Part 5 out of 5
She would have told him, frankly and openly, as she herself understood
it. How she had longed for him and the thought of him, and never
dreamed that she could ever love another! Until at last he came--her
husband. How good and honest and generous he had been--willing to take
her, a poor cottage girl, and make her mistress of the place. And how
she herself had felt so weak, so bitterly in need of friendship and
support, until at last she thought she really loved him.
No, she could not tell him that--it would have been wrong every
way--as if she had a different explanation for each.
And to Olof she said only: "I loved him, it is true. But our first
child--you saw yourself. It's past understanding. It must have been
that I could not even then forget--that first winter. I can find no
Olof sat helplessly, as in face of an inexplicable riddle.
Then she went on, speaking now to God, while Olof was pondering still.
"You know ... you know it all! I thought I had freed myself from him,
but it was not so. My heart was given to him, and love had marked it
with his picture, so that life had no other form for me. And then,
when I loved again, and our first-born lay beneath my heart.... All
that was in my thoughts that, time ... and after, when the child was
to be born ... the struggle in my mind ... how I did not always wish
myself it should be otherwise--dearly as I have paid for it since...."
And at last, in a whisper, she spoke to her husband:
"It was terrible--terrible. For your sake, because you had been so
good--you, the only one I love. It was as if I were faithless to you,
and yet I know my heart was true. I would have borne the secret
alone, that is why I have never spoken of it to you before. But now I
must--and it hurts me that any should have known it before."
Olof was waiting--she could see it in his eyes.
"You know, I need not tell you how it has made me suffer," she said,
turning towards him. "And when the second time came, and I was again
to be a mother, I wept and prayed in secret--and my prayer was heard.
It was a girl--and her father's very image. And after that I felt
safe, and calm again...."
She marked how Olof sighed, how the icy look seemed to melt from his
And she herself felt an unspeakable tenderness, a longing to open
her heart to him. Of all she had thought of in those years of
loneliness--life and fate and love.... Had he too, perhaps, thought of
such things? And what had he come to in the end? She herself felt now
that when two human beings have once been brought together by fate,
once opened their hearts fully to each other, it is hard indeed for
either to break the tie--hardest of all for the woman. And _first_
love is so strong--because one has dreamed of it and waited for it
so long, till like a burning glass it draws together all the rays of
one's being, and burns its traces ineffaceably upon the soul....
But his tongue was tied, as if they had been altogether strangers
during those past years; as if they had nothing, after all, to say
to each other but this one thing. And it was of this he was thinking
now--with thoughts heavy as sighs.
"Life is so--and what is done cannot be undone--there is no
Those were Olof's words--all that he found to say to her in return.
"Escape? No! All that has once happened sets its mark on us, and
follows us like a shadow; it will overtake us some day wherever we may
go--I have learned that at least, and learned it in a way that is not
easy to forget."
"You--have you too...?" Again she felt that inexpressible tenderness,
the impulse to draw nearer to him. How much they would have to say to
each other--the thoughts and lessons of all those years! She knew it
well enough for her own part, and from his voice, too, she knew it
was the same. And yet, it could not be. They seemed so very near each
other, but for all that wide apart; near in the things of the past,
but sundered inevitably in the present. Their hearts must be closed to
each other--it showed in their eyes, and nothing could alter that.
... What happened after she hardly knew. Had they talked, or only
thought together? She remembered only how he had risen at last and
grasped her hand.
"Forgive me," he said, with a strange tremor in his voice, as if the
word held infinitely much in itself.
And she could only stammer confusedly in return: "Forgive...!"
She hardly knew what it was they had asked each other to forgive, only
that it was something that had to come, and was good to say, ending
and healing something out of the past, freeing them at last each from
One thing she remembered, just as he was going. She had felt she must
say it then--a sincere and earnest thought that had often been in her
"Olof--I have heard about your wife. And I am so glad she is--as she
is. It was just such a wife you needed ... it was not everyone could
have filled her place...."
Had she said it aloud? She fancied so--or was it perhaps only her
eyes that had spoken? It might be so. One thing was certain--he had
understood it, every word--she had read so much in his eyes.
And then he had gone away--hurriedly, as one who has stayed too long.
The cat is sitting on the threshold, licking her paws.
But Olof sits deep in thought, whittling at the handle of a spade. A
stillness as in church--no sound but the rasp of the knife blade on
the wood, and the slow ticking of a clock.
Olof works away. The wood he cuts is clean and white, his shirt is
clean and white--Kyllikki had washed it. Kyllikki has gone out.
The cat is making careful toilet, as for a great occasion.
Already steps are heard outside.
The door creaks, the cat springs into the middle of the room in a
fright; Olof looks up from his work.
Enters a young woman, elegantly dressed, her hair town-fashion up on
her head, under a coquettish summer hat--a scornful smile plays about
the corners of her mouth.
She stands hesitating a moment, as if uncertain what to say.
"Good-day," she says at last, with assumed familiarity, and taking a
hasty step forward, offers her hand.
