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´╗┐Title: Little Tora, The Swedish Schoolmistress and Other Stories
Author: Baker, Mrs. Woods
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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LITTLE TORA:

THE SWEDISH SCHOOLMISTRESS

And Other Stories.



[Illustration: "_The school was going on in its usual routine._"
                                                       Page 33.]



[Illustration: A BRAVE DEED
                                                      _Page 40_]



                       LITTLE TORA

                THE SWEDISH SCHOOLMISTRESS

                     And Other Stories

                            BY

                     MRS. WOODS BAKER

AUTHOR OF "THE BABES IN THE BASKET," "THE SWEDISH TWINS,"
          "FIRESIDE SKETCHES FROM SWEDISH LIFE,"
                       ETC.    ETC.

                      [Illustration]

                  THOMAS NELSON AND SONS
             _London, Edinburgh, and New York_

                           1898



CONTENTS.


        A Swedish Schoolmistress.

     I. LITTLE TORA,                      13
    II. FACING THE WORLD,                 19
   III. A NARROW ESCAPE,                  32
    IV. A HAPPY MORNING,                  42
     V. THE PERMANENT PUPIL,              50


        A Week at Kulleby.

     I. CHURCH SERVICE,                   57
    II. AT THE PASTOR'S,                  63
   III. A STRANGE MEETING,                69
    IV. TOO LATE,                         76
     V. KARIN AND ELSA,                   81
    VI. CHRISTMAS EVE,                    89


        Alf.

     I. A FOOLISH RESOLVE,                97
    II. AFTER THIRTY YEARS,              104
   III. IN THE POORHOUSE,                110
    IV. PREPARING FOR CONFIRMATION,      118
     V. LED TO THE LIGHT,                128
    VI. PAINFUL DISCLOSURES,             134
   VII. A HAPPY CHRISTMAS,               145
  VIII. THE BEATA CHARITY,               151



Transcriber's Note: Minor typographical errors have been corrected
without note. Original spellings have been retained.



LITTLE TORA:

THE SWEDISH SCHOOLMISTRESS



CHAPTER I.

LITTLE TORA.


The kindly doctor was entertaining his brother-in-law, and all the
family were sitting round the table in state. The polished silver and
shining glass, with porcelain, flowers, and fruit, seemed to be all that
had been provided for the dinner.

The usual "grace" had hardly been said, when a trim maid announced that
a little girl was at the door, who must see the doctor about something
particular. "There is nobody sick more than usual," she says; "but she
must come in," continued the irritated damsel-in-waiting.

"Let her come in here. You can never have your meals in peace!" said the
doctor's wife affectionately.

The soup and the little girl came in together, the latterly evidently
quite prepared to state her errand. She was a small, straight child,
with a determined air and a cheery face, as if sure of success in her
undertaking. Fresh in Monday cleanliness, her white cotton head-kerchief
stood stiffly out in a point behind, and her calico apron was without
spot or wrinkle. Her shoes, though they had been diligently blackened
and were under high polish, did not correspond with the rest of her
appearance. They had evidently been made for a boy, an individual much
larger than their present wearer. Great wrinkles crossing each other
shut off some low, unoccupied land near the toe, and showed how much of
the sole had been too proud to touch the common ground. All this the
observers saw at once.

"Well, Tora!" said the doctor pleasantly, after she had dropped her
bob-courtesies, and "good-days" had been exchanged.

"May I sing for you?" said the little girl, without further hesitation,
as she hastily took out a thin, black book from the small pocket
handkerchief in which it had been carefully wrapped.

"Sing? yes, surely!" said the doctor. "Just the thing for us while we
are taking our dinner. My brother-in-law here is a famous judge of
music, so you must do your best."

Tora opened the book, took what she considered an imposing position, and
announced the name of the song. It was a patriotic one, and in the full
chorus of the schoolroom it had stirred the young Swedish hearts to
their depths.

The first few notes were right, though tremblingly given; then came a
quivering and a faltering and a falsity that made the doctor's boys
cover their laughing mouths with their hands, while their eyes twinkled
with suppressed merriment.

Just then there was a queer buzzing noise in the room, by which the tune
was carried on, and Tora fell in with fresh courage. Most of the party
were taking their soup, as well as listening; but the boys observed that
their uncle quietly held his motionless spoon, and was looking at the
singer as if lost in musical bliss. His mouth was closed, but his
nostrils seemed undergoing a rhythmical contraction and distension most
interesting and unusual.

Tora gave the closing notes in fine style, and the expression of
applause was general. So encouraged, she volunteered a simple
newly-published carol that she had that day been practising at school.
Here it seemed the musical accompaniment could not be relied upon. Tora
began, stopped, and began again, then was silent, while great tears
stood in her eyes.

One of the before-smiling boys hastened to say,--

"Let her speak a piece, uncle. She can do that beautifully, her brother
Karl says. He has taught her ever so many, and it costs her nothing to
learn them. He likes to tell that she is the best scholar in her class."

The uncle seemed to be able to enjoy his dinner at the same time as the
elocutionary treat with which it was now accompanied, and he warmly
complimented the speaker on her performance at its close.

"What made you think of giving us this pleasure, little Tora?" said the
doctor, with a humorous look in his kindly face.

"Why," said the little girl at once, "I don't like my shoes. They have
been brother Karl's. When I asked father this morning to give me some
new ones, he said this was a fine strong pair and did not let in water,
and he could not think of letting them go to waste. Then he looked
sorrowful, and I heard him say to mother, 'The poor children will have
to earn all they have soon.' I made up my mind to begin at once, and
earn my shoes, if I could. Our teacher told us to-day about Jenny Lind,
who began to sing when she was a very little girl, and when she was
older she made a great deal of money, and gave away ever so much, and
was loved and admired wherever she went. I thought I should like to be
loved and admired wherever I went, and have new shoes whenever I wanted
them, and I would try singing too. I came here first because the doctor
has always been so pleasant to me and so good to us all."

"You have made a real beginning," said the brother-in-law.--"Gustaf,
take round the hat."

The doctor's son ran for his cap. There was a chinking and a silver
flash as the uncle put his hand into the cap. Something of the same kind
happened when it came to the doctor's turn to contribute. The mother
fumbled confusedly in her pocket, and found only her handkerchief. The
boys tossed in conspicuously some coppers of their own, perhaps with the
idea of covering, by their munificence, the evident discomfiture of
their mother.

"There! there!" said the uncle. "Hand the cap to the little girl. What
is in it is for the singer. As for the shoes, I'll see about that.--I
would not advise you, though, little Tora, to try singing to make
money. It might do for Jenny Lind, but I hardly think it would suit for
you."

The little girl's countenance fell. The friendly stranger went on, "How
would you like to be a little schoolmistress? That would be a nice way
for you to take care of yourself, and maybe help all at home, by-and-by.
I know how that thing is done, and I think we could manage it."

The uncle did know "how that thing was done," and who meant to do it.
Little Tora was provided for from that day; and so, if she did not sing
like Jenny Lind, she sang herself into being a schoolmistress--a little
schoolmistress of the very best order.



CHAPTER II.

FACING THE WORLD.


It was five o'clock in the morning on one of the last days of August.
This was no legally-sanctioned Swedish moving-day, and yet it was plain
that with somebody a change of residence was in progress.

Before a low house on a winding "cobble-stone" paved street two long,
narrow wagons were standing. Their horses faced in different directions,
though in all other respects the two establishments were, even to their
loading, like a pair of twins. In each was the furniture for one simple
room, a sofa-bed being the striking article in the inventory. A
carefully-packed basket of china, a few primitive cooking utensils, and
some boxes and packages indicated, if not good cheer, at least something
to keep soul and body together.

The outer door of the house was locked at last, and the key had been
handed to a humble woman, who courtesied and took it as a matter of
form; though both parties knew that she would soon be opening that door
and coming into lawful possession of all the effects, remnants, and
refuse left on the premises, and would be sure to hand that house over
to the landlord in a superlatively clean and tidy condition.

Two stout men took their places as drivers, and two passengers stood on
the low steps for a few parting words. They were by no means twins. The
straight, slight girl, though not tall, yet fully grown, had been the
little Tora, the singer of one public performance. Now she had in her
pocket her greatest treasure--the paper that pronounced her a
fully-fledged schoolmistress; who had completed with honour the
prescribed course at the seminary duly authorized for the manufacture of
teachers of unimpeachable character, and all pedagogical requisites in
perfection.

At Tora's side stood "brother Karl," just about to start for Upsala
University, with his arrangements complete for his bachelor housekeeping
on the most simple principles.

There was no effusiveness in the parting. "Keep well, Karl, and don't
study too hard," said the sister. "And don't have any 'food-days'; I
could not bear that. But you must not live too low, and pull yourself
down. Send to me if you get to the bottom of your purse. I shall be
likely to have a few coppers in mine."

"I'll warrant that, Miss Prudence," was his reply. "Nobody but you would
have managed to keep us both comfortably on what was only meant to carry
you through the seminary. Don't be afraid for me! I shall clear my own
way. I shall teach boys in the evening, and study after they have gone
to bed. I have served a good apprenticeship with the doctor's chaps
these years. I understand packing lessons into youngsters to be given
out in the class next day. Then I am to write an article now and then
for the paper here, with Upsala news for the country folks. As to
'food-days,' I am not exactly of your mind. I have made arrangements for
one already."

"O Karl! how could you?" said Tora reproachfully.

"Gunner Steelhammer liked well enough to take porridge with us now and
then when he was teaching here. His mother has told him to invite me to
dine at their house on Sundays, and to call there whenever I feel like
it. We are real friends, though he is a university tutor now. Anybody
that I would be willing to help I am willing to let help me. Of course,
I shall enjoy a good substantial dinner once a week, but I really care
more to be with the family at that house. Gunner is a splendid fellow,
as you know, and his father draws all kinds of nice people about him, I
hear. I did not dare to tell you this before, little sister; but now I
have made a clean breast of it. I was half teasing about it, too. Be
sure, I'll work hard and live low before I shall let anybody help me.
Well, good-bye," and he stretched out his hand to Tora, who took it
hastily for a hearty shake, and then they parted.

Karl was wearing his white university cap, which, with the loading of
the wagon, marked him as a student on the way to Upsala, and would
ensure him many a friendly greeting by the way. Tora had prudently
covered the fresh velvet with a fair cotton cover; but the
blue-and-yellow rosette was in full sight--a token of the honours he had
lately won at his examination, and would be striving to win at the old
centre of learning. The kind neighbours whom he had known from boyhood
had added to his equipment--here a cheese, and there a pat of butter or
a bag of fresh biscuits; but he did not need to open his stores by the
way. Now and again from the roadside houses kindly faces smiled on him,
and homely fare was offered him by the elders; while flowers or wild
berries came to his share from glad children who had been ranging the
woods for treasures during these last days of their summer vacation.

As for Tora, sitting in a low chair in the midst of her possessions, she
went rattling over the cobble-stones, if not more proud at least more
happy of heart than a conqueror of old at the head of a Roman triumph.
She had reached the goal towards which she had long been striving. She
was now an independent worker, with a profession by which she could earn
an honourable living. She was a teacher, "a teacher of the little
school"--that is to say, of the school for little children. The state
was her sure paymaster. If continued health were granted her, her path
for the future was plain--her bread was sure.

The cobble-stones were soon passed, and over the smooth country road
rumbled the clumsy vehicle, now through evergreen thickets, now through
groves of bright birches, and at last out on the rolling meadows. The
fences had disappeared, and but for a lone landmark here and there, the
sea of green might have seemed the property of any strong-handed
labourer who might choose to call it his own.

Down an unusually steep slope the wagon passed, then across the low
meadow with a bright stream threading its midst, and then there was a
triumphant sweep up to the little red schoolhouse where Tora was to have
her abode and the sphere of her labours.

A low wooded point ran like a promontory out into the meadow, and there
"the forefathers of the vale" had built the temple for the spelling-book
and the slate.

On the opposite side from the meadow the schoolhouse was entered, after
crossing the wide playground. Where "the field for sport" ended at the
road there stood a lad, evidently looking out eagerly for the arrival of
the new teacher.

"That's a life-member of the little school," said the driver, with a
whimsical look. "Nils is not much at books, but he's a powerful singer."

The last words were spoken within the hearing of the frank-faced boy,
who now pulled off his cap, and stepped up to the wagon to help Tora
down. She shook his hand kindly, and said, "I hear you are a singer,
Nils. I am glad of that, for in my certificate I got but a poor record
for my singing."

"And 'great A' for everything else, mother said," he answered promptly,
while his eyes beamed pleasantly on the new teacher, whose first
friendly greeting had won his heart.

"I'll help you down with the heavy things first," said Nils to the
driver, "and then if you'll set the rest here, we'll take them in
together later. I want to show the schoolhouse to the mistress."

The one room set apart for the home of the teacher did not look dreary
as she stepped into it. The table from the schoolroom stood in the
centre covered with a white cloth, its edge outlined by bright birch
leaves laid on it, loosely and tastefully, like a wreath. Then on a tray
covered with a snowy napkin stood a shining coffee-pot, with cups for
three, and a light saffron cake that might have sufficed for the whole
school assembled.

"Mother thought perhaps you would like a taste of something warm after
your ride," said Nils, as he proceeded to pour out a cup of coffee as if
he were quite at home. At home he was in a way, for in that schoolhouse
he had for years passed his days among the little ones, through a
special permit from the school board.

Tora clasped her hands, and stood silent a moment before she tasted the
first morsel of food in her new home, and her heart sent up really
grateful thoughts to her heavenly Father, who had so blessed her, and
would, she was sure, continue to bless her in her new surroundings.

"May I take out a cup to Petter?" asked Nils, while he cut the big cake
into generous pieces, and offered the simple entertainment to the
teacher. Of course the driver did not refuse the proposed refreshment,
nor did Nils hesitate to help himself, while the mistress was taking her
coffee and glancing round the premises.

All was fresh and clean about her. The windows had evidently been open
since early morning, and the closets and shelves could well afford to be
displayed through the doors more than half ajar.

"Thanks, Nils," said the mistress, as she took the boy's hand after the
refreshment.

"Thanks and welcome to the new teacher!" was the reply.

"Now I shall go in and look at the schoolroom while Petter and you
furnish my room for me. The sofa should stand there, and the bureau
there. The rest I can leave to you," said Tora, as she disappeared.

Nils unfolded a strip of rag carpeting and "criss-crossed" it round the
room, whispering to himself, "Mother said there were to be no footmarks
left behind us."

The schoolroom was but a big, bare room--no maps on the walls, none of
the modern aids for instruction, save that the space between the two
windows that looked out towards the meadow had been painted, to be used
as a blackboard: "a useless, new-fangled notion" the rustics had called
this forward step in the way of education.

In front of the blackboard stood a wooden armchair for the teacher. The
benches were low, and the desks were of the simplest sort, saving one,
which was larger and higher, which the teacher at once understood was
the permanent arrangement for Nils. Her heart went out towards the big,
kind fellow, on whom so sore a trial had been laid in his youth.

