Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: - To be updated
Author: Hall Caine, - To be updated
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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 "- To be updated" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                           *The Prodigal Son*


                                   By

                               Hall Caine

                               Author of
                The Manxman, The Deemster, The Christian
                      The Eternal City, etc., etc.



"_The Moving Finger writes: and having writ,_
_Moves on; nor all your piety nor wit_
_Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,_
_Nor all your tears wash out a word of it._"



                                Toronto
                          Morang & Co. Limited
                                  1904



                            COPYRIGHT, 1904
                             BY HALL CAINE

                         _All rights reserved_


                      _Published, November, 1904_



                               *CONTENTS*


PART I

PART II

PART III

PART IV

PART V

PART VI

PART VII



    "Then to the rolling Heav’n itself I cried.
    Asking, ’What Lamp had Destiny to guide
    Her little Children stumbling in the Dark?’
    And--’A blind Understanding!’ Heav’n replied."



                           *THE PRODIGAL SON*


                                *PART I*


    "_The worldly hope men set their hearts upon_
    _Turns ashes--or it prospers; and anon_
    _Like Snow upon the desert’s dusty face_
    _Lighting a little hour or two--is gone._"


                                  *I*


Iceland had never looked more wonderful.  The stern old Northland, which
in the daylight bears always and everywhere on its sphinx-like face the
mutilating imprint of the burnt-out fires of ten thousand ages, and
would seem to be dead but for the murmurings of volcanic life in its
sulfurous womb, lay in the autumn moonlight like a great creature
asleep--calm, august, and blue as the night.

The moon was still shining, and everything seemed to swim in the soft
grace of its silvery light, houses, ships, fishing-boats, the fiord in
front, the lake behind, the black moorland around, and the snow-tipped
mountains beyond--when the little wooden capital began to stir in the
morning.

It was the day appointed for the annual sheep-gathering at Thingvellir;
the sheep-fold was thirty odd miles away; there were no railways or
coaches, and few roads in Iceland, and hence the younger townspeople who
intended to make a holiday of the event had to set out early on their
little shaggy ponies.

As the clock struck four in the tower of the cathedral Thora Neilsen,
the daughter of Factor Neilsen, awoke with a start, and leapt out of
bed.  She had drawn up her blinds the night before so that the daylight
might waken her in the morning, but before she realized that it was the
moonlight that had been playing upon her eyelids she was standing in the
middle of the floor and crying in the ringing voice of youth and
happiness:

"Aunt Margret!  Auntie!  I’ve overslept myself!  I’ll be late!  Auntie!
Auntie!"

Then the measured and sonorous breathing which had been coming through
an open door from the adjoining room was interrupted by an older voice,
a good-natured voice trying to be angry, and saying drowsily:

"Drat the girl, she’ll waken the whole house."

This was followed by the creaking of a bed and the thud of bare feet on
the floor, accompanied by a running fire of grumbling, in which the
speaker reminded herself that she was not a cat, capable of sleeping in
the daytime, and if she had to be called up in the dead of night she
might at least be permitted to wash her face.

The girl listened for a moment and laughed--the light and joyous laugh
of the soul that has never known sorrow. She was young and unusually
fair.  Her height was under rather than over the average height of
woman, and if her face was not beautiful it produced the effect of
beauty, being one of those soft-featured faces which have a smile always
playing upon them, even when the owner does not know it to be there.

She lit her candles, dropped her Venetians, and began to dress herself,
humming a tune to show she was not concerned.  By this time the rumbling
artillery from the next apartment entered the room in the person of an
elderly lady, who looked more than usually grotesque (if it is fair to
take her at such a moment) in abbreviated underwear and small calico
nightcap, with bobs of hair in papers about her forehead like barnacles
on the figurehead of a ship that is fresh from a long service in foreign
waters.

This was Aunt Margret, with goodness written on every line of her old
face, but with a tongue that fell like a fountain on sharp stones and
knew nothing of dry weather.  The moment she set eyes on Thora in the
preliminary stages of her toilet she cried:

"Silk?  At this time in the morning?  And who is to see them under your
big boots, if you please?"

The girl laughed at this, as she laughed at everything, and said: "Very
well, give me the woollen ones then.  But what a cross old thing you
are, auntie.  You knew I had to get up early, having a six hours’ ride
before me."

"But who wants you to have a six hours’ ride, I wonder?" said Aunt
Margret, bustling about breathlessly to get the girl ready.

"You know quite well who wants me, auntie--Magnus wants me.  When they
elected him mountain-king for the year I promised him faithfully that I
would go to the sheep-gathering, and of course----"

"Don’t try to fool an old fox, my dear, but come and wash in this water.
It isn’t because Magnus wants you at the sheep-gathering, but because
somebody else is going to take you there."

"Auntie!" cried Thora, lifting a dripping face from the washbasin.

"Oh, you needn’t color up like fire, my precious--I know it’s the truth
without that."

"How absurd you are, Aunt Margret!  You know as well as I do that Magnus
himself asked Oscar to take me. He wrote expressly from the farm, not
having seen Oscar since he came from college, and wanting to kill two
birds with one stone."

"The more fool he!" said Aunt Margret.  "The man who expects to marry a
girl and asks another man to look after her while he is away is a fool,
and his friends ought to take care of him.  It’s only the simpleton who
shuts the door with a bang behind him like that."

"What a nonsensical woman you are, auntie!" said Thora.  "Oscar is
Magnus’s brother."

"Brother, indeed!  So was Jacob the brother of Esau, and Cain was the
brother of Abel, and those ten big beauties were the brothers of Joseph
and Benjamin."

"Good gracious me, Aunt Margret, what a bad disposition you’ve got!
That’s the worst of you--you have got such a bad disposition.  You talk
of Oscar Stephenson as if he were a regular reprobate instead of the son
of the Governor, and the idol of everybody."

"It’s easy to defend some one whom nobody wants to strike. I don’t say
anything against Oscar."

"Of course, you don’t, you cross old creature.  You’re fonder of him
than anybody else, and I believe you want him for yourself, you jealous
thing, because you think he is the brightest and cleverest and
best-looking young man in Iceland."

"Many things glitter in the goldsmith’s shop, but a sensible woman
doesn’t want to grab the whole of them."

"And do I, you silly?"

"It looks as if you do, my dear; but sit down here before the glass and
let me brush your hair.  You are to be married to Magnus, and your
public betrothal is to take place the day after to-morrow in the
presence of both the families, yet you’ve had Oscar here every day, and
all day, since he came home from England a week ago, and now you are
going to ride with him to Thingvellir.  You’ll make mischief, I promise
you.  Two dogs at the same bone seldom agree."

At that the girl was taken with a violent fit of laughing. "Auntie, what
names you are calling us!"

"Better I should do so than somebody else!  The people here are all
ears, and Oscar is all mouth--he is always talking about you."

"Not always, auntie."  Thora’s pretty face was reddening in the glass in
front of her.

"Always!  Only yesterday he said, ’My future sister-in-law----’"

"Not ’future sister-in-law,’ auntie."

"Did I speak, or did I not speak, Thora?  ’My future sister-in-law is
perfectly charming,’ he said----"

"Now, I’m sure it wasn’t ’charming,’ auntie darling."

"Yes, it was, and hold your silly head quiet, miss--’perfectly
charming,’ he said, ’and I’m half jealous of old Magnus already.’"

The blue eyes in the glass were gleaming with delight, but the mouth
said, "Well, of course, I should have been dreadfully vexed if I had
heard him say that, but still it isn’t my fault----"

"Fiddlesticks!" said Aunt Margret with a sniff of contempt.  "Just take
a cranky old woman’s advice, my precious, and don’t make trouble between
two brothers."

Then the shining face in the glass became serious and thoughtful, and
Thora said:

"How can you say such uncomfortable things, Aunt Margret? Merely because
I am going to ride with Oscar to the sheep-gathering----"

"Oh, a little brook can start a big river.  But what’s the use of
talking--a beast can be broken, but not a wilful woman."

Then seeing that the tears were in Thora’s eyes Aunt Margret gave the
girl’s hair a softer smoothing, and said:

"Magnus may not be as clever as his brother, Thora, but he is twenty
times as solid and steady, and he is just as able to take care of a
girl, and quite as likely to make her happy. Besides, dear, it’s all
settled and done, and the made road is easiest to travel, you know.
Your marriage with Magnus has been arranged between your father and the
Governor; they have set their hearts on it, the contract is ready, and
if anything should happen now----"

But Thora, who had been listening with head aslant to sounds outside the
house, suddenly leapt to her feet, saying, "I do believe that’s
Silvertop’s step."

There was a clatter of hoofs on the cobbles of the street, and at the
next moment a silvery male voice under the window was crying,

"Helloa!  Helloa!  Helloa!"

Thora ran to the Venetians, parted two blades of them, and said, with an
air of surprise, "It’s Oscar!"  Then she tapped the window-pane, and
cried "Presently" to the person outside, and stood for a moment to look
down at him.

A young man of three-and-twenty sat on one pony and held another by its
bridle.  He was tall and slim, almost as fair as Thora herself, and he
had a cluster of short curls under the Alpine hat which he raised to the
moving blind.  The moon had gone by this time; a greyish-pink light--the
pioneer of the sun--was filtering through a vaporous atmosphere; the
ships and fishing boats in the bay were breaking through a veil of mist,
and vague shadows of men and women, muffled up to the throats, but
chattering and laughing like children, were coming and going in the
gloom of the streets.

"Quick, auntie, quick!" cried Thora, lowering her voice, and while the
women in the bedroom hustled about and talked in whispers the young man
waiting outside slapped his leggings with his riding whip, and whistled
and sang alternate lines of a love-song--

    "Drink to me only with thine eyes,
    And I will pledge with mine."


"Must I wear these ugly----?"

"Certainly you must.  They’re warm and comfortable, and it’s not as if
anybody could see----"

"Auntie, don’t speak so loud, or people will hear."

    "Or leave a kiss within the cup,
    And I’ll not ask for wine."


"What a voice he has!  I’m certain he’ll make a success some day."

"Maybe so, but people don’t feed on voices--not in Iceland,
anyway--here’s your over-skirt."

"For goodness sake, Aunt Margret!"

    "The thirst that from the soul doth come
    Doth ask a draught divine."


"Now for my hat!  If I have to wear this old black riding habit I must
have something sweet on my head, at all events. That one with the
feather--no, this one and a veil.  There! Do I look nice?"

"Shockingly nice, if you ask me."

The girl laughed gaily, and said in a louder voice, "Then let us go
downstairs--the poor boy must be tired of waiting, and anxious to be
off."

"Not half so anxious as the poor girl, I’m thinking."

Then the smiling face became serious again, and Thora said, "Don’t say
those dreadful things any more, there’s a dear soul!"

"Then don’t forget my warning, and watch over your feelings, my
precious."

The door to the street was being opened by this time, and a rich
barytone voice, mingled with the soft murmur of the sea, came floating
into the hall--

    "But might I of Jove’s nectar sip
    I would not change----."


"Helloa!  Good morning, Thora!  Is that Aunt Margret?"

From, behind the bulwark of the door ajar, with one eye and two curl
papers visible in three inches of opening, Aunt Margret answered that it
was, and told Oscar, as he lifted Thora to the saddle, to take care of
her child and deliver her safely to Magnus.

Oscar laughed a little jauntily, and answered--not, she thought, with
too much conviction--

"That’ll be all right, auntie.  Good-by!"

"Good-by!"

"Good-by, Aunt Margret!"

"Good-by, Thora!  And remember!"

At the next moment the two young people had disappeared in the mists of
morning, amid a cavalcade of similar shadows dying off in the same
direction.  Half an hour afterward the sun had risen and the little
capital was going merrily.


                                  *II*

The father of Oscar Stephenson was Stephen Magnusson (according to his
Icelandic patronymic), and he had been Governor-General of Iceland for
more than twenty years. He was a man of the highest integrity and of the
firmest mind.  In his public character he was zealous and incorruptible,
and his private life was without stain.  His chief characteristics were
dignity and pride.

