Part 7 out of 9
cried a deal, and suffered much. She blamed none but herself for it
all, and she was deeply humbled. If only she could have spoken out to
Isak, and relieved her mind, but that was not their way at Sellanraa;
there was none of them would talk their feelings and confess things.
All she could do was to be extra careful in the way she asked her
husband to come in to meals, going right up to him to say it nicely,
instead of shouting from the door. And in the evenings, she looked
over his clothes, and sewed buttons on. Ay, and even more she did. One
night she lifted up on her elbow and said:
"What is it?" says Isak.
"Are you awake?"
"Nay, 'twas nothing," says Inger. "But I've not been all as I ought."
"What?" says Isak. Ay, so much he said, and rose up on his elbow in
They lay there, and went on talking. Inger is a matchless woman, after
all; and with a full heart, "I've not been as I ought towards you,"
she says, "and I'm that sorry about it."
The simple words move him; this barge of a man is touched, ay, he
wants to comfort her, knowing nothing of what is the matter, but only
that there is none like her. "Naught to cry about, my dear," says
Isak. "There's none of us can be as we ought."
"Nay, 'tis true," she answers gratefully. Oh, Isak had a strong, sound
way of taking things; straightened them out, he did, when they turned
crooked. "None of us can be as we ought." Ay, he was right. The god of
the heart--for all that he is a god, he goes a deal of crooked ways,
goes out adventuring, the wild thing that he is, and we can see it in
his looks. One day rolling in a bed of roses and licking his lips and
remembering things; next day with a thorn in his foot, desperately
trying to get it out. Die of it? Never a bit, he's as well as ever. A
nice look-out it would be if he were to die!
And Inger's trouble passed off too; she got over it, but she keeps
on with her hours of devotion, and finds a merciful refuge there.
Hard-working and patient and good she is now every day, knowing Isak
different from all other men, and wanting none but him. No gay young
spark of a singer, true, in his looks and ways, but good enough, ay,
good enough indeed! And once more it is seen that the fear of the Lord
and contentment therewith are a precious gain.
And now it was that the little chief clerk from Storborg, Andresen,
came up to Sellanraa one Sunday, and Inger was not in the least
affected, far from it; she did not so much as go in herself to give
him a mug of milk, but sent Leopoldine in with it, by reason that
Jensine the maid was out. And Leopoldine could carry a mug of milk as
well as need be, and she gave it him and said, "Here you are," and
blushed, for all she was wearing her Sunday clothes and had nothing to
be ashamed of, anyway.
"Thanks, 'tis overkind of you," says Andresen. "Is your father at
home?" says he.
"Ay; he'll be about the place somewhere."
Andresen drank and wiped his mouth with a handkerchief and looked at
the time. "Is it far up to the mines?" he asked.
"No, 'tis an hour's walk, or hardly that."
"I'm going up to look over them, d'you see, for him, Aronsen--I'm his
"You'll know me yourself, no doubt; I'm Aronsen's chief clerk. You've
been down buying things at our place before."
"And I remember you well enough," says Andresen. "You've been down
twice buying things."
"'Tis more than could be thought, you'd remember that," says
Leopoldine, and had no more strength after that, but stood holding by
But Andresen had strength enough, he went on, and said: "Remember you?
Well, of course I should." And he said more:
"You wouldn't like to walk up to the mine with me?" said he.
And a little after something went wrong with Leopoldine's eyes;
everything turned red and strange about her, and the floor was
slipping away from under, and Chief Clerk Andresen was talking from
somewhere ever so far off. Saying: "Couldn't you spare the time?"
"No," says she.
And Heaven knows how she managed to get out of the kitchen again. Her
mother looked at her and asked what was the matter. "Nothing," said
Nothing, no, of course. But now, look you, 'twas Leopoldine's turn to
be affected, to begin the same eternal round. She was well fitted
for the same, overgrown and pretty and newly confirmed; an excellent
sacrifice she would make. A bird is fluttering in her young breast,
her long hands are like her mother's, full of tenderness, full of sex.
Could she dance?--ay, indeed she could. A marvel where she had managed
to learn it, but learn it they did at Sellanraa as well as elsewhere.
Sivert could dance, and Leopoldine too; a kind of dancing peculiar
to the spot, growth of the new-cleared soil; a dance with energy and
swing: schottische, mazurka, waltz and polka in one. And could not
Leopoldine deck herself out and fall in love and dream by daylight all
awake? Ay, as well as any other! The day she stood in church she was
allowed to borrow her mother's gold ring to wear; no sin in that,
'twas only neat and nice; and the day after, going to her communion,
she did not get the ring on till it was over. Ay, she might well show
herself in church with a gold ring on her finger, being the daughter
of a great man on the place--the Margrave.
When Andresen came down from the mine, he found Isak at Sellanraa, and
they asked him in, gave him dinner and a cup of coffee. All the
folk on the place were in there together now, and took part in the
conversation. Andresen explained that his master, Aronsen, had sent
him up to see how things were at the mines, if there was any sign of
beginning work there again soon. Heaven knows, maybe Andresen sat
there lying all the time, about being sent by his master; he might
just as well have hit on it for his own account--and anyway, he
couldn't have been at the mines at all in the little time he'd been
"'Tis none so easy to see from outside if they're going to start work
again," said Isak.
No, Andresen admitted that was so; but Aronsen had sent him, and after
all, two pair of eyes could see better than one.
But here Inger seemingly could contain herself no longer; she asked:
"Is it true what they're saying, Aronsen is going to sell his place
Andresen answers: "He's thinking of it. And a man like him can surely
do as he likes, seeing all the means and riches he's got."
"Ho, is he so rich, then?"
"Ay," says Andresen, nodding his head; "rich enough, and that's a true
Again Inger cannot keep silence, but asks right out:
"I wonder, now, what he'd be asking for the place?"
Isak puts in a word here; like as not he's more curious to know than
Inger herself, but it must not seem that the idea of buying Storborg
is any thought of his; he makes himself a stranger to it, and says
"Why, what you want to know for, Inger?"
"I was but asking," says she. And both of them look at Andresen,
waiting. And he answers:
Answers cautiously enough that as to the price, he can say nothing of
that, but he knows what Aronsen says the place has cost him.
"And how much is that?" asks Inger, having no strength to keep her
peace and be silent.
"'Tis sixteen hundred _Kroner_" says Andresen.
Ho, and Inger claps her hands at once to hear it, for if there is one
thing womenfolk have no sense nor thought of, 'tis the price of land
and properties. But, anyway, sixteen hundred _Kroner_ is no small sum
for folk in the wilds, and Inger has but one fear, that Isak may be
frightened off the deal. But Isak, he sits there just exactly like a
fjeld, and says only: "Ay, it's the big houses he's put up."
"Ay," says Andresen again, "'tis just that. 'Tis the fine big houses
Just when Andresen is making ready to go, Leopoldine slips out by the
door. A strange thing, but somehow she cannot bring herself to think
of shaking hands with him. So she has found a good place, standing in
the new cowshed, looking out of a window. And with a blue silk ribbon
round her neck, that she hadn't been wearing before, and a wonder she
ever found time to put it on now. There he goes, a trifle short and
stout, spry on his feet, with a light, full beard, eight or ten years
older than herself. Ay, none so bad-looking to her mind!
And then the party came back from church late on Sunday night. All had
gone well, little Rebecca had slept the last few hours of the way
up, and was lifted from the cart and carried indoors without waking.
Sivert has heard a deal of news, but when his mother asks, "Well, what
you've got to tell?" he only says: "Nay, nothing much. Axel he's got a
mowing-machine and a harrow."
"What's that?" says his father, all interested. "Did you see them?"
"Ay, I saw them right enough. Down on the quay."
"Ho! So that was what he must go in to town for," says his father.
And Sivert sits there swelling with pride at knowing better, but says
never a word.
His father might just as well believe that Axel's pressing business in
the town had been to buy machines; his mother too might think so
for all that. Ho, but there was neither of them thought so in their
hearts; they had heard whispers enough of what was the matter; of a
new child-murder case in the wilds.
"Time for bed," says his father at last.
Sivert goes off to bed, swelling with knowledge. Axel had been
summoned for examination; 'twas a big affair--the Lensmand had gone
with him--so big indeed that the Lensmand's lady, who had just had
another child, had left the baby and was gone in to town with her
husband. She had promised to put in a word to the jury herself.
Gossip and scandal all abroad in the village now, and Sivert saw well
enough that a certain earlier crime of the same sort was being called
to mind again. Outside the church, the groups would stop talking as he
came up, and had he not been the man he was, perhaps some would have
turned away from him. Good to be Sivert those days, a man from a big
place to begin with, son of a wealthy landowner--and then beside, to
be known as a clever fellow, a good worker; he ranked before others,
and was looked up to for himself. Sivert had always been well liked
among folk. If only Jensine did not learn too much before they got
home that day! And Sivert had his own affairs to think of--ay, folk in
the wilds can blush and pale as well as other. He had seen Jensine as
she left the church with little Rebecca; she had seen him too, but
went by. He waited a bit, and then drove over to the smith's to fetch
They were sitting at table, all the family at dinner. Sivert is asked
to join them, but has had his dinner, thanks. They knew he would be
coming, they might have waited that bit of a while for him--so they
would have done at Sellanraa, but not here, it seemed.
"Nay, 'tis not what you're used to, I dare say," says the smith's
wife. And, "What news from church?" says the smith, for all he had
been at church himself.
When Jensine and little Rebecca were seated up in the cart again, says
the smith's wife to her daughter: "Well, good-bye, Jensine; we'll
be wanting you home again soon." And that could be taken two ways,
thought Sivert, but he said nothing. If the speech had been more
direct, more plain and outspoken, he might perhaps ... He waits, with
puckered brows, but no more is said.
They drive up homeward, and little Rebecca is the only one with a word
to say; she is full of the wonder of going to church, the priest in
his dress with a silver cross, and the lights and the organ music.
After a long while Jensine says: "'Tis a shameful thing about Barbro
"What did your mother mean about you coming home soon?" asked Sivert.
"What she meant?"
"Ay. You thinking of leaving us, then?"
"Why, they'll be wanting me home some time, I doubt," says she.
"_Ptro_!" says Sivert, stopping his horse. "Like me to drive back with
you now, perhaps?"
Jensine looks at him; he is pale as death.