Along one side of the schoolroom there were four horses standing silent,
but not "saddled and bridled," as in old nursery stories. Without head
or tail, they stood on four sprawling legs--supports for two long,
"shallow boxes" that had been in the schoolroom for fifty years or more.
Wood was abundant in the old days, and unskilful hands had done the
work; so the boxes were but clumsy specimens of carpentry, and deep
enough, it seemed, to hold sand for all the long winter through. The
grandfathers of the neighbourhood could remember when these receptacles
were their writing-desks, in which, stick in hand, they were taught to
trace in the smoothed sand their names or any higher efforts of
chirography that the teacher might demand. These superannuated articles
of furniture were now used in winter as places of deposit for the
children's folded outer garments, rather than the cold vestibule. There,
too, the dinner-baskets had their rightful quarters.

The room was high, as it went up to the very roof. On the rafters were
stored, in cold weather, the stilts for summer, and the bundles of ropes
for the swings to be fastened to the tall trees by adventurous Nils,
whose friendly hands delighted to send the laughing little ones flying
far up into the fresh air like merry fairies. There, too, were the bows
and arrows, and all other lawful things for summer sport.

The little schoolmistress took a full survey of her new kingdom, sat for
a moment in her chair of state, and noticed a simple footstool put in
front of it for her use, as she fancied, by that unknown "mother" who
seemed to have her comfort so much at heart.

When the new mistress returned to her own private apartment, the
furniture was all in place, the covers were taken from the boxes, and
everything was ready for her personal arrangement of her property.

"The school board have had shutters put to the windows," said the
driver, pointing to the late improvement. "They thought perhaps the new
teacher might be afraid. This is a lonely place."

"Afraid!" said the little schoolmistress, wonderingly; "I am never
afraid, night or day."

The driver opened his eyes wide as he answered,--

"The last teacher was as tall as I am, and she always kept a pistol at
night by her on a chair, with an apron thrown over it, so the thieves
could not find it and shoot her before she had a chance at them. This
little mistress must be made of different stuff.--Well, good-bye, miss,
and I wish you well."

Tora was about to put in his hand the usual payment for his services,
when he shut his broad fist expressively, and then half raised it, as he
said,--

"I never took pay for a mistress's things being brought to this
schoolhouse yet, and I don't mean to do it now. Folks for the most part
seem to like you, but I have a particular feeling. I knew your father
once, and he was good to me."

The honest man could say no more just then, and he hurried out of the
room. Nils followed with his best bow, but the pleasant words reached
his ears,--

"We'll meet soon again. Thanks! thanks to you both.--I think we shall be
real friends, Nils, you and I."

That little allusion to her father, coming so suddenly, had almost made
Tora break down in the midst of her abounding courage. The past came up
in vivid pictures where scenes of sorrow were predominant. Her weak,
ever-ailing little baby sister had floated quietly across the dark
river. The stricken mother sank, and soon followed her child to the
churchyard. The father's hand, that had first guided an editor's pen,
and then in his long decline that of a mere copyist, grew weaker and
weaker, and finally the last loving pressure was given to his daughter,
and then that hand lay still and white. Its work on earth was done, and
the brother and sister were left alone. Courageous and loving, they had
both struggled on. Her end was attained, but he was at the beginning of
the steady conflict before him. How would he bear himself in the battle?
If she could only know whether his surroundings would be as pleasant and
homelike as her own, and his heart as full of hope and quiet trust!
Would he be borne safely through the privations and temptations of his
university life? A prayer went silently up to the Father of all for that
absent brother, and then the practical little sister was soon deep in
the stir of bringing all things to order in her new home. Physical
effort brought back the resolute cheerfulness so natural to the little
schoolmistress, and she hummed to herself a simple song of long ago, to
which she could always hear the buzzing accompaniment of that stranger
who had proved to her a faithful, untiring benefactor and friend.



CHAPTER III.

A NARROW ESCAPE.


The winter had been unusually long. For nearly six months the ground had
been continually white. Not that it had been clothed by an ever-smooth,
fair mantle. The snow had been tossed and whirled by the wild winds till
it was fitfully heaped, now in the meadows, and now banked up against
the very hill-sides. But for the dark woods as landmarks, the face of
the country would have seemed to be utterly changed. The ice-covered
streams were hidden away out of sight, and the wide ponds appeared but
as smooth pastures.

A path from the little-frequented road had been kept open to the
schoolhouse. Week by week this narrow way to the seat of learning had
been walled higher and higher, until at last the rustic scholars seemed
passing through a stately white marble corridor as they filed along
towards the well-known door.

The first days of April had come and gone without a flower-bud to greet
them. The weather had suddenly grown soft and mild, and a drizzling rain
had been falling all night.

Nils appeared early at school; but the tidy mistress had already cleared
away all traces of her modest breakfast, and was ready to bid him
welcome more as a visitor than a scholar. They had some pleasant chat
together, and then the teacher said seriously, as she laid her hand on
the boy's shoulder, "You must try as hard as you can, Nils, to do well,
or I am afraid you will not 'go up' this year."

"I do try--I try as hard as I can!" he said. Tears suddenly filled his
large eyes as he added, "I am not like other boys, and I know it."

"God knows what you can do, Nils," she said tenderly; "and He will not
judge you for what is not your fault. It may be, 'Well done, good and
faithful servant!' for you at the last, if you cannot be a great
scholar."

Some merry voices at the door put an end to the conversation, and the
school was soon going on in its usual routine.

Many weather-wise mothers had kept their children at home, and only
eight scholars were in their places, not counting Nils, who occupied in
many practical things a middle ground between the little ones and the
teacher.

A heavy rain soon began to fall, and pattered cheerily on the roof, to
the great delight of the small pupils. Towards noon the schoolmistress
was hearing the class read aloud. She sat with her back to the windows,
with the light falling on the book she held in her hand; but she did not
see a letter. Suddenly she looked up and said, "Nils, please open the
right-hand shutter in my room."

The boy obeyed instantly; but in another moment he said quickly, "Please
come in here a moment, teacher."

She disappeared immediately, closing the door behind her. Nils pointed
to the window with wide-open eyes, and said, "The meadow is all afloat!"

"I know it!" she answered calmly. "I saw it while the children were
getting their books for the class. If the pond above breaks over the
banks, we may be all swept away in a moment. There is no time to be
lost. The children must not be frightened. I have thought just what to
do. You can swim, Nils?"

"Yes," was his only answer.

"I can swim too," she said. "If anything goes wrong, we must do what we
can for the children." She looked into the clear, calm eyes of the boy,
and she knew she could trust him. They returned quietly to the
schoolroom. The teacher had hardly taken her seat and closed the book
she had held in her hand, when there was a loud crashing sound without,
and a heavy thud against the outer door.

"It's all right," said Nils calmly, taking his cue from the teacher. "I
put up the bar after the children came in. I supposed this might
happen."

"We don't mind the snow falling against the door," said the teacher
cheerfully. "We didn't mean to go out that way. We shall go home by boat
anyhow. I've thought about that before."

"By boat!" exclaimed the children delightedly, for to them a row or a
sail was the most charming thing in the world.

"But where's the boat?" asked a prudent little boy, with a sceptical
look in his small countenance. "And where's the water?" he would have
added if he had dared.

"Two boats--two boats are here! I see them now!" said the teacher,
glancing at the sand-boxes.--"Nils, climb up into the rafters and bring
down the oars."

Climbing to the rafters was a familiar exploit of Nils's. With one foot
on his desk and his knee to the wall, he swung himself up in a moment.

"Hand down my oars and yours," she said, as she pointed at the stilts;
for the little schoolmistress was a leader in the sports of her
children, and often enjoyed them as much as they did.

The stilts were duly secured, and then the order followed, "And now the
ropes for the launching," and another glance prompted the lowering of
the summer swings for their new use.

"Give out the clothes, Nils, and call the names of the children as
usual," said the teacher. Those were no dainty little ones, accustomed
to be dressed like passive dolls by careful nurses or over-fond mammas.
They had but to receive their garments in the daily orderly way, and to
put them on as they well knew how. There might sometimes be an obstinate
string or button, but Nils was sure to be able to help in any such
difficulty, or even to tie a refractory kerchief over the light locks.
The children now put on their wrappings mechanically, lost in watching
the proceedings of the teacher and her obedient assistant.

The swings were cut in halves and attached to the strong handles of the
empty sand-boxes of olden times. "And now we must launch the boats,"
said the teacher, with the nearest approach she could muster to the
manner of a bluff sea-captain.

"Heave ho!" shouted Nils, as he put his strong shoulders to the work of
moving the boats, while the mistress held on to the horses.

One by one the boats were put in what Tora deemed proper position, the
square prows curiously tilted up to the broad window-seat. Then came the
orders--"Climb to the top of the shutter, Nils! Pass that rope round the
upper hinge; tie it fast! Now the other rope on the lower hinge. Right!
The same with the other ropes--bind them fast to the other
shutter-hinges!"

Every order was promptly and skilfully obeyed.

"Nils, are you sure the boats are perfectly watertight?" said the
mistress, with, for the first time, a shadow of anxiety in her
determined face.

"Tight as a bottle!" was the immediate reply. "We had them filled with
water for the last examination, to float the boats the children had
made. The ships and such like were here, and the row-boats and canoes in
the other."

"I saw them! I saw them all!" exclaimed a little chap, with great
delight. "My brother had the prize for his ship, and he made it every
bit himself." The eager memories that came to the minds of the children
were chatted about with an intensity that made the boats of the moment
to be almost for the time forgotten.

Now came the real launching of the boats. With a proper amount of
drawing in and letting out and holding fast on the part of Nils and the
teacher, the long boxes sat at last on the water like a pair of
contented swans.

"Get down into the boat you are to be captain of, and I will hand down
the oars for us both. Lay mine across my boat and yours across yours.
Your passengers are to come down first. There will be four for each of
us."

The little schoolmistress, putting on her coat and fur cap, backed up to
one of her little girls, saying, "Put your arms round my neck, and you
shall ride to the boat."

Two chubby arms went willingly round the neck of the teacher, as they
had done many a time before on a less momentous occasion. So the little
one, with her eyes away from the window, was backed up to it, to be
lifted down by Nils with a merry shout as he landed the first passenger.
The others followed in the same style, and all the eight were cheerily
deposited in high good-humour.

"Now I'll come down, too," said the schoolmistress, and she came down
the rope as if she were in a gymnasium. She took her place in the centre
of her boat, with two delighted children before her and two more behind
her.

"Cut loose, Nils! One rope as long as you can, and the other short up to
the stern; and then give me your knife, and I'll do the same for mine.
Now start, Nils! I'll follow."

The orders were rapidly given and promptly obeyed, and then the little
party started across the watery stretch that had taken the place of the
meadow.

Nils, with his strong arms, got on rapidly, and his boat was soon far in
advance of the other. He neared the bank, plunged in and drew the
uncertain little craft to the shore, and then as a sledge up the long
slope.

Nils had before decided that he would deposit his passengers in a
sheepfold high on the bank, where he had seen in the morning a window
left open under the projecting roof to give the poor creatures a little
air. He knew that in the corner by the window there was a great bin that
had been freshly filled with dried birch branches as food for the sheep.
He left the children looking down at the pretty lambs and their mothers,
and ran back himself to see what he could do for the rest of the party.

The little mistress was only half-way over, and evidently managing with
difficulty her awkward oars in the thick, snow-encumbered water through
which she was making her way.

Nils plunged in, swam to her boat, tied the loose rope round his body,
and then struck out for the shore, while the oars were plied as well as
they could be by the weary hands that held them. His feet had just
touched bottom when there was a loud cheer from the top of the hill that
sloped down to the meadow. Two great wagons, with a pair of strong
horses attached to each, were coming to the rescue of the children.

As horses that were good forders and wagons suited to the purpose were
to be selected, some time had been lost in the preparations after the
first news of the condition of the meadow had been spread abroad. The
question now was how to get the whole party under roof as soon as
possible.

The drivers were for putting the children half in one wagon and half in
the other; but Nils said in a tone most unusual for him, "_All_ the
children must go in one wagon, and you will see them safe home, Petter.
_We_ go the other way where the road forks. Of course, I take the
mistress home with me. Mother wouldn't forgive me if I let her go
anywhere else; and I think I have a kind of right to her too!"

"That you have," said the rough man, with a kind of little quiver round
his lips. "You've earned that right, anyhow."

And away Nils and the teacher were borne, while from the other wagon
there was a merry "Good-bye! good-bye! good-bye, teacher! good-bye,
Nils!" and a hearty shout of "Hurrah for Nils!" from the driver, which
came from the very depths of Petter's honest heart.



CHAPTER IV.

A HAPPY MORNING.


The home to which the little schoolmistress and Nils were bound had
formerly been a wayside inn of most modest pretensions. It was but a
one-story red building, with a row of white-framed windows looking out
on the road close at hand. There was a storm-house, for stamping off the
snow and depositing extra articles of carriage, and for dogs, who, like
the Peri, must stand outside the paradise within. Next came one large,
cheerful room, which served as kitchen, as well as general place of
refreshment and assembly. On one side of this apartment of manifold uses
were four small rooms for lodgers, furnished with almost as much
simplicity as the prophet's chamber of the Scriptures, save that a plain
sofa-bed was added in each, as a possible accommodation for an extra
sleeper when there was a throng of guests.

On the death of Nils's father, the widow had resolved to retire into
private life, as she was comfortably provided for. Not but that she was
willing at times to give a meal or a bed to an old acquaintance; but
such inmates must conform to the temperance arrangements of the
establishment, for total abstinence was now the rule of the house. The
widow had declared that her son should not be brought up with the fumes
of spirituous liquors as his natural atmosphere. Perhaps this resolution
had been prompted by the suspicion that her husband's life had been
shortened by too frequent good meals and too frequent strong potations.
Be that as it may, the determined woman had made it known that, now that
she was mistress in her own house, she would manage it as she thought
best. The tables for guests had been swept away (or rather sold
discreetly at private sale) to make room for a spinning-wheel, a loom,
and a sewing-machine, by which the prudent woman said she was sure she
could add to her substance in a quiet way. "The clicking, the buzzing,
and the slamming," she said, were nothing to her, and now she could
choose what noises she would have in her ears.

It was not yet time for the usual return of her son from school, but
the mother had begun to go to the door to see if Nils could possibly be
coming. Perhaps the old habit of looking out occasionally up and down
the road, to reconnoitre as to what customers might be expected, had
lingered to keep the former hostess now constantly, as it were, on
guard. In one of these excursions for inspection she was surprised to
see a big wagon drawing up before the door, with the schoolmistress and
Nils as passengers.

The driver hastened to tell in an abridged form the story of their
experiences, and to hand over his charge, with as many orders that they
should be well looked after as if he were the only person interested in
the matter.

