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Tales From Two Hemispheres by Hjalmar Hjorth Boysen

Part 4 out of 5

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she was displeased with him. In this instance
her anger was not strong enough to resist the
anticipation of a secret, probably relating to
that little drama which had, during the last
weeks, been in progress under her very eyes.
With a resolute movement, she brushed her
tears away, bent eagerly forward, and, in the
next moment, her face was all expectancy and

Arnfinn pulled a thick black note-book from
his breast pocket, opened it in his lap, and read:

"August 3, 5 A. M.--My little invalid is doing
finely; he seemed to relish much a few dozen
flies which I brought him in my hand. His
pulse is to-day, for the first time, normal. He
is beginning to step on the injured leg without
apparent pain.

"10 A. M.--Miss Augusta's eyes have a strange,
lustrous brilliancy whenever she speaks of subjects
which seem to agitate the depths of her
being. How and why is it that an excessive
amount of feeling always finds its first expression
in the eye? One kind of emotion seems to widen
the pupil, another kind to contract it. TO be
noticed in future, how particular emotions affect
the eye.

"6 P. M.--I met a plover on the beach this
afternoon. By imitating his cry, I induced him
to come within a few feet of me. The plover,
as his cry indicates, is a very melancholy bird.
In fact I believe the melancholy temperament to
be prevailing among the wading birds, as the
phlegmatic among birds of prey. The singing
birds are choleric or sanguine. Tease a thrush,
or even a lark, and you will soon be convinced.
A snipe, or plover, as far as my experience goes,
seldom shows anger; you cannot tease them.
To be considered, how far the voice of a bird may
be indicative of its temperament.

"August 5, 9 P. M.--Since the unfortunate
meeting yesterday morning, when my intense
pre-occupation with my linnet, which had torn
its wound open again, probably made me commit
some breach of etiquette, Miss Augusta
avoids me.

"August 7--I am in a most singular state.
My pulse beats 85, which is a most unheard-of
thing for me, as my pulse is naturally full and
slow. And, strangely enough, I do not feel at
all unwell. On the contrary, my physical well-
being is rather heightened than otherwise.
The life of a whole week is crowded into a day,
and that of a day into an hour."

Inga, who, at several points of this narrative,
had been struggling hard to preserve her gravity,
here burst into a ringing laugh.

"That is what I call scientific love-making,"
said Arnfinn, looking up from the book with an
expression of subdued amusement.

"But Arnfinn," cried the girl, while the laughter
quickly died out of her face, "does Mr.
Strand know that you are reading this?"

"To be sure he does. And that is just what
to my mind makes the situation so excessively
comical. He has himself no suspicion that this
book contains anything but scientific notes. He
appears to prefer the empiric method in love as
in philosophy. I verily believe that he is
innocently experimenting with himself, with a view
to making some great physiological discovery."

"And so he will, perhaps," rejoined the girl,
the mixture of gayety and grave solicitude
making her face, as her cousin thought, particularly

"Only not a physiological, but possibly a
psychological one," remarked Arnfinn. "But
listen to this. Here is something rich:

"August 9--Miss Augusta once said something
about the possibility of animals being immortal.
Her eyes shone with a beautiful animation
as she spoke. I am longing to continue
the subject with her. It haunts me the whole
day long. There may be more in the idea than
appears to a superficial observer."

"Oh, how charmingly he understands how to
deceive himself," cried Inga.

"Merely a quid pro quo," said Arnfinn.

"I know what I shall do!"

"And so do I."

"Won't you tell me, please?"


"Then I sha'n't tell you either."

And they flew apart like two thoughtless little
birds ("sanguine," as Strand would have called
them), each to ponder on some formidable plot
for the reconciliation of the estranged lovers.


During the week that ensued, the multifarious
sub-currents of Strand's passion seemed
slowly to gather themselves into one clearly defined
stream, and, after much scientific speculation,
he came to the conclusion that he loved
Augusta. In a moment of extreme discouragement,
he made a clean breast of it to Arnfinn,
at the same time informing him that he had
packed his knapsack, and would start on his
wanderings again the next morning. All his
friend's entreaties were in vain; he would and
must go. Strand was an exasperatingly head-
strong fellow, and persuasions never prevailed
with him. He had confirmed himself in the belief
that he was very unattractive to women, and
that Augusta, of all women, for some reason
which was not quite clear to him, hated and
abhorred him. Inexperienced as he was, he could
see no reason why she should avoid him, if she
did not hate him. They sat talking until mid-
night, each entangling himself in those passionate
paradoxes and contradictions peculiar to
passionate and impulsive youth. Strand paced
the floor with large steps, pouring out his long
pent-up emotion in violent tirades of self-
accusation and regret; while Arnfinn sat on the bed,
trying to soothe his excitement by assuring him
that he was not such a monster as, for the moment,
he had believed himself to be, but only
succeeding, in spite of all his efforts, in pouring
oil on the flames. Strand was scientifically
convinced that Nature, in accordance with some
inscrutable law of equilibrium, had found it
necessary to make him physically unattractive,
perhaps to indemnify mankind for that excess
of intellectual gifts which, at the expense of the
race at large, she had bestowed upon him.

Early the next morning, as a kind of etherealized
sunshine broke through the white muslin
curtains of Arnfinn's room, and long streaks of
sun-illumined dust stole through the air toward
the sleeper's pillow, there was a sharp rap at the
door, and Strand entered. His knapsack was
strapped over his shoulders, his long staff was in
his hand, and there was an expression of
conscious martyrdom in his features. Arnfinn
raised himself on his elbows, and rubbed his
eyes with a desperate determination to get
awake, but only succeeded in gaining a very
dim impression of a beard, a blue woolen shirt,
and a disproportionately large shoe buckle. The
figure advanced to the bed, extended a broad,
sun-burned hand, and a deep bass voice was
heard to say:

"Good-bye, brother."

Arnfinn, who was a hard sleeper, gave another
rub, and, in a querulously sleepy tone, managed
to mutter:

"Why,--is it as late as that--already?"

The words of parting were more remotely
repeated, the hand closed about Arnfinn's half-
unfeeling fingers, the lock on the door gave a
little sharp click, and all was still. But the
sunshine drove the dust in a dumb, confused dance
through the room.

Some four hours later, Arnfinn woke up with
a vague feeling as if some great calamity had
happened; he was not sure but that he had slept
a fortnight or more. He dressed with a sleepy,
reckless haste, being but dimly conscious of the
logic of the various processes of ablution which
he underwent. He hurried up to Strand's room,
but, as he had expected, found it empty.

During all the afternoon, the reading of "David
Copperfield" was interrupted by frequent
mutual condolences, and at times Inga's hand
would steal up to her eye to brush away a
treacherous tear. But then she only read the
faster, and David and Agnes were already safe
in the haven of matrimony before either she or
Arnfinn was aware that they had struggled
successfully through the perilous reefs and quick-
sands of courtship.

Augusta excused herself from supper, Inga's
forced devices at merriment were too transparent,
Arnfinn's table-talk was of a rambling,
incoherent sort, and he answered dreadfully
malapropos, if a chance word was addressed to him,
and even the good-natured pastor began, at last,
to grumble; for the inmates of the Gran Parsonage
seemed to have but one life and one soul in
common, and any individual disturbance immediately
disturbed the peace and happiness of the
whole household. Now gloom had, in some
unaccountable fashion, obscured the common
atmosphere. Inga shook her small wise head, and
tried to extract some little consolation from the
consciousness that she knew at least some things
which Arnfinn did not know, and which it would
be very unsafe to confide to him.


Four weeks after Strand's departure, as the
summer had already assumed that tinge of sadness
which impresses one as a foreboding of
coming death, Augusta was walking along the
beach, watching the flight of the sea-birds. Her
latest "aberration," as Arnfinn called it, was an
extraordinary interest in the habits of the eider-
ducks, auks, and sea-gulls, the noisy monotony
of whose existence had, but a few months ago,
appeared to her the symbol of all that was vulgar
and coarse in human and animal life. Now
she had even provided herself with a note-book,
and (to use once more the language of her
unbelieving cousin) affected a half-scientific interest
in their clamorous pursuits. She had made
many vain attempts to imitate their voices and
to beguile them into closer intimacy, and had
found it hard at times to suppress her indignation
when they persisted in viewing her in the
light of an intruder, and in returning her amiable
approaches with shy suspicion, as if they
doubted the sincerity of her intentions.

