Part 4 out of 5
But he could not answer.
"Olof, look at me," she begged.
And the man beside the bed lifted his eyes, great dark eyes full of
weariness and stark fear--but bowed his head again and looked away.
The smile vanished from the old woman's face. She gazed long and
searchingly at her son's haggard chin, his sunken cheeks and loose
eyelids, the pale forehead, the furrowed temples--everything.
"Perhaps it has to be," she murmured, as if speaking to someone
else. "'_And wasted all his substance.... And he said, I will arise
Her voice trembled, and Olof, in a hasty glance, saw how her wrinkled
mouth quivered with emotion.
And suddenly the coldness that had almost paralysed him up to now,
seemed to melt away. He fell on his knees beside the bed, his face in
the coverlet, and knelt there sobbing.
It was as in church, at the moment when each single heart withdraws
from all the rest to offer up its own silent prayer.
* * * * *
The old woman lay resting in her bed; her face wore the same look of
sorrowful gentleness that it had done for years, despite the ravages
But to-day, signs of uneasiness were apparent; shadows of fear seemed
flitting ever and anon over her features.
Olof wiped his mother's forehead gently. "You are not so well to-day?"
"'Tis not that--no. I called you, there was something I wanted to say.
But I'm not sure--perhaps it would be better not...."
He took her withered hand tenderly in his.
"Why do you think that, mother? You have never said anything but what
"'Twas meant to be so--ay, that's true. But there's times when it's
hard to say what's best to do, and it's so with me now. For years I've
been thinking to tell you before I closed my eyes the last time.
And it's been a comfort to me in many trials. But now I come to say
The sick woman's breast heaved, and drops of sweat stood out on her
"Best not to think too much if it worries you," said Olof, wiping her
brow once more. "'Twill be all right in time."
"'Tis right enough--I know that really. 'Twould be a wrong to myself
and you, and to all I've hoped and believed, if I didn't speak--yet
it's hard to begin. Come closer, you too, Heikki--I can't speak so
The elder brother, who had just come in from the fields with his
muddy boots on, had sat down close to the door. He moved his chair now
nearer the bed.
The sick woman lay for a while in thought, as if weighing the matter
in her mind. Then she looked long and earnestly at her two sons.
"You two will have to divide what's left," she said at last. "And I've
not said a word of it before; you're not like to quarrel over it, I
know. But there's one thing in the place that I want to keep separate
from the rest, and give it up to you now, before I go."
She sighed, and was silent for a while, as if needing rest before she
could continue. The two young men watched her expectantly.
'"Tis nothing of great value, but it's all tied up like with something
that happened once, and all the thoughts of it--and 'tis valuable to
me. I mean the cupboard there."
The sons glanced at the thing where it stood; an old cupboard in two
sections, that they knew well.
"You look surprised. Oh, if I could only tell you...."
She gazed upwards in silence, as if praying for strength. Then, with a
strange light in her eyes, she turned towards them and went on almost
in a whisper, as one who tells a tale of ghosts:
"It was long ago. In this very room, on this very bed here lay a woman
who had borne a man-child but four days before. She had always been
tender and faithful and obedient to her husband, and had tried to do
his will in everything. And she had been happy, very happy. But before
the child was born, a suspicion had begun to grow up secretly in her
mind. And now, on the fifth night, as she lay there with the newborn
child, in the pale light from a lamp on the shelf of the cupboard
there, the fear at her heart grew all of a sudden so strong that she
got up, and went into the next room, to see if what she dreaded was
The sick woman turned her face to the wall, to hide the tears that
forced themselves into her eyes.
"But the one she sought was not there, and driven by fear, she crossed
the courtyard, barefooted, and half-clad as she was, in the cold, over
to the still-room. They used to make spirits at home in those days.
She opened the door softly and looked in. There the fire was burning,
and by the flickering light she saw a woman--a young woman then--lying
on a bed, and beside her the man she herself had risen from her
childbed to seek. And at the sight of them her heart died in her. She
would have cried aloud, but only a groan came from her lips, and she
went back, dreading at every step lest her legs should fail her...."
The sick woman gasped for breath, and lay trembling; the listeners sat
as if turned to stone.
"How she got back," went on the old woman, "she did not know herself;
only there she was, sitting on the bed beside her child, pressing her
hands to her breast, that felt as if it would burst. Then she heard
footsteps outside, and a moment later the door opened, and with a roar
like a wild beast, a man strode in--furious, with bloodshot eyes.
He uttered a dreadful curse, and swung up an axe above his head. The
woman almost fainted with fright. Then behind him she saw her sister
reaching up with a cry of horror towards the axe he held. It flew from
his hand, the steel shone in the lamplight--and what happened after
she did not know...."
It was as if the axe had fallen at that moment, striking them all
three. The mother closed her eyes. Olof was trembling from head
to foot; his brother crouched in his seat, his features stiff with
"When she came to herself," went on the sick woman in a trembling
voice, "her husband was sitting beside her, with his head in his
hands, his face ashy pale, his eyes bloodshot, and his body trembling
all over as if shivering with cold. The axe had flown straight over
the place where mother and child had been, missing them by an inch,
and stuck fast in the cupboard beyond--it was standing there as it
The woman sighed as if in relief to find the danger past.
Olof grasped her hand eagerly, pressed it, and looked imploringly into
"Yes, yes," she nodded, "he begged forgiveness--and she forgave him.
And they were friends again. And that night he fetched up some putty
from the cellar and filled the hole the axe had made, and painted it
over afterwards. But--you can see where it was...."
Olof rose to his feet and walked over mechanically to the cupboard;
his elder brother sat still on his chair, looking over at the place in
"You can see--it struck just between the two sides, and cut deep into
the edges. It's plain to be seen, for all it's painted over now. As
for the woman...."
She broke off suddenly, her face pale and bloodless, her features
quivering with painful emotion.
"The woman--she forgave him, and never a harsh word between them
after. Folk said they lived so happily together.... But the hurt--the
hurt was there. A woman's heart's not a thing to be healed with any
putty and paint...."
* * * * *
She was silent, but her face was eloquent with feeling still.
Olof went back to his place, took her hand and kissed it again and
again, with tears, as if praying for forgiveness. For the first
time he realised the inner meaning of his mother's nature as he knew
it--the undertone of sadness in her gentle ways. And he could not
free himself from a strange, inexplicable feeling of guilt in himself,
though till that day he had known nothing of her secret.
"And for the man ... well, well, let him rest in peace! 'Twas not from
any thought to soil his memory--but you're grown men now, my sons, and
when you've wives of your own.... Ay, a good man he was in many ways,
a clever worker. And I know he suffered himself for--for the other
thing. He'll be judged, as we shall all be judged--we've all of us
enough to answer for...."
For a long time the sick woman lay as if overwhelmed by stress of
feeling, unable to speak. Olof, with tears in his eyes, sat deep in
thought; the elder son had not moved.
"And now I can leave it to you," she went on more calmly. "'Tis all
tied up, as I said, with thoughts of that time, ay, and hopes and
prayers, all the best and the hardest in my life. And I'm not the only
one that's had such things to bear through life. There's many a one
the world knows nothing of, for a woman can bear a great sorrow and
never speak of it. And I've heard since, that there was trouble of the
same sort here in the house before my day.... Heaven grant I may be
the last to suffer! And so I wanted you to take the thing between
you--half to each--the scar's between them, so you'll share that too.
Remember it, and tell your children some time. And they can pass on
the legacy to theirs--with all the hopes and prayers and tears it
brought--only let the name be forgotten!"
All three looked earnestly at the grim heirloom that stood there
reaching from floor to ceiling; it seemed to grow, as they watched,
into a monument over the grave of many generations.
* * * * *
The sick woman turned anxiously to her sons.
"Will you take it?" she asked. "Will you take it, with all that it
Olof pressed her hand to his lips in answer. The elder brother sat
motionless, as before, his eyelids trembled as if he were on the point
of tears. His mother read his answer in his eyes.
"I'm glad it's over now," she said in relief. "And now I've no more to
give you, but--my blessing!"
Her face lit with the same great gentleness that had softened it for
years, she looked long and tenderly at her sons.
"Olof," she said at last, as if to wake him from his thoughts; "_it
happened at the time before you were born_...."
The elder son looked at his mother in astonishment--why should she
tell them what they had known all along?
But Olof looked up suddenly, as if he had heard something new and
significant. The quiver in his mother's voice told him what she meant,
the look in her eyes seemed to shed a light on what had been dark
Questioningly he looked at her, as if silently asking confirmation of
She nodded almost imperceptibly.
"I have often thought of that, these last sad years...."