"No," says she. And a little after she begins to cry.
Rebecca looks in surprise from one to the other. Oh, but little
Rebecca was a good one to have on a journey like that; she took
Jensine's part and patted her and made her smile again. And when
little Rebecca looked threateningly at her brother and said she was
going to jump down and find a big stick to beat him, Sivert had to
"But what did _you_ mean, now, I'd like to know?" says Jensine.
Sivert answered straight out at once: "I meant, if you don't care to
stay with us, why, we must manage without."
And a long while after, said Jensine: "Well, there's Leopoldine, she's
big now, and fit and all to do my work, seems."
Ay, 'twas a sorrowful journey.
A man walks up the way through the hills. Wind and rain; the autumn
downpour has begun, but the man cares little for that, he looks glad
at heart, and glad he is. 'Tis Axel Stroem, coming back from the
town and the court and all--they have let him go free. Ay, a happy
man--first of all, there's a mowing-machine and a harrow for him down
at the quay, and more than that, he's free, and not guilty. Had taken
no part in the killing of a child. Ay, so things can turn out!
But the times he had been through! Standing there as a witness, this
toiler in the fields had known the hardest days of his life. 'Twas no
gain to him to make Barbro's guilt seem greater, and for that reason
he was careful not to say too much, he did not even say all he knew;
every word had to be dragged out of him, and he answered mostly with
but "Yes" and "No." Was it not enough? Was he to make more of it than
there was already? Oh, but there were times when it looked serious
indeed; there were the men of Law, black-robed and dangerous, easy
enough for them, it seemed, just with a word or so, to turn the whole
thing as they pleased, and have him sentenced. But they were kindly
folk after all, and did not try to bring him to destruction. Also, as
it happened, there were powerful influences at work trying to save
Barbro, and it was all to his advantage as well.
Then what on earth was there for him to trouble about?
Barbro herself would hardly try to make things look worse than need be
for her former master and lover; he knew terrible things about this
and an earlier affair of the same sort; she could not be such a fool.
No, Barbro was clever enough; she said a good word for Axel, and
declared that he had known nothing of her having borne a child till
after it was all over. He was different in some ways, perhaps, from
other men, and they did not always get on well together, but a quiet
man, and a good man in every way. No, it was true he had dug a new
grave and buried the body away there, but that was long after, and
by reason he had thought the first place was not dry enough, though
indeed it was, and 'twas only Axel's odd way of thinking.
What need, then, for Axel to fear at all when Barbro took all the
blame on herself that way? And as for Barbro herself, there were
mighty influences at work.
Fru Lensmand Heyerdahl had taken up the case. She went about to high
and low, never sparing herself, demanded to be called as a witness,
and made a speech in court. When her turn came, she stood there before
them all and was a great lady indeed; she took up the question of
infanticide in all its aspects, and gave the court a long harangue
on the subject--it almost seemed as if she had obtained permission
beforehand to say what she pleased. Ay, folk might say what they would
of Fru Lensmand Heyerdahl, but make a speech, that she could, and was
learned in politics and social questions, no doubt about that. 'Twas
a marvel where she found all her words. Now and again the presiding
justice seemed wishful to keep her to the point, but maybe he had not
the heart to interrupt, and let her run on. And at the end of it all,
she volunteered one or two useful items of information, and made a
startling offer to the court.
Leaving out all legal technicalities, what took place was this:
"We women," said Fru Heyerdahl, "we are an unfortunate and oppressed
moiety of humanity. It is the men who make the laws, and we women have
not a word to say in the matter. But can any man put himself in the
position of a woman in childbirth? Has he ever felt the dread of it,
ever known the terrible pangs, ever cried aloud in the anguish of that
"In the present instance, it is a servant-girl who has borne the
child. A girl, unmarried, and consequently trying all through the
critical time to hide her condition. And why must she seek to hide it?
Because of society. Society despises the unmarried woman who bears
a child. Not only does society offer her no protection, but it
persecutes her, pursues her with contempt and disgrace. Atrocious! No
human creature with any heart at all could help feeling indignant at
such a state of things. Not only is the girl to bring a child into the
world, a thing in itself surely hard enough, but she is to be treated
as a criminal for that very fact. I will venture to say that it was
well for the unfortunate girl now accused before the court that her
child was born by accident when she fell into the water, and drowned.
Well for herself and for the child. As long as society maintains its
present attitude, an unmarried mother should be counted guiltless even
if she does kill her child."
Here a slight murmur was heard from the presiding justice.
"Or at any rate, her punishment should be merely nominal," said Fru
Heyerdahl. "We are all agreed, of course," she went on, "that infant
life should be preserved, but is that to mean that no law of simple
humanity is to apply to the unfortunate mother? Think, consider
what she has been through during all the period of pregnancy, what
suffering she has endured in striving to hide her condition, and all
the time never knowing where to turn for herself and the child when it
comes. No man can imagine it," said she. "The child is at least killed
in kindness. The mother tries to save herself and the child she loves
from the misery of its life. The shame is more than she can bear, and
so the plan gradually forms itself in her mind, to put the child out
of the way. The birth takes place in secret, and the mother is for
four-and-twenty hours in such a delirious state that at the moment
of killing the child she is simply not responsible for her actions.
Practically speaking, she has not herself committed the act at all,
being out of her senses at the time. With every bone in her body
aching still after her delivery, she has to take the little creature's
life and hide away the body--think what an effort of will is demanded
here! Naturally, we all wish all children to live; we are distressed
at the thought that any should be exterminated in such a way. But
it is the fault of society that it is so; the fault of a hopeless,
merciless, scandalmongering, mischievous, and evil-minded society,
ever on the watch to crush an unmarried mother by every means in its
"But--even after such treatment at the hands of society, the
persecuted mother can rise up again. It often happens that these
girls, after one false step of the sort, are led by that very fact to
develop their best and noblest qualities. Let the court inquire of the
superintendents at refuge homes, where unmarried mothers and their
children are received, if this is not the case. And experience has
shown that it is just such girls who have--whom society has forced to
kill their own children, that make the best nurses. Surely that was a
matter for any and all to think seriously about?
"Then there is another side of the question. Why is the man to go
free? The mother found guilty of infanticide is thrust into prison and
tortured, but the father, the seducer, he is never touched. Yet being
as he is the cause of the child's existence, he is a party to the
crime; his share in it, indeed, is greater than the mother's; had it
not been for him, there would have been no crime. Then why should he
be acquitted? Because the laws are made by men. There is the answer.
The enormity of such man-made laws cries of itself to Heaven for
intervention. And there can be no help for us women till we are
allowed a say in the elections, and in the making of laws, ourselves.
"But," said Fru Heyerdahl, "if this is the terrible fate that is meted
out to the guilty--or, let us say, the more clearly guilty--unmarried
mother who has killed her child, what of the innocent one who is
merely suspected of the crime, and has not committed it? What
reparation does society offer to her? None at all! I can testify that
I know the girl here accused; have known her since she was a child;
she has been in my service, and her father is my husband's assistant.
We women venture to think and feel directly in opposition to men's
accusations and persecution; we dare to have our own opinion. The girl
there has been arrested, deprived of her liberty, on suspicion of
having in the first place concealed the birth of a child, and further
of having killed the child so born. I have no doubt in my own mind
that she is not guilty of either--the court will itself arrive at this
self-evident conclusion. Concealment of birth--the child was born in
the middle of the day. True, the mother is alone at the time--but who
could have been with her in any case? The place is far away in the
wilds, the only living soul within reach is a man--how could she
send for a man at such a moment? Any woman will tell you it is
impossible--not to be thought of. And then--it is alleged that she
must have killed the child after. But the child was born in the
water--the mother falls down in an icy stream, and the child is born.
What was she doing by the water? She is a servant-girl, a slave, that
is to say, and has her daily work to do; she is going to fetch juniper
twigs for cleaning. And crossing the stream, she slips and falls in.
And there she lies; the child is born, and is drowned in the water."
Fru Heyerdahl stopped. She could see from the look of the court and
the spectators that she had spoken wonderfully well; there was a great
silence in the place, only Barbro sat dabbing her eyes now and again
for sheer emotion. And Fru Heyerdahl closed with these words: "We
women have some heart, some feeling. I have left my own children in
the care of strangers to travel all this way and appear as a witness
on behalf of the unfortunate girl sitting there. Men's laws cannot
prevent women from thinking; and I think this, that the girl there has
been punished sufficiently for no crime. Acquit her, let her go free,
and I will take charge of her myself. She will make the best nurse I
have ever had."
And Fru Heyerdahl stepped down.
Says the justice then: "But I think you said a moment ago that the
best nurses were those who _had_ killed their children?"
Oh, but the justice was not of a mind to go against Fru Heyerdahl, not
in the least--he was as humane as could be himself, a man as gentle as
a priest. When the advocate for the Crown put a few questions to the
witness afterwards, the justice sat for the most part making notes on
The proceedings lasted only till a little over noon; there were few
witnesses, and the case was clear enough. Axel Stroem sat hoping for
the best, then suddenly it seemed as if the advocate for the Crown
and Fru Heyerdahl were joining forces to make things awkward for him,
because he had buried the body instead of notifying the death. He was
cross-examined somewhat sharply on this point, and would likely enough
have come out badly if he had not all at once caught sight of Geissler
sitting in the court. Ay, 'twas right enough, Geissler was there. This
gave Axel courage, he no longer felt himself alone against the Law
that was determined to beat him down. And Geissler nodded to him.
Ay, Geissler was come to town. He had not asked to be called as a
witness, but he was there. He had also spent a couple of days before
the case came on in going into the matter himself, and noting down
what he remembered of Axel's own account given him at Maaneland. Most
of the documents seemed to Geissler somewhat unsatisfactory; this
Lensmand Heyerdahl was evidently a narrow-minded person, who had
throughout endeavoured to prove complicity on Axel's part. Fool, idiot
of a man--what did he know of life in the wilds, when he could see
that the child was just what Axel had counted on to keep the woman,
his helpmeet, on the place!
