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´╗┐Title: Elsket - 1891
Author: Page, Thomas Nelson, 1853-1922
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Elsket - 1891" ***

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ELSKET

By Thomas Nelson Page

1891



I.

     "The knife hangs loose in the sheath."
     --Old Norsk Proverb.

I spent a month of the summer of 188- in Norway--"Old Norway"--and a
friend of mine, Dr. John Robson, who is as great a fisherman as he is a
physician, and knows that I love a stream where the trout and I can meet
each other alone, and have it out face to face, uninterrupted by any
interlopers, did me a favor to which I was indebted for the experience
related below. He had been to Norway two years before, and he let me
into the secret of an unexplored region between the Nord Fiord and the
Romsdal. I cannot give the name of the place, because even now it has
not been fully explored, and he bound me by a solemn promise that I
would not divulge it to a single soul, actually going to the length of
insisting on my adding a formal oath to my affirmation. This I consented
to because I knew that my friend was a humorous man, and also because
otherwise he positively refused to inform me where the streams were
about which he had been telling such fabulous fish stories. "No," he
said, "some of those ------ cattle who think they own the earth and have
a right to fool women at will and know how to fish, will be poking in
there, worrying Olaf and Elsket, and ruining the fishing, and I'll be
------ if I tell you unless you make oath." My friend is a swearing
man, though he says he swears for emphasis, not blasphemy, and on this
occasion he swore with extreme solemnity. I saw that he was in earnest,
so made affidavit and was rewarded.

"Now," he said, after inquiring about my climbing capacity in a way
which piqued me, and giving me the routes with a particularity which
somewhat mystified me, "Now I will write a letter to Olaf of the
Mountain and to Elsket. I once was enabled to do them a slight service,
and they will receive you. It will take him two or three weeks to get
it, so you may have to wait a little. You must wait at L---- until Olaf
comes down to take you over the mountain. You may be there when he gets
the letter, or you may have to wait for a couple of weeks, as he does
not come over the mountain often. However, you can amuse yourself around
L----; only you must always be on hand every night in case Olaf comes."

Although this appeared natural enough to the doctor, it sounded rather
curious to me, and it seemed yet more so when he added, "By the way, one
piece of advice: don't talk about England to Elsket, and don't ask any
questions."

"Who is Elsket?" I asked.

"A daughter of the Vikings, poor thing," he said.

My curiosity was aroused, but I could get nothing further out of him,
and set it down to his unreasonable dislike of travelling Englishmen,
against whom, for some reason, he had a violent antipathy, declaring
that they did not know how to treat women nor how to fish. My friend has
a custom of speaking very strongly, and I used to wonder at the violence
of his language, which contrasted strangely with his character; for he
was the kindest-hearted man I ever knew, being a true follower of his
patron saint, old Isaac, giving his sympathy to all the unfortunate, and
even handling his frogs as if he loved them.

Thus it was that on the afternoon of the seventh day of July, 188-,
having, for purposes of identification, a letter in my pocket to "Olaf
of the Mountain from his friend Dr. Robson," I stood, in the rain in
the so-called "street" of L----, on the ------ Fiord, looking over the
bronzed feces of the stolid but kindly peasants who lounged silently
around, trying to see if I could detect in one a resemblance to the
picture I had formed in my mind of "Olaf of the Mountain," or could
discern in any eye a gleam of special interest to show that its
possessor was on the watch for an expected guest.

There was none in whom I could discover any indication that he was not
a resident of the straggling little settlement. They all stood quietly
about gazing at me and talking in low tones among themselves, chewing
tobacco or smoking their pipes, as naturally as if they were in Virginia
or Kentucky, only, if possible, in a somewhat more ruminant manner. It
gave me the single bit of home feeling I could muster, for it was, I
must confess, rather desolate standing alone in a strange land, under
those beetling crags, with the clouds almost resting on our heads,
and the rain coming down in a steady, wet, monotonous fashion. The
half-dozen little dark log or frame-houses, with their double windows
and turf roofs, standing about at all sorts of angles to the road, as if
they had rolled down the mountain like the great bowlders beyond them,
looked dark and cheerless. I was weak enough to wish for a second that
I had waited a few days for the rainy spell to be over, but two little
bareheaded children, coming down the road laughing and chattering,
recalled me to myself. They had no wrapping whatever, and nothing on
their heads but their soft flaxen hair, yet they minded the rain no more
than if they had been ducklings. I saw that these people were used to
rain. It was the inheritance of a thousand years. Something, however,
had to be done, and I recognized the fact that I was out of the beaten
track of tourists, and that if I had to stay here a week, on the
prudence of my first step depended the consideration I should receive.
It would not do to be hasty. I had a friend with me which had stood me
in good stead before, and I applied to it now. Walking slowly up to the
largest, and one of the oldest men in the group, I drew out my pipe and
a bag of old Virginia tobacco, free from any flavor than its own, and
filling the pipe, I asked him for a light in the best phrase-book
Norsk I could command. He gave it, and I placed the bag in his hand and
motioned him to fill his pipe. When that was done I handed the pouch to
another, and motioned him to fill and pass the tobacco around. One by
one they took it, and I saw that I had friends. No man can fill his pipe
from another's bag and not wish him well.

"Does any of you know Olaf of the Mountain?" I asked. I saw at once that
I had made an impression. The mention of that name was evidently a claim
to consideration. There was a general murmur of surprise, and the group
gathered around me. A half-dozen spoke at once.

"He was at L---- last week," they said, as if that fact was an item of
extensive interest.

"I want to go there," I said, and then was, somehow, immediately
conscious that I had made a mistake. Looks were exchanged and some words
were spoken among my friends, as if they were oblivious of my presence.

"You cannot go there. None goes there but at night," said one,
suggestively.

"Who goes over the mountain comes no more," said another, as if he
quoted a proverb, at which there was a faint intimation of laughter on
the part of several.

