Part 6 out of 9
earnest! After a long while he gives a single shout. The sound would
hardly carry far in the gale, but it would be upward along the line,
towards Brede. Axel lies there with all sorts of vain and useless
thoughts in his head: if only he could reach the ax, and perhaps cut
his way out! If he could only get his hand up--it was pressing against
something sharp, an edge of stone, and the stone was eating its way
quietly and politely into the back of his hand. Anyhow, if only that
infernal stone itself had not been there--but no one has ever yet
heard tell of such a touching act of kindness on the part of a stone.
Getting late now, getting later, the snow drifting thick; Axel
is getting snowed up himself. The snow packs all innocently, all
unknowing, about his face, melting at first, till the flesh grows
cold, and then it melts no longer. Ay, now 'tis beginning in earnest!
He gives two great shouts, and listens.
His ax is getting snowed up now; he can see but a bit of the haft.
Over there is his basket of food, hung on a tree--if he could but have
reached it, and had a feed--oh, huge big mouthfuls! And then he goes
one step farther in his demands, and asks yet more: if he only had his
coat on--it is getting cold. He gives another swinging shout....
And there is Brede. Stopped in his tracks, standing still, looking
toward the man as he calls; he stands there but for a moment, glancing
that way, as if to see what is amiss.
"Reach me the ax here, will you?" calls Axel, a trifle weakly.
Brede looks away hurriedly, fully aware now of what is the matter; he
glances up at the telegraph wires and seems to be whistling. What can
he mean by that?
"Here, reach me the ax, can't you?" cries Axel louder. "I'm pinned
here under a tree."
But Brede is strangely full of zeal in his duty now, he keeps on
looking at the telegraph wires, and whistling all the time. Note,
also, that he seems to be whistling gaily, as it were vengefully.
"Ho, so you're going to murder me--won't even reach me the ax?" cries
Axel. And at that it seems as if there is trouble farther down the
line, which Brede must see to without delay. He moves off, and is lost
to sight in the driving snow.
Ho--well and good! But after that, well, it would just serve things
generally right if Axel were to manage by himself after all, and get
at the ax without help from any one. He strains all the muscles of his
chest to lift the huge weight that bears him down; the tree moves, he
can feel it shake, but all he gains by that is a shower of snow. And
after a few more tries, he gives up.
Growing dark now. Brede is gone--but how far can he have got? Axel
shouts again, and lets off a few straightforward words into the
bargain. "Leave me here to die, would you, like a murderer?" he cries.
"Have ye no soul nor thought of what's to come? And the worth of a
cow, no less, to lend a helping hand. But 'tis a dog you are and ever
were, Brede, and leaving a man to die. Ho, but there's more shall know
of this, never fear, and true as I'm lying here. And won't even come
and reach me that ax...."
Silence. Axel strains away at the tree once more, lifts it a little,
and brings down a new shower of snow. Gives it up again and sighs;
he is worn out now, and getting sleepy. There's the cattle at home,
they'll be standing in the hut and bellowing for food, not a bite nor
a drop since the morning; no Barbro to look to them now--no. Barbro's
gone, run off and gone, and taken both her rings, gold and silver,
taken them with her. Getting dark now, ay, evening, night; well,
well.... But there's the cold to reckon with too; his beard is
freezing, soon his eyes will freeze too as well; ay, if he had but his
jacket from the tree there ... and now his leg--surely, it can't be
that--but all the same one leg feels dead now up to the hip. "All in
God's hands," he says to himself--seems like he can talk all godly and
pious when he will. Getting dark, ay; but a man can die without the
light of a lamp. He feels all soft and good now, and of sheer humility
he smiles, foolishly and kindly, at the snowstorm round; 'tis God's
own snow, an innocent thing! Ay, he might even forgive Brede, and
never say a word....
He is very quiet now, and growing ever more sleepy, ay, as if some
poison were numbing him all over. And there is too much whiteness to
look at every way; woods and lands, great wings, white veils, white
sails; white, white ... what can it be? Nonsense, man! And he knows
well enough it is but snow; he is lying out in the snow; 'tis no fancy
that he is lying there, pinned down beneath a tree.
He shouts again at hazard, throws out a roar; there in the snow a
man's great hairy chest swelling to a roar, bellowing so it could be
heard right down at the hut, again and again. "Ay, and a swine and a
monster," he cries after Brede again; "never a thought of how you're
leaving me to lie and be perished. And couldn't even reach me the
ax, that was all I asked; and call yourself a man, or a beast of the
field? Ay, well then, go your way, and good luck to you if that's your
will and thought to go...."
He must have slept; he is all stiff and lifeless now, but his eyes
are open; set in ice, but open, he cannot wing nor blink--has he been
sleeping with open eyes? Dropped off for a second maybe, or for an
hour, God knows, but here's Oline standing before him. He can hear her
asking: "In Jesu name, say if there's life in you!" And asking him if
it is him lying there, and if he's lost his wits or no.
Always something of a jackal about Oline; sniffing and scenting out,
always on the spot where there was trouble; ay, she would nose it out.
And how could she ever have managed through life at all if it hadn't
been that same way? Axel's word had reached her, and for all her
seventy years she had crossed the field to come. Snowed up at
Sellanraa in the storm of the day before, and then on again to
Maaneland; not a soul on the place; fed the cattle, stood in the
doorway listening, milked the cows at milking-time, listening again;
what could it be?...
And then a cry comes down, and she nods; Axel, maybe, or maybe the
hill-folk, devils--anyway, something to sniff and scent and find--to
worm out the meaning of it all, the wisdom of the Almighty with the
dark and the forest in the hollow of His hand--and He would never harm
Oline, that was not worthy to unloose the latchet of His shoes....
And there she stands.
The ax? Oline digs down and down in the snow, and finds no ax. Manage
without, then--and she strains at the tree to lift it where it lies,
but with no more strength than a child; she can but shake the branches
here and there. Tries for the ax again--it is all dark, but she digs
with hands and feet. Axel cannot move a hand to point, only tell where
it lay before, but 'tis not there now. "If it hadn't been so far to
Sellanraa," says Axel.
Then Oline falls to searching her own ways, and Axel calls to her that
there's no ax there. "Ay, well," says Oline, "I was but looking a bit.
And what's this, maybe?" says she.
"You've found it?" says he.
"Ay, by the grace of the Lord Almighty," answers Oline, with
But there's little pride in Axel now, no more than he'll give in that
he was wrong after all, and maybe not all clear in his head. And
what's he to do with the ax now 'tis there? He cannot stir, and Oline
has to cut him free herself. Oh, Oline has wielded an ax before that
day; had axed off many a load of firing in her life.
Axel cannot walk, one leg is dead to the hip, and something wrong with
his back; shooting pains that make him groan curiously--ay, he feels
but a part of himself, as if something were left behind there under
the tree. "Don't know," says he--"don't know what it can be...." But
Oline knows, and tells him now with solemn words; ay, for she has
saved a human creature from death, and she knows it; 'tis the Almighty
has seen fit to lay on her this charge, where He might have sent
legions of angels. Let Axel consider the grace and infinite wisdom of
the Almighty even in this! And if so be as it had been His pleasure to
send a worm out of the earth instead, all things were possible to Him.
"Ay, I know," said Axel. "But I can't make out how 'tis with me--feels
Feels strange, does it? Oh, but only wait, wait just a little. 'Twas
but to move and stretch the least bit at a time, till the life came
back. And get his jacket on and get warm again. But never in all her
days would she forget how the Angel of the Lord had called her out to
the doorway that last time, that she might hear a voice--the voice of
one crying in the forest. Ay, 'twas as in the days of Paradise, when
trumpets blew and compassed round the walls of Jericho....
Ay, strange. But while she talked, Axel was taking his time, learning
the use of his limbs again, getting to walk.
They get along slowly towards home, Oline still playing saviour and
supporting him. They manage somehow. A little farther down they come
upon Brede. "What's here?" says Brede. "Hurt yourself? Let me help a
Axel takes no heed. He had given a promise to God not to be vengeful,
not to tell of what Brede had done, but beyond that he was free. And
what was Brede going up that way again for now? Had he seen that Oline
was at Maaneland, and guessed that she would hear?
"And it's you here, Oline, is it?" goes on Brede easily. "Where d'you
find him? Under a tree? Well, now, 'tis a curious thing," says he. "I
was up that way just now on duty, along the line, and seems like
I heard some one shouting. Turns round and listens quick as a
flash--Brede's the man to lend a hand if there's need. And so 'twas
Axel, was it, lying under a tree, d'you say?"
"Ay," says Axel. "And well you knew that saw and heard as well. But
never helping hand...."
"Good Lord, deliver us!" cries Oline, aghast. "As I'm a sinner...."
Brede explains. "Saw? Why, yes, I saw you right enough. But why didn't
you call out? You might have called out if there was anything wrong. I
saw you right enough, ay, but never thought but you were lying down a
bit to rest."
"You'd better say no more," says Axel warningly. "You know well enough
you left me there and hoping I'd never rise again."
Oline sees her way now; Brede must not be allowed to interfere. She
must be indispensable, nothing can come between her and Axel that
could make him less completely indebted to herself. She had saved him,
she alone. And she waves Brede aside; will not even let him carry the
ax or the basket of food. Oh, for the moment she is all on Axel's
side--but next time she comes to Brede and sits talking to him over a
cup of coffee, she will be on his.
"Let me carry the ax and things, anyway," says Brede.
"Nay," says Oline, speaking for Axel. "He'll take them himself."
And Brede goes on again: "You might have called to me, anyway; we're
not so deadly enemies that you couldn't say a word to a man?--You did
call? Well, you might have shouted then, so a man could hear. Blowing
a gale and all.... Leastways, you might have waved a hand."
"I'd no hand to wave," answers Axel. "You saw how 'twas with me, shut
down and locked in all ways."
"Nay, that I'll swear I didn't. Well, I never heard. Here, let me
carry those things."
Oline puts in: "Leave him alone. He's hurt and poorly."
But Axel's mind is getting to work again now. He has heard of Oline
before, and understands it will be a costly thing for him, and a
plague besides, if she can claim to have saved his life all by
herself. Better to share between them as far as may be. And he lets
Brede take the basket and the tools; ay, he lets it be understood that
this is a relief, that it eases him to get rid of it. But Oline will
not have it, she snatches away the basket, she and no other will carry
what's to be carried there. Sly simplicity at war on every side. Axel
is left for a moment without support, and Brede has to drop the basket
and hold him, though Axel can stand by himself now, it seems.