Geissler spoke to the advocate for the Crown, but it seemed there was
little need of intervention there; he wanted to help Axel back to his
farm and his land, but Axel was in no need of help, from the looks
of things. For the case was going well as far as Barbro herself was
concerned, and if she were acquitted, then there could be no question
of any complicity at all. It would depend on the testimony of the
When the few witnesses had been heard--Oline had not been summoned,
but only the Lensmand, Axel himself, the experts, a couple of girls
from the village--when they had been heard, it was time to adjourn for
the midday break, and Geissler went up to the advocate for the Crown
once more. The advocate was of opinion that all was going well for the
girl Barbro, and so much the better. Fru Lensmand Heyerdahl's words
had carried great weight. All depended now upon the finding of the
"Are you at all interested in the girl?" asked the advocate.
"Why, to a certain extent," answered Geissler--"or rather, perhaps, in
"Has she been in your service too?"
"No, he's never been in my service."
"I was speaking of the girl. It's she that has the sympathy of the
"No, she's never been in my service at all."
"The man--h'm, he doesn't seem to come out of it so well," said
the advocate. "Goes off and buries the body all by himself in the
wood--looks bad, very bad."
"He wanted to have it buried properly, I suppose," said Geissler. "It
hadn't been really buried at all at first."
"Well, of course a woman hadn't the strength of a man to go digging.
And in her state--she must have been done up already. Altogether,"
said the advocate, "I think we've come to take a more humane view of
these infanticide cases generally, of late. If I were to judge, I
should never venture to condemn the girl at all; and from what has
appeared in this case, I shall not venture to demand a conviction."
"Very pleased to hear it," said Geissler, with a bow.
The advocate went on: "As a man, as a private person, I will even go
further, and say: I would never condemn a single unmarried mother for
killing her child."
"Most interesting," said Geissler, "to find the advocate for the Crown
so entirely in agreement with what Fru Heyerdahl said before the
"Oh, Fru Heyerdahl!... Still, to my mind, there was a great deal in
what she said. After all, what is the good of all these convictions?
Unmarried mothers have suffered enough beforehand, and been brought so
low in every human regard by the brutal and callous attitude of the
world--the punishment ought to suffice."
Geissler rose, and said at last: "No doubt. But what about the
"True," said the advocate, "it's a sad business about the children.
Still, all things considered, perhaps it's just as well. Illegitimate
children have a hard time, and turn out badly as often as not."
Geissler felt perhaps some touch of malice at the portly complacency
of the man of law; he said:
"Erasmus was born out of wedlock."
"Erasmus of Rotterdam."
"And Leonardo the same."
"Leonardo da Vinci? Really? Well, of course, there are exceptions,
otherwise there would be no rule. But on the whole...."
"We pass protective measures for beast and bird," said Geissler;
"seems rather strange, doesn't it, not to trouble about our own
The advocate for the Crown reached out slowly and with dignity after
some papers on the table, as a hint that he had not time to continue
the discussion. "Yes...." said he absently. "Yes, yes, no doubt...."
Geissler expressed his thanks for a most instructive conversation, and
took his leave.
He sat down in the court-house again, to be there in good time. He
was not ill-pleased, maybe, to feel his power; he had knowledge of a
certain piece of wrapping, a man's shirt cut across, to carry--let us
say twigs for a broom; of the body of a child floating in the harbour
at Bergen--ay, he could make matters awkward for the court if he
chose; a word from him would be as effective as a thousand swords. But
Geissler had doubtless no intention of uttering that word now unless
it were needed. Things were going splendidly without; even the
advocate for the Crown had declared himself on the side of the
The room fills, and the court is sitting again.
An interesting comedy to watch in a little town. The warning gravity
of the advocate for the Crown, the emotional eloquence of the advocate
for the defence. The court sat listening to what appeared to be its
duty in regard to the case of a girl named Barbro, and the death of
For all that, it was no light matter after all to decide. The advocate
for the Crown was a presentable man to look at, and doubtless also a
man of heart, but something appeared to have annoyed him recently or
possibly he had suddenly remembered that he held a certain office
in the State and was bound to act from that point of view. An
incomprehensible thing, but he was plainly less disposed to be lenient
now than he had been during the morning; if the crime had been
committed, he said, it was a serious matter, and things would look
black indeed if they could with certainty be declared so black as
would appear from the testimony of the witnesses already heard. That
was a matter for the court to decide. He wished to draw attention to
three points: firstly, whether they had before them a concealment of
birth; whether this was clear to the court. He made some personal
remarks on this head. The second point was the wrapping, the piece of
a shirt--why had the accused taken this with her? Was it in order to
make use of it for a certain purpose preconceived? He developed this
suggestion further. His third point was the hurried and suspicious
burial, without any notification of the death to either priest or
Lensmand. Here, the man was the person chiefly responsible, and it
was of the utmost importance that the court should come to the right
conclusion in that respect. For it was obvious that if the man were an
accomplice, and had therefore undertaken the burial himself, then
his servant-girl must have committed a crime before he could be an
accomplice in it.
"H'm," from some one in court.
Axel Stroem felt himself again in danger. He looked up without meeting
a single glance; all eyes were fixed on the advocate speaking. But far
down in the court sat Geissler again, looking highly supercilious, as
if bursting with his own superiority, his under-lip thrust forward,
his face turned towards the ceiling. This enormous indifference to the
solemnity of the court, and that "H'm," uttered loudly and without
concealment, cheered Axel mightily; he felt himself no longer alone
against the world.
And now things took a turn again for the better. This advocate for the
Crown seemed at last to think he had done enough, had achieved all
that was possible in the way of directing suspicion and ill-feeling
towards the man; and now he stopped. He did more; he almost, as it
were, faced round, and made no demand for a conviction. He ended by
saying, in so many words, that after the testimony of the witnesses in
the case, he on his part did not call upon the court to convict the
This was well enough, thought Axel--the business was practically over.
Then came the turn of the advocate for the defence, a young man
who had studied the law, and had now been entrusted with this most
satisfactory case. His tone itself showed the view he took of it;
never had a man been more certain of defending an innocent person than
he. Truth to tell, this Fru Heyerdahl had taken the wind out of his
sails beforehand, and used several of his own intended arguments that
morning; he was annoyed at her having already exploited the "society"
theme--oh, but he could have said some first-rate things about society
himself. He was incensed at the mistaken leniency of the presiding
justice in not stopping her speech; it was a defence in itself, a
brief prepared beforehand--and what was there left for him?
He began at the beginning of the life-story of the girl Barbro. Her
people were not well off, albeit industrious and respectable; she had
gone out to service at an early age, first of all to the Lensmand's.
The court had heard that morning what her mistress, Fru Heyerdahl,
thought of her--no one could wish for a finer recommendation. Barbro
had then gone to Bergen. Here the advocate laid great stress on a most
feelingly written testimonial from two young business men in whose
employ Barbro had been while at Bergen--evidently in a position of
trust. Barbro had come back to act as housekeeper for this unmarried
man in an outlying district. And here her trouble began.
She found herself with child by this man. The learned counsel for the
prosecution had already referred--in the most delicate and considerate
manner, be it said--to the question of concealment of birth. Had
Barbro attempted to conceal her condition; had she denied being with
child? The two witnesses, girls from her own village, had been of
opinion that she was in that condition; but when they had asked her,
she had not denied it at all, she had merely passed the matter off.
What would a young girl naturally do in such a case but pass it off?
No one else had asked her about it at all. Go to her mistress and
confess? She had no mistress; she was mistress on the place herself.
She had a master, certainly, but a girl could not be expected to
confide in a man upon such a matter; she bears her cross herself; does
not sing, does not whisper, but is silent as a Trappist. Concealment?
No, but she kept herself to herself.
The child is born--a sound and healthy boy; had lived and breathed
after birth, but had been suffocated. The court had been made aware
of the circumstances attending this birth: it had taken place in the
water; the mother falls into the stream, and the child is born, but
she is incapable of saving the child. She lies there, unable even to
rise herself till some time after. No marks of violence were to be
seen upon the body; there was nothing to indicate that it had been
intentionally killed; it had been drowned by misadventure at birth,
that was all. The most natural explanation in the world.
His learned colleague had made some mention of a cloth or wrapping,
considering it something of a mystery why she should have taken half a
shirt with her that day. The mystery was clear enough; she had taken
the shirt to carry stripped juniper in. She might have taken--let us
say, a pillow-case; as it was, she had taken this piece of a. shirt.
Something she must have, in any case; she could not carry the stuff
back in her hands. No, there was surely no ground for making a mystery
One point, however, was not quite so clear: had the accused been
treated with the care and consideration which her condition at the
time demanded? Had her master dealt kindly with her? It would be
as well for him if it were found so. The girl herself had, under
cross-examination, referred to the man in satisfactory terms; and this
again was evidence in itself of her own nobility of character.
The man, on his part, Axel Stroem, had likewise in his depositions
refrained from any attempt to add to the burden of the girl, or to
blame her in any way. In this he had acted rightly--not to say wisely,
seeing that his own case depended very largely upon how matters went
with her. By laying the blame on her he would, if she were convicted,
bring about his own downfall.
It was impossible to consider the documents and depositions in the
present case without feeling the deepest sympathy for this young girl
in her forsaken situation. And yet there was no need to appeal to
mercy on her behalf, only to justice and human understanding. She and
her master were in a way betrothed, but a certain dissimilarity of
temperament and interests prevented them from marrying. The girl could
not entrust her future to such a man. It was not a pleasant subject,
but it might be well to return for a moment to the question of the
wrapping that had been spoken of before; it should here be noted that
the girl had taken, not one of her own undergarments, but one of her
master's shirts. The question at once arose: had the man himself
offered the material for the purpose? Here, one was at first inclined
to see a possibility, at any rate, that the man, Axel, had had some
part in the affair.
"H'm," from some one in court. Loud and hard--so much so, indeed,
that the speaker paused, and all looked round to see who might be
responsible for the interruption. The presiding justice frowned.
But, went on the advocate for the defence, collecting himself again,
in this respect, also, we can set our minds at rest, thanks to the
accused herself. It might seem well to her advantage to divide the
blame here, but she had not attempted to do so. She had entirely and
without reserve absolved Axel Stroem from any complicity whatever in
the fact of her having taken his shirt instead of something of her own
on her way to the water--that is, on her way to the woods to gather
juniper. There was not the slightest reason for doubting the
asseveration of the accused on this point; her depositions had
throughout been found in accordance with the facts, and the same was
evidently the case in this. Had the shirt been given her by the man,
this would have been to presuppose a killing of the child already
planned--the accused, truthful as she was, had not attempted to
charge even this man with a crime that had never been committed. Her
demeanour throughout had been commendably frank and open; she had
made no endeavour to throw the blame on others. There were frequent
instances before the court of this delicacy of feeling on the part of
the accused, as, for instance, the fact that she had wrapped up the
body of the child as well as she could, and put it away decently, as
the Lensmand had found it.