Olof felt as if a mighty storm had suddenly torn away a dark,
overshadowing growth, laying bare the heart of a fearsome place--deep
clefts and stagnant pools and treacherous bogs.
"Ay, there's much that's hard to understand," she whispered in his
ear. "But go to your work, now, sons. I'm tired now, leave me to
The young men rose and left the room. In the doorway they turned and
cast a last glance at their mother, but she seemed no longer to heed
them. She lay with her hands folded on her breast, gazing calmly at
the old cupboard where it stood by the wall, like a monument above the
grave of many generations.
THE HOUSE BUILDING
The funeral was over.
The two brothers sat by the window, in thoughtful mood, and speaking
"... And you'll take over the place now, of course," said Olof to his
elder brother, "and work the farm as it's always been done since it's
been in the family. 'Twon't be long, I doubt, before you bring home
a wife to be mistress here.... Anyhow, I take it you'll go on as
"What's in your mind now?" asked Heikki, with a little sharp cough.
"Only what I've said--that you'll take over Koskela now," said Olof
"H'm. You know well enough 'twas always meant that you were to take
over the place--I'm not the sort to be master myself. Look after the
men at their work--yes. But run the place by myself...."
"You'll soon get into the way of it," said Olof encouragingly. "And as
to the men--I've an idea a farm's the better for a master that works
with his men as you've always done, instead of going about talking big
and doing nothing."
The elder brother cleared his throat again, and sat staring before
him, drumming with his fingers on the edge of the chair.
"And what about you?" he asked, after a while.
"Oh, I'll look after myself all right. Build a bit of a house, and
maybe turn up a patch of ground or so."
"Build a house...?" repeated the other in surprise.
"Yes. You see, brother, each goes his own way," went on Olof heavily.
"And I've a sort of feeling now that I can't live on anything out of
the past. I must try and build up a life for myself, all anew. If I
can do that, perhaps I may be able to go on living."
The elder brother stared with wide eyes, as if listening to words in a
strange tongue. Then he began drumming with his fingers again.
"H'm. I don't know quite what you mean, but it's no business of mine,
anyway." He spoke with a touch of respect in his voice, as if to a
superior. "We'll have to do as you say. But do you think Koskela will
be the same with none but me to look to it all?"
"Surely it will!" said Olof warmly.
"Why, then, have it as you please. But if things begin to go wrong
here, then you'll have to take over yourself."
"I will if need be. But by the time you've ploughed this autumn you'll
see yourself there will be no need. Good luck go with you, brother,
and with the place."
"H'm." The elder brother coughed again. "And what about the price. We
must fix that beforehand."
"What for? You take over the place as it stands, and you'll find
it good enough. Give me the bit of marshland at Isosuo, and the oat
fields adjoining, and the little copse that's fenced in with it, and
that's all I want. You can let me take what timber I want from your
part, for building and such."
"Ho, so you think that's fair, do you?" said his brother eagerly.
"A nice bit of ground--and there's all the clay you'll need ready to
hand. But it'll cost a deal of hard work to drain and clear it--I've
thought over that many a time. As for the building timber--you shall
have all you want, and help for the carting. But all the same, we must
fix a price for Koskela as a whole, and make a fair division."
"There's nothing to divide, I tell you. You take over the whole place,
except the bit I've said. You see how it is: each of us wants to give
more than the other's willing to take, so there's no need to quarrel
about that. And if I want anything later on, I'll ask you for it; if
there's anything you want, you'll come to your brother first."
"Well, well--I dare say it'll be all right. Anyhow, I'll do what I can
to keep up Koskela as it's always been."
And the elder brother began once more drumming with his fingers,
faster this time, and as it were more firmly.
Suddenly he sprang up. "They ought to finish that field to-day--I must
see they don't stop work before it's done."
He left the room and hurried across the courtyard.
Olof rose and followed his brother to the door, watching him as he
strode along, with head bowed forward a little and arms swinging
briskly at his sides.
"Each works best in his own way," he said to himself, smiling
affectionately at the thought. "And maybe his way's like to be better
for Koskela than they ever thought."
* * * * *
Olof turned off from the main road down a little forest track; he
carried an axe on his shoulder.
An autumn morning, solemn and still. The night had been cold, the
morning air was so fresh and light it almost lifted one from the
ground--it seemed almost superfluous to tread at all.
A strange feeling had come upon Olof as he started out. Between the
hedge-stakes on either side of the road hung bridges of the spider's
work--netted and plaited and woven with marvellous art, and here and
there a perfect web, the spider's masterpiece, hung like a wheel of
tiny threads. Then as the sun came up, thread and cable caught its
rays, till the road seemed lined with long festoons of silver, and
decked at intervals with silver shields.
In the forest, too, it was the same--the path lined with silver
hangings on either side, and webs of silver here and there along the
"Spiders bring luck, so they say," thought Olof.
"Well, at any rate, they're showing me the road this morning."
And he strode on briskly, eager to begin.
"To-day's the test," he thought. "All depends on how I manage now. If
it goes well, then I can do what I will. But if I've lost my strength
and will these years between, then--why, I don't know where to turn."
Eagerly, impatiently, he hurried on, trembling with expectation, and
sweating at the brow.
"Maybe I'm taking it too seriously," he thought again. "But, no--it is
life or death to me, this. And I don't know yet what I can do--it may
go either way...."
He swung the axe in a wide circle from the shoulder, held it out at
arm's length, then straight above his head, and swung it to either
side. It weighed as lightly as a leaf, and he felt a childish
delight--as if he had already passed the first test.
* * * * *
He reached the place at last--a hillside covered with tall,
straight-stemmed fir and pine. He flung down coat and hat, never
heeding where, glanced up along the stem he had chosen, then the axe
was lifted, and the steel sank deep into the red wood--it was his
first stroke in his native forest after six years' absence.
The forest answered with a ringing echo from three sides, so loud and
strong that Olof checked his second stroke in mid-air, and turned in
wonder to see who was there.
And the trees faced him with lifted head and untroubled brow, without
nod or smile, but with the greeting of stern men bidding welcome.
"Hei!" Olof answered with a stroke of the axe.
And so they talked together, in question and answer and dispute....
"What am I working out here all alone for?" said Olof. "Why, 'tis this
way...." And with the red-brown fir chips flying all around him, he
told them the story.
"So that's it? Well, good luck to you," answered the trees, and fell,
one after another, till the earth rang and the echoes answered far
through the forest.
Olof felt himself aglow with an inward fire that flamed the more as
he gave it way in ringing strokes of the axe. He counted it a point of
honour to strip each branch off clean at a single blow, be it never so
thick.... And the more he worked the happier he grew.
He was trying to win back the years in which he had never held an axe.
* * * * *
By noon, he stood in the middle of a clearing already.
"Well, how does it feel?" asked the trees, as he sat down, with
his jacket slung over his shoulders, hastily eating the meal he had
brought with him.
"None so bad--hope for the best," he answered.
Again the axe flashed, the branches shivered, and the earth rang. "Bit
crooked, that one," said Olof to himself; "but I can use it all the
same--do for a piece between the windows."
"Well, you know best," said the trees. "But how many windows are you
going to have--and how many rooms? You haven't told us that yet."
"Two rooms, no more--but two big ones." And Olof told them all
his plans for doors and windows and stoves, and an attic above the
entrance--he had thought it all out beforehand.
"Yes, yes.... But where are you going to build?"
"On the little hill beside Isosuo marsh--that's where I thought."
"Isosuo marsh?" cried the trees, looking in wonder first at one
another and then at Olof himself. Then they smiled triumphantly.
"Bravo!" they cried in chorus. "Bravo, and good luck go with your
building, and prosperity roof over all! 'Tis good to see there's some
that still dare begin life for themselves in the forest."
"'Tis that I'm hoping to do--that and no more."
"But what do folk say to it? Don't they think you're mad?"
"They call me nothing as yet, for I've not told any of what I'm
"Just as well, perhaps," said the trees.
And they fell to talking of Isosuo, of drains and ditching, the nature
of the soil, and all that Olof would have to do.
And the axe sang, and the chips flew, and the woods gave echo, and the
talk went on. And the day came so quickly to an end that Olof started
to find how it was already growing dark.
"Well, and what do you say now?" asked the trees expectantly.
Olof stepped from stem to stem, counting the fallen. There were forty
in all--and he laughed.
"I shall be here again to-morrow, anyhow," he said gaily.
"If you come to-morrow, then you will come again till it's done," said
the trees. "Come, and be welcome!"
* * * * *
Olof walked home whistling cheerfully; he felt as if the house were
already built up round him. It was a great thing, enough to take up
all his thoughts, and strong enough in itself to strengthen him anew.
