, she placed upon the large table.
The stranger picked up a pen and took one more long look at Dame Hansen over his spectacles; then he wrote his name in a large, round hand, and closed the book.
Just at that moment Hulda handed him his bill. He took it, examined each item separately, and then proceeded to add up the figures, grumbling all the while.
"Hum!" he exclaimed. "This is very dear! Seven marks and a half for a night's lodging and two meals!"
"You forget the skydskarl and the horse," remarked Hulda.
"Nevertheless, I think your charge very high. I really don't see how you can expect to prosper if you are so exorbitant in your charges."
"You owe me nothing, sir," said Dame Hansen, in a voice that trembled so that it was scarcely audible.
She had just opened the register and read the name inscribed upon it, and now taking the bill and tearing it up, she repeated:
"You owe me nothing."
"That is exactly my opinion,'" replied the stranger.
And without bidding them good-bye on his departure any more than he had bidden them good-day on his arrival, he climbed into his kariol, and the skydskarl jumped upon the board behind him. A few seconds later he had disappeared around a turn in the road. When Hulda opened the book she found there only this name—
"Sandgoist, from Drammen."
It was on the afternoon of the following day that Joel was to return home; and Hulda, who knew that her brother would come back by the table-lands of the Gousta and along the left bank of the Maan, went to meet him at the ferry across that impetuous stream. On arriving there she seated herself on the little wharf which serves as a landing-place for the ferry-boat, and abandoned herself to her thoughts.
To the deep uneasiness caused by the non-arrival of the "Viking" was now added another great anxiety. This last was caused by the mysterious visit of Sandgoist, and Dame Hansen's agitation in his presence. Why had she destroyed the bill and declined to accept the money due her as soon as she learned her guest's name? There must be some secret concealed under all this—and a grave one.
Hulda was finally aroused from her reverie by the approach of Joel. She first caught a glimpse of him as he was descending the topmost slope; soon he reappeared in the midst of a narrow clearing between the burned and fallen trees. Then he vanished from sight behind a clump of pines, and at last reached the opposite bank and jumped aboard the ferry-boat. With a few vigorous strokes of the oar he propelled the boat swiftly through the rapids, and then leaped upon the little pier beside his sister.
"Has Ole returned?" he asked, hastily.
It was of Ole that he thought first of all; but his question remained unanswered.
"Have you received no letter from him?"
And Hulda burst into tears.
"Don't cry, little sister," exclaimed Joel, "don't cry. You make me wretched. I can not bear to see you weep. Let me see! You say you have received no letter. The matter is beginning to look a little serious, I must admit, though there is no reason to despair as yet. If you desire it, I will go to Bergen, and make inquiries there. I will call on Help Bros. Possibly they may have some news from Newfoundland. It is quite possible that the 'Viking' may have put into some port for repairs, or on account of bad weather. The wind has been blowing a hurricane for more than a week, and not unfrequently ships from Newfoundland take refuge in Iceland, or at the Faroe Islands. This very thing happened to Ole two years ago, when he was on board the 'Strenna,' you remember. I am only saying what I really think, little sister. Dry your eyes. If you make me lose heart what will become of us?"
"But I can't help it, Joel."
"Hulda! Hulda! do not lose courage. I assure you that I do not despair, not by any means."
"Can I really believe you, Joel?"
"Yes, you can. Now, to reassure you, shall I start for Bergen to-morrow morning, or this very evening?"
"No, no, you must not leave me! No, you must not!" sobbed Hulda, clinging to her brother as if he was the only friend she had left in the world.
They started toward the inn. Joel sheltered his sister from the rain as well as he could, but the wind soon became so violent that they were obliged to take refuge in the hut of the ferryman, which stood a few hundred yards from the bank of the Maan.
There they were obliged to remain until the wind abated a little, and Joel was glad of an opportunity to have a longer conversation with his sister.
"How does mother seem?" he inquired.
"Even more depressed in spirits than usual," replied Hulda.
"Has any one been here during my absence?"
"Yes, one traveler, but he has gone away."
"So there is no tourist at the inn now, and no one has asked for a guide?"
"So much the better, for I would much rather not leave you. Besides, if this unpleasant weather continues, it is not likely that many tourists will visit the Telemark this season. But tell me, was it yesterday that your guest left Dal?"
"Yes, yesterday morning."
"Who was he?"
"A man who resides in Drammen, and whose name is Sandgoist."
"Do you know him?"