My first adviser undertook a long explanation, but though he labored
faithfully I could make out no more than that it was something about
"Elsket" and "the Devil's Ledge," and men who had disappeared. This was
a new revelation. What object had my friend? He had never said a word
of this. Indeed, he had, I now remembered, said very little at all about
the people. He had exhausted his eloquence on the fish. I recalled his
words when I asked him about Elsket: "She is a daughter of the Vikings,
poor thing." That was all. Had he been up to a practical joke? If so, it
seemed rather a sorry one to me just then. But anyhow I could not draw
back now. I could never face him again if I did not go on, and what was
more serious, I could never face myself.

I was weak enough to have a thought that, after all, the mysterious Olaf
might not come; but the recollection of the fish of which my friend
had spoken as if they had been the golden fish of the "Arabian Nights,"
banished that. I asked about the streams around L----. "Yes, there was
good fishing." But they were all too anxious to tell me about the danger
of going over the mountain to give much thought to the fishing. "No
one without Olafs blood could cross the Devil's Ledge." "Two men had
disappeared three years ago." "A man had disappeared there last year. He
had gone, and had never been heard of afterward. The Devil's Ledge was a
bad pass."

"Why don't they look into the matter?" I asked.

The reply was as near a shrug of the shoulders as a Norseman can
accomplish.

"It was not easy to get the proof; the mountain was very dangerous,
the glacier very slippery; there were no witnesses," etc. "Olaf of the
Mountain was not a man to trouble."

"He hates Englishmen," said one, significantly.

"I am not an Englishman, I am an American," I explained.

This had a sensible effect. Several began to talk at once. One had a
brother in Idaho, another had cousins in Nebraska, and so on.

The group had by this time been augmented by the addition of almost
the entire population of the settlement; one or two rosy-cheeked women,
having babies in their arms, standing in the rain utterly regardless of
the steady downpour.

It was a propitious time. "Can I get a place to stay here?" I inquired
of the group generally.

"Yes,--oh, yes." There was a consultation in which the name of "Hendrik"
was heard frequently, and then a man stepped forward and taking up my
bag and rod-case, walked off, I following, escorted by a number of my
new friends.

I had been installed in Hendrik's little house about an hour, and we had
just finished supper, when there was a murmur outside, and then the door
opened, and a young man stepping in, said something so rapidly that I
understood only that it concerned Olaf of the Mountain, and in some way
myself.

"Olaf of the Mountain is here and wants to speak to you," said my host.
"Will you go?"

"Yes," I said. "Why does he not come in?"

"He will not come in," said my host; "he never does come in."

"He is at the church-yard," said the messenger; "he always stops there."
They both spoke broken English.

I arose and went out, taking the direction indicated. A number of my
friends stood in the road or street as I passed along, and touched their
caps to me, looking very queer in the dim twilight. They gazed at me
curiously as I walked by.

I turned the corner of a house which stood half in the road, and just
in front of me, in its little yard, was the little white church with its
square, heavy, short spire. At the gate stood a tall figure, perfectly
motionless, leaning on a long staff. As I approached I saw that he was
an elderly man. He wore a long beard, once yellow but now gray, and he
looked very straight and large. There was something grand about him as
he stood there in the dusk.

I came quite up to him. He did not move.

"Good-evening," I said.

"Good-evening."

"Are you Mr. Hovedsen?" I asked, drawing out my letter.

"I am Olaf of the Mountain," he said slowly, as if his name embraced the
whole title.

I handed him the letter.

"You are----?"

"I am----" taking my cue from his own manner.

"The friend of her friend?"

"His great friend."

"Can you climb?"

"I can."

"Are you steady?"

"Yes."

"It is well; are you ready?"

I had not counted on this, and involuntarily I asked, in some surprise,
"To-night?"

"To-night. You cannot go in the day."

I thought of the speech I had heard: "No one goes over the mountain
except at night," and the ominous conclusion, "Who goes over the
mountain comes no more." My strange host, however, diverted my thoughts.

"A stranger cannot go except at night," he said, gravely; and then
added, "I must get back to watch over Elsket."

"I shall be ready in a minute," I said, turning.

In ten minutes I had bade good-by to my simple hosts, and leaving them
with a sufficient evidence of my consideration to secure their lasting
good-will, I was on my way down the street again with my light luggage
on my back. This time the entire population of the little village was in
the road, and as I passed along I knew by their murmuring conversation
that they regarded my action with profound misgiving. I felt, as I
returned their touch of the cap and bade them good-by, a little like the
gladiators of old who, about to die, saluted Caesar.

At the gate my strange guide, who had not moved from the spot where I
first found him, insisted on taking my luggage, and buckling his straps
around it and flinging it over his back, he handed me his stick, and
without a word strode off straight toward the black mountain whose vast
wall towered above us to the clouds.

I shall never forget that climb.

We were hardly out of the road before we began to ascend, and I had
shortly to stop for breath. My guide, however, if silent was thoughtful,
and he soon caught my gait and knew when to pause. Up through the dusk
we went, he guiding me now by a word telling me how to step, or now
turning to give me his hand to help me up a steep place, over a large
rock, or around a bad angle. For a time we had heard the roar of the
torrent as it boiled below us, but as we ascended it had gradually
hushed, and we at length were in a region of profound silence. The night
was cloudy, and as dark as it ever is in midsummer in that far
northern latitude; but I knew that we were climbing along the edge of
a precipice, on a narrow ledge of rock along the face of the cliff. The
vast black wall above us rose sheer up, and I could feel rather than
see that it went as sheer down, though my sight could not penetrate the
darkness which filled the deep abyss below. We had been climbing about
three hours when suddenly the ledge seemed to die out. My guide stopped,
and unwinding his rope from his waist, held it out to me. I obeyed
his silent gesture, and binding it around my body gave him the end. He
wrapped it about him, and then taking me by the arm, as if I had been
a child, he led me slowly along the narrow ledge around the face of the
wall, step by step, telling me where to place my feet, and waiting till
they were firmly planted. I began now to understand why no one ever went
"over the mountain" in the day. We were on a ledge nearly three thousand
feet high. If it had not been for the strong, firm hold on my arm, I
could not have stood it. As it was I dared not think. Suddenly we turned
a sharp angle and found ourselves in a curious semicircular place,
almost level and fifty or sixty feet deep in the concave, as if a great
piece had been gouged out of the mountain by the glacier which must once
have been there.

