Part 4 out of 9
would have taken to mend the rake would have been more than tenfold
repaid by letting Inger work on. Anyhow, Inger came out with her rake
as it was, and fell to haymaking with a will; Sivert came up with the
horse and haycart, and all went at it, sweating at the work, and
the hay was got in. It was a good stroke of work, and Isak fell to
thinking once more of the powers above that guide all our ways--from
stealing a _Daler_ to getting a crop of hay. Moreover, there lay
the boat; after half a generation of thinking it over, the boat was
finished; it was there, up on the lake.
"Eyah, _Herregud_!" said Isak.
It was a strange evening altogether: a turning-point. Inger had been
running off the line for a long time now; and one lift up from the
floor had set her in her place again. Neither spoke of what had
happened. Isak had felt ashamed of himself after--all for the sake of
a _Daler_, a trifle of money, that he would have had to give her after
all, because he himself would gladly have let the boy have it. And
then again--was not the money as much Inger's as his own? There came a
time when Isak found it his turn to be humble.
There came many sorts of times. Inger must have changed her mind
again, it seemed; once more she was different, gradually forgetting
her fine ways and turning earnest anew: a settler's wife, earnest and
thoughtful as she had been before. To think that a man's hard grip
could work such wonders! But it was right; here was a strong and
healthy woman, sensible enough, but spoiled and warped by long
confinement in an artificial air--and she had butted into a man who
stood firmly on his feet. Never for a moment had he left his natural
place on the earth, on the soil. Nothing could move him.
Many sorts of times. Next year came the drought again, killing the
growth off slowly, and wearing down human courage. The corn stood
there and shrivelled up; the potatoes--the wonderful potatoes--they
did not shrivel up, but flowered and flowered. The meadows turned
grey, but the potatoes flowered. The powers above guided all things,
no doubt, but the meadows were turning grey.
Then one day came Geissler--ex-Lensmand Geissler came again at last.
It was good to find that he was not dead, but had turned up again. And
what had he come for now?
Geissler had no grand surprises with him this time, by the look of it;
no purchases of mining rights and documents and such-like. Geissler
was poorly dressed, his hair and beard turned greyer, and his eyes
redder at the edges than before. He had no man, either, to carry his
things, but had his papers in a pocket, and not even a bag.
"_Goddag_" said Geissler.
"_Goddag_" answered Isak and Inger. "Here's the like of visitors to
see this way!"
"And thanks for all you did that time--in Trondhjem," said Inger all
And Isak nodded at that, and said: "Ay, 'tis two of us owe you thanks
But Geissler--it was not his way to be all feelings and sentiments; he
said: "Yes, I'm just going across to Sweden."
For all their trouble of mind over the drought, Sellanraa's folk were
glad to see Geissler again; they gave him the best they had, and were
heartily glad to do what they could for him after all he had done.
Geissler himself had no troubles that could be seen; he grew talkative
at once, looked out over the fields and nodded. He carried himself
upright as ever, and looked as if he had several hundreds of _Daler_
in his pockets. It livened them up and brightened everything to have
him there; not that he made any boisterous fun, but a lively talker,
that he was.
"Fine place, Sellanraa, splendid place," he said. "And now there's
others coming up one after another, since you've started, Isak. I
counted five myself. Are there any more?"
"Seven in all. There's two that can't be seen from the road."
"Seven holdings; say fifty souls. Why, it'll be a densely populated
neighbourhood before long. And you've a school already, so I hear?"
"Ay, we have."
"There--what did I say? A school all to yourselves, down by Brede's
place, being more in the middle. Fancy Brede as a farmer in the
wilds!" and Geissler laughed at the thought. "Ay, I've heard all about
you, Isak; you're the best man here. And I'm glad of it. Sawmill, too,
"Ay, such as it is. But it serves me well enough. And I've sawed a bit
now and again for them down below."
"Bravo! That's the way!"
"I'd be glad to hear what you think of it, Lensmand, if so be you'd
care to look at that sawmill for yourself."
Geissler nodded, with the air of an expert; yes, he would look at
it, examine it thoroughly. Then he asked: "You had two boys, hadn't
you--what's become of the other? In town? Clerk in an office? H'm,"
said Geissler. "But this one here looks a sturdy sort--what was your
"And the other one?"
"And he's in an engineer's office--what's he reckon to learn there? A
starvation-business. Much better have come to me," said Geissler.
"Ay," said Isak, for politeness' sake. He felt a sort of pity for
Geissler at the moment. Oh, that good man did not look as if he could
afford to keep clerks; had to work hard enough by himself, belike.
That jacket--it was worn to fringes at the wrists.
"Won't you have some dry hose to put on?" said Inger, and brought out
a pair of her own. They were from her best days; fine and thin, with a
"No, thanks," said Geissler shortly, though he must have been wet
through.--"Much better have come to me," he said again, speaking of
Eleseus. "I want him badly." He took a small silver tobacco box from
his pocket and sat playing with it in his fingers. It was perhaps the
only thing of value left him now.
But Geissler was restless, changing from one thing to another. He
slipped the thing back into his pocket again and started a new theme.
"But--what's that? Why, the meadow that's all grey. I thought it was
the shadow. The ground is simply parched. Come along with me, Sivert."
He rose from the table suddenly, thinking no more of food, turned in
the doorway to say "Thank you" to Inger for the meal, and disappeared,
They went across to the river, Geissler peering keenly about all the
time. "Here!" he cried, and stopped. And then he explained: "Where's
the sense of letting your land dry up to nothing when you've a river
there big enough to drown it in a minute? We'll have, that meadow
green by tomorrow!"
Sivert, all astonishment, said "Yes."
"Dig down obliquely from here, see?--on a slope. The ground's level;
have to make some sort of a channel. You've a sawmill there--I suppose
you can find some long planks from somewhere? Good! Run and fetch a
pick and spade, and start here; I'll go back and mark out a proper
He ran up to the house again, his boots squelching, for they were wet
through. He set Isak to work making pipes, a whole lot of them, to be
laid down where the ground could not well be cut with ditches. Isak
tried to object that the water might not get so far; the dry ground
would soak it up before it reached the parched fields. Geissler
explained that it would take some time; the earth must drink a little
first, but then gradually the water would go on--"field and meadow
green by this time tomorrow."
"Ho!" said Isak, and fell to boxing up long planks as hard as he
Off hurries Geissler to Sivert once more: "That's right--keep at
it--didn't I say he was a sturdy sort? Follow these stakes, you
understand, where I've marked out. If you come up against heavy
boulders, or rock, then turn aside and go round, but keep the
level--the same depth; you see what I mean?"
Then back to Isak again: "That's one finished--good! But we shall want
more--half a dozen, perhaps. Keep at it, Isak; you see, we'll have it
all green by tomorrow--we've saved your crops!" And Geissler sat down
on the ground, slapped his knees with both hands and was delighted,
chattered away, thought in flashes of lightning. "Any pitch, any
oakum, or anything about the place? That's splendid--got everything.
These things'll leak at the edges you see, to begin with, but the
wood'll swell after a while, and they'll be as taut as a bottle. Oakum
and pitch--fancy you having it too!--What? Built a boat, you say?
Where is the boat? Up in the lake? Good! I must have a look at that
Oh, Geissler was all promises. Light come, light go--and he seemed
more giving to fussing about than before. He worked at things by
fits and starts, but at a furious rate when he did work. There was
a certain superiority about him after all. True, he exaggerated a
bit--it was impossible, of course, to get all green by this time
tomorrow, as he had said, but for all that, Geissler was a sharp
fellow, quick to see and take a decision; ay, a strange man was
Geissler. And it was he and no other that saved the crops that year at
"How many have you got done? Not enough. The more wood you can lay,
the quicker it'll flow. Make them twenty feet long or twenty-five,
if you can. Any planks that length on the place? Good; fetch them
along--you'll find it'll pay you at harvest-time!"
Restless again--up and off to Sivert once more. "That's the way,
Sivert man; getting on finely. Your father's turning out culverts like
a poet, there'll be more than I ever thought. Run across and get some
now, and we'll make a start."
All that afternoon was one hurrying spell; Sivert had never seen such
a furious piece of work; he was not accustomed to see things done at
that pace. They hardly gave themselves time to eat. But the water was
flowing already! Here and there they had to dig deeper, a culvert had
to be raised or lowered, but it flowed. The three men were at it till
late that night, touching up their work, and keenly on the look out
for any fault. But when the water began to trickle out over the driest
spots, there was joy and delight at Sellanraa. "I forgot to bring my
watch," said Geissler. "What's the time, I wonder? Ay, she'll be green
by this time tomorrow!" said he.
Sivert got up in the middle of the night to see how things were going,
and found his father out already on the same errand. Oh, but it was a
thrilling time--a day of great events!
But next day, Geissler stayed in bed till nearly noon, worn out now
that the fit had passed. He did not trouble to go up and look at the
boat on the lake; and but for what he had said the day before, he
would never have bothered to look at the sawmill. Even the irrigation
works interested him less than at first--and when he saw that neither
field nor meadow had turned green in the course of the night, he lost
heart, never thinking of how the water flowed, and flowed all the
time, and spread out farther and farther over the ground. He backed
down a little, and said now: "It may take time--you won't see any
change perhaps before tomorrow again. But it'll be all right, never
Later in the day Brede Olsen came lounging in; he had brought some
samples of rock he wanted Geissler to see. "And something out of the
common, this time, to my mind," said Brede.
Geissler would not look at the things. "That the way you manage a
farm," he asked scornfully, "pottering about up in the hills looking
for a fortune?"
Brede apparently did not fancy being taken to task now by his former
chief; he answered sharply, without any form of respect, treating the
ex-Lensmand as an equal: "If you think I care what you say ..."
"You've no more sense than you had before," said Geissler. "Fooling
away your time."
"What about yourself?" said Brede. "What about you, I'd like to know?
You've got a mine of your own up here, and what have you done with it?
Huh! Lies there doing nothing. Ay, you're the sort to have a mine,
aren't you? He he!"