The father of Thora was Oscar Neilsen, commonly called Factor Neilsen
(of Icelandic birth, but Danish descent), and he was the chief merchant
and one of the richest citizens of the capital.  His business methods
had often been a subject for discussion, and his domestic history a
cause of gossip.  He was a man of untiring industry and great frugality,
amounting almost to greed.

These two men had been lifelong friends.  Their friendship had not been
founded on any hollow commercial league, but nevertheless it had been
cemented by community of interest, and it was a common saying that the
man who could break it could break the constitution.  It was one of
those friendships that are young after fifty years, and are constantly
growing younger because they are always growing older--a peculiarity of
all friendships that are true and constant, and the reason why new
friendships can never take the place of old ones.  Half a word explained
a meaning, half a look provoked a laugh.  Their friendship was the
unwritten history of their past, a living obituary of memories and ideas
that were dead.  It began in boyhood, and notwithstanding varying
fortunes, and some family differences, it had never been darkened by so
much as the shadow of a cloud.  But people said that if Stephen
Magnusson and Oscar Neilsen ever ceased to be friends they would become
the bitterest of enemies.

They went through the Latin School together as boys, and were two of
four Icelandic students who were sent with stipends to the University at
Copenhagen.  That was in the days when student life was not so regular
as it might have been, but three of them got through without serious
damage, while the fourth made a slip which was perhaps the first cause
of the present story.

When the time came to separate, one of the four went to Oxford as an
assistant in the library, and became a University lecturer, and another
went to London to be clerk in a bank, and rose to be manager.  The other
two remained faithful to their nationalities, and Stephen Magnusson
returned to Iceland to practise law, while Oscar Neilsen stayed in
Denmark to follow commerce.

Within ten years the friends had made rapid progress. Stephen had risen
from advocate to assessor, from assessor to deputy-governor, and from
deputy-governor to governor-general, while Neilsen had re-established
himself in Iceland, first as factor for a firm in Copenhagen, and
afterward as a merchant on his own responsibility.

In the meantime both men had married.  The Governor married the daughter
and only child of Grim, owner of the farm at Thingvellir, one of the
largest farms in Iceland. The Factor, to everybody’s surprise, married
before he returned home, and nobody knew anything of his wife except
that she came from Copenhagen.  But scandal seldom loses its way in the
dark, and it was whispered that the Factor’s wife had been a little
actress of the lighter sort, and had been compelled to marry.

The wife of the Governor had borne him two sons.  He christened the
first of them Magnus, after his father, but the second he called Oscar,
after his friend, who had arrived in time to stand godfather at the
baptism.  In like manner the wife of the Factor had borne two daughters.
She brought the eldest in her arms when she arrived in Iceland, and the
Factor called her Thora, after his mother.  The second, born soon
afterward, he would have called Anna, after his friend’s wife, but his
own wife objected, and it was christened Helga, after herself.  There
were not many years between the births of the children, but Magnus was
the eldest and Helga the youngest, while Oscar and Thora were almost of
one age.

The wives of the two friends could hardly have been more unlike each
other.  Anna was homely in looks, dress, and habits.  In practical
matters she was a typical Iceland housewife, thrifty and economical.
Although the position of Governor-General was one of considerable
dignity it was far from a fat living, and Anna set her sail according to
the draught of her husband’s ship.  She was shrewd, but not well
educated, and wise, but not enlightened, and she governed the Governor
by obeying him.  Stephen found his wife his safest steward and most
faithful counsellor.  He had a profound respect for her instinct, but
not too much reverence for her intellect.  When in doubt he always
consulted her, and while she told him what he ought to do he sat and
listened attentively, but as soon as she began to explain her reasons he
got up and fled.

The Factor’s wife was distinctly comely, volatile, and vain, and her
conduct on coming to Iceland might have been calculated to justify the
scandal that was coupled with her name.  She was extravagant in her
dress, unthrifty in her home, restless in her habits, and romantic in
her tastes, and after a while she began to gird at the monotony and
dreariness of the life about her.  A light wife makes a heavy husband,
and the Factor, who was not then rich, was made to realize that in
marrying his Danish beauty he had bought a commodity which he could
neither exchange nor return--a housekeeper who neglected his house, and
a mother who cared little for his children.

The children were the first to feel their mother’s loss of interest in
Iceland, for while Government House was forever warm and joyous with
some noisy festival--Magnus’s first holiday or Oscar’s last
birthday--there were no holidays or birthdays in their own home, which
was always quiet and generally cold.  But the mother’s ear is thin, and
across the gap that opened between the houses of the Governor and the
Factor, Anna heard the hearts of the little girls and concocted schemes
to get at them.  The Factor’s wife was nothing loth to be rid of her
tiresome charges while she devoured dramatic newspapers and French
novels, and thus it came to pass that Thora and Helga spent half of
their early days with Anna, and that as long as they lived thereafter
hers was the mother’s form that stood up in their memory when they
looked back to the blue mountains of childhood and youth.

Gathered together under Anna’s wing, what times the four children had of
it!  As long as they were little, Government House was like a nest of
song-birds, and if at some moments it resembled more nearly a menagerie
of monkeys, it was always alive and always happy.  Except the Governor’s
bureau, they took possession of the whole place, including the kitchen,
for there was only one servant in those days, and she was as fond of
them as her mistress.  In summer time they ran wild over the home-field,
and in winter they romped through every room in the house.  Anna spoiled
the whole of them, for she never knew how to be cross with children, and
at Christmas and New Year she helped them to keep up their noisy
customs--boiling the toffy which they pulled into twisted sticks amid
shrieks of delighted laughter, and lighting the candles with which they
marched in awesome procession from chimney to coal-hole to find the
hidden folk from the hills--and bad fairies who came to steal good
children.

On such high days and holidays the Governor and the Factor, smoking
their long German pipes, would come from the bureau to the door of the
kitchen to look on at the childish revels.  And seeing Anna in the midst
of them, like a fairy godmother grown middle-aged and matronly, but with
the loveliness of love still shining over her homely face, the Governor
would say to himself, "God bless her!" And the Factor would mutter, "God
bless my motherless girls!"  And then the two old friends would drop
their heads, and go back to talk politics.


                                 *III*

The child grows, but his clothes do not, neither do his characteristics.
What the children of the Governor and the Factor were at the beginning
of their lives they remained to the end.  Thora was always a merry
little woman, with a constant smile on her comely face.  She was usually
following or clinging to somebody--generally Oscar--but she could sit
for hours coaxing, scolding, and singing to her doll, for the instinct
of motherhood was strong in her from the first.

Helga was at all points the opposite of her sister.  She had black hair,
a broad brow, large hazel eyes that were often half closed, a nose that
was very slightly turned up at the tip, and a large mouth with thin, red
lips which were generally a little awry.  A witch may be found under a
fair complexion, and an angel under a dark skin, but Helga did not belie
her looks.  She was as bright as a pebble of the brook, and just as hard
and self-centered.  Sufficient to herself, she clung to no one, but
loved to have the eyes of everybody upon her.  She sang like a throstle,
and was fond of dressing herself up in grand disguises of paper crowns
and coronets, being full of make-believe, and never quite able to
distinguish fact from fiction.

The sons of the Governor were not less unlike each other. Magnus was a
big, heavy, black-haired boy, silent and slow, and thought to be rather
stupid.  He found it hard to learn, and his face had often a puzzled
expression, sometimes a gloomy and morose one.  On the other hand, his
moral character was as sensitive as his intellect was sluggish.  If he
borrowed a penny he would never rest until he had paid it back, and if
any one lent him a pencil he would walk a mile to return it.  As a
consequence his sense of injustice was keen to the point of agony, and
he suffered more from an unmerited rebuke than from a blow.  He liked
best to visit the family farm at Thingvellir, and when asked what he was
going to be he plumped for being a farmer.  Always fond of animals he
filled the house with dogs, cats and white mice, and seemed to love
nothing else except his mother.  Not a lovable boy, and a rather surly
and unhappy one, he was by no means a general favorite, but Anna was
very fond of him.

Oscar was so totally unlike Magnus in every quality of mind and heart
that it was difficult to believe they could be brothers.  The
fair-haired little fellow with the handsome face was as sweet-tempered
as the sunshine, and as full of laughter as a running river.  He could
learn anything without an effort, and he had an extraordinary ear for
music. Before he could speak properly he imitated the notes of any
instrument from the organ to the guitar, and before he knew his alphabet
he wrote mysterious musical hieroglyphics on scraps of paper, which the
Governor carried off to his bureau and hoarded up like treasures more
precious than gold.  But in giving him something like genius Nature had
taken away character--without which genius is a curse.  The merry little
soul did not seem to know right from wrong, or truth from a lie.  He was
always glancing from one thing to another like the sun on an April day.
If crying one minute he was laughing the next.  Nothing troubled him
long, but, also, nothing seized and held him.  He began by announcing
that he intended to be a king; rather later he thought it would be
grander to be a general, but going one evening with the organist of the
cathedral to his weekly rehearsal, he finally concluded that to be
organ-blower would be best of all.

Nobody loved him the less for his infirmities of character, for it is
one of the whims of the human heart that the people who run most
strictly within the laws of life find an irresistible fascination in the
recklessness of those who kick over the traces.  Oscar was the
privileged pet of everybody and the idol of his father’s eyes.

"Ah, Stephen, you’ll never rear that boy," said the Factor.

"Nonsense!  Why shouldn’t I?"

"Whom the gods love die young, you know."

"That’s only because they never grow old," said the Governor.

From the first Oscar was fond of a pageant, and always wanted to be
marching in procession, like a victorious general, with the juvenile
equivalents for banners and bands of music.  One day he was doing so,
playing a tune of his own composing on a comb, with Helga as an eager
lieutenant, Thora as a submissive soldier, and Magnus as a subservient
slave behind him, when coming to a river that crossed the home-field a
desire for carnage seized the general, and backing suddenly on the
narrow bridge he toppled his followers into the water.  Magnus and Helga
escaped without serious consequences, but, as nobody is anybody’s
brother in a game, Thora, being dragged down by her sister, was drenched
to the skin.

The Governor came up at the moment when Magnus was hauling Thora on to
the bank, and he was angry.

"Was it an accident?" he asked, but the children did not answer.  "Then
who did it?" he demanded, but Thora, to whom he spoke, looked first at
Oscar and then at Helga and began to cry.  "Was it you, Oscar?"  Oscar
hesitated for an instant, but Helga touched his sleeve and he shook his
head.  "Was it you, Helga?"  Helga promptly answered, "No."  "Then it
must have been you, Magnus," said the Governor, and Magnus flushed
crimson all over his face and neck, but made no reply.  "Was it you?"
Magnus’s mouth quivered, but still he did not speak.  "So it was you,
sir, and you can go indoors and to bed immediately."

Without a word or a tear, but with a look of defiance, Magnus wagged his
head and turned toward the house.  Seeing him go, Oscar wanted to blurt
out the truth, but his melting eyes encountered Helga’s, which held them
fast, and he said nothing.

It was one of Anna’s many birthdays, and from the upper room where all
was silent and cold Magnus heard the children’s voices below stairs, at
first hushed and restrained, but after a while merry enough, with
Oscar’s voice amongst the rest, and Helga’s above everybody’s.  The
laughter and joking burnt into his soul, and at last he struck the table
with his fist and burst into a flood of tears.

Then through the sound of his own sobs a thin whimper came from
somewhere, whispering, "Magnus!  Magnus!"  It was Thora at the keyhole.

"Go away," said Magnus, gruffly, but Thora did not go. "Magnus, shall I
tell?" said Thora, and Magnus blinked several times as the big tears
rained down his cheeks, but still he answered, "Go away, I tell you."

At that Thora fell to kissing the keyhole, and Magnus had stopped his
sobbing to listen, when he heard another voice--Anna’s voice--outside
the door, and then the child was taken away.

As soon as the birthday party was over and the girls were gone, Oscar
began to ask for Magnus, but the Governor patted his curly head and said
Magnus had been naughty, and must sleep alone that night.  Half an hour
later Anna found him crying with his head under the bedclothes, and she
said, "Hide nothing from your father, my child."