WAYS THAT MEET
"HIRVIYOKI, KYLANPAA, 28/9/97.
"Kyllikki,--You will be surprised, no doubt, to hear from me
again after so many years. I am not sure of your address,
and do not even know if you are still 'Kyllikki,' or possibly
someone with another name that I do not know. I am too proud
to ask news of you from any but yourself.
"And now to what I have to say. I have never been able to free
myself from you quite, however much I wished. I have tried to
forget you, to wipe away all trace of you from my soul, but in
spite of everything you have followed me from place to place,
year after year, and now, just lately, you have been ever
before my eyes. Was it your friendship that followed me so, or
my own guilty conscience--or perhaps my better self that has
been longing for you, and silently calling for you, though I
tried to stifle the voice?
"I do not know. I only know that my years of wandering are
over now, and I have come to settle down in my own place. I
may freely confess that I was weary and broken down, worn out
and hopeless, when I came home--to see my mother for the last
time, and follow her to the grave. And I cannot say, even now,
that I am much better, though perhaps a little. I can feel
something in me that seems to grow, something that gives me
hope. So perhaps it is not altogether lost.
"I am building myself a house, and have other plans of a like
sort. But there is one thing I miss, and the lack of it grows
stronger every day: a friend and comrade, one that I could
respect and trust entirely. Not one to share my good fortune,
but one to be with me in toil and want.
"Kyllikki, you can never guess how I have suffered in doubt
and questioning of late. Have I any right at all to hope for
comradeship? Could I promise anything to anyone? And if so--to
whom?... Kyllikki, you know me well enough to understand what
I mean. It is no light question, and no easy one to answer.
"As far as I myself am concerned, I believe I see my way
clear. And therefore I ask you--will you venture out upon the
water with me once more--not the mere crossing of a little
stream, but for a voyage that may lead we know not where? I
cannot be sure that we should ever reach safely to land, only
that if your hand is still free to give, and you are willing,
and can trust me enough to offer it, then I will never let go,
whatever may come.
"And one thing more--could a daughter of Moisio venture to
share the lot of a poor settler? I can offer nothing more, and
would not if I could. If she will, then I can dare anything.
"Again--would you _wish_ to join your life with mine? Or do
you despise me, perhaps? I will not try to defend myself,
and it would be useless in any case, for I know that little
matters would not influence your decision; all must rest on
what you think of me as a whole, and that is fixed already.
"One thing most of all--let there be no question of pity or
giving out of charity. I fancy neither of us would ever give
or take in that way, but I have heard say that pity counts for
much in a woman's heart. Myself, I do not think pity can go
far, if the earlier feeling is once dead. And you know best
yourself whether that is so.
"Is your father still alive? And does he still think as
before? But it makes no difference now. Once _we_ are agreed,
ten fathers could make no difference. I feel now that I can do
what I will.
"And that is all for now, Kyllikki. You know how anxiously I
wait to hear from you--your answer means very much to me. But
I know it will be clear and true, whichever way it may be.
"My address is, Olof Koskela, as above."
* * * * *
"KOHISEVA, 2 _Oct_. 1897.
"OLOF,--Your letter found me. Kyllikki is unchanged--and
you, I see, are much as I had thought you would be. Proud and
exacting as ever, though not perhaps in quite the same way.
And well it is so, for if _you_ had seemed otherwise I should
have suspected at once.
"Yes, I will venture. I am ready to venture anything. I did
not even need to think it over; I had decided long since, and
have not changed. I am not ashamed to tell you that I knew
more of you than you thought. I have followed your doings
and your movements from a distance, until you came home, and
determined to wait for you till it was past hoping for. I feel
I ought to tell you this at once, that you may know I am not
building up fair hopes on no foundation, but know what I am
doing, and what I can expect.
"You need not fear pity from me, Olof. I believe in fate, and
in life as a thing with some meaning. I have often wondered,
these last few years, if there could be any meaning in my
life, and why fate had brought us so strangely together. Was
it only to make us suffer? I came at last to the conclusion
that if there were any meaning in my life, it must be with
you; and if fate had any plan at all, it must be that you
should come back to me some day, even though the way were
hard. And you came, came with the very word I had been waiting
to hear from your lips for years--that _you had need of me_!
All is easy after that; no need to doubt or hesitate. I can
answer at once: I am ready.
"I do not think, or hope, that our way will be strewn with
roses. But it is right, I feel that; and in time we shall
reach our goal.
"Come, Olof, come soon. Four years I have waited--four years
of longing, all my life's longing.--Your
"P.S.--Father is the same, but what you say about that is what
I say myself.
"One thing I would ask you--let me see you alone first, before
you meet my father. I could not bear to meet again after
all these years in that way. Come to our old meeting-place
beforehand, if you can, and let me know what day and time you
will be there.
Olof walked up the steps to the homestead at Moisio.
A trifle pale, perhaps, but confident, ready to meet whatever might
chance, and determined to gain his end.
He opened the door and went in. There were two in the room: an old man
with bushy brows--who, unaware of the visitor's approach, was on the
point of going out himself--and a girl. She was waiting anxiously,
and as the door opened, her heart beat as if it would leap from her
All three stood for a moment in silence.
"Good-day to you," said Olof respectfully to the old man.
No one answered. Olof marked how the dark brows drew together like two
"Good-day," came the answer at last, sharp and hard--as if the speaker
were unwilling to deny a certain courtesy, even to the most unwelcome
guest, in his own house.
Having said so much, however, he felt no further obligation, and went
"I told you last time that I did not wish to see you again. What
brings you here now?"
The words fell like strokes of an axe; the girl turned pale, and
leaned against the wall.
"This," said Olof calmly. "When I spoke to you last time, matters did
not pass off as they should. I beg your forgiveness for that. And now
I have come to ask again for your daughter's hand."
"You--a wastrel...!" The old man's voice trembled with anger.
"I have been. But let us talk calmly, if you please."
"Lumberman!" The word was flung out with a bitterness and contempt
that cut like a knife.
A dark flush rose to Olof's cheek; he was hard put to it already to
"True," he said, slowly and with emphasis. "I have been a lumberman.
There are clodhoppers enough to ditch and plough, but good lumbermen
are none so easy to find."
The old man raised his eyebrows, then lowered them again with an
expression as of a beast about to spring.
"Go!" he thundered.
A deep silence followed. Olof bit his lip, then drawing himself up
defiantly, he poured out a flood of words.
"You--you drove me out from here once before, and I went at your
bidding. Now, I move not a step till we have fought this out between
us. I came to you to-day with all respect--yes, and asked your pardon
for last time, though even now I do not know which of us two was more
in the wrong. And I am going now, but not at your bidding--and not
alone. I have come to ask for what is mine by right--and I would do
the same if she were a star in the skies of heaven!"
The old man was leaning forward with clenched fists; without a word he
rushed towards the door.
Olof's mind was made up on the instant--he would take the man by
the arms and set him down and bid him talk over matters quietly and
decently, as became his age. He stepped forward resolutely.
"Father!" The girl sprang forward hastily between them, "Father--I ...
it is true. I am his by right!"
The words came like a blow from behind--the father turned and looked
long at the girl.
"You...!" he cried, astounded. "You say--you are his by right? Ho! And
perhaps you've been waiting for him, then, all these years, when you
said 'No' to one after another?"
"Yes," she answered calmly. "And I have made up my mind to be his
The old man took a step towards her.
"Made up your mind, have you...?"
"Yes," said the girl gently; "and I want you, father, to consent."
"But suppose I've made up my mind?" The old man drew himself up
and stood between them, straight as a fir stem. "And this I say: My
daughter's not for any wandering lumberman that has the impudence to
He spoke with firmness and authority--matters seemed hopelessly at
a deadlock. There was a moment of tense silence. Kyllikki bowed
her head, then slowly she looked up and faced her father, steadily,
confidently--Olof noticed with surprise how the two in that moment
were alike. Expression and attitude were the same in both.
"And if she chooses to give herself--what then?"
The old man's eyes flashed.
"Then--why, she can go as his mistress, if she please, but not as my
Silence again. Kyllikki flushed angrily; Olof was hardly able to
restrain himself. But he realised that the two must be left to
themselves for what concerned themselves--he could only make matters
"Choose," said her father, coldly and with dignity. "And make haste
about it--the fellow here is waiting. But mark this," he added with a
sneer, as confident of victory: "_If_ you go, you go at once. And you
take with you nothing--not a rag nor stitch that was my daughter's.
You go ... _dressed as you came_. You understand!"
The two stood amazed at first, hardly comprehending. Then, as the
meaning of his words dawned on them, in its fearful cruelty, they
looked at him aghast.
"Father ... is that your last word?" asked the girl earnestly.