Olof scans her in silence from head to foot--surely he should know
her?--and yet, who can she be...? He _will_ not recognise her.
"Aha! You look surprised! Don't know me--don't you? Your own
darling!'" She laughs harshly, contemptuously.
"Or perhaps you have seen so many others since--rowans and berries and
flowers--that you can't, remember one from another?"
Olof's hand trembles, and his face turns white as the sleeves of his
The woman laughs again boldly, and flings herself on the sofa in a
"Well, here we are again--staring at each other--what? Didn't use to
stare that way, did we? What do you say?"
Olof has fallen into a seat; he looks at her, but makes no answer.
"And your princess--is she at home, may I ask?"
"No!" Olof answers with an angry ring in his voice.
The woman marks it, and draws herself up, as if in answer to a
"Good! I've no business with her. But I've something to say to you.
And maybe it's best for her she's away. She'd not be over pleased to
see me, I fancy." The words shot like venom from her tongue--a sting
from laughing lips.
Her callousness seems to freeze him--while his blood boils at the
insult to Kyllikki. He is about to speak: "Say what you will, but not
an evil word of her!"--when the woman goes on:
"Well, it's no good sitting here solemn as an owl! I just thought I'd
look you up--it's a long time since we met, isn't it? Let's have a
little talk together--talk of love, for instance. I've learned a deal
about that myself since the old days."
Olof was all ice now--the bold, scornful look in her eyes, and her
short, bitter laugh froze every kindlier feeling in him.
Then suddenly the scornful smile vanishes from her face.
"Curse you all!" she cries wildly. "Oh, I know what men are now!" She
stamps her foot violently. "Beasts--beasts, every one of you--only
that some wear horns and others not, and it makes but little
difference after all....
"Ay, you may stare! You're one of them yourself--though maybe just so
much above the ruck of them that I'm willing to waste words on you.
Listen to me!" She springs to her feet and moves towards him. "I hate
you and despise you every one. Oh, I could tear the eyes out of every
man on this earth--and yours first of all!"
A wild hatred flames in her big brown eyes, her face is contorted with
passion; she is more like a fury than a human being.
"And as for your love ..." she went on, flinging herself down on the
sofa once more. "Ay, you can twitter about it all so prettily, can't
you?--till you've tempted us so near that the beast in you can grab
us with its claws! Love--who is it you love? Shall I tell you? 'Tis
_yourselves_! You beasts! We're just pretty dolls, and sweet little
pets to be played with, aren't we? Until you fall on us with your
wolfish lust ... 'tis all you think or care for--just that!"
She spoke with such intensity of feeling that Olof never thought
of saying a word in defence--he felt as if he were being lashed and
beaten--violently, yet no worse than he deserved.
"Well, why don't you say something? Aren't you going to stand up for
your sex? Why don't you turn me out, eh? Fool--like the rest of you!
What is it you offer us, tell me that? Your bodies! And what else?
Your bodies again--ugh! And sweet words enough as long as you want us;
but as soon as you've had your fill--you turn over on the other side
and only want to sleep in peace...."
She gave him one long scornful glance, and sat silent for a moment, as
if waiting for him to speak.
"Well--what are you sitting there writhing about for like a sick cat?
What's the matter now? Oh, you're married, aren't you?--living in
the state of holy matrimony ... take a wife and cleave to her ... one
flesh, and all the rest of it ... flesh! Ugh! Holy matrimony indeed!
As if that could hide the filth and misery of it all! No! Beasts
glaring over the fence at what you want--and when it pleases you to
break it down, why not? And your wives--shall I tell you what they are
to you--what they know they are? The same as we others, no more ...
A dark flush rose to Olof's cheeks, and he broke in violently:
"You ... you...."
"Oh yes, I'm coarse and vulgar and all the rest of it, yes, I know.
But what about you men? You're worse than all! Marriage--it's all very
well for the children. And even that.... Wasn't it the men that wanted
the State to take over all children, what? A pretty thought--leave
your young behind you where you please--and the State to look after
them. Make love free and beautiful. Oh yes. And we're to have all the
pain and trouble--and the State to pay--noble and generous, aren't
you? What other beast gave you that grand idea, I wonder? The dogs
that run in the streets...?"
Olof sat motionless, watching her passionate outburst as if
fascinated. And beneath the ghastly mask he seemed to see the face of
a young, innocent girl, with childish, trusting eyes, and....
"No, it's no good your trying that," the woman broke in. "I know
what you're thinking of now. You hate me, loathe me, as I am now. And
you're asking yourself if it really can be the same little bit of a
child that used to sit on your knee and look up to you as if you were
God Himself! No--I'm not--there's nothing left but bitterness. Can't
you understand? Oh, we're coarse and sour and harsh and all the
rest--all that you've made us. But I'll tell you what we are
besides--ourselves, _ourselves_, for all that!"