The Governor was sitting alone in his bureau when a little figure in a
dressing gown came in, with swimming eyes and trembling lips, saying,
"It wasn’t Magnus, papa.  It was----" and then a wild outburst of
weeping.

The Governor was more touched by Oscar’s confession than by Magnus’s
silence.  He patted Oscar’s head again and said, "That was very, very
wrong of you, curly pate; but go and beg your brother’s pardon and take
him off to bed."

When Anna went upstairs again she found two heads on the pillow side by
side--the dark as well as the fair one--and Magnus was listening and
Oscar was talking, and both were laughing merrily.

As soon as the youngest of the children was fourteen winters old they
were confirmed together.  There was only one other candidate, little
Neils, the Sheriff’s son, whose mother was dead.  In the preliminary
examination it was expected that Oscar would come first, Helga second,
Neils and Thora next, and Magnus last.  The Rector examined them, and
when the moment came to declare the order of the candidates he looked
serious and even severe.

Oscar, with a sparkle in his eyes, was carrying himself gaily, and Helga
was at her ease, while Thora and Neils were trembling with anxiety, and
Magnus was nibbling his thumb nail, for he was in dread of not being
accepted at all, and in that case, as his new black suit had been
bought, he would be afraid to go home.  But when the Rector had cleared
his throat, and called for silence, he announced a great surprise.

"Magnus is first," he said, "Thora second, Neils third, Helga fourth,
and Oscar--Oscar is last."

Then he turned to Oscar and said, "You are rightly served, my son, for
you might have done better, and you took no trouble.  Take an old man’s
word for it, Oscar--in the race of life it isn’t always the rider who
comes in first that was the last to put on his spurs!"

Oscar was crushed with shame, but he recovered himself in a moment, and
while the others looked at him to see what he would do--Helga, with her
mouth awry, and Thora, with eyes that could not see distinctly, and a
throat that could not swallow--he swung about to where Magnus was
standing with head down, blushing like a baby, and gripped and shook his
hand.

It was a beautiful confirmation service.  The cathedral was full of
women, but the Governor was with Anna in their pew in the gallery, and
the Factor, who was alone, sat in his seat below.  The children knelt in
a line on the lower step of the communion rail, the girls in muslin
frocks and veils, and the boys in black suits and white gloves.  The
morning was bright and warm, and the sun was shining from the chancel
windows on to the five drooping heads as the old Bishop laid his hands
on them one by one.

When the little ones had made their vows the Bishop delivered an
address: "Be true, be strong, be faithful!  Think of the covenant you
have made with God, and resist temptation. If Satan tempts you with the
treasures of this life, remember that wealth and power are only for a
day, while a dishonored name is for a thousand years.  Love one another,
my children!  No one knows how soon the world may separate you, or with
what sorrow and tears you may yet be torn asunder, but keep together as
long as you can, and may God love and bless you all!"

The service ended with the confirmation hymn, which the children sang by
themselves.  Anna, the Governor, and the Factor were deeply affected.
Ah! the sweet and happy time of childhood!  If the children could only
remain children! But there was nothing to foretell the future--nothing
to be seen there except five innocent boys and girls kneeling side by
side, with their faces toward the altar--nothing to be heard but their
silvery voices floating up over the heads of the congregation to the
blue roof studded with stars.


                                  *IV*

Soon after that the children were separated.  Helga was the first to go.
The Factor had become rich, and his wife, who had only been waiting
until she could claim a separate maintenance, parted from her husband
and went back to Denmark, taking their younger daughter with her.
Helga, who was then fifteen years of age, was glad to go, but it was a
condition of the separation that at twenty-one she should return to
Iceland if her father wished her to do so, or forfeit all interest in
his will.

Little Neils Finsen was the next to leave, for his father had married
again, and his stepmother had persuaded the Sheriff that the boy had a
genius for the violin, and ought to be sent to London.

Oscar remained a few winters longer, trying to find out the profession
he wished to follow, and deciding sometimes in favor of the law,
sometimes in favor of the church, but generally in favor of music (which
was vetoed by everybody as a beggarly business), and being finally
despatched to the care of the Governor’s college friend at Oxford as a
first stage toward an English degree and the pursuit of a public career
in Iceland.

Thus it happened that within four years of their confirmation only two
of the five children were left at home, and it had come to pass that
these two--Magnus and Thora--were living under the same roof.

Magnus having failed at the Latin School, the Hector had concluded that
it would be waste of time to keep him there any longer, and the Governor
had decided to send him to the farm, when the Factor volunteered to take
him as an apprentice in his business and to receive him into his house.

The Factor’s house was greatly changed by this time, the place of his
wife being taken by his sister, a shrewd little body with a kindly heart
but a sharp tongue, which kept everybody in order and reduced everything
to rule.  Under Margret’s régime Magnus began as one of four apprentices
who ate at the same table with the master and his family, but saw no
more of them than they could see at meals.

He found it difficult to learn his master’s business.  It was business
of barter, in which the farmers exchanged their wool for foreign
products, and settlements were made on paper.  Magnus made many blunders
at the beginning, and was constantly being reproved.  As time went on he
grew to be big and powerful, and his fellow-apprentices christened him
"Jumbo."  The name stuck, and he was treated as a dullard.

Except twice a day--at dinner and at supper--he saw nothing of Thora
now.  Aunt Margret sent her to the Girls’ High School, and if he met her
in the street, coming or going, she would drop her head and smile and
then run away. Magnus wanted to run too, and always in an opposite
direction, for the secret of sex had begun to whisper to both of them.

Once a month in winter they met at a dancing class held at the Artisans’
Institute.  Why Magnus should go there, seeing he could never learn to
dance, was a mystery to everybody, until one night the truth became
obvious to all, and then nobody thought him a dullard any longer or
dared to say "Jumbo" beneath his breath.

A sprightly young sailor named Hans Thomsen, lately home from a voyage,
was carrying himself with extraordinary freedom.  He was quick-witted,
glib, and nimble, and partly for his merit as a dancer, but mainly for
the glory of having "sailed," he was attracting the eyes of the girls.
Seeing this, he did his best to make sport for them, and when other
efforts had been exhausted he looked out for a butt for his ridicule,
and seized upon Magnus.  He called him "Jumbo" several times, and when
this jibe began to fail he made a doggerel chorus, which he sung to a
grotesque caricature of Magnus’s elephantine steps:

    "Slowly goes the cow in calf--
    Jog along and do not laugh."


The laughter came in peals, yet Magnus did not speak, and the girls
thought he was stupid.  Encouraged by his success Hans wagered a group
of his friends that he would take his pick of all the girls in the room,
and to prove his word he strutted up to Thora--who was reputed to be the
richest heiress in Iceland--and asked her to dance with him. But Thora,
who had flushed up at the previous scene, said quietly, but in a voice
tremulous with anger, "No, thank you," and turning aside she danced with
Magnus.

Hans was at first speechless with amazement, but a man has to be hungry
to eat his words in silence, and after a moment he winked to his friends
and whispered "Wait."

The next dance was a cotillion, and in the first of its figures a girl
had to sit blindfold on a chair placed at one end of the room while the
boys raced from the other end to capture her.  The one to reach her
first had to lead her to the middle of the floor and kiss her--still
blindfold--and then dance her round the room.

Hans whispered to the leader, Thora was chosen for the chair, and all
the young men present--Magnus excepted--ran to catch her.  Of course,
Hans was the easy victor, and taking possession of his prize he led her
to the appointed place, and then, while all were silent and everybody
waited to see what he would do, he made a mock obeisance before her
blindfolded face, as much as to say he did not wish to kiss her, and
left her where she stood.

At that the girls began to giggle, and Thora, feeling that something was
wrong, uncovered her eyes and found herself standing alone, and the
sailor in his seat.  Then the color rushed to her eyes again, but thrice
redder and hotter than before, and, covered with confusion, she crept
back to her place.

A moment afterward Hans was in the middle of the floor kicking his heels
higher than a short man’s head, when Magnus, pale as a ghost, stepped
out and took hold of him.

"You must dance with me next," he said, and the sailor, feeling the grip
of a lion about his waist, cried, half in earnest, half in jest:

"But it’s no use dancing with a bull.  Let go of me, will you?"

"Not till I show you how a bull would dance you," said Magnus, and
before any one could know what was about to happen, the sailor had
kicked the beam of the ceiling, filling the room with dust, and fallen
with a crash to the floor.

Hans never went to sea again, and the Sheriff, who was a life-long rival
of the Governor, fined Magnus a hundred crowns, after reading him a
lecture on bad passions and the duty of parents to check them.  The
Factor paid the money and then stopped it, ten crowns a month for ten
months, out of Magnus’s salary.  The salary was twenty crowns in all at
that time, and Magnus took the other ten in secret to Hans himself.  As
long as Hans lived in Iceland Magnus paid him ten crowns a month,
whatever his own earnings might be.  Hans became a water-carrier and a
drunkard.


                                  *V*

After that Aunt Margret invited Magnus to spend his evenings with her
and Thora instead of going upstairs with the other apprentices.  This
led to the happiest period in his life.  Thora played the guitar, while
Aunt Margret knitted interminable stockings, and in order to find an
excuse for his presence, Magnus began to learn the flute.  He had no
music in his nature, but he continued to scream and puff through his
instrument like an express train through a ventilated tunnel.  And when
he had blown himself out of breath, Thora, who was sweet and patient,
would wait while he wiped his forehead.

Those intervals in the harmony were always the dearest part of the
evenings to Magnus, for then he could talk to Thora.  The big silent
fellow who rarely spoke to anybody else would sometimes talk to her with
a force and eloquence which made Aunt Margret’s closing eyes wink and
open wide. It was only about business, what he had done to-day or was
going to do to-morrow, but his face would light up, his eyes would
flash, his tongue would flow, and he would become another being.

As time went on and Magnus passed out of his apprenticeship, he began to
develop great schemes and ideas, and he always tried them on Thora
first.  The barter business would go to the dogs some day, and the
fortunes of the future would be made in the fishing.  He was the richest
man in the world whose estate was in the sea, and if Icelanders had the
sense to see where their wealth was waiting for them they would build
luggers to replace their open boats, and buy quick steamers to run their
fish to England.  That required money, but Parliament ought to provide
it, and some day--who could know what might not happen?--Magnus himself
would enter Althing, and tell those talking automatons what they ought
to do.

The Factor heard of this project through Aunt Margret, and he was much
impressed by its foresight and practical wisdom.  One day, after smoking
various pipes while turning the leaves of his ledger, he went over to
the Governor and said:

"Upon my soul, Stephen, that son of yours is no fool.  He has notions,
and if he had capital as well, I don’t know that something mightn’t come
of him.  But broad thighs want broad breeches, and the question is what
are we going to do?"

"Lend the lad some money, and give him a chance," said the Governor.

"And create a rival to crush me?  No, no!  Near is my shirt, but nearer
is my skin!  But look here, old friend--why shouldn’t Magnus marry
Thora?"

"Splendid!  It has been the dream of my life to cement our friendship in
the second generation by a still closer bond."

"Let’s come down to facts and figures, then," said the Factor, and
within half an hour the marriage of Magnus and Thora was a settled
matter.

Magnus heard of it from the Governor.  "I’ve been talking with the
Factor about you, Magnus, and we think it would be a good thing if you
and Thora made a match.  He will make you his partner immediately, and
in due time the heir to half he leaves behind.  So if you agree----"

"But Thora?"  Magnus’s eyes had lit up with a deep glow of delight.
"Does Thora agree?"

"I must leave you to find that out for yourself," said the Governor.

Thora in her turn heard of the arrangement from Aunt Margret.

"Your father is growing old, my precious, and it’s time he took a
partner.  Pity he hasn’t a son for a place like that, but the next best
thing is a son-in-law, and if you or Helga would marry somebody who
could carry on the business somebody like Magnus----"

"But Magnus is like my brother, Aunt Margret."

