Part 2 out of 9
Isak came back on the third day, leading a half-starved yearling bull.
The beast could hardly walk; it had been a long business getting up to
the place at all.
"How did you get on?" asked Inger. She herself was ill and miserable
Isak had managed very well. True, the big bull had been mad the last
two miles or so, and he had to tie it up and fetch help from the
village. Then, when he got back, it had broken loose and took a deal
of time to find. But he had managed somehow, and had sold for a good
price to a trader in the village, buying up for butchers in the town.
"And here's the new one," said Isak. "Let the children come and look."
Any addition to the live stock was a great event. Inger looked at
the bull and felt it over, asked what it had cost; little Sivert was
allowed to sit on its back. "I shall miss the big one, though," said
Inger. "So glossy and fine he was. I do hope they'll kill him nicely."
It was the busy season now, and there was work enough. The animals
were let loose; in the empty shed were cases and bins of potatoes left
to grow. Isak sowed more corn this year than last, and did all he
could to get it nicely down. He made beds for carrots and turnips, and
Inger sowed the seeds. All went on as before.
Inger went about for some time with a bag of hay under her dress, to
hide any change in her figure, taking out a little from time to time,
and finally discarding the bag altogether. At last, one day, Isak
noticed something, and asked in surprise:
"Why, how's this? Hasn't anything happened? I thought...."
"No. Not this time."
"Ho. Why, what was wrong?
"'Twas meant to be so, I suppose. Isak, how long d'you think it'll
take you to work over all this land of ours?"
"Yes, but ... you mean you had your trouble--didn't go as it should?"
"Ay, that was it--yes."
"But yourself--you're not hurt anyway after it?"
"No. Isak, I've been thinking, we ought to have a pig."
Isak was not quick to change the subject that way. He was silent a
little, then at last he said: "Ay, a pig. I've thought of that myself
each spring. But we'll need to have more potatoes first, and more of
the small, and a bit of corn beside; we've not enough to feed a pig.
We'll see how this year turns out."
"But it would be nice to have a pig."
Days pass, rain comes, fields and meadows are looking well--oh, the
year will turn out well, never fear! Little happenings and big, all in
their turn: food, sleep, and work; Sundays, with washing of faces and
combing of hair, and Isak sitting about in a new red shirt of Inger's
weaving and sewing. Then an event, a happening of note in the ordinary
round: a sheep, roaming with her lamb, gets caught in a cleft among
the rocks. The others come home in the evening. Inger at once sees
there are two missing, and out goes Isak in search. Isak's first
thought is to be thankful it is Sunday, so he is not called away from
his work and losing time. He tramps off--there is an endless range
of ground to be searched; and, meanwhile, the house is all anxiety.
Mother hushes the children with brief words; there are two sheep
missing, and they must be good. All share the feeling; what has
happened is a matter for the whole little community. Even the cows
know that something unusual is going on, and give tongue in their own
fashion, for Inger goes out every now and then, calling aloud towards
the woods, though it is near night. It is an event in the wilderness,
a general misfortune. Now and again she gives a long-drawn hail to
Isak, but there is no answer; he must be out of hearing.
Where are the sheep--what can have come to them? Is there a bear
abroad? Or have the wolves come down over the hills from Sweden and
Finland? Neither, as it turns out. Isak finds the ewe stuck fast in
a cleft of rock, with a broken leg and lacerated udder. It must have
been there some time, for, despite its wounds, the poor thing has
nibbled the grass down to the roots as far as it could reach. Isak
lifts the sheep and sets it free; it falls to grazing at once. The
lamb makes for its mother and sucks away--a blessed relief for the
wounded udder to be emptied now.
Isak gathers stones and fills up the dangerous cleft; a wicked place;
it shall break no more sheep's thighs! Isak wears leather braces; he
takes them off now and fastens them round the sheep's middle, as a
support for the udder. Then, lifting the animal on his shoulders, he
sets off home, the lamb at his heels.
After that--splints and tar bandages. In a few days' time the patient
begins twitching the foot of the wounded leg; it is the fracture
aching as it grows together. Ay, all things getting well again--until
next time something happens.
The daily round; little matters that are all important to the
settler-folk themselves. Oh, they are not trifles after all, but
things of fate, making for their happiness and comfort and well-being,
or against them.
In the slack time between the seasons, Isak smooths down some new
tree-trunks he has thrown; to be used for something or other, no
doubt. Also he digs out a number of useful stones and gets them down
to the house; as soon as there are stones enough, he builds a wall of
them. A year or so back, Inger would have been curious, wondering what
her man was after with all this--now, she seemed for the most part
busied with her own work, and asked no questions. Inger is busy as
ever, but she has taken to singing, which is something new, and she is
teaching Eleseus an evening prayer; this also is something new. Isak
misses her questioning; it was her curiosity and her praise of all he
did that made him the contented man, the incomparable man he was. But
now, she goes by, saying nothing, or at most with a word or so that he
is working himself to death. "She's troubled after that last time, for
all she says," thinks Isak to himself.
Oline comes over to visit them once more. If all had been as before
she would have been welcome, but now it is different. Inger greets
her from the first with some ill-will; be it what it may, there is
something that makes Inger look on her as an enemy.
"I'd half a thought I'd be coming just at the right time again," says
Oline, with delicate meaning.
"How d'you mean?"
"Why, for the third one to be christened. How is it with you now?"
"Nay," says Inger. "For that matter you might have saved yourself the
Oline falls to praising the children, so fine and big they've grown;
and Isak taking over more ground, and going to build again, by the
look of things--there's no end to things with them; a wonderful place,
and hard to find its like. "And what is he going to build this time?"
"Ask him yourself," says Inger. "I don't know."
"Nay," says Oline. "'Tis no business of mine. I just looked along to
see how things were with you here; it's a pleasure and delight for
me to see. As for Goldenhorns, I'll not ask nor speak of her--she's
fallen into proper ways, as any one can see."
They talk for a while companionably; Inger is no longer harsh. The
clock on the wall strikes with its sweet little note. Oline looks up
with tears in her eyes; never in all her humble life did she hear such
a thing--'tis like church and organ music, says Oline. Inger feels
herself rich and generous-minded towards her poor relation, and says:
"Come into the next room and see my loom."
Oline stays all day. She talks to Isak, and praises all his doings.
"And I hear you've bought up the land for miles on every side.
Couldn't you have got it for nothing, then? There's none as I can see
would take it from you."
Isak had been feeling the need of praise, and is the better for it
now. Feels a man again. "I'm buying from the Government," says Isak.
"Ay, Government. But they've no call to be grasping in a deal, surely?
What are you building now?"
"Why, I don't know. Nothing much, anyway."
"Ay, you're getting on; building and getting on you are. Painted doors
to the house, and a clock on the wall--'tis a new grand house you're
building, I suspect."
"You, with your foolish talk ..." says Isak. But he is pleased all the
same, and says to Inger: "Couldn't you make a bit of a dish of nice
cream custard for one that comes a-visiting?"
"That I can't," says Inger, "for I've churned all there was."
"'Tis no foolish talk," puts in Oline hurriedly; "I'm but a simple
woman asking to know. And if it's not a new grand house, why, 'twill
be a new big barn, I dare say; and why not? With all these fields and
meadow lands, fine and full of growth; ay, and full of milk and honey,
as the Bible says."
Isak asks: "How's things looking your way--crops and the like?"
"Why, 'tis there as it is till now. If only the Lord don't set fire
to it all again this year, and burn up the lot--Heaven forgive me I
should say the word. 'Tis all in His hand and almighty power. But
we've nothing our parts that's any way like this place of yours to
compare, and that's the solemn truth."
Inger asks after other relatives, her Uncle Sivert in particular. He
is the great man of the family, and owns rich fisheries; 'tis almost
a wonder how he can find a way to spend all he has. The women talk of
Uncle Sivert, and Isak and his doings somehow drop out of sight; no
one asks any more about his building now, so at last he says:
"Well, if you want to know, 'tis a bit of a barn with a
threshing-floor I'm trying to get set up."
"Just as I thought," says Oline. "Folk with real sound sense in their
heads, they do that way. Fore-thought and back-thought and all as it
should be. There's not a pot nor pitcher in the place you haven't
thought of. A threshing-floor, you said?"
Isak is a child. Oline's flattering words go to his head, and he
answers something foolishly with fine words: "As to that new house of
mine, there must be a threshing-floor in the same, necessarily. 'Tis
my intention so."
"A threshing-floor?" says Oline, wagging her head.
"And where's the sense of growing corn on the place if we've nowhere
to thresh it?"
"Ay, 'tis as I say, not a thing as could be but you have it all there
in your head."
Inger is suddenly out of humour again. The talk between the other two
somehow displeases her, and she breaks in:
"Cream custard indeed! And where's the cream to come from? Fish it up
in the river, maybe?"
Oline hastens to make peace. "Inger, Lord bless you, child, don't
speak of such a thing. Not a word of cream nor custard either--an old
creature like me that does but idle about from house to neighbour...!"
Isak sits for a while, then up, and saying suddenly: "Here am I doing
nothing middle of the day, and stones to fetch and carry for that wall
"Ay, a wall like that'll need a mighty lot of stone, to be sure."
"Stone?" says Isak. "Tis like as if there'd never be enough."