"Get out of this," said Geissler. And Brede did not stay long, but
shouldered his load of samples and went down to his own _menage_,
without saying good-bye.
Geissler sat down and began to look over some papers with a thoughtful
air. He seemed to have caught a touch of the fever himself, and wanted
now to look over that business of the copper mine, the contract, the
analyses. It was fine ore, almost pure copper; he must do something
with it, and not let everything slide.
"What I really came up for was to get the whole thing settled," he
said to Isak. "I've been thinking of making a start here, and that
very soon. Get a lot of men to work, and run the thing properly. What
do you think?"
Isak felt sorry for the man, and would not say anything against it.
"It's a matter that concerns you as well, you know. There'll be a lot
of bother, of course; a lot of men about the place, and a bit rowdy at
times, perhaps. And blasting up in the hills--I don't know how you'll
like that. On the other hand, there'll be more life in the district
where we begin, and you'll have a good market close at hand for farm
produce and that sort of thing. Fix your own price, too."
"Ay," said Isak.
"Besides your share in the mine--you'll get a high percentage of
earnings, you know. Big money, Isak."
Said Isak: "You've paid me fairly already, and more than enough...."
Next morning Geissler left, hurrying off eastward, over toward Sweden.
"No, thanks," he said shortly, when Isak offered to go with him. It
was almost painful to see him start off in that poor fashion, on foot
and all alone. Inger had put up a fine parcel of food for him to take,
all as nice as she could make it, and made some wafers specially to
put in. Even that was not enough; she would have given him a can of
cream and a whole lot of eggs, but he wouldn't carry them, and Inger
Geissler himself must have found it hard to leave Sellanraa without
paying as he generally did for his keep; so he pretended that he had
paid; made as if he had laid down a big note in payment, and said to
little Leopoldine: "Here, child, here's something for you as well."
And with that he gave her the silver box, his tobacco box. "You can
rinse it out and use it to keep pins and things in," he said. "It's
not the sort of thing for a present really. If I were at home I could
have found her something else; I've a heap of things...."
But Geissler's waterwork remained after Geissler had gone; there it
was, working wonders day and night, week after week; the fields turned
green, the potatoes ceased to flower, the corn shot up....
The settlers from the holdings farther down began to come up, all
anxious to see the marvel for themselves. Axel Stroem,--the neighbour
from Maaneland, the man who had no wife, and no woman to help him, but
managed for himself,--he came too. He was in a good humour that day;
he told them how he had just got a promise of a girl to help through
the summer--and that was a weight off his mind. He did not say who the
girl was, and Isak did not ask, but it was Brede's girl Barbro who was
to come. It would cost the price of a telegram to Bergen to fetch her;
but Axel paid the money, though he was not one of your extravagant
sort, but rather something of a miser.
It was the waterwork business that had enticed him up today; he had
looked it over from one end to the other, and was highly interested.
There was no big river on his land, but he had a bit of a stream; he
had no planks, either, to make culverts with, but he would dig his
channels in the earth; it could be done. Up to now, things were not
absolutely at their worst on his land, which lay lower down the
slopes; but if the drought continued, he, too, would have to irrigate.
When he had seen what he wanted, he took his leave and went back at
once. No, he would not come in, hadn't the time; he was going to start
ditching that same evening. And off he went.
This was something different from Brede's way.
Oh, Brede, he could run about the moorland farms now telling news:
miraculous waterworks at Sellanraa! "It doesn't pay to work your soil
overmuch," he had said. "Look at Isak up there; he's dug and dug about
so long that at last he's had to water the whole ground."
Isak was patient, but he wished many a time that he could get rid of
the fellow, hanging about Sellanraa with his boastful ways. Brede put
it all down to the telegraph; as long as he was a public official, it
was his duty to keep the line in order. But the telegraph company had
already had occasion several times to reprimand him for neglect, and
had again offered the post to Isak. No, it was not the telegraph that
was in Brede's mind all the time, but the ore up in the hills; it was
his one idea now, a mania.
He took to dropping in often now at Sellanraa, confident that he had
found the treasure; he would nod his head and say: "I can't tell
you all about it yet, but I don't mind saying I've struck something
remarkable this time." Wasting hours and energy all for nothing. And
when he came back in the evening to his little house, he would fling
down a little sack of samples on the floor, and puff and blow after
his day's work, as if no man could have toiled harder for his daily
bread. He grew a few potatoes on sour, peaty soil, and cut the tufts
of grass that grew by themselves on the ground about the house--that
was Brede's farming. He was never made for a farmer, and there could
be but one end to it all. His turf roof was falling to pieces already,
and the steps to the kitchen were rotten with damp; a grindstone lay
on the ground, and the cart was still left uncovered in the open.
Brede was fortunate perhaps in that such little matters never troubled
him. When the children rolled his grindstone about for play, he was
kind and indulgent, and would even help them to roll it himself. An
easy-going, idle nature, never serious, but also never down-hearted, a
weak, irresponsible character; but he managed to find food, such as it
was, and kept himself and his alive from day to day; managed to keep
them somehow. But it was not to be expected that the storekeeper could
go on feeding Brede and his family for ever; he had said so more than
once to Brede himself, and he said it now in earnest. Brede admitted
he was right, and promised to turn over a new leaf--he would sell his
place, and very likely make a good thing out of it--and pay what he
owed at the store!
Oh, but Brede would sell out anyhow, even at a loss; what was the good
of a farm for him? He was home-sick for the village again, the easy
gossiping life there, and the little shop--it suited him better than
settling down here to work, and trying to forget the world outside.
Could he ever forget the Christmas trees and parties, or the
national feastings on Constitution Day, or the bazaars held in the
meeting-rooms? He loved to talk with his kind, to exchange news and
views, but who was there to talk with here? Inger up at Sellanraa
had seemed to be one of his sort for a while, but then she had
changed--there was no getting a word out of her now. And besides, she
had been in prison; and for a man in his position--no, it would never
No, he had made a mistake in ever leaving the village; it was throwing
himself away. He noted with envy that the Lensmand had got another
assistant, and the doctor another man to drive for him; he had run
away from the people who needed him, and now that he was no longer
there, they managed without him. But the men who had taken his
place--they were no earthly good, of course. Properly speaking, he,
Brede, ought to be fetched back to the village in triumph!
Then there was Barbro--why had he backed up the idea of getting her to
go as help to Sellanraa? Well, that was after talking over things with
his wife. If all went well, it might mean a good future for the girl,
perhaps a future of a sort for all of them. All very well to be
housekeeper for two young clerks in Bergen, but who could say what she
would get out of that in the long run? Barbro was a pretty girl, and
liked to look well; there might be a better chance for her here, after
all. For there were two sons at Sellanraa.
But when Brede saw that this plan would never come to anything, he
hit on another. After all, there was no great catch in marrying into
Inger's lot--Inger who had been in prison. And there were other lads
to be thought of besides those two Sellanraa boys--there was Axel
Stroem, for instance. He had a farm and a hut of his own, he was a man
who scraped and saved and little by little managed to get hold of a
bit of live stock and such-like, but with no wife, and no woman to
help him. "Well, I don't mind telling you, if you take Barbro, she'll
be all the help you'll need," said Brede to him. "Look, here's her
picture; you can see."
And after a week or so, came Barbro. Axel was in the midst of his
haymaking, and had to do his mowing by day and haymaking by night, and
all by himself--and then came Barbro! It was a godsend. Barbro soon
showed she was not afraid of work; she washed clothes and cleaned
things, cooked and milked and helped in the hayfield--helped to carry
in the hay, she did. Axel determined to give her good wages, and not
lose by it.
She was not merely a photograph of a fine lady here. Barbro was
straight and thin, spoke somewhat hoarsely, showed sense and
experience in various ways--she was not a child. Axel wondered what
made her so thin and haggard in the face. "I'd know you by your
looks," he said; "but you're not like the photograph."
"That's only the journey," she said, "and living in town air all that
And indeed, she very soon grew plump and well-looking again. "Take my
word for it," said Barbro, "it pulls you down a bit, a journey
like that, and living in town like that." She hinted also at the
temptations of life in Bergen--one had to be careful there. But
while they sat talking, she begged him to take in a paper--a Bergen
newspaper--so that she could read a bit and see the news of the world.
She had got accustomed to reading, and theatres and music, and it was
so dull in a place like this.
Axel was pleased with the results of his summer help, and took in a
paper. He also bore with the frequent visits of the Brede family, who
were constantly dropping in at his place and eating and drinking. He
was anxious to show that he appreciated this servant-girl of his.
And what could be nicer and homelier than when Barbro sat there of a
Sunday evening twanging the strings of a guitar and singing a little
with her hoarse voice? Axel, was touched by it all, by the pretty,
strange songs, by the mere fact that some one really sat there singing
on his poor half-baked farm.
True, in the course of the summer he learned to know other sides of
Barbro's character, but on the whole, he was content. She had her
fancies, and could answer hastily at times; was somewhat over-quick to
answer back. That Saturday evening, for instance, when Axel himself
had to go down to the village to get some things, it was wrong of
Barbro to run away from the hut and the animals and leave the place to
itself. They had a few words over that. And where had she been? Only
to her home, to Breidablik, but still ... When Axel came back to the
hut that night, Barbro was not there; he looked to the animals, got
himself something to eat, and turned in. Towards morning Barbro came.
"I only wanted to see what it was like to step on a wooden floor
again," she said, somewhat scornfully. And Axel could find nothing
much to say to that, seeing that he had as yet but a turf hut with a
floor of beaten earth. He did say, however, that if it came to that,
he could get a few planks himself, and no doubt but he'd have a house
with a wooden floor himself in time! Barbro seemed penitent at that;
she was not altogether unkindly. And for all it was Sunday, she went
off at once to the woods and gathered fresh juniper twigs to spread on
the earthen floor.
And then, seeing she was so fine-hearted and behaved so splendidly,
what could Axel do but bring out the kerchief he had bought for her
the evening before, though he had really thought of keeping it by a
while, and getting something respectable out of her in return. And
there! she was pleased with it, and tried it on at once--ay, she
turned to him and asked if she didn't look nice in it. And yes, indeed
she did; and she might put on his old fur cap if she liked, and she'd
look nice in that! Barbro laughed at this and tried to say something
really nice in return; she said: "I'd far rather go to church and
communion in this kerchief than wear a hat. In Bergen, of course, we
always wore hats--all except common servant-girls from the country."