She rose up from the sofa, and crossing the room, sat down on a chair
close to where Olof was seated. Then, lowering her voice a little, she
went on, as if striving with words and look to penetrate his soul:
"We are women--do you know what that means? And we long for love--all
of us, good or bad--or, no, there is neither good nor bad among us,
we are alike. We long for you, and for love. But how? Ah, you should
know! Answer me, as you would to God Himself: _of all the women you
have known, has any one of them ever craved your body_? Answer, and
speak the truth!"
"No--no ... it is true!" stammered Olof confusedly.
"Good that you can be honest at least. And that is just what makes the
gulf between us. For you, the body is all and everything, but not for
us. We _can_ feel the same desire, perhaps--after you have taught us.
But the thing we long for in our innermost heart--you never give
us. You give us moments of intoxication, no more. And we are foolish
enough to trust you. We are cheated of our due, but we hope on; we
come to you and beg and pray for it, until at last we realise that
you _can_ give us nothing but what in itself, by itself, only fills us
Olof breathed hard, as in a moment's respite at the stake, with the
lash still threatening above his head.
"Yes, that is your way. You take us--but why will you never take us
wholly? You give us money, or fine clothes, a wedding ring even--but
never yourselves, never the thing we longed for in you from the first.
You look on love as a pastime only; for us, it is life itself. But you
never understand, only wash your hands of it all, and go your own ways
self-satisfied as ever."
Olof was ashy pale and his eyelids quivered nervously.
The woman's face had lost its scornful look, the hardness of her
features had relaxed. She was silent a moment, and when she spoke
again, seemed altogether changed. She spoke softly and gently, with a
tremor in her voice.
"Even you, Olof, even you do not understand. I know what you are
thinking now. You ask, what right have I to reproach you, seeing that
I was never yours as--as the others were? It is true, but for all that
you were more closely bound to me, with a deeper tie, than with the
others. What do I care for them? They do not matter--it is nothing to
me if they ever existed or not. But you and I--we were united, though
perhaps you cannot understand.... Olof! When I sat close to you, in
your arms, I felt that my blood belonged to you, and that feeling I
have never altogether lost. It is you I have been seeking through all
these years--you, and something to still the longing you set to grow
in my soul. Men fondled me with coarse hands, and had their will of
me--and I thought of _your_ caresses; it was with you, with you I
The sweat stood out in beads on Olof's brow--the torture was almost
more than he could bear. "I know, I know!" he would have said. "Say no
more--I know it all!" But he could not frame a single word.
She moved nearer, watching him closely.
And slipping to the floor beside him, she clasped his knees.
"Olof--don't look like that!" she cried. "Don't you see, it is not you
alone I mean. Tear out your eyes--no, no, I didn't mean it, Olof! Oh,
I am mad--we are all mad, we have sinned.... Do not hate me, do not
send me away. I am worthless now, I know, but it was you I loved,
Olof, you and no other."
Olof writhed in horror, as if all his past had come upon him suddenly
like a monster, a serpent that was crushing him in its toils.
"No, let me stay a little yet, do not send me away. Only a moment,
Olof, and I will go. No, I will not reproach you--you did not know me
then. And I knew nothing--how should we have known?"
She was silent for a moment, watching his face. Then she went on:
"Tell me one thing--those others--have any of them come to you--since?
Ah, I can see it in your eyes. None who have known you could ever
forget. If only you had been like all the rest--we do not long for
them when they are gone. But you were--you. And a woman must ever come
back to the man that won her _heart_. We may think we hate him, but
it is not true. And when life has had its way with us, and left us
crushed and soiled--then we come back to him, as--how shall I say
it?--as to holy church--no, as pilgrims, penitents, to a shrine ...
come back to look for a moment on all that was pure and good ... to
weep over all that died so soon...."
Her voice broke. She thrust aside the piece of wood he had been
holding all the time, and sent it clattering to the floor; then
grasping his hands, she pressed them to her eyes, and hid her head in
Olof felt the room darkening round him. He sat leaning forward, with
his chin on his breast; heavy tears dropped from his eyes like the
dripping of thawed snow from the eaves in spring.
For a long while they sat thus. At last the woman raised her head, and
looked with tear-stained eyes into his.
"Olof, do not be harsh with me. I had to come--had to ease my heart of
all that has weighed it down these years past. I have suffered so.
And when I see you now, I understand you must have your own sorrows
to bear. Forgive me all the cruel things I said. I had to say it all,
that too, or I could not have told you anything; I wanted to cry the
moment I saw you. Your wife--did I say anything? Oh, I do not hate
her, you must not think I hate her. I can't remember what I said. But
I am happier now, easier now that I have seen you."
Her glance strayed from his face, and wandered vaguely into distance,
as if she had been sitting alone in the twilight, dreaming.
"Olof," she said after a while, turning to him with a new light in her
eyes, "do you know, a pilgrimage brings healing. It is always so in
books--the pilgrims are filled with hope, and go back with rejoicing
to their home.... Home...!" She started, as if wakening at the word.
"Should I go home, I wonder? What do you say, Olof? Father and
mother--they would be waiting for me. I know they would gladly take me
back again, in spite of all. Do you know, Olof, I have not been home
for two years now. I have been.... Oh no, I cannot, bear to think....