When Isak is gone, the two womenfolk get on nicely together for a
while; they sit for hours talking of this and that. In the evening,
Oline must go out and see how their live stock has grown: cows, a
bull, two calves, and a swarm of sheep and goats. "I don't know where
it'll ever end," says Oline, with her eyes turned heavenwards.
And Oline stays the night.
Next morning she goes off again. Once more she has a bundle of
something with her. Isak is working in the quarry, and she goes
another way round, so that he shall not see.
Two hours later, Oline comes back again, steps into the house, and
asks at once: "Where is Isak?"
Inger is washing up. Oline should have passed by the quarry where
Isak was at work, and the children with him; Inger at once guesses
"Isak? What d'you want with him?"
"Want with him?--why, nothing. Only I didn't see him to say good-bye."
Silence. Oline sits down on a bench without being asked, drops down as
if her legs refuse to carry her. Her manner is intended to show that
something serious is the matter; she is overcome.
Inger can control herself no longer. Her face is all terror and fury
as she says:
"I saw what you sent me by Os-Anders. Ay, 'twas a nice thing to send!"
"Why ... what...?"
"What do you mean?" asks Oline in a strangely gentle voice.
"Ah, don't deny it!" cries Inger, her eyes wild. "I'll break your face
in with this ladle here--see that!"
Struck her? Ay, she did so. Oline took the first blow without falling,
and only cried out: "Mind what you're doing, woman! I know what I know
about you and your doings!" Inger strikes again, gets Oline down to
the floor, falls on her there, and thrusts her knees into her.
"D'you mean to murder me?" asks Oline. The terrible woman with the
hare-lip was kneeling on her, a great strong creature armed with a
huge wooden ladle, heavy as a club. Oline was bruised already, and
bleeding, but still sullenly refusing to cry out. "So you're trying to
murder me _too_!"
"Ay, kill you," says Inger, striking again. "There! I'll see you dead
before I've done with you." She was certain of it now. Oline knew her
secret; nothing mattered now. "I'll spoil your beastly face."
"Beastly face?" gasps Oline. "Huh! Look to your own. With the Lord His
mark on it!"
Oline is hard, and will not give in; Inger is forced to give over
the blows that are exhausting her own strength. But she threatens
still--glares into the other's eyes and swears she has not finished
with her yet. "There's more to come, ay, more, more. Wait till I get a
knife. I'll show you!"
She gets on her feet again, and moves as if to look for a knife, a
table knife. But now her fury is past its worst, and she falls back on
curses and abuse. Oline heaves herself up to the bench again, her face
all blue and yellow, swollen and bleeding; she wipes the hair from
her forehead, straightens her kerchief, and spits; her mouth too is
bruised and swollen.
"You devil!" she says.
"You've been nosing about in the woods!" cries Inger. "That's what
you've been doing. You've found that little bit of a grave there.
Better if you'd dug one for yourself the same time."
"Ay, you wait," says Oline, her eyes glowing revengefully. "I'll say
no more--but you wait--there'll be no fine two-roomed house for you,
with musical clocks and all."
"You can't take it from me, anyway!"
"Ay, you wait. You'll see what Oline can do."
And so they keep on. Oline does not curse, and hardly raises her
voice; there is something almost gentle in her cold cruelty, but she
is bitterly dangerous. "Where's that bundle? I left it in the woods.
But you shall have it back--I'll not own your wool."
"Ho, you think I've stolen it, maybe."
"Ah, you know best what you've done."
So back and forth again about the wool. Inger offers to show the very
sheep it was cut from. Oline asks quietly, smoothly: "Ay, but who
knows where you got the first sheep to start with?"
Inger names the place and people where her first sheep were out to
keep with their lambs. "And you mind and care and look to what you're
saying," says she threateningly. "Guard your mouth, or you'll be
"Ha ha ha!" laughs Oline softly. Oline is never at a loss, never to be
silenced. "My mouth, eh? And what of your own, my dear?" She points to
Inger's hare-lip, calling her a ghastly sight for God and man.
Inger answers furiously, and Oline being fat, she calls her a lump of
blubber--"a lump of dog's blubber like you. You sent me a hare--I'll
pay you for that."
"Hare again?" says Oline. "If I'd no more guilt in anything than I
have about that hare. What was it like?"
"What was it like? Why, what's a hare always like?"
"Like you. The very image."
"Out with you--get out!" shrieks Inger.
"'Twas you sent Os-Anders with that hare. I'll have you punished; I'll
have you put in prison for that."
"Prison--was it prison you said?"
"Oh, you're jealous and envious of all you see; you hate me for all
the good things I've got," says Inger again. "You've lain awake with
envy since I got Isak and all that's here. Heavens, woman, what have
I ever done to you? Is it my fault that your children never got on in
the world, and turned out badly, every one of them? You can't bear the
sight of mine, because they're fine and strong, and better named than
yours. Is it my fault they're prettier flesh and blood than yours ever
If there was one thing could drive Oline to fury it was this. She had
been a mother many times, and all she had was her children, such as
they were; she made much of them, and boasted of them, told of great
things they had never really done, and hid their faults.
"What's that you're saying?" answered Oline. "Oh that you don't sink
in your grave for shame! My children! They were a bright host of
angels compared with yours. You dare to speak of my children? Seven
blessed gifts of God they were from they were little, and all grown up
now every one. You dare to speak...."
"What about Lise, that was sent to prison?" asks Inger.
"For never a thing. She was as innocent as a flower," answers Oline.
"And she's in Bergen now; lives in a town and wears a hat--but what
"What about Nils--what did they say of him?"
"Oh, I'll not lower myself.... But there's one of yours now lying
buried out there in the woods--what did you do to it, eh?"
"Now ...! One-two-three--out you go!" shrieks Inger again, and makes a
rush at Oline.
But Oline does not move, does not even rise to her feet. Her stolid
indifference paralyses Inger, who draws back, muttering: "Wait till I
get that knife."
"Don't trouble," says Oline. "I'm going. But as for you, turning your
own kin out of doors one-two-three.... Nay, I'll say no more."
"Get out of this, that's all you need to do!"
But Oline is not gone yet. The two of them fall to again with words
and abuse, a long bout of it again, and when the clock strikes half of
the hour, Oline laughs scornfully, making Inger wilder than ever. At
last both calm down a little, and Oline makes ready to go. "I've a
long road before me," says she, "and it's late enough to be starting.
It wouldn't ha' been amiss to have had a bite with me on the way...."
Inger makes no answer. She has come to her senses again now, and pours
out water in a basin for Oline to wash. "There--if you want to tidy
yourself," she says. Oline too thinks it as well to make herself as
decent as may be, but cannot see where the blood is, and washes the
wrong places. Inger looks on for a while, and then points with her
"There--wash there too, over your eye. No, not that, the other one;
can't you see where I'm pointing?"
"How can I see which one you're pointing at," answers Oline.
"And there's more there, by your mouth. Are you afraid of water?--it
won't bite you!"
In the end, Inger washes the patient herself, and throws her a towel.
"What I was going to say," says Oline, wiping herself, and quite
peaceable now. "About Isak and the children--how will they get over
"Does he know?" asks Inger.
"Know? He came and saw it."
"What did he say?"
"What could he say? He was speechless, same as me."
"It's all your fault," wails Inger, beginning to cry.
"My fault? I wish I may never have more to answer for!"
"I'll ask Os-Anders, anyhow, be sure of that."
They talk it all over quietly, and Oline seems less revengeful now. An
able politician, is Oline, and quick to find expedients; she speaks
now as if in sympathy--what a terrible thing it will be for Isak and
the children when it is found out!
"Yes," says Inger, crying again. "I've thought and thought of that
night and day." Oline thinks she might be able to help, and be a
saviour to them in distress. She could come and stay on the place to
look after things, while Inger is in prison.
Inger stops crying; stops suddenly as if to listen and take thought.
"No, you don't care for the children."
"Don't care for them, don't I? How could you say such a thing?"
"Ah, I know...."
"Why, if there's one thing in the world I do feel and care for, 'tis
"Ay, for your own," says Inger. "But how would you be with mine? And
when I think how you sent that hare for nothing else but to ruin me
altogether--oh, you're no better than a heap of wickedness!"
"Am I?" says Oline. "Is it me you mean?"
"Yes, 'tis you I mean," says Inger, crying; "you've been a wicked
wretch, you have, and I'll not trust you. And you'd steal all the
wool, too, if you did come. And all the cheeses that'd go to your
people instead of mine...."
"Oh, you wicked creature to think of such a thing!" answers Oline.
Inger cries, and wipes her eyes, saying a word or so between. Oline
does not try to force her. If Inger does not care about the idea, 'tis
all the same to her. She can go and stay with her son Nils, as she has
always done. But now that Inger is to be sent away to prison, it will
be a hard time for Isak and the innocent children; Oline could stay
on the place and give an eye to things. "You can think it over," says
Inger has lost the day. She cries and shakes her head and looks down.
She goes out as if walking in her sleep, and makes up a parcel of food
for Oline to take with her. "'Tis more than's worth your while," says
"You can't go all that way without a bite to eat," says Inger.
When Oline has gone, Inger steals out, looks round, and listens. No,
no sound from the quarry. She goes nearer, and hears the children
playing with little stones. Isak is sitting down, holding the crowbar
between his knees, and resting on it like a staff. There he sits.
Inger steals away into the edge of the wood. There was a spot where
she had set a little cross in the ground; the cross is thrown down
now, and where it stood the turf has been lifted, and the ground
turned over. She stoops down and pats the earth together again with
her hands. And there she sits.