Here the presiding justice interposed, merely as a matter of form,
observing that it was grave No. 2 which the Lensmand had found--the
grave in which Axel had buried the body after its removal from the
"True, that is true. I stand corrected," said the advocate, with
all proper respect for the president of the court. Perfectly true.
But--Axel had himself stated that he had only carried the body from
one grave and laid it in the other. And there could be no doubt but
that a woman was better able to wrap up a child than was a man--and
who best of all? Surely a mother's tender hand?
The presiding justice nods.
In any case--could not this girl--if she had been of another
sort--have buried the child naked? One might even go so far as to say
that she might have thrown it into a dustbin. She might have left it
out under a tree in the open, to freeze to death--that is to say, of
course, if it had not been dead already. She might have put it in the
oven when left alone, and burnt it up. She might have taken it up to
the river at Sellanraa and thrown it in there. But this mother did
none of these things; she wrapped the dead child neatly in a cloth
and buried it. And if the body had been found wrapped neatly when the
grave was opened, it must be a woman and not a man who had so wrapped
And now, the advocate for the defence went on, it lay with the court
to determine what measure of guilt could properly be attributed to the
girl Barbro in the matter. There was but little remaining for which
she could be blamed at all--indeed, in his, counsel's, opinion, there
was nothing. Unless the court found reason to convict on the charge
of having failed to notify the death. But here, again--the child was
dead, and nothing could alter that; the place was far out in the
wilds, many miles from either priest or Lensmand; natural enough,
surely, to let it sleep the eternal sleep in a neat grave in the
woods. And if it were a crime to have buried it thus, then the accused
was not more guilty than the father of the child--as it was, the
misdemeanour was surely slight enough to be overlooked. Modern
practice was growing more and more disposed to lay more stress
on reforming the criminal than on punishing the crime. It was an
antiquated system which sought to inflict punishment for every mortal
thing--it was the _lex talionis_ of the Old Testament, an eye for an
eye and a tooth for a tooth. There was no longer the spirit of the law
in modern times. The law of the present day was more humane, seeking
to adjust itself according to the degree of criminal intent and
purpose displayed in each case.
No! The court could never convict this girl. It was not the object of
a trial to secure an addition to the number of criminals, but rather
to restore to society a good and useful member. It should be noted
that the accused had now the prospect of a new position where she
would be under the best possible supervision. Fru Lensmand Heyerdahl
had, from her intimate knowledge of the girl, and from her own
valuable experience as a mother, thrown wide the doors of her own home
to the girl; the court would bear in mind the weight of responsibility
attaching to its decision here, and would then convict or acquit the
accused. Finally, he wished to express his thanks to the learned
counsel for the prosecution, who had generously refrained from
demanding a conviction--a pleasing evidence of deep and humane
The advocate for the defence sat down.
The remainder of the proceedings did not take long. The summing up was
but a repetition of the same points, as viewed from opposite sides, a
brief synopsis of the action of the play, dry, dull, and dignified. It
had all been managed very satisfactorily all round; both the advocates
had pointed out what the court should consider, and the presiding
justice found his task easy enough.
Lights were lit, a couple of lamps hanging from the ceiling--a
miserable light it was, the justice could hardly see to read his
notes. He mentioned with some severity the point that the child's
death had not been duly notified to the proper authorities--but that,
under the circumstances, should be considered rather the duty of the
father than of the mother, owing to her weakness at the time. The
court had then to determine whether any case had been proved with
regard to concealment of birth and infanticide. Here the evidence
was again recapitulated from beginning to end. Then came the usual
injunction as to being duly conscious of responsibility, which the
court had heard before, and finally, the not uncommon reminder that in
cases of doubt, the scale should be allowed to turn in favour of the
And now all was clear and ready.
The judges left the room and went into another apartment. They were to
consider a paper with certain questions, which one of them had with
him. They were away five minutes, and returned with a "No" to all the
No, the girl Barbro had not killed her child.
Then the presiding judge said a few more words, and declared that the
girl Barbro was now free.
The court-house emptied, the comedy was over....
Someone takes Axel Stroem by the arm: it is Geissler. "H'm," said he,
"so you're done with that now!"
"Ay," said Axel.
"But they've wasted a lot of your time to no purpose."
"Ay," said Axel again. But he was coming to himself again gradually,
and after a moment he added: "None the less, I'm glad it was no
"No worse?" said Geissler. "I'd have liked to see them try!" He spoke
with emphasis, and Axel fancied Geissler must have had something to do
with the case himself; that he had intervened. Heaven knows if,
after all, it had not been Geissler himself that had led the whole
proceedings and gained the result he wished. It was a mystery, anyway.
So much at least Axel understood, that Geissler had been on his side
"I've a deal to thank you for," said he, offering his hand.
"What for?" asked Geissler.
"Why, for--for all this."
Geissler turned it off shortly. "I've done nothing at all. Didn't
trouble to do, anything--'twasn't worth while." But for all that,
Geissler was not displeased, maybe, at being thanked; it was as if he
had been waiting for it, and now it had come. "I've no time to stand
talking now," he said. "Going back tomorrow, are you? Good. Good-bye,
then, and good luck to you." And Geissler strolled off across the
* * * * *
On the boat going home, Axel encountered the Lensmand and his wife,
Barbro and the two girls called as witnesses.
"Well," said Fru Heyerdahl, "aren't you glad it turned out so well?"
Axel said, "Yes"; he was glad it had come out all right in the end.
The Lensmand himself put in a word, and said: "This is the second
of these cases I've had while I've been here--first with Inger from
Sellanraa, and now this. No, it's no good trying to countenance that
sort of thing--justice must take its course."
But Fru Heyerdahl guessed, no doubt, that Axel was not over pleased
with her speech of the day before, and tried to smooth it over, to
make up for it somehow now. "You understood, of course, why I had to
say all that about you yesterday?"
"H'm--ye--es," said Axel.
"You understood, of course, I know. You didn't think I wanted to make
things harder for you in any way. I've always thought well of you, and
I don't mind saying so."
"Ay," said Axel, no more. But he was pleased and touched at her words.
"Yes, I mean it," said Fru Heyerdahl. "But I was obliged to try and
shift the blame a little your way, otherwise Barbro would have been
convicted, and you too. It was all for the best, indeed it was."
"I thank you kindly," said Axel.
"And it was I and no other that went about from one to another through
the place, trying to do what I could for you both. And you saw, of
course, that we all had to do the same thing--make out that you were
partly to blame, so as to get you both off in the end."
"Ay," said Axel.
"Surely you didn't imagine for a moment that I meant any harm to you?
When I've always thought so well of you!"
Ay, this was good to hear after all the disgrace of it. Axel, at any
rate, was so touched that he felt he must do something, give Fru
Heyerdahl something or other, whatever he could find--a piece of meat
perhaps, now autumn was come. He had a young bull....
Fru Lensmand Heyerdahl kept her word; she took Barbro to live with
her. On board the steamer, too, she looked after the girl, and saw
that she was not cold, nor hungry; took care, also, that she did not
get up to any nonsense with the mate from Bergen. The first time it
occurred, she said nothing, but simply called Barbro to her. But a
little while after there was Barbro with him again, her head on one
side, talking Bergen dialect and smiling. Then her mistress called her
up and said: "Really, Barbro, you ought not to be going on like that
among the men now. Remember what you've just been through, and what
you've come from."
"I was only talking to him a minute," said Barbro. "I could hear he
was from Bergen."
Axel did not speak to her. He noticed that she was pale and
clear-skinned now, and her teeth were better. She did not wear either
of his rings....
And now here is Axel tramping up to his own place once more. Wind and
rain, but he is glad at heart; a mowing-machine and a harrow down at
the quay; he had seen them. Oh, that Geissler! Never a word had he
said in town about what he had sent. Ay, an unfathomable man was
Axel had no long time to rest at home, as it turned out; the autumn
gales led to fresh trouble and bothersome work that he had brought
upon himself: the telegraph apparatus on his wall announced that the
line was out of order.
Oh, but he had been thinking overmuch of the money, surely, when he
took on that post. It had been a nuisance from the start. Brede Olsen
had fairly threatened him when he went down to fetch the apparatus
and tools; ay, had said to him in as many words: "You don't seem like
remembering how I saved your life last winter!"
"'Twas Oline saved my life," answered Axel.
"Ho, indeed! And didn't I carry you down myself on my own poor
shoulders? Anyway, you were clever enough to buy up my place in
summer-time and leave me homeless in the winter." Ay, Brede was deeply
offended; he went on:
"But you can take the telegraph for me, ay, all the rubble of it for
me. I and mine we'll go down to the village and start on something
there--you don't know what it'll be, but wait and see. What about a
hotel place where folk can get coffee? You see but we'll manage all
right. There's my wife can sell things to eat and drink as well as
another, and I can go out on business and make a heap more than you
ever did. But I don't mind telling you, Axel, I could make things
awkward for you in many odd ways, seeing all I know about the
telegraph and things; ay, 'twould be easy enough both to pull down
poles and cut the line and all. And then you to go running out after
it midway in the busy time. That's all I'll say to you, Axel, and you
bear it in mind...."
Now Axel should have been down and brought up the machines from the
quay--all over gilt and colouring they were, like pictures to see. And
he might have had them to look at all that day, and learn the manner
of using them--but now they must wait. 'Twas none so pleasant to have
to put aside all manner of necessary work to run and see after a
telegraph line. But 'twas the money....
Up on the top of the hill he meets Aronsen. Ay, Aronsen the trader
standing there looking and gazing out into the storm, like a vision
himself. What did he want there? No peace in his mind now, it seems,
but he must go up the fjeld himself and look at the mine with his own
eyes. And this, look you, Trader Aronsen had done from sheer earnest
thought of his own and his family's future. Here he is, face to face
with bare desolation on the forsaken hills, machines lying there to
rust, carts and material of all sorts left out in the open--'twas
dismal to see. Here and there on the walls of the huts were placards,
notices written by hand, forbidding any one to damage or remove the
company's property--tools, carts, or buildings.