Friends again, as nice as could be.
And when Axel brought out the newspaper he had fetched from the post
office, Barbro sat down to read news of the world: of a burglary at
a jeweller's shop in one Bergen street, and a quarrel between two
gipsies in another; of a horrible find in the harbour--the dead body
of a newborn child sewed up in an old shirt with the sleeves cut off.
"I wonder who can have done it?" said Barbro. And she read the list of
marketing prices too, as she always did.
So the summer passed.
Great changes at Sellanraa.
There was no knowing the place again, after what it had been at first:
sawmill, cornmill, buildings of all sorts and kinds--the wilderness
was peopled country now. And there was more to come. But Inger was
perhaps the strangest of all; so altered she was, and good and clever
The great event of last year, when things had come to a head, was
hardly enough in itself, perhaps, to change her careless ways; there
was backsliding now and then, as when she found herself beginning to
talk of the "Institute" again, and the cathedral at Trondhjem. Oh,
innocent things enough; and she took off her ring, and let down that
bold skirt of hers some inches. She was grown thoughtful, there was
more quiet about the place, and visits were less frequent; the girls
and women from the village came but rarely now, for Inger no longer
cared to see them. No one can live in the depth of the wilds and have
time for such foolishness. Happiness and nonsense are two different
In the wilds, each season has its wonders, but always, unchangingly,
there is that immense heavy sound of heaven and earth, the sense
of being surrounded on all sides, the darkness of the forest, the
kindliness of the trees. All is heavy and soft, no thought is
impossible there. North of Sellanraa there was a little tarn, a mere
puddle, no bigger than an aquarium. There lived some tiny baby fish
that never grew bigger, lived and died there and were no use at
all--_Herregud_! no use on earth. One evening Inger stood there
listening for the cowbells; all was dead about her, she heard nothing,
and then came a song from the tarn. A little, little song, hardly
there at all, almost lost. It was the tiny fishes' song.
* * * * *
They had this good fortune at Sellanraa, that every spring and autumn
they could see the grey geese sailing in fleets above that wilderness,
and hear their chatter up in the air--delirious talk it was. And as if
the world stood still for a moment, till the train of them had passed.
And the human souls beneath, did they not feel a weakness gliding
through them now? They went to their work again, but drawing breath
first; something had spoken to them, something from beyond.
Great marvels were about them at all times; in the winter were the
stars; in winter often, too, the northern lights, a firmament of
wings, a conflagration in the mansions of God. Now and then, not
often; not commonly, but now and then, they heard the thunder. It came
mostly in the autumn, and a dark and solemn thing it was for man and
beast; the animals grazing near home would bunch together and stand
waiting. Bowing their heads--what for? Waiting for the end? And man,
what of man standing in the wilds with bowed head, waiting, when the
thunder came? Waiting for what?
The spring--ay, with its haste and joy and madcap delight; but the
autumn! It called up a fear of darkness, drove one to an evening
prayer; there were visions about, and warnings on the air. Folks might
go out one day in autumn seeking for something--the man for a piece
of timber to his work, the woman after cattle that ran wild now after
mushroom growths: they would come home with many secrets in their
mind. Did they tread unexpectedly upon an ant, crushing its hind part
fast to the path, so the fore part could not free itself again? Or
step too near a white grouse nest, putting up a fluttering hissing
mother to dash against them? Even the big cow-mushrooms are not
altogether meaningless; not a mere white emptiness in the eye. The big
mushroom does not flower, it does not move, but there is something
overturning in the look of it; it is a monster, a thing like a lung
standing there alive and naked--a lung without a body.
Inger grew despondent at last, the wilds oppressed her, she turned
religious. How could she help it? No one can help it in the wilds;
life there is not all earthly toil and worldliness; there is piety and
the fear of death and rich superstition. Inger, maybe, felt that she
had more reason than others to fear the judgment of Heaven, and it
would not pass her by; she knew how God walked about in the evening
time looking out over all His wilderness with fabulous eyes; ay, He
would find her. There was not so much in her daily life wherein she
could improve; true, she might bury her gold ring deep in the bottom
of a clothes chest, and she could write to Eleseus and tell him to
be converted too; after that, there was nothing more she could find
beyond doing her work well and not sparing herself. Ay, one thing
more; she could dress in humble things, only fastening a blue ribbon
at her neck of Sundays. False, unnecessary poverty--but it was the
expression of a kind of philosophy, self-humiliation, stoicism. The
blue ribbon was not new; it had been cut from a cap little Leopoldine
had grown out of; it was faded here and there, and, to tell the truth,
a little dirty--Inger wore it now as a piece of modest finery on holy
days. Ay, it may be that she went beyond reason, feigning to be poor,
striving falsely to imitate the wretched who live in hovels; but even
so--would her desert have been greater if that sorry finery had been
her best? Leave her in peace; she has a right to peace!
She overdid things finely, and worked harder than she ought. There
were two men on the place, but Inger took the chance when both were
away at once, and set to work herself sawing wood; and where was
the good of torturing and mortifying the flesh that way? She was so
insignificant a creature, so little worth, her powers of so common
a sort; her death or life would not be noticed in the land, in the
State, only here in the wilds. Here, she was almost great--at any
rate, the greatest; and she may well have thought herself worth all
the chastening she ordered and endured. Her husband said:
"Sivert and I, we've been talking about this; we're not going to have
you sawing wood, and wearing yourself out."
"I do it for conscience' sake," she answered.
Conscience! The word made Isak thoughtful once more. He was getting
on in years, slow to think, but weighty when he did come to anything.
Conscience must be something pretty strong if it could turn Inger all
upside down like that. And however it might be, Inger's conversion
made a change in him also; he caught it from her, grew tame, and given
to pondering. Life was all heavy-like and stern that winter; he sought
for loneliness, for a hiding-place. To save his own trees he had
bought up a piece of the State forest near by, with some good timber,
over toward the Swedish side, and he did the felling now alone,
refusing all help. Sivert was ordered to stay at home and see that his
mother did not work too much.
And so, in those short winter days, Isak went out to his work in the
dark, and came home in the dark; it was not always there was a moon,
or any stars, and at times his own track of the morning would be
covered with snow by nightfall, so he was hard put to it to find his
way. And one evening something happened.
He was nearing home; in the fine moonlight he could see Sellanraa
there on the hillside, neat and clear of the forest, but small,
undergroundish to look at, by reason of the snow banked high against
the walls. He had more timber now, and it was to be a grand surprise
for Inger and the children when they heard what use he would make of
it--the wonderful building he had in mind. He sat down in the snow to
rest a bit, not to seem worn out when he came home.
All is quiet around him, and God's blessing on this quiet and
thoughtfulness, for it is nothing but good! Isak is a man at work on
a clearing in the forest, and he looks out over the ground, reckoning
what is to be cleared next turn; heaving aside great stones in his
mind--Isak had a real talent for that work. There, he knows now, is a
deep, bare patch on his ground; it is full of ore; there is always a
metallic film over every puddle of water there--and now he will dig
it out. He marks out squares with his eye, making his plans for all,
speculating over all; they are to be made green and fruitful. Oh, but
a piece of tilled soil was a great and good thing; it was like right
and order to his mind, and a delight beyond....
He got up, and felt suddenly confused. H'm. What had happened now?
Nothing, only that he had been sitting down a bit. Now there is
something standing there before him, a Being, a spirit; grey silk--no,
it was nothing. He felt strange--took one short, uncertain step
forward, and walked straight into a look, a great look, a pair of
eyes. At the same moment the aspens close by began rustling. Now any
one knows that an aspen can have a horrible eerie way of rustling at
times; anyhow, Isak had never before heard such an utterly horrible
rustling as this, and he shuddered. Also he put out one hand in front
of him, and it was perhaps the most helpless movement that hand had
But what was this thing before him? Was it ghost-work or reality? Isak
would all his days have been ready to swear that this was a higher
power, and once indeed he had seen it, but the thing he saw now
did not look like God. Possibly the Holy Ghost? If so, what was it
standing there for anyway, in the midst of nowhere; two eyes, a look,
and nothing more? If it had come to him, to fetch away his soul, why,
so it would have to be; it would happen one day, after all, and then
he would go to heaven and be among the blest.
Isak was eager to see what would come next; he was shivering still; a
coldness seemed to radiate from the figure before him--it must be the
Evil One! And here Isak was no longer sure of his ground, so to speak.
It might be the Evil One--but what did he want here? What had he,
Isak, been doing? Nothing but sitting still and tilling the ground, as
it were, in his thoughts--there could surely be no harm in that? There
was no other guilt he could call to mind just then; he was only coming
back from his work in the forest, a tired and hungry woodman, going
home to Sellanraa--he means no harm....
He took a step forward again, but it was only a little one, and, to
tell the truth, he stepped back again immediately. The vision would
not give way. Isak knitted his brows, as if beginning to suspect
something. If it were the Evil One, why, let it be; the Evil One was
not all-powerful--there was Luther, for instance, who had nearly
killed the fiend himself, not to speak of many who had put him to
flight by the sign of the cross and Jesu name. Not that Isak meant
to defy the peril before him; it was not in his mind to sit down and
laugh in its face, but he certainly gave up his first idea of dying
and the next world. He took two steps forward straight at the vision,
crossed himself, and cried out: "In Jesu name!"
H'm. At the sound of his own voice he came, as it were, to himself
again, and saw Sellanraa over on the hillside once more. The two eyes
in the air had gone.
He lost no time in getting home, and took no steps to challenge the
spectre further. But when he found himself once more safely on his own
door-slab, he cleared his throat with a sense of power and security;
he walked into the house with lofty mien, like a man--ay, a man of the
Inger started at the sight of him, and asked what made him so pale.
And at that he did not deny having met the Evil One himself.
"Where?" she asked.
"Over there. Right up towards our place."