She had come out of curiosity, to see how far the little grave had
been disturbed by Oline; she stays there now because the cattle have
not yet come in for the night. Sits there crying, shaking her head,
and looking down.
And the days pass.
A blessed time for the soil, with sun and showers of rain; the crops
are looking well. The haymaking is nearly over now, and they have got
in a grand lot of hay; almost more than they can find room for. Some
is stowed away under overhanging rocks, in the stable, under the
flooring of the house itself; the shed at the side is emptied of
everything to make room for more hay. Inger herself works early and
late, a faithful helper and support. Isak takes advantage of every
fall of rain to put in a spell of roofing on the new barn, and get the
south wall at least fully done; once that is ready, they can stuff
in as much hay as they please. The work is going forward; they will
manage, never fear!
And their great sorrow and disaster--ay, it was there, the thing was
done, and what it brought must come. Good things mostly leave no
trace, but something always comes of evil. Isak took the matter
sensibly from the first. He made no great words about it, but asked
his wife simply: "How did you come to do it?" Inger made no answer to
that. And a little after, he spoke again: "Strangled it--was that what
"Yes," said Inger.
"You shouldn't have done that."
"No," she agreed.
"And I can't make out how you ever could bring yourself to do it."
"She was all the same as myself," said Inger.
"How d'you mean?"
Isak thought over that for some time. "Ay, well," said he.
And nothing more was said about it at the time; the days went on,
peacefully as ever; there was all the mass of hay to be got in, and a
rare heavy crop all round, so that by degrees the thing slipped into
the background of their minds. But it hung over them, and over the
place, none the less. They could not hope that Oline would keep the
secret; it was too much to expect. And even if Oline said nothing,
others would speak; dumb witnesses would find a tongue; the walls of
the house, the trees around the little grave in the wood. Os-Anders
the Lapp would throw out hints; Inger herself would betray it,
sleeping or waking. They were prepared for the worst.
Isak took the matter sensibly--what else was there to do? He knew now
why Inger had always taken care to be left alone at every birth; to be
alone with her fears of how the child might be, and face the danger
with no one by. Three times she had done the same thing. Isak shook
his head, touched with pity for her ill fate--poor Inger. He learned
of the coming of the Lapp with the hare, and acquitted her. It led to
a great love between them, a wild love; they drew closer to each other
in their peril. Inger was full of a desperate sweetness towards him,
and the great heavy fellow, lumbering carrier of burdens, felt a greed
and an endless desire for her in himself. And Inger, for all that she
wore hide shoes like a Lapp, was no withered little creature as the
Lapland women are, but splendidly big. It was summer now, and she went
about barefooted, with her naked legs showing almost to the knee--Isak
could not keep his eyes from those bare legs.
All through the summer she went about singing bits of hymns, and she
taught Eleseus to say prayers; but there grew up in her an unchristian
hate of all Lapps, and she spoke plainly enough to any that passed.
Some one might have sent them again; like as not they had a hare in
their bag as before; let them go on their way, and no more about it.
"A hare? What hare?"
"Ho, you haven't heard perhaps what Os-Anders he did that time?"
"Well, I don't care who knows it--he came up here with a hare, when I
was with child."
"Dear, and that was a dreadful thing! And what happened?"
"Never you mind what happened, just get along with you, that's all.
Here's a bite of food, and get along."
"You don't happen to have an odd bit of leather anywhere, I could mend
my shoe with?"
"No I But I'll give you a bit of stick if you don't get out!"
Now a Lapp will beg as humbly as could be, but say no to him, and he
turns bad, and threatens. A pair of Lapps with two children came past
the place; the children were sent up to the house to beg, and came
back and said there was no one to be seen about the place. The four
of them stood there a while talking in their own tongue, then the man
went up to see. He went inside, and stayed. Then his wife went up,
and the children after; all of them stood inside the doorway, talking
Lapp. The man puts his head in the doorway and peeps through into the
room; no one there either. The clock strikes the hour, and the whole
family stand listening in wonder.
Inger must have had some idea there were strangers about; she comes
hurrying down the hillside, and seeing Lapps, strange Lapps into the
bargain, asks them straight out what they are doing there. "What do
you want in here? Couldn't you see there was no one at home?"
"H'm ..." says the man.
"Get out with you," says Inger again, "and go on your way."
The Lapps move out slowly, unwillingly. "We were just listening to
that clock of yours," says the man; "'tis a wonder to hear, that it
"You haven't a bit of bread to spare?" says his wife.
"Where do you come from?" asks Inger.
"From the water over beyond. We've been walking all night."
"And where are you going to now?"
"Across the hills."
Inger makes up some food for them; when she comes out with it, the
woman starts begging again: a bit of stuff for a cap, a tuft of wool,
a stump of cheese--anything. Inger has no time to waste, Isak and the
children are in the hayfield. "Be off with you now," she says.
The woman tries flattery. "We saw your place up here, and the
cattle--a host of them, like the stars in the sky."
"Ay, a wonder," says the man. "You haven't a pair of old shoes to give
away to needy folk?"
Inger shuts the door of the house and goes back to her work on the
hillside. The man called after her--she pretended not to hear, and
walked on unheeding. But she heard it well enough: "You don't want to
buy any hares, maybe?"
There was no mistaking what he had said. The Lapp himself might have
spoken innocently enough; some one had told him, perhaps. Or he might
have meant it ill. Be that as it may, Inger took it as a warning--a
message of what was to come....
The days went on. The settlers were healthy folk; what was to come
would come; they went about their work and waited. They lived close to
each other like beasts of the forest; they slept and ate; already the
year was so far advanced that they had tried the new potatoes, and
found them large and floury. The blow that was to fall--why did it not
come? It was late in August already, soon it would be September;
were they to be spared through the winter? They lived in a constant
watchfulness; every night they crept close together in their cave,
thankful that the day had passed without event. And so the time went
on until one day in October, when the Lensmand came up with a man and
a bag. The Law stepped in through their doorway.
The investigation took some time. Inger was called up and examined
privately; she denied nothing. The grave in the wood was opened, and
its contents removed, the body being sent for examination. The little
body--it was dressed in Eleseus' christening robe, and a cap sewn over
Isak seemed to find speech again. "Ay," said he, "it's as bad as well
can be with us now. I've said before--you ought never to have done
"No," said Inger.
"How did you do it?"
Inger made no answer.
"That you could find it in your heart...."
"She was just the same as myself to look at. And so I took and twisted
her face round."
Isak shook his head slowly.
"And then she was dead," went on Inger, beginning to cry.
Isak was silent for a while. "Well, well, 'tis too late to be crying
over it now," said he.
"She had brown hair," sobbed Inger, "there at the back of her
And again no more was said.
Time went on as before. Inger was not locked up; the law was merciful.
Lensmand Heyerdahl asked her questions just as he might have spoken to
any one, and only said, "It's a great pity such things should happen
at all." Inger asked who had informed against her, but the Lensmand
answered that it was no one in particular; many had spoken of the
matter, and he had heard of it from several quarters. Had she not
herself said something about it to some Lapps?
Inger--ay, she had told some Lapps about Os-Anders, how he came and
brought a hare that summer, and gave her unborn child the hare-lip.
And wasn't it Oline who had sent the hare?--The Lensmand knew nothing
about that. But in any case, he could not think of putting down such
ignorant superstition in his report.
"But my mother saw a hare just before I was born," said Inger....
The barn was finished; a great big place it was, with hay-stalls on
both sides and a threshing-floor in the middle. The shed and the other
makeshift places were emptied now, and all the hay brought into the
barn; the corn was reaped, dried in stacks, and carted in. Inger
took up the carrots and turnips. All their crops were in now. And
everything might have been well with them--they had all they needed.
Isak had started on new ground again, before the frost came, to make a
bigger cornfield; Isak was a tiller of the soil. But in November Inger
said one day, "She would have been six months old now, and known us
"'Tis no good talking of that now," said Isak.
When the winter came, Isak threshed his corn on the new
threshing-floor, and Inger helped him often, with an arm as quick to
the work as his own, while the children played in the haystalls at the
side. It was fine plump grain. Early in the new year the roads were
good, and Isak started carting down his loads of wood to the village;
he had his regular customers now, and the summer-dried wood fetched a
good price. One day he and Inger agreed that they should take the fine
bull-calf from Goldenhorns and drive it down to Fru Geissler, with
a cheese into the bargain. She was delighted, and asked how much it
"Nothing," said Isak. "The Lensmand paid for it before."
"Heaven bless him, and did he?" said Fru Geissler, touched at the
thought. She sent things up for Eleseus and Sivert in return--cakes
and picture-books and toys. When Isak came back and Inger saw the
things, she turned away and cried.
"What is it?" asked Isak.
"Nothing," answered Inger. "Only--she'd have been just a year now, and
able to see it all."
"Ay, but you know how it was with her," said Isak, for comfort's sake.
"And after all, it may be we'll get off easier than we thought. I've
found out where Geissler is now."
Inger looked up. "But how's that going to help us?"
"I don't know...."
Then Isak carried his corn to the mill and had it ground, and brought
back flour. Then he turned woodman again, cutting the wood to be ready
for next winter. His life was spent in this work and that, according
to the season; from the fields to the woods, and back to the fields
again. He had worked on the place for six years now, and Inger five;
all might have been well, if it were only allowed to last. But it was
not. Inger worked at her loom and tended the animals; also, she was
often to be heard singing hymns, but it was a pitiful singing; she was
like a bell without a tongue.