"So much the easier to make him your husband, my honey."

"But surely it’s necessary to love one’s husband, auntie."

"Certainly it is necessary to love him, but that’s easy enough with
Magnus--such an old friend, and so devoted to the family."

There seemed to be nothing left except that Magnus should speak to Thora
for himself, but that was a task of graver difficulty.  The great
creature who had broken the back of the swaggering bully began to
tremble in the mere presence of the soft-voiced little lady, who dropped
her blue eyes whenever he entered the room.  The music lasted longer of
an evening now, and the intervals were fewer and more brief.

But one day Magnus, who had been to Thingvellir on the business of the
sheep-gathering, came back with a young pony and called Thora into the
yard of her father’s house to look at it.  The four-year-old colt, which
was prancing about for sheer joy of being alive, had faultless limbs, a
glossy chestnut coat, and a silvery mane and tail.

"Is it a good one?" said Magnus.

"It’s a beauty!" said Thora.  "It’s perfect!  It’s the loveliest thing
that ever stepped!  Whomever does it belong to?"

"It belongs to you," said Magnus, and when Thora gave him her hand to
thank him he held it for a moment while he looked into her face, and
then drew her to his side and kissed her.

"Is it to be so, Thora?" he whispered, and from somewhere in the depths
of his breast Thora answered "Yes."

The world was going round him in a wild dance of joy when somebody
touched him on the shoulder.  It was the Factor, who had seen everything
from the house.

"That’s the best day’s work you ever did in your life, my lad, and I’ll
take care you never rue it.  But what’s this they tell me--that you are
Mountain-king at Thingvellir this year?"

"That is so," said Magnus.

"Well, well, I’m willing!  Take ten days at your sheep-gathering, and
while you are away I’ll have the contract written out and ready.  Then
we’ll sign it the day after you come back, and the wedding can be when
you please."

Thora and Magnus went into the house hand in hand like children, and
Aunt Margret, who had been crying behind the kitchen door, fell on them
and kissed them.  Magnus thought he had never been so happy in his life,
and though the sun had set it shone for him all night long.  Next day he
went back to Thingvellir, and scarcely two hours after he had gone word
ran through the town that the steamer Laura had arrived in the fiord,
and his brother Oscar had returned in her.


                                  *VI*

Oscar Stephenson carried everything before him.  During the six years of
his absence in England he had grown as straight as a poplar and as
handsome as a young god.  Both his dress and his manners seemed
faultless in Iceland eyes, and each had a touch of individuality that
was irresistible. His spirits were as buoyant and boyish as before, and
his gaiety captivated everybody.

It counted for nothing that his career abroad had been something like a
failure; that his infirmities of character had followed him; that his
father had forbidden him to return before in order to fix him at his
studies; that he had left Oxford, nevertheless, without taking his
degree, and that, removing to London at his own earnest entreaty, he had
hitherto done nothing at the Academy of Music.  He could and he would
was all that anybody thought of this; and when he once began he would
take the world by storm.

On landing from the steamer he ran up the street as light of foot as a
reindeer, shouting salutations on every side, plunged into Government
House, hugged his mother at intervals for five minutes, spoke so fast
that she could not follow him, dashed into the Governor’s bureau, kissed
his father just as he used to do when he was a boy, talked for ten
minutes, explained that he had not written to say that he was coming
because he wanted to take everybody unawares; then said, "Now I must
slip off to see my godfather," and vanished like a shaft of April
sunshine, leaving the air of the room tingling like a candelabra, and
the old people smiling into each other’s faces with delighted surprise.

"Well!  Oscar was always a master of surprise," said the Governor, and
he took up his hat and followed him.

When Oscar reached the Factor’s house, he came first upon Aunt Margret,
and throwing his arms about her neck he held her so long that to recover
her breath and to save her ringlets she had to beat him off with her
fists.  And then there stood Thora in her laced bodice and turned down
collar, her hufa and tassel, and plaited hair, looking sideways out of
her soft, blue eyes, and smiling with her rows of pure white teeth.  He
thought she was a picture of charming simplicity, and took both her
hands in both of his, and so they stood for some moments, while she grew
redder and redder every instant, and tried to get away.

"Can it be possible?" he said.  "And this is Thora! When we were
children she used to kiss me, but now----"

"Now she’s going to be married, Oscar.  Haven’t you heard the news?
Thora is to be married to Magnus."

"Then she belongs to the family, and I may kiss her in any case," said
Oscar.

Thora escaped at last, and then the Factor came in, and Oscar had to
turn round and round like a tee-totum, that his godfather might see what
changes the world had made in him.  He laughed and laughed again,
inquiring about the business and the crops, and then tramped about the
house asking what had become of this piece of furniture and what they
had done with that.

"Everything seems to speak to me," he said, "and in my den at Oxford I
used to hear that old Bornholme clock ticking away as plainly as I hear
it now."

Then the Governor arrived, and Anna followed him, and while the old men
smoked and Aunt Margret did the honors, Oscar poured out the foreign
news in a stream of galloping words, and then asked what was going on at
home. They told him of Magnus’s ideas and schemes, but he did not
approve them.

"Iceland will be Iceland no longer if you turn it into a little
America," he said.  "It is the country of song and story, of fire,
frost, volcano, glacier, and of patriarchal methods of government and
trade."

"Oscar is right," said the Factor.  "Keep up the old order, I say."

And when Oscar had shot away like a meteor, the Factor said, "That young
fellow has made me feel fifteen years younger.  I must keep an eye on
Magnus, though.  He is no fool, but he can’t reach with his hands where
Oscar has his feet.  Oscar’s a boy!"

"He’s a darling," said Aunt Margret, straightening her ringlets.

Thora hardly knew what she thought of him, except that he had left her
very unhappy.  When she went to bed that night she could not help
comparing Magnus unfavorably with his brother--recalling little things
like his hands and his nails and the discolored patches on his cheeks
when he neglected to shave.

Next day Oscar distributed the presents he had brought from England--a
brooch for Anna containing a place for his own portrait, a pin for Aunt
Margret, a silver belt for Thora, and something for nearly everybody.
His unselfishness was a subject of general eulogy, and nobody remembered
for the moment that the Governor had paid for everything.

In the afternoon he came again to the Factor’s, and talked for an hour
to Thora and Aunt Margret about London and the glory of its sights and
scenes.  "You must see them for yourself some day, Thora," he said.
"But then I suppose old Magnus will never leave Iceland whatever
happens."

Thora was more unhappy than ever when she went to bed that second night,
thinking what a difference it made in a man if he had "sailed," and what
a wondrous life the girl must live who was to marry Oscar.  She was
looking at her new belt in the glass, and standing off from it to admire
her glorified waist when Silvertop winnied in the stable, and then she
felt a little ashamed.

Oscar came the next day also, and, Aunt Margret being out on an errand
of charity, he sat with Thora alone until it was quite dark, telling of
the plays he had seen in England. There was a good deal about love in
them, and one was of a girl beloved by two brothers.  Her father had
married her to the elder brother while she was still a child, but as
soon as her heart awoke she loved the younger one, and her husband
killed both of them.  Thora cried for the two children who tried to be
true, but could not, and she dreamt that night that she was Francesca,
and Oscar was Paolo, and Magnus was Giovanni.  The dream was painful,
but the awakening was more painful still.

Oscar came the next day also, and then he played a number of songs he
had composed on subjects in the Sagas. Thora thought she had never heard
such playing; and do what she would she could not help laughing a little
at the thought of Magnus’s performances on the flute.  "I’m sure he’ll
become a great composer," she said when Oscar had gone.

"Perhaps so, but no one can feed on honor," said Aunt Margret.

By this time Thora had begun to look for Oscar every day, and the next
time he came he persuaded her to fetch out her guitar.  She played some
Iceland love songs, and sang them in a sweet voice.  Thora was like a
flower that had grown under the snow, and was opening its eyes to the
sun.

"I wonder whom Oscar will marry?" she said, and Aunt Margret answered:

"Some English miss with plenty of this world’s goods and none of the
next."  And then Thora felt a tingling pain in her breast.

One day there came a note from Oscar, saying, "Glorious morning!  What
do you say to a few hours on the fiord? Will call for you immediately."

They took a boat belonging to the Factor and turned her head toward
Engey, an island inhabited by ten thousand eider duck.  Both were rowing
when they left the jetty and the water foamed under their oars, but as
soon as they were out of sight and hearing they dipped softly and
drifted. The sea and sky were blue and quiet, like two mirrors face to
face, each reflecting the other, and with the boat like a great bumble
bee humming between.

Oscar was like a boy.  He laughed and talked continually, telling
stories of what they used to do when they were children.  He was not
very chivalrous then, he remembered, but when she pleaded pitifully he
used to allow her to sit on his sledge and they went cracking and
crashing through the crisp snow.  They had tiffs, too, in those days,
and people used to say, "Children who make a quarrel often live to make
a match."  Wise folks, were they not?

They landed on Engey and rambled about in search of the eider duck, but
all the birds were gone, and there was nothing left in their empty nests
but a few discolored eggs, and these were addled.

"We’ve come too late," said Oscar.  "Haven’t we come here too late,
Thora?" he said again, stooping to look sideways into her face.  And
then Thora, who had been humming a tune, suddenly flushed as red as
fire.  Their eyes were sparkling, and they were quivering with
excitement.

"How I wish we could be children again!" said Oscar. "Don’t you, Thora?"

Before she was aware Thora answered "Yes," and then, becoming
embarrassed, she turned back toward the boat. The ground was scored with
narrow ruts which had been riven out of the grass by the frosts of
winter, and Oscar said:

"We can’t both walk in one rut, you know."

"You can catch me, then," said Thora, and she ran away laughing.

Oscar ran after her and caught her and held her by the belt, and then
she became serious.  After a moment she covered her face and began to
cry.

"Have I hurt you?" asked Oscar.

"No, no!  It’s nothing.  I’m silly!  Catch me again!" said Thora, and
snatching his cap off his head she flew over the ruts and had leapt back
into the boat before he came up with her.

When they returned to the Factor’s, Aunt Margret, who looked cool and
thoughtful, gave Oscar a letter which his mother had left for him.  It
was from Magnus, and it ran:--

"Dear Oscar:--I am glad to hear you have come home, and I wish I had
been there to welcome you.  You come in a good hour, for you must have
heard of my good fortune about Thora.  It was long before I could bring
myself to grasp my happiness, because she was such a happy little girl,
and it seemed selfish to take her from her father’s house and everybody
there so fond of her.  But now that I have got her I feel new strength
and am doing the work of three.  I am so happy that nothing goes wrong
with me, and I am like the anvil that could not be made angry though it
were to have the heaviest blow.  But I am longing to see you, and I
write to ask if you will come to the sheep-gathering and bring Thora
with you.  Now I must conclude, for we are camping in the mountains and
it will take this letter all its work to reach you in time.--Your
affectionate brother, Magnus Stephenson."

Oscar read the letter aloud, and when he had finished it Thora could not
see him distinctly for the vapor which floated before her eyes--like the
chilling thaw-cloud that comes down the valley on a bright winter’s day
and hides the shining fells.  But after a moment Oscar laughed--a little
nervously--and said:

"Let us go by all means.  I’ll have Silvertop ready and bring him round
at five in the morning."


                                 *VII*

Next day Magnus awoke on the mountains in the paling light of the moon
and the early glimmering of the dawn, and thought of Thora.  He always
thought of Thora first on waking in the morning, and her face was the
last he saw at night when he closed his eyes under the stars.  Seven
days before, when he had set his face toward the fells, with his forty
shepherds and eighty ponies, he had found it hard to turn his back on
the lowlands, because Thora was there. But when by daybreak the
following morning they reached the ridge of the mountains which divides
the north district from the south; and in the grey light and the running
mist they met the shepherds who had come up from the other side, and
hailed and saluted them, and exchanged snuff and drank healths with
them, and then turned about and parted, and begun to descend the way
they came, his spirits rose rapidly, because every step was taking him
back to Thora.