Pale and red by turns, she stood hardly seeming to breathe.
The old man's lips curved in a scornful smile. Olof stood waiting his
sentence, unable to think or feel.
Then slowly the girl raised her head, seeming to tower over her
surroundings. She raised her hands without a tremor, slipped the
fastenings of her blouse, and almost before they could realise what
she was doing, she stood bare-armed, bare-throated before them.
The smile faded from the old man's lips. Olof's heart beat with a wild
delight--he felt an impulse to take the girl in his arms and carry her
Calmly she went on--unhooked her skirt and let it slip to the floor
beside her blouse.
The old man's face was ashy pale. Olof turned his back in fury and
But the girl never flinched. Quietly she loosened the strings of her
"Enough!" The old man's voice was like a cry from the underworld.
Olof turned--the girl looked inquiringly at him.
"Go! Take her--be off with you both!" cried her father, beyond
himself. "Ay, you're hard," he went on, to the girl, "hard and
obstinate as the rest of our blood ever were, too hard for your
woman's clothes! And as for you, I hope you can keep a wife now you've
got her. Of all the cursed...."
The young pair flushed, but they stood still, unable to move.
"Get your things on," said the old man impatiently. "And you--sit
A sudden wave of shame came over the girl; snatching up her clothes,
she fled into the next room.
The master of Moisio walked slowly to the window and sat down heavily,
a beaten man. Olof felt a thrill of pity for the old man.
They sat for a few moments in silence; then Kyllikki entered once
more, blushing still, glanced hastily at Olof, and sat down, watching
her father's face.
At last the old man turned. The scene had left its mark on him, but
there was dignity still in his glance as he looked Olof full in the
"You've made yourself my son-in-law," he said, "though 'twas no
wish of mine it should be so. But we may as well start with a clear
understanding. 'Tis our way here to say what's to be said at once, or
give a blow where it's needed--and have done with it."
"'Tis no bad way," said Olof, hardly knowing what he was saying. "My
father's way was much the same."
There was a slight pause. "We've one or two things to talk over now,"
went on the old man. "I should like to hear, to begin with, what
you're thinking of doing. Wandering about as before, maybe?"
"No. I've done with that. I've settled down in my own place--I'm
building a house there," answered Olof.
"H'm. Building a house, are you? I could find you a house here, for
that matter. I dare say you know I've no son to come after me. And I'm
an old man now."
Olof looked wonderingly at him. "I understand now," he said slowly,
"what you meant before. And I thank you for your kindness. But it's
this way with me now--I can't live in another man's house; I must make
a place for myself, and work for myself. I was to have had the farm at
home, but I couldn't take it." "A farm?" cried the old man, rising to
his feet. "Where--where do you come from, then?"
"From Kylanpaa in Hirviyoki--I don't know if you've heard of the
"I have been there, years ago," said the old man in a kindlier tone,
taking a step towards him. "And what's the name of your place there?"
"Koskela? That's a big place."
"Why, 'tis big enough," said Olof.
"And why didn't you say that before--when you were here last?" said
the old man sharply. "'Twould have been better for both if you had."
Olof flushed slightly. "I never thought to take a wife but in my own
name," he answered--"for myself, and what I might be worth by myself."
"Yes, that's your way," said the old man, scanning him critically. "I
see it now."
He glanced out of the window and seemed to catch sight of something.
"Don't mind what's past," he said kindly. "There's the horses
coming from the smith's. I must look to them a minute. I'll be back
again...." And he strode out.
The two that remained felt as if the calm of a bright Sunday morning
filled the room after a stormy night. Blushingly the girl hurried
across to her lover, who came towards her; she flung her arms round
his neck, and whispered:
"Olof, I have never really known you until now!"
"And I," he answered, "have never known you till to-day."
THE BROKEN STRING
The dark of an autumn evening was abroad. It marched along the roads,
stole over the meadows, and sat brooding in the forest; the shimmering
waterways marked its track.
But at Moisio all the homestead was ablaze with light; every window
shed its bright stream into the night, as if from a single fire
And from within came a constant sound of many voices, as of men
sitting round the hearth relating manifold adventures. Outside, all
round the house, were voices too, loud and low, soft and harsh, with
an undertone of whispering in corners, and footsteps moving here and
there. All that there was of life and light and sound in Kohiseva
seemed gathered this night at Moisio.
The fiddler played his hardest, the floor creaked, and the walls
quivered to the tramp of many feet; a stream of figures passed
continuously before the windows.
The wedding had taken place that afternoon. Then came feasting and
dancing--and the guests were dancing still, though it was close on
The bridegroom was a fine upstanding fellow, and the bride a worthy
mate--as stately a pair as any had seen. All the neighbourhood agreed
in this--and all had seen the couple, though not all had been bidden
to the feast. A whisper had been passed among the crowd without,
followed by a shout from all, demanding to see the bride and
bridegroom. And when the pair came out and stood in the porch, with
their following behind, the onlookers greeted them with shouts and
cheers--just as at fine folk's weddings in the great cities, declared
those who knew.
The bridegroom was happy--and well he might be, with such a bride.
And the bride, too, was happy--as well she might be after waiting all
those years. All knew the story--the first strange wooing, with
the desperate venture down the rapids, and the lover's Song of
the Blood-Red Flower as he went away. And more was whispered
about--fragmentary tales of the bridegroom's adventurous life and the
trials of the girl who waited for him to return; rumour had gathered
what was known, and popular fancy had added thereto at will. The
stories passed from mouth to mouth among those outside, and even among
the guests within, reaching almost to the bridal pair themselves.
There was a touch of something legendary, heroic, about it all, that
shed a halo of romance even upon old Moisio's grey head.
* * * * *
Again they call for bridegroom and bride--the hero and heroine of the
story--manly courage and womanly faithfulness personified; a sight to
look on again and again. Again the light streamed out into the porch,
and again the shouts and cheers went up, and one or two of the more
curious and venturesome slipped into the house unbidden in the press.
It was a bright and festive scene within. The roof-beams were draped
with white, and the hangings glittered like newly-fallen snow in the
morning sunlight. The walls, too, were draped, and decked with wreaths
and garlands; here and there a bunch of fresh juniper twigs seeming to
speak of newly-arisen life.
* * * * *
The dancing ceased for a moment; the guests adjourned to the
well-furnished tables in an adjoining room--the women following the
bride, the men by themselves, with the bridegroom and old Moisio
himself. Trays clattered, glasses rang, a hum of gay voices filled the
room, and all eyes shone with a festive gleam.
Then the fiddler tuned up once more, and the guests streamed out back
into the hall. The men stayed a moment to finish their glasses, and
The bridegroom came last. Suddenly it occurred to him to fetch
something for the fiddler, and he turned back. Having found what he
wanted, he was leaving the room, when a stranger barred his way.
Olof started; the man had come suddenly and silently as a ghost.
There was something uncanny about him as he stood there--a short,
heavily-built fellow, standing without a word, one hand in his
trousers pocket, a cigar in his mouth, and a red rosette, such as
peasants wear on holidays, in the buttonhole of what was evidently
his best coat. There he stood, gazing fixedly at Olof, with a curious
glitter in his eyes.
"I've a word to say to the bridegroom, if so be he's time to hear,"
said the man in a hoarse voice, still keeping the cigar between his
"Why ... here I am, if you want me," said Olof, "though I don't know
who you are...."
"No," said the man, "you don't know who I am. And yet we're sort of
related--yes, that's the word--for all we've never met before."
He took a step forward.
"'Tis your wedding night--and I've come to wish you joy of it. You've
played with many a woman's heart in your time, and driven more than
one good lad to despair--maybe 'twill do you good to learn...."
"What?" cried Olof, with sudden fury. "Out with it, man!"
The fellow's glassy eyes seemed to be straining forward, the pupils
were glittering points of light.
"You, that have worked your will on any and all as it pleased
you--robbed your betters of all they had and cared for--'twill do you
good, maybe, to know that.... _Do you think you're taking an innocent
girl for your bride_?"
The man stood watching the effect of his words. He saw Olof's face
darken, his nostrils expand and quiver. Saw him tremble from head to
foot, like a tree about to fall, waiting but for the last stroke of
the axe. Well, he should have it....
"Well--how does it feel?" He bowed mockingly, and went on with a
sneer: "Wish you joy.... I've more reason, perhaps, than the others,
seeing we're partners, so to speak, in the same...."
"Liar--devil--coward!" Olof's rage broke loose. A step forward, almost
a spring, and with the strength of fury he seized the man by his coat
with both hands and lifted him from the floor.