She was a little paler now, perhaps, than before,
but her eyes had still the same lustrous
depth, and the same sweet serenity was still
diffused over her features, and softened, like a
pervading tinge of warm color, the grand
simplicity of her presence. She sat down on a
large rock, picked up a curiously twisted shell,
and seeing a plover wading in the surf, gave a
soft, low whistle, which made the bird turn
round and gaze at her with startled distrust.
She repeated the call, but perhaps a little too
eagerly, and the bird spread its wings with a
frightened cry, and skimmed, half flying, half
running, out over the glittering surface of the
fjord. But from the rocks close by came a long
melancholy whistle like that of a bird in
distress, and the girl rose and hastened with eager
steps toward the spot. She climbed up on a
stone, fringed all around with green slimy sea-
weeds, in order to gain a wider view of the
beach. Then suddenly some huge figure started
up between the rocks at her feet; she gave a
little scream, her foot slipped, and in the next
moment she lay--in Strand's arms. He offered
no apology, but silently carried her over the
slippery stones, and deposited her tenderly upon
the smooth white sand. There it occurred to
her that his attention was quite needless, but at
the moment she was too startled to make any

"But how in the world, Mr. Strand, did you
come here?" she managed at last to stammer.
"We all thought that you had gone away."

"I hardly know myself," said Strand, in a
beseeching undertone, quite different from his
usual confident bass. "I only know that--that
I was very wretched, and that I had to come

Then there was a pause, which to both seemed
quite interminable, and, in order to fill it out in
some way, Strand began to move his head and
arms uneasily, and at length seated himself at
Augusta's side. The blood was beating with
feverish vehemence in her temples, and for the
first time in her life she felt something akin to
pity for this large, strong man, whose strength
and cheerful self-reliance had hitherto seemed
to raise him above the need of a woman's aid
and sympathy. Now the very shabbiness of his
appearance, and the look of appealing misery in
his features, opened in her bosom the gate
through which compassion could enter, and,
with that generous self-forgetfulness which was
the chief factor of her character, she leaned
over toward him, and said:

"You must have been very sick, Mr. Strand.
Why did you not come to us and allow us to
take care of you, instead of roaming about here
in this stony wilderness?"

"Yes; I have been sick," cried Strand, with
sudden vehemence, seizing her hand; "but it is
a sickness of which I shall never, never be

And with that world-old eloquence which is
yet ever new, he poured forth his passionate
confession in her ear, and she listened, hungrily
at first, then with serene, wide-eyed happiness.
He told her how, driven by his inward restlessness,
he had wandered about in the mountains,
until one evening at a saeter, he had heard a
peasant lad singing a song, in which this stanza

"A woman's frown, a woman's smile,
Nor hate nor fondness prove;
For maidens smile on him they hate,
And fly from him they love."

Then it had occurred to him for the first time
in his life that a woman's behavior need not be
the logical indicator of her deepest feelings,
and, enriched with this joyful discovery,
inspired with new hope, he had returned, but had
not dared at once to seek the Parsonage, until
he could invent some plausible reason for his
return; but his imagination was very poor, and
he had found none, except that he loved the
pastor's beautiful daughter.

The evening wore on. The broad mountain-
guarded valley, flooded now to the brim with a
soft misty light, spread out about them, and
filled them with a delicious sense of security.
The fjord lifted its grave gaze toward the sky,
and deepened responsively with a bright, ever-
receding immensity. The young girl felt this
blessed peace gently stealing over her; doubt
and struggle were all past, and the sun shone
ever serene and unobscured upon the widening
expanses of the future. And in his breast, too,
that mood reigned in which life looks boundless
and radiant, human woes small or impossible,
and one's own self large and all-conquering.
In that hour they remodeled this old and
obstinate world of ours, never doubting that, if
each united his faith and strength with the
other's, they could together lift its burden.

That night was the happiest and most memorable
night in the history of the Gran Parsonage.
The pastor walked up and down on the floor,
rubbing his hands in quiet contentment. Inga,
to whom an engagement was essentially a sol-
emn affair, sat in a corner and gazed at her
sister and Strand with tearful radiance. Arnfinn
gave vent to his joy by bestowing embraces
promiscuously upon whomsoever chanced to
come in his way.

This story, however, has a brief but not
unimportant sequel. It was not many weeks after
this happy evening that Arnfinn and the maiden
with the "amusingly unclassical nose" presented
themselves in the pastor's study and asked for
his paternal and unofficial blessing. But the
pastor, I am told, grew very wroth, and
demanded that his nephew should first take his
second and third degrees, attaching, besides,
some very odious stipulations regarding average
in study and college standing, before there could
be any talk about engagement or matrimony.
So, at present, Arnfinn is still studying, and the
fair-haired Inga is still waiting.


HE was born in the houseman's lodge;
she in the great mansion. He did not
know who his father was; she was
the daughter of Grim of Skogli, and
she was the only daughter he had. They were
carried to baptism on the same day, and he was
called Truls, because they had to call him something;
she received the name of Borghild, because
that had been the name of every eldest
born daughter in the family for thirty
generations. They both cried when the pastor poured
the water on their heads; his mother hushed
him, blushed, and looked timidly around her;
but the woman who carried Borghild lifted her
high up in her arms so that everybody could
see her, and the pastor smiled benignly, and the
parishioners said that they had never seen so
beautiful a child. That was the way in which
they began life--he as a child of sin, she as the
daughter of a mighty race.

They grew up together. She had round
cheeks and merry eyes, and her lips were redder
than the red rose. He was of slender
growth, his face was thin and pale, and his eyes
had a strange, benumbed gaze, as if they were
puzzling themselves with some sad, life-long
riddle which they never hoped to solve. On
the strand where they played the billows came
and went, and they murmured faintly with a
sound of infinite remoteness. Borghild laughed
aloud, clapped her hands and threw stones out
into the water, while he sat pale and silent, and
saw the great white-winged sea-birds sailing
through the blue ocean of the sky.

"How would you like to live down there in
the deep green water?" she asked him one day,
as they sat watching the eider-ducks which
swam and dived, and stood on their heads
among the sea-weeds.

"I should like it very well," he answered, "if
you would follow me."

"No, I won't follow you," she cried. "It is
cold and wet down in the water. And I should
spoil the ribbons on my new bodice. But
when I grow up and get big and can braid my
hair, then I shall row with the young lads to the
church yonder on the headland, and there the
old pastor will marry me, and I shall wear the
big silver crown which my mother wore when
she was married."

"And may I go with you?" asked he, timidly.

"Yes, you may steer my boat and be my
helmsman, or--you may be my bridegroom, if
you would like that better."

"Yes, I think I should rather be your
bridegroom," and he gave her a long, strange look
which almost frightened her.

The years slipped by, and before Borghild
knew it, she had grown into womanhood. The
down on Truls's cheeks became rougher, and he,
too, began to suspect that he was no longer a
boy. When the sun was late and the breeze
murmured in the great, dark-crowned pines,
they often met by chance, at the well, on the
strand, or on the saeter-green. And the oftener
they met the more they found to talk about; to
be sure, it was she who did the talking, and he
looked at her with his large wondering eyes and
listened. She told him of the lamb which had
tumbled down over a steep precipice and still
was unhurt, of the baby who pulled the pastor's
hair last Sunday during the baptismal ceremony,
or of the lumberman, Lars, who drank the kero-
sene his wife gave him for brandy, and never
knew the difference. But, when the milkmaids
passed by, she would suddenly forget what she
had been saying, and then they sat gazing at
each other in silence. Once she told him of the
lads who danced with her at the party at Houg;
and she thought she noticed a deeper color on
his face, and that he clinched both his fists and
--thrust them into his pockets. That set her
thinking, and the more she thought, the more
curious she grew. He played the violin well;
suppose she should ask him to come and fiddle
at the party her father was to give at the end
of the harvest. She resolved to do it, and he,
not knowing what moved her, gave his promise
eagerly. It struck her, afterward, that she had
done a wicked thing, but, like most girls, she
had not the heart to wrestle with an uncomfortable
thought; she shook it off and began to hum
a snatch of an old song.

"O'er the billows the fleet-footed storm-wind rode,
The billows blue are the merman's abode,
So strangely that harp was sounding."