As soon as the roads were passable, she was sent for down to the
village to be examined. Isak had to stay behind. And being there all
alone, it came into his mind to go across to Sweden and find out
Geissler; the former Lensmand had been kind to them, and might perhaps
still lend a helping hand some way to the folks at Sellanraa. But
when Inger returned, she had asked about things herself, and learned
something of what her sentence was likely to be. Strictly speaking,
it was imprisonment for life, Paragraph I. But ... After all, she had
stood up in the court itself and simply confessed. The two witnesses
from the village had looked pityingly at her, and the judge had put
his questions kindly; but for all that, she was no match for the
bright intellects of the law. Lawyers are great men to simple folk;
they can quote paragraph this and section that; they have learned such
things by rote, ready to bring out at any moment. Oh, they are great
men indeed. And apart from all this knowledge, they are not always
devoid of sense; sometimes even not altogether heartless. Inger had no
cause to complain of the court; she made no mention of the hare, but
when she tearfully explained that she could not be so cruel to her
poor deformed child as to let it live, the magistrate nodded, quietly
"But," said he, "think of yourself; you have a hare-lip, and it has
not spoilt your life."
"No, thanks be to God," was all she said. She could not tell them of
all she had suffered in secret as a child, as a young girl.
But the magistrate must have understood something of what it meant; he
himself had a club-foot, and could not dance. "As to the sentence," he
said, "I hardly know. Really, it should be imprisonment for life, but
... I can't say, perhaps we might get it commuted, second or third
degree, fifteen to twelve years, or twelve to nine. There's a
commission sitting to reform the criminal code, make it more humane,
but the final decision won't be ready yet. Anyhow, we must hope for
the best," said he.
Inger came back in a state of dull resignation; they had not found it
necessary to keep her in confinement meantime. Two months passed; then
one evening, when Isak came back from fishing, the Lensmand and his
new assistant had been to Sellanraa.
Inger was cheerful, and welcomed her husband kindly, praising his
catch, though it was little he had brought home.
"What I was going to say--has any one been here?" he asked.
"Any one been? Why, who should there be?"
"There's fresh footmarks outside. Men with boots on."
"Why--there's been no one but the Lensmand and one other."
"What did they want?"
"You know that without asking."
"Did they come to fetch you?"
"Fetch me? No, 'twas only about the sentence. The Lord is kind, 'tis
not so bad as I feared."
"Ah," said Isak eagerly. "Not so long, maybe?"
"No. Only a few years."
"How many years?"
"Why, you might think it a lot, maybe. But I'm thankful to God all the
Inger did not say how long it would be. Later that evening Isak asked
when they would be coming to fetch her away, but this she could not or
would not tell. She had grown thoughtful again, and talked of what was
to come; how they would manage she could not think--but she supposed
they would have to get Oline to come. And Isak had no better plan to
What had become of Oline, by the way? She had not been up this year as
she used to do. Was she going to stay away for ever, now that she had
upset everything for them? The working season passed, but Oline did
not come--did she expect them to go and fetch her? She would come
loitering up of herself, no doubt, the great lump of blubber, the
And at last one day she did. Extraordinary person--it was as nothing
whatever had occurred to make ill-feeling between them; she was even
knitting a pair of new stockings for Eleseus, she said.
"Just came up to see how you were getting on over here," said she.
And it turned out that she had brought her clothes and things up in a
sack, and left in the woods close by, ready to stay.
That evening Inger took her husband aside and said: "Didn't you say
something about seeking out Geissler? 'Tis in the slack time now."
"Ay," said Isak. "Now that Oline is come, I can go off tomorrow
morning, first thing."
Inger was grateful, and thanked him. "And take your money with you,"
she said--"all you have in the place."
"Why, can't you keep the money here?"
"No," said she.
Inger made up a big parcel of food at once, and Isak woke while it was
yet night, and got ready to start. Inger went out on the door-slab to
see him off; she did not cry or complain, but only said:
"They may be coming for me now any day."
"You don't know when?"
"No, I can't say. And I don't suppose it will be just yet, but
anyhow.... If only you could get hold of Geissler, perhaps he might be
able to say something."
What could Geissler do to help them now? Nothing. But Isak went.
Inger--oh, she knew, no doubt, more than she had been willing to say.
It might be, too, that she herself had sent for Oline. When Isak came
from Sweden, Inger was gone and Oline was there with the two children.
It was dark news for a homecoming. Isak's voice was louder than usual
as he asked: "Is she gone?"
"Ay," said Oline.
"What day was it?"
"The day after you left." And Isak knew now that Inger had got him out
of the way on purpose--that was why she had persuaded him to take the
money with him. Oh, but she might have kept a little for herself, for
that long journey!
But the children could think of nothing else but the little pig Isak
had brought with him. It was all he had for his trouble; the address
he had was out of date, and Geissler was no longer in Sweden, but had
returned to Norway and was now in Trondhjem. As for the pig, Isak
had carried it in his arms all the way, feeding it with milk from a
bottle, and sleeping with it on his breast among the hills. He had
been looking forward to Inger's delight when she saw it; now, Eleseus
and Sivert played with it, and it was a joy to them. And Isak,
watching them, forgot his trouble for the moment. Moreover, Oline had
a message from the Lensmand; the State had at last given its decision
in the matter of the land at Sellanraa. Isak had only to go down to
the office and pay the amount. This was good news, and served to keep
him from the worst depth of despair. Tired and worn out as he was,
he packed up some food in a bag and set off for the village at once.
Maybe he had some little hope of seeing Inger once again before she
But he was disappointed. Inger was gone--for eight years. Isak felt
himself in a mist of darkness and emptiness; heard only a word here
and there of all the Lensmand said--a pity such things should happen
... hoped it might be a lesson to her ... reform and be a better woman
after, and not kill her children any more!
Lensmand Heyerdahl had married the year before. His wife had no
intention of ever being a mother--no children for her, thank you! And
she had none.
"And now," said the Lensmand, "this business about Sellanraa. At
last I am in a position to settle it definitely. The Department is
graciously pleased to approve the sale of the land, more or less
according to the terms I suggested."
"H'm," said Isak.
"It has been a lengthy business, but I have the satisfaction of
knowing that my endeavours have not been altogether fruitless. The
terms I proposed have been agreed to almost without exception."
"Without exception," said Isak, and nodded.
"Here are the title-deeds. You can have the transfer registered at the
"Ay," said Isak. "And how much is there to pay?"
"Ten _Daler_ a year. The Department has made a slight alteration
here--ten _Daler_ per annum instead of five. You have no objection to
that, I presume?"
"As long as I can manage to pay ..." said Isak.
"And for ten years." Isak looked up, half frightened.
"Those are the terms--the Department insists. Even then, it's no price
really for all that land, cleared and cultivated as it is now."
Isak had the ten _Daler_ for that year--it was the money he had got
for his loads of wood, and for the cheeses Inger had laid by. He paid
the amount, and had still a small sum left.
"It's a lucky thing for you the Department didn't get to hear about
your wife," said the Lensmand. "Or they might have sold to some one
"Ay," said Isak. He asked about Inger. "Is it true that she's gone
away for eight years?"
"That is so. And can't be altered--the law must take its course. As
a matter of fact, the sentence is extraordinarily light. There's one
thing you must do now--that is, to set up clear boundaries between
your land and the State's. A straight, direct line, following the
marks I set up on the spot, and entered in my register at the time.
The timber cleared from the boundary line becomes your property. I
will come up some time and have a look at what you have done."
Isak trudged back to his home.
Time flies? Ay, when a man is growing old. Isak was not old, he had
not lost his vigour; the years seemed long to him. He worked on his
land, and let his iron beard grow as it would.
Now and again the monotony of the wilderness was broken by the sight
of a passing Lapp, or by something happening to one of the animals on
the place, then all would be as before. Once there came a number of
men at once; they rested at Sellanraa, and had some food and a dish of
milk; they asked Isak and Oline about the path across the hills;
they were marking out the telegraph line, they said. And once came
Geissler--Geissler himself, and no other. There he came, free and
easy as ever, walking up from the village, two men with him, carrying
mining tools, pick and spade.
Oh, that Geissler! Unchanged, the same as ever; meeting and greeting
as if nothing had happened, talked to the children, went into the
house and came out again, looked over the ground, opened the doors of
cowshed and hayloft and looked in. "Excellent!" said he. "Isak, have
you still got those bits of stone?"
"Bits of stone?" said Isak, wondering.
"Little heavy lumps of stone I saw the boy playing with when I was
here once before."
The stones were out in the larder, serving as weights for so many
mouse-traps; Isak brought them in. Geissler and the two men examined
them, talking together, tapped them here and there, weighed them in
the hand. "Copper," they said.
"Could you go up with us and show where you found them?" asked
They all went up together; it was not far to the place where Isak had
found the stones, but they stayed up in the hills for a couple of
days, looking for veins of metal, and firing charges here and there.
They came down to Sellanraa with two bags filled with heavy lumps of
Isak had meanwhile had a talk with Geissler, and told him everything
as to his own position: about the purchase of the land, which had come
to a hundred _Daler_ instead of fifty.
"That's a trifle," said Geissler easily. "You've thousands, like as
not, on your part of the hills."
"Ho!" said Isak.
"But you'd better get those title-deeds entered in the register as
soon as ever you can."