The doors to the little bedrooms were always kept ajar when unoccupied,
that they might be at least not chilly when needed. Two of them were
immediately put into requisition. Nils, as in the most desperate case,
was stripped and rubbed down, and put into bed at once; and then the
little schoolmistress was looked after. She had obeyed orders, and her
pale face lay on the pillow when she was visited. The quondam hostess
left her suddenly, and soon returned with a hot drink, which she assured
the patient would make her "quite natural." To Nils a similar draught
was administered, with the command that he should dash it down at once,
with "no sipping," and go to sleep afterwards.

"Wasn't that whisky?" exclaimed Nils, in surprise.

"There _was_ a drop in it," owned the mother; adding, "I would give it
clear to anybody dying. I am not wild crazy about temperance, boy."

"Do you think I am dying?" said Nils; and then he hastily added, "I
should not like to leave you and the schoolmistress; but for anything
else I should not mind. Maybe I should be like other folks up there."

"Hush, child! You are not dying, nor likely to be; you are as strong as
a bear. A little dip in cold water is not going to hurt you. That stuff
has gone to your head and made you melancholy-like and weepish. It does
sometimes; it don't generally, though, just in a minute. You go to
sleep; and don't let me hear anything from you for one while."

The mother put down the thick paper shade, and set a pin here and there
along the edge, to keep out any adventurous rays of light that might be
peeping in at the sleeper--"a pin practice" she had sorely complained of
when ventured upon by restless lodgers. The same process was gone
through in the room where the mistress was lying. The locks and hinges
of the doors were carefully oiled, and then the agitated woman sat down
to meditate and be thankful. The meditation proved to be of the
perambulatory sort, for she peeped into one room and then into the
other, noiselessly appearing and retiring. She listened to see if her
patients were alive. The schoolmistress lay pale and still; her hands,
loosely spread out, dropped on the sheet almost as colourless as itself.
But she breathed regularly; that was an ascertained fact. Nils was
frequently visited. He gave audible tokens as to how he was enjoying
himself. The mother sat down for the fifth or sixth time, as it might
be, in the great, quiet room. She did not enter upon any of her
favourite branches of home industry; she thought them too noisy for the
occasion. She was not a reader. She could but nod a little in her chair,
and then make another round of observation.

At last, towards evening, the schoolmistress was fairly awake; and such
a dish of porridge as she was obliged to consume! Such a series of
inquiries she was subjected to as to her symptoms and sensations as
would have done credit to a young medical practitioner examining his
first patient, though the questions, in this case, were practically
rather than scientifically put, and could actually be understood by the
respondent.

To have quiet was all that the little schoolmistress craved, and that
she was at last allowed. As for Nils, it was plain that he considered
that small apartment his sleeping-car, for which his ticket had been
taken for the livelong night.

The schoolmistress rose early. Her room was soon in perfect order. She
was reading devoutly in the Bible: that had been an accessory in the
arrangement of her room, as of all the other small dormitories, since
the hostess "had her way in her own house."

Tora suddenly heard a quick repeated knock at her door. The permission
to enter was hardly given when Nils burst in, his face glowing with
delight.

"It's all right with me, teacher!" he exclaimed--"it's all right with
me! You know that hymn I've tried to learn so many times, and couldn't
make out. The first line came into my head yesterday in our
troubles--'God is our stronghold and defence;' but I could not get any
further."

"Perhaps that was far enough just then, Nils," said Tora. "I thought of
that line too myself when I first suspected how matters stood, as I sat
there with my book before me."

"But, teacher, I'm all right. This morning I thought I would read that
hymn all over, and I did--twice. And then, O teacher, I'm all right, for
the whole hymn just repeated itself in my mind as if I had the book
before me. I asked mother to hear me, and when she saw I could say it
all through without a stumble, she put her arms round my neck and cried
and talked about herself dreadfully. She said she had been such a sinner
to make prayers and never believe they could come true; and that she
hadn't taken any comfort, either, in what the doctor had always been
telling her, and that she had thought was awful. He had said that if
anything remarkable could happen to me, or any great shock, or even if I
had a hard blow on the head, I might come round like other boys. She had
felt sure that nothing remarkable could ever happen to me; and as to
anybody's giving me a hard knock on the head, she would not have let
that happen when she was by. She said she had prayed and worried, and
never thought of leaving it all to her heavenly Father, and now she
wasn't fit to have such a blessing. I couldn't make her glad about it;
but she'll come round, I'm sure, teacher, if you'll just go and talk to
her."

The teacher's eyes were full of tears of joy as she took Nils by the
hand and said, "You are all right, I really believe. May God bless you,
and make you a good and useful man."

The mother was not to be found. She was locked into her own room. There
she was pouring out thanksgiving from the depths of her heart now for
the first time in her life, understanding that she had indeed a loving
heavenly Father, and that even her faithlessness and ingratitude could
be forgiven.

It was a happy morning at the wayside inn.



CHAPTER V.

THE PERMANENT PUPIL.


The dear old schoolhouse had been swept away in the destructive flood
that followed but ten minutes after the escape of the little
schoolmistress with her pupils.

Intense gratitude for the happy deliverance of the children spread
through the neighbourhood. A public meeting was called, where the thanks
of the community were conveyed by a dignified and most complimentary
spokesman, to the blushing confusion of Tora and the astonishment of
Nils that he was said to have behaved so remarkably well on the
memorable occasion. Of course, the newspapers throughout the country
celebrated the praises of the little schoolmistress, and to the meeting
in her honour came her friends from far and near. "Brother Karl" and his
devoted Gunner made a point of being present, and Tora's buzzing
benefactor beamed on the occasion, as if the credit were all his own.

That there must be a new schoolhouse was a self-evident fact. It was
built as promptly as possible. The admirable building, with all its
modern aids and appurtenances, was not placed on the old site, but
crowned the summit of a green hill, where nothing more dangerous than a
pouring rain could be expected to disturb its peace and safety.

When the first term in the new and most desirable quarters commenced, it
was with a stranger as the teacher. Our little schoolmistress was to
spend the winter in the home where she had been so tenderly cared for
during the long time of bodily prostration which followed the
overstraining of her nervous system at the time of her escape with the
children under her care.

Busy with spinning-wheel and loom and sewing-machine, and with her
diligent efforts to prepare Nils to enter with honour a higher school
than that over which she had presided, the winter passed pleasantly
away. Nils's examination surpassed the utmost expectations of his
teacher. His sweet, grateful humility in the midst of honour was as
touching as his humble submission to the great misfortune which had
threatened to overshadow his whole life.

The little schoolmistress took, with the opening spring, the place of a
private teacher--a position that she had been strongly urged to fill.
Her first scholar was a tall fellow, who was sure he could learn from
her in the higher branches much that was important for him to
understand.

The second pupil, who came in later on, was a little chap. He did not
understand Swedish, nor did he know much in any direction, it was said.
But how could he expect a fair estimation of his abilities, when the
judges were not at home in his language, nor he in theirs? He, however,
improved rapidly, and was soon not only able to speak Swedish, but
comprehended many matters so well that he was a great help to the
younger pupils who came in by degrees to be taught. He was too, in a
way, a teacher for the schoolmistress herself, and had his credentials
from the very highest authority.

The class increased as years went on, and was ever a delightful source
of interest to the happy instructress. The children did not call her
"teacher," or "mistress," or even "Miss Tora;" they said simply
"mother," which she thought the sweetest name in the world.

As to the first, the tall scholar, who was what Nils had promised to be,
her permanent pupil, he was not always as obedient and submissive as he
might have been. Even when he sat opposite to her at the dinner-table,
in the presence of stranger guests, he would sometimes, contrary to her
express command, tell the story of the great April thaw, and the escape
of the little schoolmistress with her pupils. Of course he was rebuked
for his misdemeanour; but he only protested against her strict
government, and declared that she could never get over "the
schoolma'am." Yet he acknowledged she was always teaching him something
worth knowing through what she was--the very best woman and the very
best Christian he had ever had the pleasure of knowing.

This was, it must be confessed, an inexcusably obstreperous scholar; but
Tora would not have exchanged her husband, her Gunner, the fast friend
of her promising "brother Karl," for the meekest or the wisest man in
the world.



A WEEK AT KULLEBY.



CHAPTER I.

CHURCH SERVICE.


The church at Kulleby was no dear, old-fashioned Swedish church, with
its low white stone walls and its high black roof. The bell had no
quaintly-formed tower of its own outside and quite separate from the
sacred edifice, like an ecclesiastical functionary whose own soul has
never entered into the Holy of holies. No; the parish of Kulleby had its
pride in a great new wooden sanctuary, with nothing about its exterior,
from foundation to belfry, that might not be seen in any Protestant land
whatever. Crowning the top of a green hill that rose in the midst of a
wide stretch of rolling meadows stood the simple building. To it came on
Sunday the rustics of the parish as regularly as they went to their
week-day work. Only here and there in the unfenced churchyard rose a
low mound to indicate where, as it were, a chance seed had been dropped
into "God's acre."

It was Sunday morning. At eight o'clock the bell had sounded out over
the green slopes, and even late sleepers were called to put on their
best garments, whether church-goers or not church-goers, in honour of
the holy day or holiday, as it might happen to be kept in their home.
Then came the second ringing, when prudent, far-away worshippers took
psalm-book and pocket-handkerchief in hand and started demurely, at a
Sunday pace, for the house of God. At a quarter to ten the clergyman had
been seen in the dim distance, and the fact was announced by
"priest-ringing." At ten came the "assembly-ringing," when talkers in
the churchyard must break off in the midst of a half-made bargain, or
check the but half-expressed sympathy with the joy or sorrow of some
fellow-rustic with whom there had been a confidential chat.

Within, the church was all white, with here and there a gilded line like
a bright, holy purpose running through a simple everyday life. There was
a fresh, pure air about the place, as if even angels might have gathered
there in their fair garments. The worshippers, however, on the women's
side were all in black--black dresses, and black kerchiefs over the
heads, like solemn, mourning penitents rather than followers of the
Psalmist who could say, "I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go
into the house of the Lord." There were two exceptions to this sombre
rule.

The seats facing each other on opposite sides of the chancel were
unoccupied, save by a tall young woman and a little girl, who now
hurriedly took their places, and in a formal, perfunctory manner put
down their heads for a supposed private prayer for a blessing on this
opportunity of public worship. They very soon rose up mechanically, and
looked about them with the curious eyes of strangers.

The little girl, nipped, and it seemed almost blasted, by gales of
prosperity, showed a fair, round face, full and soft, and satisfied with
its worldly portion. The mouth, although it looked as if it had tasted
the good things of life, was sweet and loving. Her companion was tall
and strongly built, and somewhat gaily dressed in garments made in every
particular according to the latest fashion. Two long ostrich feathers
lazily lolled on the broad brim of her hat, as much at home as if they
had never known any other abode; and her new kid gloves fitted her
large hands to perfection--a fact of which it was plain she was
conscious.

The clergyman was coming in, with the long black folds which were his
authorized substitute for a gown hanging from the nape of his neck to
the floor. In one hand he carried in full sight a white handkerchief,
held in one corner like a drooping banner of peace.

There was suddenly a counter object of attention for the gay worshippers
in the side pew. A little woman in black came hurrying up the aisle and
entered the seat before them. She put down on the narrow shelf her
prayer-book and a tumbled red handkerchief, and then bowed her head.
Suddenly, in the midst of her devotions, she hastily withdrew the
offending radical handkerchief, and substituted in its place a heavy
linen one, so closely pressed, as if by mangling, that it lay by the
psalm-book as uncompromisingly stiff as itself.

A smile passed over the features of the little girl, and she looked up
into the face of her companion for sympathy. Instead of the responsive
glance she expected, she saw an expression of pain which she was puzzled
to understand.

The service went on. The sermon was long and tiresome, to judge from the
impulsive movement of relief on the part of the little girl when all was
at last over. She was well satisfied when her companion went down the
aisle at an unusually rapid pace. The rustics generally lingered to hear
when there was to be an auction, what letters were to be distributed,
and other announcements by which a scattered congregation, rarely
meeting through the week, might be made aware of matters secular and
parochial which it was important for them to know.

The butterfly worshippers had, as it were, flown away when the mass of
the congregation streamed out from the door. Long, narrow black lines
stretched off in every direction as over the well-trodden paths the
cottagers plodded away to their homes after this the periodical great
event, recreation, and social gathering of their hard-working lives.

Alone the little woman in black took her way. Her goal was on the long
rocky ridge that bounded the eastern horizon like a transplanted bit of
the Jura. There was no path for her to follow, but she made her way over
the meadows with the sure instinct of the swallow winging its flight to
its winter home. He who careth for the birds would surely care for her.
It was plain she was one of the humble of the earth in every sense of
the word. Her black head kerchief was old and worn, and her
clumsily-fitting, coarse cloth "sacque" stood out below her waist as if
it were of sheet iron, while her spare skirts fell below it like a
drooping flower-bell from its open calyx above. She was not thinking of
her clothes. Her heart was warbling a song of thanksgiving.



CHAPTER II.

AT THE PASTOR'S.


Monday morning had come, with work for the workers and pleasure for the
pleasure-seekers. The curate at Kulleby was one of the workers, and yet
Monday, instead of Sunday, was really his day of rest. His last sermon
having been delivered, fairly given over to his hearers to be digested,
the new one was not to be begun before Tuesday. There must be one day in
the week in which to draw a free breath before the real labour of his
life was to be recommenced. The introduction to the discourse once
mastered, as the first link, he added day by day to the lengthening
chain--a perpetual wearying weight to him, and, it might be supposed, to
become so for his hearers.

This would be a mistake. Had the curate preached in Hebrew or Greek, the
reverent faces would have been respectfully turned towards him, with the
honest conviction that somehow or other the listeners were undergoing a
helpful and uplifting process through what the curate was pleased to say
to them. He was reverenced and beloved, as he well deserved to be, and
was to his people the bearer of good tidings--the messenger of peace.
_He_ was the message to them, through what he was and what he was
striving to be, and not through those painfully-produced sermons.

Now for the morning he had dropped the pastor, and was simply the family
father.

The humble home of the curate was separated from the public road by a
great grass plot, through which a wide walk went straight, without a
curve or a compromise, from the gate to the foot of the high wooden
steps that led to the ever-open door.

The Saturday evening rake-marks were on the loose sand of the path, for
the family had on Sunday, though in their holiday garments, used the
side gate that led to the entrance at the back of the house. The garden
was large and well cared for. Now the weekly weeding was going on, the
father sitting like a general at a distance from the battle, but in
constant communication with the soldiers in full fight in the cause of
order, fruitfulness, and prosperity. The four small boys who were
working so busily were not under strict military discipline, for free
conversation was allowed so long as the hands continued as busy as the
tongues.

The curate sat on a roughly-made but comfortable garden sofa, and was
knitting on a strong stocking in sweet composure. A gay-coloured
parallelogram stared out from the grass beside him; for there, covered
with a patchwork quilt, lay, in a great basket, the baby, the little
girl, the pride of the household, fast asleep. So the curate could not
be said to be exactly idle, though he was taking a delicious morning
rest. His wife meanwhile--a large-hearted, practical woman--was making
all things comfortable in the house, with the help of her efficient
_aide-de-camp_, an orphan girl snatched from the influences of the
poorhouse. Where a specially strong arm was required, the curate himself
was at all times to be relied upon. He was not only a hewer of wood, but
often a bearer of wood as well as of water. He was, too, an embodied
guild of all mechanical trades, and might have been warranted to use
skilfully at a pinch any tools whatever.