The memory of old times came back to her,
the memory of the morning long years ago,
when they sat together on the strand, and he
said; "I think I would rather be your bride-
groom, Borghild." The memory was sweet
but it was bitter too; and the bitterness rose
and filled her heart. She threw her head back
proudly, and laughed a strange, hollow laugh.
"A bastard's bride, ha, ha! A fine tale were
that for the parish gossips." A yellow butterfly
lighted on her arm, and with a fierce frown on
her face she caught it between her fingers.
Then she looked pityingly on the dead wings,
as they lay in her hand, and murmured between
her teeth: "Poor thing! Why did you come
in my way, unbidden?"

The harvest was rich, and the harvest party
was to keep pace with the harvest. The broad
Skogli mansion was festively lighted (for it was
already late in September); the tall, straight
tallow candles, stuck in many-armed candlesticks,
shone dimly through a sort of misty halo,
and only suffused the dusk with a faint glimmering
of light. And every time a guest entered,
the flames of the candles flickered and
twisted themselves with the wind, struggling
to keep erect. And Borghild's courage, too,
rose and fell with the flickering motion of a
flame which wrestles with the wind. Whenever
the latch clicked she lifted her eyes and looked
for Truls, and one moment she wished that she
might never see his face again, and in the next
she sent an eager glance toward the door. Presently
he came, threw his fiddle on a bench, and
with a reckless air walked up to her and held
out his hand. She hesitated to return his greeting,
but when she saw the deep lines of suffering
in his face, her heart went forward with a
great tenderness toward him, a tenderness such
as one feels for a child who is sick, and suffers
without hope of healing. She laid her hand in
his, and there it lay for a while listlessly; for
neither dared trust the joy which the sight of
the other enkindled. But when she tried to
draw her hand away, he caught it quickly, and
with a sudden fervor of voice he said:

"The sight of you, Borghild, stills the hunger
which is raging in my soul. Beware that you
do not play with a life, Borghild, even though
it be a worthless one."

There was something so hopelessly sad in his
words, that they stung her to the quick. They
laid bare a hidden deep in her heart, and she
shrank back st the sight of her own vileness.
How could she repair the injury she had done
him? How could she heal the wound she had
inflicted? A number of guests came up to greet
her and among them Syvert Stein, a bold-look-
ing young man, who, during that summer, had
led her frequently in the dance. He had a
square face, strong features, and a huge crop of
towy hair. His race was far-famed for wit and

"Tardy is your welcome, Borghild of Skogli,"
quoth he. "But what a faint heart does not
give a bold hand can grasp, and what I am not
offered I take unbidden."

So saying, he flung his arm about her waist,
lifted her from the floor and put her down in
the middle of the room. Truls stood and gazed
at them with large, bewildered eyes. He tried
hard to despise the braggart, but ended with
envying him.

"Ha, fiddler, strike up a tune that shall ring
through marrow and bone," shouted Syvert
Stein, who struck the floor with his heels and
moved his body to the measure of a spring-dance.

Truls still followed them with his eyes;
suddenly he leaped up, and a wild thought burned
in his breast. But with an effort he checked
himself, grasped his violin, and struck a wailing
chord of lament. Then he laid his ear close
to the instrument, as if he were listening to
some living voice hidden there within, ran wa-
rily with the bow over the strings, and warbled,
and caroled, and sang with maddening glee, and
still with a shivering undercurrent of woe. And
the dusk which slept upon the black rafters was
quickened and shook with the weird sound;
every pulse in the wide hall beat more rapidly,
and every eye kindled with a bolder fire.
Pressently{sic} a Strong male voice sang out to the
measure of the violin:

"Come, fairest maid, tread the dance with me;
O heigh ho!"

And a clear, tremulous treble answered:

"So gladly tread I the dance with thee;
O heigh ho!"

Truls knew the voices only too well; it was Syvert Stein
and Borghild who were singing a stave.[8]

[8] A stave is an improvised responsive song. It is an ancient pastime
in Norway, and is kept up until this day, especially among the peasantry.
The students, also, at their social gatherings, throw improvised
rhymes to each other across the table, and the rest of the company
repeat the refrain.

Syvert--Like brier-roses thy red cheeks blush,
Borghild--And thine are rough like the thorny bush;
Both--An' a heigho!

Syvert--So fresh and green is the sunny lea;
O heigh ho!
Borghild--The fiddle twangeth so merrily;
O heigh ho!
Syvert--So lightly goeth the lusty reel,
Borghild--And round we whirl like a spinning-wheel;
Both--An' a heigho!

Syvert--Thine eyes are bright like the sunny fjord;
O heigh ho!
Borghild--And thine do flash like a Viking's sword;
O heigh ho!
Syvert--So lightly trippeth thy foot along,
Borghild--The air is teeming with joyful song;
Both--An' a heigh ho!

Syvert--Then fairest maid, while the woods are green,
O heigh ho!
Borghild--And thrushes sing the fresh leaves between;
O heigh ho!
Syvert--Come, let us dance in the gladsome day,
Borghild--Dance hate, and sorrow, and care away;
Both--An' a heigh ho!

The stave was at an end. The hot and flushed
dancers straggled over the floor by twos and
threes, and the big beer-horns were passed from
hand to hand. Truls sat in his corner hugging
his violin tightly to his bosom, only to do
something, for he was vaguely afraid of himself--
afraid of the thoughts that might rise--afraid
of the deed they might prompt. He ran his
fingers over his forehead, but he hardly felt the
touch of his own hand. It was as if something
was dead within him--as if a string had
snapped in his breast, and left it benumbed and

Presently he looked up and saw Borghild
standing before him; she held her arms akimbo,
her eyes shone with a strange light, and her
features wore an air of recklessness mingled
with pity.

"Ah, Borghild, is it you?" said he, in a hoarse
voice. "What do you want with me? I
thought you had done with me now."

"You are a very unwitty fellow," answered
she, with a forced laugh. "The branch that
does not bend must break."

She turned quickly on her heel and was lost
in the crowd. He sat long pondering on her
words, but their meaning remained hidden to
him. The branch that does not bend must
break. Was he the branch, and must he bend
or break? By-and-by he put his hands on his
knees, rose with a slow, uncertain motion, and
stalked heavily toward the door. The fresh
night air would do him good. The thought
breathes more briskly in God's free nature,
under the broad canopy of heaven. The white
mist rose from the fields, and made the valley
below appear like a white sea whose nearness
you feel, even though you do not see it. And
out of the mist the dark pines stretched their
warning hands against the sky, and the moon
was swimming, large and placid, between silvery
islands of cloud. Truls began to beat his arms
against his sides, and felt the warm blood
spreading from his heart and thawing the numbness
of his limbs. Not caring whither he went,
he struck the path leading upward to the
mountains. He took to humming an old air
which happened to come into his head, only to
try if there was life enough left in him to sing.
It was the ballad of Young Kirsten and the

"The billows fall and the billows swell,
In the night so lone,
In the billows blue doth the merman dwell,
And strangely that harp was sounding."

He walked on briskly for a while, and, looking
back upon the pain he had endured but a
moment ago, he found it quite foolish and
irrational. An absurd merriment took possession
of him; but all the while he did not know where
his foot stepped; his head swam, and his pulse
beat feverishly. About midway between the
forest and the mansion, where the field sloped
more steeply, grew a clump of birch-trees,
whose slender stems glimmered ghostly white in
the moonlight. Something drove Truls to leave
the beaten road, and, obeying the impulse, he
steered toward the birches. A strange sound
fell upon his ear, like the moan of one in
distress. It did not startle him; indeed, he was in
a mood when nothing could have caused him
wonder. If the sky had suddenly tumbled
down upon him, with moon and all, he would
have taken it as a matter of course. Peering
for a moment through the mist, he discerned
the outline of a human figure. With three
great strides he reached the birch-tree; at his
feet sat Borghild rocking herself to and fro and
weeping piteously. Without a word he seated
himself at her side and tried to catch a glimpse
of her face; but she hid it from him and went
on sobbing. Still there could be no doubt that
it was Borghild--one hour ago so merry, reckless,
and defiant, now cowering at his feet and
weeping like a broken-hearted child.

"Borghild," he said, at last, putting his arm
gently about her waist, "you and I, I think,
played together when we were children."

"So we did, Truls," answered she, struggling
with her tears.

"And as we grew up, we spent many a pleasant
hour with each other."

"Many a pleasant hour."

She raised her head, and he drew her more
closely to him.

"But since then I have done you a great
wrong," began she, after a while.

"Nothing done that cannot yet be undone,"
he took heart to answer.