Yes, I will go home. Only let me sit here just a little while, and
look into your eyes--as we used to do. I will be stronger after that."
And she sat looking at him. But Olof stared blankly before him, as at
some train of shadowy visions passing before his eyes.
"You have changed, Olof, since I saw you last," murmured the woman at
his feet. "Have you suffered?..."
Olof did not answer. He pressed his lips together, and great tears
gathered anew in his eyes.
"Oh, life is cruel!" she broke out suddenly, and hid her face in his
lap once more.
For a moment she lay thus; deep, heavy silence seemed to fill the
room. At last she looked up.
"I am going now," she said. "But, Olof, are we...?" She looked at him,
hoping he would understand.
He took both her hands in his. "Are you going--home?" he asked
"Yes, yes. But tell me--are we...?"
"Yes, yes." He uttered the words in a sigh, as if to himself. Then,
pressing her hand, he rose to his feet.
Staggering like a drunken man, he followed her to the door, and stood
looking out after her as she went. Then the night mist seemed to rise
all about him, swallowing up everything in its clammy gloom.
He sits deep in thought. Not a sound in the room.
Then a knocking....
The man starts, rises to his feet, and stares about him with wide
eyes, as if unable to recognise his surroundings. He glances towards
the door, and a shudder of fear comes over him--are they coming to
torture him again?
Furiously he rushes to the door and flings it wide. "Come in, then!"
he cries. "Come in--as many as you please! Rags or finery, sane or
mad, in--in! I've hung my head long enough! Bid them begone--and they
come again--well, come in and have done. Bring out your reckoning,
every one. Here's what's left of me--come and take your share!"
But he calls to the empty air. And his courage fails as he looks
into the blank before him--as a warrior seeking vainly for enemies in
ambush. Slowly he closes the door, and goes back again.
"Ghosts, eh? Invisible things? Come in, then--I'm ready."
And he faces about once more.
Again the knocking--and now he perceives a little bird seated outside
on the window-sill, peeping into the room.
"You, is it? Away--off to the woods with you! This is no place for
innocent things. Or what did you think to find? Greedy, evil eyes, and
groans, and hearts dripping blood. To the woods, and stay there, out
of reach of all this misery!"
But the bird lifts its head, and looks into his eyes.
"Do you hear? Away, go away!"
He taps at the window-pane himself. The bird flies off.
* * * * *
Once more cold fear comes over him; his pulses halt in dread.
"Not yet--not yet--no! One by one, to tear me slowly to pieces.
Shadows of vengeance, retribution, following everywhere; burning eyes
glaring at me from behind, fear that makes me tremble at every sound,
and start in dread at every stranger's face. And if I forget for a
moment, and think myself free, one of them comes again ... ghosts,
He sat down heavily.
"Why do they follow me still? Is it not enough that I have lived like
a hunted beast so long? Because I loved you once? And what did we
swear to each other then--have you forgotten? Never to think of each
other but with thankfulness for what each had given! We were rich, and
poured out gold with open hands--why do you come as beggars now? And
talk of poverty--as if I were not poorer than any of you all! Or do
you come to mourn, to weep with me over all that we have lost?
"But still you come and ask, and ask, as if I were your debtor, and
would not pay. Mad thought! I was your poet, and made you songs of
love. Life was a poem, and love red flowers between. What use to tell
me now that the poem was a promise, the red flowers figures on a
score that I must pay? Go, and leave me in peace! I cannot pay! You
know--you know I have pawned all I had long since--all, to the last
His own thought filled him with new horror; drops of sweat stood out
on his forehead.
"And you, that have suffered most of all--what had I left for you?
You, a princess among the rest, the only one that never looked up to
me humbly, but stepped bravely to meet me as an equal. Yours was the
hardest lot of all--for I gave you the dregs of my life, rags that a
beggar would despise...."
Suddenly he felt an inward shock; his heart seemed to check for a
moment, then went on beating violently; the blood rushed to his head.
Again the check, followed by the same racing heart-beat as before....
Instinctively he grasped his wrist to feel his pulse. A few quick
beats, a pause, then on again--what is it?
The fear of death was on him now, and he sprang up as if thinking of
flight. Gradually the fit passes off; he stands waiting, but it
does not return, only a strange feeling of helplessness
remains--helplessness and physical fear. He sits down again.
"Was that you, Life, that struck so heavy a blow? Have you come for
your reckoning, too? Like an innkeeper, noting this and that upon the
score, and calling for payment at last? I should know you by now--I
have seen a glimpse of your face before....
"'Tis a heavy book you bring. Well, what shall we take first? That?
Yes, of course--it was always the heaviest item with us. My father ...
what was it mother told of him? And his father before him....