"This is a curious place," I ventured to say.

"It is," said my guide. "It is the Devil's Seat. Men have died here."

His tone was almost fierce. I accepted his explanation silently. We
passed the singular spot and once more were on the ledge, but except
in one place it was not so narrow as it had been the other side of the
Devil's Seat, and in fifteen minutes we had crossed the summit and the
path widened a little and began to descend.

"You do well," said my guide, briefly, "but not so well as Doctor John."
I was well content with being ranked a good second to the doctor just
then.

The rain had ceased, the sky had partly cleared, and, as we began to
descend, the early twilight of the northern dawn began to appear. First
the sky became a clear steel-gray and the tops of the mountains became
visible, the dark outlines beginning to be filled in, and taking on a
soft color. This lightened rapidly, until on the side facing east they
were bathed in an atmosphere so clear and transparent that they seemed
almost within a stone's throw of us, while the other side was still
left in a shadow which was so deep as to be almost darkness. The gray
lightened and lightened into pearl until a tinge of rose appeared, and
then the sky suddenly changed to the softest blue, and a little later
the snow-white mountain-tops were bathed in pink, and it was day.

I could see in the light that we were descending into a sort of upland
hollow between the snow-patched mountain-tops; below us was a lovely
little valley in which small pines and birches grew, and patches of the
green, short grass which stands for hay shone among the great bowlders.
Several little streams came jumping down as white as milk from the
glaciers stuck between the mountain-tops, and after resting in two
or three tiny lakes which looked like hand-mirrors lying in the grass
below, went bubbling and foaming on to the edge of the precipice, over
which they sprang, to be dashed into vapor and snow hundreds of feet
down. A half-dozen sheep and as many goats were feeding about in the
little valley; but I could not see the least sign of a house, except a
queer, brown structure, on a little knoll, with many gables and peaks,
ending in the curious dragon-pennants, which I recognized as one of the
old Norsk wooden churches of a past age.

When, however, an hour later, we had got down to the table-land, I found
myself suddenly in front of a long, quaint, double log cottage, set
between two immense bowlders, and roofed with layers of birch bark,
covered with turf, which was blue with wild pansies. It was as if
it were built under a bed of heart's-ease. It was very old, and had
evidently been a house of some pretension, for there was much curious
carving about the doors, and indeed about the whole front, the dragon's
head being distinctly visible in the design. There were several lesser
houses which looked as if they had once been dwellings, but they seemed
now to be only stables. As we approached the principal door it was
opened, and there stepped forth one of the most striking figures I
ever saw--a young woman, rather tall, and as straight as an arrow.
My friend's words involuntarily recurred to me, "A daughter of the
Vikings," and then, somehow, I too had the feeling he had expressed,
"Poor thing!" Her figure was one of the richest and most perfect I ever
beheld. Her face was singularly beautiful; but it was less her beauty
than her nobility of look and mien combined with a certain sadness which
impressed me. The features were clear and strong and perfectly carved.
There was a firm mouth, a good jaw, strong chin, a broad brow, and deep
blue eyes which looked straight at you. Her expression was so soft and
tender as to have something pathetic in it. Her hair was flaxen, and as
fine as satin, and was brushed perfectly smooth and coiled on the back
of her shapely head, which was placed admirably on her shoulders.
She was dressed in the coarse, black-blue stuff of the country, and
a kerchief, also dark blue, was knotted under her chin, and fell back
behind her head, forming a dark background for her silken hair.

Seeing us she stood perfectly still until we drew near, when she made
a quaint, low courtesy and advanced to meet her father with a look of
eager expectancy in her large eyes.

"Elsket," he said, with a tenderness which conveyed the full meaning of
the sweet pet term, "darling."

There was something about these people, peasants though they were, which
gave me a strange feeling of respect for them.

"This is Doctor John's friend," said the old man, quietly.

She looked at her father in a puzzled way for a moment, as if she had
not heard him, but as he repeated his introduction a light came into her
eyes, and coming up to me she held out her hand, saying, "Welcome."

Then turning to her father--"Have you a letter for me, father?" she
asked.

"No, Elsket," he said, gently; "but I will go again next month."

A cloud settled on her face and increased its sadness, and she turned
her head away. After a moment she went into the house and I saw that she
was weeping. A look of deep dejection came over the old man's face also.



II.

I found that my friend, "Doctor John," strange to relate of a fisherman,
had not exaggerated the merits of the fishing. How they got there, two
thousand feet above the lower valley, I don't know; but trout fairly
swarmed in the little streams, which boiled among the rocks, and they
were as greedy as if they had never seen a fly in their lives. I shortly
became contemptuous toward anything under three pounds, and addressed
myself to the task of defending my flies against the smaller ones, and
keeping them only for the big fellows, which ran over three pounds--the
patriarchs of the streams. With these I had capital sport, for they knew
every angle and hole, they sought every coign of vantage, and the rocks
were so thick and so sharp that from the time one of these veterans took
the fly, it was an equal contest which of us should come off victorious.
I was often forced to rush splashing and floundering through the water
to my waist to keep my line from being sawed, and as the water was
not an hour from the green glaciers above, it was not always entirely
pleasant.