It was long before her thoughts took shape,
and, when at length they did, she dared not
give them utterance. Nevertheless, she was all
the time conscious of one strong desire, from
which her conscience shrank as from a crime;
and she wrestled ineffectually with her weakness
until her weakness prevailed.

"I am glad you came," she faltered. "I
knew you would come. There was something I
wished to say to you."

"And what was it, Borghild?"

"I wanted to ask you to forgive me--"

"Forgive you--"

He sprang up as if something had stung him.

"And why not?" she pleaded, piteously.

"Ah, girl, you know not what you ask,"
cried he, with a sternness which startled her.
"If I had more than one life to waste--but you
caress with one hand and stab with the other.
Fare thee well, Borghild, for here our paths

He turned his back upon her and began to
descend the slope.

"For God's sake, stay, Truls," implored she,
and stretched her arms appealingly toward him;
"tell me, oh, tell me all."

With a leap he was again at her side, stooped
down over her, and, in a hoarse, passionate
whisper, spoke the secret of his life in her ear.
She gazed for a moment steadily into his face,
then, in a few hurried words, she pledged him
her love, her faith, her all. And in the stillness
of that summer night they planned together
their flight to a greater and freer land, where no
world-old prejudice frowned upon the union of
two kindred souls. They would wait in patience
and silence until spring; then come the fresh
winds from the ocean, and, with them, the birds
of passage which awake the longings in the
Norsernen's breasts, and the American vessels
which give courage to many a sinking spirit,
strength to the wearied arm, hope to the hopeless heart.

During that winter Truls and Borghild seldom
saw each other. The parish was filled
with rumors, and after the Christmas holiday
it was told for certain that the proud maiden of
Skogli had been promised in marriage to Syvert
Stein. It was the general belief that the families
had made the match, and that Borghild, at
least, had hardly had any voice in the matter.
Another report was that she had flatly refused
to listen to any proposal from that quarter, and
that, when she found that resistance was vain,
she had cried three days and three nights, and
refused to take any food. When this rumor
reached the pastor's ear, he pronounced it an
idle tale; "for," said he, "Borghild has always
been a proper and well-behaved maiden, and she
knows that she must honor father and mother,
that it may be well with her, and she live long
upon the land."

But Borghild sat alone in her gable window
and looked longingly toward the ocean. The
glaciers glittered, the rivers swelled, the buds of
the forest burst, and great white sails began to
glimmer on the far western horizon.

If Truls, the Nameless, as scoffers were wont
to call him, had been a greater personage in the
valley, it would, no doubt, have shocked the
gossips to know that one fine morning he sold
his cow, his gun and his dog, and wrapped sixty
silver dollars in a leathern bag, which he sewed
fast to the girdle he wore about his waist. That
same night some one was heard playing wildly
up in the birch copse above the Skogli mansion;
now it sounded like a wail of distress, then like a
fierce, defiant laugh, and now again the music
seemed to hush itself into a heart-broken, sorrowful
moan, and the people crossed themselves, and
whispered: "Our Father;" but Borghild sat at
her gable window and listened long to the weird
strain. The midnight came, but she stirred not.
With the hour of midnight the music ceased.
From the windows of hall and kitchen the light
streamed out into the damp air, and the darkness
stood like a wall on either side; within,
maids and lads were busy brewing, baking, and
washing, for in a week there was to be a
wedding on the farm.

The week went and the wedding came.
Truls had not closed his eyes all that night,
and before daybreak he sauntered down along
the beach and gazed out upon the calm fjord,
where the white-winged sea-birds whirled in
great airy surges around the bare crags. Far
up above the noisy throng an ospray sailed on
the blue expanse of the sky, and quick as
thought swooped down upon a halibut which
had ventured to take a peep at the rising sun.
The huge fish struggled for a moment at the
water's edge, then, with a powerful stroke of
its tail, which sent the spray hissing through
the air, dived below the surface. The bird of
prey gave a loud scream, flapped fiercely with
its broad wings, and for several minutes a
thickening cloud of applauding ducks and seagulls
and showers of spray hid the combat from
the observer's eye. When the birds scattered,
the ospray had vanished, and the waters again
glittered calmly in the morning sun. Truls
stood long, vacantly staring out upon the scene
of the conflict, and many strange thoughts
whirled through his head.

"Halloo, fiddler!" cried a couple of lads who
had come to clear the wedding boats, "you are
early on foot to-day. Here is a scoop. Come
on and help us bail the boats."

Truls took the scoop, and looked at it as if he
had never seen such a thing before; he moved
about heavily, hardly knowing what he did, but
conscious all the while of his own great misery.
His limbs seemed half frozen, and a dull pain
gathered about his head and in his breast--in
fact, everywhere and nowhere.

About ten o'clock the bridal procession
descended the slope to the fjord. Syvert Stein,
the bridegroom, trod the earth with a firm,
springy step, and spoke many a cheery word to
tho bride, who walked, silent and with downcast
eyes, at his side. She wore the ancestral
bridal crown on her head, and the little silver
disks around its edge tinkled and shook as she
walked. They hailed her with firing of guns
and loud hurrahs as she stepped into the boat;
still she did not raise her eyes, but remained
silent. A small cannon, also an heir-loom in the
family, was placed amidships, and Truls, with
his violin, took his seat in the prow. A large
solitary cloud, gold-rimmed but with thunder
in its breast, sailed across the sky and threw its
shadow over the bridal boat as it was pushed
out from the shore, and the shadow fell upon
the bride's countenance too; and when she
lifted it, the mother of the bridegroom, who sat
opposite her, shrank back, for the countenance
looked hard, as if carved in stone--in the eyes
a mute, hopeless appeal; on the lips a frozen
prayer. The shadow of thunder upon a life
that was opening--it was an ill omen, and its
gloom sank into the hearts of the wedding
guests. They spoke in undertones and threw
pitying glances at the bride. Then at length
Syvert Stein lost his patience.

"In sooth," cried he, springing up from his
seat, "where is to-day the cheer that is wont to
abide in the Norseman's breast? Methinks I
see but sullen airs and ill-boding glances. Ha,
fiddler, now move your strings lustily! None
of your funeral airs, my lad, but a merry tune
that shall sing through marrow and bone, and
make the heart leap in the bosom."

Truls heard the words, and in a slow,
mechanical way he took the violin out of its case and
raised it to his chin. Syvert in the mean while
put a huge silver beer-jug to his mouth, and,
pledging his guests, emptied it even to the
dregs. But the bride's cheek was pale; and it
was so still in the boat that every man could
hear his own breathing.

"Ha, to-day is Syvert Stein's wedding-day!"
shouted the bridegroom, growing hot with
wrath. "Let us try if the iron voice of the
cannon can wake my guests from their slumber."

He struck a match and put it to the touch-
hole of the cannon; a long boom rolled away
over the surface of the waters and startled the
echoes of the distant glaciers. A faint hurrah
sounded from the nearest craft, but there came
no response from the bridal boat. Syvert pulled
the powder-horn from his pocket, laughed a
wild laugh, and poured the whole contents of
the horn into the mouth of the cannon.

"Now may the devil care for his own," roared
he, and sprang up upon the row-bench. Then
there came a low murmuring strain as of wavelets
that ripple against a sandy shore. Borghild
lifted her eyes, and they met those of the fiddler.

"Ah, I think I should rather be your
bridegroom," whispered she, and a ray of life stole
into her stony visage.

And she saw herself as a little rosy-cheeked
girl sitting at his side on the beach fifteen years
ago. But the music gathered strength from
her glance, and onward it rushed through the
noisy years of boyhood, shouting with wanton
voice in the lonely glen, lowing with the cattle
on the mountain pastures, and leaping like the
trout at eventide in the brawling rapids; but
through it all there ran a warm strain of boyish
loyalty and strong devotion, and it thawed her
frozen heart; for she knew that it was all for
her and for her only. And it seemed such a
beautiful thing, this long faithful life, which
through sorrow and joy, through sunshine and
gloom, for better for worse, had clung so fast
to her. The wedding guests raised their heads,
and a murmur of applause ran over the waters.

"Bravo!" cried the bridegroom. "Now at
last the tongues are loosed."

Truls's gaze dwelt with tender sadness on the
bride. Then came from the strings some airy
quivering chords, faintly flushed like the petals
of the rose, and fragrant like lilies of the valley;
and they swelled with a strong, awakening
life, and rose with a stormy fullness until they
seemed on the point of bursting, when again
they hushed themselves and sank into a low,
disconsolate whisper. Once more the tones
stretched out their arms imploringly, and again
they wrestled despairingly with themselves, fled
with a stern voice of warning, returned once
more, wept, shuddered, and were silent.