Inger evinced no jealousy on her part. She did not praise him for it,
true, but there was nothing in her manner suggestive of a hard word
or a contemptuous kick. Inger herself, you see, had grown somewhat
lighter of heart and kindlier of late, whatever the cause; and now she
"The Evil One himself?"
Isak nodded: as far as he could see it was himself and no other.
"And how did you get rid of him?"
"I went for him in Jesu name," said Isak.
Inger wagged her head, altogether overwhelmed, and it was some time
before she could get his supper on the table.
"Anyhow," said she at last, "we'll have no more of you going out alone
in the woods by yourself."
She was anxious about him--and it did him good to know it. He made out
to be as bold as ever, and altogether careless whether he went alone
or in company; but this was only to quiet Inger's mind, not to
frighten her more than necessary with the awful thing that had
happened to himself. It was his place to protect her and them all; he
was the Man, the Leader.
But Inger saw through it also, and said: "Oh, I know you don't want to
frighten me. But you must take Sivert with you all the same."
Isak only sniffed.
"You might be taken poorly of a sudden, taken ill out in the
woods--you've not been over well lately."
Isak sniffed again. Ill? Tired, perhaps, and worn out a bit, but ill?
No need for Inger to start worrying and making a fool of him; he was
sound and well enough; ate, slept, and worked; his health was simply
terrific, it was incurable! Once, felling a tree, the thing had come
down on top of him, and broken his ear; but he made light of it. He
set the ear in place again, and kept it there by wearing his cap
drawn over it night and day, and it grew together again that way. For
internal complaints, he dosed himself with _treak_ boiled in milk to
make him sweat--liquorice it was, bought at the store, an old and
tried remedy, the _Teriak_ of the ancients. If he chanced to cut his
hand, he treated the wound with an ever-present fluid containing
salts, and it healed up in a few days. No doctor was ever Sent for to
No, Isak was not ill. A meeting with the Evil One might happen even
to the healthiest man. And he felt none the worse for his adventure
afterwards; on the contrary, it seemed to have strengthened him. And
as the winter drew on, and it was not such a dreadful time to wait
till the spring, he, the Man and the Leader, began to feel himself
almost a hero: he understood these things; only trust to him and
all would be well. In case of need, he could exorcise the Evil One
Altogether, the days were longer and lighter now; Easter was past,
Isak had hauled up all his timber, everything looked bright, human
beings could breathe again after another winter gone.
Inger was again the first to brighten up; she had been more cheerful
now for a long time. What could it be? Ho, 'twas for a very simple
reason; Inger was heavy again; expecting a child again. Everything
worked out easily in her life, no hitch anywhere. But what a mercy,
after the way she had sinned! it was more than she had any right
to expect. Ay, she was fortunate, fortunate. Isak himself actually
noticed something one day, and asked her straight out: "Looks to me as
if you're on the way again; what do you say yourself?"
"Ay, Lord be thanked, 'tis surely so," she answered.
They were both equally astonished. Not that Inger was past the age,
of course; to Isak's mind, she was not too old in any way. But still,
another child ... well, well.... And little Leopoldine going to school
several times a year down at Breidablik--that left them with no little
ones about the place now--besides which, Leopoldine herself was grown
Some days passed, and Isak resolutely threw away a whole
week-end--from Saturday evening till Monday morning--on a trip down to
the village. He would not say what he was going for when he set out,
but on his return, he brought with him a girl. "This is Jensine," he
said. "Come to help."
"'Tis all your nonsense," said Inger, "I've no need of help at all."
Isak answered that she did need a help--just now.
Need or not--it was a kind and generous thought of his; Inger was
abashed and grateful. The new girl was a daughter of the blacksmith,
and she was to stay with them for the present; through the summer,
anyhow, and then they would see.
"And I've sent a telegram," said Isak, "after him Eleseus."
This fairly startled Inger; startled the mother. A telegram? Did he
mean to upset her completely with his thoughtfulness? It had been
her great sorrow of late that boy Eleseus was away in town--in the
evil-minded town; she had written to him about God, and likewise
explained to him how his father here was beginning to sink under
the work, and the place getting bigger all the time; little Sivert
couldn't manage it all by himself, and besides, he was to have money
after his uncle one day--all this she had written, and sent him the
money for his journey once for all. But Eleseus was a man-about-town
now, and had no sort of longing for a peasant's life; he answered
something about what was he to do anyway if he did come home? Work on
a farm and throw away all the knowledge and learning he had gained?
"In point of fact,"--that was how he put it,--"I've no desire to come
back now. And if you could send me some stuff for underclothes, it
would save me getting the things on credit." So he wrote. And yes, his
mother sent him stuff--sent him remarkable quantities of stuff from
time to time for underclothes. But when she was converted, and got
religion, the scales fell from her eyes, and she understood that
Eleseus was selling the stuff and spending the money on other things.
His father saw it too. He never spoke of it; he knew that Eleseus was
his mother's darling, and how she cried over him and shook her head;
but one piece of finely woven stuff went after another the same
way, and he knew it was more than any living man could use for
underclothes. Altogether, it came to this: Isak must be Man and Leader
again--head of the house, and step in and interfere. It had cost a
terrible lot of money, to be sure, getting the storekeeper to send a
telegram; but in the first place, a telegram could not fail to make an
impression on the boy, and also--it was something unusually fine
for Isak himself to come home and tell Inger. He carried the
servant-girl's box on his back as he strode home; but for all that, he
was proud and full of weighty secrets as he had been the day he came
home with that gold ring....
It was a grand time after that. For a long while, Inger could not do
enough in the way of showing her husband how good and useful she could
be. She would say to him now, as in the old days: "You're working
yourself to death!" Or again: "'Tis more than any man can stand."
Or again: "Now, you're not to work any more; come in and have
dinner--I've made some wafers for you!" And to please him, she said:
"I should just like to know, now, what you've got in your mind with
all that wood, and what you're going to build, now, next?"
"Why, I can't say as yet," said Isak, making a mystery of it.
Ay, just as in the old days. And after the child was born--and it
was a little girl--a great big girl, fine-looking and sturdy and
sound--after that, Isak must have been a stone and a miserable
creature if he had not thanked God. But what was he going to build? It
would be more news for Oline to go gadding about with--a new building
again at Sellanraa. A new wing of the house--a new house it was to be.
And there were so many now at Sellanraa--they had a servant-girl; and
Eleseus, he was coming home; and a brand-new little girl-child of
their own, just come--the old house would be just an extra room now,
And, of course, he had to tell Inger about it one day; she was so
curious to know, and though maybe Inger knew it all beforehand,
from Sivert,--they two were often whispering together,--she was all
surprised as any one could be, and let her arms fall, and said: "'Tis
all your nonsense--you don't mean it?"
And Isak, brimming over with greatness inside, he answered her: "Why,
with you bringing I don't know how many more children on the place,
'tis the least I can do, it seems."
The two menfolk were out now every day getting stone for the walls of
the new house. They worked their utmost together each in his own way:
the one young, and with his young body firmly set, quick to see his
way, to mark out the stones that would suit; the other ageing--tough,
with long arms, and a mighty weight to bear down on a crowbar. When
they had managed some specially difficult feat, they would hold a
breathing-space, and talk together in a curious, reserved fashion of
"Brede, he talks of selling out," said the father.
"Ay," said the son. "Wonder what he'll be asking for the place?"
"Ay, I wonder."
"You've not heard anything?"
"I've heard two hundred."
The father thought for a while, and said: "What d'you think, 'll this
be a good stone?"
"All depends if we can get this shell off him," said Sivert, and was
on his feet in a moment, giving the setting-hammer to his father, and
taking the sledge himself. He grew red and hot, stood up to his full
height and let the sledge-hammer fall; rose again and let it fall;
twenty strokes alike--twenty thunder-strokes. He spared neither tool
nor strength; it was heavy work; his shirt rucked up from his trousers
at the waist, leaving him bare in front; he lifted on his toes each
time to give the sledge a better swing. Twenty strokes.
"Now! Let's look!" cried his father.
The son stops, and asks: "Marked him any?"
And they lay down together to look at the stone; look at the beast,
the devil of a thing; no, not marked any as yet.
"I've a mind to try with the sledge alone," said the father, and stood
up. Still harder work this, sheer force alone, the hammer grew hot,
the steel crushed, the pen grew blunt.
"She'll be slipping the head," he said, and stopped. "And I'm no hand
at this any more," he said.
Oh, but he never meant it; it was not his thought, that he was no hand
at the work any more!
This father, this barge of a man, simple, full of patience and
goodness, he would let his son strike the last few blows and cleave
the stone. And there it lay, split in two.
"Ay, you've the trick of it," said the father. "H'm, yes ...
Breidablik ... might make something but of that place."
"Ay, should think so," said the son.
"Only the land was fairly ditched and turned."
"The house'd have to be done up."
"Ay, that of course. Place all done up--'twould mean a lot of work at
first, but ... What I was going to say, d'you know if your mother was
going to church come Sunday?"
"Ay, she said something like it."
"Ho!... H'm. Keep your eyes open now and look out for a good big
door-slab for the new house. You haven't seen a bit would do?"
"No," said Sivert.
And they fell to work again.
A couple of days later both agreed they had enough stone now for the
walls. It was Friday evening; they sat taking a breathing-space, and
talking together the while.
"H'm--what d'you say?" said the father. "Should we think it over,
maybe, about Breidablik?"
"How d'you mean?" asked the son. "What to do with it?"
"Why, I don't know. There's the school there, and it's midway down
this tract now."
"And what then?" asked the son. "I don't know what we'd do with it,
though; it's not worth much as it is."
"That's what you've been thinking of?"
"No, not that way.... Unless Eleseus he'd like to have the place to
"Eleseus? Well, no, I don't know--"
Long pause, the two men thinking hard. The father begins gathering
tools together, packing up to go home.
"Ay, unless ..." said Sivert. "You might ask him what he says."
The father made an end of the matter thus: "Well, there's another day,
and we haven't found that door-slab yet, either."