Then they go on a bit that way, Brede holding Axel's arm, and Oline
carrying the things. Carrying, carrying, full of bitterness and
flashing fire; a miserable part indeed, to carry a basket instead
of leading a helpless man. What did Brede want coming that way at
all--devil of a man!
"Brede," says she, "what's it they're saying, you've sold your place
"And who's it wants to know?" says Brede boldly.
"Why, as to that, I'd never thought 'twas any secret not to be known."
"Why didn't you come to the sale, then, and bid with the rest?"
"Me--ay, 'tis like you to make a jest of poor folk."
"Well, and I thought 'twas you had grown rich and grand. Wasn't it you
had left you old Sivert's chest and all his money in? He he he!"
Oline was not pleased, not softened at being minded of that legacy.
"Ay, old Sivert, he'd a kindly thought for me, and I'll not say
otherwise. But once he was dead and gone, 'twas little they left after
him in worldly goods. And you know yourself how 'tis to be stripped of
all, and live under other man's roof; but old Sivert he's in palaces
and mansions now, and the likes of you and me are left on earth to be
"Ho, you and your talk!" says Brede scornfully, and turns to Axel:
"Well, I'm glad I came in time--help you back home. Not going too
Talk to Oline, stand up and argue with Oline! Was never a man could
do it but to his cost. Never in life would she give in, and never her
match for turning and twisting heaven and earth to a medley of seeming
kindness and malice, poison and senseless words. This to her face now:
Brede making as if 'twas himself was bringing Axel home!
"What I was going to say," she begins: "They gentlemen came up to
Sellanraa that time; did you ever get to show them all those sacks of
stone you'd got, eh, Brede?"
"Axel," says Brede, "let me hoist you on my shoulders, and I'll carry
you down rest of the way."
"Nay," says Axel. "For all it's good of you to ask."
So they go on; not far now to go. Oline must make the best of her time
on the way. "Better if you'd saved him at the point of death," says
she. "And how was it, Brede, you coming by and seeing him in deadly
peril and heard his cry and never stopped to help?"
"You hold your tongue," says Brede.
And it might have been easier for her if she had, wading deep in snow
and out of breath, and a heavy burden and all, but 'twas not Oline's
way to hold her tongue. She'd a bit in reserve, a dainty morsel. Ho,
'twas a dangerous thing to talk of, but she dared it.
"There's Barbro now," says she. "And how's it with her? Not run off
and away, perhaps?"
"Ay, she has," answers Brede carelessly. "And left a place for you for
the winter by the same."
But here was a first-rate opening for Oline again; she could let it be
seen now what a personage she was; how none could manage long without
Oline--Oline, that, had to be sent for near or far. She might
have been two places, ay, three, for that matter. There was the
parsonage--they'd have been glad to have her there, too. And here was
another thing--ay, let Axel hear it too, 'twould do no harm--they'd
offered her so-and-so much for the winter, not to speak of a new pair
of shoes and a sheepskin into the bargain. But she knew what she was
doing, coming to Maaneland, coming to a man that was lordly to give
and would pay her over and above what other folk did--and so she'd
come. No, 'twas no need for Brede to trouble himself that gait--when
her Heavenly Father had watched over her all those years, and opened
this door and that before her feet, and bidden her in. Ay, and it
seemed like God Himself had known what He was doing, sending her up
to Maaneland that day, to save the life of one of His creatures on
Axel was getting wearied again by now; his legs could hardly bear him,
and seemed like giving up. Strange, he had been getting better by
degrees, able to walk, as the life and warmth came back into his body.
But now--he must lean on Brede for support! It seemed to begin when
Oline started talking about her wages; and then, when she was saving
his life again, it was worse than ever. Was he trying to lessen her
triumph once more? Heaven knows--but his mind seemed to be working
again. As they neared the house, he stopped, and said: "Looks like
I'll never get there, after all."
Brede hoists him up without a word, and carries him. So they go on
like that, Oline all venom, Axel up full length on Brede's back.
"What I was going to say," gets out Oline--"about Barbro--wasn't she
far gone with child?"
"Child?" groans Brede, under the weight. Oh, 'tis a strange
procession; but Axel lets himself be carried all the way till he's set
down at his own door.
Brede puffs and blows, mightily out of breath.
"Ay, or how--was it ever born, after all?" asks Oline.
Axel cuts in quickly with a word to Brede: "I don't know how I'd ever
have got home this night but for you." And he does not forget Oline:
"And you, Oline, that was the first to find me. I've to thank you both
for it all."
That was how Axel was saved....
* * * * *
The next few days Oline would talk of nothing but the great event;
Axel was hard put to it to keep her within bounds. Oline can point out
the very spot where she was standing in the room when an angel of the
Lord called her out to the door to hear a cry for help--Axel goes
back to his work in the woods, and when he has felled enough, begins
carting it up to the sawmill at Sellanraa.
Good, regular winter work, as long as it lasts; carting up rough
timber and bringing back sawn planks. The great thing is to hurry and
get through with it before the new year, when the frost sets in
in earnest, and the saw cannot work. Things are going on nicely,
everything as well as could be wished. If Sivert happens to come up
from the village with an empty sledge, he stops and takes a stick of
timber on the way, to help his neighbour. And the pair of them talk
over things together, and each is glad of a talk with the other.
"What's the news down village?" asks Axel.
"Why, nothing much," says Sivert. "There's a new man coming to take up
land, so they say."
A new man--nothing in that; 'twas only Sivert's way of putting it. New
men came now every year or so, to take up land; there were five new
holdings now below Breidablik. Higher up, things went more slowly,
for all that the soil was richer that way. The one who had ventured
farthest was Isak, when he settled down at Sellanraa; he was the
boldest and the wisest of them all. Later, Axel Stroem had come--and
now there was a new man besides. The new man was to have a big patch
of arable land and forest down below Maaneland--there was land enough.
"Heard what sort of a man it is?" asked Axel.
"Nay," said Sivert. "But he's bringing up houses all ready made, to
fix up in no time."
"Ho! A rich man, then?"
"Ay, seems like. And a wife and three children with him; and horse and
"Why, then, 'twill be a rich man enough. Any more about him?"
"No. He's three-and-thirty."
"And what's his name?"
"Aron, they say. Calls his place Storborg."
"Storborg? H'm. 'Tis no little place, then." [Footnote: "_Stor_" =
"He's come up from the coast. Had a fishery there, so they say."
"H'm--fishery. Wonder if he knows much about farming?" says Axel.
"That all you heard? Nothing more?"
"No. He paid all down in cash for the title-deeds. That's all I heard.
Must have made a heap of money with his fishery, they say. And now
he's going to start here with a store."
"Ho! A store?"
"Ay, so they say."
"H'm. So he's going to start a store?"
This was the one really important piece of news, and the two
neighbours talked it over every way as they drove up. It was a big
piece of news--the greatest event, perhaps, in all the history of the
place; ay, there was much to say of that. Who was he going to trade
with, this new man? The eight of them that had settled on the common
lands? Or did he reckon on getting custom from the village as well?
Anyway, the store would mean a lot to them; like as not, it would
bring up more settlers again. The holdings might rise in value--who
They talked it over as if they would never tire. Ay, here were two men
with their own interests and aims, as great to them as other men's.
The settlement was their world; work, seasons, crops were the
adventures of their life. Was not that interest and excitement enough?
Ho, enough indeed! Many a time they had need to sleep but lightly, to
work on long past meal-times; but they stood it, they endured it and
were none the worse; a matter of seven hours lying pinned down beneath
a tree was not a thing to spoil them for life as long as their limbs
were whole. A narrow world, a life with no great prospects? Ho,
indeed! What of this new Storborg, a shop and a store here in the
wilds--was not that prospect enough?
They talked it over until Christmas came....
Axel had got a letter, a big envelope with a lion on it; it was from
the State. He was to fetch supplies of wire, a telegraph apparatus,
tools and implements, from Brede Olsen, and take over inspection of
the line from New Year's Day.
Teams of horses driving up over the moors, carting up houses for the
new man come to settle in the wilds; load after load, for days on end.
Dump the things down on a spot that is to be called Storborg; 'twill
answer to its name, no doubt, in time. There are four men already at
work up in the hills, getting out stone for a wall and two cellars.
Carting loads, carting new loads. The sides of the house are built and
ready beforehand, 'tis only to fix them up when the spring comes; all
reckoned out neatly and accurately in advance, each piece with its
number marked, not a door, not a window lacking, even to the coloured
glass for the verandah. And one day a cart comes up with a whole load
of small stakes. What's them for? One of the settlers from lower down
can tell them; he's from the south, and has seen the life before.
"'Tis for a garden fence," says he. So the new man is going to have a
garden laid out in the wilds--a big garden.
All looked well; never before had there been such carting and traffic
up over the moors, and there were many that earned good money letting
out their horses for the work. This, again, was matter for discussion.
There was the prospect of making money in the future; the trader would
be getting his goods from different parts; inland or overseas, they
would have to be carted up from the sea with teams of horses.
Ay, it looked as if things were going to be on a grander scale all
round. Here was a young foreman or manager in charge of the carting
work; a lordly young spark he was, and grumbled at not getting horses
enough, for all that there were not so many loads to come.
"But there can't be so much more to come now, with the houses all up,"
"Ho, and what about the goods?" he answered.
Sivert from Sellanraa came clattering up homeward, empty as usual, and
the foreman called to him: "Hi, what are you coming up empty for? Why
didn't you bring up a load for us here?"
"Why, I might have," said Sivert. "But I'd no knowledge of it."
"He's from Sellanraa; they've two horses there," some one whispered.
"What's that? You've got two horses?" says the foreman. "Bring them
down, then, the pair of them, to help with the cartage here. We'll pay
"Why," says Sivert, "that's none so bad, dare say. But we're pressed
just now, and can't spare the time."
"What? Can't spare the time to make money!" says the foreman.
But they had not always time at Sellanraa, there was much to do on the
place. They had hired men to help--the first time such a thing had
ever been done at Sellanraa--two stoneworkers from the Swedish side,
to get out stone for a new cowshed.