"Beware that thou dost not play with a life!"
sighed the bride, "even though it be a worthless one."

The wedding guests clapped their hands and
shouted wildly against the sky. The bride's
countenance burned with a strange feverish
glow. The fiddler arose in the prow of the
boat, his eyes flamed, he struck the strings
madly, and the air trembled with melodious
rapture. The voice of that music no living
tongue can interpret. But the bride fathomed
its meaning; her bosom labored vehemently,
her lips quivered for an instant convulsively,
and she burst into tears. A dark
suspicion shot through the bridegroom's mind.
He stared intently upon the weeping Borghild
then turned his gaze to the fiddler, who, still
regarding her, stood playing, with a half-frenzied
look and motion.

"You cursed wretch!" shrieked Syvert, and
made a leap over two benches to where Truls was
standing. It came so unexpectedly that Truls
had no time to prepare for defense; so he merely
stretched out the hand in which he held the
violin to ward off the blow which he saw was
coming; but Syvert tore the instrument from
his grasp and dashed it against the cannon, and,
as it happened, just against the touch-hole.
With a tremendous crash something black
darted through the air and a white smoke
brooded over the bridal boat. The bridegroom
stood pale and stunned. At his feet lay Borghild--
lay for a moment still, as if lifeless, then
rose on her elbows, and a dark red current
broke from her breast. The smoke scattered.
No one saw how it was done; but a moment
later Truls, the Nameless, lay kneeling at
Borghild's side.

"It WAS a worthless life, beloved," whispered
he, tenderly. "Now it is at an end."

And he lifted her up in his arms as one lifts
a beloved child, pressed a kiss on her pale lips,
and leaped into the water. Like lead they fell
into the sea. A throng of white bubbles whirled
up to the surface. A loud wail rose from
the bridal fleet, and before the day was at an
end it filled the valley; but the wail did not
recall Truls, the Nameless, or Borghild his

What life denied them, would to God that
death may yield them!



IT was right up under the steel mountain
wall where the farm of Kvaerk
lay. How any man of common sense
could have hit upon the idea of building
a house there, where none but the goat and
the hawk had easy access, had been, and I am
afraid would ever be, a matter of wonder to the
parish people. However, it was not Lage Kvaerk
who had built the house, so he could hardly be
made responsible for its situation. Moreover,
to move from a place where one's life has once
struck deep root, even if it be in the chinks and
crevices of stones and rocks, is about the same
as to destroy it. An old tree grows but poorly
in a new soil. So Lage Kvaerk thought, and so
he said, too, whenever his wife Elsie spoke of
her sunny home at the river.

Gloomy as Lage usually was, he had his
brighter moments, and people noticed that these
were most likely to occur when Aasa, his daughter,
was near. Lage was probably also the only
being whom Aasa's presence could cheer; on
other people it seemed to have the very opposite
effect; for Aasa was--according to the testimony
of those who knew her--the most peculiar creature
that ever was born. But perhaps no one
did know her; if her father was right, no one
really did--at least no one but himself.

Aasa was all to her father; she was his past
and she was his future, his hope and his life;
and withal it must be admitted that those who
judged her without knowing her had at least in
one respect as just an opinion of her as he; for
there was no denying that she was strange,
very strange. She spoke when she ought to be
silent, and was silent when it was proper to
speak; wept when she ought to laugh, and
laughed when it was proper to weep; but her
laughter as well as her tears, her speech like her
silence, seemed to have their source from within
her own soul, to be occasioned, as it were, by
something which no one else could see or hear.
It made little difference where she was; if the
tears came, she yielded to them as if they were
something she had long desired in vain. Few
could weep like her, and "weep like Aasa
Kvaerk," was soon also added to the stock of
parish proverbs. And then her laugh! Tears
may be inopportune enough, when they come
out of time, but laughter is far worse; and when
poor Aasa once burst out into a ringing laughter
in church, and that while the minister was
pronouncing the benediction, it was only with
the greatest difficulty that her father could
prevent the indignant congregation from seizing
her and carrying her before the sheriff for
violation of the church-peace. Had she been poor
and homely, then of course nothing could have
saved her; but she happened to be both rich
and beautiful, and to wealth and beauty much
is pardoned. Aasa's beauty, however, was also
of a very unusual kind; not the tame sweetness
so common in her sex, but something of the
beauty of the falcon, when it swoops down upon
the unwatchful sparrow or soars round the lonely
crags; something of the mystic depth of the
dark tarn, when with bodeful trembling you
gaze down into it, and see its weird traditions
rise from its depth and hover over the pine-tops
in the morning fog. Yet, Aasa was not dark;
her hair was as fair and yellow as a wheat-field
in August, her forehead high and clear, and her
mouth and chin as if cut with a chisel; only her
eyes were perhaps somewhat deeper than is
common in the North, and the longer you
looked at them the deeper they grew, just like
the tarn, which, if you stare long enough into
it, you will find is as deep as the heavens above,
that is, whose depth only faith and fancy can
fathom. But however long you looked at Aasa,
you could never be quite sure that she looked at
you; she seemed but to half notice whatever
went on around her; the look of her eye was
always more than half inward, and when it
shone the brightest, it might well happen that
she could not have told you how many years
she had lived, or the name her father gave her
in baptism.

Now Aasa was eighteen years old, and could
knit, weave, and spin, and it was full time that
wooers should come. "But that is the consequence
of living in such an out-of-the-way
place," said her mother; "who will risk his
limbs to climb that neck-breaking rock? and the
round-about way over the forest is rather too
long for a wooer." Besides handling the loom
and the spinning-wheel, Aasa had also learned
to churn and make cheese to perfection, and
whenever Elsie grieved at her strange behavior
she always in the end consoled herself with the
reflection that after all Aasa would make the
man who should get her an excellent housewife.

The farm of Kvaerk was indeed most singularly
situated. About a hundred feet from the
house the rough wall of the mountain rose steep
and threatening; and the most remarkable part
of it was that the rock itself caved inward and
formed a lofty arch overhead, which looked like
a huge door leading into the mountain. Some
short distance below, the slope of the fields
ended in an abrupt precipice; far underneath
lay the other farm-houses of the valley, scattered
like small red or gray dots, and the river wound
onward like a white silver stripe in the shelter
of the dusky forest. There was a path down
along the rock, which a goat or a brisk lad
might be induced to climb, if the prize of the
experiment were great enough to justify the
hazard. The common road to Kvaerk made a
large circuit around the forest, and reached the
valley far up at its northern end.

It was difficult to get anything to grow at
Kvaerk. In the spring all the valley lay bare
and green, before the snow had begun to think
of melting up there; and the night-frost would
be sure to make a visit there, while the fields
along the river lay silently drinking the summer
dew. On such occasions the whole family at
Kvaerk would have to stay up during all the
night and walk back and forth on either side of
the wheat-fields, carrying a long rope between
them and dragging it slowly over the heads of
the rye, to prevent the frost from settling; for
as long as the ears could be kept in motion,
they could not freeze. But what did thrive at
Kvaerk in spite of both snow and night-frost was
legends, and they throve perhaps the better for
the very sterility of its material soil. Aasa of
course had heard them all and knew them by
heart; they had been her friends from childhood,
and her only companions. All the servants,
however, also knew them and many others
besides, and if they were asked how the mansion
of Kvaerk happened to be built like an eagle's
nest on the brink of a precipice, they would tell
you the following:

Saint Olaf, Norway's holy king, in the time of
his youth had sailed as a Viking over the wide
ocean, and in foreign lands had learned the
doctrine of Christ the White. When he came
home to claim the throne of his hereditary
kingdom, he brought with him tapers and black
priests, and commanded the people to overthrow
the altars of Odin and Thor and to believe alone
in Christ the White. If any still dared to
slaughter a horse to the old gods, he cut off
their ears, burned their farms, and drove them
houseless from the smoking ruins. Here in the
valley old Thor, or, as they called him, Asathor,
had always helped us to vengeance and victory,
and gentle Frey for many years had given us
fair and fertile summers. Therefore the peasants
paid little heed to King Olaf's god, and
continued to bring their offerings to Odin and
Asathor. This reached the king's ear, and he
summoned his bishop and five black priests, and
set out to visit our valley. Having arrived
here, he called the peasants together, stood up
on the Ting-stone, told them of the great things
that the White Christ had done, and bade them
choose between him and the old gods. Some
were scared, and received baptism from the
king's priests; others bit their lips and were
silent; others again stood forth and told Saint
Olaf that Odin and Asathor had always served
them well, and that they were not going to give
them up for Christ the White, whom they had
never seen and of whom they knew nothing.
The next night the red cock crew[9] over ten
farms in the valley, and it happened to he theirs
who had spoken against King Olaf's god. Then
the peasants flocked to the Ting-stone and
received the baptism of Christ the White. Some
few, who had mighty kinsmen in the North,
fled and spread the evil tidings. Only one
neither fled nor was baptized, and that one was
Lage Ulfson Kvaerk, the ancestor of the present
Lage. He slew his best steed before Asathor's
altar, and promised to give him whatever he
should ask, even to his own life, if he would
save him from the vengeance of the king. Asathor
heard his prayer. As the sun set, a storm
sprung up with thick darkness and gloom, the
earth shook, Asathor drove his chariot over the
heavens with deafening thunder and swung his
hammer right and left, and the crackling lightning
flew through the air like a hail-storm of
fire. Then the peasants trembled, for they knew
that Asathor was wroth. Only the king sat
calm and fearless with his bishop and priests,
quaffing the nut-brown mead. The tempest
raged until morn. When the sun rose, Saint
Olaf called his hundred swains, sprang into the
saddle and rode down toward the river. Few
men who saw the angry fire in his eye, and the
frown on his royal brow, doubted whither he
was bound. But having reached the ford, a
wondrous sight met his eye. Where on the day
before the highway had wound itself up the
slope toward Lage Kvaerk's mansion, lay now a
wild ravine; the rock was shattered into a
thousand pieces, and a deep gorge, as if made
by a single stroke of a huge hammer, separated
the king from his enemy. Then Saint Olaf
made the sign of the cross, and mumbled the
name of Christ the White; but his hundred
swains made the sign of the hammer under their
cloaks, and thought, Still is Asathor alive.

[9] "The red cock crew" is the expression used
in the old Norwegian Fagas for incendiary fire.

That same night Lage Ulfson Kvaerk slew a
black ram, and thanked Asathor for his deliverance;
and the Saga tells that while he was
sprinkling the blood on the altar, the thundering
god himself appeared to him, and wilder he
looked than the fiercest wild Turk. Rams, said
he, were every-day fare; they could redeem no
promise. Brynhild, his daughter, was the
reward Asathor demanded. Lage prayed and
besought him to ask for something else. He
would gladly give him one of his sons; for he
had three sons, but only one daughter. Asathor
was immovable; but so long Lage continued to
beg, that at last he consented to come back in a
year, when Lage perchance would be better
reconciled to the thought of Brynhild's loss.

In the mean time King Olaf built a church to
Christ the White on the headland at the river,
where it stands until this day. Every evening,
when the huge bell rumbled between the mountains,
the parishioners thought they heard heavy,
half-choked sighs over in the rocks at Kvaerk;
and on Sunday mornings, when the clear-voiced
chimes called them to high-mass, a suppressed
moan would mingle with the sound of the bells,
and die away with the last echo. Lage Ulfson
was not the man to be afraid; yet the church-
bells many a time drove the blood from his cheeks;
for he also heard the moan from the mountain.

The year went, and Asathor returned. If he
had not told his name, however, Lage would not
have recognized him. That a year could work
so great a change in a god, he would hardly
have believed, if his own eyes had not testified
to it. Asathor's cheeks were pale and bloodless,
the lustre of his eye more than half
quenched, and his gray hair hung in disorder
down over his forehead.

"Methinks thou lookest rather poorly to-day,"
said Lage.

"It is only those cursed church-bells," answered
the god; "they leave me no rest day or night."

"Aha," thought Lage, "if the king's bells are
mightier than thou, then there is still hope of
safety for my daughter."

"Where is Brynhild, thy daughter?" asked Asathor.

"I know not where she is," answered the
father; and straightway he turned his eyes
toward the golden cross that shone over the
valley from Saint Olaf's steeple, and he called
aloud on the White Christ's name. Then the
god gave a fearful roar, fell on the ground,
writhed and foamed and vanished into the
mountain. In the next moment Lage heard a
hoarse voice crying from within, "I shall return,
Lage Ulfson, when thou shalt least expect me!"

Lage Ulfson then set to work clearing a way
through the forest; and when that was done, he
called all his household together, and told them
of the power of Christ the White. Not long
after he took his sons and his daughter, and
hastened with them southward, until he found
King Olaf. And, so the Saga relates, they all
fell down on their knees before him, prayed for
his forgiveness, and received baptism from the
king's own bishop.

So ends the Saga of Lage Ulfson Kvaerk.


Aasa Kvaerk loved her father well, but
especially in the winter. Then, while she sat
turning her spinning-wheel in the light of the
crackling logs, his silent presence always had a
wonderfully soothing and calming effect upon
her. She never laughed then, and seldom wept;
when she felt his eyes resting on her, her
thoughts, her senses, and her whole being
seemed by degrees to be lured from their hiding-
place and concentrate on him; and from him
they ventured again, first timidly, then more
boldly, to grasp the objects around him. At
such times Aasa could talk and jest almost like
other girls, and her mother, to whom "other
girls" represented the ideal of womanly perfection,
would send significant glances, full of hope
and encouragement, over to Lage, and he would
quietly nod in return, as if to say that he
entirely agreed with her. Then Elsie had bright
visions of wooers and thrifty housewives, and
even Lage dreamed of seeing the ancient honor
of the family re-established. All depended on
Aasa. She was the last of the mighty race.
But when summer came, the bright visions fled;
and the spring winds, which to others bring life
and joy, to Kvaerk brought nothing but sorrow.
No sooner had the mountain brooks begun to
swell, than Aasa began to laugh and to weep;
and when the first birches budded up in the
glens, she could no longer be kept at home.
Prayers and threats were equally useless. From
early dawn until evening she would roam about
in forests and fields, and when late at night she
stole into the room and slipped away into some
corner, Lage drew a deep sigh and thought of
the old tradition.

Aasa was nineteen years old before she had a
single wooer. But when she was least expecting it,
the wooer came to her.

It was late one summer night; the young
maiden was sitting on the brink of the ravine,
pondering on the old legend and peering down
into the deep below. It was not the first
time she had found her way hither, where but
seldom a human foot had dared to tread. To
her every alder and bramble-bush, that clothed
the naked wall of the rock, were as familiar as
were the knots and veins in the ceiling of the
chamber where from her childhood she had
slept; and as she sat there on the brink of the
precipice, the late summer sun threw its red lustre
upon her and upon the fogs that came drifting
up from the deep. With her eyes she followed
the drifting masses of fog, and wondered, as
they rose higher and higher, when they would
reach her; in her fancy she saw herself dancing
over the wide expanse of heaven, clad in the
sun-gilded evening fogs; and Saint Olaf, the
great and holy king, came riding to meet her,
mounted on a flaming steed made of the glory
of a thousand sunsets; then Saint Olaf took her
hand and lifted her up, and she sat with him on
the flaming steed: but the fog lingered in the
deep below, and as it rose it spread like a thin,
half-invisible gauze over the forests and the
fields, and at last vanished into the infinite
space. But hark! a huge stone rolls down over
the mountain-side, then another, and another;
the noise grows, the birches down there in the
gorge tremble and shake. Aasa leaned out over
the brink of the ravine, and, as far as she could
distinguish anything from her dizzying height,
thought she saw something gray creeping slowly
up the neck-breaking mountain path; she
watched it for a while, but as it seemed to
advance no farther she again took refuge in her
reveries. An hour might have passed, or perhaps
more, when suddenly she heard a noise
only a few feet distant, and, again stooping out
over the brink, saw the figure of a man strug-
gling desperately to climb the last great ledge
of the rock. With both his hands he clung to
a little birch-tree which stretched its slender
arms down over the black wall, but with every
moment that passed seemed less likely to
accomplish the feat. The girl for a while stood
watching him with unfeigned curiosity, then,
suddenly reminding herself that the situation
to him must be a dangerous one, seized hold
of a tree that grew near the brink, and leaned
out over the rock to give him her assistance.
He eagerly grasped her extended hand, and
with a vigorous pull she flung him up on the
grassy level, where he remained lying for a
minute or two, apparently utterly unable to
account for his sudden ascent, and gazing around
him with a half-frightened, half-bewildered
look. Aasa, to whom his appearance was no
less strange than his demeanor, unluckily hit
upon the idea that perhaps her rather violent
treatment had momentarily stunned him, and
when, as answer to her sympathizing question
if he was hurt, the stranger abruptly rose to his
feet and towered up before her to the formidable
height of six feet four or five, she could no
longer master her mirth, but burst out into a
most vehement fit of laughter. He stood calm
and silent, and looked at her with a timid but
strangely bitter smile. He was so very different
from any man she had ever seen before;
therefore she laughed, not necessarily because
he amused her, but because his whole person
was a surprise to her; and there he stood, tall
and gaunt and timid, and said not a word, only
gazed and gazed. His dress was not the national
costume of the valley, neither was it like
anything that Aasa had ever known. On his head
he wore a cap that hung all on one side, and
was decorated with a long, heavy silk tassel.
A threadbare coat, which seemed to be made
expressly not to fit him, hung loosely on his
sloping shoulders, and a pair of gray pantaloons,
which were narrow where they ought to have
been wide, and wide where it was their duty to
be narrow, extended their service to a little
more than the upper half of the limb, and, by a
kind of compromise with the tops of the boots,
managed to protect also the lower half. His
features were delicate, and would have been called
handsome had they belonged to a proportionately
delicate body; in his eyes hovered a dreamy
vagueness which seemed to come and vanish,
and to flit from one feature to another, suggesting
the idea of remoteness, and a feeling of
hopeless strangeness to the world and all its