Axel stops for a few words with the mad trader, and asks if he has
come out shooting.
"Shooting? Ay, if I could only get within reach of him!"
"Him? Who, then?"
"Why, him that's ruining me and all the rest of us hereabout. Him that
won't sell his bit of fjeld and let things get to work again, and
trade and money passing same as before."
"D'you mean him Geissler, then?"
"Ay, 'tis him I mean. Ought to be shot!"
Axel laughs at this, and says: "Geissler he was in town but a few days
back; you should have talked to him there. But if I might be so bold
as to say, I doubt you'd better leave him alone, after all."
"And why?" asks Aron angrily.
"Why? I've a mind he'd be overwise and mysterious for you in the end."
They argued over this for a while, and Aronsen grew more excited than
ever. At last Axel asked jestingly: "Well, anyway, you'll not be so
hard on us all to run away and leave us to ourselves in the wilds?"
"Huh! Think I'm going to stay fooling about here in your bogs and
never so much as making the price of a pipe?" cried Aron indignantly.
"Find me a buyer and I'll sell out."
"Sell out?" says Axel. "The land's good ordinary land if she's handled
as should be--and what you've got's enough to keep a man."
"Haven't I just said I'll not touch it?" cried Aronsen again in the
gale. "I can do better than that!"
Axel thought if that was so, 'twould be easy to find a buyer; but
Aronsen laughed scornfully at the idea--there was nobody there in the
wilds had money to buy him out.
"Not here in the wilds, maybe, but elsewhere."
"Here's naught but filth and poverty," said Aron bitterly.
"Why, that's as it may be," said Axel in some offence. "But Isak up at
Sellanraa he could buy you out any day."
"Don't believe it," said Aronsen.
"'Tis all one to me what you believe," said Axel, and turned to go.
Aronsen called after him: "Hi, wait a bit! What's that you say--Isak
might take the place, was that what you said?"
"Ay," said Axel, "if 'twas only the money. He's means enough to buy up
five of your Storborg and all!"
Aronsen had gone round keeping wide of Sellanraa on his way up, taking
care not to be seen; but, going back, he called in and had a talk with
Isak. But Isak only shook his head and said nay, 'twas a matter he'd
never thought of, and didn't care to.
But when Eleseus came back home that Christmas, Isak was easier to
deal with. True, he maintained that it was a mad idea to think of
buying Storborg, 'twas nothing had ever been in his mind; still, if
Eleseus thought he could do anything with the place, why, they might
think it over.
Eleseus himself was midways between, as it were; not exactly eager
for it, yet not altogether indifferent. If he did settle down here at
home, then his career in one way was at an end. 'Twas not like being
in a town. That autumn, when a lot of people from his parts had been
up for cross-examination in a certain place, he had taken care not to
show himself; he had no desire to meet any that knew him from that
quarter; they belonged to another world. And was he now to go back to
that same world himself?
His mother was all for buying the place; Sivert, too, said it would be
best. They stuck to Eleseus both of them, and one day the three drove
down to Storborg to see the wonder with their own eyes.
But once there was a prospect of selling, Aronsen became a different
man; he wasn't pressed to get rid of it, not at all. If he did go
away, the place could stand as it was; 'twas a first-rate holding, a
"cash down" place, there'd be no difficulty in selling it any time.
"You'd not give my price," said Aronsen.
They went over the house and stores, the warehouse and sheds,
inspected the miserable remains of the stock, consisting of a few
mouth-organs, watch-chains, boxes of coloured papers, lamps with
hanging ornaments, all utterly unsaleable to sensible folks that lived
on their land. There were a few cases of nails and some cotton print,
and that was all.
Eleseus was constrained to show off a bit, and looked over things with
a knowing air. "I've no use for that sort of truck," said he.
"Why, then, you've no call to buy it," said Aronsen.
"Anyhow, I'll offer you fifteen hundred _Kroner_ for the place as it
stands, with goods, live stock, and the rest," said Eleseus. Oh, he
was careless, enough; his offer was but a show, for something to say.
And they drove back home. No, there was no deal; Eleseus had made a
ridiculous offer, that Aronsen regarded as an insult. "I don't think
much of you, young man," said Aronsen; ay, calling him young man,
considering him but a slip of a lad that had grown conceited in the
town, and thought to teach him, Aronsen, the value of goods.
"I'll not be called 'young man' by you, if you please," said Eleseus,
offended in his turn. They must be mortal enemies after that.
But how could it be that Aronsen had all along been so independent
and so sure of not being forced to sell? There was a reason for it:
Aronsen had a little hope at the back of his mind, after all.
A meeting had been held in the village to consider the position which
had arisen owing to Geissler's refusal to sell his part of the mining
tract. 'Twas not only the outlying settlers who stood to lose by this,
it would be fatal to the whole district.
Why could not folk go on living as well or as poorly now as before
there had been any mine at all? Well, they could not, and that was
all about it. They had grown accustomed to better food, finer bread,
store-bought clothes and higher wages, general extravagance--ay, folk
had learned to reckon with money more, that was the matter. And now
the money was gone again, had slipped away like a shoal of herring out
to sea--'twas dire distress for them all, and what was to be done?
There was no doubt about it: ex-Lensmand Geissler was taking his
revenge upon the village because they had helped his superior to get
him dismissed; equally clear was it that they had underestimated him
at the time. He had not simply disappeared and left. By the simplest
means, merely by demanding an unreasonable price for a mine, he had
succeeded in checking the entire development of the district. Ay, a
strong man! Axel Stroem from Maaneland could bear them out in this; he
was the one who had last met Geissler. Brede's girl Barbro had had a
lawsuit in the town, and come home acquitted; but Geissler, he had
been there in court all the time. And if any one suggested that
Geissler was dejected, and a broken man, why, he had only to look at
the costly machines that same Geissler had sent up as a present to
This man it was then, who held the fate of the district in his hand;
they would have to come to some agreement with him. What price would
Geissler ultimately be disposed to accept for his mine? They must
ascertain in any case. The Swedes had offered him twenty-five
thousand--Geissler had refused. But suppose the village here, the
commune, were to make up the remainder, simply to get things going
again? If it were not an altogether unheard-of amount, it might be
worth while. Both the trader at the shore station and Aronsen up at
Storborg would be willing to contribute privately and secretly; funds
devoted to such a purpose now would be repaid in the long run.
The end of it was that two men were deputed to call on Geissler and
take up the matter with him. And they were expected back shortly.
So it was, then, that Aronsen cherished a flicker of hope, and thought
he could afford to stand on his dignity with any who offered to buy up
Storborg. But it was not to last.
A week later the deputation returned home with a flat refusal. Oh,
they had done the worst thing possible at the outset, in choosing
Brede Olsen as one of the men they sent--they had taken him as being
one who best could spare the time. They had found Geissler, but he had
only shaken his head and laughed. "Go back home again," he had said.
But Geissler had paid for their journey back.
Then the district was to be left to its fate?
After Aronsen had raged for a while, and grown more and more
desperate, he went up one day to Sellanraa and closed the deal. Ay,
Aronsen did. Eleseus got it for the price he had offered; land and
house and sheds, live stock and goods, for fifteen hundred _Kroner_.
True, on going through the inventory after, it was found that
Aronsen's wife had converted most of the cotton print to her own use;
but trifles of that sort were nothing to a man like Eleseus. It didn't
do to be mean, he said.
Nevertheless, Eleseus was not exactly delighted with things as they
had turned out--his future was settled now, he was to bury himself in
the wilds. He must give up his great plans; he was no longer a young
gentleman in an office, he would never be a Lensmand, not even live in
a town at all. To his father and those at home he made it appear that
he was proud at having secured Storborg at the very price he had
fixed--it would show them he knew what he was about. But that small
triumph did not go very far. He had also the satisfaction of taking
over Andresen, the chief clerk, who was thus, as it were, included in
the bargain. Aronsen had no longer any use for him, until he had a new
place going. It was a pleasant sensation to be Eleseus, when Andresen
came up begging to be allowed to stay; here it was Eleseus who was
master and head of the business--for the first time in his life.
"You can stay, yes," he said. "I shall be wanting an assistant to look
after the place when I'm away on business--opening up connections in
Bergen and Trondhjem," said he.
And Andresen was no bad man to have, as it soon proved; he was a good
worker, and looked after things well when Eleseus was away. 'Twas
only at first he had been somewhat inclined to show and play the
fine gentleman, and that was the fault of his master Aronsen. It was
different now. In the spring, when the bogs were thawed some depth,
Sivert came down from Sellanraa to Storborg, to start a bit of
ditching for his brother, and lo, Andresen himself went out on the
land digging too. Heaven knows what possessed him to do it, for 'twas
no work of his, but that was the sort of man he was. It was not thawed
deep enough yet, and they could not get as far as they wanted by a
long way, but it was something done, at any rate. It was Isak's old
idea to drain the bogs at Storborg and till the land there properly;
the bit of a store was only to be an extra, a convenience, to save
folk going all the way down to the village for a reel of thread.
So Sivert and Andresen stood there digging, and talking now and again
when they stopped for a rest. Andresen had also somehow or other
managed to get hold of a gold piece, a twenty-_Krone_ piece, and
Sivert would gladly have had the bright thing himself; but Andresen
would not part with it--kept it wrapped up in tissue paper in his
chest. Sivert proposed a wrestling match for the money--see who could
throw the other; but Andresen would not risk it. Sivert offered to
stake twenty _Kroner_ in notes against the gold piece, and do all the
digging himself into the bargain if he won; but Andresen took offence
at that. "Ho," said he, "and you'd like to go back home, no doubt, and
say I'm no good at working on the land!" At last they agreed to set
twenty-five _Kroner_ in notes against the gold twenty-_Krone_ piece,
and Sivert slipped home to Sellanraa that night to ask his father for
A young man's trick, the pretty play of youth! A night's sleep thrown
away, to walk miles up and miles down again, and work next day as
usual--'twas nothing to a young man in his strength, and a bright gold
piece was worth it all. Andresen was a little inclined to make fun of
him over the deal, but Sivert was not at a loss; he had only to let
fall a word of Leopoldine. "There! I was nearly forgetting. Leopoldine
she asked after you...." And Andresen stopped his work of a sudden and
went very red.