"Then the State can't come any nonsense about it after, you
Isak understood. "'Tis worst about Inger," he said.
"Ay," said Geissler, and remained thoughtful longer than was usual
with him. "Might get the case brought up again. Set out the whole
thing properly; very likely get the sentence reduced a bit. Or we
could put in an application for a pardon, and that would probably come
to the same thing in the end."
"Why, if as that could be done...."
"But it wouldn't do to try for a pardon at once. Have to wait a bit.
What was I going to say ... you've been taking things down to my
wife--meat and cheese and things--what?"
"Why, as to that, Lensmand paid for all that before."
"Did I, though?"
"And helped us kindly in many a way."
"Not a bit of it," said Geissler shortly. "Here--take this." And he
took out some _Daler_ notes.
Geissler was not the man to take things for nothing, that was plain.
And he seemed to have plenty of money about him, from the way his
pocket bulged. Heaven only knew if he really had money or not.
"But she writes all's well and getting on," said Isak, coming back to
his one thought.
"What?--Oh, your wife!"
"Ay. And since the girl was born--she's had a girl child, born while
she was there. A fine little one."
"Ay, and now they're all as kind as can be, and help her every way,
"Look here," said Geissler, "I'm going to send these bits of stone
in to some mining experts, and find out what's in them. If there's a
decent percentage of copper, you'll be a rich man."
"H'm," said Isak. "And how long do you think before we could apply for
"Well, not so very long, perhaps, I'll write the thing for you. I'll
be back here again soon. What was it you said--your wife has had a
child since she left here?"
"Then they took her away while she was expecting it. That's a thing
they've no right to do."
"Anyhow, it's one more reason for letting her out earlier."
"Ay, if that could be ..." said Isak gratefully.
Isak knew nothing of the many lengthy writings backward and forward
between the different authorities concerning the woman who was
expecting a child. The local authorities had let her go free while the
matter was pending, for two reasons: in the first place, they had no
lock-up in the village where they could keep her, and, in the second
place, they wished to be as lenient as possible. The consequence was
something they could not have foreseen. Later, when they had sent
to fetch her away, no one had inquired about her condition, and she
herself had said nothing of it. Possibly she had concealed the matter
on purpose, in order to have a child with her during the years of
imprisonment; if she behaved well, she would no doubt be allowed to
see it now and again. Or perhaps she had been merely indifferent, and
had gone off carelessly, despite her state....
Isak worked and toiled, dug ditches and broke new ground, set up his
boundary lines between his land and the State's, and gained another
season's stock of timber. But now that Inger was no longer there to
wonder at his doings, he worked more from habit than for any joy in
what he did. And he had let two sessions pass without having his
title-deeds registered, caring little about it; at last, that autumn,
he had pulled himself together and got it done. Things were not as
they should be with Isak now. Quiet and patient as ever--yes, but now
it was because he did not care. He got out hides because it had to be
done--goatskins and calfskins--steeped them in the river, laid them
in bark, and tanned them after a fashion ready for shoes. In the
winter--at the very first threshing--he set aside his seed corn for
the next spring, in order to have it done; best to have things done
and done with; he was a methodical man. But it was a grey and lonely
life; eyah, _Herregud_! a man without a wife again, and all the
What pleasure was there now in sitting at home Sundays, cleanly
washed, with a neat red shirt on, when there was no one to be clean
and neat for! Sundays were the longest days of all, days when he was
forced to idleness and weary thoughts; nothing to do but wander about
over the place, counting up all that should have been done. He always
took the children with him, always carried one on his arm. It was
a distraction to hear their chatter, and answer their questions of
He kept old Oline because there was no one else he could get. And
Oline was, after all, of use in a way. Carding and spinning, knitting
stockings and mittens, and making cheese--she could do all these
things, but she lacked Inger's happy touch, and had no heart in her
work; nothing of all she handled was her own. There was a thing Isak
had bought once at the village store, a china pot with a dog's head on
the lid. It was a sort of tobacco box, really, and stood on a shelf.
Oline took off the lid and dropped it on the floor. Inger had left
behind some cuttings of fuchsia, under glass. Oline took the glass off
and, putting it back, pressed it down hard and maliciously; next day,
all the cuttings were dead. It was not so easy for Isak to bear with
such things; he looked displeased, and showed it, and, as there was
nothing swanlike and gentle about Isak, it may well be that he showed
it plainly. Oline cared little for looks; soft-spoken as ever, she
only said: "Now, could I help it?"
"That I can't say," answered Isak. "But you might have left the things
"I'll not touch her flowers again," said Oline. But the flowers were
Again, how could it be that the Lapps came up to Sellanraa so
frequently of late? Os-Anders, for instance, had no business there at
all, he should have passed on his way. Twice in one summer he came
across the hills, and Os-Anders, it should be remembered, had no
reindeer to look to, but lived by begging and quartering himself on
other Lapps. As soon as he came up to the place, Oline left her work
and fell to chatting with him about people in the village, and, when
he left, his sack was heavy with no end of things. Isak put up with it
for two years, saying nothing.
Then Oline wanted new shoes again, and he could be silent no longer.
It was in the autumn, and Oline wore shoes every day, instead of going
in wooden pattens or rough hide.
"Looks like being fine today," said Isak. "H'm." That was how he
"Ay," said Oline.
"Those cheeses, Eleseus," went on Isak again, "wasn't it ten you
counted on the shelf this morning?"
"Ay," said Eleseus.
"Well, there's but nine there now."
Eleseus counted again, and thought for a moment inside his little
head; then he said: "Yes, but then Os-Anders had one to take away;
that makes ten."
There was silence for quite a while after that. Then little Sivert
must try to count as well, and says after his brother: "That makes
Silence again. At last Oline felt she must say something.
"Ay, I did give him a tiny one, that's true. I didn't think that could
do any harm. But they children, they're no sooner able to talk than
they show what's in them. And who they take after's more than I can
think or guess. For 'tis not your way, Isak, that I do know."
The hint was too plain to pass unchecked. "The children are well
enough," said Isak shortly. "But I'd like to know what good Os-Anders
has ever done to me and mine."
"Ay, that's what I said."
"What good Os-Anders ...?"
"Ay, since I'm to give him cheeses in return."
Oline has had time to think, and has her answer ready now.
"Well, now, I wouldn't have thought it of you, Isak, that I wouldn't.
Was it me, pray, that first began with Os-Anders? I wish I may never
move alive from this spot if I ever so much as spoke his name."
Brilliant success for Oline. Isak has to give in, as he has done many
a time before.
But Oline had more to say. "And if you mean I'm to go here clean
barefoot, with the winter coming on and all, and never own the like
of a pair of shoes, why, you'll please to say so. I said a word of it
three and four weeks gone, that I needed shoes, but never sign of a
shoe to this day, and here I am."
Said Isak: "What's wrong with your pattens, then, that you can't use
"What's wrong with them?" repeats Oline, all unprepared.
"Ay, that's what I'd like to know."
"With my pattens?"
"Well ... and me carding and spinning, and tending cattle and sheep
and all, looking after children here--have you nothing to say to that?
I'd like to know; that wife of yours that's in prison for her deeds,
did you let her go barefoot in the snow?"
"She wore her pattens," said Isak. "And for going to church and
visiting and the like, why, rough hide was good enough for her."
"Ay, and all the finer for it, no doubt."
"Ay, that she was. And when she did wear her hide shoes in summer, she
did but stuff a wisp of grass in them, and never no more. But you--you
must wear stockings in your shoes all the year round."
Said Oline: "As for that, I'll wear out my pattens in time, no doubt.
I'd no thought there was any such haste to wear out good pattens all
at once." She spake softly and gently, but with half-closed eyes, the
same sly Oline as ever. "And as for Inger," said she, "the changeling,
as we called her, she went about with children of mine and learned
both this and that, for years she did. And this is what we get for
it. Because I've a daughter that lives in Bergen and wears a hat,
I suppose that's what Inger must be gone away south for; gone to
Trondhjem to buy a hat, he he!"
Isak got up to leave the room. But Oline had opened her heart now,
unlocked the store of blackness within; ay, she gave out rays of
darkness, did Oline. Thank Heaven, none of her children had their
faces slit like a fire-breathing dragon, so to speak; but they were
none the worse for that, maybe. No, 'twasn't every one was so quick
and handy at getting rid of the young they bore--strangling them in a
"Mind what you're saying," shouted Isak. And to make his meaning
perfectly clear, he added: "You cursed old hag!"
But Oline was not going to mind what she was saying; not in the least,
he he! She turned up her eyes to heaven and hinted that a hare-lip
might be this or that, but some folk seemed to carry it too far, he
Isak may well have been glad to get safely out of the house at last.
And what could he do but get Oline the shoes? A tiller of earth in the
wilds; no longer even something of a god, that he could say to his
servant, "Go!" He was helpless without Oline; whatever she did or
said, she had nothing to fear, and she knew it.
The nights are colder now, with a full moon; the marshlands harden
till they can almost bear, but thawing again when the sun comes out,
to an impassable swamp once more. Isak goes down to the village one
cold night, to order shoes for Oline. He takes a couple of cheeses
with him, for Fru Geissler.