Five days thereafter Magnus and his men scoured the mountains, gathering
up the sheep that had strayed during the summer; and every night when
they pitched their tents in some sheltered place where there was water
and grass among the lava and screes, and every morning when they rose at
the first glimpse of daylight, he told himself he was one day and one
night nearer to Thora.

When he was midway down some one had brought him news of Oscar’s return
to Iceland, and after he had written his letter and despatched it, he
was happy in the prospect of seeing his young brother after a long
separation, but happier still in the thought of seeing Thora one day
sooner than he had expected, because Oscar would bring her to meet him.

And now it was the last day of his duty, and as he and his shepherds
came down the mountains, driving five thousand head of sheep before
them, and the men began to talk of their wives and sweethearts, he
thought surely nobody had ever loved anybody as he loved Thora, because
there was only one Thora in the world.

The morning was bright and calm, and there was no sound in the clear air
except the bleating of sheep, the barking of dogs, and the voices of
shepherds calling to each other as they raced across the fells to keep
their flocks together, but Magnus felt as if everything on earth and in
heaven were talking to him of Thora.

He began to think of how they should meet, and he found it delightful to
imagine what would happen.  Oscar would say, "Have I brought her safely,
Magnus?"  And then with one arm about Thora he would give his other hand
to young Oscar and thank him for taking such good care of the sweet girl
who was more to him than his own soul.

At eight o’clock they came in sight of the sheep-fold they were going
to, lying in the valley like an inverted honeycomb, and then Magnus
persuaded himself he could see through his field-glass a line of people
like a train of ants coming over the plain beyond.  He could hardly
contain himself at the thought that Thora must be among them; and when,
an hour afterward, he could plainly distinguish two riders galloping
ahead, he was happy in the certainty that these were Oscar and Thora,
and that they were hurrying to meet him.

By ten o’clock Magnus and his company had reached the sheep-fold, and
there the farmers of the district were gathered to greet them, with
snuff and health-drinking as before, but above the joy of that meeting
was the delight of seeing a long cavalcade of the townspeople, who had
come to make holiday, and were riding rapidly up the valley.

Half an hour later Magnus saw Oscar and Thora on the outside of the
sheep-fold, but at that moment he was knee-deep in a palpitating and
bleating sea of sheep, and he could only wave his hand and try to shout
his salutations.  He found he could not shout, for something had gripped
him by the throat; but Oscar called to him, and he thought, "What a man
he is now, and what a grown-up voice he has got!"

During the next three hours Magnus was kept busy, separating the sheep,
and settling deputes among the farmers; but as he worked he saw the
townspeople pitch their tents and light fires to boil their kettles.
"Thora is there," he thought, and he was content.

By two o’clock in the afternoon the last of the sheep had been
separated; the shepherds were driving away their flocks in different
directions; the bleating, barking, and shouting were dying off in the
distance, and then Magnus--soiled, sunburnt and unshaven--turned his
face toward the tents.

The townspeople had finished eating; their fires were smouldering out in
the sunshine, and they were dancing to a guitar on a level piece of
green, when Magnus went up to them and asked for Oscar, but looked for
Thora.  Somebody told him they had gone--gone for a walk somewhere--and
Magnus was glad, because they could meet where they would be more alone.

He shaded his eyes and looked down the valley, and thinking he saw two
figures at the foot of the hills, he leapt on the back of a pony that
was grazing near, and rode off in that direction.  He was humming a
tune, for he was very happy. After some minutes he was sure he saw Oscar
and Thora, and began to call to them.

"Helloa!" he cried, but there came no answer.

"Helloa!" he cried again, but still there was no reply, and all was
silent now save for the tinkling of the guitar behind him.

"Helloa!  Helloa!  Helloa!" but nothing came back to him but his own
voice as it echoed in the hills.


Oscar and Thora were sitting on the sunny side of a rock which rose out
of the foot of the mountain like a mound of black soil, but was really
the mouth of an extinct volcano. Magnus thought he knew what they were
doing--they were dropping stones down the crater and listening for the
sound of their descent.  That was why they had not heard him, although
he had called so loud.  Very well, he knew what he would do, he would
play a practical joke upon them; he would take them by surprise; he
would creep up on the opposite side of the rock and suddenly appear
before them as if he had risen out of the pit.

With this intention Magnus made a circuit of the crater, and drew up on
the shady side of it.  He was then very close to the two who were
sitting above, but still they did not hear him, so slipping from the
saddle and throwing the reins over the pony’s head he stole up softly
and began to climb the rock as quietly as he could in his big boots over
the rolling stones.  The greater difficulty was to keep himself from
laughing aloud at the thought of what their faces would be like when he
stood up between them like a ghost that had sprung out of the earth.

Scrambling on hands and knees Magnus had climbed half way up the rock
when he heard Oscar speaking, and he stopped to listen.

"But why did you consent?" said Oscar’s voice.

Thora did not answer, and after a moment the voice of Oscar said again,
"Why did you, Thora?"

There was a low murmur of indistinguishable words, and then the voice of
Oscar said, "Because your father wished it? But surely you have to live
your own life, Thora.  However obedient a daughter should be to her
father, she is a separate being, and the time comes when she has to fly
with her own wings, as we say.  Then, why did you consent?"

Magnus felt his fingers tighten their hold on the rock he was clinging
to, and he leaned forward to catch Thora’s reply.  But there was only
the same low murmur of indistinguishable words, and then Oscar’s voice
once more,

"Magnus?  No doubt!  I wouldn’t say a word against Magnus--God
forbid!--but love--mutual love--is the only basis of a true marriage,
and if you do not love Magnus--not really and truly, as you say--why did
you consent to marry him?"

Magnus felt the ground to be reeling under his knees. If he had not been
clinging to the rock he must have rolled to the foot of it.  All his
soul seemed to listen, but he could hear nothing except the sound of
Thora’s voice breaking with sobs.

Then came Oscar’s voice again, but lower and tenderer than before, "How
hateful of me to make you cry, Thora! I didn’t intend to do that, dear.
But have you never asked yourself what will happen if you marry Magnus,
and then find out when it is too late that you like somebody else?"

At that there came another note into Thora’s weeping, a note of joy as
well as sorrow, and Magnus--though he did not know it--clambered higher
up the rock.

"What did you say, Thora?  Tell me, dear, tell me--did you say you had
found out already?"

And then at last came Thora’s voice in a burst of passionate tears, "You
know I have, Oscar," and after that there was a startled cry.

Thora had risen and was moving toward Oscar, who was already on his feet
and holding out his arms to her, when behind him she saw Magnus with a
terrible face--eyes staring, lips parted, and breath coming and going in
gusts.  Oscar turned to see what it was that Thora looked at and, seeing
Magnus, his whole body seemed to shrink in an instant, and he felt like
a little man.

"Is it--you--really?" he faltered, and he smiled a sickly smile, but
Magnus neither saw nor heard him.

Magnus heard nothing, saw nothing, and knew nothing at that first moment
except that he, a man of awful strength and passion, was standing at the
mouth of a pit as deep as hell and as silent as the grave, with two who
had been dearer to him than any others in the world, and they had
deceived and betrayed him.  But at the next moment he saw a look in
Thora’s face that made him remember Hans, the sailor, for it was the
same look that he had seen there the instant after he had thrown the man
on his back, and then a ghostly hand seemed to touch him on the shoulder
and the fearful impulse passed.

There was silence for some moments, in which nothing was heard but the
quick breathing of the three, and then Magnus found his voice--a choking
utterance--and he fell on Thora with loud reproaches.

"What does this mean?" he said.  "It is only six days since I parted
from you, and now I find you like this!  Speak! Can’t you speak?"

But Thora could only gasp and moan; and Oscar, who had struggled to
recover himself, stepped out to defend her. "It’s not Thora’s fault,
Magnus.  It’s mine, if it is anybody’s, and if you have anything to say
you must speak to me."

"You!" cried Magnus, wheeling round on him.  "What are you, I’d like to
know?  A man who betrays his own brother!  Is that what you came home to
do--to make mischief and strife and break up everything?  In the name of
God why didn’t you stay where you came from?"

"Magnus," said Oscar, trying to hold himself in, "you must not speak to
me like that.  You must not talk as if I had stolen Thora’s affections
away from you, because----"

"Then what have you done?  If you haven’t done that, what have you
done?"

"Because Thora never loved you--never--though I am sorry to say it--very
sorry----"

"Damn your sorry!" said Magnus.

"And damn your insolence!" cried Oscar.  "And if you won’t hear the
truth in sorrow, then hear it in scorn--Thora’s engagement to you is
nothing but a miserable commercial bargain between her father and our
father by which she has been bought and sold like a slave."

The blow went home; Magnus felt the truth of it; he tried to speak, and
at first he could not do so; at length he stammered:

"I know nothing about that.  I only know that I was to marry Thora, and
that in two days’ time we were to be betrothed."

Then Thora said nervously, with quivering lips and voice, "It wasn’t
altogether my fault, Magnus--you know it was not.  It was all done by
other people, and I had nothing to say in the matter.  I was never
asked--never consulted."

"But I asked you myself, Thora."

"That was when everything had been settled and arranged, Magnus."

"But if you had told me even then, Thora--if you had told me that you
did not wish it--that you could not care for me----"

"I didn’t know at that time, Magnus."

"You didn’t know, Thora?"

"I didn’t know that the love I felt for you was not the right love--that
there was another kind of love altogether, and that before a girl should
bind herself to any one for better or worse until death parts them, she
ought to love him with all her heart and soul and strength."

"And do you know that kind of love now, Thora?" asked Magnus, and Thora
faltered, "Yes."

That word was like a death-knell to Magnus.  He stared blankly before
him and muttered beneath his breath, "My God!  My God!" and then Thora
broke down utterly.

No one spoke for some moments.  Magnus was going through a terrible
struggle.  He was telling himself that, after all, these two had
something to say for themselves.  They had their excuse, their
justification.  They loved each other, and perhaps they could not avoid
doing what they had done, while he--he who had thought himself the
injured person--was really the one who was in the way.

When Thora’s weeping ceased, Magnus looked up and said, in a voice that
was pitifully hoarse and husky,

"So it’s all over, it seems, and there’s no help for it?"

No one spoke, and Magnus said again, "Well, a man’s heart does not
break, I suppose, so I daresay I shall get over it."

Still the others said nothing, and Magnus looked from Oscar to Thora and
said, quite simply, "But what is to be done?  If it is all over between
Thora and me, what is to be done now?"

Neither of them answered him, so he turned to Thora and said, "Your
father was to have the contract ready by the time of our return--can you
ask him to destroy it?"

She did not reply.  "You can’t--I know you can’t--your father would
never forgive you--never."

Then he turned to Oscar: "The Governor has plans about the
partnership--can you fulfil them if I should fail?--No? Is it
impossible?"

Oscar gave no sign, and after a moment Magnus said, "Then I must be the
first to move, I suppose.  But perhaps that is only right, since I am
the one who has to get out of the way."

"Don’t say that, Magnus," cried Thora.

"Why not?  Better a sour truth than a sweet lie, Thora."

Thora dropped her eyes; Oscar turned aside; they heard Magnus’s foot on
the stones as if he were moving away, but they dared not look lest they
should see his face.  After a moment he stopped and spoke again:

"When I was coming down the mountain I thought we might go home
together--all three together--but perhaps we had better not.  Besides,
if I have to move first in that matter, I have my work cut out for me,
and I must be alone to think of it."

"What are you going to do?" asked Oscar.

"God knows!" said Magnus.  "He has got us into a knot. He must get us
out of it."

They heard his heavy boots on the sliding stones as he stepped down the
rock; they heard him speak cheerfully to his pony as he swung to the
saddle; they heard the crack of his long reins as he slashed them above
the pony’s head, and then--as well as they could for the tears that were
blinding them--they saw him bent double and flying across the plain.


                                 *VIII*

Early next day Magnus called at Government House and went up to Oscar’s
room.  He found Oscar sitting at a desk with a pen in his hand, a blank
sheet of paper before him, and sundry torn scraps lying about, as if he
had been trying in vain to write a letter.  The brothers greeted each
other with constraint, and during the greater part of their interview
neither of them looked into the other’s face.