The curate gave a start as the click of the front gate was heard, and
almost impatiently wondered who could be coming.

A tall young woman walked rapidly along the rake-marked walk, and dotted
it at regular intervals with the distinct portrait of the soles of her
strong and well-made boots.

She went up the steps decidedly, and entered the house without knocking,
as any ordinary visitor might have done. In a moment more she appeared
in the garden, with the curate's wife at her side. He stood up and bowed
awkwardly, and then looked inquiringly at the new-comer. He recognized
at once in her the stranger who had sat near the chancel the day before,
though her dress was somewhat different from her Sunday attire. She wore
a black sailor hat, from which she had that morning removed the uplifted
wings that threatened to take the whole head-gear upward, and had left
only the broad, bright band that wound round it. She wore a short, dark
travelling dress that well displayed her new boots. The visitor did not
wait for the curate to speak, but said quickly, "I will only detain you
a moment. Can you tell me where widow Marget Erikson lives, the old
woman who sat in front, on the side benches, in the church yesterday?"

"Marget Erikson? Her I know very well, but it is not so easy to tell
where she lives," answered the curate, with at the same time an
inquiring glance at the stranger. A look of intelligence came into his
face, and he said: "It is not--it cannot be! no," and he turned to the
group of small boys, now all standing, some of them weeds in hand,
wonderingly regarding the stranger. "Here, Kael," said the father,
singling out a fair-haired, intelligent-looking little fellow, "you can
show the young lady the way to widow Marget Erikson's." Again there was
a scrutinizing, questioning look on the part of the pastor.

A slight flush tinged the cheek of the stranger. She was turning away
with her guide, when the boy said hastily, "Where's the basket, mamma?"

"There'll be no basket to-day," she answered, almost with a smile. "You
can take Marget this instead from me," and she picked from her favourite
bush a large, half-open rosebud, with a long stem and rich, shining
leaves.

The boy could hardly understand the love-prompted courtesy that would
not send to the widow what might to a stranger seem like alms, but which
really was but the sharing of what one poor Christian had with a poorer.

The guide trotted off with his bare feet across the meadow, where a
little path showed that he was not the first to find a direct way from
the parsonage to the widow's cottage.

"Well, wife? well, Anna?" said the pastor, and looked inquiringly into
the face of his best-beloved, as he generally did when he was in doubt
or difficulty. It was a face that any one might have been pleased to
look upon. It had in it the bright cheeriness of a child, and at the
same time dignity and a wisdom in this world's matters, as well as "the
wisdom that cometh from above." He received no answer, and so said
himself: "She was in church yesterday when you were at little Fia's
death-bed. I could hardly help thinking of you and the child when I was
in the midst of my sermon. The miller told me afterwards that 'miss' and
the little girl were with Possessionaten something, a traveller who had
stopped at the inn by the cross-road."

There was a sudden end put to the conversation by a loud cry from the
baby, which swept all other expressions from the face of the pastor's
wife, where at once mother love was triumphant.



CHAPTER III.

A STRANGE MEETING.


Across meadows, over ditches, and at last up rather a steep ascent wound
the way to Widow Erikson's cottage. The path had grown rough and narrow,
but the barefooted boy went over it as lightly and as unharmed as if he
had been a happy bird. The boots, however, of his companion seemed a
tight fit for climbing, and at last a straggling bramble that crossed
the way turned up two little black points, like doors, to show the way
to the untanned leather behind the bright polish. The traveller stopped,
and smoothed them down in vain with her finger; the mischief was done.
"This is an ugly, disagreeable path," she exclaimed, "and a long one
too."

"Maybe," said the boy; "but summer and winter Widow Erikson comes down
here all alone. I don't believe she'd miss the service if you'd give
her a bucket of red apples." The boy had evidently named his ultimatum
in the way of temptation. "There's the cottage," he added, pointing to a
small, reddish-brown building far up the ascent.

"Give me the flower," said the stranger; "I will tell her who sent it.
You go back now. You've shown me the way; I don't need you any longer.
Thanks! Thank your mother too. Here!" and she laid in the boy's hand a
bit of silver that made his face shine. He bowed in his best style,
which did not disturb his backbone, but brought his chin down till it
touched his breast. He had taken off his cap for the performance, and
his white hair fluttered in the breeze as he watched his late companion
making her way up to the cottage alone. All was right, he was sure, and
down he ran as fast as his feet could carry him. The precious silver was
stored in the depths of his pocket, and with it he bought in imagination
all sorts of treasures before he reached home to tell the success of his
errand.

The traveller moved slowly as the path grew more steep, and finally
walked doubtfully on as she approached the cottage. There were three or
four low steps leading to the door, and there some kind of an animal
seemed making a vain attempt to go up. As the stranger drew nearer she
saw that a small woman with a short, dark skirt was bowed over,
evidently washing the steps, with her back towards the path and her
unexpected guest. A noise near her made the figure stand upright and
turn its face towards the new-comer. One sight of the visitor prompted a
series of bobbing courtesies, a wondering look in the old sun-browned
face, and a folding back into a triangular form of the wet sackcloth
apron, which was truly not in a presentable condition. The old woman was
the first to speak. "Good-day, miss--good-day!" and then there was a
look of astonished inquiry.

"The pastor's wife sent you this," said the girl, holding out the
beautiful rosebud she had taken from the boy.

"So like her!" said the old woman, lovingly. "She's just like that
herself! God bless her! Thank her for me, please--thank her for me!" and
the thin, work-distorted, wrinkled hand was hastily wiped on the apron,
and then stretched out to take that of the stranger for the usual
expression of gratitude. "Thank _you_, miss, for bringing it," continued
the old woman, with another questioning look at her guest. "Do you know
her--do you know the curate's wife? It's likely you don't live
hereabouts." The cut of the stranger's clothes was not in vogue at
Kulleby.

"Don't you know me?" said the young woman, in a low voice.

"No, miss!" was the answer, with another courtesy.

"Don't you know me, mother?" was the question that followed, while the
fair face flushed with the effort those words had cost the speaker.

"It can't be my Karin!" was the exclamation. There was another period of
courtesying, and a long look of almost unbelieving surprise. There was
no move to take this changed daughter by the hand, nor was there any
such action on the part of the girl.

"I was stopping at the inn with Possessionaten Bilberg and his little
daughter, the one I have taken care of so long. I found out you were in
this neighbourhood, and so I got some one to show me the way to where
you were living." She did not say that she had seen her mother at
church, nor would she have liked to own, even to herself, that she was
now repulsed by the appearance and manners of one to whom she was bound
by the strongest of ties.

"Come in," said the old woman, courtesying as to a stranger. "It's a
poor place, but you are welcome."

A poor place it was indeed, and Karin with her belongings looked there
like a transplanted flower from a far country. They who had once been so
near to each other seemed now to have almost no common ground on which
to meet.

"I did not know how you had it, mother," said Karin at last. She had
been silenced by her first view of the poor room.

"It is worse than it was in Norrland, when you went away, so long ago.
Your brother Erik came home, and was wild-like, as he always was. He
pulled himself down, and was sick a long while, and then he died. There
was the funeral, and the doctor, and all that; and there was not much
left, for of course I couldn't do a turn of work while I was nursing
him."

"Just like him, to take all you had!" said the daughter, indignant.

The old woman did not seem to notice the angry exclamation. A sudden
light made beautiful the old face as she said: "He came round at the
last, and almost like an angel. It did me good to hear him talk. I
didn't mind anything when he had come round. I am sure he went to heaven
when he died. He was my only boy, and I loved him!" she continued, as
if she were speaking to a stranger; and then suddenly remembering who
her visitor was, she added: "You would not have known him for the same.
'Tell Karin,' he said to me--'tell her she must forgive me. Tell her to
remember she'll need to have her sins forgiven some time. There's only
one way.' He said so!" and there was another courtesy of apology that
she was talking so to that strange young lady who said she was her
daughter.

"Oh dear!" said Karin, looking at her watch, "I must go now.
Possessionaten and his little girl were out for a drive, and I did not
leave any word at the inn where I was going. I will come soon again.
Don't feel hard to me about Erik or anything. Remember I did not know
how you had it. They wrote me there was a cottage somewhere you could
live in free, and I thought you were getting on pretty well."

"Yes, I have the cottage free. The curate's wife comes from the north.
He married up there, and they came to visit her folks. She heard about
me, for she was there when Erik died. She knew about this cottage, and
nothing would do but I must come down with them; and so I did. You can't
think how kind they have been to me. I've done a power of knitting since
I have been here. She sees that somebody buys my stockings. But you
must go. Come again," said the old woman, in strange confusion between
her daughter that was ten years ago and this strange young lady who had
condescended to look in upon her.

They parted without even a shake of the hand. The old woman stood at the
door and watched the tall girl hurrying down the path, and felt almost
as if she had been in a troubled dream.



CHAPTER IV.

TOO LATE.


Possessionaten Bilberg was subject to transient indispositions on Sunday
morning. The symptoms that had prevented his being at the church service
the day before seemed to have disappeared entirely on Monday. He came
home from his drive with his daughter in unusually good spirits; and as
for little Elsa, she was quite delighted. She had had a nice play with
some charming children, and there was a baby in the house, which she had
really been allowed to carry in her own willing arms. Karin's
overshadowed countenance passed unnoticed in the general stir that
followed the return of the father and daughter. They had been invited to
spend several days at the hospitable country home where they had been so
warmly welcomed. It had been urged that while Elsa was happy with
playmates of her own age, Possessionaten could see many things in the
neighbourhood that might be suggestive to him, interested as he was in
agriculture and manufactures. Planning and packing took all the
afternoon, and towards evening the carriage was at the door, and Elsa
and her father were to take their departure.

"I was afraid you would be lonely, Karin, and sorry we are going away;
but you don't seem to mind it at all," said the little girl, in an
injured tone.

"So you want me to be sorrowful," answered Karin, trying to be playful.

"No, no! but I thought you would miss me, and I was glad when papa said
you could keep on sleeping in my nice room, and be as comfortable as
anybody."

There was a little condescension in the tone, though it was
affectionate; but Karin did not notice it, for she was accustomed to
Elsa's airs and graces. Karin really drew a sigh of relief when the
carriage drove away and she was left to herself. It was not a pleasant
evening that she spent, filled with the thronging reminiscences of the
past and a full realization of her own shortcomings. To-morrow she would
make another visit to her mother, and try to be more frank and
affectionate.

The morning came, and Karin was busy clearing all traces of a
traveller's comfort from the capacious bag that Elsa had been allowed to
give her for the journey. It really would hold a great deal, and filled
it was to the uttermost at the country shop to which Karin easily found
her way; tea, sugar, and tempting articles of diet, which she hoped her
mother would enjoy. It was heavy, but Karin rather liked to feel the
pain in her arm, from bearing her unusual burden. She easily found her
way along the upward path, and exhilarated by the exercise and the
pleasure she was about to give, she entered the cottage in a very
cheerful frame of mind. All was silent within.

In the box sofa-bed of the single room there was some one lying, pale
and still. "She is dead!" was the first wild thought of distress; but a
sweet, broken voice murmured something about Erik and heaven. It was
plain that the old woman was wandering in mind, and lost in visions of
the past.

Karin unpacked her basket in a hurry. There were the preparations of the
night before for the fire and the boiling of the water for the morning
meal, to be simple indeed. Yet there was a packed basket, "the basket"
no doubt from the parsonage. She did not unpack it, though it seemed
filled with food. She made some tea in haste, and took it with a
biscuit to her mother's side. She put the cup on a chair near her, and
sitting down on the edge of the bed, she lifted up the old woman,
passing one strong arm about the little body. There was gentleness and
kindness in the touch. The old head was voluntarily drooped caressingly
against the breast of her daughter; there was a long sigh, and Karin
knew she was motherless. Repentant, sorrowing tears flowed fast. There
was no opportunity left for reparation in this world. That loving last
movement towards her was the only pleasant thought on which Karin could
dwell.

How still it was in the cottage! The birches without scarcely quivered
in the soft summer air, and not even the twitter of a bird was to be
heard.

Karin had just gently laid the old head on the pillow, when a form,
almost to her as of an angel, suddenly appeared at the door. It was the
pastor's wife, her face beaming with the tender interest she was feeling
for the lone dweller in the cottage. She understood the whole as she saw
Karin's streaming tears, and the changed old face beside her.

"My mother is dead!" said Karin simply, but in a broken voice.

"I am glad she saw her good daughter before she died," said the pastor's
wife comfortingly.

"I am no good daughter!" exclaimed Karin bitterly. It was a relief to
confess her selfishness, her forgetfulness of her mother, in the midst
of her own comfortable surroundings, and her cold willingness to believe
that all was well with that old woman, who she had supposed was still in
the far north.

The pastor's wife listened in silence. She had no words of comfort to
say. Here was a case beyond her treatment. She did not kneel, but she
clasped her hands and sat quite still, while she laid Karin's sorrow and
penitence before the dear Lord Jesus, so ready to forgive, and to heal
the broken, repentant heart. When she had closed the prayer with a
fervent "Amen!" which seemed to be the sealing of her petitions to the
One strong to save, she turned to Karin and said, "I will go down and
send a person to watch her, and then you must go with me to our home;
for I have heard that you were left at the inn. You cannot be there
now." She felt that it would be best for Karin to be for a time alone.
She had brought her to the heavenly Presence, and she left her there to
commune with the pitiful Father in heaven.



CHAPTER V.

KARIN AND ELSA.


There was a new, low mound in the churchyard. Kind young hands from the
curate's had covered it with evergreen boughs, and sprinkled among them
bright flowers, so that it seemed but a slight swell in the green sweep
around it dotted with daisies.

Karin had begun a new phase in her life. She had something to love and
respect which had no taint of this present world and the worldliness
reigning therein. She had entered humbly and heartily into the simple
life at the curate's home, where she had been so lovingly welcomed.

That thin man, with the angular, loosely-built figure, with a speaking
expression of poverty about it; that man whose shabby Sunday coat had
not a button-hole that did not publicly tell of privately-done repairs
by his wife's untailor-like hand; that man whose very hair was scanty,
and was changing colour--she looked up to him as if he had been a
prince. And so he was; for he had a Father who was King over all the
nations of the earth, who loved him as a son, and received from that son
the happy, truthful affection of a true child.

That woman who went about in the simplest of garments, and shunned no
form of labour that made the home more comfortable or attractive, had
become to Karin a model of all that was pure and lovely and lovable. The
baby, who fell much to her care, seemed to have a healing influence on
her wounded, humbled, penitent heart. It had for her its artless smile,
and its little arms went out to her as trustfully as if she had never
strayed from the narrow path. Karin had a new standard in life, a new
picture of what she wished to be, a new way of estimating her
fellow-creatures.