"Look back, you say? Back along the tracks I made long ago? Good--I
look; you go about your business in the proper way, I see. If you had
come with sermons, and talk of sin and heaven and hell, I'd leave you
to preach alone--none of that for me. I know ... that love is in our
flesh and blood, drawing us like a magnet--in our day, none draws back
a single step of his way for the fear of sin and hell--there is always
time to repent and be forgiven later on! But your book shows our acts
on this side, and what comes of them on that--and we stand with bowed
heads, seeing how all is written in our own blood."
He stared before him, as if at something tangible and real.
"Yes, there's the book, and there is my account. All these strokes and
lines--what's that? Something I can't make out. Here's my road, there
are my doings--that I understand. And here are all that I've had
dealings with. But this mess of broken lines ... this way and that...?
Ah, consequences! Is that it? Well, well.... All these run together
at one point--that's clear enough--myself, of course. But these
others running out all ways, endlessly.... What's that you say? More
consequences, but to others!
"No, no! Not all that! Something of the sort I was prepared for--but
all that? Is it always so in your book--is everything set down?"
"All that leaves any trace behind--all acts that make for any
"All? But man is a free agent--this does not look like freedom."
"Free to act, yes, but every act knits the fine threads of
consequence--that can decide the fate of a life!"
"No--no! Close the book--I have seen enough! Who cares to think of a
book with lines and threads of consequence, when fate is kind, and all
seems easy going? I laughed at those who wasted their youth in prayer
and fasting. And I laughed at the laws of life, for I could take Love,
and enjoy it without fear of any tie--I was proud to feel myself free,
to know that none had any claim on me--no child could call me father.
But now, after many years, come those who speak of ties I never
dreamed of. Here was a mother showing me a child--I had never touched
her that way, yet you come and tell me there are laws I know nothing
of. And when I beg and pray of you to grant me a child for myself
and for her to whom it is life and death, you turn your back, and
cry scornfully: 'Laugh, and take Love, and enjoy--you have had your
Again the terrifying sense of physical distress--of something amiss
with heart and pulse. He sat waiting for a new shock, wondering if,
perhaps, it would be the last ... the end....
The door opened.
"Olof! Here I am at last--am I very late?... Why, what is the matter?...
Kyllikki hurried over to him. With an effort he pulled himself
together, and answered calmly, with a smile:
"Don't get so excited--you frightened me! It's nothing ... nothing....
I felt a little giddy for the moment, that was all. I've had it before
--it's nothing to worry about. Pass off in a minute...."
She looked at him searchingly. "Olof...?"
"Honestly, it is nothing."
"It must be something to make you look like that. Olof, what is it? I
have noticed it before--though you always tried to pass it off...."
"Well, and if it is," he answered impatiently, "it need not worry
"Olof, can you say that of anything between us two?"
He was silent for a moment. "Why not," he said at last, "if it is
something that could only add needlessly to the other's burden?"
"Then more than ever," answered Kyllikki warmly.
She hurried into the next room and returned with a coverlet.
"You are tired out, Olof--lie down and rest." With tender firmness she
forced him to lie down, and spread it over him.
"And now tell me all about it--it's no good trying to put it off
with me. You know what I am." She sat down beside him and stroked his
Olof was silent for a moment. Then he decided. He would tell her all.
"Yes--I know you," he said softly, taking her hand in his.
* * * * *
It was growing dark when they sat up. Both were pale and shaken with
emotion, but they looked at each other with a new light in their eyes,
two human souls drawn closer together by hardship and sorrow.
"Stay where you are and rest a little, while I get the supper," said
Kyllikki, as Olof would have risen. "And to-morrow--we can begin the
new day," she added.
And, stooping down, she kissed him lightly on the brow.
"THE EMPTY HOUSE, 6/9/1900."
"Your letter has just come--Kyllikki, you cannot think how I have been
longing for it. I would have sent the girl to the station, only I knew
you would not write till it was post day here.
"And you are well--that is the main thing; the only thing I care about
these days. 'Strong enough to move mountains'--I can't say the same
about myself. I have been having a miserable time. I am sorry I let
you go--or, rather, that I sent you. I thought I should feel less
anxious about you if you were there, but far from it. Why couldn't we
have let it take place here? I am only now beginning to understand how
completely we have grown together--I feel altogether helpless without
you. If only it would come--and have it over, and you could be home
again--you and the boy!
"And then I have something to tell you that I would rather not touch
on at all, but we must have no secrets from each other now, not even
a thought! It is the old uneasiness--it has been coming over me ever
since you went away--as if I could not find rest when you are not
near. I cannot get away from a feeling that all is not over yet--that
things are only waiting for a favourable moment to break loose again.
Try to understand me. You know how I suffered those two years when we
prayed in vain for that which is granted to the poorest. And you know
how I was almost beyond myself with joy when at last our prayers were
heard. But now, when it is only a matter of days before it comes in
reality--now, I am all overcome with dread. It will go off all right,
the thing itself, I know--you are strong and healthy enough. But there
is an avenging God, an invisible hand, that writes its _mene tekel_
at the very hour when joy is at its height. Think, if the one we
are waiting for--it is horrible to think of!--if it should be wrong
somehow, in body or soul--what could I do then? Nothing, only bow my
head and acknowledge that the arm of fate had reached me at last. You
cannot think what a dreadful time I had all alone here last evening.