"I have come to tell you," said Magnus, sitting by the side of the desk
and fixing his eyes on the carpet at his feet, "I have come to tell you
that I see a way--I think I see a way out of our difficulty."

"What is it?" asked Oscar, looking steadfastly at the blank sheet of
paper before him.

"It is a plan which does not involve Thora at all, or in any way reflect
upon you, therefore you need not ask me what it is.  I expect to try it
to-morrow, and if it succeeds the consequences will be mine--mine
only--and nobody else will be blamed or affected."

Oscar bowed his head over the blank sheet of paper and said nothing.

"But before I take the step I am thinking of, I want to be sure it will
be worth taking, and have the results I expect.  That’s why I am here
now--I am here to ask you certain questions."

"What are they?" said Oscar.

"They are very intimate and personal questions, but I think I have a
right to ask them, seeing what I intend to do," said Magnus, and then,
in a firmer voice, "and a right to have them answered, also."

"Ask them," said Oscar.

"I want to know, first, whether, if I can liberate Thora from her
promise to me, you will marry her?"

"Indeed, yes--if she will have me--yes!"

"You said yesterday, you remember, that love--mutual love--was the only
basis of a true marriage.  Perhaps I forgot that in my own case, but I
must not forget it now.  So it is not sufficient that Thora should love
you; it is necessary that you should love Thora--you do love her?"

"Indeed I do."

"Your attachment is a brief one--are you sure it is not a passing
fancy?"

"Quite sure."

"It is a solemn thing that two human beings should bind themselves
together, as Thora said, for better or worse, until death parts
them--you are not afraid of that?"

"No."

"You will always love her?"

"Always," said Oscar.

"You have counted the cost, all the consequences?"

"I know nothing of costs and consequences, Magnus.  I only know that I
love Thora with all my heart and soul, and that if you will liberate
her, and she will consent to marry me, I will consecrate my whole life
to make her happy."

Magnus shifted in his seat, cleared his throat, and began again.

"Thora is a sweet, good girl," he said, "the best and sweetest girl in
the world, but she is a simple Iceland maiden who has never been out of
her own country.  She is not like you, and if you take her to England
she will not be like your friends there.  Have you thought of that?  Are
you ready to make allowances for her upbringing and education?  Will
your love bear all the strain of such a marriage?"

It was now Oscar’s turn to move restlessly in his seat. "Why should you
ask me a question like that, Magnus?"

"Will it?" repeated Magnus more firmly.

"I certainly think it will."

"But will it?" said Magnus still more firmly.

"It will," said Oscar.

There was a short pause and then Magnus said quietly:

"There are two or three other questions I wish to ask of you, and I ask
them for your sake as much as Thora’s."

"Go on," said Oscar.

"Thora is practically her father’s only daughter now, and he is old and
very fond of her.  If he should wish her to remain in Iceland after her
marriage, you would be willing to live here for the rest of your life?"

"If he made it a condition--yes."

"Naturally the Governor has certain plans for you, having spent so much
on your education, and you have your own aims and ambitions also, but if
these should clash with your love for Thora, if they should tempt you
away from her, you would be ready to give them up?"

"Certainly I would."

"You are sure of that?"

"I am sure of it--that is to say--it would be hard, no doubt--to abandon
the aims and ambitions of one’s whole life--but if they ever clashed, as
you say, with my love for Thora, ever tempted me away from her--tempted
me to leave her to go to England for example----"

"Or to any other country, or any other woman?"

"That is not possible, Magnus."

"But if it were possible?"

"I would not go," said Oscar.

"So that if I give Thora up and she consents to marry you, nothing and
nobody will be allowed to disturb her happiness?"

"Nothing and nobody," said Oscar.

"Then write that," said Magnus, tapping the paper on the desk.

"Write it?"

"To her, not to me.  If you are sure of all this, you cannot be afraid
to put it in black and white."

"I’m not afraid, but it’s of no use writing it to Thora."

"Why not?"

"Because when you left us yesterday she told me that, though her heart
was mine, she had given her word to you, and she would be compelled to
keep it."

"She told you that?"

"She did."

Magnus hesitated for a moment, and then said in the husky voice of
yesterday, "Write it, nevertheless, and let me take the letter."

"You mean that, Magnus?"

"Yes."

"That you will give her back her word, and speak to her for me?"

"Write your letter," said Magnus huskily.

"What a good fellow you are!  You make me feel as if I had behaved
odiously and wish to heaven I had never come back from England.  I
cannot wish that, though, for Thora’s love is everything on earth to me
now, and I would do anything to hold on to it.  But if I have done wrong
to you I know of no better way of expressing my regret than by placing
my dearest interests in your hands.  I will write the letter at once,
Magnus.  I tried to write it twenty times and couldn’t, but now I can,
and I will."

While Oscar’s pen flew over the blank sheet of paper Magnus sat with
head down, digging at the pattern in the carpet.  A fierce fight was
going on in his heart even yet, for the devil seemed to be whispering in
his ear, "What are you doing?  Didn’t you hear what he said--that Thora
had decided to keep her word to you?  Are you going to persuade her not
to do so?  You’ll never get over it--never!"

When Oscar had finished his letter he gave it to Magnus and said: "Here
it is.  I think it says all we talked about, if less than a fraction of
what I feel.  She’ll listen to you, though, I feel sure of that; but if
she does not--if she sends me the same answer----"

"What will you do then?" asked Magnus, pausing at the door.

"Then I will take the first steamer back to England, and ask you to say
nothing to anybody of what has happened."

A bright light came into Magnus’s face, and then slowly died away.

"But I cannot think of that yet, Magnus; not till I hear the result of
your errand.  See her, speak to her, tell her she is not responsible for
her father’s contract; beg of her not to ruin her own life and mine.
Will you?"

"I will."

"God bless you, old fellow!  You are the best brother a man ever had.
Don’t be too long away.  I shall hardly live until you return.  Put me
out of suspense as quickly as you can, Magnus.  If you only knew how
awfully I love the little girl and how much her answer means to me----"

But Magnus’s tortured face had disappeared behind the door.

At the bottom of the stairs his mother met him, and she said: "So you’ve
been up with Oscar all the time!  Your father and the Factor were
looking for you everywhere. They had the lawyers with them all the
morning, and wanted to consult you about something.  It’s settled now, I
think, so there’s no need to trouble.  But, goodness gracious, Magnus,
how white and worn you look!  That work on the mountains hasn’t suited
you, and you must do no more of it."

Magnus excused himself to Anna and hastened away to the Factor’s.  As he
passed through the streets with Oscar’s letter to Thora in his side
pocket, and his nervous fingers clutching it, the devilish voice that
had tempted him before seemed to speak to him again and say: "Destroy
it!  Didn’t you hear him say that he would go away?  Let him go!  Nobody
but yourself will know anything about the letter!  Even Thora will never
know!  And when Oscar is gone, Thora will fulfil her promise to you!
Let her fulfil it!  If she does not love you now, she will come to love
you later on.  And if she never comes to love you, she will be yours;
you will have her, and who has a better right?  Destroy it!  Destroy
it!"

But his good angel seemed to answer and say:

"What’s the use of having a woman’s body if you cannot have her soul?
That’s lust, not love; and it’s too late to think of it anyway.  The
question you have to decide is simple enough--do you love yourself
better than you love Thora, or Thora better than yourself?"

And then the devil seemed to whisper again and say, "What a fool’s
errand you are going upon!  If you win you lose; if you lose you win.
If you persuade Thora to preserve her own happiness you destroy your
own!  If you do not persuade her to marry Oscar she will marry you!  Are
you a man?  Is there an ounce of hot blood in you?"

The fight was fierce, but Magnus decided in favor of the girl’s
happiness against his own, and he said to himself at every step, "Go on;
you want Thora to be happy, then carry it through; it is hard, but go
on; go on!"

When he reached the Factor’s his great limbs could hardly support
themselves and his ashen face was covered with sweat.


                                  *IX*

The Factor’s house was full of the sweet smell of the baking of cakes,
and Thora and Aunt Margret were in the kitchen with the fronts of their
gowns tucked up to their waists, their sleeves turned back, and
rolling-pins in their hands, behind a table laden with soft dough and
sprinkled with flour.

"Here’s Magnus at last!" said Aunt Margret, "and perhaps he can tell me
how it happened that you came home without him yesterday."

Magnus did his best to laugh it off.  "That’s a long story, auntie," he
said.  "A horse’s shoe isn’t made at a blow, and I want to speak to
Thora."

"Mind you don’t keep her long, then.  If we’re to be ready for all the
people who are coming to-morrow there’s work here to-day for a baker’s
dozen."

Magnus went up to the little sitting-room with the Barnholme clock in
it, and Thora followed.  There were dark rings under her eyes, and her
manner was nervous and restless.

"I am ashamed of what happened yesterday," she said, "and I ask you to
forgive and forget."

"I cannot do either," said Magnus, "that is to say, not yet, and in the
way you mean."

Thora’s eyes began to fill.  "Don’t be too hard on me, Magnus.  I’m
trying to make amends, and it isn’t very easy."

"I’m not so hard on you as you are on yourself, Thora, and I’m here to
tell you not to do yourself an injustice."

Thora thought for a moment, and then said, "If you mean that you have
come to say that after all I must fulfil my promise, it is unnecessary,
because I intend to do so."

"Will that be right, Thora?"

"It may not be right to Oscar, perhaps, or to myself----"

"I’m not thinking about Oscar now, and I’m not thinking about you--I’m
thinking about myself--will it be right to me?"

"What more can I do, Magnus?  It wasn’t altogether my fault that I gave
you my word, but I did give it, and I am trying to keep it."

"Would it be right to marry me--seeing, as you said yourself, you do not
care for me?"

Thora dropped her head.

"You said yesterday that before a girl should marry a man she ought to
love him with all her heart and soul and strength.  Wouldn’t it be wrong
to marry me while you loved somebody else like that?  Is that what you
call making amends, Thora?"

"I was only trying to do what was right, Magnus; but if you think it
would be wrong to marry you, then I will never marry at all.  Never!"

"What good will that be to me, Thora?  Five years, ten years, twenty
years hence, what good will it be to me that because you had given me
your word, and could not keep it, you are living a lonely life
somewhere?"

Thora covered her face with her hands.

"What sort of a poor whisp of a man do you suppose I am, Thora?"

"I didn’t intend to insult you, Magnus.  But if I can neither marry you
nor remain unmarried, what am I to do?"

"You know quite well what you are to do, Thora."

Thora uncovered her face; her eyes were shining.

"You mean that I must marry Oscar?"

"That depends upon whether you love him."

The shining eyes were very bright in spite of the tears that swam in
them.

"Do you love him?"

"Don’t ask me that, Magnus."

"But I do ask you, Thora.  I have a right to ask you. Do you love
Oscar?"

"I admire and esteem him, Magnus."

"But do you love him?"

"Everybody loves Oscar."

"Do you love him, Thora?"

"Yes," said Thora softly, and for some moments after that there was no
sound in the room but the ticking of the clock.

"Then, as he loves you, and wishes to marry you, it is your duty to
marry him," said Magnus.

"But I have given my word to you, Magnus."

"I give you back your word, Thora."

The shining eyes were shedding tears of joy by this time, but while love
fought for Oscar, duty and honor struggled for Magnus.

"But I have told him it is impossible," said Thora.

"He asks you again, Thora.  Here is his letter," said Magnus.

"He gave it to you to deliver?"

"I asked for it."

"And you came to speak for him?"

"I came for myself as well."

"How good you are to me, Magnus!"

"Read your letter," said Magnus, and with trembling hands Thora opened
the envelope.

The fight was short but fierce.  Magnus watched every expression of
Thora’s face.  If there had been one ray of love for him in her looks of
gratitude and remorse he would have clung to the hope that the time
would come when all would be well; but love for Oscar shone in her eyes,
broke from her lips, betrayed itself in the very insistence with which
she meant to marry Magnus, and there remained no hope for him anywhere.