Pleasant days for them both, draining and ditching, getting up long
arguments for fun, and working, and arguing again. Now and then
Eleseus would come out and lend a hand, but he soon tired. Eleseus was
not strong either of body or will, but a thorough good fellow for all
"Here's that Oline coming along," Sivert the jester would say. "Now
you'll have to go in and sell her a paper of coffee." And Eleseus was
glad enough to go. Selling Oline some trifle or other meant so many
minutes' rest from throwing heavy clods.
And Oline, poor creature, she might well be needing a pinch of coffee
now and again, whether by chance she managed to get the money from
Axel to pay for it, or bartered a goats' milk cheese in exchange.
Oline was not altogether what she had been; the work at Maaneland was
too hard for her; she was an old woman now, and it was leaving its
mark. Not that she ever confessed to any weakness or ageing herself;
ho! she would have found plenty to say if she had been dismissed.
Tough and irrepressible was Oline; did her work, and found time to
wander over to neighbours here or there for a real good gossip. 'Twas
her plain right, and there was little gossiping at Maaneland. Axel
himself was not given that way.
As for that Barbro case, Oline was displeased, ay, disappointed was
Oline. Both of them acquitted! That Brede's girl Barbro should be let
off when Inger Sellanraa had got eight years was not to Oline's taste
at all; she felt an unchristian annoyance at such favouritism. But the
Almighty would look to things, no doubt, in His own good time! And
Oline nodded, as if prophesying divine retribution at a later date.
Naturally, also, Oline made no secret of her dissatisfaction with the
finding of the court, more especially when she happened to fall out
with her master, Axel, over any little trifle. Then she would deliver
herself, in the old soft-spoken way, of much deep and bitter sarcasm.
"Ay, 'tis strange how the law's changed these days, for all the
wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah; but the word of the Lord's my guide,
as ever was, and a blessed refuge for the meek."
Oh, Axel was sick and tired of his housekeeper now, and wished her
anywhere. And now with spring coming again, and all the season's work
to do alone; haymaking to come, and what was he to do? 'Twas a poor
look-out. His brother's wife, at Breidablik had written home to
Helgeland trying to find a decent woman to help him, but nothing had
come of it as yet. And in any case, it would mean his having to pay
for the journey.
Nay, 'twas a mean and wicked trick of Barbro to make away with the bit
of a child and then run off herself. A summer and two winters now he
had been forced to make do with Oline, and no saying how much longer
it might be yet. And Barbro, the creature, did she care? He had had a
few words with her down in the village one day that winter, but never
a tear had trickled slowly from her eyes to freeze on her cheek.
"What you've done with rings I gave you?" asks he.
"Ay, the rings."
"I haven't got them now."
"Ho, so you haven't got them now?"
"'Twas all over between us," said she. "And I couldn't wear them after
that. 'Tis not the way to go on wearing rings when it's all over
"Well, I'd just like to know what you've done with them, that's all."
"Wanted me to give them back, maybe," said she. "Well, I never thought
you'd have had me put you to that shame."
Axel thought for a moment, and said: "I could have made it up to you
other ways. That you shouldn't lose by it, I mean."
But no, Barbro had got rid of the rings, and never so much as gave
him the chance of buying back a gold ring and a silver ring at a
For all that, Barbro was not so thoroughly harsh and unlovable,
that she was not. She had a long apron thing that fastened over the
shoulders and with tucks at the edge, and a strip of white stuff up
round her neck--ay, she looked well. There were some said she'd found
a lad already down in the village to go sweethearting with, though
maybe 'twas but their talk, after all. Fru Heyerdahl kept a watchful
eye on her at any rate, and took care not to let her go to the
Ay, Fru Heyerdahl was careful enough, that she was; here was Axel
standing talking to his former servant-girl about a matter of two
rings, and suddenly Fru Heyerdahl comes right between them and says:
"Barbro, I thought you were going to the store?" Off goes Barbro. And
her mistress turns to Axel and says: "Have you come down with some
meat, or something?"
"H'm," said Axel, just that, and touched his cap.
Now it was Fru Heyerdahl that had praised him up so that last autumn,
saying he was a splendid fellow and she had always thought well of
him; and one good turn was worth another, no doubt. Axel knew the way
of doing things; 'twas an old story, when simple folk had dealing with
their betters, with authority. And he had thought at once of a piece
of butcher's meat, a bull he had, that might be useful there. But time
went on, and month and month passed by and autumn was gone, and the
bull was never killed. And what harm could it do, after all, if he
kept it for himself?--give it away, and he would be so much poorer.
And 'twas a fine beast, anyway.
"H'm, _Goddag_. Nay," said Axel, shaking his head; he'd no meat with
But Fru Heyerdahl seemed to be guessing his thoughts, for she said:
"I've heard you've an ox, or what?"
"Ay, so I have," said Axel.
"Are you going to keep it?"
"Ay, I'll be keeping him yet."
"I see. You've no sheep to be killed?"
"Not now I haven't. 'Tis this way, I've never had but what's to be
kept on the place."
"Oh, I see," said Fru Heyerdahl; "well, that was all." And she went on
Axel drove up homeward, but he could not help thinking somewhat of
what had passed; he rather feared he had made a false step somehow.
The Lensmand's lady had been an important witness once; for and
against him, but important anyway. He had been through an unpleasant
time on that occasion, but, after all, he had got out of it in the
end--got out of a very awkward business in connection with the body of
a child found buried on his land. Perhaps, after all, he had better
kill that sheep.
And, strangely enough, this thought was somehow connected with Barbro.
If he came down bringing sheep for her mistress it could hardly fail
to make a certain impression on Barbro herself.
But again the days went on, and nothing evil happened for their going
on. Next time he drove; down to the village he had no sheep on his
cart, no, still no sheep. But at the last moment he had taken a lamb.
A big lamb, though; not a miserable little one by any means, and he
delivered it with these words:
"'Tis rare tough meat on a wether, and no sort of a gift to bring. But
this is none so bad."
But Fru Heyerdahl would not hear of taking it as a gift. "Say what you
want for it," she said. Oh, a fine lady, 'twas not her way to take
gifts from folk! And the end of it was that Axel got a good price for
He saw nothing of Barbro at all. Lensmand's lady had seen him coming,
and got her out of the way. And good luck go with her--Barbro that had
cheated him out of his help for a year and a half!
That spring something unexpected happened--something of importance
indeed; work at the mine was started again; Geissler had sold his
land. Inconceivable! Oh, but Geissler was an unfathomable mind; he
could make a bargain or refuse, shake his head for a "No," or nod the
same for "Yes." Could make the whole village smile again.
Conscience had pricked him, maybe; he had no longer the heart to see
the district where he had been Lensmand famishing on home-made gruel
and short of money. Or had he got his quarter of a million? Possibly,
again, Geissler himself had at last begun to feel the need of money,
and had been forced to sell for what he could get. Twenty-five or
fifty thousand was not to be despised, after all. As a matter of fact,
there were rumours that it was his eldest son who had settled the
business on his father's account.
Be that as it might, work was recommenced; the same engineer came
again with his gangs of men, and the work went on anew. The same work,
ay, but in a different fashion now, going backwards, as it were.
All seemed in regular order: the Swedish mine-owners had brought their
men, and dynamite and money--what could be wrong, anyway? Even Aronsen
came back again, Aronsen the trader, who had set his mind on buying
back Storborg from Eleseus.
"No," said Eleseus. "It's not for sale."
"You'll sell, I suppose, if you're offered enough?"
No, Eleseus was not going to sell Storborg. The truth was, he had
changed his mind somewhat as to the position; it was none so bad,
after all, to be owner of a trading station in the hills; he had a
fine verandah with coloured glass windows, and a chief clerk to do
all the work, while he himself went about the country travelling. Ay,
travelling first class, with fine folks. One day, perhaps, he might
be able to go as far as America--he often thought of that. Even these
little journeys on business to the towns down in the south were
something to live on for a long time after. Not that he let himself go
altogether, and chartered a steamer of his own and held wild orgies on
the way--orgies were not in his line. A strange fellow, was Eleseus;
he no longer cared about girls, had given up such things altogether,
lost all interest in them. No, but after all, he was the Margrave's
son, and travelled first class and bought up loads of goods. And each
time he came back a little finer than before, a greater man; the last
time, he even wore galoshes to keep his feet dry. "What's that--you
taken to wearing two pairs of shoes?" they said.
"I've been suffering from chilblains lately," says Eleseus.
And every one sympathized with Eleseus and his chilblains.
Glorious days--a grand life, with no end of leisure. No, he was not
going to sell Storborg. What, go back to a little town and stand
behind the counter in a little shop, and no chief clerk of his own at
all? Moreover, he had made up his mind now to develop the business
on a grand scale. The Swedes had come back again and would flood the
place with money; he would be a fool to sell out now. Aronsen was
forced to go back each time with a flat refusal, more and more
disgusted at his own lack of foresight in ever having given up the
Oh, but Aronsen might have saved himself a deal of self-reproach, and
likewise Eleseus with his plans and intentions, that he might have
kept in moderation. And more than all, the village would have done
well to be less confident, instead of going about smiling and rubbing
its hands like angels sure of being blessed--no call for them to do so
if they had but known. For now came disappointment, and no little one
at that. Who would ever have thought it; work at the mine commenced
again, true enough--but at the other end of the fjeld, eight miles
away, on the southern boundary of Geissler's holding, far off in
another district altogether, a district with which they were in no
way concerned. And from there the work was to make its way gradually
northward to the original mine, Isak's mine, to be a blessing to folk
in the wilds and in the village. At best, it would take years, any
number of years, a generation.
The news came like a dynamite charge of the heaviest sort, with shock
and stopping of ears. The village folk were overcome with grief. Some
blamed Geissler; 'twas Geissler, that devil of a man, who had tricked
them once more. Others huddled together at a meeting and sent out a
new deputation of trusty men, this time to the mining company, to the
engineer. But nothing came of it; the engineer explained that he was
obliged to start work from the south because that was nearest the sea,
and saved the need of an aerial railway, reduced the transport almost
to nil. No, the work must begin that way; no more to be said.