"Say your prayers!" hissed Olof between his teeth, still holding
the man in mid-air, the shirt-front crushing under his grip. The man
struggled helplessly once or twice, then hung limp; the cigar fell
from his mouth, and Olof felt the body a dead weight in his hands.
"I ... I've been drinking," he gasped--"drinking... don't know what
I've been saying...." The words bubbled pitifully from the pale lips,
like the last drops from an empty barrel.
"Well for you!" Olof set the man down and loosed his hold. "Or I'd....
Huh! Get out of this--d'you hear?"
The man staggered, looking this way and that, then turned and stole
from the room without a word.
* * * * *
Olof stood alone. His brain was in a whirl, dazzling lights floated
before his eyes.
"It must be true! No one would ever dare unless...." There was no
doubt in his mind--it was only too natural that it should be so. The
retribution he had feared so long--it had come at last, and ruined all
in a moment.
The fiddler was playing louder than before; the whole house
shook--they were dancing again. To Olof the music seemed like a
mighty peal of scornful laughter, as if the host of people there were
laughing and dancing for joy at his shame.
"Make an end--make an end!" he cried to himself, and he rushed from
the room. How he was to end it he did not know--only that this was
unendurable--it was hell!
* * * * *
Smiling faces greeted Olof as he appeared in the doorway and stood
a moment, unable to get through the press. His brain cleared a
little--after all, he could not drive the guests from the house like a
madman with a knife in his hand.
They stood aside to let him pass, and he slipped round by the wall to
the farther end of the room, and went up to the fiddler.
"Will you sell it," he whispered--"sell your fiddle? There's a man
wants to buy it--he's asked me. Never mind about the price--say what
"Why ... I don't know. 'Tis an old friend," answered the man, playing
more softly as he spoke.
"Will you sell it? At your own price. Yes or no?"
"H'm ... well, say thirty marks?"
"Good! The man'll be here directly. And now, play a polka--and play
like the devil himself, as if you were kissing your girl for the last
time. The fastest you've ever played."
The fiddler nodded.
* * * * *
Olof walked up to a young girl and bowed. The fiddler broke off, and
struck up a polka at such a furious pace that the dancers stopped and
looked at one another in surprise.
But Olof went off in wild career with his partner, and several other
pairs followed. These, however, soon fell out, and all stood watching
the bridegroom, who danced like a man bewitched. His eyes blazed,
a strange smile played about his lips, and his head was lifted
The onlookers were filled with admiration and wonder--never had they
seen such a dance! Olof took a second partner, then a third; danced
a couple of rounds with each, and took a new. He did not lead them to
their places after, but slipped each lightly, bowed to another, and
whirled her off at the same furious pace.
"What's come over him now?" whispered the guests.
"He's going to dance with them all--for the last time, it seems."
"Ay, it looks like it!" And they laughed and watched the extraordinary
scene--after all, it would have been strange if something out of the
common had not happened at Olof's wedding.
Once more Olof set his partner down and bowed to another. Formally
this time, as if with emphasis: it was Kyllikki he had chosen now. The
girl stood dismayed, uneasy, not knowing what to think.
The fiddler, noting who was the latest choice, pressed his instrument
closer under his chin, and put his whole fire into the work. The music
swelled and sank, the bridal pair danced lightly and gracefully--sight
to see. Once, twice, three times, four times round, and still they
Then as they passed the fiddler for the fifth time, the music suddenly
stopped--Olof had snatched the instrument with his right hand as
he passed, and next moment it was shivered to a thousand fragments
against the table. A single string whined painfully as it broke.
A gasp went up from the onlookers; all stared in amazement at the
pair. Neither showed any sign of confusion; they stood easily, as if
the whole thing were a prearranged conclusion.
"I hope I haven't startled anyone,'" said Olof gaily. "But the fiddle
that has played my youth away--must play no more! Good-night!"
A sigh of relief and admiration passed through the crowd. What a
finish! What a youth! None but he could ever have done the like.
And the guests laughed, and the bridegroom laughed, and old Moisio
himself laughed where he sat: "Ay, that's the way! Turn your back on
the rest and give all to one--my daughter's worth a fiddle at least!"
But the bride was pale--as it might have been one Sunday evening
by the river, when she sat alone on the bank, watching a man stride
hastily away, with a flush of anger on his cheek.
THE BRIDAL CHAMBER
A man, with a dark fire smouldering in his eyes, entered in--the pale
bride followed him.
The man walked up and down the room with heavy strides, biting his
lip and frowning angrily. Suddenly he stopped, and stood by the
table against the farther wall, with a cold, piercing glance at the
She had been standing silent and thoughtful by the window--now she
approached him with hesitant step.
"Olof," she murmured, her voice quivering with tender
anxiety--"Olof--dearest, what does it mean?"
"Dearest?" He snapped out the word between clenched teeth like the
rattle of hail against a window-pane. His voice trembled with tears
and laughter, cutting scorn and bitterness. He grasped her roughly by
"Keep away!" he cried, boiling with rage, and thrust her from him with
such violence that she stumbled and sank down on a sofa.
There she sat in the same position, struck helpless by the suddenness
of the blow. Then she rose and, flushing slightly, walked resolutely
up to him again.
"Olof, what does all this mean?" she asked. There was tenderness still
in her voice, but beneath it a steely ring plain to be heard.
Olof felt his blood boiling in his veins--that she, guilty as she was,
should dare to stand there with uplifted head, and look him calmly in
the face! His eye fell on the myrtle wreath which she wore--emblem
of bridal purity--and it seemed to mock him anew. He felt an almost
irresistible impulse to fall on her and tear her in pieces.
"It means," he cried, stepping threateningly towards her, "that you
have no right to wear that wreath--that you are an infamous cheat!"
And with a violent movement he tore the wreath and veil from her head,
and trampled them underfoot, till the wires of the framework curled
like serpents on the floor. "Liar--liar and hypocrite!" he cried.
Kyllikki did not move; she stood there still silent, only the red
flush in her cheeks deepened.
Nothing was left of the wreath now but some strands of wire and a few
loose leaves--Olof spurned it aside, and the veil after it. Then he
drew himself up, and looked at Kyllikki with the eyes of a man who has
crushed one foe and prepares to meet another.
"Will you be good enough to tell me what all this means?" said
Kyllikki, calmly as ever, but with a new note in her voice that almost
"Tell you? Ay, by Heaven. If I had my pistol here, I'd answer you so
that you should never ask again!"
Kyllikki shuddered--a chill sense of utter helplessness came over her.
She was shamed and insulted, her bridal wreath trampled underfoot, and
she herself here alone with a man who raved and threatened furiously.
She looked at him earnestly, as if trying to read him through. And she
felt that here was indeed something great and terrible, on which her
future--their future--depended; a single word or gesture on her part
might be fatal. Suddenly a thought crossed her mind and the blood
rushed to her head.... Could he dare?... Was his anger greater than
Swiftly she decided--now or never, it must be done, or all would be
lost. Stepping across to a chest, she opened the lowest drawer and
felt for something there ... no ... and she tried the next. A moment
after, she rose to her feet and walked firmly over to where Olof
A large, old-fashioned revolver was in her hand; the dark barrel
glinted in the light as she laid it on the table.
"There is the thing you wanted. It is loaded. Now, answer me, if you
She spoke slowly, putting forth all her strength to keep her voice
from trembling. Then stepping back, she stood waiting, her face pale,
her eyes fixed on Olof's face.
It was the critical moment. To Kyllikki it seemed endless, as she
stood there stiffly, dreading with every breath lest she should fall.
Olof stood motionless, staring at her as at a vision. Once before he
had seen her thus--during the ordeal with her father. A stifling fear
came over him as he marked the similarity.
"What do you mean--are you trying to drive me mad?" he cried in a
choking voice. And tearing his hair, he rushed violently towards the
Kyllikki felt the blood coursing warmly through her veins once more.
Olof strode furiously up and down, then came to a standstill before
her. His rage flamed up again, and he set himself to play the part of
"Defy me, would you?" he shouted, pale with anger. "Do you know what
you are? A liar, a perjured hypocrite! Do you know what you have done?
You have cheated me! You have ruined my wedding night, trampled on my
happiness and my future--you have shamed me in the eyes of the world.
You are no pure and innocent girl, but a...."
He stopped, breathless, and stood gasping for a moment, then went on
brokenly: "But now it is out. Now you shall answer for it all. Do you
know a fellow who was here to-night--a wretched little worm with a red
rosette in his coat? You know who I mean well enough--deny it if you
"Yes, I know him well. What of it?"
"Ah, you know him--yes...." He gave a hoarse, nervous laugh. "That
ghastly little abortion came to me to-night and told me...."
He stopped, on purpose to torture her the more.