I soon made firm friends with my hosts, and varied the monotony of
catching three-pounders by helping them get in their hay for the
winter. Elsket, poor thing, was, notwithstanding her apparently splendid
physique, so delicate that she could no longer stand the fatigue of
manual labor, any extra exertion being liable to bring on a recurrence
of the heart-failure, from which she had suffered. I learned that she
had had a violent hemorrhage two summers before, from which she had come
near dying, and that the skill of my friend, the doctor, had doubtless
saved her life. This was the hold he had on Olaf of the Mountain: this
was the "small service" he had rendered them.

By aiding them thus, I was enabled to be of material assistance to Olaf,
and I found in helping these good people, that work took on once more
the delight which I remembered it used to have under like circumstances
when I was a boy. I could cut or carry on my back loads of hay all day,
and feel at night as if I had been playing. Such is the singular effect
of the spirit on labor.

To make up for this, Elsket would sometimes, when I went fishing, take
her knitting and keep me company, sitting at a little distance. With her
pale, calm face and shining hair outlined against the background of her
sad-colored kerchief, she looked like a mourning angel. I never saw her
smile except when her father came into her presence, and when she smiled
it was as if the sun had suddenly come out. I began to understand the
devotion of these two strange people, so like and yet so different.

One rainy day she had a strange turn; she began to be restless. Her
large, sad eyes, usually so calm, became bright; the two spots in her
cheeks burned yet deeper; her face grew anxious. Then she laid her
knitting aside and took out of a great chest something on which she
began to sew busily. I was looking at her, when she caught my eye and
smiled. It was the first time she ever smiled for me. "Did you know I
was going to be married?" she asked, just as an American girl might have
done. And before I could answer, she brought me the work. It was her
wedding dress. "I have nearly finished it," she said. Then she brought
me a box of old silver ornaments, such as the Norsk brides wear, and put
them on. When I had admired them she put them away. After a little,
she arose and began to wander about the house and out into the rain. I
watched her with interest. Her father came in, and I saw a distressed
look come into his eyes. He went up to her, and laying his hand on her
drew her toward a seat. Then taking down an old Bible, he turned to a
certain place and began to read. He read first the Psalm: "Lord,
thou hast been our refuge, from one generation to another. Before the
mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth and the world were made,
thou art God from everlasting, and world without end." Then he turned
to the chapter of Corinthians, "Now is Christ risen from the dead, and
become the first-fruits of them that slept," etc. His voice was clear,
rich, and devout, and he read it with singular earnestness and beauty.
It gave me a strange feeling; it is a part of our burial service. Then
he opened his hymn-book and began to sing a low, dirge-like hymn. I sat
silent, watching the strange service and noting its effect on Elsket.
She sat at first like a person bound, struggling to be free, then became
quieter, and at last, perfectly calm. Then Olaf knelt down, and with his
hand still on her prayed one of the most touching prayers I ever heard.
It was for patience.

When he rose Elsket was weeping, and she went and leant in his arms like
a child, and he kissed her as tenderly as if he had been her mother.

Next day, however, the same excited state recurred, and this time the
reading appeared to have less effect. She sewed busily, and insisted
that there must be a letter for her at L----. A violent fit of weeping
was followed by a paroxysm of coughing, and finally the old man, who had
sat quietly by her with his hand stroking her head, arose and said, "I
will go." She threw herself into his arms, rubbing her head against him
in sign of dumb affection, and in a little while grew calm. It was still
raining and quite late, only a little before sunset; but the old
man went out, and taking the path toward L---- was soon climbing the
mountain toward the Devil's Seat. Elsket sat up all night, but she was
as calm and as gentle as ever.

The next morning when Olaf returned she went out to meet him. Her look
was full of eager expectancy. I did not go out, but watched her from the
door. I saw Olaf shake his head, and heard her say bitterly, "It is so
hard to wait," and he said, gently, "Yes, it is, Elsket, but I will go
again," and then she came in weeping quietly, the old man following with
a tender look on his strong, weather-beaten face.

That day Elsket was taken ill. She had been trying to do a little work
in the field in the afternoon, when a sinking spell had come on. It
looked for a time as if the poor overdriven heart had knocked off work
for good and all. Strong remedies, however, left by Doctor John, set it
going again, and we got her to bed. She was still desperately feeble,
and Olaf sat up. I could not leave him, so we were sitting watching, he
one side the open platform fireplace in one corner, and I the other; he
smoking, anxious, silent, grim; I watching the expression on his gray
face. His eyes seemed set back deeper than ever under the shaggy gray
brows, and as the firelight fell on him he had the fierce, hopeless look
of a caged eagle. It was late in the night before he spoke, and then it
was half to himself and but half to me.

"I have fought it ten long years," he said, slowly.

Not willing to break the thread of his thought by speaking, I lit my
pipe afresh and just looked at him. He received it as an answer.

"She is the last of them," he said, accepting me as an auditor rather
than addressing me. "We go back to Olaf Traetelje, the blood of Harold
Haarfager (the Fairhaired) is in our veins, and here it ends. Dane and
Swede have known our power, Saxon and Celt have bowed bare-headed to
us, and with her it ends. In this stronghold many times her fathers have
found refuge from their foes and gained breathing-time after battles
by sea and land. From this nest, like eagles, they have swooped down,
carrying all before them, and here, at last, when betrayed and hunted,
they found refuge. Here no foreign king could rule over them; here they
learnt the lesson that Christ is the only king, and that all men are his
brothers. Here they lived and worshipped him. If their dominions were
stolen from them they found here a truer wealth, content; if they had
not power, they had what was better, independence. For centuries they
held this last remnant of the dominion which Harold Haarfager had
conquered by land, and Eric of the Bloody Axe had won by sea, sending
out their sons and daughters to people the lands; but the race dwindled
as their lands had done before, and now with her dies the last. How has
it come? As ever, by betrayal!"

The old man turned fiercely, his breast heaving, his eyes burning.