I cried and prayed that vengeance might not fall on you and him--the
innocent--but on me alone--if all I have suffered up to now is not
enough. And then a woodpecker came and sat outside under the window,
with its eerie tapping. And a little after came a magpie croaking on
the roof, like a chuckling fiend. It made me shudder all over. I
dare say you will laugh at my weakness. But it might be one of those
mysterious threads of fate. I have seen the like before--and you know
how ill and nervous I was ... at the time.... Now I have read your
letter I feel calmer, but I know I shall not get over it altogether
till I have seen him with my own eyes. Forgive me for writing about
this, but I had to tell you. And I know it will not hurt you.
"But then I have been happy as well. I have been getting everything
ready in your room--yours and his! You will see it all when you
come, but I must tell you a little about it now. I have put down cork
matting all over the floor, to keep out the draught. But when I
had done it, I had a sort of guilty feeling. Only a bit of
matting--nothing much, after all--but it came into my mind that many
children have to run about on bare floors where the cold can nip their
feet through the cracks. And I felt almost as if I ought to pull it
all up again. But, after all, it was for _him_--and what could be too
good for him! I would lay it double in his room!
"I have some good news for you. The Perakorpi road is already begun.
And then some bad news--the drainage business looks like being given
up altogether--just when everything was ready, and we were going to
start. Just quarrelling and jealousy among the people round--real
peasant obstinacy, and of course with Tapola Antti at the head. A
miserable lot! I should like to knock some of them down. I have
fought as hard as I could for it, thundering like Moses at Sinai, and
sacrificing the golden calf. The thing must go through at any cost. If
they will not back me up, then I will start the work alone. And
there are not many of them, anyway--we are to have a meeting again
"And then, when you come home, I can set to work in earnest. If only
_he_ may turn out as I hope--then perhaps one day we might work on it
together. I wish I had wings--then I should not need to sit sweating
over this wretched paper!
"Keep well and strong, and may all good angels watch over you
"Write soon--at once!"
"8 _September_ 1900.
"DEAR,--Your letter was like a beating of your own heart. Yourself
in every word--and it showed me a side of your nature that I care for
more than I can tell.
"You are anxious--but there is nothing to be anxious about. How could
there ever be anything wrong with _our_ child--in body or soul? Of
course we must expect more troubles yet--but that has nothing to do
with the child! I know you were in low spirits then, but body and soul
were sound enough. And I feel so well and strong and happy now myself
that it _must_ be passed on to him--even if he were a stone! And then
I am all overflowing with love for you and confidence in the future.
And I shall feed him with it too, and then he will be the same. All
that about the magpie and the woodpecker--you read it wrongly, that is
all. The magpie simply came to give you my love--poor thing, she can't
help having an ugly voice! And then the woodpecker--don't you see,
it was just pecking out the worms from the timber--there must be no
worm-eaten timber in _his_ home! That's what it meant.
"But I am glad you wrote about it all the same. For it showed me that
he will be as we hope. Now I understand how terribly you must have
suffered these last years. You'd never make a criminal, Olof; even I,
a woman, could commit a crime with colder courage. Oh, but I love you
for it! And you don't know how glad I am to think my child's father
is like that. A wakeful, tender conscience--that is the best thing you
can give him, though you give him so much.
"I know it will be a boy--and I can feel in my blood that he will be
just the son to work with his father as you said.
"And then about his room--you take my breath away! I can see you are
making preparations as if for a queen and an heir to the throne. I
ought to tell you to undo it all again; but who could ever tell anyone
to undo what was done in love--for it was for love you did it, not for
"So you are already fighting for your draining project; it is just as
well, it will be worth the more. Anyhow, I know you will win. Fight as
hard as you like, fight for me and for him. It is only a pity he can't
set to work at once and help you.
"We too are longing to be home again. And perhaps it will not be so
long now. But if it has to be, I can be patient as long as I must. We
are better than ever now. Do you know, I am so happy these days I have
taken to singing, just as I used to do when I was a girl. What do you
say to that? Suppose he were to have a voice, and sing in the choir,
and leave you to work at your drainage all by yourself!
"My love, my love, I kiss you right in your heart. The warmest love
from us both--I know you will be writing to us soon.
"KYLLIKKI (waiting to be a mother)."
"His BIRTHPLACE, _10th Sept., 11 a.m._
"FATHER!--Yes, that is what you are now. I can see your eyes light
up. And a son, of course. At six o'clock this morning. All well, both
going on finely; _he_ is simply a picture of health, big and strong
and full of life. And such a voice! If you want a man to shout out
orders to the workmen.... I haven't looked at him properly yet. He is
lying here just beside me; I can see his hand sticking out between the
clothes. A fine little hand, not just fat and soft and flabby, but
big and strong--his father's hand. The very hand to drain a marsh, you
wait and see. And his soul--ah, you should see his eyes! His father's
eyes. Now they won't let me write any more. I will tell you more next
time. I have sent him a kiss with my eyes, from you--and there is a
kiss for you in my thoughts.