Next day was Saturday, and they had to be off early to get across the
hills with the child. Jensine, the servant-girl, was to go with them;
that was one godmother, the rest they would have to find from among
Inger's folk on the other side.
Inger looked nice; she had made herself a dainty cotton dress, with
white at the neck and wrists. The child was all in white, with a new
blue silk ribbon drawn through the lower edge of its dress; but then
she was a wonder of a child, to be sure, that could smile and chatter
already, and lay and listened when the clock struck on the wall. Her
father had chosen her name. It was his right; he was determined to
have his say--only trust to him! He had hesitated between Jacobine and
Rebecca, as being both sort of related to Isak; and at last he went to
Inger and asked timidly: "What d'you think, now, of Rebecca?"
"Why, yes," said Inger.
And when Isak heard that, he grew suddenly independent and master in
his own house. "If she's to have a name at all," he said sharply, "it
shall be Rebecca! I'll see to that."
And of course he was going with the party to church, partly to carry,
and partly for propriety's sake. It would never do to let Rebecca go
to be christened without a decent following! Isak trimmed his beard
and put on a red shirt, as in his younger days; it was in the worst of
the hot weather, but he had a nice new winter suit, that looked well
on him, and he wore it. But for all that, Isak was not the man to make
a duty of finery and show; as now, for instance, he put on a pair of
fabulously heavy boots for the march.
Sivert and Leopoldine stayed behind to look after the place.
Then they rowed in a boat across the lake, and that was a deal easier
than before, when they had had to walk round all the way. But half-way
across, as Inger unfastened her dress to nurse the child, Isak noticed
something bright hung in a string round her neck; whatever it might
be. And in the church he noticed that she wore that gold ring on her
finger. Oh, Inger--it had been too much for her after all!
Eleseus came home.
He had been away now for some years, and had grown taller than his
father, with long white hands and a little dark growth on his upper
lip. He did not give himself airs, but seemed anxious to appear
natural and kindly; his mother, was surprised and pleased. He shared
the small bedroom with Sivert; the two brothers got on well together,
and were constantly playing tricks on each other by way of amusement.
But, naturally, Eleseus had to take his share of the work in building
the house; and tired and miserable it made him, all unused as he was
to bodily fatigue of any kind. It was worse still when Sivert had to
go off and leave it all to the other two; Eleseus then was almost more
of a hindrance than a help.
And where had Sivert gone off to? Why, 'twas Oline had come over the
hills one day with word from Uncle Sivert that he was dying; and, of
course, young Sivert had to go. A nice state of things all at once--it
couldn't have happened worse than to have Sivert running off just now.
But there was no help for it.
Said Oline: "I'd no time to go running errands, and that's the truth;
but for all that ... I've taken a fancy to the children here, all of
them, and little Sivert, and if as I could help him to his legacy...."
"But was Uncle Sivert very bad, then?"
"Bad? Heaven bless us, he's falling away day by day."
"Was he in bed, then?"
"In bed? How can you talk so light and flighty of death before God's
Judgment-seat? Nay, he'll neither hop nor run again in this world,
will your Uncle Sivert."
All this seemed to mean that Uncle Sivert had not long to live, and
Inger insisted that little Sivert should set off at once.
But Uncle Sivert, incorrigible old knave, was not on his death-bed;
was not even confined to bed at all. When young Sivert came, he
found the little place in terrible muddle and disorder; they had not
finished the spring season's work properly yet--had not even carted
out all the winter manure; but as for approaching death, there was no
sign of it that he could see. Uncle Sivert was an old man now,
over seventy; he was something of an invalid, and pottered about
half-dressed in the house, and often kept his bed for a time. He
needed help on the place in many ways, as, for instance, with the
herring nets that hung rotting in the sheds. Oh, but for all that he
was by no means at his last gasp; he could still eat sour fish and
smoke his pipe.
When Sivert had been there half an hour and seen how things were, he
was for going back home again.
"Home?" said the old man.
"We're building a house, and father's none to help him properly."
"Ho!" said his uncle. "Isn't Eleseus come home, then?"
"Ay, but he's not used to the work."
"Then why did you come at all?"
Sivert told him about Oline and her message, how she had said that
Uncle Sivert was on the point of death.
"Point of death?" cried the old man. "Said I was on the point of
death, did she? A cursed old fool!"
"Ha ha ha!" said Sivert.
The old man looked sternly at him. "Eh? Laugh at a dying man, do you,
and you called after me and all!"
But Sivert was too young to put on a graveyard face for that; he had
never cared much for his uncle. And now he wanted to get back home
"Ho, so you thought so, too?" said the old man again. "Thought I was
at my last gasp, and that fetched you, did it?"
"'Twas Oline said so," answered Sivert.
His uncle was silent for a while, then spoke again: "Look you here.
If you'll mend that net of mine and put it right, I'll show you
"H'm," said Sivert. "What is it?"
"Well, never you mind," said the old man sullenly, and went to bed
It was going to be a long business, evidently. Sivert writhed
uncomfortably. He went out and took a look round the place; everything
was shamefully neglected and uncared for; it was hopeless to begin
work here. When he came in after a while, his uncle was sitting up,
warming himself at the stove.
"See that?" He pointed to an oak chest on the floor at his feet. It
was his money chest. As a matter of fact, it was a lined case made to
hold bottles, such as visiting justices and other great folk used to
carry with them when travelling about the country in the old days,
but there were no bottles in it now; the old man had used it for his
documents and papers as district treasurer; he kept his accounts and
his money in it now. The story ran that it was full of uncounted
riches; the village folk would shake their heads and say: "Ah! if I'd
only as much as lies in old Sivert his chest!"
Uncle Sivert took out a paper from the box and said solemnly: "You can
read writing, I suppose?"
Little Sivert was not by any means a great hand at that, it is true,
but he made out so much as told him he was to inherit all that his
uncle might leave at his death.
"There," said the old man. "And now you can do as you please." And he
laid the paper back in the chest.
Sivert was not greatly impressed; after all, the paper told him no
more than he had known before; ever since he was a child he had heard
say that he was to have what Uncle Sivert left one day. A sight of the
treasure would be another matter.
"There's some fine things in that chest, I doubt," said he.
"There's more than you think," said the old man shortly.
He was angry and disappointed with his nephew; he locked up the box
and went to bed again. There he lay, delivering jets of information.
"I've been district treasurer and warden of the public moneys in this
village over thirty year; _I've_ no need to beg and pray for a helping
hand from any man! Who told Oline, I'd like to know, that I was on my
deathbed? I can send three men, carriage and cart to fetch a doctor if
I want one. Don't try your games with me, young man! Can't even wait
till I'm gone, it seems. I've shown you the document and you've seen
it, and it's there in the chest--that's all I've got to say. But
if you go running off and leave me now, you can just carry word to
Eleseus and tell _him_ to come. He's not named after me and called by
my earthly name--let _him_ come."
But for all the threatening tone, Sivert only thought a moment, and
said: "Ay, I'll tell Eleseus to come."
Oline was still at Sellanraa when Sivert got back. She had found time
to pay a visit lower down, to Axel Stroem and Barbro on their place,
and came back full of mysteries and whisperings. "That girl Barbro's
filling out a deal of late--Lord knows what it may mean. But not a
word that I've said so! And here's Sivert back again? No need to ask
what news, I suppose? Your Uncle Sivert's passed away? Ay, well, an
old man he was and an aged one, on the brink of the grave. What--not
dead? Well, well, we've much to be thankful for, and that's a solemn
word! Me talking nonsense, you say? Oh, if I'd never more to answer
for! How was I to know your uncle he was lying there a sham and a
false pretender before the Lord? Not long to live, that's what I said.
And I'll hold by it, when the time comes, before the Throne. What's
that you say? Well, and wasn't he lying there his very self in his
bed, and folding his hands on his breast and saying 'twould soon be
There was no arguing with Oline, she bewildered her adversaries with
talk and cast them down. When she learned that Uncle Sivert had sent
for Eleseus, she grasped at that too, and made her own advantage of
it: "There you are, and see if I was talking nonsense. Here's old
Sivert calling up his kinsfolk and longing for a sight of his own
flesh and blood; ay, he's nearing his end! You can't refuse him,
Eleseus; off with you at once this minute and see your uncle while
there's life in him. I'm going that way too, we'll go together."
Oline did not leave Sellanraa without taking Inger aside for more
whisperings of Barbro. "Not a word I've said--but I could see the
signs of it! And now I suppose she'll be wife and all on the farm
there. Ay, there's some folk are born to great things, for all they
may be small as the sands of the sea in their beginnings. And who'd
have ever thought it of that girl Barbro! Axel, yes, never doubt but
he's a toiling sort and getting on, and great fine lands and means and
all like you've got here--'tis more than we know of over on our side
the hills, as you know's a true word, Inger, being born and come of
the place yourself. Barbro, she'd a trifle of wool in a chest; 'twas
naught but winter wool, and I wasn't asking and she never offered me.
We said but _Goddag_ and _Farvel_, for all that I'd known her from she
was a toddling child all that time I was here at Sellanraa by reason
of you being away and learning knowledge at the Institute...."
"There's Rebecca crying," said Inger, breaking in on Oline. But she
gave her a handful of wool.
Then a great thanksgiving speech from Oline: ay, wasn't it just as she
had said to Barbro herself of Inger, and how there was not her like
to be found for giving to folk; ay, she'd give till she was bare, and
give her fingers to the bone, and never complain. Ay, go in and see to
the sweet angel, and never was there a child in the world so like her
mother as Rebecca--no. Did Inger remember how she'd said one day as
she'd never have children again? Ah, now she could see! No, better
give ear to them as were grown old and had borne children of their
own, for who should fathom the Lord His ways, said Oline.
And with that she padded off after Eleseus up through the forest,
shrunken with age, grey and abject, and for ever nosing after things,
imperishable. Going to old Sivert now, to let him know how she, Oline,
had managed to persuade Eleseus to come.
But Eleseus had needed no persuading, there was no difficulty there.