Thora looked up from her letter, and said:

"How splendid!  How noble!  That’s what I _do_ call brotherly!  Oscar
tells me that you think you can put the contract aside without involving
me or reflecting upon him. You are too good--too generous--too
forgiving--how can I thank you?"

"By giving me Oscar’s letter," said Magnus.

"What do you want with it?"

"I want to have it in my pocket when I do my work to-morrow.  That’s
only fair--that while I am doing my part I hold Oscar’s written
assurance that he intends to do his."

"You wouldn’t produce it to Oscar’s injury?"

"Many a man sharpens his axe who never uses it," said Magnus.

Thora returned the letter to Magnus, and he put it back in his pocket.

"Now you must answer it," said Magnus.

"Not yet, not immediately," said Thora.

"Immediately," said Magnus, and taking pen and paper from a sideboard,
he put them before her.

The power of the man mastered her, and she sat at the table and took up
the pen.

"But why should I write to-day?" she said.  "Why not to-morrow?"

"To-morrow is the day fixed for the betrothal, and if I am to do
anything then I must have everything in black and white."

"But let me have one engagement ended before the other is begun,
Magnus."

"If Oscar does not receive your answer within an hour he will take the
first ship back to England, and you will never see him again."

"He said so?"

"Yes."

"You will break my heart, Magnus.  I don’t know what to say to you."

"Write," said Magnus.

"I cannot.  You have driven everything out of my head."

"Then write to my dictation: ’My dear Oscar’----"

"’My dear Oscar’----"

"’I have received the letter you sent by Magnus’----"

"’Sent by Magnus’----"

"’And I reciprocate all you say’----"

"’All you say’----"

"’I believe you love me very dearly, and that you will never allow
anything or anybody to come between us’----"

"’To come between us’----"

"’Magnus has given me back my word because I do not love him’----"

"Must I say that, Magnus?"

"’And because he wishes to make me happy’----"

"I cannot, Magnus, I really cannot----"

"Go on, Thora.  ’Therefore, if he can satisfy my father and yours’----"

"’My father and yours’----"

"’I will marry you when and where you please, because’----"

"’Because ’----"

"’Because I love you with all my heart and soul and strength.’"

Thora was crying when she came to the end of the letter.

"Sign it," said Magnus, and she signed it.

"Address it," he said, and she addressed it.

"Seal it," he said, and she sealed it.

"Now give it to me," said Magnus, and he took the letter off the table
and put it in his breast pocket.

"What are you going to do with it?" asked Thora.

"Deliver it myself," said Magnus.

"No, no!" cried Thora.  "At least let me keep it for half an hour--a
quarter of an hour."

"I cannot trust you, Thora," said Magnus, and he made for the door.

"Give it me back!  Give it me!  Give it me!"

She threw her arms about him to detain him, and for a moment he stood
trembling in the temptation of her embrace. Then he put her gently aside
and fled out of the house.

While he was hurrying through the streets the warmth of Thora’s soft
flesh was still tingling on his neck and cheek, and the devilish voice
was saying in his ear, "What a fool you were!  In another moment her
sweet body would have been in your strong arms and she would have been
yours for ever."

He tried not to hear it, but the voice went on: "She may still be yours
if you’re half a man!  Keep back Thora’s letter and return his own to
Oscar!  Why not?  What better does he deserve of you?"

Magnus walked fast, but the voice followed him.  It told him how happy
he had been when he thought Thora loved him; how he had left her for the
mountains with his heart full of joy; how Oscar had come and everything
was at an end.

"Keep it back!  Return his own!" said the voice in his ear; and to make
sure of Thora’s happiness and to cure himself of all hope, he took
Thora’s letter out of his pocket and ran with it in his hand.

Oscar was at the top of the stairs, being too eager to wait in his
bedroom.  "So you have brought it!  She has sent me an answer!  Give it
me!"

"Take it," said Magnus.

But having Thora’s letter in his hands at last Oscar was afraid to open
it.  "Is it all right?" he asked.

"See for yourself," said Magnus, and he dropped into the seat by the
desk.

As Oscar read the letter the expression of his face changed from fear to
joy, and from joy to rapture.  Without looking up from the paper he
cried out like a happy boy, "It’s all right!  She agrees!  God bless
her!  Shall I read you what she says?  Yet, no!  That wouldn’t be fair
to Thora!  But it’s as right as can be!  How beautiful!  Talk of
education--nobody in the world could have put things better!  The
darling!"

He read the letter twice and put it in his pocket; then took it out and
read it again and kissed it, forgetting in his selfish happiness that
anybody else was there.

Magnus sat and watched him.  The fight was almost over, but he was
nearly breaking down at last.

"What an age you seemed to be away!" said Oscar.  "Yet you have run
hard, for you are still quite breathless.  But there is nothing more to
do now except what you promised to do to-morrow.  You think you can do
it?"

"I think I can," said Magnus.

"It will be a stiff job, though.  To persuade two old men who don’t wish
to be persuaded!  Nobody wants to see his schemes upset and his
contracts broken, and with all the good-will in the world to me----"

"Wait!" said Magnus, rising--his unshaven, face had suddenly grown hard
and ugly.  "We have talked of you and Thora, and of the Factor and the
Governor, but there is somebody who has not been too much
mentioned--myself!"

"Don’t suppose I am forgetting you, though," said Oscar. "I can never do
that--and neither can Thora--never!"

"If I am to stand back, and take the consequences, there is something
you owe me--you owe me your silence!"

"Assuredly," said Oscar.

"Whatever I do or say to-morrow," said Magnus, "you must never allow it
to be seen that you know my object.  Is it a promise?"

"Certainly!" said Oscar.  "Silence is inevitable if I am to save Thora
from her father’s anger, and I will save her from that and from every
sorrow."

Magnus walked to the door, and then, for the first time, Oscar looked at
him.

"But what a brute I am--always talking of myself!" said Oscar, following
his brother to the landing.  "When everything is satisfactorily settled,
what is to happen to you, Magnus?"

"God knows!" said Magnus, with his foot on the stair. "Everybody has his
own wounds to bandage."

"Well, God bless you in any case, old fellow!" said Oscar, patting
Magnus on the shoulder.  And then he returned to his room and took out
Thora’s letter and read it over again.


                                  *X*

The betrothal was fixed for five o’clock on the following afternoon.
Aunt Margret had had women in to clean the house down, and everything
was like a new pin.  The large sitting-room, looking toward the town,
was prepared for the legal part of the ceremony, with pens and ink on
the round table, and the smaller sitting-room, divided from it by a
plush curtain and overlooking the lake, was laid out with a long dining
table, covered with cakes and cups and saucers and surrounded by
high-backed chairs.

These rooms were standing quiet and solemn when at half-past four Aunt
Margret came down in her best black silk and with ringlets newly curled,
to have a last look round. She was doing a little final dusting when the
first of her guests arrived.  This was Anna, also in black silk, and,
being already on her company manners, Aunt Margret kissed her.

"But where’s Oscar, and where’s the Governor?" asked Aunt Margret.

"Stephen is coming," said Anna, "but far be it from me to say where
Oscar is!  The boy is here and there and everywhere."

"That reminds me of something," said Aunt Margret. "Can you tell me how
it came to pass that the young folks missed each other at Thingvellir
yesterday, and Magnus came home alone?"

"Goodness knows!  It wouldn’t be Magnus’s fault, that’s certain.  Magnus
is like my poor father--as sure to be in his place as a mill-horse on
the tread, but Oscar is as hard to hold as a puff of wind.  It’s his
nature, he can’t help it, but it makes me anxious when I think of it,
Margret."

"Don’t be afraid for Oscar, Anna!  He’ll come out all right.  And if he
is restless and unsettled, God is good to such, weak heart.  He never
asks more than He gives, you know."

The Factor came downstairs--a tall man, clean-shaven, bald-headed, and a
little hard and angular, wearing evening dress and a skull-cap, and
carrying a long German pipe in his hand.

"No smoking yet!" cried Aunt Margret, and with a grunt and a laugh the
Factor laid his pipe on the mantel-piece.

"And how’s Anna to-day?" he said.  "No need to ask that though, our Anna
is as fresh and young as ever.  Upon my word, Margret, it only seems
like yesterday that we were doing all this for Anna herself."

"She was a different Anna in those days, Oscar," said Anna.

"Not a bit of it!  There’s a little more Anna now--that’s the only
difference."

The Governor came in next--a broad-set man of medium height, with a
beard but no mustache, and wearing his official uniform, bright with
gold braid.  He saluted the Factor and said:

"I have taken the liberty to ask the Bishop, the Rector of the Latin
School, and the Sheriff to join us--I trust you don’t object?"

"Quite right, old friend," said the Factor.  "The most important acts of
life ought always to be done in the presence of witnesses."

"And how’s Margret?  As busy as usual, I see!  All days don’t come on
the same date; we must get ready for you next, you know!"

"For Margret!" laughed the Factor.  "She’ll have to be quick, or she’ll
be late then--people don’t hatch many chickens at Christmas."

"Late, indeed!" said Aunt Margret, with a toss of her ringlets.  "If I
couldn’t catch up to you folks with your pair of chicks apiece, I
shouldn’t think it worth while to begin."

The men laughed, and Anna said, "Well, two children would be enough for
me if I could only keep them.  But that’s the worst of having boys--they
marry and leave you. A mother can always keep her girls----"

"Until somebody else’s boys come and carry them off, and then she sees
no more of either," said Aunt Margret.

"That depends on circumstances," said the Governor--"the marriage
contract, for example--eh, old friend?"

"Exactly!" said the Factor.  "You can generally keep the bull about the
place if you have the cow locked up in the cow-house."

The men laughed again, and then the Bishop and the Rector arrived--the
Bishop a saintly patriarch with a soft face and a white beard, and the
Rector--as became the schoolmaster--sharper, if not more severe.

"I was surprised when I heard it was Magnus," said the Rector.  "Oscar
has beaten his brother in most things, and I thought he would beat him
in getting a wife.  And then Thora and he are such friends, too, and so
like each other!"

"They get on worst together who are most like each other," said Anna;
and Aunt Margret said:

"Stuff!  A dark man’s a jewel in a fair woman’s eye, and what does Thora
want with a fair one?"

"But where is Thora?" asked the Bishop.

"She’s dressing," said Aunt Margret.  "Let us go and fetch her down,
Anna," and the two women went up-stairs.

"Magnus ought to be here, too," said the Governor. "Where is he, I
wonder?"

"Were you asking for Magnus?" said a voice from the hall.  It was the
Sheriff--a small man with a sly face, wearing a gold-braided uniform
like the Governor’s.

"He’s at the warehouse, isn’t he?  Or is he still at the jetty?" asked
the Factor.

"No," said the Sheriff entering.  "To tell you the truth, when I passed
the hotel he was sitting in the smoking-room."

"The smoking-room of the hotel?" said the Governor.

The Factor laughed.  "Treating his friends in advance of the event, I
suppose!  It’s bad to let the sledge go ahead of the horse, though."

"No," said the Sheriff again.  "To tell you the truth, he was quite
alone."

"Drinking?" asked the Governor.

"Nonsense, Stephen!  Magnus does not drink," said the Factor.

"I hope not, but I’m always afraid of it.  His grandfather on the
maternal side, you know----"

"Ah, nobody knows what is inside another’s coat," said the Bishop.
"Anna’s father had some trouble in his head--must have had."

"Even diseases are inherited," said the Governor.

"But the old man drank after he buried his wife, not before he married
her," said the Rector.

And then Aunt Margret and Anna returned to the room saying, "Here she is
at last!" bringing Thora in her simple velvet costume called the kirtle,
with silver belt, bell sleeves, and white lace about the neck.

The Governor took Thora in his arms and kissed her. "But how pale, my
child!" he said.

"You may well say so, Governor," said Aunt Margret. "She has been crying
since early morning."

"Crying?" said the Factor.  "Now, I never can understand why a woman
must always cry when she is going to be married; it’s such a bad
compliment to her husband."