Then it was that Aronsen at once rose up and set out for the new
workings, the new promised land. He even tried to get Andresen to go
with him: "What's the sense of you staying on here in the wilds?"
said he. "Much better come with me." But Andresen would not leave;
incomprehensible, but so it was, there was something which held him
to the spot; he seemed to thrive there, had taken root. It must be
Andresen who had changed, for the place was the same as ever. Folk
and things were unaltered; the mining work had turned away to other
tracts, but folk in the wilds had not lost their heads over that; they
had their land to till, their crops, their cattle. No great wealth in
money, true, but in all the necessaries of life, ay, absolutely all.
Even Eleseus was not reduced to misery because the stream of gold was
flowing elsewhere; the worst of it was that in his first exaltation he
had bought great stocks of goods that were now unsaleable. Well, they
could stay there for the time being; it looked well, at any rate, to
have plenty of wares in a store.
No, a man of the wilds did not lose his head. The air was not less
healthy now than before; there were folk enough to admire new clothes;
there was no need of diamonds. Wine was a thing he knew from the feast
at Cana. A man of the wild was not put out by the thought of great
things he could not get; art, newspapers, luxuries, politics, and
such-like were worth just what folk were willing to pay for them,
no more. Growth of the soil was something different, a thing to be
procured at any cost; the only source, the origin of all. A dull and
desolate existence? Nay, least of all. A man had everything; his
powers above, his dreams, his loves, his wealth of superstition.
Sivert, walking one evening by the river, stops on a sudden; there on
the water are a pair of ducks, male and female. They have sighted him;
they are aware of man, and afraid; one of them says something, utters
a little sound, a melody in three tones, and the other answers
with the same. Then they rise, whirl off like two little wheels a
stone's-throw up the river, and settle again. Then, as before, one
speaks and the other answers; the same speech as at first, but mark a
new delight: _it is set two octaves higher_! Sivert stands looking at
the birds, looking past them, far into a dream.
A sound had floated through him, a sweetness, and left him standing
there with a delicate; thin recollection of something wild and
splendid, something he had known before, and forgotten again. He walks
home in silence, says no word of it, makes no boast of it, 'twas not
for worldly speech. And it was but Sivert from Sellanraa, went out one
evening, young and ordinary as he was, and met with this.
It was not the only thing he met with--there were more adventures
beside. Another thing which happened was that Jensine left Sellanraa.
And that made Sivert not a little perturbed in his mind.
Ay, it came to that: Jensine would leave, if you please; she wished it
so. Oh, Jensine was not one of your common sort, none could say that.
Sivert had once offered to drive her back home at once, and on that
occasion she had cried, which was a pity; but afterwards she repented
of that, and made it clear that she repented, and gave notice and
would leave. Ay, a proper way to do.
Nothing could have suited Inger at Sellanraa better than this; Inger
was beginning to grow dissatisfied with her maid. Strange; she had
nothing to say against her, but the sight of the girl annoyed her,
she could hardly endure to have her about the place. It all arose, no
doubt, from Inger's state of mind; she had been heavy and religious
all that winter, and it would not pass off. "Want to leave, do
you? Why, then, well and good," said Inger. It was a blessing, the
fulfilment of nightly prayers. Two grown women they were already, what
did they want with this Jensine, fresh as could be and marriageable
and all? Inger thought with a certain displeasure of that same
marriageableness, thinking, maybe, how she had once been the same
Her deep religiousness did not pass off. She was not full of vice; she
had tasted, sipped, let us say, but 'twas not her intent to persevere
in that way all through her old age, not by any means; Inger turned
aside with horror from the thought. The mine and all its workmen were
no longer there--and Heaven be praised. Virtue was not only tolerable,
but inevitable, it was a necessary thing; ay, a necessary good, a
But the world was all awry. Look now, here was Leopoldine, little
Leopoldine, a seedling, a slip of a child, going about bursting
with sinful health; but an arm round her waist and she would fall
helpless--oh, fie! There were spots on her face now, too--a sign in
itself of wild blood; ay, her mother remembered well enough, 'twas the
wild blood would out. Inger did not condemn her child for a matter of
spots 'on her face; but it must stop, she would have an end of it. And
what did that fellow Andresen want coming up to Sellanraa of Sundays,
to talk fieldwork with Isak? Did the two menfolk imagine the child was
blind? Ay, young folk were young folk as they had ever been, thirty,
forty years ago, but worse than ever now.
"Why, that's as it may be," said Isak, when they spoke of the matter.
"But here's the spring come, and Jensine gone, and who's to manage the
"Leopoldine and I can do the haymaking," said Inger. "Ay, I'd rather
go raking night and day myself," said she bitterly, and on the point
Isak could not understand what there was to make such a fuss about;
but he had his own ideas, no doubt, and off he went to the edge of
the wood, with crowbar and pick, and fell to working at a stone. Nay,
indeed, Isak could not see why Jensine should have left them; a good
girl, and a worker. To tell the truth, Isak was often at a loss in all
save the simplest things--his work, his lawful and natural doings. A
broad-shouldered man, well filled out, nothing astral about him at
all; he ate like a man and throve on it, and 'twas rarely he was
thrown off his balance in any way.
Well, here was this stone. There were stones more in plenty, but here
was one to begin with. Isak is looking ahead, to the time when he
will need to build a little house here, a little home for himself and
Inger, and as well to get to work a bit on the site, and clear it,
while Sivert is down at Storborg. Otherwise the boy would be asking
questions, and that was not to Isak's mind. The day must come,
of course, when Sivert would need all there was of the place for
himself--the old folks would be wanting a house apart. Ay, there was
never an end of building at Sellanraa; that fodder loft above the
cowshed was not done yet, though the beams and planks for it were
there all ready.
Well, then, here was this stone. Nothing so big to look at above
ground, but not to be moved at a touch for all that; it must be a
heavy fellow. Isak dug round about it, and tried his crowbar, but it
would not move. He dug again and tried once more, but no. Back to the
house for a spade then, and clear the earth away, then digging
again, trying again--no. A mighty heavy beast to shift, thought Isak
patiently enough. He dug away now for a steady while, but the stone
seemed reaching ever deeper and deeper down, there was no getting a
purchase on it. A nuisance it would be if he had to blast it, after
all. The boring would make such a noise, and call up every one on the
place. He dug. Off again to fetch a levering pole and tried that--no.
He dug again. Isak was beginning to be annoyed with this stone; he
frowned, and looked at the thing, as if he had just come along to make
a general inspection of the stones in that neighbourhood, and
found this one particularly stupid. He criticized it; ay, it was a
round-faced, idiotic stone, no getting hold of it any way--he was
almost inclined to say it was deformed. Blasting? The thing wasn't
worth a charge of powder. And was he to give it up, was he to consider
the possibility of being beaten by a stone?
He dug. Hard work, that it was, but as to giving up ... At last he
got the nose of his lever down and tried it; the stone did not move.
Technically speaking, there was nothing wrong with his method, but it
did not work. What was the matter, then? He had got out stones before
in his life. Was he getting old? Funny thing, he he he! Ridiculous,
indeed. True, he had noticed lately that he was not so strong as he
had been--that is to say, he had noticed nothing of the sort, never
heeded it; 'twas only imagination. And he goes at the stone once more,
with the best will in the world.
Oh, 'twas no little matter when Isak bore down on a levering pole
with all his weight. There he is now, hoisting and hoisting again, a
Cyclop, enormous, with a torso that seems built in one to the knees. A
certain pomp and splendour about him; his equator was astounding.
But the stone did not move.
No help for it; he must dig again. Try blasting? Not a word! No, dig
again. He was intent on his work now. The stone should come up! It
would be wrong to say there was anything at all perverse in this on
Isak's part; it was the ingrown love of a worker on the soil,
but altogether without tenderness. It was a foolish sight; first
gathering, as it were, about the stone from all sides, then making
a dash at it, then digging all round its sides and fumbling at it,
throwing up the earth with his bare hands, ay, so he did. Yet there
was nothing of a caress in it all. Warmth, yes, but the warmth of zeal
Try the lever again? He thrust it down where there was best hold--no.
An altogether remarkable instance of obstinacy and defiance on the
part of the stone. But it seemed to be giving. Isak tries again, with
a touch of hope; the earth-breaker has a feeling now that the stone
is no longer invincible. Then the lever slipped, throwing him to the
ground. "Devil!" said he. Ay, he said that. His cap had got thrust
down over one ear as he fell, making him look like a robber, like a
Spaniard. He spat.
Here comes Inger. "Isak, come in and have your food now," says she,
kindly and pleasant as can be.
"Ay," says he, but will have her no nearer, and wants no questions.
Oh, but Inger, never dreaming, she comes nearer.
"What's in your mind now?" she asks, to soften him with a hint of the
way he thinks out some new grand thing almost every day.
But Isak is sullen, terribly sullen and stern; he says: "Nay, I don't
And Inger again, foolish that she is--ugh, keeps on talking and asking
and will not go.
"Seeing as you've seen it yourself," says he at last, "I'm getting up
this stone here."
"Ho, going to get him up?"
"And couldn't I help a bit at all?" she asks.
Isak shakes his head. But it was a kindly thought, anyway, that she
would have helped him, and he can hardly be harsh in return.
"If you just wait the least bit of a while," says he, and runs home
for the hammers.
If he could only get the stone rough a bit, knocking off a flake or so
in the right spot, it would give the lever a better hold. Inger holds
the setting-hammer, and Isak strikes. Strikes, strikes. Ay, sure
enough, off goes a flake. "'Twas a good help," says Isak, "and thanks.
But don't trouble about food for me this bit of a while, I must get
this stone up first."
But Inger does not go. And to tell the truth, Isak is pleased enough
to have her there watching him at his work; 'tis a thing has always
pleased him, since their young days. And lo, he gets a fine purchase
now on the lever, and puts his weight into it--the stone moves! "He's
moving," says Inger.
"'Tis but your nonsense," says Isak.
"Nonsense, indeed! But it is!"
Got so far, then--and that was something. The stone was, so to speak,
converted now, was on his side; they were working together. Isak
hoists and heaves with his lever, and the stone moves, but no more. He
keeps at it a while, nothing more. All at once he understands that it
is not merely a question of weight, the dead pull of his body; no, the
fact is that he has no longer his old strength, he has lost the tough
agility that makes all the difference. Weight? An easy matter enough
to hang on with his weight and break an iron-shod pole. No, he was
weakening, that was it. And the patient man is filled with bitterness
at the thought--at least he might have been spared the shame of having
Inger here to see it!