"What did he tell you?" asked Kyllikki breathlessly.
"You know well enough ... _that you had given him long ago what should
have been mine to-night!_"
He stood enjoying the effect of his words: Kyllikki staggered as if
struck--exactly as he had intended.
The girl was trembling in every limb. She felt a loathing for the man
before her--and for all his sex. These men, that lied about women,
or cried out about what was _theirs_ on their wedding night, raved of
_their_ happiness, demanding purity and innocence of others, but
not of themselves ... she felt that there could be no peace, no
reconciliation between them now, only bitterness and the ruin of all
they had hoped for together.
"And what then?" she asked coldly, with lifted head.
"What then?" cried Olof wildly. "What...."
"Yes. Go on. That was only one. Are there no more who have told you
the same thing?"
"More? My God--I could kill you now!"
"Do!" She faced him defiantly, and went on with icy calm: "And how
many girls are there who can say the same of you?"
Olof started as if he had been stabbed. He put his hands to his head,
and strode violently up and down, muttering wildly: "Kill you--yes,
kill you and myself too, kill, kill, kill...."
So he went on for a while, then, flinging himself down on the sofa, he
tore open his coat, snatched off the white rosette he wore, and threw
it down, crying out in agony: "Why must I suffer like this? Was there
ever such a wedding night? It is hell, hell...!"
Kyllikki stood calmly watching him. She was gradually feeling more
sure of herself now. At last she moved towards him.
"Do you want me to love you?" she said quietly. "Or must I hate you
and despise you? You listen to the stories of a drunken fool, instead
of asking the one person in the world you should trust; you give me no
explanation when I ask you. Is it any wonder, after all, that the man
should have said what he did--to let you taste for once a drop of the
poison you have poured out for who knows how many others? As for him,
I knew him when we were children--there was some talk of our being
married, years ago. He was five years older than I, and was too young
then to know of any harm in an occasional caress. More than that
never--though it seems in his drunken wickedness he tried to make out
"Kyllikki, is it true?" cried Olof, springing to his feet.
"It is true. _I_ am still pure, but you--have you the right to ask a
pure woman to be your wife?"
"Have I the right...." he began haughtily; but the words died on his
lips, and he sank back on the sofa, covering his face with his hands,
as if to keep out visions of dread.
"It would have been only just," Kyllikki went on, "if it had been as
you believed--yes, it should have been so! And you knew it--and _so_
you stormed and threatened to kill me!"
She paused for a moment; Olof quailed under her glance.
"Pure and innocent," she continued; "yes, that is what you ask, that
is your right. But have you for one moment thought of me? I, _who am
innocent and pure_--what is given to me in return?"
"You are torturing me," answered Olof, wringing his hands. "I know, I
know--and I have thought of you too.... Oh...."
"Thought of me?--yes, perhaps you have, now and again. There was
something of it in your letter--you felt it then. And I took it as a
prayer for forgiveness, and I could have faced it all as it was--I was
thinking more of you than of myself. But now...."
"O God--this is madness!" cried Olof, his voice choking with sobs.
"Is this the end?... And this night, this night that I have looked
forward to in my brightest dreams--this new dawn that was to be
... crushed, crushed, a trampled wreath and veil ... and this is my
He flung himself face downward on the sofa, sobbing violently.
"Your wedding night?" said Kyllikki softly. "_Your_ wedding night? How
many such have you not had before? But mine...." Her voice broke. "Oh,
mine has never been, and never will be, never...."
She burst into a violent fit of weeping, and sank trembling to a seat.
And the bridal chamber echoed with sounds of woe, with utterances of
misery that might have called the very walls to pity.
* * * * *
Olof wakened with a start; moving blindly, he had stumbled against
her, and at the touch of her body he flung himself on his knees before
her and hid his face in her lap.
"Kill me!" he moaned. "Forgive me and then kill me and make an end."
His passionate outburst seemed to calm her; she sat still, and her
"Speak to me!" cried Olof again. "If you cannot forgive me, then kill
me, at least--or must I do it myself?"
But Kyllikki made no answer, only bent forward and, slipping her hands
beneath his arms, drew him up, softly and slowly, and pressed him
closer to her.
A sudden warmth filled him, and he threw his arms round her
gratefully, as a child might do.
"Crush me, then, crush me to death, and I have all I asked for!"
But she did not speak, only held him closer. And so they lay in each
other's arms, like children, worn out with weeping.
"Olof," said Kyllikki at last, freeing herself, "when you wrote, you
said you did not ask me to share joy and happiness, but to work and
suffer with you."
"Ay, then," said Olof bitterly. "And even then I still hoped for
"But, don't you see.... To-night, it is just that. Our first suffering
"It has ruined all!"
"Not all--only what we had hoped for to-night. All the rest is as it
"No, no, do not try to deceive yourself and me. And for myself--what
do I care now? I have deserved it all--but you, you...."
"Say no more, Olof. Let this be ended now and never speak of it again.
See, I have forgotten it already."
"All ... you...."
"Yes, all--for your sake. Oh, let us be content! No one in all the
world can ever have all they hoped and wished for. And if we cannot
have our wedding night as lovers--let us at least be friends and
"Comrades? ... yes, in misery," sighed Olof. And they drew together
in a close embrace; two suffering creatures, with no refuge but each
* * * * *
"Olof," whispered Kyllikki after a while, "we must go to rest now--you
are worn out."
Both glanced at the white bridal bed--and each turned in dismay to the
other, reading each other's thought.
"Can't we--can't we sleep here on the sofa?--it's nearly morning,"
said Kyllikki timidly.
Olof grasped her hand and pressed it to his lips without a word.
Kyllikki went to fetch some coverings. As she did so, she caught sight
of something lying on the table, and keeping her back turned to Olof,
she picked up the thing and put it back in the drawer. Olof's eyes
followed her with a grateful glance.
But as she touched the pillows and the white linen she had worked with
such hopes and kisses and loving thoughts for this very night, she
broke down, and stood with quivering shoulders, fumbling with the
bedclothes to hide her emotion.
Olof felt his eyelids quivering, warm drops fell on his cheek. He rose
and stepped softly to her side.
"Kyllikki," he whispered entreatingly, "have you forgiven
"Yes, everything," she answered, smiling through her tears, and threw
her arms round his neck. "It was childish of me to cry."
Gratefully, and with a new delight, he pressed her to his heart....
* * * * *
"Olof, don't put out the light yet--let it burn till the morning."
Kyllikki lay stretched on the sofa. Olof nodded, and laid himself down
with his head in her lap and his feet on a chair by the side.
And two pairs of darkly glistening eyes fell to whispering together,
like lonely stars in a dark autumn sky, while the earth sighed through
Olof was a sleep-walker, though he never dared to confess it even to
himself. There was something mysterious and terrifying in the thought.
A soul that cannot rest, but goes forth when others sleep, on errands
of its own; the body follows, but without consciousness. The eyes are
open, but they see only that which the soul is pleased to notice on
its way. It will climb like a squirrel to the roof, walk along narrow
ridges at a giddy height. It will open windows and lean out over black
depths, or play with keen-edged weapons as if they were toys. And the
onlooker, in his waking senses, shudders at the sight, realising that
it is the soul stealing forth on its nightly wanderings.
So it had been with Olof for a long time now--almost from the time
when Kyllikki first became his.
The scene of their bridal night was forgotten; neither ever hinted at
what had passed. They had tried to fuse with each other in the deep
and beautiful relationship which had its roots deep in the soul of
both, and in the earnest striving that was to clear and cultivate the
ground on which their future should be built.
Olof was proud of his wife; she moved with the beauty of a summer
Sunday in their new home--calm and clear-eyed, ever surrounded by
a scent of juniper or heather. And he was filled with gratitude,
respect, and love for her--for her tender and faithful comradeship.
Then, like a bird of night on silent wings, came this walking in his
It had happened many times without his knowing it. And still he
refused to believe it, though he had more than once been on the point
of waking to full consciousness. And he was glad that Kyllikki seemed
to suspect nothing--for she said no word. He dreaded most of all the
hour when she should wake and speak to him reproachfully: "Are my arms
not warm enough to hold you; can your soul not find rest in my soul's
Of late, the mere thought of this had made him restless. And to guard
against it, he had thrown himself with redoubled energy into his
work, as if life depended on the ditching and draining of a marsh.
And gradually there grew out of this a new and far greater project, in
which the entire neighbourhood would share.
* * * * *
It was in the quiet hour of dusk, when Olof had just come home from
his work, and the walls of the room seemed whispering expectantly.