For, look you, Eleseus had turned out better, after all, than he'd
begun; a decent lad in his way, kindly and easy-going from a child,
only nothing great in the way of bodily strength. It was not without
reason he had been unwilling to come home this time; he knew well
enough that his mother had been in prison for child-murder; he had
never heard a word about it there in the town, but at home in the
village every one would remember. And it was not for nothing he had
been living with companions of another sort. He had grown to be more
sensitive and finer feeling than ever before. He knew that a fork was
really just as necessary as a knife. As a man of business, he used the
terms of the new coinage, whereas, out in the wilds, men still counted
money by the ancient _Daler_. Ay, he was not unwilling to walk across
the hills to other parts; here, at home, he was constantly forced to
keep down his own superiority. He tried his best to adapt himself to
the others, and he managed well; but it was always having to be on his
guard. As, for instance, when he had first come back to Sellanraa
a couple of weeks ago, he had brought with him his light spring
overcoat, though it was midsummer; and when he hung it up on a nail,
he might just as well have turned it so as to show the silver plate
inside with his initials, but he didn't. And the same with his
stick--his walking-stick. True, it was only an umbrella stick really,
that he had dismantled and taken the framework off; but here he had
not used it as he did in town, swinging it about--only carried it
hidden against his thigh.
No, it was not surprising that Eleseus went across the hills. He was
no good at building houses; he was good at writing with letters, a
thing not every one could do, but here at home there was no one in all
the place that set any store by the art of it save perhaps his mother.
He set off gaily through the woods, far ahead of Oline; he could wait
for her farther up. He ran like a calf; he hurried. Eleseus had in a
way stolen off from the farm; he was afraid of being seen. For,
to tell the truth, he had taken with him both spring coat and
walking-stick for the journey. Over on the other side there might be a
chance of seeing people, and being seen himself; he might even be able
to go to church. And so he sweated happily under the weight of an
unnecessary spring coat in the heat of the sun.
They did not miss him at the building, far from it. Isak had Sivert
back again, and Sivert was worth a host of his brother at that work;
he could keep at it from morning to night. It did not take them
long to get the framework up; it was only three walls, as they were
building out from the other. And they had less trouble with the
timber; they could cut their planks at the sawmill, which gave them
the outside pieces for roofing at the same time. And one fine day
there was the house all finished, before their eyes, roofed, floored,
and with the windows in. They had no time for more than this between
the seasons; the boarding and painting would have to wait.
And now came Geissler with a great following across the hills from
Sweden. And the men with him rode on horseback with glossy-coated
horses and yellow saddles; rich travellers they must be no doubt;
stout, heavy men; the horses bowed under their weight. And among all
these great personages came Geissler on foot. Four gentlemen and
Geissler made up the party, and then there were a couple of servants
each leading a packhorse.
The riders dismounted outside the farm, and Geissler said: "Here's
Isak--here's the Margrave of the place himself. _Goddag_, Isak! I've
come back again, you see, as I said I would."
Geissler was the same as ever. For all that he came on foot, his
manner showed no consciousness of inferiority to the rest; ay, his
threadbare coat hung long and wretched-looking down over his shrunken
back, but he put on a grand enough air for all that. He even
said: "We're going up into the hills a bit, these gentlemen and
myself--it'll do them good to get their weight down a bit."
The gentlemen themselves were nice and pleasant enough; they smiled
at Geissler's words, and hoped Isak would excuse their coming rioting
over his land like this. They had brought their own provisions, and
did not propose to eat him out of house and home, but they would be
glad of a roof over their heads for the night. Perhaps he could put
them up in the new building there?
When they had rested a while, and Geissler had been inside with Inger
and the children, the whole party went up into the hills and stayed
out till evening. Now and again in the course of the afternoon, the
folks at Sellanraa could hear an unusually heavy report from the
distance, and the train of them came down with new bags of samples.
"Blue copper," they said, nodding at the ore. They talked long and
learnedly, and consulting a sort of map they had drawn; there was an
engineer among them, and a mining expert; one appeared to be a big
landowner or manager of works. They talked of aerial railways and
cable traction. Geissler threw in a word here and there, and each time
as if advising them; they paid great attention to what he said.
"Who owns the land south of the lake?" one of them asked Isak.
"The State," answered Geissler quickly. He was wide awake and sharp,
and held in his hand the document Isak had once signed with his mark.
"I told you before--the State," he said. "No need to ask again. If you
don't believe me, you can find out for yourself if you please."
Later in the evening, Geissler took Isak aside and said: "Look here,
shall we sell that copper mine?"
Said Isak: "Why, as to that, 'twas so that Lensmand bought it of me
once, and paid for it."
"True," said Geissler. "I bought the ground. But then there was a
provision that you were to have a percentage of receipts from working
or sale; are you willing to dispose of your share?"
This was more than Isak could understand, and Geissler had to explain.
Isak could not work a mine, being a farmer and a clearer of forest
land; Geissler himself couldn't run a mine either. Money, capital? Ho,
as much as he wanted, never fear! But he hadn't the time, too many
things to do, always running about the country, attending to his
property in the south, his property in the north. And now Geissler was
thinking of selling out to these Swedish gentlemen here; they were
relatives of his wife, all of them, and rich men. "Do you see what I
"I'll do it what way you please," said Isak.
A strange thing--this complete confidence seemed to comfort Geissler
wonderfully in his threadbareness. "Well, I'm not sure it's the best
thing you could do," he said thoughtfully. Then suddenly he was
certain, and went on: "But if you'll give me a free hand to act on
my discretion, I can do better for you at any rate than you could by
"H'm," began Isak. "You've always been a good man to us all here...."
But Geissler frowned at that, and cut him short: "All right, then."
Next morning the gentlemen sat down to write. It was a serious
business; there was first of all a contract for forty thousand
_Kroner_ for the sale of the mine, then a document whereby Geissler
made over the whole of the money to his wife and children. Isak and
Sivert were called in to witness the signatures to these. When it
was done, the gentlemen wanted to buy over Isak's percentage for a
ridiculous sum--five hundred _Kroner_. Geissler put a stop to that,
however. "Jesting apart," he said.
Isak himself understood but little of the whole affair; he had sold
the place once, and got his money. But in any case, he did not care
much about _Kroner_--it was not real money like _Daler_. Sivert, on
the other hand, followed the business with more understanding.
There was something peculiar, he thought, about the tone of these
negotiations; it looked very much like a family affair between the
parties. One of the strangers would say: "My dear Geissler, you ought
not to have such red eyes, you know." Whereto Geissler answered
sharply, if evasively: "No, I ought not, I know. But we don't all get
what we ought to in this world!"
It looked very much as if Fru Geissler's brothers and kinsmen were
trying to buy off her husband, secure themselves against his visits
for the future, and get quit of a troublesome relation. As to the
mine, it was worth something in itself, no doubt, no one denied it;
but it lay far out of the way, and the buyers themselves said they
were only taking it over in order to sell it again to some one better
in a position to work it. There was nothing unreasonable in that. They
declared too, quite frankly, that they had no idea what they would be
able to get for it as it stood; if it were taken up and worked, then
the forty thousand might turn out to be only a fraction of what it was
worth; if it were allowed to lie there as it was, the money was simply
thrown away. But in any case, they wanted to have a clear title,
without encumbrance, and therefore they offered Isak five hundred
_Kroner_ for his share.
"I'm acting on his behalf," said Geissler, "and I'm not going to sell
out his share for less than ten per cent. of the purchase-money."
"Four thousand!" said the others.
"Four thousand," said Geissler. "The land was his, and his share comes
to four thousand. It wasn't mine, and I get forty thousand. Kindly
turn that over in your minds, if you please."
"Yes, but--four thousand _Kroner_!"
Geissler rose from his place, and said: "That, or no sale."
They thought it over, whispered about it, went out into the yard,
talking as long as they could. "Get the horses ready," they called to
the servants. One of the gentlemen went in to Inger and paid royally
for coffee, a few eggs, and their lodging. Geissler walked about with
a careless air, but he was wide awake all the same.
"How did that irrigation work turn out last year?" he asked Sivert.
"It saved the whole crop."
"You've cut away that mound there since I was here last, what?"
"You must have another horse on the farm," said Geissler. He noticed
One of the strangers came up. "Now then, let's get this matter settled
and have done with it," he said.
They all went into the new building again, and Isak's four thousand
_Kroner_ were counted out. Geissler was given a paper, which he
thrust into his pocket as if it were of no value at all. "Keep that
carefully," they told him, "and in a few days your wife shall have the
Geissler puckered his forehead and said shortly: "Very good."
But they were not finished with Geissler yet. Not that he opened his
mouth to ask for anything; he simply stood there, and they saw how he
stood there: maybe he had stipulated beforehand for a trifle on his
own account. The leader gave him a bundle of notes, and Geissler
simply nodded again, and said: "Very good."
"And now I think we ought to drink a glass with Geissler," said the
They drank, and that was done. And then they took leave of Geissler.
Just at that moment came Brede Olsen walking up. Now what did he want?
Brede had doubtless heard the reports of the blasting charges the day
before, and understood that there was something on foot in the way
of mines. And now he came up ready to sell something too. He walked
straight past Geissler, and addressed himself to the gentlemen; he
had found some remarkable specimens of rock hereabouts, quite
extraordinary, some blood-like, others like silver; he knew every
cranny and corner in the hills around and could go straight to every
spot; he knew of long veins of some heavy metal--whatever it might be.
"Have you any samples?" asked the mining expert.
Yes, Brede had samples. But couldn't they just as well go up and look
at the places at once? It wasn't far. Samples--oh, sacks of them,
whole packing-cases full. No, he had not brought them with him, they
were at home--he could run down and fetch them. But it would be
quicker just to run up into the hills and fetch some more, if they
would only wait.
The men shook their heads and went on their way.
Brede looked after them with an injured air. If he had felt a glimmer
of hope for the moment, it was gone now; fate was against him, nothing
ever went right. Well for Brede that he was not easily cast down; he
looked after the men as they rode away, and said at last: "Wish you a
pleasant journey!" And that was all.
But now he was humble again in his manner towards Geissler, his former
chief, and no longer treated him as an equal, but used forms of
respect. Geissler had taken out his pocket-book on some pretext or
other, and any one could see that it was stuffed full of notes.