Half-way down to the village a new settler has appeared. A well-to-do
man, no doubt, since he had called in folk from the village to build
his house, and hired men to plough up a patch of sandy moorland for
potatoes; he himself did little or nothing. The new man was Brede
Olsen, Lensmand's assistant, a man to go to when the doctor had to be
fetched, or a pig to be killed. He was not yet thirty, but had four
children to look after, not to speak of his wife, who was as good as
a child herself. Oh, Brede was not so well off, perhaps, after all;
'twas no great money he could earn running hither and thither on all
odd businesses, and collecting taxes from people that would not pay.
So now he was trying a new venture on the soil. He had raised a loan
at the bank to start house in the wilds. Breidablik, he called the
place; and it was Lensmand Heyerdahl's lady that had found that
Isak hurries past the house, not wasting time on looking in, but he
can see through the window that all the children are up already, early
as it is. Isak has no time to lose, if he is to be back as far as this
on the homeward journey next night, while the roads are hard. A man
living in the wilds has much to think of, to reckon out and fit in as
best can be. It is not the busiest time for him just now, but he is
anxious about the children, left all alone with Oline.
He thinks, as he walks, of the first time he had come that way. Time
has passed, the two last years had been long; there had been much that
was good at Sellanraa, and a deal that was not--eyah, _Herregud_! And
now here was another man clearing ground in the wilds. Isak knew the
place well; it was one of the kindlier spots he had noted himself on
his way up, but he had gone on farther. It was nearer the village,
certainly, but the timber was not so good; the ground was less hilly,
but a poorer soil; easy to work on the surface, but hard to deal with
farther down. That fellow Brede would find it took more than a mere
turning over of the soil to made a field that would bear. And why
hadn't he built out a shed from the end of the hayloft for carts and
implements? Isak noticed that a cart had been left standing out in the
yard, uncovered, in the open.
He got through his business with the shoemaker, and, Fru Geissler
having left the place, he sold his cheeses to the man at the store. In
the evening, he starts out for home. The frost is getting harder now,
and it is good, firm going, but Isak trudges heavily for all that. Who
could say when Geissler would be back, now that his wife had gone;
maybe he would not be coming at all? Inger was far away, and time was
He does not look in at Brede's on the way back; on the contrary, he
goes a long way round, keeping away from the place. He does not care
to stop and talk to folk, only trudge on. Brede's cart is still out in
the open--does he mean to leave it there? Well, 'tis his own affair.
Isak himself had a cart of his own now, and a shed to house it, but
none the happier for that. His home is but half a thing; it had been a
home once, but now only half a thing.
It is full day by the time he gets within sight of his own place up on
the hillside, and it cheers him somewhat, weary and exhausted as he is
after forty-eight hours on the road. The house and buildings, there
they stand, smoke curling up from the chimney; both the little ones
are out, and come down to meet him as he appears. He goes into the
house, and finds a couple of Lapps sitting down. Oline starts up in
surprise: "What, you back already!" She is making coffee on the stove.
Isak has noticed the same thing before. When Os-Anders or any of the
other Lapps have been there, Oline makes coffee in Inger's little pot
for a long time after. She does it while Isak is out in the woods or
in the fields, and when he comes in unexpectedly and sees it, she says
nothing. But he knows that he is the poorer by a cheese or a bundle of
wool each time. And it is to his credit that he does not pick up Oline
in his fingers and crush her to pieces for her meanness. Altogether,
Isak is trying hard indeed to make himself a better man, better and
better, whatever may be his idea, whether it be for the sake of peace
in the house, or in some hope that the Lord may give him back his
Inger the sooner. He is something given to superstition and a
pondering upon things; even his rustic wariness is innocent in its
way. Early that autumn he found the turf on the roof of the stable was
beginning to slip down inside. Isak chewed at his beard for a while,
then, smiling like a man who understands a jest, he laid some poles
across to keep it up. Not a bitter word did he say. And another thing:
the shed where he kept his store of provisions was simply built on
high stone feet at the corners, with nothing between. After a while,
little birds began to find their way in through the big gaps in the
wall, and stayed fluttering about inside, unable to get out. Oline
complained that they picked at the food and spoiled the meat, and made
a nasty mess about the place. Isak said: "Ay, 'tis a pity small birds
should come in and not be able to get out again." And in the thick of
a busy season he turned stonemason and filled up the gaps in the wall.
Heaven knows what was in his mind that he took things so; whether
maybe he fancied Inger might be given back to him the sooner for his
The years pass by.
Once more there came visitors to Sellanraa; an engineer, with a
foreman and a couple of workmen, marking out telegraph lines again
over the hills. By the route they were taking now, the line would be
carried a little above the house, and a straight road cut through the
forest. No harm in that. It would make the place less desolate, a
glimpse of the world would make it brighter.
"This place," said, the engineer, "will be just about midway between
two lines through the valleys on either side. They'll very likely ask
you to take on the job of linesman for both."
"Ho!" said Isak.
"It will be twenty-five _Daler_ a year in your pocket."
"H'm," said Isak. "And what am I to do for that?"
"Keep the line in repair, mend the wires when necessary, clear away
forest growth on the route as it comes up. They'll set up a little
machine thing in the house here, to hang on the wall, that'll tell you
when you're wanted. And when it does, you must leave whatever you're
doing and go."
Isak thought it over. "I could do it all right in winter," he said.
"That's no good. It would have to be for the whole year, summer and
"Can't be done," said Isak. "Spring and summer and autumn I've my work
on the land, and no time for other things."
The engineer looked at him for quite a while, and then put an
astonishing question, as follows: "Can you make more money that way?"
"Make more money?" said Isak.
"Can you earn more money in a day by working on the land than you
could by working for us?"
"Why, as to that, I can't say," answered Isak. "It's just this way,
you see--'tis the land I'm here for. I've many souls and more beasts
to keep alive--and 'tis the land that keeps us. 'Tis our living."
"If you won't, I can find some one else," said the engineer.
But Isak only seemed rather relieved at the threat. He did not like
to disoblige the great man, and tried to explain. "'Tis this way," he
said, "I've a horse and five cows, besides the bull. I've twenty sheep
and sixteen goats. The beasts, they give us food and wool and hide; we
must give them food."
"Yes, yes, of course," said the other shortly.
"Well, and so I say, how am I to feed them when I've to run away all
times in the busy season, to work on the telegraph line?"
"Say no more about it," said the engineer. "I'll get the man down
below you, Brede Olsen; he'll be glad to take it." He turned to his
men with a brief word: "Now, lads, we'll be getting on,"
Now Oline had heard from the way Isak spoke that he was stiff-necked
and unreasonable in his mind, and she would make the most of it.
"What was that you said, Isak? Sixteen goats? There's no more than
fifteen," said she.
Isak looked at her, and Oline looked at him again, straight in the
"Not sixteen goats?" said he.
"No," said she, looking helplessly towards the strangers, as if to say
how unreasonable he was.
"Ho!" said Isak softly. He drew a tuft of his beard between his teeth
and stood chewing it.
The engineer and his men went on their way.
Now, if Isak had wanted to show his displeasure with Oline and maybe
thrash her for her doings, here was his chance--a Heaven-sent chance
to do that thing. They were alone in the house; the children had gone
after the men when they went. Isak stood there in the middle of the
room, and Oline was sitting by the stove. Isak cleared his throat
once or twice, just to show that he was ready to say something if he
pleased. But he said nothing. That was his strength of soul. What,
did he not know the number of his goats as he knew the fingers on his
hands--was the woman mad? Could one of the beasts be missing, when he
knew every one of them personally and talked to them every day--his
goats that were sixteen in number? Oline must have traded away one of
them the day before, when the woman from Breidablik had come up to
look at the place. "H'm," said Isak, and this time words were on
the very tip of his tongue. What was it Oline had done? Not exactly
murder, perhaps, but something not far from it. He could speak in
deadly earnest of that sixteenth goat.
But he could not stand there for ever, in the middle of the room,
saying nothing. "H'm," he said. "Ho! So there's but fifteen goats
there now, you say?"
"That's all I make it," answered Oline gently. "But you'd better count
for yourself and see."
Now was his time--he could do it now: reach out with his hands and
alter the shape of Oline considerably, with but one good grip. He
could do it. He did not do it, but said boldly, making for the door:
"I'll say no more just now." And he went out, as if plainly showing
that, next time, he would have proper words to say, never fear.
"Eleseus!" he called out.
Where was Eleseus, where were the children? Their father had something
to ask them; they were big fellows now, with their eyes about them. He
found them under the floor of the barn; they had crept in as far as
they could, hiding away invisibly, but betraying themselves by an
anxious whispering. Out they crept now like two sinners.
The fact of the matter was that Eleseus had found a stump of coloured
pencil the engineer had left behind, and started to run after him and
give it back, but the big men with their long strides were already far
up in the forest. Eleseus stopped. The idea occurred to him that he
might keep the pencil--if only he could! He hunted out little Sivert,
so that they might at least be two to share the guilt, and the pair of
them had crept in under the floor with their find. Oh, that stump of
pencil--it was an event in their lives, a wonder! They found shavings
and covered them all over with signs; the pencil, they discovered,
made blue marks with one end and red with the other, and they took
it in turns to use. When their father called out so loudly and
insistently, Eleseus whispered: "They've come back for the pencil!"
All their joy was dashed in a moment, swept out of their minds at a
touch, and their little hearts began beating and thumping terribly.
The brothers crept forth. Eleseus held out the pencil at arm's length;
here it was, they had not broken it; only wished they had never seen
No engineer was to be seen. Their hearts settled to a quieter beat; it
was heavenly to be rid of that dreadful tension.