Hulda had asked herself more than once if she should tell her brother all that had occurred in his absence. When Joel heard how coolly their guest had conducted himself, and how he seemed to have come merely to appraise the house and its contents, what would he think? Would not he, too, fear that his mother must have had grave reasons for acting as she had? What were these reasons? What could there be in common between her and Sandgoist? Joel would certainly desire to know, and would be sure to question his mother, and as Dame Hansen, who was always so uncommunicative, would doubtless persist in the silence she had maintained hitherto, the relations between her and her children, which were so unnatural and constrained now, would become still more unpleasant.
But would Hulda be able to keep anything from Joel? A secret from him! Would it not be a violation of the close friendship that united them? No, this friendship must never be broken! So Hulda suddenly resolved to tell him all.
"Have you ever heard any one speak of this Sandgoist when you were in Drammen?" she asked.
"But our mother knew him, Joel; at least by name."
"She knew Sandgoist?"
"I certainly never heard the name before."
"But she has, though she had never seen the man until day before yesterday."
Then Hulda related all the incidents that had marked Sandgoist's sojourn at the inn, not neglecting to mention Dame Hansen's singular conduct at the moment of his departure. Then she hastened to add:
"I think, Joel, it would be best not to say anything to mother about it at present. You know her disposition, and it would only make her still more unhappy. The future will probably reveal what has been concealed from us in the past. Heaven grant that Ole may be restored to us, and then if any misfortune should befall the family there will at least be three of us to share it."
Joel had listened to his sister with profound attention. Yes, it was evident that Dame Hansen must be at this man's mercy, and it was impossible to doubt that he had come to take an inventory of the property. And the destruction of the bill at the time of his departure—a destruction that seemed only right and proper to him—what could be the meaning of that?
"You are right, Hulda," said Joel. "I had better not say anything to mother about it. Perhaps she will feel sorry by and by that she has not confided in us. Heaven grant that it may not be too late! She must be wretched, poor woman! How strange it is that she can not understand that her children were born to sympathize with her."
"She will find it out some day, Joel."
"Yes; so let us wait patiently, little sister. Still, there is no reason why I should not try to find out who the man is. Perhaps Farmer Helmboe knows him. I will ask him the first time I go to Bamble, and if need be I will push on to Drammen. There it will not be difficult for me to at least learn what the man does, and what people think of him."
"They do not think well of him, I am sure," replied Hulda. "His face is very unprepossessing, and I shall be very much surprised if there is a noble soul concealed under such a repulsive exterior."
"Come, come, little sister, it will not do to judge people by outward appearances," exclaimed Joel. "Don't be so suspicious, Hulda, and cheer up. Ole will soon be with us, and we will scold him roundly for having kept us waiting."
The rain having ceased the pair left the hut and started up the path leading to the inn.
"By the way, I must go away again to-morrow, little sister," said Joel.
"Go away again to-morrow!" repeated Hulda.
"Yes, early in the morning. On leaving the Hardanger I was informed by a comrade that a traveler, coming from the north by way of the Rjukanfos would arrive to-morrow."
"Who is this traveler?"
"I don't know his name, but I must be on hand to conduct him to Dal."
"Ah, well! go, then, as there is no help for it," replied Hulda, with a sigh.
"Yes, I must start to-morrow at sunrise. Do you really feel so badly about it, Hulda?"
"Yes, brother, I feel much more unhappy when you leave me, even if it is only for a few hours."
"Ah, well, this time I shall not go alone."
"Why, who is to accompany you?"
"You, little sister. You need diversion, and I am going to take you with me."
"Oh, thank you, Joel, thank you!"
The brother and sister left the inn at sunrise the next morning. The fifteen mile walk from Dal to the celebrated falls of the Rjukan, and back again, was a mere trifle for Joel, but it was necessary to economize Hulda's strength, so Joel hired foreman Lengling's kariol. This, like all kariols, had but one seat, but the worthy man was so large that he had been obliged to have his kariol built to order, and this being the case the vehicle was large enough to enable Hulda and Joel to sit side by side quite comfortably; and if the expected tourist was waiting for them at Rjukanfos as they anticipated, he could take Joel's place and the latter could either return afoot or mounted upon the step behind the kariol.
The road from Dal to the falls is very rough but indescribably charming. It is really rather a footpath than a road. The bridges across the countless streams that dance merrily along to the Maan are all constructed of unhewn logs, but the Norwegian horse traverses them with a sure step, and though the kariol has no springs, its long and slightly elastic shafts soften the jolting at least to some extent.
The day was charming, and Hulda and Joel drove along at a brisk pace through the flowery fields, bathed on the left by the clear waters of the Maan. Clumps of birches here and there shaded the sunny road, and the dew still glittered on the blades of grass. To the right of the torrent towered the snow-clad summit of the Gousta, which rises to an altitude of six thousand feet.