"Was she who came of a race at whose feet jarls have crawled and
kings have knelt not good enough?" I was hearing the story and did
not interrupt him--"Not good enough for him!" he continued in his
low, fierce monotone. "I did not want him. What if he was a Saxon? His
fathers were our boatmen. Rather Cnut a thousand times. Then the race
would not have died. Then she would not be--not be so."

The reference to her recalled him to himself, and he suddenly relapsed
into silence.

"At least, Cnut paid the score," he began once more, in a low intense
undertone. "In his arms he bore him down from the Devil's Seat, a
thousand feet sheer on the hard ice, where his cursed body lies crushed
forever, a witness of his falsehood."

I did not interrupt, and he rewarded my patience, giving a more
connected account, for the first time addressing me directly.

"Her mother died when she was a child," he said, softly. His gentle
voice contrasted strangely with the fierce undertone in which he had
been speaking. "I was mother as well as father to her. She was as good
as she was beautiful, and each day she grew more and more so. She was a
second Igenborg. Knowing that she needed other companionship than an old
man, I sought and brought her Cnut (he spoke of him as if I must know
all about him). Cnut was the son of my only kinsman, the last of his
line as well, and he was tall and straight and strong. I loved him and
he was my son, and as he grew I saw that he loved her, and I was not
sorry, for he was goodly to look on, straight and tall as one of old,
and he was good also. And she was satisfied with him, and from a child
ordered him to do her girlish bidding, and he obeyed and laughed, well
content to have her smile. And he would carry her on his shoulder, and
take her on the mountain to slide, and would gather her flowers. And
I thought it was well. And I thought that in time they would marry and
have the farm, and that there would be children about the house, and the
valley might be filled with their voices as in the old time. And I was
content. And one day _he_ came! (the reference cost him an effort). Cnut
found him fainting on the mountain and brought him here in his arms. He
had come to the village alone, and the idle fools there had told him of
me, and he had asked to meet me, and they told him of the mountain, and
that none could pass the Devil's Ledge but those who had the old blood,
and that I loved not strangers; and he said he would pass it, and he had
come and passed safely the narrow ledge, and reached the Devil's Seat,
when a stone had fallen upon him, and Cnut had found him there fainting,
and had lifted him and brought him here, risking his own life to save
him on the ledge. And he was near to death for days, and she nursed him
and brought him from the grave.

"At first I was cold to him, but there was something about him that drew
me and held me. It was not that he was young and taller than Cnut, and
fair. It was not that his eyes were clear and full of light, and his
figure straight as a young pine. It was not that he had climbed the
mountain and passed the narrow ledge and the Devil's Seat alone, though
I liked well his act; for none but those who have Harold Haarfager's
blood have done it alone in all the years, though many have tried and
failed. I asked him what men called him, and he said, 'Harold;' then
laughing, said some called him, 'Harold the Fair-haired.' The answer
pleased me. There was something in the name which drew me to him. When
I first saw him I had thought of Harald Haarfager, and of Harald
Haardraarder, and of that other Harold, who, though a Saxon, died
bravely for his kingdom when his brother betrayed him, and I held out my
hand and gave him the clasp of friendship."

The old man paused, but after a brief reflection proceeded:

"We made him welcome and we loved him. He knew the world and could tell
us many-things. He knew the story of Norway and the Vikings, and the
Sagas were on his tongue. Cnut loved him and followed him, and she (the
pause which always indicated her who filled his thoughts)--she, then but
a girl, laughed and sang for him, and he sang for her, and his voice was
rich and sweet. And she went with him to fish and to climb, and often,
when Cnut and I were in the field, we would hear her laugh, clear and
fresh from the rocks beside the streams, as he told her some fine story
of his England. He stayed here a month and a week, and then departed,
saying he would come again next year, and the house was empty and silent
after he left. But after a time we grew used to it once more and the
winter came.

"When the spring returned we got a letter--a letter to her--saying he
would come again, and every two weeks another letter came, and I went
for it and brought it to--to her, and she read it to Cnut and me. And at
last he came and I went to meet him, and brought him here, welcome as
if he had been my eldest born, and we were glad. Cnut smiled and ran
forward and gave him his hand, and--she--she did not come at first,
but when she came she was clad in all that was her best, and wore her
silver--the things her mother and her grandmother had worn, and as she
stepped out of the door and saluted him, I saw for the first time that
she was a woman grown, and it was hard to tell which face was brighter,
hers or his, and Cnut smiled to see her so glad."

The old man relapsed into reflection. Presently, however, he resumed:

"This time he was gayer than before:--the summer seemed to come with
him. He sang to her and read to her from books that he had brought,
teaching her to speak English like himself, and he would go and fish up
the streams while she sat near by and talked to him. Cnut also learned
his tongue well, and I did also, but Cnut did not see so much of him as
before, for Cnut had to work, and in the evening they were reading and
she--she--grew more and more beautiful, and laughed and sang more. And
so the summer passed. The autumn came, but he did not go, and I was well
content, for she was happy, and, in truth, the place was cheerier that
he was here.

"Cnut alone seemed downcast, but I knew not why; and then the snow came.
One morning we awoke and the farm was as white as the mountains. I said
to him, 'Now you are here for the winter,' and he laughed and said, 'No,
I will stay till the new-year. I have business then in England, and I
must go.' And I turned, and her face was like sunshine, for she knew
that none but Cnut and I had ever passed the Devil's Ledge in the snow,
and the other way by which I took the Doctor home was worse then, though
easier in the summer, only longer. But Cnut looked gloomy, at which I
chid him; but he was silent. And the autumn passed rapidly, so cheerful
was he, finding in the snow as much pleasure as in the sunshine, and
taking her out to slide and race on shoes till she would come in with
her cheeks like roses in summer, and her eyes like stars, and she made
it warm where she was.