"There was a woman here yesterday," said their father.
"The woman from the place down below. Did you see her go?"
"Had she a goat with her?"
"No," said the boys. "A goat?"
"Didn't she have a goat with her when she left?"
"No. What goat?"
Isak wondered and wondered. In the evening when the animals came home,
he counted the goats once over--there were sixteen. He counted them
once more, counted them five times. There were sixteen. None missing.
Isak breathed again. But what did it all mean? Oline, miserable
creature, couldn't she count as far as sixteen? He asked her angrily:
"What's all this nonsense? there _are_ sixteen goats."
"Are there sixteen?" she asked innocently.
"Ay, well, then."
"A nice one to count, you are."
Oline answered quietly, in an injured tone, "Since all the goats are
there, why, then, thank Heaven, you can't say Oline's been eating them
up. And well for her, poor thing."
Oline had taken him in completely with her trickery; he was content,
imagining all was well. It did not occur to him, for instance, to
count the sheep. He did not trouble about further counting of the
stock at all. After all, Oline was not as bad as she might have been;
she kept house for him after a fashion, and looked to his cattle; she
was merely a fool, and that was worst for herself. Let her stay, let
her live--she was not worth troubling about. But it was a grey and
joyless thing to be Isak, as life was now.
Years had passed. Grass had grown on the roof of the house, even the
roof of the barn, which was some years younger, was green. The
wild mouse, native of the woods, had long since found way into the
storehouse. Tits and all manner of little birds swarmed about the
place; there were more birds up on the hillside; even the crows had
come. And most wonderful of all, the summer before, seagulls had
appeared, seagulls coming all the way up from the coast to settle on
the fields there in the wilderness. Isak's farm was known far and wide
to all wild creatures. And what of Eleseus and little Sivert when they
saw the gulls? Oh, 'twas some strange birds from ever so far away; not
so many of them, just six white birds, all exactly alike, waddling
this way and that about the fields, and pecking at the grass now and
"Father, what have they come for?" asked the boys.
"There's foul weather coming out at sea," said their father. Oh, a
grand and mysterious thing to see those gulls!
And Isak taught his sons many other things good and useful to know.
They were of an age to go to school, but the school was many miles
away down in the village, out of reach. Isak had himself taught the
boys their A B C on Sundays, but 'twas not for him, not for this born
tiller of the soil, to give them any manner of higher education; the
Catechism and Bible history lay quietly on the shelf with the
cheeses. Isak apparently thought it better for men to grow up without
book-knowledge, from the way he dealt with his boys. They were a joy
and a blessing to him, the two; many a time he thought of the days
when they had been tiny things, and their mother would not let him
touch them because his hands were sticky with resin. Ho, resin, the
cleanest thing in the world! Tar and goats' milk and marrow, for
instance, all excellent things, but resin, clean gum from the fir--not
So the lads grew up in a paradise of dirt and ignorance, but they were
nice lads for all that when they were washed, which happened now and
again; little Sivert he was a splendid fellow, though Eleseus was
something finer and deeper.
"How do the gulls know about the weather?" he asked.
"They're weather-sick," said his father. "But as for that they're no
more so than the flies. How it may be with flies, I can't say, if they
get the gout, or feel giddy, or what. But never hit out at a fly, for
'twill only make him worse--remember that, boys! The horsefly he's
a different sort, he dies of himself. Turns up suddenly one day in
summer, and there he is; then one day suddenly he's gone, and that's
the end of him."
"But how does he die?" asked Eleseus.
"The fat inside him stiffens, and he lies there dead."
Every day they learned something new. Jumping down from high rocks,
for instance, to keep your tongue in your mouth, and not get it
between your teeth. When they grew bigger, and wanted to smell nice
for going to church, the thing was to rub oneself with a little tansy
that grew on the hillside. Father was full of wisdom. He taught the
boys about stones, about flint, how that the white stone was harder
than the grey; but when he had found a flint, he must also make
tinder. Then he could strike fire with it. He taught them about the
moon, how when you can grip in the hollow side with your left hand
it is waxing, and grip in with the right, it's on the wane; remember
that, boys! Now and again, Isak would go too far, and grow mysterious;
one Friday he declared that it was harder for a camel to enter the
kingdom of heaven than for a human being to thread the eye of a
needle. Another time, telling them of the glory of the angels,
he explained that angels had stars set in their heels instead of
hob-nails. Good and simple teaching, well fitted for settlers in the
wilds; the schoolmaster in the village would have laughed at it all,
but Isak's boys found good use for it in their inner life. They were
trained and taught for their own little world, and what could be
better? In the autumn, when animals were to be killed, the lads were
greatly curious, and fearful, and heavy at heart for the ones that
were to die. There was Isak holding with one hand, and the other ready
to strike; Oline stirred the blood. The old goat was led out, bearded
and wise; the boys stood peeping round the corner. "Filthy cold wind
this time," said Eleseus, and turned away to wipe his eyes. Little
Sivert cried more openly, could not help calling out: "Oh, poor old
goat!" When the goat was killed, Isak came up to them and gave them
this lesson: "Never stand around saying 'Poor thing' and being pitiful
when things are being killed. It makes them tough and harder to kill.
So the years passed, and now it was nearing spring again.
Inger had written home to say she was well, and was learning a lot
of things where she was. Her little girl was big, and was called
Leopoldine, after the day she was born, the 15th November. She knew
all sorts of things, and was a genius at hemstitch and crochet,
wonderful fine work she could do on linen or canvas.
The curious thing about this letter was that Inger had written and
spelt it all herself. Isak was not so learned but that he had to get
it read for him down in the village, by the man at the store; but once
he had got it into his head it stayed there; he knew it off by heart
when he got home.
And now he sat down with great solemnity at the head of the table,
spread out the letter, and read it aloud to the boys. He was willing
enough that Oline also should see how easily he could read writing,
but he did not speak so much as a word to her directly. When he had
finished, he said: "There now, Eleseus, and you, Sivert, 'tis your
mother herself has written that letter and learned all these things.
Even that little tiny sister of yours, she knows more than all the
rest of us here. Remember that!" The boys sat still, wondering in
"Ay, 'tis a grand thing," said Oline.
And what did she mean by that? Was she doubting that Inger told the
truth? Or had she her suspicions as to Isak's reading? It was no easy
matter to get at what Oline really thought, when she sat there with
her simple face, saying dark things. Isak determined to take no
"And when your mother comes home, boys, you shall learn to write too,"
said he to the lads.
Oline shifted some clothes that were hanging near the stove to
dry; shifted a pot, shifted the clothes again, and busied herself
generally. She was thinking all the time.
"So fine and grand as everything's getting here," she said at last. "I
do think you might have bought a paper of coffee for the house."
"_Coffee_?" said Isak. It slipped out.
Oline answered quietly: "Up to now I've bought a little now and again
out of my own money, but...."
Coffee was a thing of dreams and fairy tales for Isak, a rainbow.
Oline was talking nonsense, of course. He was not angry with her,
no; but, slow of thought as he was, he called to mind at last her
bartering with the Lapps, and he said bitterly:
"Ay, I'll buy you coffee, that I will. A paper of coffee, was it? Why
not a pound? A pound of coffee, while you're about it."
"No need to talk that way, Isak. My brother Nils, he gets coffee; down
at Breidablik, too, they've coffee."
"Ay, for they've no milk. Not a drop of milk on the place, they've
"That's as it may be. But you that know such a lot, and read writing
as pat as a cockroach running, you ought to know that coffee's a thing
should be in everybody's house."
"You creature!" said Isak.
At that Oline sat down and was not to be silenced. "As for that
Inger," said she, "if so be I may dare to say such a word...."
"Say what you will, 'tis all one to me."
"She'll be coming home, and learned everything of sorts. And beads and
feathers in her hat, maybe?"
"Ay, that may be."
"Ay," said Oline; "and she can thank me a little for all the way she's
grown so fine and grand."
"You?" asked Isak. It slipped out.
Oline answered humbly: "Ay, since 'twas my modest doing that she ever
Isak was speechless at that; all his words were checked, he sat there
staring. Had he heard aright? Oline sat there looking as if she had
said nothing. No, in a battle of words Isak was altogether lost.
He swung out of the house, full of dark thoughts. Oline, that beast
that throve in wickedness and grew fat on it--why had he not wrung her
neck the first year? So he thought, trying to pull himself together.
He could have done it--he? Couldn't he, though! No one better.
And then a ridiculous thing happened. Isak went into the shed and
counted the goats. There they are with their kids, the full number.
He counts the cows, the pig, fourteen hens, two calves. "I'd all but
forgotten the sheep," he says to himself; he counts the sheep, and
pretends to be all anxiety lest there should be any missing there.
Isak knows very well that there is a sheep missing; he has known that
a long time; why should he let it appear otherwise? It was this way.
Oline had tricked him nicely once before, saying one of the goats was
gone, though all the goats were there as they should be; he had made a
great fuss about it at the time, but to no purpose. It was always the
same when he came into conflict with Oline. Then, in the autumn, at
slaughtering time, he had seen at once that there was one ewe short,
but he had not found courage to call her to account for it at the
time. And he had not found that courage since.