This had been Isak's great idea for years past, to build a proper
cowshed. The turf hut where the cattle were housed at present was too
small, and out of repair; he would have a stone-built shed with double
walls and a proper dung-pit under. It was to be done now. But there
were many other things to be done as well, one thing always leading to
another; the building work, at any rate, seemed never to be finished.
He had a sawmill and a cornmill and a summer shed for the cattle; it
was but reasonable he should have a smithy. Only a little place, for
odd jobs as need arose; it was a long way to send down to the village
when the sledge-hammer curled at the edges or a horseshoe or so
wanted looking to. Just enough to manage with, that was all--and why
shouldn't he? Altogether, there were many outbuildings, little and
big, at Sellanraa.
The place is growing, getting bigger and bigger, a mighty big place at
last. Impossible now to manage without a girl to help, and Jensine has
to stay on. Her father, the blacksmith, asks after her now and again,
if she isn't coming home soon; but he does not make a point of it,
being an easy-going man, and maybe with his own reasons for letting
her stay. And there is Sellanraa, farthest out of all the settlements,
growing bigger and bigger all the time; the place, that is, the houses
and the ground, only the folk are the same. The day is gone when
wandering Lapps could come to the house and get all they wanted for
the asking; they come but rarely now, seem rather to go a long way
round and keep out of sight; none are even seen inside the house, but
wait without if they come at all. Lapps always keep to the outlying
spots, in dark places; light and air distress them, they cannot
thrive; 'tis with them as with maggots and vermin. Now and again
a calf or a lamb disappears without a trace from the outskirts of
Sellanraa, from the farthest edge of the land--there is no helping
that. And Sellanraa can bear the loss. And even if Sivert could shoot,
he has no gun, but anyway, he cannot shoot; a good-tempered fellow,
nothing warlike; a born jester: "And, anyway, I doubt but there's a
law against shooting Lapps," says he.
Ay, Sellanraa can bear the loss of a head or so of cattle here and
there; it stands there, great and strong. But not without its troubles
for all that. Inger is not altogether pleased with herself and with
life all the year round, no; once she made a journey to a place a long
way off, and it seems to have left an ugly discontent behind. It
may disappear for a time, but always it returns. She is clever and
hard-working as in her best days, and a handsome, healthy wife for a
man, for a barge of a man--but has she no memories of Trondhjem; does
she never dream? Ay, and in winter most of all. Full of life and
spirits at times, and wanting no end of things--but a woman cannot
dance by herself, and so there was no dancing at Sellanraa. Heavy
thoughts and books of devotion? Ay, well.... But there's something,
Heaven knows, in the other sort of life, something splendid and
unequalled. She has learned to make do with little; the Swedish
stoneworkers are something, at any rate; strange faces and new voices
about the place, but they are quiet, elderly men, given to work
rather than play. Still, better than nothing--and one of them sings
beautifully at his work; Inger stops now and again to listen. Hjalmar
is his name.
And that is not all the trouble at Sellanraa. There is Eleseus, for
instance--a disappointment there. He had written to say that his place
in the engineer's office was no longer open, but he was going to
get another all right--only wait. Then came another letter; he was
expecting something to turn up very shortly, a first-rate post; but
meantime, he could not live on nothing at all, and when they sent him
a hundred-_Krone_ note from home, he wrote back to say it was just
enough to pay off some small debts he had.... "H'm," said Isak. "But
we've these stoneworker folk to pay, and a deal of things ... write
and ask if he wouldn't rather come back here and lend a hand."
And Inger wrote, but Eleseus did not care about coming home again; no,
no sense in making another journey all to no purpose; he would rather
Well, perhaps there was no first-rate post vacant just then in the
city, and Eleseus, perhaps, was not as sharp as a razor in pushing his
way. Heaven knows--perhaps he wasn't over clever at his work either.
Write? ay, he could write well enough, and quick and hard-working
maybe, but there might be something lacking for all that. And if so,
what was to become of him?
When he arrived from home with his two hundred _Kroner_, the city was
waiting for him with old accounts outstanding, and when those were
paid, well, he had to get a proper walking-stick, and not the remains
of an umbrella. There were other little things as well that were but
reasonable--a fur cap for the winter, like all his companions wore,
a pair of skates to go on the ice with as others did, a silver
toothpick, which was a thing to clean one's teeth, and play with
daintily when chatting with friends over a glass of this or that. And
as long as he had money, he stood treat as far as he was able; at a
festive evening held to celebrate his return to town, he ordered half
a dozen bottles of beer, and had them opened sparingly, one after
another. "What--twenty _Ore_ for the waitress?" said his friends;
"ten's quite enough."
"Doesn't do to be stingy," said Eleseus.
Nothing stingy nor mean about Eleseus, no; he come from a good home,
from a big place, where his father the Margrave owned endless tracts
of timber, and four horses and thirty cows and three mowing-machines.
Eleseus was no liar, and it was not he who had spread abroad all the
fantastic stories about the Sellanraa estate; 'twas the district
surveyor who had amused himself talking grandly about it a long while
back. But Eleseus was not displeased to find the stories taken more or
less for truth. Being nothing in himself, it was just as well to be
the son of somebody that counted for something; it gave him credit,
and was useful that way. But it could not last for ever; the day came
when he could no longer put off paying, and what was he to do then?
One of his friends came to his help, got him into his father's
business, a general store where the peasants bought their
wares--better than nothing. It was a poor thing for a grown lad to
start at a beginner's wage in a little shop; no short cut to the
position of a Lensmand; still, it gave him enough to live on, helped
him over the worst for the present--oh, 'twas not so bad, after all.
Eleseus was willing and good-tempered here too, and people liked him;
he wrote home to say he had gone into trade.
This was his mother's greatest disappointment. Eleseus serving in a
shop--'twas not a whit better than being assistant at the store
down in the village. Before, he had been something apart, something
different from the rest; none of their neighbours had gone off to live
in a town and work in an office. Had he lost sight of his great aim
and end? Inger was no fool; she knew well enough that there was a
difference between the ordinary and the uncommon, though perhaps she
did not always think to reckon with it. Isak was simpler and slower of
thought; he reckoned less and less with Eleseus now, when he reckoned
at all; his eldest son was gradually slipping out of range. Isak no
longer thought of Sellanraa divided between his two sons when he
himself should be gone.
* * * * *
Some way on in spring came engineers and workmen from Sweden; going
to build roads, put up hutments, work in various ways, blasting,
levelling, getting up supplies of food, hiring teams of horses, making
arrangements with owners of land by the waterside; what--what was it
all about? This is in the wilds, where folk never came but those who
lived there? Well, they were going to start that copper mine, that was
So it had come to something after all; Geissler had not been merely
It was not the same big men that had come with him that time--no, the
two of them had stayed behind, having business elsewhere, no doubt.
But the same engineer was there, and the mining expert that had come
at first. They bought up all the sawn planks Isak could spare, bought
food and drink and paid for it well, chatted in kindly fashion and
were pleased with Sellanraa. "Aerial railway," they said. "Cable
haulage from the top of the fjeld down to the waterside," they said.
"What, down over all this moorland here?" said Isak, being slow to
think. But they laughed at that.
"No, on the other side, man; not this way, 'twould be miles to go. No,
on the other side of the fjeld, straight down to the sea; a good fall,
and no distance to speak of. Run the ore down through the air in iron
tanks; oh, it'll work all right, you wait and see. But we'll have to
cart it down at first; make a road, and have it hauled down in carts.
We shall want fifty horses--you see, we'll get on finely. And we've
more men on the works than these few here--that's nothing. There's
more coming up from the other side, gangs of men, with huts all
ready to put up, and stores of provisions and material and tools and
things--then we meet and make connection with them half-way, on the
top, you see? We'll make the thing go, never fear--and ship the ore to
South America. There's millions to be made out of it."
"What about the other gentlemen," asked Isak, "that came up here
"What? Oh, they've sold out. So you remember them? No, they've sold.
And the people that bought them out have sold again. It's a big
company now that owns the mine--any amount of money behind it."
"And Geissler, where'll he be now?" asks Isak.
"Geissler? Never heard of him. Who's he?"
"Lensmand Geissler, that sold you the place first of all."
"Oh, him! Geissler was his name? Heaven knows where he is now. So you
remember him too?"
* * * * *
Blasting and working up in the hills, gangs of men at work all through
the summer--there was plenty doing about the place. Inger did a
busy trade in milk and farm produce, and it amused her--going into
business, as it were, and seeing all the many folk coming and going.
Isak tramped about with his lumbering tread, and worked on his land;
nothing disturbed him. Sivert and the two stoneworkers got the new
cowshed up. It was a fine building, but took a deal of time before it
was finished, with only three men to the work, and Sivert, moreover,
often called away to help in the fields. The mowing-machine was useful
now; and a good thing, too, to have three active women that could take
a turn at the haymaking.
All going well; there was life in the wilds now, and money growing,
And look at Storborg, the new trader's place--there was a business on
a proper scale! This Aron must be a wizard, a devil of a fellow; he
had learned somehow beforehand of the mining operations to come, and
was on the spot all ready, with his shop and store, to make the most
of it. Business? He did business enough for a whole State--ay, enough
for a king! To begin with, he sold all kinds of household utensils and
workmen's clothes; but miners earning good money are not afraid to
spend it; not content with buying necessaries only; they would buy
anything and everything. And most of all on Saturday evenings, the
trading station at Storborg was crowded with folk, and Aron raking
money in; his clerk and his wife were both called in to help behind
the counter, and Aron himself serving and selling as hard as he could
go at it--and even then the place would not be empty till late at
night. And the owners of horse-flesh in the village, they were right;
'twas a mighty carting and hauling of wares up to Storborg; more than
once they had to cut off corners of the old road and make new short
cuts--a fine new road it was at last, very different from Isak's
first narrow path up through the wilds. Aron was a blessing and a
benefactor, nothing less, with his store and his new road. His name
was not Aron really, that being only his Christian name; properly, he
was Aronsen, and so he called himself, and his wife called him the
same. They were a family not to be looked down upon, and kept two
servant-girls and a lad.
As for the land at Storborg, it remained untouched for the present.
Aronsen had no time for working on the soil--where was the sense of
digging up a barren moor? But Aronsen had a garden, with a fence all
round, and currant bushes and asters and rowans and planted trees--ay,
a real garden. There was a broad path down it, where Aronsen could
walk o' Sundays and smoke his pipe, and in the background was the
verandah of the house, with panes of coloured glass, orange and red
and blue. Storborg ... And there were children--three pretty little
things about the place. The girl was to learn to play her part as
daughter of a wealthy trader, and the boys were to learn the business
themselves--ay, three children with a future before them!