"Do I inconvenience you, madam?" were the
first words he uttered, as Aasa in her usual
abrupt manner stayed her laughter, turned her
back on him, and hastily started for the house.

"Inconvenience?" said she, surprised, and
again slowly turned on her heel; "no, not that
I know."

"Then tell me if there are people living here
in the neighborhood, or if the light deceived
me, which I saw from the other side of the river."

"Follow me," answered Aasa, and she navely
reached him her hand; "my father's name is
Lage Ulfson Kvaerk; he lives in the large house
you see straight before you, there on the hill;
and my mother lives there too."

And hand in hand they walked together,
where a path had been made between two
adjoining rye-fields; his serious smile seemed to
grow milder and happier, the longer he lingered
at her side, and her eye caught a ray of more
human intelligence, as it rested on him.

"What do you do up here in the long winter?"
asked he, after a pause.

"We sing," answered she, as it were at ran-
dom, because the word came into her mind;
"and what do you do, where you come from?"

"I gather song."

"Have you ever heard the forest sing?"
asked she, curiously.

"That is why I came here."

And again they walked on in silence.

It was near midnight when they entered the
large hall at Kvaerk. Aasa went before, still
leading the young man by the hand. In the
twilight which filled the house, the space
between the black, smoky rafters opened a vague
vista into the region of the fabulous, and every
object in the room loomed forth from the dusk
with exaggerated form and dimensions. The
room appeared at first to be but the haunt of
the spirits of the past; no human voice, no human
footstep, was heard; and the stranger
instinctively pressed the hand he held more
tightly; for he was not sure but that he was
standing on the boundary of dream-land, and some
elfin maiden had reached him her hand to lure
him into her mountain, where he should live
with her forever. But the illusion was of brief
duration; for Aasa's thoughts had taken a
widely different course; it was but seldom she
had found herself under the necessity of making
a decision; and now it evidently devolved upon
her to find the stranger a place of rest for the
night; so instead of an elf-maid's kiss and a
silver palace, he soon found himself huddled into
a dark little alcove in the wall, where he was
told to go to sleep, while Aasa wandered over
to the empty cow-stables, and threw herself down
in the hay by the side of two sleeping milkmaids.


There was not a little astonishment manifested
among the servant-maids at Kvaerk the
next morning, when the huge, gaunt figure
of a man was seen to launch forth from Aasa's
alcove, and the strangest of all was, that Aasa
herself appeared to be as much astonished as
the rest. And there they stood, all gazing at
the bewildered traveler, who indeed was no less
startled than they, and as utterly unable to
account for his own sudden apparition. After a
long pause, he summoned all his courage, fixed
his eyes intently on the group of the girls, and
with a few rapid steps advanced toward Aasa,
whom he seized by the hand and asked, "Are
you not my maiden of yester-eve?"

She met his gaze firmly, and laid her hand on
her forehead as if to clear her thoughts; as the
memory of the night flashed through her mind,
a bright smile lit up her features, and she
answered, "You are the man who gathers song.
Forgive me, I was not sure but it was all a
dream; for I dream so much."

Then one of the maids ran out to call Lage
Ulfson, who had gone to the stables to harness
the horses; and he came and greeted the unknown
man, and thanked him for last meeting,
as is the wont of Norse peasants, although they
had never seen each other until that morning.
But when the stranger had eaten two meals in
Lage's house, Lage asked him his name and his
father's occupation; for old Norwegian
hospitality forbids the host to learn the guest's
name before he has slept and eaten under his
roof. It was that same afternoon, when they
sat together smoking their pipes under the huge
old pine in the yard,--it was then Lage inquired
about the young man's name and family; and
the young man said that his name was Trond
Vigfusson, that he had graduated at the
University of Christiania, and that his father had
been a lieutenant in the army; but both he and
Trond's mother had died, when Trond was only
a few years old. Lage then told his guest
Vigfusson something about his family, but of
the legend of Asathor and Saint Olaf he spoke
not a word. And while they were sitting there
talking together, Aasa came and sat down at
Vigfusson's feet; her long golden hair flowed in
a waving stream down over her back and
shoulders, there was a fresh, healthful glow on
her cheeks, and her blue, fathomless eyes had a
strangely joyous, almost triumphant expression.
The father's gaze dwelt fondly upon her, and
the collegian was but conscious of one thought:
that she was wondrously beautiful. And still
so great was his natural timidity and awkwardness
in the presence of women, that it was only
with the greatest difficulty he could master his
first impulse to find some excuse for leaving
her. She, however, was aware of no such restraint.

"You said you came to gather song," she
said; "where do you find it? for I too should
like to find some new melody for my old
thoughts; I have searched so long."

"I find my songs on the lips of the people,"
answered he, "and I write them down as the
maidens or the old men sing them."

She did not seem quite to comprehend that.
"Do you hear maidens sing them?" asked she,
astonished. "Do you mean the troll-virgins
and the elf-maidens?"

"By troll-virgins and elf-maidens, or what the
legends call so, I understand the hidden and still
audible voices of nature, of the dark pine forests,
the legend-haunted glades, and the silent
tarns; and this was what I referred to when I
answered your question if I had ever heard the
forest sing."

"Oh, oh!" cried she, delighted, and clapped
her hands like a child; but in another moment
she as suddenly grew serious again, and sat
steadfastly gazing into his eye, as if she were
trying to look into his very soul and there to
find something kindred to her own lonely heart.
A minute ago her presence had embarrassed
him; now, strange to say, he met her eye, and
smiled happily as he met it.

"Do you mean to say that you make your
living by writing songs?" asked Lage.

"The trouble is," answered Vigfusson, "that
I make no living at all; but I have invested a
large capital, which is to yield its interest in the
future. There is a treasure of song hidden in
every nook and corner of our mountains and
forests, and in our nation's heart. I am one of
the miners who have come to dig it out before
time and oblivion shall have buried every trace
of it, and there shall not be even the will-o'-the-
wisp of a legend to hover over the spot, and
keep alive the sad fact of our loss and our
blamable negligence."

Here the young man paused; his eyes gleamed,
his pale cheeks flushed, and there was a
warmth and an enthusiasm in his words which
alarmed Lage, while on Aasa it worked like the
most potent charm of the ancient mystic runes;
she hardly comprehended more than half of the
speaker's meaning, but his fire and eloquence
were on this account none the less powerful.

"If that is your object," remarked Lage, "I
think you have hit upon the right place in
coming here. You will be able to pick up many an
odd bit of a story from the servants and others
hereabouts, and you are welcome to stay here
with us as long as you choose."

Lage could not but attribute to Vigfusson the
merit of having kept Aasa at home a whole day,
and that in the month of midsummer. And
while he sat there listening to their conversation,
while he contemplated the delight that
beamed from his daughter's countenance and, as
he thought, the really intelligent expression of
her eyes, could he conceal from himself the pa-
ternal hopes that swelled his heart? She was
all that was left him, the life or the death of his
mighty race. And here was one who was likely
to understand her, and to whom she seemed
willing to yield all the affection of her warm
but wayward heart. Thus ran Lage Ulfson's
reflections; and at night he had a little consultation
with Elsie, his wife, who, it is needless to
add, was no less sanguine than he.