Karin was glad that circumstances made it necessary for her to lay down
in the depths of her capacious trunk the gay garments that had been her
pride. There had been no dressmaking, no consulting of milliner or
_modiste_. Like most Swedish girls, she had a black dress; she had but
to put a crape band over her sailor-hat, and let the short crape veil
fall over her solemnized face, and her mourning suit was for the present
complete.

This time, this precious time, went away all too rapidly, but it swept
from Karin the impressions of years, and strengthened in her, day by
day, the new purposes and the new hopes that had sprung up in the midst
of her humiliation and distress.

From the cottage in the woods the daughter had but taken away her
mother's "psalm-book" in its close-fitting black cotton case, her worn
Bible, and the carefully-folded white handkerchief that lay under them.
In the corner of the handkerchief a large K had been embroidered by
unskilful hands. Karin knew it as one of her own early trophies, that
had been given to her mother in pride when she had received it as a
reward for skill shown in the sewing-class at school. This little
remembrance of her had been treasured and prized while she was living in
selfish forgetfulness of the poor old woman far away. Repentant tears
had fallen on the humble memento.

On the morning of the day when Possessionaten Bilberg and his daughter
were expected, the curate's wife went with Karin to the inn.

The parting between them was full of grateful expression on the one
side, and of tender interest and kind advice on the other. They were
never to meet again on earth, but they had a common Father in heaven
above, in whose presence they trusted one day to be united.

Karin was, of course, on the steps of the inn to receive her charge. It
was not unusual for Karin to wear sometimes a black dress, and Elsa, in
her pleasure at the meeting and her eagerness to tell her late
experiences, did not notice anything particularly serious in the face of
the maid. When, however, they were alone together, she looked up
suddenly, and saw that Karin's eyes were full of tears as she was
struggling to speak of what had befallen her.

"What is it? what is the matter?" asked Elsa affrightedly.

"My mother is dead! I have lost my mother!" said Karin simply.

Elsa cast her arms around Karin's neck in an unusual fit of
demonstrative affection, and wept with her. "O Karin, what will you do?
How you must have loved her! How sorry you must be! I have thought a
great deal about a mother since I have been away. I have always missed
something, and felt that I was different from other little girls, but I
did not really understand what it was. I have had everything I wanted,
and papa has been so kind, and you too, Karin, but there was something.
Where I have been the children did so love their mamma, and she made it
so charming for them, and she had such a sweet way with them;" and here
the little girl sobbed, more, it must be owned, from thinking of what
she had missed in her life than from sympathy for Karin, and yet they
were drawn nearer together than ever before.

The stir of the arrival of Possessionaten Bilberg and his daughter had
passed away from about the inn, and stillness reigned around on every
side, on the wide meadows in front, and on the long, low, rocky ridge
beyond them. Possessionaten Bilberg was smoking a cigar in the wide
porch, and quietly thinking. Elsa had flown down to tell him of Karin's
trouble, and now he greeted the trusted maid almost with respect as she
came to him to ask some questions about their approaching departure.

He got up stiffly and took Karin by the hand, as he said simply, "I am
sorry to hear that you have had trouble. Your mother was old, I
daresay," he added, as he dropped her hand.

"Yes, old and feeble," was the reply.

Karin waited a moment, and then began to speak of the journey.

"Yes; it will be this evening," he said, and his face wore a most
peculiar expression, as if some struggle was going on within him.

At last he began: "I have had time to see more of Elsa than usual, and
when she was with young companions. There is something about her as if
her pleasure were the most important thing to everybody, and she rather
thought nobody was quite equal to herself."

It is possible that these peculiarities had become Elsa's by
inheritance, as her father was not without his own tendencies in that
direction--a fact of which he was naturally unconscious.

He went on: "You have been a good girl, Karin, and I am pleased with
you. Elsa needs now some one who has a right to take her more steadily
in hand."

There was a pause, and the tears sprang to Karin's eyes. Was she to be
dismissed, when she felt almost as much at home in her master's house as
his daughter herself?

"Yes, you have been a good girl, Karin, and you deserve your reward. You
never ought to leave my home. What Elsa needs, though, is a mother's
care. She needs one who with a mother's name will have a strong right to
her respect and her affection."

He paused a moment. Karin, not knowing what else to do, dropped a
courtesy, and waited for him to go on. He got up, blushed, took a few
steps on the piazza, and then turned and said abruptly: "I am going to
be married, and I want you to tell Elsa about it. Tell her that it is
the lady whom the children called 'aunty' there in the country--their
mother's sister. She is willing to marry me. I never thought to get such
a good wife." And Possessionaten Bilberg looked humble, for perhaps the
first time in his life.

"She is not like me in many things," he continued, as if pleased with
his subject. "She is pious--something I don't quite understand, but it
makes me sure she will be a good mother to Elsa. I really believe she
would hardly have taken me if she had not longed to get my child under
her care," said Possessionaten, with another unwonted attack of
humility. "Please tell Elsa at once," he said, and sat down again, to
indicate that the interview was over.

In a few moments Elsa came flying along the piazza, and surprised her
father by taking a seat on his knee and putting her arms round his
neck. "Papa! papa!" she said, "how could you think of doing anything
that would please me so much?"

"Your own mother loved her, Elsa, and so I am sure she is the right kind
of a woman, and that you will be happy together."

Possessionaten had spoken in a matter-of-fact sort of way, and Elsa went
upstairs in a less ecstatic mood than when she came down, and told Karin
calmly that her father seemed pleased that she liked having a new
mother.



CHAPTER VI.

CHRISTMAS EVE.


Christmas Eve had come. There had been joy in the curate's home--carols
and prayer around the lighted tree, the distribution of simple gifts,
and the consumption of any amount of rice porridge. Even the grave
pastor had grown playful as the evening went on. This had prompted one
of the boys to exclaim that he was the very best father in the world--a
comprehensive assertion that was approved by all parties present. The
power to cast off care and even serious thought for a time, and frolic
with children, was one of the secrets of the curate's personal power. In
his sacred capacity he was above and apart from all; as a father or a
friend he was near and familiarly dear to all, even to the youngest in
his household and the humblest of his people.

Now he gave a start, and there was a look of astonishment all round the
family as there was the sound of heavy cart-wheels grinding along over
the sand under the parsonage windows.

In another moment there was a steady tramping on the side steps, then
through the passage to the dining-room, where the family were assembled.

Four strong men were bearing a huge box, and now entered, much
embarrassed at being unable to take off their caps in the presence of
the pastor, but their deep voices pronounced a "Good Yule!" and their
thick, soft caps went off in a hurry when they had deposited their heavy
burden. "We were to open it, pastor," they said, and they forthwith
produced their tools from the slouching pockets of their strong coats.
The pastor's wife disappeared instantly, thinking, as usual, of others
more than of herself; for she, too, would have liked a peep into the box
when the thick boards had been thrown up and the packed stores were
first visible. She had, however, what pleased her better--some hot
coffee, a cake of saffron bread, and the remains of the porridge on the
table in the kitchen when the last nail had been drawn out. The men
disappeared, grinning with satisfaction; while the wondering children
superintended, with occasional wild dances and leaps of delight, the
unfolding of the secrets of the wonderful box.

A prosperous "possessionat" who had learned that the chief joy of
possession is the power of giving had sent household stores on a
munificent scale. A happy wife, accustomed to see her own husband always
dressed as for a holiday, having a full remembrance of the pastor's
outer man, and of his wife's forgetfulness of herself, had sent for him
a full black suit, and for his wife a handsome dark dress, as well as a
warm fur cape. A little girl, who had learned to remember that there
were other people beside herself to be thought of in the world, had
selected books and toys for the children. The orphan girl had not been
forgotten. She looked with astonishment at the substantial winter coat
that had been marked with her name, and wondered who could have thought
of _her_. There was still a beautiful, closely-woven white basket, with
a firm handle, at one side of the box. It was lifted out and opened.
There were all sorts of things--potted, canned, dried, and preserved, to
make, with good bread and butter, a nice evening meal for an unexpected
guest; a most welcome present in a family where hospitality never
failed, and yet the larder was often scantily provided. At the bottom
of the basket lay a card, on which was written, "From a humble friend,
in remembrance of 'the basket.'"

The tears rushed to the eyes of the curate and his wife, and their hands
met, while their thoughts were with the little old cottage saint now in
heaven, and a prayer was sent up for the daughter that she might
continue to walk in the ways of peace.

"O mamma, what a good basket to keep all your mending in!" said one of
the boys.

"Just what I will do," said the mother; "I shall like to have it always
near me."

"Do put on your new suit, papa," urged the children. He vanished into
his room close at hand, and soon reappeared transformed into a new and
complete edition of his old self, as it were, in a fine fresh binding.

The suit was not a perfect fit, but hung less loosely about him than his
wonted best garments, made long, long ago.

The pastor playfully walked up and down the room with a consequential
air, to the great amusement of the children. "You will wear your new
suit to-morrow!" they exclaimed, one after another, as in the refrain of
a song.

"On New-Year's Day, perhaps," said the father. "For to-morrow I like my
old suit best; for we are to remember then how the loving Lord of all
humbled Himself to be the Babe of Bethlehem."

There were a few words of prayer and thanksgiving, and then the family,
with a kiss all round, parted for the night.

Perchance the angels who sang again the Christmas song, "On earth peace,
good will toward men," lingered over the curate's home with a kindred
feeling for him; for was he not, too, a messenger, sent "to minister for
them who shall be heirs of salvation"?



ALF.



CHAPTER I.

A FOOLISH RESOLVE.


Tall, handsome, and young; that one saw at a single glance. The age of
the lad it was not easy to determine. The mind wavered between sixteen
and nineteen, but sixteen it really was. It was no true Swedish face,
yet such faces are often found among the fair children of the North. The
boy had a clear, dark complexion, and his waving hair was intensely
black. His nose was decided, but there was a weakness about the small
mouth that seemed quite inconsistent with the fiery glance of the full
brown eyes.

It was late, yet he was sitting looking steadily before him, while his
thoughts were evidently wandering. "_So_ they want me to promise, and
_so_ they want me to live?" he said at last. "I cannot make promises I
do not mean to keep. I can do many things, but I cannot take a false
position as to what I intend to be." He stood up and straightened his
whole person with an admiring self-respect as he spoke.

_He_ would not be compelled by public opinion to do that for which he
was not inclined! He was old enough to choose for himself, and choose he
would! He would not be confirmed! He would not assume obligations
contrary to his wishes, and make professions he did not honestly mean!
There seemed to him to be in this something noble, something determined,
something manly, and he pleasantly reflected upon his righteous
independence.

The confirmation was appointed for the morrow. He had seen the slender,
swift horse that was to be his--a gift from his father. He knew a gold
watch was lying in his mother's drawer, to be one of his many presents
to commemorate the important occasion. The guests were invited for the
splendid dinner his parents were to give in his honour. He would be
expected to appear in one of the stylish new suits provided for him as
now a fully-grown young gentleman. He would be toasted, complimented,
and, in short, the hero of the day in that beautiful home. He knew that
his mother had retired early. She was doubtless praying for him then,
and would be on the morrow. She, at least, would expect him to keep his
promises. She should know that he would not disgrace her by a false
oath.

His pocket-book was well filled by a munificent present from his
grand-uncle in America. He could go where he pleased. He took out a
small, light trunk from one of his closets, and it was soon packed with
his new garments and a few specially dear personal valuables. There were
no books but the pocket Bible, in which his mother had so lately written
his name. For her sake he would take it with him, and for her sake he
would open it at least for five minutes every day.

Stealthily he crept down the staircase and through the broad halls,
dropped from a low window, and was soon in the open air. There was a
light still in the stable-boy's room, and he would so have help for the
harnessing of the horse, and an opportunity to leave a parting message
for his mother.

He moved slowly and silently. He looked in through the small panes, and
could see the boy bending over a book. He tapped gently. There was a
start, and the door was opened in a moment.

"I am going to town, Lars," he said, "and I want your help. Get up the
spring wagon as soon as you can."

The stable-boy looked suspiciously at his young master, and at the small
trunk he had set down beside him. "Where is Master Alf going?" asked the
boy anxiously. "Anything dreadful happened? Won't you be here for the
confirmation?"

"No; it's that that sends me away," was the answer. "I can't even seem
to make promises I don't intend to keep. I mean to be an honourable
gentleman, and I shall not begin that way. Come, hurry!"

"But stop, Master Alf! Why don't you make the promises and try to keep
them?" said the stable-boy.

"I suppose that is what you mean to do--eh?" said the young gentleman
scornfully.

"It would be my duty any way to live right," was the answer. "I can't
see that the promises make any difference. I ought to live right, I
know, and I mean to try. It won't be easy. That's all I understand about
it." The round, dull face of the boy expressed clear determination, and
he looked his young master full in the eyes as he spoke. "Perhaps
you've made up your mind to go wrong!" he added, with a doubtful look
at his companion.

"Do as I bid you, and get up the horse at once!" said Alf, in a
commanding tone. "Tell my mother what I have said to you, and tell her,
too, I have taken with me the Bible she gave me, and I'll read in it a
bit every day for her sake. _I_ believe in keeping promises. As for you,
you'll find the team at the usual stable; you must go in early to-morrow
for it."

"Where are you going, Master Alf?" urged the boy. "I'm afraid it's clean
out to the bad!"

"That's none of your business! You don't know how a gentleman feels
about a promise," was the answer.

"My father is here for the confirmation. He talked to me about that
matter last night," persisted Lars. "He said when people were married
they promised they would be good to each other, but that was their duty
any way, if they were man and wife, promise or no promise. About
confirmation, he said that was a good old custom that it was well to
follow, but any way when boys get to our age they've got to make up
their minds what sort of men they mean to be, and start clear and
determined on the right track, or else they'll be sure, as the world
is, to go to the bad. He said, too, we'd better be in a hurry, and have
that fixed, for there was no saying how long even young folks would
live. Young folks might be broken off right sudden, like a green branch
in a high wind. I do wish you, Master Alf, could hear my father talk
about this thing."

"I've heard you talk; that's quite enough of the family for me!" said
Alf impatiently. "Attend to your business at once, will you, or I shall
have to harness the horse myself."

"I _wish_ my father was here, I do!" murmured Lars to himself, as he
most unwillingly obeyed.

"That's for your sermon," said Alf, as he took the reins in his hand,
and tossed a bit of silver to the serious, stolid-faced boy who was
looking so sorrowfully at him.

As Alf said his last words to Lars, he wished in his heart that he had
the stable-boy's full, simple determination to do right whatever it
might cost him. The veil of self-contentment had fallen from Alf's eyes.
His motives for what he was now doing stood out plainly before him. It
was true that he did not wish to pledge himself openly to a life he did
not intend to lead, but it was also true that it had long been his
cherished wish to be free from the restraints of home, and able to yield
to any and all the temptations that assailed him. He was voluntarily
giving himself up to an evil, reckless life, and he knew it.



CHAPTER II.