Aronsen was a man to take thought for the future, or he would not have
come there at all. He might have stuck to his fishery, and like enough
been lucky at that and made good money, but 'twas not like going into
business; nothing so fine, a thing for common folk at best. People
didn't take off their hats to a fisherman. Aronsen had rowed his boat
before, pulling at the oars; now he was going to sail instead. There
was a word he was always using: "Cash down." He used it all sorts of
ways. When things went well, they were going "cash down." His children
were to get on in the world, and live more "cash down" even than
himself. That was how he put it, meaning that they should have an
easier life of it than he had had.
And look you, things did go well; neighbours took notice of him, and
of his wife--ay, even of the children. It was not the least remarkable
thing, that folk took notice of the children. The miners came down
from their work in the hills, and had not seen a child's face for many
days; when they caught sight of Aronsen's little ones playing in the
yard, they would talk kindly to them at once, as if they had met three
puppies at play. They would have given them money, but seeing they
were the trader's children, it would hardly do. So they played music
for them on their mouth-organs instead. Young Gustaf came down, the
wildest of them all, with his hat over one ear, and his lips ever
ready with a merry word; ay, Gustaf it was that came and played with
them for long at a time. The children knew him every time, and ran to
meet them; he would pick them up and carry them on his back, all three
of them, and dance with them. "Ho!" said Gustaf, and danced with them.
And then he would take out his mouth-organ and play tunes and music
for them, till the two servant-girls would come out and look at him,
and listen, with tears in their eyes. Ay, a madcap was Gustaf, but he
knew what he was doing!
Then after a bit he would go into the shop and throw his money about,
buying up a whole knapsack full of things. And when he went back up
the road again, it was with a whole little stock-in-trade of his
own--and he would stop at Sellanraa on the way and open his pack and
show them. Notepaper with a flower in the corner, and a new pipe and
a new shirt, and a fringed neckerchief--sweets for the womenfolk, and
shiny things, a watch-chain with a compass, a pocket-knife--oh, a host
of things. Ay, there were rockets he had bought to let off on
Sunday, for every one to see. Inger gave him milk, and he joked with
Leopoldine, and picked up little Rebecca and swung her up in the
"And how's the building getting on?" he asked the Swedes--Gustaf was
a Swede himself, and made friends with them too. The building was
getting on as best it could, with but themselves to the work. Why,
then, he'd come and give them a hand himself, would Gustaf, though
that was only said in jest.
"Ay, if you only would," said Inger. For the cowshed ought to be ready
by the autumn, when the cattle were brought in.
Gustaf let off a rocket, and having let off one, there was no sense
in keeping the rest. As well let them off too--and so he did, half a
dozen of them, and the women and children stood round breathless at
the magic of the magician; and Inger had never seen a rocket before,
but the wild fire of them somehow reminded her of the great world she
had once seen. What was a sewing-machine to this? And when Gustaf
finished up by playing his mouth-organ, Inger would have gone off
along the road with him for sheer emotion....
The mine is working now, and the ore is carted down by teams of horses
to the sea; a steamer had loaded up one cargo and sailed away with it
to South America, and another steamer waits already for the next load.
Ay, 'tis a big concern. All the settlers have been up to look at the
wonderful place, as many as can walk. Brede Olsen has been up, with
his samples of stone, and got nothing for his pains, seeing that the
mining expert was gone back to Sweden again. On Sundays, there was a
crowd of people coming up all the way from the village; ay, even Axel
Stroem, who had no time to throw away, turned off from his proper road
along the telegraph line to look at the place. Hardly a soul now but
has seen the mine and its wonders. And at last Inger herself, Inger
from Sellanraa, puts on her best, gold ring and all, and goes up to
the hills. What does she want there?
Nothing, does not even care to see how the work is done. Inger has
come to show herself, that is all. When she saw the other women going
up, she felt she must go too. A disfiguring scar on her upper lip, and
grown children of her own, has Inger, but she must go as the others
did. It irks her to think of the others, young women, ay ... but she
will try if she can't compete with them all the same. She has not
begun to grow stout as yet, but has still a good figure enough, tall
and natty enough; she can still look well. True, her colouring is
not what it used to be, and her skin is not comparable to a golden
peach--but they should see for all that; ay, they should say, after
all, she was good enough!
They greet her kindly as she could wish; the workmen know her, she has
given them many a drink of milk, and they show her over the mine, the
huts, the stables and kitchens, the cellars and storesheds; the bolder
men edge in close to her and take her lightly by the arm, but Inger
does not feel hurt at all, it does her good. And where there are
steps to go up or down, she lifts her skirts high, showing her legs a
trifle; but she manages it quietly, as if without a thought. Ay, she's
good enough, think the men to themselves.
Oh, but there is something touching about her, this woman getting on
in years; plain to see that a glance from one of these warm-blooded
menfolk came all unexpectedly to her; she was grateful for it, and
returned it; she was a woman like other women, and it thrilled her to
feel so. An honest woman she had been, but like enough 'twas for lack
Getting on in years....
Gustaf came up. Left two girls from the village, and a comrade, just
to come. Gustaf knew what he was at, no doubt; he took Inger's hand
with more warmth, more pressure than was needed, and thanked her for
the last pleasant evening at Sellanraa, but he was careful not to
plague her with attention.
"Well, Gustaf, and when are you coming to help us with the building?"
says Inger, going red. And Gustaf says he will come sure enough before
long. His comrades hear it, and put in a word that they'll all be
coming down before long.
"Ho!" says Inger. "Aren't you going to stay on the mine, then, come
The men answer cautiously, that it doesn't look like it, but can't be
sure. But Gustaf is bolder, and laughs and says, looks like they've
scraped out the bit of copper there was.
"You'll not say that in earnest surely?" says Inger. And the other men
put in that Gustaf had better be careful not to say any such thing.
But Gustaf was not going to be careful; he said a great deal more, and
as for Inger, 'twas strange how he managed to win her for himself, for
all that he never seemed to put himself forward that way. One of
the other lads played a concertina, but 'twas not like Gustaf's
mouth-organ; another lad again, and a smart fellow he was too, tried
to draw attention to himself by singing a song off by heart to the
music, but that was nothing either, for all that he had a fine rolling
voice. And a little while after, there was Gustaf, and if he hadn't
got Inger's gold ring on his little finger! And how had it come about,
when he never plagued nor pushed himself forward? Oh, he was forward
enough in his way, but quiet with it all, as Inger herself; they did
not talk of things, and she let him play with her hand as if without
noticing. Later on, when she sat in one of the huts drinking coffee,
there was a noise outside, high words between the men, and she knew it
was about herself, and it warmed her. A pleasant thing to hear, for
one no longer young, for a woman getting on in years.
And how did she come home from the hills that Sunday evening? Ho, well
enough, virtuous as she had come, no more and no less. There was a
crowd of men to see her home, the crowd of them that would not turn
back as long as Gustaf was there; would not leave her alone with him,
not if they knew it! Inger had never had such a gay time, not even in
the days when she had been out in the world.
"Hadn't Inger lost something?" they asked at last.
"Lost something? No."
"A gold ring, for instance?"
And at that Gustaf had to bring it out; he was one against all, a
"Oh, 'twas a good thing you found it," said Inger, and made haste to
say good-bye to her escort. She drew nearer Sellanraa, saw the many
roofs of the buildings; it was her home that lay there. And she awoke
once more, came back to herself, like the clever wife she was, and
took a short cut through to the summer shed to look to the cattle. On
the way she passes by a place she knows; a little child had once lain
buried there; she had patted down the earth with her hands, set up a
tiny cross--oh, but it was long ago. Now, she was wondering if those
girls had finished their milking in good time....
The work at the mine goes on, but there are whisperings of something
wrong, the yield is not as good as it had promised. The mining expert,
who had gone back home, came out again with another expert to help
him; they went about blasting and boring and examining all the ground.
What was wrong? The copper is fine enough, nothing wrong with that,
but thin, and no real depth in it; getting thicker to the southward,
lying deep and fine just where the company's holding reached its
limit--and beyond that was _Almenning_, the property of the State.
Well, the first purchasers had perhaps not thought so much of the
thing, anyway. It was a family affair, some relatives who had bought
the place as a speculation; they had not troubled to secure the whole
range, all the miles to the next valley, no; they had but taken over
a patch of ground from Isak Sellanraa and Geissler, and then sold it
And what was to be done now? The leading men, with the experts and the
foremen, know well enough; they must start negotiations with the State
at once. So they send a messenger off at full speed to Sweden, with
letters and plans and charts, and ride away themselves down to the
Lensmand below, to get the rights of the fjeld south of the water. And
here their difficulties begin; the law stands in their way; they are
foreigners, and cannot be purchasers in their own right. They knew all
about that, and had made arrangements. But the southern side of the
fjeld was sold already--and that they did not know. "Sold?"
"Ay, long ago, years back."
"Who bought it then?"
"What Geissler?--oh, that fellow--h'm."
"And the title-deeds approved and registered," says the Lensmand.
"'Twas bare rock, no more, and he got it for next to nothing."
"Who is this fellow Geissler that keeps cropping up? Where is he?"
"Heaven knows where he is now!"
And a new messenger is sent off to Sweden. They must find out all
about this Geissler. Meanwhile, they could not keep on all the men;
they must wait and see.
So Gustaf came down to Sellanraa, with all his worldly goods on his
back, and here he was, he said. Ay, Gustaf had given up his work at
the mine--that is to say, he had been a trifle too outspoken the
Sunday before, about the mine and the copper in the mine; the foreman
had heard of it, and the engineer, and Gustaf was given his discharge.
Well, good-bye then, and maybe 'twas the very thing he wanted; there
could be nothing suspicious now about his coming to Sellanraa. They
set him to work at once on the cowshed.
They worked and worked at the stone walls, and when a few days later
another man came down from the mine, he was taken on too; now there
were two spells, and the work went apace. Ay, they would have it ready
by the autumn, never fear.
But now one after another of the miners came down, dismissed, and took
the road to Sweden; the trial working was stopped for the present.