"And one evening they came home. He was gayer than ever, and she more
beautiful, but silenter than her wont. She looked like her mother the
evening I asked her to be my wife. I could not take my eyes from her.
That night Cnut was a caged wolf. At last he asked me to come out, and
then he told me that he had seen Harold kiss her and had heard him tell
her that he loved her, and she had not driven him away. My heart was
wrung for Cnut, for I loved him, and he wept like a child. I tried to
comfort him, but it was useless, and the next day he went away for a
time. I was glad to have him go, for I grieved for him, and I thought
she would miss him and be glad when he came again, and though the snow
was bad on the mountain he was sure as a wolf. He bade us good-by and
left with his eyes looking like a hurt dog's. I thought she would have
wept to have him go, but she did not. She gave him her hand and turned
back to Harold, and smiled to him when he smiled. It was the first time
in all her life that I had not been glad to have her smile, and I was
sorry Harold had stayed, and I watched Cnut climb the mountain like a
dark speck against the snow till he disappeared. She was so happy and
beautiful that I could not long be out with her, though I grieved for
Cnut, and when she came to me and told me one night of her great love
for Harold I forgot my own regret in her joy, and I said nothing to
Harold, because she told me he said that in his country it was not usual
for the father to be told or to speak to a daughter's lover.

"They were much taken up together after that, and I was alone, and
I missed Cnut sorely, and would have longed for him more but for her
happiness. But one day, when he had been gone two months, I looked over
the mountain, and on the snow I saw a black speck. It had not been there
before, and I watched it as it moved, and I knew it was Cnut.

"I said nothing until he came, and then I ran and met him. He was thin,
and worn, and older; but his eyes had a look in them which I thought was
joy at getting home; only they were not soft, and he looked taller than
when he left, and he spoke little. His eyes softened when she, hearing
his voice, came out and held out her hand to him, smiling to welcome
him; but he did not kiss her as kinsfolk do after long absence, and when
Harold came out the wolf-look came back into his eyes. Harold looked
not so pleased to see him, but held out his hand to greet him. But Cnut
stepped back, and suddenly drawing from his breast a letter placed it in
his palm, saying slowly, 'I have been to England, Lord Harold, and have
brought you this from your Lady Ethelfrid Penrith--they expect you to
your wedding at the New Year.' Harold turned as white as the snow under
his feet, and she gave a cry and fell full length on the ground.

"Cnut was the first to reach her, and lifting her in his arms he bore
her into the house. Harold would have seized her, but Cnut brushed him
aside as if he had been a barley-straw, and carried her and laid her
down. When she came to herself she did not remember clearly what had
happened. She was strange to me who was her father, but she knew him.
I could have slain him, but she called him. He went to her, and she
understood only that he was going away, and she wept. He told her it
was true that he had loved another woman and had promised to marry her,
before he had met her, but now he loved her better, and he would go home
and arrange everything and return; and she listened and clung to him. I
hated him and wanted him to go, but he was my guest, and I told him that
he could not go through the snow; but he was determined. It seemed as if
he wanted now to get away, and I was glad to have him go, for my child
was strange to me, and if he had deceived one woman I knew he might
another, and Cnut said that the letter he had sent by him before the
snow came was to say he would come in time to be married at the New
Year; and Cnut said he lived in a great castle and owned broad lands,
more than one could see from the whole mountain, and his people had
brought him in and asked him many questions of him, and had offered him
gold to bring the letter back, and he had refused the gold, and brought
it without the gold; and some said he had deceived more than one woman.
And Lord Harold went to get ready, and she wept, and moaned, and was
strange. And then Cnut went to her and told her of his own love for her,
and that he was loyal to her, but she waved him from her, and when he
asked her to marry him, for he loved her truly, she said him nay with
violence, so that he came forth into the air looking white as a leper.
And he sat down, and when I came out he was sitting on a stone, and had
his knife in his hand, looking at it with a dangerous gleam in his eyes;
and just then she arose and came out, and, seeing him sitting so with
his knife, she gave a start, and her manner changed, and going to him
she spoke softly to him for the first time, and made him yield her up
the knife; for she knew that the knife hung loose in the sheath. But
then she changed again and all her anger rose against Cnut, that he had
brought Harold the letter which carried him away, and Cnut sat saying
nothing, and his face was like stone. Then Lord Harold came and said
he was ready, and he asked Cnut would he carry his luggage. And Cnut at
first refused, and then suddenly looked him full in his face, and said,
'Yes.' And Harold entered the house to say good-by to her, and I heard
her weeping within, and my heart grew hard against the Englishman, and
Cnut's face was black with anger, and when Harold came forth I heard her
cry out, and he turned in the door and said he would return, and would
write her a letter to let her know when he would return. But he said it
as one speaks to a child to quiet it, not meaning it. And Cnut went in
to speak to her, and I heard her drive him out as if he had been a
dog, and he came forth with his face like a wolf's, and taking up Lord
Harold's luggage, he set out. And so they went over the mountain.

"And all that night she lay awake, and I heard her moaning, and all next
day she sat like stone, and I milked the goats, and her thoughts were on
the letters he would send.

"I spoke to her, but she spoke only of the letters to come, and I kept
silence, for I had seen that Lord Harold would come no more; for I had
seen him burn the little things she had given him, and he had taken
everything away, but I could not tell her so. And the days passed, and I
hoped that Cnut would come straight back; but he did not. It grieved me,
for I loved him, and hoped that he would return, and that in time she
would forget Lord Harold, and not be strange, but be as she had been to
Cnut before he came. Yet I thought it not wholly wonderful that Cnut did
not return at once, nor unwise; for she was lonely, and would sit all
day looking up the mountain, and when he came she would, I thought, be
glad to have him back.

"At the end of a week she began to urge me to go for a letter. But I
told her it could not come so soon; but when another week had passed she
began to sew, and when I asked her what she sewed, she said her bridal
dress, and she became so that I agreed to go, for I knew no letter would
come, and it broke my heart to see her. And when I was ready she
kissed me, and wept in my arms, and called me her good father; and so I
started.