AFTER THIRTY YEARS.


The slender birches were sunning their mottled stems in the warm spring
air; the evergreen woods rose dark and mysterious; while the glad little
spruces that skirted the thickets were nourishing soft buds on every
twig, little caring that they would in time be as gloomy and solemn as
the grand old veterans of the forest behind them.

Sweden once more! All seemed unchanged after thirty years, save the
emigrant and whatever specially concerned him. The familiar homes far
back from the road, he remembered them well. His own home, he knew, had
been ravaged by fire, and scarcely a vestige of it remained. His parents
were no more. He could not, if he had wished it, shed penitent tears
over their graves; for their bones were mouldering in a far-away
ancestral vault, with no kindly grass to mantle them, and no glad wild
flowers to whisper of a coming resurrection. The possessions that should
have been his had been willed away to strangers. The once well-known
family name was now rarely heard in the neighbourhood, and then only
sorrowfully whispered as connected with the sad and almost forgotten
past.

It was Sunday morning. The church bell had rung out its peals the
appointed number of times, and now all was silent, for the rustic
worshippers were gathered within the sacred walls.

The congregation were all seated, and the Confession was being repeated,
when a tall, slender man, with peculiarly broad shoulders and a
peculiarly small waist, came with an ungainly gait up the aisle, holding
in his hand a limp felt hat as if it were glued fast to his long, thin
fingers.

He stopped a moment, as if mechanically, before a full pew, and then
stood doubtfully in the aisle.

A little chubby girl perched just behind him had not been too devout to
observe the proceedings of the stranger. She unhooked the door of the
seat in which she was established alone with her mother. The slight
click attracted, as she had hoped, the attention of the new worshipper.
She whispered to her bowed mother, "He has no place to sit; may I let
him in to us?" The head was slightly nodded in reply; the door was
gently pushed open; and the stranger sat down in the offered place. His
dark face was thin, and wrinkled too much apparently for his years. His
thick black hair and beard were irregularly streaked in locks with
white, rather than grey with the usual even sprinkling brought about by
age alone; and his forehead threatened to stretch backward far beyond
the usual frontal bounds. He apparently took no part in the service. His
eyes seemed looking far away from priest and altar, and his ears were
dead to the words that fell upon them.

Above the chancel there had been a painting representing the Lord's
Supper, not copied even second or third hand from Leonardo's
masterpiece, but from the work of some far more humble artist. The
cracks that had crept across the cloth of the holy table and scarred the
faces of the disciples were no longer to be seen. The disciples, whose
identity had so occupied the minds of the little church-goers and been
the subject of week-day discussions, were now hidden with the whole
scene from the eyes of all beholders. A red curtain veiled the
long-valued painting in its disfigured old age. Against this glowing
background was suspended a huge golden cross of the simplest
construction. It was, in fact, the work of the carpenter of the
neighbourhood, and was gilded by the hand of the pastor's wife, who had
solemnly thought to herself as she wielded the brush, "We must look to
the cross before we may draw near to the holy supper."

Some idea like this flitted through the mind of the stranger, though he
did not appear like a devout worshipper. His whole bearing gave quite
another impression. Even when, during prayers later on, he held up his
hat before his face, as is supposed to be a devout attitude in some
Christian lands, the little girl fancied she could see him peeping here
and there round the church, as if he were taking an inventory of its
specialties. It was but a simple country church, with square pillars of
masonry supporting the galleries, from whence light wooden columns rose
to the vaulted roof. Indeed, in the old-fashioned building the rural
seemed to have been the only style of architecture attempted. The whole
interior had been thoroughly whitewashed, however it had fared with the
hearts of the worshippers.

During the sermon the stranger was evidently lost in his own
meditations. As soon as the service was over, he followed the clergyman
down the aisle to the sacristy, on one side of the main door.

The reverend gentleman was in the midst of disrobing, when the
dark-faced man hastily entered and said abruptly, "Will you kindly look
over this paper, which must be my only credential with you? I belong to
this parish, and should be glad to have the privileges of membership
when broken down and needing a home."

The pastor glanced at the paper. It was a simple certificate, from a
well-known dignitary high in authority in the land, requesting that the
bearer, without being subject to further investigation, should have his
right acknowledged as a member of the parish to which he now made
application. The pastor could treat him accordingly, only showing the
paper in case any difficulty arising from this arrangement should make
such publicity necessary.

The paper was properly signed, witnessed, and sealed. The pastor put it
in his pocket, looked wonderingly at the applicant, and said, "The
poorhouse is but a mean place, with accommodation for a few persons, and
the present occupants are of the humblest sort. There are now living
there an old woman, formerly a servant in respectable families, who has
a room to herself; a half-mad fellow, who will not speak when spoken to
unless he can hit on some way of answering in rhyme. He, of course, has
a room to himself. There is, besides, a large room with sleeping-places
for two persons. One of these places is occupied by an old man who has
been a hard drinker; you would have to share the room with him. Would
you be contented with that arrangement?"

"Contented and grateful," said the stranger. His name was given as "A.
Johanson," and was so registered in the pastor's note-book. Particular
directions were then kindly lavished on the stranger as to how he was to
reach his future home.

A peculiar smile stole over the face of the listener. He took politely
the permit which ensured his admittance at the last refuge of the
unfortunate, and then, with a bow and a slight waving of the limp hat,
he disappeared.



CHAPTER III.

IN THE POORHOUSE.


The poorhouse was not an imposing structure, but it could boast of
antiquity, as it had been built long, long ago for the purpose for which
it was now used.

It was not difficult for Johanson to locate the poorhouse poet. His
room, like the other two, opened directly on the vestibule. On his own
door he had been allowed to paint his name and publish his chosen
occupation:--

    "I take my bag,
    My legs my nag,
    And never fail
    To fetch the mail."

So ran the poor rhymes, yet the mad poet had not given himself his full
meed of praise. No storm was too wild, no cold too severe, no snow too
deep for the faithful mail-carrier to make his rounds. Rather than give
up the leathern bag entrusted to him to teasing country boys or
desperate highwayman, he would have died in its defence.

The principle of growth had exerted its power eccentrically with the
poorhouse poet. His legs and neck were elongated out of all proportion
to the rest of his body. His small, pale face was raised unnaturally
high in the air, as if he had suffered decapitation and his head had
been posted as an assurance that offended law had been avenged.
Unconscious of his own peculiarities, the persistent rhymer went about
pleased with himself and all the world. Now he was particularly happy,
for he considered himself a kind of presiding officer at the poorhouse,
and as such the proper person to show the premises to curious strangers,
or to formally install new inmates. On the entrance of Johanson with the
pastor's permit, the poet immediately took the odd-looking pauper in
hand, to make him at home in the establishment.

He knocked at the small room opposite the main entrance, and a shrill
voice having shouted, "Come in!" the visitors opened the door.

    "I bring a new-comer,
    Our guest for the summer!
    He's Johanson, he;
    Gull Hansdotter, she."

So presented, Johanson bowed to the little old woman, who stood up
beside the chair in which she had been sitting, and deigned to bend her
knees for a courtesy just sufficiently to bring her short skirts
possibly one inch nearer the floor. Her stiff demeanour, however,
changed suddenly as she darted to a corner and produced a bit of rag
carpet, on which she requested the visitors to stand, as her room had
been freshly scoured for Sunday.

    "Scour Sunday,
    Scour Monday,
    Scour every day,
    That's her way,"

said the poet, retiring precipitately with his companion. The poet had
described the absorbing pursuit of his fellow-lodger. Chairs, table, and
floor in that little room were subject to such rasping purifications,
that if there had ever been paint on any of them, it was a thing of the
far past, while an ashy whiteness and a general smell of dampness were
the abiding peculiarities of the apartment. The eyes of the owner had
become possessed of a microscopic power of discovering the minutest
speck that might have been envied by any scientific observer of insect
life.

The poet next threw open the door of the room opposite his own, as he
said to his companion,--

    "Here is your place--
    No want of space;
    According to diet,
    Not always so quiet."

These were the quarters Johanson was to share with the broad-chested man
in a big chair, who sat with a stout stick beside him, as if ready at
any moment to meet the attack of a roving marauder.

    "This is our cellar-master,
    Who lived faster and faster,
    Till here with us he had to be.--
    It's Johanson who comes with me;
    He'll share your room, at least to-night,
    And longer if you treat him right."

There was only an inhospitable grunt from the gouty, red-faced man whose
biography had been more justly than politely abridged for the new-comer.

Johanson had no luggage to deposit. He thanked his conductor for the
trouble he had taken, and then seated himself on a wooden chair on his
side of the room, and had evidently no further need of his guide, who
promptly disappeared.

Johanson seemed gazing out of the window, but was really seeing nothing,
while quite lost in his own thoughts, and altogether forgetful of his
companion.

There was a pounding on the floor, followed by a rumbling sound, as of
some one preparing to speak, and then the other occupant of the room
said roughly: "Here, you! Do you see that crack across the middle of the
floor, with three big, dark knots in the middle on each side of it?
That's my landmark. You come over it, and there'll be mischief!"

"I shall take great pleasure in attending to your wishes. It is not
likely that I shall visit you often," said Johanson, rising and bowing
with much politeness, and then promptly resuming his seat.

The next step of the new lodger was to take a small, carefully-covered
book from his pocket. The gilt edges, dulled by time, were, however,
observed by the watchful spectator, a prisoner in his chair. The fine
print and the divided verses were evident to his keen eyes, that
twinkled in their red frames with an uncanny light. "No hypocrisy here!
it don't take. Put up that book, or I'll throw my friend here at you. I
never miss, so look out!" He touched the club-like stick beside him.

Johanson quickly put his hand in his breast-pocket and took out a small
revolver. "Here is _my_ friend," he said. "I never miss with this in my
hand!" He spoke coolly, but his eyes were fearless and determined. "You
let me alone, and I'll let you alone. I want to live peaceably. I shall
do what I please on my side of the room, and I want no meddling from
you."

The cellar-master understood at once that he had here a person not to be
trifled with, and from that day there was no difficulty between them.

The revolver may or may not have been loaded, but the sight of it had
been enough for the cellar-master, as for many a "rough" before.

As to the little woman who had given Johanson so ungracious a reception
on his first appearance in her room, he had evidently taken an aversion
to her society. When she came into his duplicated quarters, he was
always looking out into the street, or so occupied that she had a better
view of his back than of his face. He never named her, nor was she ever
mentioned in the establishment by her lawful cognomen, but was always
spoken of as "she," representing alone, as she did, her own sex in the
poorhouse.

It seemed to her a wonder that with all her claims to respectability she
had ever found her way to her present home. The walls of her room were
decorated with silhouettes of this or that grand personage in whose
service she had enjoyed the honour of being in days of yore. Such
mementoes failing her, there were coveted seals to letters, or paper
headings cut out and duly pointed at the edges, to shine forth from red
backgrounds. A daguerreotype of herself, in all the buxom freshness of
youth and the "bravery" of a gaily-adorned peasant costume, was always
to be seen standing on her bureau half open, like the book of an
absent-minded scholar disturbed in his researches. Her pretensions
imposed not a little upon the cellar-master, who treated her with a
certain respect; but the poet was unmindful of her social claims, and
perhaps took a pleasure in showing his independence of her rule. Rule it
was, for she condescended to cook for "those poor men folks," as she
called them.

Not that her cooking was ever of an elaborate order--coffee and porridge
being the only dainties on which she was permitted to display her full
powers. Warming up and making over other dishes kindly sent in by
benevolent neighbours she did to perfection, and showed in this matter
an ingenuity most remarkable. When, however, she took in the meals she
had prepared for the various recipients, it was with a studied
ungraciousness, abated only for the cellar-master, who, as she said, had
a respectable title of his own, and was suitable company for her.

Johanson, who had come to his present abode empty-handed, provided
himself by degrees with needful articles of clothing of the simplest
sort, as well as necessities for the toilet and the writing-table. The
pen was much in his hand. It was used occasionally for a letter to the
nearest large city, and such a missive was generally followed by a
parcel, which was stowed away at once in the capacious chest appointed
for his use.

The cellar-master was sure that it was on sheets ruled like music-paper
that Johanson was almost constantly writing, though they were locked up
in his chest almost before they were fairly dry. He did not seem to be a
reader, but the objectionable little book with the gilt edges came out
at a regular hour each day, and for five minutes at least had his full
attention, without offensive interruption.

On the whole, the poorhouse had become for Johanson a peaceful and in a
measure a comfortable home.



CHAPTER IV.

PREPARING FOR CONFIRMATION.


With the autumn began for the pastor the most pleasing duty of the
year--the instruction of his class for confirmation. He announced in
church one Sunday that after the service he would be in the sacristy to
take the names of any of the young people who wished to join the
proposed class. He was sitting in the sacristy at the appointed time,
with a group of young rustics standing about him, when Johanson came
quietly in.

"I can attend to you first," said the pastor, turning kindly towards the
dark-bearded man.

"I can wait; I am in no hurry," was the reply.

The waiting was long, as had been expected. When the boys and girls had
all gone out, Johanson stepped to the pastor's side and said, "Please
put down my name."

"For what?" asked the pastor, in astonishment.

"For the confirmation class," was the calm reply. "I have never been
confirmed."

The pastor had noticed, naturally, that Johanson had not been forward to
the Lord's Supper even when the cellar-master had been helped up the
aisle from the poorhouse seat near the door, and Gull and the half-mad
poet had decorously followed. At this he had hardly been surprised, for
there were other members of the congregation who did not communicate
more than once a year. The good man felt a sudden repulsion towards the
stranger still without the Christian pale.

"You wish then to be confirmed?" said the pastor, looking Johanson
directly in the eye.

"I wish to receive the instruction, and it will be your duty to judge of
my fitness afterwards," was the reply.

"Perhaps I could find time to teach you privately, though it is a busy
season, with all the certificates of removal and that kind of thing,"
said the pastor doubtfully.

"I would rather be taught as you teach these young people," said
Johanson. "Please try to forget that I am not a boy."

That was a hard duty to impose on the pastor, who looked into the
browned face and the troubled dark eyes. He did not promise, but simply
said, "The class, as you heard, will meet in the dining-room at the
parsonage on Wednesday afternoon. I hope the instructions may be blessed
to you," and they parted.

Wednesday came. The available chairs in the pastor's simple home had
been ranged in long rows on each side of the dining-room.

"May I sit here, dear, with my work?" said the pastor's wife, coming in
with a basket of stockings in one hand, her needle and yarn for darning
in the other.

She did not expect to be refused, nor was she, though a little girl of
five years old, her only child, held pertinaciously on to her dress. "I
may come too, papa; I am sure I may," said a sweet, cheery voice, and
only a pleasant smile was the reply. The mother sat down in one of the
chairs still at the table, and the little girl took joyously a place at
her side.

"I always like to hear your confirmation instructions, for many
reasons," said the wife. "I seem to take a fresh start in the right
direction with the children."

The pastor seated himself at the head of the table, with his books
before him, laying near them the list of the names of the class.