There was something like a sigh from the folk in the village at the
news; foolish folk, they did not understand what a trial working was,
that it was only working on trial, but so it was. There were dark
forebodings and discouragement among the village folk; money was
scarcer, wages were reduced, things were very quiet at the trading
station at Storborg. What did it all mean? Just when everything was
going on finely, and Aronsen had got a flagstaff and a flag, and had
bought a fine white bearskin for a rug to have in the sledge for the
winter, and fine clothes for all the family ... Little matters these,
but there were greater things happening as well. Here were two new
men had bought up land for clearing in the wilds; high up between
Maaneland and Sellanraa, and that was no small event for the whole of
that little outlying community. The two new settlers had built
their turf huts and started clearing ground and digging. They were
hard-working folk, and had done much in a little time. All that summer
they had bought their provisions at Storborg, but when they came
down now, last time, there was hardly anything to be had. Nothing in
stock--and what did Aron want with heavy stocks of this and that now
the work at the mine had stopped? He had hardly anything of any sort
on the place now--only money. Of all the folk in the neighbourhood,
Aronsen was perhaps the most dejected; his reckoning was all upset.
When some one urged him to cultivate his land and live on that till
better times, he answered: "Cultivate the land? 'Twas not that I came
and set up house here for."
At last Aronsen could stand it no longer; he must go up to the mine
and see for himself how things were. It was a Sunday. When he got to
Sellanraa, he wanted Isak to go with him, but Isak had never yet set
foot on the mine since they had started; he was more at home on the
hillside below. Inger had to put in a word. "You might as well go with
Aronsen, when he asks you," she said. And maybe Inger was not sorry to
have him go; 'twas Sunday, and like as not she wanted to be rid of him
for an hour or so. And so Isak went along.
There were strange things to be seen up there in the hills; Isak did
not recognize the place at all now, with its huts and sheds, a whole
town of them, and carts and waggons and great gaping holes in the
ground. The engineer himself showed them round. Maybe he was not in
the best of humour just now, that same engineer, but he had tried
all along to keep away the feeling of gloom that had fallen upon the
village folk and the settlers round--and here was his chance, with no
less persons than the Margrave of Sellanraa and the great trader from
Storborg on the spot.
He explained the nature of the ore and the rocks in which it was
found. Copper, iron, and sulphur, all were there together. Ay, they
knew exactly what there was in the rocks up there--even gold and
silver was there, though not so much of it. A mining engineer, he
knows a deal of things.
"And it's all going to shut down now?" asked Aronsen.
"Shut down?" repeated the engineer in astonishment. "A nice thing
that'd be for South America if we did!" No, they were discontinuing
their preliminary operations for a while, only for a short time; they
had seen what the place was like, what it could produce; then they
could build their aerial railway and get to work on the southern side
of the fjeld. He turned to Isak: "You don't happen to know where this
Geissler's got to?"
Well, no matter--they'd get hold of him all right. And then they'd
start to work again. Shut down? The idea!
Isak is suddenly lost in wonder and delight over a little machine
that works with a treadle--simply move your foot and it works. He
understands it at once--'tis a little smithy to carry about on a cart
and take down and set up anywhere you please.
"What's a thing like that cost, now?" he asks.
"That? Portable forge? Oh, nothing much." They had several of the same
sort, it appeared, but nothing to what they had down at the sea; all
sorts of machines and apparatus, huge big things. Isak was given to
understand that mining, the making of valleys and enormous chasms
in the rock, was not a business that could be done with your
They stroll about the place, and the engineer mentions that he himself
will be going across to Sweden in a few days' time.
"But you'll be coming back again?" says Aronsen.
Why, of course. Knew of no reason why the Government or the police
should try to keep him.
Isak managed to lead round to the portable forge once more and
stopped, looking at it again. "And what might a bit of a machine like
that cost?" he asked.
Cost? Couldn't say off-hand--a deal of money, no doubt, but nothing to
speak of in mining operations. Oh, a grand fellow was the engineer;
not in the best of humour himself just then, perhaps, but he kept up
appearances and played up rich and fine to the last. Did Isak want a
forge? Well, he might take that one--the company would never trouble
about a little thing like that--the company would make him a present
of a portable forge!
An hour after, Aronsen and Isak were on their way down again. Aronsen
something calmer in mind--there was hope after all. Isak trundles down
the hillside with his precious forge on his back. Ay, a barge of a
man, he could bear a load! The engineer had offered to send a couple
of men down with it to Sellanraa next morning, but Isak thanked
him--'twas more than worth his while. He was thinking of his own folk;
'twould be a fine surprise for them to see him come walking down with
a smithy on his back.
But 'twas Isak was surprised after all.
A horse and cart turned into the courtyard just as he reached home.
And a highly remarkable load it brought. The driver was a man from
the village, but beside him walked a gentleman at whom Isak stared in
astonishment--it was Geissler.
There were other things that might have given Isak matter for
surprise, but he was no great hand at thinking of more than one thing
at a time. "Where's Inger?" was all he said as he passed by the
kitchen door. He was only anxious to see that Geissler was well
Inger? Inger was out plucking berries; had been out plucking berries
ever since Isak started--she and Gustaf the Swede. Ay, getting on in
years, and all in love again and wild with it; autumn and winter near,
but she felt the warmth in herself again, flowers and blossoming
again. "Come and show where there's cloudberries," said Gustaf;
"cranberries," said he. And how could a woman say no? Inger ran
into her little room and was both earnest and religious for several
minutes; but there was Gustaf standing waiting outside, the world was
at her heels, and all she did was to tidy her hair, look at herself
carefully in the glass, and out again. And what if she did? Who would
not have done the same? Oh, a woman cannot tell one man from another;
not always--not often.
And they two go out plucking berries, plucking cloudberries on the
moorland, stepping from tuft to tuft, and she lifts her skirts high,
and has her neat legs to show. All quiet everywhere; the white grouse
have their young ones grown already and do not fly up hissing any
more; they are sheltered spots where bushes grow on the moors. Less
than an hour since they started, and already they are sitting down to
rest. Says Inger: "Oh, I didn't think you were like that?" Oh, she
is all weakness towards him, and smiles piteously, being so deep in
love--ay, a sweet and cruel thing to be in love, 'tis both! Right and
proper to be on her guard--ay, but only to give in at last. Inger
is so deep in love--desperately, mercilessly; her heart is full of
kindliness towards him, she only cares to be close and precious to
Ay, a woman getting on in years....
"When the work's finished, you'll be going off again," says she.
No, he wasn't going. Well, of course, some time, but not yet, not for
a week or so.
"Hadn't we better be getting home?" says she.
They pluck more berries, and in a little while they find a sheltered
place among the bushes, and Inger says: "Gustaf, you're mad to do it."
And hours pass--they'll be sleeping now, belike, among the bushes.
Sleeping? Wonderful--far out in the wilderness, in the Garden of Eden.
Then suddenly Inger sits upright and listens: "Seems like I heard some
one down on the road away off?"
The sun is setting, the tufts of heather darkening in shadow as they
walk home. They pass by many sheltered spots, and Gustaf sees them,
and Inger, she sees them too no doubt, but all the time she feels as
if some one were driving ahead of them. Oh, but who could walk all the
way home with a wild handsome lad, and be on her guard all the time?
Inger is too weak, she can only smile and say: "I never knew such a
She comes home alone. And well that she came just then, a fortunate
thing. A minute later had not been well at all. Isak had just come
into the courtyard with his forge, and Aronsen--and there is a horse
and cart just pulled up.
"_Goddag_," says Geissler, greeting Inger as well. And there they
stand, all looking one at another--couldn't be better....
Geissler back again. Years now since he was there, but he is back
again, aged a little, greyer a little, but bright and cheerful as
ever. And finely dressed this time, with a white waistcoat and gold
chain across. A man beyond understanding!
Had he an inkling, maybe, that something was going on up at the mine,
and wanted to see for himself? Well, here he was. Very wide awake to
look at, glancing round at the place, at the land, turning his head
and using his eyes every way. There are great changes to note; the
Margrave had extended his domains. And Geissler nods.
"What's that you're carrying?" he asks Isak. "'Tis a load for one
horse in itself," says he.
"'Tis for a forge," explains Isak. "And a mighty useful thing to have
on a bit of a farm," says he--ay, calling Sellanraa a bit of a farm,
"Where did you get hold of it?"
"Up at the mine. Engineer, he gave me the thing for a present, he
"The company's engineer?" says Geissler, as if he had not understood.
And Geissler, was he to be outdone by an engineer on a copper mine?
"I've heard you'd got a mowing-machine," says he, "and I've brought
along a patent raker thing that's handy to have." And he points to the
load on the cart. There it stood, red and blue, a huge comb, a hayrake
to be driven with horses. They lifted it out of the cart and looked at
it; Isak harnessed himself to the thing and tried it over the ground.
No wonder his mouth opened wide! Marvel on marvel coming to Sellanraa!
They spoke of the mine, of the work up in the hills. "They were asking
about you, quite a lot," said Isak.
"The engineer, and all the other gentlemen. 'Have to get hold of you
somehow,' they said."
Oh, but here Isak was saying overmuch, it seemed. Geissler was
offended, no doubt; he turned sharp and curt, and said: "Well, I'm
here, if they want me."
Next day came the two messengers back from Sweden, and with them a
couple of the mine-owners; on horseback they were, fine gentlemen and
portly; mighty rich folk, by the look of them. They hardly stopped
at Sellanraa at all, simply asked a question or so about the road,
without dismounting, and rode on up the hill. Geissler they pretended
not to see, though he stood quite close. The messengers with their
loaded packhorses rested for an hour, talked to the men at work on the
building, learned that the old gentleman in the white waistcoat and
gold chain was Geissler, and then they too went on again. But that
same evening one of them came riding down to the place with a message
by word of mouth for Geissler to come up to the gentlemen at the
mines. "I'm here if they want me," was the answer Geissler sent back.
Geissler was grown an important personage, it seemed; thought himself
a man of power, of all the power in the world; considered it, perhaps,
beneath his dignity to be sent for by word of mouth. But how was it he
had come to Sellanraa at all just then--just when he was most wanted?
A great one he must be for knowing things, all manner of things.
Anyway, when the gentlemen up at the mine had Geissler's answer, there
was nothing for it but they must bestir themselves and come all the
way down to Sellanraa again. The engineer and the two mining experts
came with them.
So many crooked ways and turnings were there before that meeting
was brought about. It looked ill to start with; ay, Geissler was
over-lordly by far.