"If only Lensmand could help me a bit," said Brede.
"Go back home and work your land properly," said Geissler, and helped
him not a bit.
"I might easily have brought up a whole barrow-load of samples, but
wouldn't it have been easier to go up and look at the place itself
while they were here?"
Geissler took no notice of him, and turned to Isak: "Did you see what
I did with that document? It was a most important thing--a matter
of several thousand _Kroner_. Oh, here it is, in among a bundle of
"Who were those people?" asked Brede. "Just out for a ride, or what?"
Geissler had been having an anxious time, no doubt, and now he cooled
down. But he had still something of life and eagerness in him, enough
to do a little more; he went up into the hills with Sivert, and took a
big sheet of paper with him, and drew a map of the ground south of the
lake--Heaven knows what he had in mind. When he came down to the farm
some hours later, Brede was still there, but Geissler took no notice
of his questions; Geissler was tired, and waved him aside.
He slept like a stone till next morning early, then he rose with the
sun, and was himself again. "Sellanraa," said he, standing outside and
looking all round.
"All that money," said Isak; "does it mean I'm to have it all?"
"All?" said Geissler. "Heavens, man, can't you see it ought to have
been ever so much more? And it was my business really to pay you,
according to our contract; but you saw how things were--it was the
only way to manage it. What did you get? Only a thousand _Daler_,
according to the old reckoning. I've been thinking, you'll need
another horse on the place now."
"Well, I know of one. That fellow Heyerdahl's assistant, he's letting
his place go to rack and ruin; takes more interest in running about
selling folk up. He's sold a deal of his stock already, and he'll be
willing to sell the horse."
"I'll see him about it," said Isak.
Geissler waved his hand broadly around, and said: "Margrave,
landowner--that's you! House and stock and cultivated land--they can't
starve you out if they try!"
"No," said Isak. "We've all we could wish for that the Lord ever
Geissler went fussing about the place, and suddenly slipped in to
Inger. "Could you manage a bit of food for me to take along again?" he
asked. "Just a few wafers--no butter and cheese; there's good things
enough in them already. No, do as I say; I can't carry more."
Out again. Geissler was restless, he went into the new building and
sat down to write. He had thought it all out beforehand, and it did
not take long now to get it down. Sending in an application to the
State, he explained loftily to Isak--"to the Ministry of the Interior,
you understand. Yes, I've no end of things to look after all at once."
When he had got his parcel of food and had taken leave, he seemed to
remember something all of a sudden: "Oh, by the way, I'm afraid I owe
you something from last time--I took out a note from my pocket-book on
purpose, and then stuck it in my waistcoat pocket--I found it there
afterwards. Too many things to think about all at once...." He put
something into Inger's hand and off he went.
Ay, off went Geissler, bravely enough to all seeming. Nothing downcast
nor anyway nearing his end; he came to Sellanraa again after, and it
was long years before he died. Each time he went away the Sellanraa
folk missed him as a friend. Isak had been thinking of asking him
about Breidablik, getting his advice, but nothing came of it. And
maybe Geissler would have dissuaded him there; have thought it a risky
thing to buy up land for cultivation and give it to Eleseus; to a
Uncle Sivert died after all. Eleseus spent three weeks looking after
him, and then the old man died. Eleseus arranged the funeral, and
managed things very well; got hold of a fuchsia or so from the
cottages round, and borrowed a flag to hoist at half-mast, and bought
some black stuff from the store for lowered blinds. Isak and Inger
were sent for, and came to the burial. Eleseus acted as host, and
served out refreshments to the guests; ay, and when the body was
carried out, and they had sung a hymn, Eleseus actually said a few
suitable words over the coffin, and his mother was so proud and
touched that she had to use her handkerchief. Everything went off
Then on the way home with his father, Eleseus had to carry that spring
coat of his openly, though he managed to hide the stick in one of the
sleeves. All went well till they had to cross the water in a boat;
then his father sat down unexpectedly on the coat, and there was a
crack. "What was that?" asked Isak.
"Oh, nothing," said Eleseus.
But he did not throw the broken stick away; as soon as they got home,
he set about looking for a bit of tube or something to mend it with.
"We'll fix it all right," said Sivert, the incorrigible. "Look here,
get a good stout splint of wood on either side, and lash all fast with
"I'll lash you with waxed thread," said Eleseus.
"Ha ha ha! Well, perhaps you'd rather tie it up neatly with a red
"Ha ha ha," said Eleseus himself at that; but he went in to his
mother, and got her to give him an old thimble, filed off the end, and
made quite a fine ferrule. Oh, Eleseus was not so helpless after all,
with his long, white hands.
The brothers teased each other as much as ever. "Am I to have what
Uncle Sivert's left?" asked Eleseus.
"You have it? How much is it?" asked Sivert.
"Ha ha ha, you want to know how much it is first, you old miser!"
"Well, you can have it, anyway," said Sivert.
"It's between five and ten thousand."
"_Daler_?" cried Sivert; he couldn't help it.
Now Eleseus never reckoned in _Daler_, but he didn't like to say no at
the time, so he just nodded, and left it at that till next day.
Then he took up the matter again. "Aren't you sorry you gave me all
that yesterday?" he said.
"Woodenhead! Of course not," said Sivert. That was what he said,
but--well, five thousand _Daler_ was five thousand _Daler_, and no
little sum; if his brother were anything but a lousy Indian savage, he
ought to give back half.
"Well, to tell the truth," explained Eleseus, "I don't reckon to get
fat on that legacy, after all."
Sivert looked at him in astonishment. "Ho, don't you?"
"No, nothing special, that is to say. Not what you might call _par
Eleseus had some notions of accounts, of course, and Uncle Sivert's
money-chest, the famous bottle-case, had been opened and examined
while he was there; he had had to go through all the accounts and make
up a balance sheet. Uncle Sivert had not set this nephew to work on
the fields or mending of herring nets; he had initiated him into a
complex muddle of figures, the weirdest book-keeping ever seen. If a
man had paid his taxes some years back in kind, with a goat, say, or
a load of dried cod, there was neither flesh nor fish to show for it
now; but old Sivert searched his memory and said, "He's paid!"
"Right, then we'll cross him out," said Sivert.
Eleseus was the man for this sort of work; he was bright and quick,
and encouraged the invalid by assuring him that things were all right;
the two had got on well together, even to jesting at times. Eleseus
was a bit of a fool, perhaps, in some things, but so was his uncle;
and the two of them sat there drawing up elaborate documents in favour
not only of little Sivert but also to benefit the village, the commune
which the old man had served for thirty years. Oh, they were grand
days! "I couldn't have got a better man to help with all this than
you, Eleseus boy," said Uncle Sivert. He sent out and bought mutton,
in the middle of the summer; fish was brought up fresh from the sea,
Eleseus being ordered to pay cash from the chest. They lived well
enough. They got hold of Oline--they couldn't have found a better
person to invite to a feast, nor one more sure to spread abroad the
news of Uncle Sivert's greatness to the end. And the satisfaction was
mutual. "We must do something for Oline, too," said Uncle Sivert, "she
being a widow and not well off. There'll be enough for little Sivert,
anyhow." Eleseus managed it with a few strokes of the pen; a mere
codicil to the last will and testament, and lo, Oline was also a
sharer in the inheritance.
"I'll look after you," said Uncle Sivert to her. "If so be I shouldn't
get better this time and get about again on earth I'll take care
you're not left out." Oline declared that she was speechless, but
speechless she was not; she wept and was touched to the heart and
grateful; there was none to compare with Oline for finding the
immediate connection between a worldly gift and being "repaid a
thousandfold eternally in the world to come." No, speechless she was
But Eleseus? At first, perhaps, he may have taken a bright enough view
of his uncle's affairs, but after a while he began to think things
over and talk as well. He tried at first with a slight hint: "The
accounts aren't exactly as they should be," he said.
"Well, never mind that," said the old man. "There'll be enough and to
spare when I'm gone."
"You've money outstanding besides, maybe?" said Eleseus. "In a bank,
or so?" For so report had said.
"H'm," said the old man. "That's as it may be. But, anyhow, with the
fishery, the farm and buildings and stock, red cows and white cows and
all--don't you worry about that, Eleseus, my boy."
Eleseus had no idea what the fishery business might be worth, but
he had seen the live stock; it consisted of one cow, partly red and
partly white. Uncle Sivert must have been delirious. Some of the
accounts, too, were difficult to make out at all; they were a muddle,
a bare jumble of figures, especially from the date when the coinage
was changed; the district treasurer had frequently reckoned the small
_Kroner_ as if they were full _Daler_. No wonder he fancied himself
rich! But when everything was reduced to something like order, Eleseus
feared there would not be much left over. Perhaps not enough to settle
Ay, Sivert might easily promise him all that came to him from his
The two brothers jested about it. Sivert was not upset over the
matter, not at all; perhaps, indeed, it might have irked him something
more if he really had thrown away five thousand _Daler_. He knew well
enough that it had been a mere speculation, naming him after his
uncle; he had no claim to anything there. And now he pressed Eleseus
to take what there was. "It's to be yours, of course," said he. "Come
along, let's get it set down in writing. I'd like to see you a rich
man. Don't be too proud to take it!"
Ay, they had many a laugh together. Sivert, indeed, was the one that
helped most to keep Eleseus at home; it would have been much harder
but for him.
As a matter of fact, Eleseus was getting rather spoiled again; the
three weeks' idling on the other side of the hills had not done him
any good. He had also been to church there, and made a show; ay, he
had even met some girls there. Here at Sellanraa there was nothing of
that sort; Jensine, the servant-maid, was a mere nothing, a worker and
no more, rather suited to Sivert.
"I've a fancy to see how that girl Barbro from Breidablik turned out
now she's grown up," said Eleseus one day.
"Well, go down to Axel Stroem's place and see," said Sivert.
Eleseus went down one Sunday. Ay, he had been away, gained confidence
and high spirits once more; he had tasted excitement of a sort, and he
made things livelier at Axel's little place. Barbro herself was by no
means to be despised; at any rate she was the only one anywhere near.