The pastor was a stout, sensible-looking man, with a plain, quiet face,
and a modest, shy air. Indeed, he was hardly at ease anywhere, except in
his home, or in the pulpit or chancel, where the sense of the sacredness
of his official duties made him unmindful of earthly witnesses.

Now he thought it a stay to have his wife with him; for the informal
nature of the meeting, and the beginning of something new, made the
whole at first an effort for him.

Perhaps the pastor, in the presence of persons of high standing, found
it impossible to forget his humble birth, and suspected that in some way
there was always a lack of gentility about him; while with companions of
more modest pretensions he must maintain the distant dignity which he
fancied appertained to his profession.

He was a straightforward, matter-of-fact man, who intended in all
things, temporal and spiritual, to do his duty. He believed fully in the
inspiration of the Bible from cover to cover, and was possibly convinced
that every word, and almost every letter, in the then authorized
Swedish version had a sanction not to be disputed. In his view the
sacraments, properly administered, were direct, undoubted channels of
grace. The organization of his church was perfect, he was sure, to the
least particular, and would have the approval of the apostles were they
now on earth, though during their lives the circumstances of their
surroundings might have made it impossible for them to have their
ministrations conducted according to the admirable order so long
established in Sweden. Martin Luther he looked upon as having a kind of
supplemental apostleship, almost as incontestable as that of Peter
himself. Luther's catechism was for him the best medium for imparting
religious instruction to children, and for strengthening the Christian
life of young people approaching maturity. With this sound, hearty
belief in what he was called on to teach, and with the rules for his
ministrations, his work was simple and most agreeable.

The pastor was not an emotional man. He had never been deeply stirred by
religious feelings of any kind. He had had no agonies of penitence, no
distressing doubts, no strong struggles with temper, no vivid thought of
the possibility of his being excluded from eternal blessedness. His
heavenly Father was to him rather a theological abstraction than a near
and ever-loving friend. The Saviour was to him more an element in a
perfect creed than the Deliverer--the hand stretched out to the drowning
man--the one hope of poor tempted humanity.

The pastor was, in his way, a good man, a kind man, an unselfish, true,
sincere man. Peaceful he lived, peaceful he ministered, and yet heart to
heart he came with no human brother. With no human brother, we say; but
there was one woman whose life interpenetrated his, if they did not in
all things come heart to heart. Her presence gave him a sense of
sunshine and quiet happiness that was the greatest joy of which his
nature was capable.

Merry, impulsive, devoted, self-sacrificing by nature, the whole
existence of the pastor's wife was pervaded by a Christian life that
exalted her naturally lovely traits, and made her shortcomings the
source of a sweet, childlike penitence that was almost as lovely and
attractive as her virtues. She had soon found that the deep language of
her inner soul was to her husband an unknown tongue. Of her spiritual
struggles and joys and exaltations she did not speak to him or to any
other human being. They were her secret with her God and Saviour. Yet
her husband stood to her on a pinnacle, as rounded in character,
blameless in life, and perfect in his ministrations. Almost angelic he
seemed to her when he stood in the chancel, and in his deep, melodious
voice sang all the parts of the service that the church rules allowed to
be so given.

The pastor's sermons were excellent compositions. Compositions they were
in the strictest sense of the word. The epistles and gospels for the
ecclesiastical year were the authorized and usual subjects for the
sermons, being called even in common parlance "the text for the day."
These texts had been so elaborated and expounded by wise divines whose
works were to be had in print, that when a sermon was to be written, our
pastor but got out his books of sermons, studied, compared, compiled,
extracted, transformed, and rewrote, until on Friday his sermon for the
coming Sunday was always ready. He had made it his own by hard,
conscientious work, and not without a deep sense that he was, in his
way, to deliver a divine message as an authorized ambassador of the King
of kings, accredited and appointed in an unimpeachable manner.

With his confirmation class the pastor was different. He was fond of
young people. He had been young himself, and had not forgotten the
circumstance.

He was getting a little impatient to see the fresh faces he was
expecting at the first meeting of the class, when Johanson made his
appearance, bowed distantly, and took the seat nearest the door. He had
passed through a knot of young people without, who were, with some
cuffing and shoving, contending who should go in first on this to them
august occasion. Johanson had left the door slightly ajar, and little
Elsa, the pastor's child, having caught a glimpse of a familiar face,
ran out, to come back immediately leading triumphantly a rosy-cheeked
girl, who was all blushes as she was brought into the dining-room, made
to her for the time sacred ground. Of course, the whole troop from
without, boys and girls, followed, taking opposite sides of the room.

It proved that Johanson had taken his seat on the girls' side, and
carefully away from him the skirts of those nearest to him were drawn;
for it had been whispered around the parish that the queer man at the
poorhouse had never been confirmed. An outcast of the outcasts he must
be, was the common conviction.

A hymn was to be sung, all sitting, to open the meeting. Little Elsa
went round with the "psalm-books" in a basket, and began with Johanson,
who took one as he was requested. The pastor began, and the young voices
joined him. There was a hush for a second, when a wonderful tenor came
in, and seemed to fill the room with a strange melody.

But one verse was sung; then followed a short prayer from the church
liturgy, after which the lesson began.

Johanson sat alone in his corner, when Elsa tripped away from her
mother, and giving a gleeful little hop, she seated herself beside him,
laid her small hand lightly on his knee, and looked up at him lovingly
and protectingly as she did so. Now she felt she really owned him. He
was _her_ poor man, a kind of friend and relation to her.

Through all those long preparatory lessons Elsa kept her place by the
side of the dark man, without word or comment from her parents.

The time for the confirmation was drawing near. "I do not know what I
shall do about Johanson," said the pastor to his wife. "I get nothing
from him in the class except plain, direct, and most correct answers to
my questions. I suppose it must be all right, but we don't seem to come
near to each other at all. He is a wild, strange man. Perhaps you could
somehow get on better with him."

"Maybe Elsa could," said the wife. "_She_ loves him. Perhaps that is
what he feels the need of among us who call ourselves Christians."

"Call ourselves Christians!" repeated the pastor, in as severe a tone of
reproach as he had ever addressed to his wife.

She did not seem to notice his manner, but went on: "Elsa might reach
him. You know it says, 'A little child shall lead them.' I'll send her
to the poorhouse this afternoon with a message to Johanson from me, and
the book she likes so much. I know which is her favourite picture, and
she will be sure to tell him about it."

"Send her to the poorhouse!" exclaimed the pastor.

"She's been there often with me when I've been there to wind up Gull's
clock, which she is sure to get out of order if Gull touches it herself.
Elsa is not afraid of any of them, even of the cellar-master. He really
likes her."

The pastor was called away suddenly, and he was glad, for that was one
of the occasions when he did not quite understand his wife.



CHAPTER V.

LED TO THE LIGHT.


Little Elsa's errand to Johanson was to take to him a small pocket
"psalm-book" (as the Swedish book for the services and hymns is called).
It was well known in the poorhouse and parish that the stranger pauper
had a Bible, and read it too, at least for five minutes every day. Gull,
who had a strong taste for gossip, had not left that particular
unmentioned.

Elsa came in with two little packages in her hand. "Here's your book
mamma sent you," she said. "She has put your name in it. I want to show
you my book too."

Johanson put his gift in his pocket hastily, with a short expression of
thanks, and then looked expectantly at the child.

"May I sit close to you, so we can both look over it together?" she
said, as she pushed a chair to his side and worked herself up on to it.

The illustrations were generally from Old Testament scenes; but Elsa
hurried past these, turning the pages briskly with her skilful fingers.

"Here it is! Here's the one I like best. You understand it, don't you?
It means something," and she looked up questioningly into his face.

The picture was a most admirable representation of the Good Shepherd
bearing a lost lamb home on His shoulders.

Johanson was silent.

"You don't know about it, then? I will tell you," she said, and went on,
while her tiny finger was impressively pointing from lamb to shepherd,
and from shepherd to lamb.

"That little lamb got far away from the shepherd and the fold and all
the little lambs he knew. And he was dirty, not a bit clean, and his
wool was all torn by the briers, and the thorns had hurt him, and he was
hungry and thirsty and tired, and did not know where to go. He could
hear the wolves growl, and he thought he could see their eyes looking at
him as if they wanted to eat him up. You see he had run away, just gone
away from the Good Shepherd and his mother and his home, when he did
not need to. And now he wanted to get back, but he didn't know how; and
then he began to complain and to bleat (that's his way of crying), and
to run this way and that, but he didn't get on at all.

"At last he was quite tired out, and he thought he must give up and lie
down and die where he was. Then the Good Shepherd heard his cry and came
to him. The poor little lamb wanted to follow the Shepherd; but he was
too weak--he could hardly stand alone. And then"--and here the little
voice grew triumphantly glad--"then the Good Shepherd took him in His
own arms, just as sweet and kind as if the naughty lamb had never run
away, and carried him over the stones, and past the briers, and across
the little streams, and up the steep hills, and through the dark places!
He carried him _all the way_ home, not just half-way and then let him
drop. He carried him _all the way home_ to the fold, where his mother
was, and there he was safe--safe--safe! Wasn't that a Good Shepherd?"

There was no answer.

"My mother told me all about it, and I like that picture best and that
story best. You understand what it means?"

"Yes," said Johanson. There were tears in his eyes.

Elsa lifted up her loving hand to Johanson's face as it was bent over
the book, and with her own little handkerchief wiped his tears; then she
went out silently, which was probably the best thing she could have done
under the circumstances.

The next day Johanson went to the pastor in his study. "I have not come
to talk about _my_ fitness for confirmation," he said. "Little Elsa has
taught me better. I have turned my face towards the Good Shepherd, and I
believe He will carry me home. May I meet with the class to-morrow?"

"Certainly," said the pastor, and the interview was ended.

Johanson sat among the candidates for confirmation the next day--among
the boys and girls, like a battered old ship that had been dragged into
the harbour beside the trim fresh vessels just starting with flying
colours for a bright far-away land.

He did not mind the nudges and half-smiles among the rustic
congregation, but answered the questions put to him with the others, in
his strong man's voice, as simply and naturally as a child.

He knew he was safe in the hands of the Good Shepherd, who would carry
him tenderly home, and his heart was full of humble joy.

The administration of the holy communion took place next day. The
newly-confirmed with their friends were to "go forward," while the rest
of the congregation were to remain in their seats praying for the young
soldiers of Christ, now fully enlisted under His banner.

Johanson had taken a modest place at the chancel railing; but even there
he was an outcast, for it was plain that no one was willing to kneel
beside him.

The pastor's wife was bowed low with new food for prayer and
thanksgiving. Little Elsa moved quickly from her mother's side up the
aisle, and to the astonishment and almost horror of the congregation she
knelt by Johanson, her little head not appearing above the railing; but
she held fast to his left hand. He felt the tender familiar grasp, and
it was to him like the Good Shepherd greeting him through one of His
little ones.

At the close of the service, when all the authorized words for the
occasion had been read, the pastor stepped to the front of the chancel,
and said, in loud, clear tones,--

"And the father saw him afar off, and ran and fell on his neck, and
kissed him." "Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." "A
broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." "Come unto
me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

"I hope it was not amiss to say those words I did from the chancel
to-day," said the pastor to his wife when at home and they were alone
together. "They are not in the service, but I could not help it. I never
felt so deeply before how freely and fully God forgives us--_us_
Christians as well as what we call 'poor sinners.' Yes, it came over me
as it never has before, and somehow heaven seems nearer, and God more
really my Father and Christ my Saviour. Do you understand me, my dear?"

"Yes, yes," she said--"yes, dear; and you too seem nearer to me than
ever before."

The pastor answered, tenderly and solemnly: "It is you, wife, you and
Elsa, and that poor Johanson, who have somehow opened my eyes. I have
seen before, but seen darkly. May God lead me to the perfect day!"



CHAPTER VI.

PAINFUL DISCLOSURES.


Something about the strange inmate had affected the mad poet, long a
dweller in the poorhouse, as unusual in that establishment. These
fancies he had versified, and having written the result down on a
half-sheet of paper, he folded it into a narrow strip, and then twisted
it into an almost impossible knot, and handed it to the person nearest
concerned.

Johanson read with astonishment:--

    "It striketh me
    That you should be
    A gentleman,
    And drive a span,
    Live high, drink wine,
    Ask folks to dine,
    And make a dash.
    With poorhouse trash
    You should not be--
    With folks like me."

In return, the reply was promptly put under the poor poet's door:--

    "Of who I am, or where belong,
    Please do not whisper in your song."

These communications were followed by a few days of unusual silence
between the neighbours. The mad poet did not like being answered in
rhyme. Of versification he considered himself the inventor, and as
having therefore an exclusive right to use it, in conversation or on
paper.

At last Johanson made up his mind what course to pursue in the matter.
He went to the poet in a friendly way, and said to him, "I take you to
be a gentleman who knows how to keep a secret, and does not mention what
he can guess out concerning other people's matters. I know your
principles about your post-bag. I have heard that you never even read
the address of a letter to be sent off, or the post-mark of one to be
delivered. Now I call that a high sense of honour."

    "Just decency
    It seems to me,"

broke in the poet.

Johanson did not seem to notice the interruption, but went on: "Now you
keep anything you suspect about me, anything you can't understand in my
ways, just as secret as if it were written on the back of a letter. You
will, I am sure. So now let us shake hands upon it." They did, and were
established as better friends than before.

The weather had become extremely cold, but the poorhouse poet went on
his rounds, persisting in being dressed as in the autumn.

It had been snowing all night, and the cold was excessive. Johanson was
awakened by an unusual chill in the air. A long point of snow lay along
the floor of his room, as it had drifted in under the not over-tight
door. He dressed and hurried out. The vestibule was one snow-bank, and
the outside door was wide open. He pushed his way into the poet's room.
It was empty. It was plain that the poor fellow had been out on his
usual rounds, and had not returned to put up the outer bars, as was his
nightly custom; for the old locks were not to be relied upon. He
probably had not been able to force his way through the heavy drifts and
the wild storm which was still raging.

The cellar-master was a late sleeper. He woke now to see Johanson
hurrying about, evidently making ready for a trip.

"What are you doing? You are letting the cold in here, sir," said the
old fellow, only half awake.

"The poet is missing. He didn't come home last night. I shall go and
look him up. Have you any whisky? You have, I know. I saw Gull bring you
in a bottle last night. Let me have it, will you?"

"Yes; a pull will keep you up," was the answer.

"I don't want it for me," said Johanson hastily; "it has pulled me down
low enough. I'll never taste it again. But that poor fellow, he may need
it, if I find him."

"You are not going to risk yourself out looking for _him_!" said the
cellar-master, now fairly awake. "_You_ are right down crazy. Quiet
yourself. He'll be coming in soon, and making rhymes about his trip. You
don't look over hearty. I should think you would be afraid to risk it."

"Afraid!" said Johanson. "Have you ever been in a tornado? Have you been
in an earthquake? Have you been out in a blizzard, with no house within
miles?"

"No, no, no!" was the threefold reply.