The gentlemen were polite enough this time; begged him to excuse their
having sent a verbal message the day before, being tired out after
their journey. Geissler was polite in return, and said he too was
tired out after his journey, or he would have come. Well, and then, to
get to business; Would Geissler sell the land south of the water?
"Do you wish to purchase on your own account, may I ask," said
Geissler, "or are you acting as agents?"
Now this could be nothing but sheer contrariness on Geissler's part;
he could surely see for himself that rich and portly gentlemen of
their stamp would not be acting as agents. They went on to discuss
terms. "What about the price?" said they.
"The price?--yes," said Geissler, and sat thinking it over. "A couple
of million," said he.
"Indeed?" said the gentlemen, and smiled. But Geissler did not smile.
The engineer and the two experts had made a rough investigation of the
ground, made a few borings and blastings, and here was their report:
the occurrence of ore was due to eruption; it was irregular, and
from their preliminary examination appeared to be deepest in the
neighbourhood of the boundary between the company's land and
Geissler's decreasing from there onwards. For the last mile or so
there was no ore to be found worth working.
Geissler listened to all this with the greatest nonchalance. He took
some papers from his pocket, and looked at them carefully; but the
papers were not charts nor maps--like as not they were things no way
connected with the mine at all.
"You haven't gone deep enough," said he, as if it were something he
had read in his papers. The gentlemen admitted that at once, but
the engineer asked: How did he know that--"You haven't made borings
yourself, I suppose?"
And Geissler smiled, as if he had bored hundreds of miles down through
the globe, and covered up the holes again after.
They kept at it till noon, talking it over this way and that, and at
last began to look at their watches. They had brought Geissler down to
half a million now, but not a hair's breadth farther. No; they must
have put him out sorely some way or other. They seemed to think he was
anxious to sell, obliged to sell, but he was not--ho, not a bit; there
he sat, as easy and careless as themselves, and no mistaking it.
"Fifteen, say twenty thousand would be a decent price anyway," said
Geissler agreed that might be a decent price enough for any one sorely
in need of the money, but five-and-twenty thousand would be better.
And then one of the gentlemen put in--saying it perhaps by way of
keeping Geissler from soaring too far: "By the way, I've seen your
wife's people in Sweden--they sent their kind regards."
"Thank you," said Geissler.
"Well," said the other gentleman, seeing Geissler was not to be won
over that way, "a quarter of a million ... it's not gold we're buying,
but copper ore."
"Exactly," said Geissler. "It's copper ore."
And at that they lost patience, all of them, and five watch-cases were
opened and snapped to again; no more time to fool away now; it was
time for dinner. They did not ask for food at Sellanraa, but rode back
to the mine to get their own.
And that was the end of the meeting.
Geissler was left alone.
What would be in his mind all this time--what was he pondering and
speculating about? Nothing at all, maybe, but only idle and careless?
No, indeed, he was thinking of something, but calm enough for all
that. After dinner, he turned to Isak, and said: "I'm going for a long
walk over my land up there; and I'd have liked to have Sivert with me,
same as last time."
"Ay, so you shall," said Isak at once.
"No; he's other things to do, just now."
"He shall go with you at once," said Isak, and called to Sivert to
leave his work. But Geissler held up his hand, and said shortly: "No."
He walked round the yard several times, came back and talked to the
men at their work, chatting easily with them and going off and coming
back again. And all the time with this weighty matter on his mind, yet
talking as if it were nothing at all. Geissler had long been so long
accustomed to changes of fortune, maybe he was past feeling there was
anything at stake now, whatever might be in the air.
Here he was, the man he was, by the merest chance. He had sold the
first little patch of land to his wife's relations, and what then?
Gone off and bought up the whole tract south of the water--what for?
Was it to annoy them by making himself their neighbour? At first, no
doubt, he had only thought of taking over a little strip of the land
there, just where the new village would have to be built if the
workings came to anything, but in the end he had come to be owner of
the whole fjeld. The land was to be had for next to nothing, and he
did not want a lot of trouble with boundaries. So, from sheer idleness
he had become a mining king, a lord of the mountains; he had thought
of a site for huts and machine sheds, and it had become a kingdom,
stretching right down to the sea.
In Sweden, the first little patch of land had passed from hand to
hand, and Geissler had taken care to keep himself informed as to its
fate. The first purchasers, of course, had bought foolishly, bought
without sense or forethought; the family council were not mining
experts, they had not secured enough land at first, thinking only of
buying out a certain Geissler, and getting rid of him. But the new
owners were no less to be laughed at; mighty men, no doubt, who could
afford to indulge in a jest, and take up land for amusement's sake,
for a drunken wager, or Heaven knows what. But when it came to trial
workings, and exploiting the land in earnest, then suddenly they found
themselves butting up against a wall--Geissler.
Children! thought Geissler, maybe, in his lofty mind; he felt his
power now, felt strong enough to be short and abrupt with folk. The
others had certainly done their best to take him down a peg; they
imagined they were dealing with a man in need of money, and threw out
hints of some fifteen or twenty thousand--ay, children. They did not
know Geissler. And now here he stood.
They came down no more that day from the fjeld, thinking best, no
doubt, not to show themselves over-anxious. Next morning they came
down, packhorses and all, on their way home. And lo--Geissler was not
That put an end to any ideas they might have had of settling the
manner in lordly wise, from the saddle; they had to dismount and wait.
And where was Geissler, if you please? Nobody could tell them; he went
about everywhere, did Geissler, took an interest in Sellanraa and all
about it; the last they had seen of him was up at the sawmill. The
messengers were sent out to look for him, but Geissler must have gone
some distance, it seemed, for he gave no answer when they shouted. The
gentlemen looked at their watches, and were plainly annoyed at first,
and said: "We're not going to fool about here waiting like this. If
Geissler wants to sell, he must be on the spot." Oh, but they changed
their tone in a little while; showed no annoyance after a while, but
even began to find something amusing in it all, to jest about it. Here
were they in a desperate case; they would have to lie out there in
the desolate hills all night. And get lost and starve to death in the
wilds, and leave their bones to bleach undiscovered by their mourning
kin--ay, they made a great jest of it all.
At last Geissler came. Had been looking round a bit--just come from
the cattle enclosure. "Looks as if that'll be too small for you soon,"
said he to Isak. "How many head have you got up there now altogether?"
Ay, he could talk like that, with those fine gentlemen standing there
watch in hand. Curiously red in the face was Geissler, as if he had
been drinking. "Puh!" said he. "I'm all hot, walking."
"We half expected you would be here when we came," said one of the
"I had no word of your wanting to see me at all," answered Geissler,
"otherwise I might have been here on the spot."
Well, and what about the business now? Was Geissler prepared to accept
a reasonable offer today? It wasn't every day he had a chance of
fifteen or twenty thousand--what? Unless, of course.... If the money
were nothing to him, why, then....
This last suggestion was not to Geissler's taste at all; he was
offended. A nice way to talk! Well, they would not have said it,
perhaps, if they had not been annoyed at first; and Geissler, no
doubt, would hardly have turned suddenly pale at their words if he had
not been out somewhere by himself and got red. As it was, he paled,
and answered coldly:
"I don't wish to make any suggestion as to what you, gentlemen, may be
in a position to pay--but I know what I am willing to accept and what
not. I've no use for more child's prattle about the mine. My price is
the same as yesterday."
"A quarter of a million _Kroner_?"
The gentlemen mounted their horses." Look here," said one, "we'll go
this far, and say twenty-five thousand."
"You're still inclined to joke, I see," said Geissler. "But I'll make
_you_ an offer in sober earnest: would you care to sell your bit of a
mine up there?"
"Why," said they, somewhat taken aback--"why, we might do that,
"I'm ready to buy it," said Geissler.
Oh, that Geissler! With the courtyard full of people now, listening
to every word; all the Sellanraa folk, and the stoneworkers and the
messengers. Like as not, he could never have raised the money, nor
anything near it, for such a deal; but, again, who could say? A man
beyond understanding was Geissler. Anyhow, his last words rather
disconcerted those gentlemen on horseback. Was it a trick? Did he
reckon to make his own land seem worth more by this manoeuvre?
The gentlemen thought it over; ay, they even began to talk softly
together about it; they got down from their horses again. Then the
engineer put in a word; he thought, no doubt, it was getting beyond
all bearing. And he seemed to have some power, some kind of authority
here. And the yard was full of folk all listening to what was going
on. "We'll not sell," said he.
"Not?" asked his companions.
They whispered together again, and they mounted their horses once
more--in earnest this time. "Twenty-five thousand!" called out one of
them. Geissler did not answer, but turned away, and went over to talk
to the stoneworkers again.
And that was the end of their last meeting.
Geissler appeared to care nothing for what might come of it. He walked
about talking of this, that, and the other; for the moment he seemed
chiefly interested in the laying of some heavy beams across the shell
of the new cowhouse. They were to get the work finished that week,
with a temporary roof--a new fodder loft was to be built up over later
Isak kept Sivert away from the building work now, and left him
idle--and this he did with a purpose, that Geissler might find the lad
ready at any time if he wanted to go exploring with him in the hills.
But Isak might have saved himself the trouble; Geissler had given up
the idea, or perhaps forgotten all about it. What he did was to get
Inger to pack him up some food, and set off down the road. He stayed
away till evening.
He passed the two new clearings that had been started below Sellanraa,
and talked to the men there; went right down to Maaneland to see what
Axel Stroem had got done that year. Nothing very great, it seemed; not
as much as he might have wished, but he had put in some good work on
the land. Geissler took an interest in this place, too, and asked him:
"Got a horse?"
"Well, I've a mowing-machine and a harrow down south, both new; I'll
send them up, if you like."
"How?" asked Axel, unable to conceive such magnificence, and thinking
vaguely of payment by instalments.
"I mean I'll make you a present of them," said Geissler.
"'Tis hard to believe," said Axel.
"But you'll have to help those two neighbours of yours up above,
breaking new land."
"Ay, never fear for that," said Axel; he could still hardly make out
what Geissler meant by it all. "So you've machines and things down
"I've a deal of things to look after," said Geissler. Now, as a matter
of fact, Geissler had no great deal of things to look after, but he
liked to make it appear so. As for a mowing-machine and a harrow, he
could buy them in any of the towns, and send up from there.