Silently as the dusk, Kyllikki stole into his opened arms, her eyes
asking what he had to tell, and pouring out her own thoughts and
Olof laughed, but did not try to meet the innermost depth of her eyes;
after a little, he ceased to look at her at all, but turned his gaze
far off, as if looking out over the work of the day.
A little while passed thus.
Almost unconsciously Olof lifted one hand and loosened the plaits
of his wife's hair, letting the long tresses fall freely over her
shoulders. Smiling and looking into far distance, he passed his hand
through the soft waves, and wrapping the ends about his fingers,
clasped her waist.
"My own love," he whispered, gazing at her as through a veil, and
bending to touch her lips.
And as they kissed, Kyllikki felt his arm tremble. Tenderly she looked
into his eyes, but started in wonder at their strange expression--they
seemed wandering far off.
And the dark forebodings that had long oppressed her filled her now
with a sudden dread. The more she looked at him, the more she felt
this fear--at last it was almost more than she could bear.
It was as if the soul that looked out of his eyes had suddenly
vanished, leaving only a body that stiffened in a posture of embrace.
She trembled from head to foot, her whole body seemed turned to ice.
Suddenly she tore herself away, and sank down on a seat; Olof stood
without moving, as if turned to stone.
In a single moment, something terrible had passed between them, which
neither dared to speak of, but which showed plainly in their eyes. A
gulf seemed to have opened before their feet, filled with strange and
horrible creatures, all waving tentacles and ghastly staring eyes.
Kyllikki covered her face with her hands as if to shut out the sight.
"Olof--your soul, your soul ..." she moaned, like a little child.
Olof stood as hovering on the verge of sleep and waking. But at sight
of her trembling figure he seemed to come to himself, and tried to
break loose from the spell.
"Kyllikki...!" he said imploringly.
She sat up, sobbing, and gazed at him as at one whom she did not know.
"Kyllikki, poor child!" he said brokenly, and sat down by her side.
But his own voice sounded strange in his ears, and he could say no
more--he felt as if he were a ghost, not daring to speak to a living
At sight of his unspoken misery, Kyllikki felt her own dread rise up
stronger than ever.
"I knew the suffering would come," she said mournfully. "So many have
had their place in your heart that I could not hope to fill it all
myself at first. But I love you so, and I felt so strong, I thought
I could win my way into it little by little until it was all mine ...
and now...." She broke off, and fell to sobbing anew.
Olof would have given anything to speak to her then, but found no
"And it is so terrible to see it all and be helpless," she went on.
"You are a wanderer still--and I cannot hold you ... you leave me--for
those that wait for you...."
"O Heaven!" cried Olof in agony. "Kyllikki, don't--don't speak like
that. You know I do not care for any other--would not be with any
other but you."
"But you go--even against your will. And they come towards you
smiling. I am all alone--and they are so many. And they must
win--for I can give no more than one woman can. But they are for ever
whispering to you of what a woman can give but once in her life--each
in her own way...."
"Kyllikki!" Olof broke in imploringly.
But she went on unheeding, pouring out her words like a stream in
"And they hate me because I thought to keep you for myself alone. And
while you lie in my arms, they come smiling and whispering and thread
their arms between us and offer you their lips...."
"Kyllikki!" he cried again, and grasped at her hand like a drowning
"And then--then it is no longer me you hold in your arms, but those
others; not my lips, but theirs, you kiss...." She tore her hand away,
and broke out weeping anew.
Olof sat as if turned to stone. The thing was said--it was as if a
secret curse was for ever dogging his footsteps, and spreading poison
Kyllikki's despair gathered and grew like an avalanche. What a blind
self-deceit their life had been! How they had hoped and dreamed--with
a gulf of naked hopelessness on every side!
"If only I had--what I have hoped for these last two years, then I
could bear it all. For that--none could rob me of that! But now--I
know why it has not come. And now there is no hope even of that!"
And she groaned aloud.
Olof felt as if a dagger's thrust had pierced the tenderest nerve
of an already aching wound. He had tried to comfort her, though he
himself had long since lost all hope. The fault could only lie with
him--and now he understood! He felt himself crushed by a weight of
despair, and sat there staring before him, without a word.
Kyllikki grew calmer after a while, and looked up. The silence of the
place came to her now for the first time, and with it a new dread.
She turned to Olof, and at sight of his face, drawn with despair, and
darkly shadowed in the gloom, she realised what her words must have
meant to him.
"Olof--dear!" she cried, taking his hand. "What have I done? I did not
mean to reproach you. It might be my fault as well--it must be mine
more than yours...."
But Olof sat motionless as before, save for a shiver that now and then
passed through his frame.
And Kyllikki, seeing him thus, felt her own trouble fade; a wave of
unspeakable tenderness and affection came over her.
"Don't--Olof, you must not be miserable for that," she said earnestly.
"Oh, how could I ever say it--how could I be so thoughtless and
selfish and cruel...?"
"No," said Olof--"it was not that. You could not help it. You were my
conscience, that is all--as you must ever be, or you would not be the
friend you are."
"Don't say that, Olof--it was just that I forgot. We are friends--and
the one thing that can make and keep us friends is to toil and suffer
Gently she drew closer to him, and threw her arms about him.
"Don't you see?" she went on softly. "It's all because I love you so.
I want you for myself, all for myself. I will not let you go--no, you
shall look at me. I will drive them away, all of them, if they try to
come between us; oh, I am strong enough, I know. You are mine, Olof,
do you hear? All mine--mine.... Oh, why do you sit there so? Speak to
Her passionate earnestness burned like bright flames about him,
gradually warming his heart to life again.
"Kyllikki, how good you are!" he said, and his eyes glistened as he
spoke. "You are all I have in life--without you, I should be lost. If
only--if only I could be sure of one thing...."
"What is it--tell me, Olof...?"
"That--that you do not despise me, but trust me, that you believe I
only care to be yours."
"Trust you?--indeed I do," said Kyllikki. "I know we are both striving
toward the same end. But there are enemies that are always on the
watch. We must beat them--and we will! And I am yours--all yours--as
the night when you said good-bye to Kohiseva. And you are mine--all
mine ... and then, Olof--then it will come--the one thing I must have
to live for...."
OUT OF THE PAST
"KIRKKALA, 7 _May_ 1899."
"Dearest,--You will not be angry because I write to you? How could
you, you who are so good! I would not have written, but I must, for
there is so much to tell you. It is spring now, as it was then, and it
has brought with it such a longing that I must turn to you, speak to
you--and then I can wait again till next spring. You must have known
that I have been with you--surely you felt it? And now here I am,
having learned by chance where you are.
"Do you remember the story I told you? About the girl and her lover
and the mark on her breast? And what I asked for then, and you gave
me? I have often wondered since whether, perhaps, you might have
misunderstood it all--when I was so serious and thoughtful about
it--if you thought I was not certain of myself, not sure that I should
always be yours, as I wished to be. But it was not so, dear Olof; I
knew myself well enough even then, though not so deeply as I do now.
How strong and deep love is! I read once in a poem--surely you know it
"'The lightning stroke falls swifter than breath,
But the tree that is struck bears the mark till its death.'"
And so it is--there is no more to add; it is as if written by the
finger of God. And so it must be, or what would our love be worth?
"But it is not all who understand it, even the half. Human beings are
so strange--wondering and asking always--people ask, for instance, why
I am always so lonely.... They cannot see that I am not lonely at all.
"Olof, if you knew all I have felt and suffered in these years! I
hardly know if I dare tell you. But I must--I only turn to you now
to say it all, so that I may feel easier after. I have longed for you
so--more than I can ever say; I wonder how I have been able to live
at all. Olof, Olof, do not look at me! I have only come to whisper
a little in your ear.... I have had such dreadful thoughts. As if
someone were always behind me whispering, 'Look, there is a knife--it
is a friend; take it and press it deep in your breast--it will feel
like the softest touch of the evening wind. Look, the river is in
flood....' And I have hardly dared to pass by the well, for it looked
up at me so strangely with its dark eye. And I know I should have
given way if you had not saved me. When I thought how you would feel
if you heard what I had done, I seemed to see you so clearly; you
looked at me reproachfully, only looked at me without a word, and I
felt ashamed that I had ever thought of what would cause you sorrow.
And you nodded, and forgave me, and all was well again.
"Then I took to hoping that some miracle should bring you back to me.
I hoped something might happen to you, so that I could buy your life
with mine. You might be bitten by a snake--it does happen sometimes.
Coming up one night with the lumbermen, and then next morning the news
would be all over the place, how you had been bitten, and were on
the point of death; and I would hurry down with the rest to where you
were, and bend down beside you, and press my lips to the place and
draw the poison out. And then I could feel it passing with your blood
into my veins, in a great wave of happiness. And soon I should sink
down beside you on the grass; but you would be saved, and you would
know I had been true to you until death.