"I've tried them all," said Johanson, "and I am not afraid of a little
snow. Lend me your stick, and I'm off."

Off he was, but not to return through the long morning. Towards noon, a
party who had been out with a snow-plough and a sledge came back,
bearing two bodies carefully covered.

The poet was still and white. He had been found lying under a rock, in a
tiny natural cave. On a ledge near him, in some lightly-sifted snow, he
had traced with his finger:--

    "I must be ill,
    I've such a chill.
    Here I'll die,
    Nobody by.
    Who'll cry?
    Not I!
    The bag'll be found,
    It's safe and sound.
    There'll be no snow
    Where I shall go;
    There'll be no storm,
    It will be warm.
    Good-night!
    Good-night!"

It was good-night indeed for the poorhouse poet. In his pocket was found
a worn scrap of paper, on which was pencilled his simple creed:--

    "The tickets buy
    For when we die,
    For where we go
    We fix below.
    Death clears the track;
    We can't come back!

    "Somehow, I guess,
    If we confess,
    And say, 'Forgive!'
    Up there we'll live.
      Conductors quail,
      And kings prevail.
    When God has said,
    'Alive or dead,
    I own that man,'
    He save him can."

In Johanson there still was life. He had been found lying close to the
dead poet, as if trying to share with him his little remaining vital
warmth. The doctor, the pastor's wife, and Gull were soon doing all that
was possible to call him back to life. In a few days he was almost well,
for broken down though he was, he still had some of the vigour of his
naturally strong constitution.

The funeral was over. Johanson was apparently dozing, lying on his sofa,
now in its form for the day; while Gull and the cellar-master were
chatting together in low, whispering tones.

Gull, who had prepared the body of the poorhouse poet for interment, now
talked over all the items of the expense with evident satisfaction, and
concluded by saying, "It was a beautiful corpse. It really was a
pleasure to lay him out, he looked so sweet and quiet when it was all
done."

The cellar-master, who had been helped into a sleigh to attend, remarked
that it was a charming funeral; he did not know when he had enjoyed
himself so much as on the late occasion.

"What luck he had to come in for the bell!" said Gull; "he was just in
the nick of time. It was really quite a grand funeral, with the three
coffins--the baby and the old woman and our young man--and the mourners
for all. The pastor did it beautiful too, and the bell sounded so
solemn. It is, of course, another thing when the big bell is rung for
some high body that is carried out. We may be thankful that we have the
little bell rung once a week for poor folks' funerals in this parish; it
is not so everywhere."

"It would seem more solemn to see the pastor in his black gloves if he
didn't wear them always," said the cellar-master. "Why does he do it? I
never happened to meet anybody that knew. He's still-like himself, and
nobody likes to ask him questions. Some people say it is to make him
look grand with fine folks, and to kind of put down them that have bare
hands used to work."

"Don't you know about his hands?" asked Gull, with surprise. "I've known
it so many years, it seems as if everybody must have heard that."

"I don't happen to have inquired into the matter," said the
cellar-master, somewhat humiliated. "I have never been one to gossip."

"Why, I was there when it happened," broke out Gull, eager to tell her
story to a new listener. "He was stable-boy when I was housemaid at the
major's. My lady was sitting in the carriage one day, and Lars--we
called him Lars then--was standing holding the horses. My lady had sent
the coachman in for his cape, for it was getting cold--just like her.
The horses took fright at a travelling music-man who came along, and
must begin just then to play. Off they started full run, dragging Lars,
who hung on to the reins until they stopped. He'd have held on to those
reins, I'm sure, till he died (what he began he always stuck to); and my
lady sitting there in the carriage half scared to death. The fingers on
his left hand were cut to the bones. They were long healing, and a sight
to be seen then at the best. The right wasn't much better, dragged along
the road as it had been. My lady always liked Lars after that. He had
always been for reading; and when he took it into his head he wanted to
be a priest, she helped him, and other folks helped him too. He changed
his name, as poor fellows do when they go to Upsala. When my lady and
the major were taken off so sudden with the fever, he kept on at his
learning. He wouldn't have given up if he'd had to starve. But he
didn't, for one way and another he got on. And then what a wife he
picked up, and a little money with her too; not that it's enough to wipe
out old scores. Those Upsala debts hang after him, as they have after
many another. He's got them all in one hand now, they say, so that he
hasn't to pay on them more than once a year, and that time is just
coming on. You can see it in him as well as you can see in the west when
there'll be snow next morning. He's rubbed through so far, but it sits
heavy. I'm not in their kitchen for an odd bit of work now and then for
nothing. I see what I see, and I hear what I hear. Beda is lonely like,
and she's pleased to have somebody to talk out to. What if the pastor
and his wife should find out who's who!" she continued, pointing over
her shoulder at the supposed sleeper.

The cellar-master gave a stupid look at her mysterious face.

"That's the major's son over there," she whispered--"Alf, who ran off
and never came back. I must tell somebody, if I should die for it. But
you mustn't breathe it to a living soul."

"Not that beautiful young fellow! No, no; you don't make me believe
that. Don't I remember him? This one isn't a bit like him--an ugly,
worthless-looking old tramp. He was a wild chap, Alf. My wife used to
tell me it was a shame to let him come there and drink--drink down a
glass as if he couldn't swallow it quick enough, and then another, and
then go out to the stable-boy, who was there to help him home. But
that's not Alf. I'd know that handsome fellow anywhere among a million."

"But that _is_ Alf," she whispered. "When he was almost frozen to death,
the doctor told me to open his breast and rub him well; and I did. But
what did I find there, hanging on to a black string, but his mother's
picture, in a little locket she gave him when he was a little fellow;
and he was so fond of it then he would wear it outside his clothes,
where everybody could see, he said. He's willing enough to hide it now;
he don't want to shame such parents, and that's the only good thing I
see about him. I found it out, and I know it; but I won't tell anybody
but you."

"That's Alf! And I helped to make him so! My wife said I'd rue the day.
Now I do. It's very fine to be called 'cellar-master' when you sit fast
in the poorhouse; but it's a bad business dragging people down. Think
what Alf was and see what he is! I don't want to talk any more to-day.
You go, Gull. I've got something to think about."

Johanson, lost in his own thoughts, had not noticed the whispered
conversation till his own name of the past was mentioned. After that, in
bitter repentance he heard the galling words that penetrated his inmost
soul. Now he understood Gull's new politeness to him, and the kindly
willingness with which she saved him in his degradation, for his
mother's sake. She could not treat him like a common tenant of the
poorhouse, and he was sure she would keep his secret. With the
cellar-master it might be a different thing. That his companions knew
him was an added humiliation. He had deserved it all; but there was One
who had called Himself the Friend of sinners, and that Friend had
received even him, a poor prodigal who had returned to his Father's
house.



CHAPTER VII.

A HAPPY CHRISTMAS.


The pastor had fallen into the pleasant habit of having his wife with
him when he wrote his sermons. Alone in the morning he made his
researches and his copious notes for his compilation. In the evening he
talked over with his wife the subject in hand, before the work of
writing really began. She found him one night, shortly before Christmas,
sitting dolorously before his table covered with papers, while an
unusual cloud overshadowed his face.

"I cannot even think how to begin, wife," he said; "my thoughts will run
in quite another direction. I feel all the weight of the new year upon
me. Those old debts of mine, that I can never hope to clear off, hang
upon me like a hopeless weight. A few years less at Upsala, and a good
deal less debt, would have been a far better preparation for such a
parish as this."

The pastor's wife was not at all cast down by this sorrowful lament. It
had long been a familiar strain to her. She answered cheerily,--

"You had nothing to do with the arrangements as to what you were to
learn at Upsala, and how long you must be there. You worked hard, and
denied yourself almost the necessaries of life, as you well know. Now
you are here and at your higher mission, which _must_ be faithfully
performed. So you will have to throw all these cares overboard. Just
when we are to remember that 'God so loved the world,' we must not
forget that He loves us still, every one of us. We here in this little
parsonage are under His care, and He is not going to let us have burdens
heavier than we can bear. We live simply enough; there is no faring
'sumptuously every day' here, as all the parish knows. I have thought
out a little help. We will not give each other anything for Christmas.
If gifts are but an expression of love, we do not need that kind of
expression between us. For Elsa I have made a big rag doll, dressed in a
fine peasant dress, from the scraps in my piece-bag. We will have a
little Christmas-tree on a table for a variety, and I have put tinsel
round nuts to hang upon it with the pretty red apples from the garden;
and as to candles, we have enough left from last year. We will all learn
that beautiful carol we had sent us by mail yesterday. Our good Beda,
she must not be disappointed. I have my uncle's last present to me in
money, which I shall share with her, and give her the dress from my aunt
that I have not yet made up for myself. The rest of aunty's present will
do to make Christmas cheery for the poorhouse people and the
hard-pinched folks in the parish, who look for a little from us at this
time. So now all those troublesome matters are blown away. As for the
interest on the old debts, that is not to be paid until January; and we
will leave that to the loving Lord, who has given us so many blessings,
and see now after the sermon with cheerful, thankful hearts. Come, dear;
now I am ready to hear about it."

And they did begin on the sermon, and it was the best the pastor had
ever written. Something of the sweet cheerfulness and loving gratitude
of the wife had made its way among the sound theological quotations and
the judicious condensations. There was new life in the whole, which now
came really from the pastor's uplifted soul, and would find its way to
the stirred hearts of the hearers.

Christmas morning came, and little Elsa was early at the poorhouse. She
had a present for Johanson. It was but a bit of work on perforated
paper, done by her own hands--a lamb outlined in gay silk; but it was a
_lamb_, and she felt that meant something between her and Johanson, and
it did.

He was moved when he took it, and thanked her with good wishes for
Christmas from the depths of his heart.

"I am so happy, Johanson," she said, "for papa and mamma are so glad. I
heard them say, 'Now the past is all wiped away, and we can begin the
new year as free from care as the birds.' I have often heard mamma say
that the past is all, all wiped away when we are sorry for what we have
done and want to do better, and I am always so glad about that. But
this, I am sure, meant something different; for they said something
about a letter, and then they looked together at a paper as if they
could kiss it, and said, 'We must thank God for it, and ask Him to bless
an unknown friend with His best blessings.' And they just talked to God
where they sat, as they do sometimes. Papa has been sorrowful lately,
but he really looked to-day like mamma when she is the happiest."

The child had found Johanson bowed, sitting with his head in his hands,
while his thoughts were far back in his sinful, sorrowful past. He had
felt as if he had hardly a right to welcome the day when the Saviour was
born. Now his face beamed with joy; but he only said, "I am glad you are
all so happy. I am sure you will be pleased again when you see something
in church to-day."

Many weeks before Christmas, Johanson had asked permission to go into
the church, and to have a tall ladder carried in with him. The pastor
was astonished at the request. The permission had been granted. No
results of the matter had, however, appeared. The same permission had
been given the day before. There had been some hammering then, he
understood, but had no misgivings in the matter, as he had begun to
trust Johanson as an upright, honest man.

There were surprise and delight on all faces when they entered the
church for the early service on Christmas morning. Of course there was a
perfect blaze of light within, but that they had expected. The golden
cross was gone; the red curtain had disappeared; the old picture, now
but a ragged canvas, had been removed, and in its place was a beautiful
painting. It represented the Lord Jesus, sitting with a glory round His
benign countenance, welcoming a penitent, weary pilgrim from afar, who
knelt to receive His blessing. Below was the legend, "Him that cometh to
Me I will in no wise cast out."

The carol that was sung was the same that the pastor's wife had chosen
to be used at the lighting of the tree in her own home the evening
before. The rural choir had practised it well, and it sounded out over
the old church like angelic music.

At the first notes Johanson started and covered his face with his hands.
A moment later, though he held no notes to follow, his beautiful voice
rang out loud and clear and in full harmony with the other singers.

When the service was over, there was a crowd lingering in the aisles,
praising and admiring the beautiful picture and the new carol; but
Johanson was soon alone in the poorhouse, with "Hosanna! hosanna!" in
his heart.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE BEATA CHARITY.


Gull had come to the cellar-master with a choice bit of news to tell. A
stranger had bought the land where the major's home and stood, and
buildings were to be put up there immediately. The long lonely spot was
soon a busy scene, as the architect, with plans in hand, was hurrying
about among the skilful workmen.

Whoever would, might hear where the new poorhouse was to stand, and
where the orphan home, and know that the little red cottage, just like
any other, was for a musical composer, who must have one large room
built with special care and according to all the most scientific
acoustic rules; for there he was to have a fine organ, which was now
being constructed in the most particular manner. "I want to call it all
'The Beata Charity,' for Beata was my mother's name," Johanson had said
to the pastor, who was now in his full confidence. They knew each other
as the Alf and Lars of the olden time. They knew each other now as
forgiven sinners, each striving in his own way to work for the glory of
the Master's kingdom. Each felt that he was indebted to the other. The
stable-boy's words, "The duties are the same whether you make the
promises or not," had lingered in the mind of the wanderer in the midst
of the lowest depths of sin, and had brought him home at last to try _to
make the promises firmly resolved to keep them_.

The methodical, authorized, ordained, instructed, conscientious priest
had learned from a repentant sinner to bow at the foot of the Cross, and
thank God for the Saviour who could forgive him his poor, blind, cold,
self-satisfied service of the past, and wake him to penitence and love,
and humble, grateful faithfulness in his sacred office.

Johanson's work in the poorhouse on his music-paper had been the solace
of those long, dark penitential hours. His alternations between deep
depression and dawning hope, and at last his full, deep conviction that
there was pardon for all in the abundant mercy of God through Christ,
had been expressed in the musical compositions that had made their way
over the length and breadth of the land.

Many of them were linked with old familiar sacred words; for others,
some master-poet must be warmed to write their language in glowing
verse.

"The white-haired pauper," as Johanson was called throughout the whole
country, had his satisfaction in his life-long incognito. He felt that
he had cast aside his old name and old privileges to be a worthless
wanderer, and had but returned to repent and be forgiven. He would,
himself forgotten and unknown, praise and serve as God had given him
ability.

The grand-uncle in America, so munificent for Alf's confirmation day,
had always cherished a hope of the prodigal's reformation. Only when in
desperate need had Alf applied to him, and had never been refused
assistance. Dying, the old man had left a will bequeathing his large
fortune to his grand-nephew, in the firm belief that Alf, having run his
wild career, would find his way to his native land, to lead a faithful
Christian life, and be the centre of wide benevolent enterprises.

The hopes and wishes and prayers of the uncle were fulfilled. The
white-haired pauper lived to see the results of his efforts, and to
know that many who starving had been fed, or sinning reclaimed, or
suffering ministered unto, were calling down blessings on his unworthy
head.

From the pastor and his wife and Elsa Alf had sympathy and aid in all
his undertakings, and their friendship was cemented by common work for
the common good.

The cellar-master did not live to have a place in the new poorhouse.
Gull had her own trial in the midst of the comforts of her old age, that
she must still keep the secret that the celebrated composer and wide
philanthropist was her beloved "major's" long-lost son.


THE END.





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