He stayed talking a long while with Axel Stroem about the other
settlers near; of Storborg, the trading station; of Axel's brother,
newly married, who had come to Breidablik, and had started draining
the moors and getting the water out. Axel complained that it was
impossible to get a woman anywhere to help; he had none but an old
creature, by name Oline; not much good at the best of times, but he
might be thankful to have her as long as she stayed. Axel had been
working day and night part of that summer. He might, perhaps, have got
a woman from his own parts, from Helgeland, but that would have meant
paying for her journey, besides wages. A costly business all round.
Axel further told how he had taken over the inspection of the
telegraph line, but rather wished he had left it alone.
"That sort of thing's only fit for Brede and his like," said Geissler.
"Ay, that's a true word," Axel admitted. "But there was the money to
"How many cows have you got?"
"Four. And a young bull. 'Twas too far to go up to Sellanraa to
But there was a far weightier matter Axel badly wanted to talk over
with Geissler; Barbro's affair had come to light, somehow, and an
investigation was in progress. Come to light? Of course it had. Barbro
had been going about, evidently with child and plain to see, and she
had left the place by herself all unencumbered and no child at all.
How had it come about?
When Geissler understood what the matter was, he said quite shortly:
"Come along with me." And he led Axel with him away from the house.
Geissler put on an important air, as one in authority. They sat down
at the edge of the wood, and Geissler said: "Now, then, tell me all
Come to light? Of course it had; how could it be helped? The place was
no longer a desert, with never a soul for miles; and, moreover, Oline
was there. What had Oline to do with it? Ho! and, to make things
worse, Brede Olsen had made an enemy of her himself. No means of
getting round Oline now; here she was on the spot, and could worm
things out of Axel a bit at a time. 'Twas just such underhand work she
lived for; ay, lived by, in some degree. And here was the very thing
for her--trust Oline for scenting it out! Truth to tell, Oline was
grown too old now to keep house and tend cattle at Maaneland; she
ought to have given it up. But how could she? How could she leave a
place where a fine, deep mystery lay simply waiting to be brought to
light? She managed the winter's work; ay, she got through the summer,
too, and it was a marvel of strength she gained from the mere thought
of being able one day to show up a daughter of Brede himself. The snow
was not gone from the fields that spring before Oline began poking
about. She found the little green mound by the stream, and saw at once
that the turf had been laid down in squares. She had even had the luck
to come upon Axel one day standing by the little grave, and treading
it down. So Axel knew all about it! And Oline nodded her grey
head--ay, it was her turn now!
Not but Axel was a kindly man enough to live with, but miserly;
counted his cheeses, and kept good note of every tuft of wool; Oline
could not do as she liked with things, not by a long way. And then
that matter of the accident last year, when she had saved him--if Axel
had been the right sort, he would have given her the credit for it
all, and acknowledged his debt to her alone. But not a bit of it--Axel
still held to the division he had made on the spot. Ay, he would say,
if Oline hadn't happened to come along, he would have had to lie out
there in the cold all night; but Brede, he'd been a good help too, on
the way home. And that was all the thanks she got! Oline was full of
indignation--surely the Lord Almighty must turn away His face from His
creatures! How easy it would have been for Axel to lead out a cow from
its stall, and bring it to her and say: "Here's a cow for you, Oline."
But no. Not a word of it.
Well, let him wait--wait and see if it might not come to cost him more
than the worth of a cow in the end!
All through that summer, Oline kept a look-out for every passer-by,
and whispered to them and nodded and confided things to them in
secret. "But never a word I've said," so she charged them every time.
Oline went down to the village, too, more than once. And now there
were rumours and talk of things about the place, ay, drifting like a
fog, settling on faces and getting into ears; even the children going
to school at Breidablik began nodding secrets among themselves. And at
last the Lensmand had to take it up; had to bestir himself and report
it, and ask for instructions. Then he came up with a book to write
in and an assistant to help him; came up to Maaneland one day and
investigated things and wrote things down, and went back again. But
three weeks after, he came up once more, investigating and writing
down again, and this time, he opened a little green mound by the
stream, and took out the body of a child. Oline was an invaluable help
to him; and in return he had to answer a host of questions she put.
Among other things, he said yes, it might perhaps come to having Axel
arrested too. At that, Oline clasped her hands in dismay at all the
wickedness she had got mixed up with here, and only wished she were
out of the place, far away from it all. "But the girl," she whispered,
"what about Barbro herself?"
"The girl Barbro," said the Lensmand, "she's under arrest now in
Bergen. The law must take its course," said he. And he took the little
body and went back again to the village....
Little wonder, then, that Axel Stroem was anxious. He had spoken out to
the Lensmand and denied nothing; he was in part responsible for the
coming of the child at all, and in addition, he had dug a grave for
it. And now he was asking Geissler what he had better do next. Would
he have to go in to the town, to a new and worse examination, and be
Geissler was not the man he had been--no; and the long story had
wearied him, he seemed duller now, whatever might be the cause. He was
not the bright and confident soul he had been that morning. He looked
at his watch, got up, and said:
"This'll want thinking over. I'll go into it thoroughly and let you
know before I leave."
And Geissler went off.
He came back to Sellanraa that evening, had a little supper, and went
to bed. Slept till late next morning, slept, rested thoroughly; he was
tired, no doubt, after his meeting with the Swedish mine-owners. Not
till two days after did he make ready to leave. He was his lordly self
again by then, paid liberally for his keep, and gave little Rebecca a
He made a speech to Isak, and said: "It doesn't matter in the least if
nothing came of the deal this time, it'll come all right later on. For
the present, I'm going to stop the working up there and leave it a
bit. As for those fellows--children! Thought they would teach me, did
they? Did you hear what they offered me? Twenty-five thousand!"
"Ay," said Isak.
"Well," said Geissler, and waved his hand as if dismissing all
impertinent offers of insignificant sums from his mind, "well, it
won't do any harm to the district if I do stop the working there a
bit--on the contrary, it'll teach folk to stick to their land. But
they'll feel it in the village. They made a pile of money there last
summer; fine clothes and fine living for all--but there's an end of
that now. Ay, it might have been worth their while, the good folks
down there, to have kept in with me; things might have been different
then. Now, it'll be as I please."
But for all that, he did not look much of a man to control the fate of
villages, as he went away. He carried a parcel of food in his hand,
and his white waistcoat was no longer altogether clean. His good wife
might have equipped him for the journey up this time out of the rest
of the forty thousand she had once got--who could say, perhaps she
had. Anyhow, he was going back poor enough.
He did not forget to look in at Axel Stroem on the way down, and give
the results of his thinking over. "I've been looking at it every way,"
said he. "The matter's in abeyance for the present, so there's nothing
to be done just yet. You'll be called up for a further examination,
and you'll have to say how things are...."
Words, nothing more. Geissler had probably never given the matter a
thought at all. And Axel agreed dejectedly to all he said. But at last
Geissler flickered up into a mighty man again, puckered his brows, and
said thoughtfully: "Unless, perhaps, I could manage to come to town
myself and watch the proceedings."
"Ay, if you'd be so good," said Axel.
Geissler decided in a moment. "I'll see if I can manage it, if I can
get the time. But I've a heap of things to look after down south. I'll
come if I can. Good-bye for now. I'll send you those machines all
And Geissler went.
Would he ever come again?
The rest of the workmen came down from the mine. Work is stopped. The
fjeld lies dead again.
The building at Sellanraa, too, is finished now. There is a makeshift
roof of turf put on for the winter; the great space beneath is divided
into rooms, bright apartments, a great salon in the middle and large
rooms at either end, as if it were for human beings. Here Isak once
lived in a turf hut together with a few goats--there is no turf hut to
be seen now at Sellanraa.
Loose boxes, mangers, and bins are fitted up. The two stoneworkers
are still busy, kept on to get the whole thing finished as soon as
possible, but Gustaf is no hand at woodwork, so he says, and he is
leaving. Gustaf has been a splendid lad at the stonework, heaving and
lifting like a bear; and in the evenings, a joy and delight to all,
playing his mouth-organ, not to speak of helping the womenfolk,
carrying heavy pails to and from the river. But he is going now. No,
Gustaf is no hand at woodwork, so he says. It looks almost as if he
were in a hurry to get away.
"Can't it wait till tomorrow?" says Inger.
No, it can't wait, he's no more work to do here, and besides, going
now, he will have company across the hills, going over with the last;
gang from the mines.
"And who's to help me with my buckets now?" says Inger, smiling sadly.
But Gustaf is never at a loss, he has his answer ready, and says
"Hjalmar." Now Hjalmar was the younger of the two stoneworkers, but
neither of them was young as Gustaf himself, none like him in any way.
"Hjalmar--huh!" says Inger contemptuously. Then suddenly she changes
her tone, and turns to Gustaf, thinking to make him jealous. "Though,
after all, he's nice to have on the place, is Hjalmar," says she, "and
so prettily he sings and all."
"Don't think much of him, anyway," says Gustaf. He does not seem
jealous in the least.
"But you might stay one more night at least?"
No, Gustaf couldn't stay one more night--he was going across with the
Ay, maybe Gustaf was getting tired of the game by now. 'Twas a fine
thing to snap her up in front of all the rest, and have her for his
own the few weeks he was there--but he was going elsewhere now, like
as not to a sweetheart at home--he had other things in view. Was he to
stay on loafing about here for the sake of her? He had reason enough
for bringing the thing to an end, as she herself must know; but she
was grown so bold, so thoughtless of any consequence, she seemed to
care for nothing. No, things had not held for so very long between
them--but long enough to last out the spell of his work there.
Inger is sad and down-hearted enough; ay, so erringly faithful that
she mourns for him. 'Tis hard for her; she is honestly in love,
without any thought of vanity or conquest. And not ashamed, no; she
is a strong woman full of weakness; she is but following the law of
nature all about her; it is the glow of autumn in her as in all things
else. Her breast heaves with feeling as she packs up food for Gustaf
to take with him. No thought of whether she has the right, of whether
she dare risk this or that; she gives herself up to it entirely,
hungry to taste, to enjoy. Isak might lift her up to the roof and
thrust her to the floor again--ay, what of that! It would not make her
feel the less.
She goes out with the parcel to Gustaf.
Now she had set the bucket by the steps on purpose, in case he should
care to go with her to the river just once more. Maybe she would like
to say something, to give him some little thing--her gold ring; Heaven
knows, she was in a state to do anything. But there must be an end of
it some time; Gustaf thanks her, says good-bye, and goes.