She played the guitar and talked readily; moreover, she did not smell
of tansy, but of real scent, the sort you buy in shops. Eleseus, on
his part, let it be understood that he was only home for a holiday,
and would soon be called back to the office again. But it was not so
bad being at home after all, in the old place, and, of course, he had
the little bedroom to live in. But it was not like being in town!
"Nay, that's a true word," said Barbro, "Town's very different from
Axel himself was altogether out of it with these two town-folk; he
found it dull with them, and preferred to go out and look over his
land. The pair of them were left to do as they liked, and Eleseus
managed things grandly. He told how he had been over to the
neighbouring village to bury his uncle, and did not forget to mention
the speech he had made over the coffin.
When he took his leave, he asked Barbro to go part of the way home
with him. But Barbro, thank you, was not inclined that way.
"Is that the way they do things where you've been," she asked--"for
the ladies to escort the gentlemen home?"
That was a nasty hit for Eleseus; he turned red, and understood he had
Nevertheless, he went down to Maaneland again next Sunday, and this
time he took his stick. They talked as before, and Axel was out of it
altogether, as before. "'Tis a big place your father's got," said he.
"And building again, now, it seems."
"Ay, it's all very well for him," said Eleseus, anxious to show off
a little. "He can afford it. It's another matter with poor folk like
"How d'you mean?"
"Oh, haven't you heard? There's been some Swedish millionaires came
down the other day and bought a mine of him, a copper mine."
"Why, you don't say? And he'll have got a heap of money for it, then?"
"Enormous. Well, I don't want to boast, but it was at any rate ever
so many thousands. What was I going to say? Build? You've a deal of
timber lying about here yourself. When are you going to start?"
Barbro put in her word here: "Never!"
Now that was pure exaggeration and impertinence. Axel had got his
stones the autumn before, and carted them home that winter; now,
between seasons, he had got the foundation walls done, and cellar and
all else--all that remained was to build the timbered part above. He
was hoping to get part of it roofed in this autumn, and had thought
of asking Sivert to lend him a hand for a few days--what did Eleseus
think of that?
Eleseus thought like as not. "But why not ask me?" he said, smiling.
"You?" said Axel, and he spoke with sudden respect at the idea.
"You've talents for other things than that, I take it."
Oh, but it was pleasant to find oneself appreciated here in the wilds!
"Why, I'm afraid my hands aren't much good at that sort of work," said
"Let me look," said Barbro, and took his hand.
Axel dropped out of the conversation again, and went out, leaving the
two of them alone. They were of an age, had been to school together,
and played and kissed each other and raced about; and now, with a
fine disdainful carelessness, they talked of old times--exchanging
reminiscences--and Barbro, perhaps, was inclined to show off a little
before her companion. True, this Eleseus was not like the really fine
young men in offices, that wore glasses and gold watches and so on,
but he could pass for a gentleman here in the wilds, there was
no denying that. And she took out her photograph now and showed
him--that's what she looked like then--"all different now, of course."
And Barbro sighed.
"Why, what's the matter with you now?" he asked.
"Don't you think I've changed for the worse since then?"
"Changed for the worse, indeed! Well, I don't mind telling you you're
ever so much prettier now," said he, "filled out all round. For the
worse? Ho! That's a fine idea!"
"But it's a nice dress, don't you think? Cut open just a bit front and
back. And then I had that silver chain you see there, and it cost a
heap of money, too; it was a present from one of the young clerks I
was with then. But I lost it. Not exactly lost it, you know, but I
wanted money to come home."
Eleseus asked: "Can I have the photo to keep?"
"To keep? H'm. What'll you give me for it?"
Oh, Eleseus knew well enough what he wanted to say, but he dared not.
"I'll have mine taken when I go back to town," he said instead, "and
send it you."
Barbro put away the photograph. "No, it's the only one I've left."
That was a stroke of darkness to his young heart, and he stretched out
his hand towards the picture.
"Well, give me something for it, now," she said, laughing. And at that
he up and kissed her properly.
After that it was easier all round; Eleseus brightened up, and got
on finely. They flirted and joked and laughed, and were excellent
friends. "When you took my hand just now it was like a bit of swan's
down--yours, I mean."
"Oh, you'll be going back to town again, and never come back here,
I'll be bound," said Barbro.
"Do you think I'm that sort?" said Eleseus.
"Ah, I dare say there's a somebody there you're fond of."
"No, there isn't. Between you and me, I'm not engaged at all," said
"Oh yes, you are; I know."
"No, solemn fact, I'm not."
They carried on like this quite a while; Eleseus was plainly in love.
"I'll write to you," said he. "May I?"
"Yes," said she.
"For I wouldn't be mean enough if you didn't care about it, you
know." And suddenly he was jealous, and asked: "I've heard say you're
promised to Axel here; is it true?"
"Axel?" she said scornfully, and he brightened up again. "I'll see him
farther!" But then she turned penitent, and added: "Alex, he's good
enough for me, though.... And he takes in a paper all for me to read,
and gives me things now and again--lots of things. I will say that"
"Oh, of course," Eleseus agreed. "He may be an excellent fellow in his
way, but that's not everything...."
But the thought of Axel seemed to have made Barbro anxious; she got
up, and said to Eleseus: "You'll have to go now; I must see to the
Next Sunday Eleseus went down a good deal later than usual, and
carried the letter himself. It was a letter! A whole week of
excitement, all the trouble it had cost him to write, but here it
was at last; he had managed to produce a letter: "To Froeken Barbro
Bredesen. It is two or three times now I have had the inexpressible
delight of seeing you again...."
Coming so late as he did now, Barbro must at any rate have finished
seeing to the animals, and might perhaps have gone to bed already.
That wouldn't matter--quite the reverse, indeed.
But Barbro was up, sitting in the hut. She looked now as if she had
suddenly lost all idea of being nice to him and making love--Eleseus
fancied Axel had perhaps got hold of her and warned her.
"Here's the letter I promised you," he said.
"Thank you," said she, and opened it, and read it through without
seeming much moved. "I wish I could write as nice a hand as that," she
Eleseus was disappointed. What had he done--what was the matter with
her? And where was Axel? He was not there. Beginning to get tired of
these foolish Sunday visits, perhaps, and preferred to stay away; or
he might have had some business to keep him over, when he went down to
the village the day before. Anyhow, he was not there.
"What d'you want to sit here in this stuffy old place for on a lovely
evening?" asked Eleseus. "Come out for a walk."
"I'm waiting for Axel," she answered.
"Axel? Can't you live without Axel, then?"
"Yes. But he'll want something to eat when he comes back."
Time went, time dribbled away, they came no nearer each other; Barbro
was as cross and contrary as ever. He tried telling her again of his
visit across the hills, and did not forget about the speech he had
made: "'Twasn't much I had to say, but all the same it brought out the
tears from some of them."
"Did it?" said she.
"And then one Sunday I went to church."
"What news there?"
"News? Oh, nothing. Only to have a look round. Not much of a priest,
as far as I know anything about it; no sort of manner, he had."
"What d'you think Axel'd say if he found you here this evening again?"
said Barbro suddenly.
There was a thing to say! It was as if she had struck him. Had she
forgotten all about last time? Hadn't they agreed that he was to come
this evening? Eleseus was deeply hurt, and murmured: "I can go, if you
like. What have I done?" he asked then, his lips trembling. He was in
distress, in trouble, that was plain to see.
"Done? Oh, you haven't done anything."
"Well, what's the matter with you, anyway, this evening?"
"With me? Ha ha ha!--But come to think of it, 'tis no wonder Axel
should be angry."
"I'll go, then," said Eleseus again. But she was still indifferent,
not in the least afraid, caring nothing that he sat there struggling
with his feelings. Fool of a woman!
And now he began to grow angry; he hinted his displeasure at first
delicately: to the effect that she was a nice sort indeed, and a
credit to her sex, huh! But when that produced no effect--oh, he would
have done better to endure it patiently, and say nothing. But he grew
no better for that; he said: "If I'd known you were going to be like
this, I'd never have come this evening at all."
"Well, what if you hadn't?" said she. "You'd have lost a chance of
airing that cane of yours that you're so fond of."
Oh, Barbro, she had lived in Bergen, she knew how to jeer at a man;
she had seen real walking-sticks, and could ask now what he wanted to
go swinging a patched-up umbrella handle like that for. But he let her
"I suppose now you'll be wanting that photograph back you gave me,"
he said. And if that didn't move her, surely nothing would, for among
folks in the wilds, there was nothing counted so mean as to take back
"That's as it may be," she answered evasively.
"Oh, you shall have it all right," he answered bravely. "I'll send
it back at once, never fear. And now perhaps you'll give me back my
letter." Eleseus rose to his feet.
Very well; she gave him back the letter. But now the tears came into
her eyes as she did so; this servant girl was touched; her friend was
forsaking her--good-bye for ever!
"You've no need to go," she said. "I don't care for what Axel says."
But Eleseus had the upper hand now, and must use it; he thanked
her and said good-bye. "When a lady carries on that way," he said,
"there's nothing else to be done."
He left the house, quietly, and walked up homeward, whistling,
swinging his stick, and playing the man. Huh! A little while after
came Barbro walking up; she called to him once or twice. Very well;
he stopped, so he did, but was a wounded lion. She sat down in the
heather looking penitent; she fidgeted with a sprig, and a little
after he too softened, and asked for a kiss, the last time, just to
say good-bye, he said. No, she would not. "Be nice and be a dear, like
you were last time," he begged, and moved round her on all sides,
stepping quickly, if he could see his chance. But she would not be a
dear; she got up. And there she stood. And at that he simply nodded
When he was out of sight, Axel appeared suddenly from behind
some bushes. Barbro started, all taken aback, and asked: "What's
that--where have you been? Up that way?"
"No; I've been down that way," he answered. "But I saw you two going
"Ho, did you? And a lot of good it did you, I dare say," she cried,
suddenly furious. She was certainly not easier to deal with now. "What
are you poking and sniffing about after, I'd like to know? What's it