Suddenly he drops the lever and grasps the sledge. A fury takes him,
he is minded to go at it violently now. And see, his cap still hangs
on one ear, robber-fashion, and now he steps mightily, threateningly,
round the stone, trying, as it were, to set himself in the proper
light; ho, he will leave that stone a ruin and a wreck of what it had
been. Why not? When a man is filled with mortal hatred of a stone,
it is a mere formality to crush it. And suppose the stone resists,
suppose it declines to be crushed? Why, let it try--and see which of
the two survives!
But then it is that Inger speaks up, a little timidly, again; seeing,
no doubt, what is troubling him: "What if we both hang on the stick
there?" And the thing she calls a stick is the lever, nothing else.
"No!" cries Isak furiously. But after a moment's thought he says:
"Well, well, since you're here--though you might as well have gone
home. Let's try."
And they get the stone up on edge. Ay, they manage that. And "Puh!"
But now comes a revelation, a strange thing to see. The underside of
the stone is flat, mightily broad, finely cut, smooth and even as
a floor. The stone is but the half of a stone, the other half is
somewhere close by, no doubt. Isak knows well enough that two halves
of the same stone may lie in different places; the frost, no doubt,
that in course of time had shifted them apart. But he is all wonder
and delight at the find; 'tis a useful stone of the best, a door-slab.
A round sum of money would not have filled this fieldworker's mind
with such content. "A fine door-slab," says he proudly.
And Inger, simple creature: "Why! Now how on earth could you tell that
"H'm," says Isak. "Think I'd go here digging about for nothing?"
They walk home together, Isak enjoying new admiration on false
pretences; 'twas something he had not deserved, but it tasted but
little different from the real thing. He lets it be understood that he
has been looking out for a suitable door-slab for a long time, and had
found it at last. After that, of course, there could be nothing in the
least suspicious about his working there again; he could root about as
much as he pleased on pretext of looking for the other half. And when
Sivert came home, he could get him to help.
But if it had come to this, that he could no longer go out alone and
heave up a stone, why, things were sorely changed; ay, 'twas a bad
look-out, and the more need to get that site cleared quick as might
be. Age was upon him, he was ripening for the chimney-corner. The
triumph he had stolen in the matter of the door-slab faded away in a
few days; 'twas a false thing, and not made to last. Isak stooped a
little now in his walk.
Had he not once been so much of a man that he grew wakeful and
attentive in a moment if one but said a word of stone, a word of
digging? And 'twas no long time since, but a few years, no more. Ay,
and in those days, folk that were shy of a bit of draining work kept
out of his way. Now he was beginning, little by little, to take such
matters more calmly; eyah, _Herregud_! All things were changed, the
land itself was different now, with broad telegraph roads up through
the woods, that had not been there before, and rocks blasted and
sundered up by the water, as they had not been before. And folk, too,
were changed. They did not greet coming and going as in the old days,
but nodded only, or maybe not even that.
But then--in the old days there had been no Sellanraa, but only a turf
hut, while now.... There had been no Margrave in the old days.
Ay, but Margrave, what was he now? A pitiful thing, nothing
superhuman, but old and fading, going the way of all flesh. What
though he had good bowels, and could eat well, when it gave him no
strength? 'Twas Sivert had the strength now, and a mercy it was
so--but think, if Isak had had it too! A sorry thing, to find his
works running down. He had toiled like a man, carrying loads enough
for any beast of burden; now, he could exercise his patience in
Isak is ill-pleased, heavy at heart.
Here lies an old hat, an old sou'wester, rotting on the ground.
Carried there by the gale, maybe, or maybe the lads had brought it
there to the edge of the wood years ago, when they were little ones.
It lies there year after year, rotting and rotting away; but once it
had been a new sou'wester, all yellow and new. Isak remembers the day
he came home with it from the store, and Inger had said it was a fine
hat. A year or so after, he had taken it to a painter down in the
village, and had it blacked and polished, and the brim done in green.
And when he came home, Inger thought it a finer hat than before. Inger
always thought everything was fine; ay, 'twas a good life those days,
cutting faggots, with Inger to look on--his best days. And when March
and April came, Inger and he would be wild after each other, just like
the birds and beasts in the woods; and when May was come, he would sow
his corn and plant potatoes, living and thriving from day to dawn.
Work and sleep, loving and dreaming, he was like the first big ox, and
that was a wonder to see, big and bright as a king. But there was no
such May to the years now. No such thing.
Isak was sorely despondent for some days. Dark days they were. He felt
neither wish nor strength to start work on the fodder loft--that could
be left for Sivert to do some day. The thing to be done now was the
house for himself--the last house to build. He could not long hide
from Sivert what he was doing; he was clearing the ground, and plain
to see what for. And one day he told.
"There's a good bit of stone if we'd any use for stonework," said he.
"And there's another."
Sivert showed no surprise, and only said: "Ay, first-rate stones."
"What you might think," said his father.
"We've been digging round here now to find that other door-slab piece;
might almost do to build here. I don't know...."
"Ay, 'tis no bad place to build," said Sivert, looking round.
"Think so? 'Twas none so bad, maybe, to have a bit of a place to house
folk if any should come along."
"A couple of rooms'd be as well. You saw how 'twas when they Swedish
gentlemen came, and no proper place to house them. But what you think:
a bit of a kitchen as well, maybe, if 'twas any cooking to be done?"
"Ay, 'twould be a shame to built with never a bit of kitchen," says
"You think so?"
Isak said no more. But Sivert, he was a fine lad to grasp things, and
get into his head all at once just what was needed in a place to put
up Swedish gentlemen that chanced to come along; never so much as
asked a single question, but only said: "Doing it my way, now, you'd
put up a bit of a shed on the north wall. Folks coming along, 'd be
useful to have a shed place to hang up wet clothes and things."
And his father agrees at once: "Ay, the very thing."
They work at their stones again in silence. Then asks Isak: "Eleseus,
he's not come home, I suppose?"
And Sivert answers evasively: "He'll be coming home soon."
'Twas that way with Eleseus: he was all for staying away, living away
on journeys. Couldn't he have written for the goods? But he must go
round and buy them on the spot. Got them so much cheaper. Ay, maybe,
but what about cost of the journey? He had his own way of thinking, it
seemed. And then, what did he want, anyway, with more cotton stuff,
and coloured ribbons for christening caps, and black and white straw
hats, and long tobacco pipes? No one ever bought such things up in the
hills; and the village folk, they only came up to Storborg when they'd
no money. Eleseus was clever enough in his way--only to see him write
on a paper, or do sums with a bit of chalk! "Ay, with a head like
yours," said folk, admiring him. And that was true enough; but he was
spending overmuch. They village folk never paid their owings, and yet
even a fellow like Brede Olsen could come up to Storborg that winter
and get cotton print and coffee and molasses and paraffin on credit.
Isak has laid out a deal of money already for Eleseus, and his store
and his long journeyings about; there's not overmuch left now out of
the riches from the mine--and what then?
"How d'you think he's getting on, Eleseus?" asks Isak suddenly.
"Getting on?" says Sivert, to gain time.
"Doesn't seem to be doing so well."
"H'm. He says it'll go all right."
"You spoken to him about it?"
"Nay; but Andresen he says so."
Isak thought over this, and shook his head. "Nay, I doubt it's going
ill," says he. "Tis a pity for the lad."
And Isak gloomier than ever now, for all he'd been none too bright
But then Sivert flashes out a bit of news: "There's more folk coming
to live now."
"How d'you say?"
"Two new holdings. They've bought up close by us."
Isak stands still with his crowbar in hand; this was news, and good
news, the best that could be. "That makes ten of us here," says he.
And Isak learns exactly where the new men have bought, he knows the
country all round in his head, and nods. "Ay, they've done well there;
wood for firing in plenty, and some big timber here and there. Ground
slopes down sou'west. Ay...."
Settlers--nothing could beat them, anyway--here were new folk coming
to live. The mine had come to nothing, but so much the better for the
land. A desert, a dying place? Far from it, all about was swarming
with life; two new men, four new hands to work, fields and meadows
and homes. Oh, the little green tracts in a forest, a hut and water,
children and cattle about. Corn waving on the moorlands where naught
but horsetail grew before, bluebells nodding on the fells, and yellow
sunlight blazing in the ladyslipper flowers outside a house. And human
beings living there, move and talk and think and are there with heaven
Here stands the first of them all, the first man in the wilds. He came
that way, kneedeep in marsh-growth and heather, found a sunny slope
and settled there. Others came after him, they trod a path across the
waste _Almenning_; others again, and the path became a road; carts
drove there now. Isak may be content, may start with a little thrill
of pride; he was the founder of a district, the pioneer.
"Look here, we can't go wasting time on this bit of a house place if
we're to get that fodder loft done this year," says he.
With a new brightness, new spirit; as it were, new courage and life.
A woman tramping up along the road. A steady summer rain falls,
wetting her, but she does not heed it; other things are in her
mind--anxiety. Barbro it is, and no other--Brede's girl, Barbro.
Anxious, ay; not knowing how the venture will end; she has gone from
service at the Lensmand's, and left the village. That is the matter.
She keeps away from all the farms on the road up, unwilling to meet
with folk; easy to see where she was going, with a bundle of clothing
on her back. Ay, going to Maaneland, to take service there again.
Ten months she has been at the Lensmand's now, and 'tis no little
time, reckoned out in days and nights, but an eternity reckoned in
longing and oppression. It had been bearable at first, Fru Heyerdahl
looking after her kindly, giving her aprons and neat things to wear;
'twas a joy to be sent on errands to the store with such fine clothes
to wear. Barbro had been in the village as a child; she knew all the
village folk from the days when she had played there, gone to school
there, kissed the lads there, and joined in many games with stones and
shells. Bearable enough for a month or so. But then Fru Heyerdahl
had begun to be even more careful about her, and when the Christmas
festivities began, she was strict. And what good could ever come of
that? It was bound to spoil things. Barbro could never have endured it
but that she had certain hours of the night to herself; from two to
six in the morning she was more or less safe, and had stolen pleasures
not a few. What about Cook, then, for not reporting her? A nice sort
of woman she must be! Oh, an ordinary woman enough, as the world finds
them; Cook went out without leave herself. They took it in turns. And
it was quite a long time before they were found out. Barbro was by no