"So I waited year after year. Then I wanted you to be ill--very, very
ill for a long time, and weak, till your heart could hardly beat at
all for want of blood, and you lay in a trance. Then the doctors would
say, if anyone would give their blood he might come to life again.
But no one could be found, for there were only strangers there. Then
I hear about it, and come quickly, and the doctors start at once, for
there is no time to be lost. And they draw off my blood and let it
flow into your body, and it acts at once, and you move a little,
though you are still in a trance. 'A little more,' say the
doctors--'see, the girl is smiling; it will do her no harm.' And they
only see that I smile, and do not know how weak I am already. And when
you wake, I am cold and pale already, but happy as a bride, and you
kiss me on the lips like a lover. For now I am your bride, and one
with you for ever, and I cannot die, for my blood lives in you!
"But all this was only dreams. You were not ill, nor bitten by a
snake, and at last I did not even know where you were. And then I
wanted to die, for I felt so weak. And I waited for it day after day
and month after month--I had already written to say good-bye to you.
But death did not come--I had to go on living.
"I have been so ill, Olof--it is my heart. Perhaps I am too sensitive;
they called me a dreamer when I was a child. And even now that I am
older they have said the same. But how could I ever forget you, and
the hours that were the confession and communion of my whole life? How
could I forget those evenings when I sat at your feet and looked into
your eyes? Olof, I can feel it all still, and tremble at the thought
"You must forgive me all this. It feels easier now that I have spoken
to you and told you about it all--how I still feel, grateful to you
for all you gave me then. I was very childish and poor then, and had
nothing to give you in return--now, afterwards, I could perhaps have
given you something too. I should have been so happy if we could have
been together always; earth would have been like heaven, and none but
angels everywhere. And even now I can be so happy, though I only have
you in secret. Secretly I say good-night to you, and kiss you, and
no one knows that you rest every night in my arms. And, do you know,
Olof, there is one thing that is so strange, I hardly know what it
means. Now, just lately, I have felt sometimes that you were really
here, your living self, sitting beside me and whispering that I was
yours, your love, your friend. And it makes me so happy--but I always
"There was one thing more--but I can't think what it was. Something
about ... yes, now I remember. The greatest and loveliest of all, that
I asked you for Shall I tell you? The miracle has happened, though no
one knows about it. You gave it me after all, that spring when I was
so ill. And I could not live without it. He is two years old now--oh,
if you could only see him! His eyes and his voice--they are just your
very own. Do not be anxious about him. I will be so careful, and see
that he grows up a fine man. I have sewed every stitch of his clothes
myself, and he looks like a prince--there never was such a child.
We are always together, and talking of you. I am sorry for mother
sometimes; she looks so strangely at me, and says I go about talking
to myself--but how could she know of my prince and his father, and why
I talk? Talking to myself, she says. But I am talking to the child all
"There, and what more was I going to say? I can't remember now. I feel
so much better now I have told you all about it. And now the summer is
coming--I always feel happier then. It was raining before, but now
the sun has come out and the birds are singing. And so good-bye, my
dearest, my sunshine, my summer.--Your own CLEMATIS.
"Do not write to me--I am better as I am. I know you have not
forgotten me, that you could not forget ... and that is all I ask."
Olof was growing uneasy--a feeling of insecurity had come over him.
The air seemed full of mysterious forces, whispering together and
joining in alliance against him.
It had all looked clear and simple enough before. No one had ever
stood in his way or threatened his plans. But now something was
threatening him--something unknown, mysterious, but which he could not
help feeling all the time.
He made every effort to resist--to gather arms and allies against what
was to come. His project for draining the marsh was the first thing;
he went about from one homestead to another, talking to the men one
by one, and trying to interest them in the idea. A general meeting
was held, and he made a great speech, putting out all his powers of
persuasion; his voice rang with a convincing strength, and his words
carried weight. And to begin with, all went well enough; it was agreed
that an expert should be called in to investigate the whole question,
and work out the probable cost of the undertaking.
But then came a period of waiting and inactivity, which sapped his
strength anew. He had to seek about for some fresh task, for new
difficulties to meet and overcome, in order to regain his confidence
in himself. And so for a week he roved about in the forest between his
own and the neighbouring parishes.
At last he found what he sought--the line for a new road, better and
quicker than the old one.
It was a fine idea, that no one could deny. It would be a great gain
to all in Hirviyoki, especially for those in the outlying parts; it
meant a saving of miles on their way to the railway, the mills, and
And so once more Olof went from house to house, seeking adherents
among the most influential men, so as to crush opposition before the
matter was taken up for general discussion. He started with those
nearest at hand, working gradually farther out.
"Is this Inkala?" asked Olof of a serving-girl, as he entered the
courtyard; he did not know the place, nor who lived there.
"This is Inkala--yes," answered the girl.
"Is the master at home?"
"No; he went off to Muurila this morning."
"H'm. And when's he coming back?"
"Don't know at all. But maybe mistress'll know. If you'd go in by the
front way, I'll tell her."
Olof walked up the front steps.
Hardly had he entered the room when a slender, fair-haired woman
appeared from within.
"Good-day to ..." Olof began; but the greeting died on his lips, and a
shiver passed through his body.
The woman stopped still; her lips moved, but uttered no word.
Stiffly, uneasily, they looked at each other. A glimpse of the past,
a sequence of changes, things new and things familiar--the vision of a
moment, seen in a flash.
A warm flush spread over the woman's cheeks, and she stepped forward
without hesitation to greet the newcomer.
"Welcome, Olof," she said, with frank kindness, though her voice
trembled slightly. "And is it really you? Sit down.'"
But Olof stood still, unable to recover himself.
"I dare say you're surprised to--to find me here," went on the woman,
trying to speak easily and naturally, though her features and the look
in her eyes revealed a certain emotion. "I have been here for four
years now." She stopped, and cast down her eyes in confusion.
"Really--four years, is it as long as that...?" Olof stammered out the
words awkwardly, and could say no more.
"But you've heard no news of me, I suppose, and my being here. I knew
a little about you, though--that you had come back and were living
"Yes, yes.... No, I had no idea ... I came prepared to find only
strangers, and then ... to meet you here ... so far from...."
"Yes, it is a long way from my home." The woman grasped eagerly at
something to talk of. "And it's all so different here, though it's not
so far, after all, counting the miles. It was very strange and new at
first, of course, but now I like it well enough. And we often go over
to the old place, and father and mother come to see us here...."
"Yes, yes.... And how are they at home? Your mother and father?" Olof
asked, with a ring of pleasant recollection in his voice.
"Finely, thank you. Father was bad for a time last winter, but he's
got over it now, or nearly...."
She broke off and glanced at the door. It was thrust open a little,
and a child's head looked in.
She stepped hastily across the room. "What do you want in here? Can't
you see here are visitors--and you with your dirty overall on?"
"I wanted to see," said the little man stubbornly, with childish
insistence, and clung to his mother.
Olof looked at the child as at a vision.
The woman stood, pale and confused, holding the boy by the hand.
"Come along, then, and say good-day," she stammered at last, hardly
knowing what she did.
The boy came forward, and stood holding Olof's knees, looking up into
Child and man gazed at each other without a word or movement, as if
each were seeking for some explanation.
"I haven't seen you before," said the child at last. "Do you live a
long way away?"
Olof felt himself trembling. The child's first words had set his heart
"But you mustn't stay here, dear," said the woman hastily, and led the
boy away. "Go into the next room a little--mother's coming soon."
The child obeyed without a word, but in the doorway he turned, and
again looked wonderingly at his mother and the strange man....
* * * * *
Olof was gone; the young mistress of Inkala sat alone in her room.
Thinking it over now, it seemed like a dream. Was it indeed Olof she
had seen? Or had she been dreaming in broad daylight?
It had seemed natural enough at first. Both were surprised, of course,
at the unexpected meeting, but soon they had found themselves talking
But the entry of the child had brought a touch of something strange
and unspeakable--it seemed to change them all at once to another
footing, bringing up a reckoning out of the past.
True, she had wondered now and again if fate would ever bring her face
to face with Olof again--if he would ever see the child. But she had
put the thought aside as painful to dwell upon.
And now, here they were, those two; no stranger but would at once have
taken them for father and son, though in truth there was no kinship
It was as if she were suddenly called upon to answer for her life.
First it was her son that questioned her, standing in the doorway,
looking at both with his innocent eyes.
And then--a triple reckoning--to Olof, to her husband, and to God.
Until that day, her secret had been known to none but God and herself.
And now--he knew it, he, the one she had resolved should never know.
And the third stood there too, like one insistent question, waiting to