And there she stands.
"Hjalmar!" she calls out aloud--oh, so much louder than she need. As
if she were determined to be gay in spite of all--or crying out in
Gustaf goes on his way....
* * * * *
All through that autumn there was the usual work in the fields all
round, right away down to the village: potatoes to be taken up, corn
to be got in, the horned cattle let loose over the ground. Eight
farms there are now and all are busy; but at the trading station, at
Storborg, there are no cattle, and no green lands, only a garden. And
there is no trade there now, and nothing for any to be busy about
They have a new root crop at Sellanraa called turnips, sending up a
colossal growth of green waving leaves out of the earth, and nothing
can keep the cows away from them--the beasts break down all hedgework,
and storm in, bellowing. Nothing for it but to set Leopoldine and
little Rebecca to keep guard over the turnip fields, and little
Rebecca walks about with a big stick in her hand and is a wonder at
driving cows away. Her father is at work close by; now and again
he comes up to feel her hands and feet, and ask if she is cold.
Leopoldine is big and grown up now; she can knit stockings and mittens
for the winter while she is watching the herds. Born in Trondhjem, was
Leopoldine, and came to Sellanraa five years old. But the memory of
a great town with many people and of a long voyage on a steamer is
slipping away from her now, growing more and more distant; she is a
child of the wilds and knows nothing now of the great world beyond the
village down below where she has been to church once or twice, and
where she was confirmed the year before....
And the little casual work of every day goes on, with this thing and
that to be done beside; as, for instance, the road down below, that is
getting bad one or two places. The ground is still workable, and Isak
goes down one day with Sivert, ditching and draining the road. There
are two patches of bog to be drained.
Axel Stroem has promised to take part in the work, seeing that he has a
horse and uses the road himself--but Axel had pressing business in the
town just then. Heaven knows what it could be, but very pressing, he
said it was. But he had asked his brother from Breidablik to work with
them in his stead.
Fredrik was this brother's name. A young man, newly married, a
light-hearted fellow who could make a jest, but none the worse for
that; Sivert and he are something alike. Now Fredrik had looked in at
Storborg on his way up that morning, Aronsen of Storborg being his
nearest neighbour, and he is full of all the trader has been telling
him. It began this way; Fredrik wanted a roll of tobacco. "I'll give
you a roll of tobacco when I have one," said Aronsen.
"What, you've no tobacco in the place?"
"No, nor won't order any. There's nobody to buy it. What d'you think I
make out of one roll of tobacco?"
Ay, Aronsen had been in a nasty humour that morning, sure enough; felt
he had been cheated somehow by that Swedish mining concern. Here had
he set up a store out in the wilds, and then they go and shut down the
Fredrik smiles slyly at Aronsen, and makes fun of him now. "He's not
so much as touched that land of his," says he, "and hasn't even feed
for his beasts, but must go and buy it. Asked me if I'd any hay to
sell. No, I'd no hay to sell. 'Ho, d'you mean you don't want to make
money?' said Aronsen. Thinks money's everything in the world, seems
like. Puts down a hundred-_Krone_ note on the counter, and says
'Money!' 'Ay, money's well enough,' says I. 'Cash down,' says he. Ay,
he's just a little bit touched that way, so to speak, and his wife she
goes about with a watch and chain and all on weekdays--Lord He knows
what can be she's so set on remembering to the minute."
Says Sivert: "Did Aronsen say anything about a man named Geissler?"
"Ay. Said something about he'd be wanting to sell some land he'd
got. And Aronsen was wild about it, he was--'fellow that used to be
Lensmand and got turned out,' he said, and 'like as not without so
much as a five _Krone_ in his books, and ought to be shot!' 'Ay, but
wait a bit,' says I, 'and maybe he'll sell after all.' 'Nay,' says
Aronsen, 'don't you believe it. I'm a business man,' says he, 'and
I know--when one party puts up a price of two hundred and fifty
thousand, and the other offers twenty-five thousand, there's too big a
difference; there'll be no deal ever come out of that. Well, let 'em
go their own way, and see what comes of it,' says he. 'I only wish I'd
never set my foot in this hole, and a poor thing it's been for me and
mine.' Then I asked him if he didn't think of selling out himself.
'Ay,' says he, 'that's just what I'm thinking of. This bit of
bogland,' says he, 'a hole and a desert--I'm not making a single
_Krone_ the whole day now,' says he."
They laughed at Aronsen, and had no pity for him at all.
"Think he'll sell out?" asks Isak.
"Well, he did speak of it. And he's got rid of the lad he had already.
Ay, a curious man, a queer sort of man, that Aronsen, 'tis sure. Sends
away his lad could be working on the place getting in winter fuel and
carting hay with that horse of his, but keeps on his storeman--chief
clerk, he calls him. 'Tis true enough, as he says, not selling so much
as a _Krone_ all day, for he's no stock in the place at all. And what
does he want with a chief clerk, then? I doubt it'll be just by way of
looking grand and making a show, must have a man there to stand at a
desk and write up things in books. Ha ha ha! ay, looks like he's just
a little bit touched that way, is Aronsen."
The three men worked till noon, ate food from their baskets, and
talked a while. They had matters of their own to talk over, matters of
good and ill to folk on the land; no trifles, to them, but things to
be discussed warily; they are clear-minded folk, their nerves unworn,
and not flying out where they should not. It is the autumn season now,
a silence in the woods all round; the hills are there, the sun is
there, and at evening the moon and the stars will come; all regular
and certain, full of kindliness, an embrace. Men have time to rest
here, to lie in the heather, with an arm for a pillow.
Fredrik talks of Breidablik, how 'tis but little he's got done there
"Nay," says Isak, "'tis none so little already, I saw when I was down
This was praise from the oldest among them, the giant himself, and
Fredrik might well be pleased. He asks frankly enough: "Did you think
so, now? Well, it'll be better before long. I've had a deal of things
to hinder this year; the house to do up, being leaky and like to fall
to pieces; hayloft to take down and put up again, and no sort of room
in the turf hut for beasts, seeing I'd cow and heifer more than Brede
he'd ever had in his time," says Fredrik proudly.
"And you're thriving like, up here?" asks Isak.
"Ay, I'll not say no. And wife, she's thriving too, why shouldn't we?
There's good room and outlook all about; we can see up and down the
road both ways. And a neat little copse by the house all pretty to
look at, birch and willow--I'll plant a bit more other side of the
house when I've time. And it's fine to see how the bogland's dried
only since last year's ditching--'tis all a question now what'll grow
on her this year. Ay, thrive? When we've house and home and land and
all--'tis enough for the two of us surely."
"Ho," says Sivert slyly, "and the two of you--is that all there's ever
"Why, as to that," says Fredrik bravely, "'tis like enough there'll
be more to come. And as to thriving--well, the wife's not falling off
anyway, by the looks of her."
They work on until evening, drawing up now and again to straighten
their backs, and exchange a word or so.
"And so you didn't get the tobacco?" says Sivert.
"No, that's true. But 'twas no loss, for I've no use for it, anyway,"
"No use for tobacco?"
"Nay. 'Twas but for to drop in at Aronsen's like, and hear what he'd
got to say." And the two jesters laughed together at that.
On the way home, father and son talk little, as was their way; but
Isak must have been thinking out something for himself; he says:
"Ay?" says Sivert again.
"Nay, 'twas nothing."
They walk on a good ways, and Isak begins again:
"How's he get on, then, with his trading, Aronsen, when he's nothing
to trade with?"
"Nay," says Sivert. "But there's not folk enough here now for him to
"Ho, you think so? Why, I suppose 'tis so, ay, well...."
Sivert wondered a little at this. After a while his father went on
"There's but eight places now in all, but there might be more before
long. More ... well, I don't know...."
Sivert wondering more than ever--what can his father be getting at?
The pair of them walk on a long way in silence; they are nearly home
"H'm," says Isak. "What you think Aronsen he'd ask for that place of
"Ho, that's it!" says Sivert. "Want to buy it, do you?" he asks
jestingly. But suddenly he understands what it all means: 'tis Eleseus
the old man has in mind. Oh, he's not forgotten him after all, but
kept him faithfully in mind, just as his mother, only in his own way,
nearer earth, and nearer to Sellanraa.
"'Twill be going for a reasonable price, I doubt," says Sivert. And
when Sivert says so much, his father knows the lad has read his
thought. And as if in fear of having spoken out too clearly, he falls
to talking of their road-mending; a good thing they had got it done at
For a couple of days after that, Sivert and his mother were putting
their heads together and holding councils and whispering--ay, they
even wrote a letter. And when Saturday came round Sivert suddenly
wanted to go down to the village.
"What you want to go down village again for now?" said his father in
displeasure. "Wearing boots to rags...." Oh, Isak was more bitter than
need be; he knew well enough that Sivert was going to the post.
"Going to church," says Sivert.
'Twas all he could find by way of excuse, and his father muttered:"
Well, what you want to go for ...?"
But if Sivert was going to church, why, he might harness up and take
little Rebecca with him. Little Rebecca, ay, surely she might have
that bit of a treat for once in her life, after being so clever
guarding turnips and being all ways the pearl and blessing of them
all, ay, that she was. And they harnessed up, and Rebecca had the maid
Jensine to look after her on the way, and Sivert said never a word
against that either.
While they are away, it so happens that Aronsen's man, his chief
clerk, from Storborg, comes up the road. What does this mean? Why,
nothing very much, 'tis only Andresen, the chief clerk from Storborg,
come up for a bit of a walk this way--his master having sent him.
Nothing more. And no great excitement among the folk at Sellanraa over
that--'twas not as in the old days, when a stranger was a rare sight
on their new land, and Inger made a great to-do. No, Inger's grown
quieter now, and keeps to herself these days.
A strange thing that book of devotion, a guide upon the way, an arm
round one's neck, no less. When Inger had lost hold of herself a
little, lost her way a little out plucking berries, she found her way
home again by the thought of her little chamber and the holy book; ay,
she was humble now and a Godfearing soul. She can remember long
years ago when she would say an evil word if she pricked her finger
sewing--so she had learned to do from her fellow-workers round the big
table in the Institute. But now she pricks her finger, and it bleeds,
and she sucks the blood away in silence. 'Tis no little victory gained
to change one's nature so. And Inger did more than that. When all the
workmen were gone, and the stone building was finished, and Sellanraa
was all forsaken and still, then came a critical time for Inger; she