"She stood in the door and watched me climb the mountain, and waved to
me almost gayly.

"The snow was deep, but I followed the track which Cnut and the
Englishman had made two weeks before, for no new snow had fallen, and I
saw that one track was ever behind the other, and never beside it, as if
Cnut had fallen back and followed behind him.

"And so I came near to the Devil's Seat, where it was difficult, and from
where Cnut had brought him in his arms that day, and then, for the first
time, I began to fear, for I remembered Cnut's look as he came from the
house when she waved him off, and it had been so easy for him with a
swing of his strong arm to have pushed the other over the cliff. But
when I saw that he had driven his stick in deep to hold hard, and that
the tracks went on beyond, I breathed freely again, and so I passed the
narrow path, and the black wall, and came to the Devil's Seat; and as I
turned the rock my heart stopped beating, and I had nearly fallen from
the ledge. For there, scattered and half-buried in the snow, lay the
pack Cnut had carried on his back, and the snow was all dug up and piled
about as if stags had been fighting there for their lives. From the
wall, across and back, were deep furrows, as if they were ploughed by
men's feet dug fiercely in; but they were ever deeper toward the edge,
and on one spot at the edge the snow was all torn clear from the black
rock, and beyond the seat the narrow path lay smooth, and bright, and
level as it had fallen, without a track. My knees shook under me, and I
clutched my stick for support, and everything grew black before me: and
presently I fell on my knees and crawled and peered over the edge. But
there was nothing to be seen, only where the wall slants sharp down for
a little space in one spot the snow was brushed away as if something had
struck there, and the black, smooth rock showed clean, cutting off the
sight from the glacier a thousand feet down."

The old man's breast heaved. It was evidently a painful narrative, but
he kept on.

"I sat down in the snow and thought; for I could not think at once. Cnut
had not wished to murder, or else he had flung the Englishman from the
narrow ledge with one blow of his strong arm. He had waited until they
had stood on the Devil's Seat, and then he had thrown off his pack and
faced him, man to man. The Englishman was strong and active, taller and
heavier than Cnut. He had Harald's name, but he had not Harald's heart
nor blood, and Cnut had carried him in his arms over the cliff, with his
false heart like water in his body.

"I sat there all day and into the night; for I knew that he would betray
no one more. I sorrowed for Cnut, for he was my very son. And after a
time I would have gone back to her, but I thought of her at home waiting
and watching for me with a letter, and I could not; and then I wept, and
I wished that I were Cnut, for I knew that he had had one moment of joy
when he took the Englishman in his arms. And then I took the scattered
things from the snow and threw them over the cliff; for I would not let
it be known that Cnut had flung the Englishman over. It would be talked
about over the mountain, and Cnut would be thought a murderer by those
who did not know, and some would say he had done it foully; and so
I went on over the mountain, and told it there that Cnut and the
Englishman had gone over the cliff together in the snow on their way,
and it was thought that a slip of snow had carried them. And I came back
and told her only that no letter had come."

He was silent so long that I thought he had ended; but presently, in a
voice so low that it was just like a whisper, he added: "I thought she
would forget, but she has not, and every fortnight she begins to sew her
dress and I go over the mountains to give her peace; for each time she
draws nearer to the end, and wears away more and more; and some day the
thin blade will snap."

"The thin blade" was already snapping, and even while he was speaking
the last fibres were giving way.

The silence which followed his words was broken by Elsket; I heard a
strange sound, and Elsket called feebly, "Oh, father."

Olaf went quickly to her bedside. I heard him say, "My God in Heaven!"
and I sprang up and joined him. It was a hemorrhage.

Her life-blood was flowing from her lips. She could not last like that
ten minutes.

Providentially the remedies provided by Doctor John were right at hand,
and, thanks to them, the crimson tide was stayed before life went
out; but it was soon apparent that her strength was gone and her power
exhausted.

We worked over her, but her pulse was running down like a broken clock.
There was no time to have got a physician, even had there been one to
get. I mentioned it; Olaf shook his head. "She is in the hands of God,"
he said.

Olaf never left the bedside except to heat water or get some stimulant
for her.

But, notwithstanding every effort, she failed to rally. The overtaxed
heart was giving out, and all day she sank steadily. I never saw such a
desperate face as that old man's. It haunts me now. He hung over her.
He held her hand, now growing cold, against his cheek to keep it
warm--stroked it and kissed it. As towards evening the short, quick
breaths came, which precede dissolution, he sank on his knees. At first,
he buried his face in his hands; then in the agony of his despair, he
began to speak aloud. I never heard a more moving appeal. It was a man
speaking face to face with God for one about to enter his presence.
His eyes were wide open, as if he saw His face. He did not ask that she
should be spared to him; it was all for his "Elska," his "Darling," that
Jesus would be her "Herder," and lead her beside the still waters; that
she might be spared all suffering and sorrow, and have peace.

Presently he ended and buried his face in his hands. The quick, faint
breaths had died away, and as I looked on the still white face on the
pillow I thought that she had gone. But suddenly the large eyes slowly
opened wide.

"Father," she said, faintly.

"Elsket," the old man bent over her eagerly.

"I am so tired."

"My Elsket."

"I love you."

"Yes, my Elsket."

"You will stay with me?"

"Yes, always."

"If Cnut comes?".

"Yes, my Elsket."

"If Cnut comes----" very faintly.

Her true lover's name was the last on her lips.

He bent his ear to her lips. "Yes?"

But we never knew just what she wanted. The dim, large eyes closed, and
then the lids lifted slowly a little; there was a sigh, and Elsket's
watching was over; the weary spirit was at peace.

"She is with God," he said, calmly.

I closed the white lids gently, and moved out. Later I offered to help
him, but he said "No," and I remained out of doors till the afternoon.