For nearly an hour, the vehicle moved on rapidly, the ascent being comparatively slight; but soon the valley became narrower, the gay rivulets were transformed into foaming torrents, and though the road wound in and out it could not avoid all the inequalities of the ground. Beyond came really dangerous passes, through which Joel guided the vehicle with no little skill; besides, with him Hulda feared nothing. When the road was very rough she clung to his arm, and the freshness of the morning air brought a glow to the pretty face which had been unusually pale for some time.
But it was necessary for them to ascend to still greater heights, for the valley here contracted into merely a narrow channel for the passage of the river, a channel inclosed on either side by massive walls of rock. Over the neighboring fields were scattered a few dilapidated farm-houses, the remains of soeters, which were now abandoned, and a few shepherd's huts almost hidden from view by clumps of birches and oaks. Soon it became impossible for them to see the river, though they could distinctly hear it dashing along in its rocky channel, and the country assumed an indescribably wild and imposing aspect.
A drive of two hours brought them to a rough saw-mill perched upon the edge of a water-fall at least fifteen hundred feet in height. Water-falls of this height are by no means rare in the Vesfjorddal, but the volume of water is usually small. This is not the case with the falls of the Rjukanfos however.
On reaching the saw-mill, Joel and Hulda both alighted.
"A half hour's walk will not be too much for you, will it, little sister?" asked Joel.
"No, brother; I am not tired, and a little exercise will do me good."
"It will be a good deal instead of a little, for you will have some pretty hard climbing to do."
"I can cling to your arm, Joel."
It was evident that the kariol must be abandoned at this point, for it would be impossible for it to make its way through the rough paths, the narrow passes, and over the big, fantastically shaped rocks that heralded the close proximity of the great falls.
Already, they could see in the distance a thick mist, the spray from the seething waters of Rjukan.
Hulda and Joel took a shady path which is well known to guides, and which leads to the end of the valley. A few moments afterward they found themselves upon a moss-covered rock almost in front of the fall. In fact there was no chance of getting any nearer to it on that side.
The brother and sister would have had considerable difficulty in making themselves heard if they had wished to speak; but their thoughts were those that could be exchanged without the agency of the lips.
The volume of the Rjukan fall is enormous, its height very considerable, and its roar deafening. The earth makes an abrupt descent of nine hundred feet to the bed of the Maan midway between Lake Mjos and Lake Tinn, nine hundred feet, that is to say six times the height of Niagara, though the width of this last water-fall from the American to the Canadian shore is three miles.
The Rjukan is so grand and unique in its aspect that any description falls far short of the reality, and even a painting can not do justice to it. There are certain wonders of nature that must be seen if one would form any adequate conception of their beauty; and this water-fall, which is one of the most widely celebrated in Europe, belongs to this category.
These were the very thoughts that were passing through the mind of a tourist who was at that very moment sitting perched upon a rock on the right bank of the Maan, from which spot he could command a nearer and more extended view of the fall.
Neither Joel nor his sister had yet noticed him, though he was plainly visible from the rock on which they were seated.
In a few minutes the traveler rose and very imprudently ventured out upon the rocky slope that is rounded like a dome on the side next the Maan. What the adventurous tourist wished to see was evidently the two caverns under the fall, the one to the left, which is ever filled to the top with a mass of seething foam, and the one to the right, which is always enshrouded in a heavy mist. Possibly he was even trying to ascertain if there were not a third cavern midway down the fall to account for the fact that the Rjukan at intervals projects straight outward into space a mass of water and spray, making it appear as if the waters had suddenly been scattered in a fine spray over the surrounding fields by some terrific explosion in the rear of the fall.
And now the daring tourist was slowly but persistently making his way over the rough and slippery ledge of rock, destitute alike of shrubbery or grass, know as the Passe de Marie, or the Maristien.
It is more than probable, however, that he was ignorant of the legend that has made this pass so widely know. One day Eystein endeavored to reach his betrothed, the beautiful Marie of Vesfjorddal, by this dangerous path. His sweetheart was holding out her arms to him from the other side of the gorge, when suddenly he lost his footing, fell, slipped further and further down the ledge of rock which is as smooth as glass, and disappeared forever in the seething rapids of the Maan.
Was this rash traveler about to meet a similar fate?
It seemed only too probable; and in fact he soon perceived the danger of his position, though not until it was too late. Suddenly his foot slipped, he uttered a cry, and after rolling nearly twenty feet, he finally succeeded in securing a hold upon a projecting rock on the very edge of the abyss.