"KYLLIKKI (the happy mother)."
The autumn sun was setting; it smiled upon the meadows, gleamed in the
window-panes, and threw a kindly glow upon the distant forest. The air
Olof was in a strange mood to-day. He walked with light, springy step,
and could not keep still for a moment; he was uneasy, and yet glad.
He had sent a man to the station with a horse, and the little
servant-maid had been dispatched on an errand to a distant village--he
wished to be alone.
He stepped hastily into the bedroom, gave a searching glance round,
looked at the thermometer on the wall, and laughed.
"Aha--beginning to look all right now."
Then he went back to the sitting-room. The coffee-pot was simmering
its quiet, cheerful song on the fire; close by lay a goodly heap of
white pine logs.
He lifted the pot from the fire, poured out a little of the coffee in
a cup, and poured it back again. Then, thrusting his hands into his
pockets, he walked up and down, smiling and whistling to himself.
"Wonder what she will think, when I don't come to the station to meet
her there? But she'll understand... yes...."
He went back to the fire, poured out another half-cup of coffee, and
"H'm--yes. It's good, I think it's good."
He took a bit of rag, wiped the pot carefully, and set it back. Then
he looked at the clock.
"They ought to be at Aittamaki by now--or Simola at least...."
He stepped across to the cupboard, took out a white cloth and spread
it on a tray, set out cups and saucers, cream jug and sugar bowl, and
placed the tray on the table.
"There--that looks all right!"
Again he glanced impatiently at the clock.
"They'll be at the cross-roads now, at Vaarakorva ... might take that
little stretch at a trot ... if only they don't drive too hard. Well,
Kyllikki'll look to that herself...."
Again he felt that curious sense of lightness--as if all that weighed
and burdened had melted away, leaving only a thin, slight shell, that
would hardly keep to earth at all. He tramped up and down, looking out
of the window every moment, not knowing what to do with himself.
"Now!" he cried, looking at the clock again. "Ten minutes more and
they should be here!"
He sprang to the fire and threw on an armful of fine dry wood.
"There! Now blaze up as hard as you like. Bright eyes and a warm heart
to greet them!"
He went into the bedroom and brought out a tiny basket-work cradle,
that he had made himself. The bedding was ready prepared, white sheets
hung down over the side, and a red-patterned rug smiled warmly--at the
head a soft pillow in a snow-white case.
"There!" He set the cradle before the fire, and drew up the sofa close
by. "He can lie there and we can sit here and look at him."
And now that all was ready, a dizziness of joy came over him--it
seemed too good to be true. He looked out through the window once
more; went out on to the steps and gazed down the road. Looked and
listened, came back into the room, and was on the point of starting
out to meet them, but thought of the fire--no, he could not leave the
At last--the brown figure of a horse showed out from behind the trees
at the turn of the road. And at the sight, his heart throbbed so
violently that he could not move a step; he stood there, looking out
through the window--at the horse and cart, at Kyllikki with her white
kerchief, and at the bundle in her arms.
Now they were at the gate. Olof ran out bareheaded, dashing down the
"Welcome!" he shouted as he ran.
"Olof!" Kyllikki's voice was soft as ever, and her eyes gleamed
"Give him to me!" cried Olof, stretching out his arms impatiently.
And Kyllikki smiled and handed him a tiny bundle wrapped in woollen
Olof's hands trembled as he felt the weight of it in his arms.
"Help her down, Antti; and come back a little later on--I won't ask
you in--not just now," he said confusedly to the driver.
The man laughed, and Kyllikki joined in.
But Olof took no heed--he was already on the way in with his burden. A
few steps up the path he stopped, and lifted a corner of the wrappings
with one hand. A tiny reddish face with two bright eyes looked up at
A tremor of delight thrilled him at the sight; he clasped the bundle
closer to his breast, as if fearing to lose it. Hastily he covered up
the little face once more, and hurried in.
Kyllikki watched him with beaming eyes. Following after, she stood
in the doorway and looked round, with a little cry of surprise and
pleasure, taking it all in at a glance--the genial welcome of the
blazing fire, the tiny bed,--he had told her nothing of this,--the
sofa close by, and the tray set out on the table, and coffee standing
But Olof was bending over the cradle.
"These things--is it safe to undo them?" he asked, fumbling with
"Yes, that's all right," laughed Kyllikki, loosening her own cloak.
Olof had taken off the outer wrappings. He lifted the little arms,
held the boy upright, looking at him critically, like a doctor
examining recruits. "Long in the limbs--and sound enough, by the look
of him!" Then he gazed earnestly into the child's face, with its wise,
bright eyes, and seemed to find something there that promised well for
"Dear little rascal!" he cried ecstatically, and tenderly he kissed
the child's forehead. The boy made no sound, but seemed to be
observing the pair.
Olof laid him down in the cradle. "Can't he say anything? Can't you
laugh, little son?"