About sunset he appeared and went up toward the old church, and I went
into the house. I found that he had laid her out in the large room, and
she lay with her face slightly turned as if asleep. She was dressed like
a bride in the bridal dress she had sewn so long; her hair was unbound,
and lay about her, fine and silken, and she wore the old silver
ornaments she had showed me. No bride had ever a more faithful
attendant. He had put them all upon her.

After a time, as he did not come back, I went to look for him. As I
approached I heard a dull, thumping sound. When I reached the cleared
place I found him digging. He had chosen a spot just in front of the
quaint old door, with the rude, runic letters, which the earliest
sunbeams would touch. As I came up I saw he was digging her grave.
I offered to help, but he said "No." So I carried him some food and
placing it near him left him.

Late that evening he came down and asked me if I would sit up that
night. I told him, yes. He thanked me and went into the house. In
a little while he came out and silently went up the path toward the
mountain.

It was a strange night that I spent in that silent valley in that still
house, only I, and the dead girl lying there so white and peaceful. I
had strange thoughts, and the earth and things earthly disappeared for
me that night shut in by those mountain walls. I was in a world alone.
I was cut off from all but God and the dead. I have dear ones in heaven,
and I was nearer to them that night, amid the mountain-tops of Norway,
than I was to earthly friends. I think I was nearer to heaven that night
than I ever shall be again till I get there.

Day broke like a great pearl, but I did not heed it. It was all peace.

Suddenly there was a step outside, and Olaf, with his face drawn and
gray, and bowing under the weight of the burden upon his shoulder,
stepped wearily in at the door.

To do Elsket honor he had been over the mountain to get it. I helped
lift it down and place it, and then he waited for me to go. As I passed
out of the door I saw him bend over the quiet sleeper. I looked in
later; he had placed her in the coffin, but the top was not on and he
was on his knees beside her.

He did not bury her that day; but he never left her side; he sat by her
all day and all night. Next day he came to the door and looked at me.
I went in and understood that he wanted me to look for the last time on
her face. It was fairer than I ever saw it. He had cut her flowers
and placed them all about her, and on her breast was a small packet of
letters. All care, all suffering, all that was merely of the earth were
cleansed away, and she looked as she lay, like a dead angel. After I
came out I heard him fastening on the top, and when he finished I
went in again. He would have attempted to carry it by himself, but I
restrained him, and without a word he took the head and I the foot, and
so lifting her tenderly we went gently out and up toward the church. We
had to pause and rest several times, for he was almost worn out. After
we had lowered her into the grave I was in doubt what to do; but Olaf
drew from his coat his two books, and standing close by the side of the
grave he opened first the little Bible and began to read in a low but
distinct voice: "Lord, thou hast been our refuge, from one generation to
another. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth and
the world were made, thou art God from everlasting, and world without
end."

When he finished this he turned and read again: "Now is Christ risen
from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept," etc.
They were the Psalm and the chapter which I had heard him read to Elsket
that first day when she became excited, and with which he had so often
charmed her restless spirit.

He closed, and I thought he was done, but he opened his hymn-book and
turning over a few leaves sang the same hymn he had sung to her that
day. He sang it all through to the end, the low, strange, dirge-like
hymn, and chanted as it was by that old man alone, standing in the
fading evening light beside the grave which he had dug for his daughter,
the last of his race, I never heard anything so moving. Then he knelt,
and clasping his hands offered a prayer. The words, from habit, ran
almost as they had done when he had prayed for Elsket before, that
God would be her Shepherd, her "Herder," and lead her beside the still
waters, and give her peace.

When he was through I waited a little, and then I took up a spade to
help him; but he reached out and took it quietly, and seeing that he
wanted to be alone I left him. He meant to do for Elsket all the last
sacred offices himself.

I was so fatigued that on reaching the house I dropped off to sleep and
slept till morning, and I do not know when he came into the house, if
he came at all. When I waked early next morning he was not there, and I
rose and went up to the church to hunt for him. He was sitting quietly
beside the grave, and I saw that he had placed at her head a little
cross of birchwood, on which he had burned one word, simply,

"Elsket."

I spoke to him, asking him to come to the house.

"I cannot leave her," he said; but when I urged him he rose silently and
returned with me.

I remained with him for a while after that, and each day he went and sat
by the grave. At last I had to leave. I urged him to come with me, but
he replied always, "No, I must watch over Elsket."

It was late in the evening when we set off to cross the mountain. We
came by the same path by which I had gone, Olaf leading me as carefully
and holding me as steadily as when I went over before. I stopped at the
church to lay a few wild flowers on the little gray mound where Elsket
slept so quietly. Olaf said not a word; he simply waited till I was done
and then followed me dumbly. I was so filled with sorrow for him that
I did not, except in one place, think much of the fearful cliffs along
which we made our way. At the Devil's Seat, indeed, my nerves for a
moment seemed shaken and almost gave way as I thought of the false young
lord whose faithlessness had caused all the misery to these simple,
kindly folk, and of the fierce young Norseman who had there found so
sweet a revenge. But we came on and passed the ledge, and descending
struck the broader path just after the day broke, where it was no longer
perilous but only painful.

There Olaf paused. "I will go back if you don't want me," he said. I
did not need his services, but I urged him to come on with me--to pay a
visit to his friends. "I have none," he said, simply. Then to come home
with me and live with me in old Virginia. He said, "No," he "must watch
over Elsket." So finally I had to give in, and with a clasp of the hand
and a message to "her friend" Doctor John, to "remember Elsket," he went
back and was soon lost amid the rocks.

I was half-way down when I reached a cleared place an hour or so later,
and turned to look back. The sharp angle of the Devil's Ledge was the
highest point visible, the very pinnacle of the mountain, and there,
clear against the burnished steel of the morning sky, on the very edge,
clear in the rare atmosphere was a small figure. It stood for a second,
a black point distinctly outlined, and then disappeared.

It was Olaf of the Mountain, gone back to keep watch over Elsket.





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