"And then Aasa will make an excellent housewife,
you know," observed Elsie. "I will speak
to the girl about it to-morrow."

"No, for Heaven's sake, Elsie!" exclaimed
Lage, "don't you know your daughter better
than that? Promise me, Elsie, that you will
not say a single word; it would be a cruel thing,
Elsie, to mention anything to her. She is not
like other girls, you know."

"Very well, Lage, I shall not say a single
word. Alas, you are right, she is not like other
girls." And Elsie again sighed at her husband's
sad ignorance of a woman's nature, and at the
still sadder fact of her daughter's inferiority to
the accepted standard of womanhood.


Trond Vigfusson must have made a rich
harvest of legends at Kvaerk, at least judging by
the time he stayed there; for days and weeks
passed, and he had yet said nothing of going.
Not that anybody wished him to go; no, on the
contrary, the longer he stayed the more
indispensable he seemed to all; and Lage Ulfson
could hardly think without a shudder of the
possibility of his ever having to leave them.
For Aasa, his only child, was like another being
in the presence of this stranger; all that weird,
forest-like intensity, that wild, half supernatural
tinge in her character which in a measure
excluded her from the blissful feeling of fellowship
with other men, and made her the strange,
lonely creature she was,--all this seemed to vanish
as dew in the morning sun when Vigfusson's
eyes rested upon her; and with every day that
passed, her human and womanly nature gained
a stronger hold upon her. She followed him
like his shadow on all his wanderings, and when
they sat down together by the wayside, she
would sing, in a clear, soft voice, an ancient lay
or ballad, and he would catch her words on his
paper, and smile at the happy prospect of
perpetuating what otherwise would have been lost.
Aasa's love, whether conscious or not, was to
him an everlasting source of strength, was a
revelation of himself to himself, and a clearing
and widening power which brought ever more
and more of the universe within the scope of
his vision. So they lived on from day to day
and from week to week, and, as old Lage
remarked, never had Kvaerk been the scene of so
much happiness. Not a single time during
Vigfusson's stay had Aasa fled to the forest, not a
meal had she missed, and at the hours for
family devotion she had taken her seat at the
big table with the rest and apparently listened
with as much attention and interest. Indeed,
all this time Aasa seemed purposely to avoid the
dark haunts of the woods, and, whenever she
could, chose the open highway; not even
Vigfusson's entreaties could induce her to tread the
tempting paths that led into the forest's gloom.

"And why not, Aasa?" he would say; "summer
is ten times summer there when the drowsy
noonday spreads its trembling maze of shadows
between those huge, venerable trunks. You can
feel the summer creeping into your very heart
and soul, there!"

"Oh, Vigfusson," she would answer, shaking
her head mournfully, "for a hundred paths that
lead in, there is only one that leads out again,
and sometimes even that one is nowhere to be found."

He understood her not, but fearing to ask, he
remained silent.

His words and his eyes always drew her nearer
and nearer to him; and the forest and its
strange voices seemed a dark, opposing influence,
which strove to take possession of her
heart and to wrest her away from him forever;
she helplessly clung to him; every thought and
emotion of her soul clustered about him, and every
hope of life and happiness was staked on him.

One evening Vigfusson and old Lage Ulfson
had been walking about the fields to look at the
crop, both smoking their evening pipes. But
as they came down toward the brink whence
the path leads between the two adjoining rye-
fields, they heard a sweet, sad voice crooning
some old ditty down between the birch-trees at
the precipice; they stopped to listen, and soon
recognized Aasa's yellow hair over the tops
the rye; the shadow as of a painful emotion
flitted over the father's countenance, and he
turned his back on his guest and started to go;
then again paused, and said, imploringly, "Try
to get her home if you can, friend Vigfusson.'

Vigfusson nodded, and Lage went; the song
had ceased for a moment, now it began again:

"Ye twittering birdlings, in forest and glen
I have heard you so gladly before;
But a bold knight hath come to woo me,
I dare listen to you no more.
For it is so dark, so dark in the forest.

"And the knight who hath come a-wooing to me,
He calls me his love and his own;
Why then should I stray through the darksome woods,
Or dream in the glades alone?
For it is so dark, so dark in the forest."

Her voice fell to a low unintelligible murmur;
then it rose, and the last verses came, clear, soft,
and low, drifting on the evening breeze:

"Yon beckoning world, that shimmering lay
O'er the woods where the old pines grow,
That gleamed through the moods of the summer day
When the breezes were murmuring low
(And it is so dark, so dark in the forest);

"Oh let me no more in the sunshine hear
Its quivering noonday call;
The bold knight's love is the sun of my heart--
Is my life, and my all in all.
But it is so dark, so dark in the forest."

The young man felt the blood rushing to his
face--his heart beat violently. There was a
keen sense of guilt in the blush on his cheek, a
loud accusation in the throbbing pulse and the
swelling heart-beat. Had he not stood there behind
the maiden's back and cunningly peered
into her soul's holy of holies? True, he loved
Aasa; at least he thought he did, and the
conviction was growing stronger with every day
that passed. And now he had no doubt that he
had gained her heart. It was not so much the
words of the ballad which had betrayed the
secret; he hardly knew what it was, but somehow
the truth had flashed upon him, and he could
no longer doubt.

Vigfusson sat down on the moss-grown rock
and pondered. How long he sat there he did
not know, but when he rose and looked around,
Aasa was gone. Then remembering her father's
request to bring her home, he hastened up the
hill-side toward the mansion, and searched for
her in all directions. It was near midnight
when he returned to Kvaerk, where Aasa sat in
her high gable window, still humming the weird
melody of the old ballad.

By what reasoning Vigfusson arrived at his
final conclusion is difficult to tell. If he had
acted according to his first and perhaps most
generous impulse, the matter would soon have
been decided; but he was all the time possessed
of a vague fear of acting dishonorably, and it
was probably this very fear which made him do
what, to the minds of those whose friendship
and hospitality he had accepted, had something
of the appearance he wished so carefully to
avoid. Aasa was rich; he had nothing; it was
a reason for delay, but hardly a conclusive one.
They did not know him; he must go out in the
world and prove himself worthy of her. He
would come back when he should have compelled
the world to respect him; for as yet he had done
nothing. In fact, his arguments were good and
honorable enough, and there would have been
no fault to find with him, had the object of his
love been as capable of reasoning as he was
himself. But Aasa, poor thing, could do nothing
by halves; a nature like hers brooks no delay;
to her love was life or it was death.

The next morning he appeared at breakfast
with his knapsack on his back, and otherwise
equipped for his journey. It was of no use that
Elsie cried and begged him to stay, that Lage
joined his prayers to hers, and that Aasa stood
staring at him with a bewildered gaze. Vigfusson
shook hands with them all, thanked them for their
kindness to him, and promised to return;
he held Aasa's hand long in his, but when
he released it, it dropped helplessly at her side.


Far up in the glen, about a mile from Kvaerk,
ran a little brook; that is, it was little in summer
and winter, but in the spring, while the snow
was melting up in the mountains, it overflowed
the nearest land and turned the whole glen into
a broad and shallow river. It was easy to cross,
however; a light foot might jump from stone to
stone, and be over in a minute. Not the hind
herself could be lighter on her foot than Aasa
was; and even in the spring-flood it was her
wont to cross and recross the brook, and to sit
dreaming on a large stone against which the
water broke incessantly, rushing in white
torrents over its edges.

Here she sat one fair summer day--the day
after Vigfusson's departure. It was noon, and
the sun stood high over the forest. The water
murmured and murmured, babbled and whispered,
until at length there came a sudden unceasing
tone into its murmur, then another, and
it sounded like a faint whispering song of small
airy beings. And as she tried to listen, to fix
the air in her mind, it all ceased again, and she
heard but the monotonous murmuring of the
brook. Everything seemed so empty and
worthless, as if that faint melody had been the
world of the moment. But there it was again;
it sung and sung, and the birch overhead took
up the melody and rustled it with its leaves, and
the grasshopper over in the grass caught it and
whirred it with her wings. The water, the trees,
the air, were full of it. What a strange melody!

Aasa well knew that every brook and river

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