He blinked his eyes, smacked his lips, and uttered a little whistling
sound as if calling some shy bird--he had never seen anything like it;
it seemed to come of itself.
"Laughing--he's laughing ... that's the way!"
Kyllikki was standing behind him, leaning against the sofa, watching
"And his hands! Sturdy hands to drain a marsh! So mother was right,
was she? Ey, such a little fist! A real marsh-mole!" And he kissed the
tiny hands delightedly.
"But look at his nails--they want cutting already. Ah, yes, mother
knew father would like to do it himself, so she did."
And he hurried to Kyllikki's work-basket, and took out a small pair of
scissors. "Father'll manage it--come!"
And he fell on his knees beside the bed.
"Don't be afraid--softly, softly--there! Father's hands are none
so hard, for all he's so big." He cut the nails, kissing the little
fingers in between. The boy laughed. Kyllikki leaned over towards
them, smiling more warmly still.
"There--now it's done! Look at him, Kyllikki! Isn't he splendid?" And
he turned towards her. "But what--what am I thinking of all the time!
Kyllikki, I haven't even kissed you yet. Welcome, dear, welcome a
He took her in his arms. "How well you look--and lovely! Why, you
look younger than ever! Little mother--how shall I ever thank you
"It was your gift to me," said Kyllikki softly, with a tender glance
at the little bed.
Olof led her to a seat, and they talked together in the silent speech
of the eyes that is for great moments only.
* * * * *
"Why...!" Olof sprang up suddenly. "I'm forgetting everything to-day.
Here I've made coffee all ready, and now...."
He lifted the coffee-pot and set it on the tray.
"Did you make the coffee?" asked Kyllikki, smiling in wonder.
"And who else should do it on such a day? Here!"
And they sat down to table, without a word.
* * * * *
Presently the child began to whimper. Both rose to their feet.
"What's the matter, then--did it hurt?" said Kyllikki tenderly. She
lifted the little one in her arms, and began talking to him with her
eyes, and smiling, with delicious little movements of her head.
The child began to laugh.
Without a word, she laid him in Olof's arms. He thanked her with a
look, and held the boy close to his breast. All else seemed to have
vanished but this one thing. And he felt the warmth of the little body
gradually spreading through clothes and wrappings to his own ... it
was like a gentle, soft caress. It thrilled him--and the arms that
held the little burden trembled; he could not speak, but handed it
back in silence to the mother.
She laid it in the cradle, set the pillow aright, and pulled up the
coverlet, leaving only a little face showing above.
"It is a great trust, to be given such a little life to care for,"
said Olof, with a quiver in his voice, as they sat down on the sofa.
"It seems too great a thing to be possible, somehow."
"But it is," said Kyllikki. "And do you know what I think? That
forgiveness is a greater thing than punishment--and Life knows it!"
He nodded, and pressed her hand.
Again he glanced at the little red face on the pillow, and an
expression of earnestness, almost of gloom, came over his own.
"Olof," said Kyllikki softly, taking his hand, "will you tell me what
you are thinking of just now?"
He did not answer at once.
"No, no--you need not tell me. I know. But why think of that now,
Olof? And you know--he at least, has a father and mother who have
learned something of life; maybe he will not need to go through all we
have done to get so far...."
"Ay, that was what I was thinking," said Olof.
And no more was said, but heartfelt wishes hovered protectingly about
the little bed.
* * * * *
"Look now!" cried Kyllikki, after a while. "He's fallen asleep! Isn't
And warm sunshine seemed to fill the room--even to its darkest corner.
"Olof?" said Kyllikki, with a questioning glance towards the door of
the adjoining room.
His face lit up, and together they stole on tiptoe to the door; Olof
opened it, and Kyllikki stood on the threshold, looking into the
little room--it was newly papered, and looked larger and brighter than
She turned and took his hand--her eyes told him all she thought and
He put his arm round her waist, and his eyes lit with a sudden gleam
"I told you once," he said dreamily, as they walked back into the
sitting-room, "how sister Maya came to call me home, when I was still
wandering about from place to place."
"Yes, I remember; it was so beautiful, Olof--I shall never forget."
"And how we came home after, and began...."
They had reached the window now. "Look!" said Olof suddenly, pointing
Down in the valley lay the marsh of Isosuo, spreading away almost
immeasurably on every side. At the edge of the water two big channels
were being cut, in front were a host of workmen clearing timber, while
others behind them dug the channels in the soil. It was like the march
of two great armies towards the land of the future. The setting sun
cast its red glow over the powerful shoulders of the men as they
worked, here and there a spade or an axe flashed for a moment; the
water in the dykes glittered like silver, and the moist earth at the
edge shone with a metallic gleam.
"Ah!" cried Kyllikki joyfully. "The work has begun!"
Olof turned her gently from the window towards him, put his arms round
her, and looked into her eyes, as if trying to sum up in a single
glance all they had seen and suffered, lived through and hoped.
"Yes, the work has begun," he said softly, and held her closer to his