But today he is stern; Isak is stern. Oline has made him thoroughly
angry this time. He counts the sheep over again, putting his
forefinger on each and counting aloud--Oline may hear it if she likes,
if she should happen to be outside. And he says many hard things about
Oline--says them out loud; how that she uses a new method of her own
in feeding sheep, a method that simply makes them vanish--here's a ewe
simply vanished. She is a thieving baggage, nothing less, and she may
know it! Oh, he would just have liked Oline to be standing outside and
hear it, and be thoroughly frightened for once.
He strides out from the shed, goes to the stable and counts the horse;
from there he will go in--will go into the house and speak his mind.
He walks so fast that his shirt stands out like a very angry shirt
behind him. But Oline as like as not has noticed something, looking
out through the glass window; she appears in the doorway, quietly and
steadily, with buckets in her hands, on her way to the cowshed.
"What have you done with that ewe with the flat ears?" he asks.
"Ewe?" she asks.
"Ay. If she'd been here she'd have had two lambs by now. What have
you done with them? She always had two. You've done me out of three
together, do you understand?"
Oline is altogether overwhelmed, altogether annihilated by the
accusation; she wags her head, and her legs seem to melt away under
her--she might fall and hurt herself. Her head is busy all the time;
her ready wit had always helped her, always served her well; it must
not fail her now.
"I steal goats and I steal the sheep," she says quietly. "And what
do I do with them, I should like to know? I don't eat them up all by
myself, I suppose?"
"You know best what you do with them."
"Ho! As if I didn't have enough and to spare of meat and food and all,
with what you give me, Isak, that I should have to steal more? But
I'll say that, anyway, I've never needed so much, all these years."
"Well, what have, you done with the sheep? Has Os-Anders had it?"
"Os-Anders?" Oline has to set down the buckets and fold her hands."
May I never have more guilt to answer for! What's all this about a ewe
and lambs you're talking of? Is it the goat you mean, with the flat
"You creature!" said Isak, turning away.
"Well, if you're not a miracle, Isak, I will say.... Here you've all
you could wish for every sort, and a heavenly host of sheep and goats
and all in your own shed, and you've not enough. How should I know
what sheep, and what two lambs, you're trying to get out of me now?
You should be thanking the Lord for His mercies from generation to
generation, that you should. 'Tis but this summer and a bit of a way
to next winter, and you've the lambing season once more, and three
times as many again."
Oh, that woman Oline!
Isak went off grumbling like a bear. "Fool I was not to murder her the
first day!" he thought, calling himself all manner of names. "Idiot,
lump of rubbish that I was! But it's not too late yet; just wait, let
her go to the cowshed if she likes. It wouldn't be wise to do anything
tonight, but tomorrow ... ay, tomorrow morning's the time. Three sheep
lost and gone! And coffee, did she say!"
Next day was fated to bring a great event. There came a visitor to the
farm--Geissler came. It was not yet summer on the moors, but Geissler
paid no heed to the state of the ground; he came on foot, in rich high
boots with broad, shiny tops; yellow gloves, too, he wore, and was
elegant to see; a man from the village carried his things.
He had come, as a matter of fact, to buy a piece of Isak's land, up in
the hills--a copper mine. And what about the price? Also, by the way,
he had a message from Inger--good girl, every one liked her; he had
been in Trondhjem, and seen her. "Isak, you've put in some work here."
"Ay, I dare say And you've seen Inger?"
"What's that you've got over there? Built a mill of your own, have
you? grind your own corn? Excellent. And you've turned up a good bit
of ground since I was here last."
"Is she well?"
"Eh? Oh, your wife!--yes, she's well and fit. Let's go in the next
room. I'll tell you all about it."
"'Tis not in order," put in Oline. Oline had her own reasons for not
wishing them to go in. They went into the little room nevertheless,
and closed the door. Oline stood in the kitchen and could hear
Geissler sat down, slapped his knee with a powerful hand, and there he
was--master of Isak's fate.
"You haven't sold that copper tract yet?" he asked.
"Good. I'll buy it myself. Yes, I've seen Inger and some other people
too. She'll be out before long, if I'm not greatly mistaken--the case
has been submitted to the King."
"The King, yes. I went in to have a talk with your wife--they managed
it for me, of course, no difficulty about that--and we had a long
talk. 'Well, Inger, how are you getting on? Nicely, what?' 'Why, I've
no cause to complain.'' Like to be home again?' 'Ay, I'll not say no.'
'And so you shall before very long,' said I. And I'll tell you this
much, Isak, she's a good girl, is Inger. No blubbering, not so much
as a tear, but smiling and laughing ... they've fixed up that trouble
with her mouth, by the way--operation--sewed it up again. 'Good-bye,
then,' said I. 'You won't be here very long, I'll promise you that.'
"Then I went to the Governor--he saw me, of course, no difficulty
about that. 'You've a woman here,' said I,' that ought to be out of
the place, and back in her home--Inger Sellanraa.' 'Inger?' said he;
'why, yes. She's a good sort--I wish we could keep her for twenty
years,' said he. 'Well, you won't,' said I. 'She's been here too long
already.' 'Too long?' says he. 'Do you know what she's in for?' 'I
know all about it,' says I, 'being Lensmand in the district.' 'Oh,'
says he, 'won't you sit down?' Quite the proper thing to say, of
course. 'Why,' says the Governor then, 'we do what we can for her
here, and her little girl too. So she's from your part of the country,
is she? We've helped her to get a sewing-machine of her own; she's
gone through the workshops right to the top, and we've taught her a
deal--weaving, household work, dyeing, cutting out. Been here too
long, you say?' Well, I'd got my answer ready for that all right, but
it could wait, so I only said her case had been badly muddled, and had
to be taken up again; now, after the revision of the criminal code,
she'd probably have been acquitted altogether. And I told him about
the hare. 'A hare?' says the Governor. 'A hare,' says I. 'And the
child was born with a hare-lip.' 'Oh,' says he, smiling, 'I see. And
you think they ought to have made more allowance for that?' 'They
didn't make any at all,' said I, 'for it wasn't mentioned.' 'Well, I
dare say it's not so bad, after all.' 'Bad enough for her, anyway.'
'Do you believe a hare can work miracles, then?' says he. 'As to
that,' said I, 'whether a hare can work miracles or not's a matter I
won't discuss just now. The question is, what effect the _sight_ of a
hare might have on a woman with her disfigurement, in her condition.'
Well, he thought over that for a bit. 'H'm,' says he at last. 'Maybe,
maybe. Anyhow, we're not concerned with that here. All we have to
do is to take over the people they send us; not to revise their
sentences. And according to her sentence, Inger's not yet finished her
"Well, then, I started on what I wanted to say all along. 'There was
a serious oversight made in bringing her here to begin with,' said I.
'An oversight?' 'Yes. In the first place, she ought never to have been
sent across the country at all in the state she was in.' He looks at
me stiffly. 'No, that's perfectly true,' says he. 'But it's nothing to
do with us here, you know.' 'And in the second place,' said I, 'she
ought certainly not to have been in the prison for full two months
without any notice taken of her condition by the authorities here.'
That put him out, I could see; he said nothing for quite a while. 'Are
you instructed to act on her behalf?' says he at last. 'Yes, I am,'
said I. Well, then, he started on about how pleased they had been with
her, and telling me over again all they'd taught her and done for her
there--taught her to write too, he said. And the little girl had been
put out to nurse with decent people, and so on. Then I told him how
things were at home, with Inger away. Two youngsters left behind,
and only a hired woman to look after them, and all the rest. 'I've a
statement from her husband,' said I, 'that I can submit whether the
case be taken up for thorough revision, or an application be made
for a pardon.' 'I'd like to see that statement,' says the Governor.
'Right,' said I. 'I'll bring it along tomorrow in visiting hours.'"
Isak sat listening--it was thrilling to hear, a wonderful tale from
foreign parts. He followed Geissler's mouth with slavish eyes.
Geissler went on: "I went straight back to the hotel and wrote out a
statement; did the whole thing myself, you understand, and signed it
'Isak Sellanraa.' Don't imagine, though, I said a word against the way
they'd managed things in the prison. Not a word. Next day I went along
with the paper. 'Won't you sit down?' says the Governor, the moment I
got inside the door. He read through what I'd written, nodded here and
there, and at last he says: 'Very good, very good indeed. It'd hardly
do, perhaps, to have the case brought up again for revision, but....'
'Wait a bit,' said I. 'I've another document that I think will make it
right.' Had him there again, you see. 'Well,' he says, all of a hurry,
'I've been thinking over the matter since yesterday, and I consider
there's good and sufficient grounds to apply for a pardon.' 'And the
application would have the Governor's support?' I asked. 'Certainly;
yes, I'll give it my best recommendation.' Then I bowed and said: 'In
that case, there will be no difficulty about the pardon, of course. I
thank you, sir, on behalf of a suffering woman and a stricken home.'
Then says he: 'I don't think there should be any need of further
declarations--from the district, I mean--about her case. You know the
woman yourself--that should be quite enough.' I knew well enough, of
course, why he wanted the thing settled quietly as possible, so I just
agreed: said it would only delay the proceedings to collect further
"And there you are, Isak, that's the whole story." Geissler looked at
his watch. "And now let's get to business. Can you go with me up to
the ground again?"
Isak was a stony creature, a stump of a man; he did not find it
easy to change the subject all at once; he was all preoccupied with
thoughts and wondering, and began asking questions of this and that.
He learned that the application had been sent up to the King, and
might be decided in one of the first State Councils. "'Tis all a
miracle," said he.
Then they went up into the hills; Geissler, his man, and Isak, and