"But I agree with Thora," said the Governor.  "If ever there is a time
to cry, or, at least, to feel grave and anxious, it is just that moment
of life when it is customary to dance and sing as if you were setting
out on a triumphal procession instead of taking a leap into the dark."

"And I agree with the Governor," said the Bishop. "When I see a bride
crying so bitterly at the altar that she can hardly utter the responses,
I generally know she is going to be a happy wife."

"Thora might wait until the wedding, though," said Aunt Margret, and
then Oscar came dashing into the room.

"Out walking--lost count of the time--only six minutes to dress--did it
in five," he said, in breathless gasps.

"He’s another pale one," laughed the Rector.  "Has there been a frost
overnight that has nipped all our rose-buds?"

"Been running to get here," said Oscar, "but I’ve raced Magnus it
seems."

"Magnus has raced you in another way, my boy," said the Rector, nodding
his head toward Thora, who was blushing and looking down; whereupon the
Governor muttered:

"Oscar must not dream of marriage yet awhile.  He has his career to
think about, and he has not been too earnest about it hitherto."

"Well, my experience in business," said the Factor, "is that when a
woman marries she slackens off, but when a man marries he tightens up."

At that the Sheriff nudged the Rector, who whispered:

"The Factor has still another daughter, Rector."

"What, if he has?" said the Factor.  "A man can’t have two
sisters-in-law to one brother."

"No, but he can give his brother a sister-in-law, too," said the Rector,
and then everybody laughed.

"That reminds me," said the Factor, "Helga sent us a photograph the
other day.  Where is it, Thora?"

"Here it is," said Thora, taking a photograph out of a drawer.  Oscar
held out his hand for it, and looked at it long and earnestly.

"How fine!  I’ve scarcely ever seen such a splendid face! Quite grown
up, too!  Is Helga coming home soon, Factor?"

"Not very soon," said the Factor.

And then the lawyer came in with a large portfolio of papers and laid
them on the table.

"Ha, ha!" laughed the Hector.  "A rich man’s child needs a careful
christening, it seems!"

"You’re right, Rector, and it has taken my clerk the entire day to
engross the contract, but it was not that which kept me until now--it
was this!"

"The rings!" cried the two elder women, as the lawyer took a small plush
box from his pocket.

"Yes, you may remember that when the rings had to be ordered yesterday
morning, Magnus could not be found anywhere, so I was compelled to order
them myself.  Well, I thought I gave careful instructions, but the idea
is abroad in the town, do you know, that it is Oscar, not Magnus, who is
to marry Thora--nobody believes anything else--so what does Olaf, the
silversmith, do but write ’Oscar’ on the inside of one of the rings!"

"Never!" said Oscar, trying to laugh with the others.

"Yes, indeed, and the error was not discovered until the very last
moment, and then all I could do, as you see, was to have ’Oscar’
erased--it was too late to have ’Magnus’ inscribed instead."

"Where is Magnus, I wonder?" said the Governor, walking restlessly
before the window.

"Don’t be anxious about Magnus, Stephen," said Anna. "He grows more and
more like my poor father.  If father promised to be somewhere at a
certain time he would turn up to the minute if he had to kill a couple
of ponies in getting there."

The cathedral clock struck five at that moment, and sure enough before
the clang of the last stroke had died away Magnus walked into the room.
He looked slack and almost untidy in his pea jacket and long boots, and
was the only person in the room who had not troubled to dress for the
occasion.  The Governor’s face darkened at sight of him, and the Factor
said in a tone of vexation:

"Well, let us get to work and have it over--I’ve been spoiling for a
smoke this half-hour."

The lawyer opened his portfolio, and the company gathered about the
table, whereupon Aunt Margret cried:

"Magnus, do you allow of this?  Here’s Oscar sitting beside Thora."

"Don’t disturb him," said Magnus.  "This is good enough for me," and he
took a low seat by the side of his mother.

"Now, come," said the Factor, "let the one who has the best voice start
the singing."

"It must be the lawyer, then," said the Rector, "for every lawyer has a
voice of silver--passes it for silver anyway."

And then, amid the general laughter, the lawyer opened the marriage
contract and began to read.


                                  *XI*

The company listened intently, and at the close of every clause the
Governor, who was resting his head on his hand and his elbow on the
table, said: "Good!"  "Very good!"  "Generous!"  "Most generous!"

When the lawyer had finished, the other old people leaned back and drew
long breaths of satisfaction, but the Governor rose and crossed to the
Factor and shook hands with him, saying: "Just like you, old friend!"

The Factor was gratified by the reception of the document and became
bright and almost humorous.  Imitating the manner of the auctioneer, he
cried: "Anybody bid higher?  Then going--going--go----"

"Wait!" said the Governor.  "Hadn’t we better ask the opinion of the
young people themselves?  After all, they are the persons ultimately
concerned, and though a cow seldom kicks when you are carrying her
clover----"

There was a general titter, a nodding of many heads and muttered
responses of "Just so!"  "Just a matter of form!"

"Very well!  Thora, what do you say?" said the Factor, expecting a burst
of rapturous approval, but Thora only answered timidly:

"I don’t know.  Hadn’t you better ask Magnus first?"

"Certainly, my dear--Magnus first, as a matter of course. What do you
say, Magnus?  Any suggestion to make?  Any little improvement?  How do
you like the contract?"

There was an awkward silence which astonished the older people, and then
came a great surprise.  Magnus, who had been sitting with his head down,
raised a white and firm-set face and answered:

"I do not like the contract at all, Factor, and I cannot sign it."

At this there were looks of bewilderment among the older people, who
seemed to be uncertain if they had heard aright, while Thora and Oscar,
who partly understood, seemed to be struggling to catch their breath.
The Factor was the first to recover his self-possession, and he said,
with a slightly supercilious accent:

"Is that so?  I thought I knew something of these matters; but if you
think you can draw up a better document, Magnus----"

But then the Governor interposed: "Some trifle, no doubt," he said
suavely.  "Magnus will explain.  What is the point you object to, my
son?"

There was another moment of tense silence, and then Magnus said in a
harsh voice:

"By this contract I am required to live in Iceland all my life--that’s
slavery, and I will not submit to it."

"But, my dear Magnus," said Anna, "don’t you see the reason for that?
To all intents and purposes Thora is the Factor’s only daughter--his
only child--and if she goes away, who is to cheer him up and make home
bright for him? Be reasonable, Magnus!"

"Anna, hadn’t we better let the young man finish?" said the Factor.  "He
may have other objections.  Have you?"

"Yes," said Magnus.  "According to this contract I am to be taken into
partnership on marrying Thora, but only on a quarter share.  Partnership
is partnership, and where there are two partners it should be half and
half--I must have half."

The company listened in consternation, and the Factor began to laugh.
"Why not?" he said in a cynical tone. "Everything is hay in hard
weather.  I’m so hard up for a son-in-law that I shouldn’t stick at a
trifle."

"Old friend," said the Governor, "let us not be too hasty.  Perhaps
Magnus has not made himself quite plain."

"As plain as a pikestaff.  He wants an equal partnership. But perhaps
that is not all.  Is there anything else?"

"Yes, there is, sir," said Magnus, in a rather aggressive manner.  "By
this deed, when you retire I am to take over the business, but I am only
to have one-third share of the profits.  I must have two-thirds."

"In--deed!" said the Factor.  "Do you know I thought if I allowed you to
come into the business that I had made, and to work it with my plant and
my capital, one-third was generous."

"Most generous!" said the Governor, mopping his forehead.  "But Magnus
is slow--slow both of thought and speech.  He must have some
explanation.  What do you mean, Magnus?  Take your time and speak
plainly."

"I mean, sir," said Magnus, "that the barter business in Iceland will
break up before long.  When the Factor retires--perhaps before--his
business will be worth nothing--not even the name, for that will be less
than nothing.  A new business will have to be created, and if I am to
create it I must have two-thirds of the profits, leaving one-third for
the use of the Factor’s money."

The Factor was losing his temper.  "Why any at all?" he said.  "Why not
kick me out altogether?  No use beating a dog with a cheese when a whip
is handy."

The company were murmuring at Magnus, when the Governor interposed
again.  "Magnus," he said, "to say I’m astonished is to say nothing.
The Factor has treated you with boundless liberality, but no well is so
deep that it can’t be emptied, and if you go any farther----"

"Go any farther!" said the Factor.  "Why shouldn’t he go farther?  It
isn’t fair play between the wind and a straw, but why shouldn’t he beat
me about a little more?  Anything else to ask, sir?"

"Yes," said Magnus, without the change of a muscle.  "By this contract
my wife is to inherit half her father’s fortune at his death--she must
inherit the whole of it."

"Good Lord!"

The exclamation seemed to come from everybody in the general chorus of
condemnation which followed.

"Are you dreaming?" cried the Governor.  "Do you forget that the Factor
has another daughter?"

"No, sir, I do not forget it," said Magnus.  "But the other daughter has
gone away with her mother; she may never come back; and after Thora has
spent her life by her father’s side--cheering him up and making his home
bright, as mother says--and, perhaps, nursing him in his last days--is
somebody else, who has done nothing, to sweep off half of all he leaves
behind?  No!  My wife--if I marry--must have everything!"

The older people, both strangers and members of the family, broke into
loud expressions of dissent, while the Factor looked round at them, and
said, "An eagle isn’t displeased with a dead sheep, is it?  And so, Mr.
Governor’s son," he said, wheeling about on Magnus, "these are the only
terms on which you will do me the honor to marry my daughter?"

Without noticing the sneer, Magnus answered "Yes."

"Well, I must say I’m deceived in Magnus," said Aunt Margret.  "I didn’t
think he had a selfish thought in his heart."

"I didn’t think," said the Factor, who was not laughing any longer, "I
didn’t think the son of anybody in Iceland could afford to turn up his
nose at a daughter of mine."

"Neilsen," said the Governor, firmly, "we have been friends since we
were boys, and neither of us knows which will bury the other--don’t let
us quarrel now over the conduct of our children."

The company murmured approval, and then the Governor turned once more to
Magnus.

"My son--for you are my son, though I’m at a loss to understand it--you
are making a breach between two families by asking these utterly
impossible terms!  Don’t you see they are impossible?  Have you taken
leave of your senses?  Are you quite mad?  Or is it true that you have
been drinking--that you are drunk?  Good God!"

Magnus made no answer, but the painful silence which followed the
Governor’s outburst was broken by a pitiful cry. It came from Thora.
She understood everything at last; she knew what Magnus was doing for
her and the price he was going to pay for it; and she wanted to cry out,
but could not; so she dropped her head on Aunt Margret’s shoulder and
wept bitterly.

Anna mistook Thora’s tears for shame and humiliation, and turning to
Magnus she said:

"My dear son, you haven’t thought of things in the right way or you
couldn’t do what you are doing.  I don’t like these marriage contracts
myself.  It seems like a tempting of Providence to talk about money and
business just when two souls who love one another are joining themselves
together and becoming one.  But you are making it worse, Magnus--you are
making it a mere bargain.  And, then, think of Thora!  If you refuse her
father’s offer everybody will hear of it, and the poor girl will be
shamed.  Do you want to see that, Magnus?  I’m sure you do not!  So come
now, for Thora’s sake--even though you don’t quite like the Factor’s
conditions, for Thora’s sake, Magnus--will you not?"

Everybody waited for Magnus’s reply, and even Thora raised her head.

"No," said Magnus, in a voice like a growl, and then he sat with a
stolid face while the condemnation of the company fell upon him in a
chorus of denunciation. "Infamous!"  "Hateful!"  "Execrable!"
"Damnable!"  "The man’s heart must be as black as a raven."

Oscar could bear no more.  He had been sitting silent, with head down,
as if trying to hide his agitated face, while turning Helga’s photograph
over and over in his restless fingers; but now he rose, walked to the
curtains, which divided the front room from the back, parted them with a
trembling hand, and looked out over the lake on which the sun was
setting.

"Don’t go away, Oscar," cried the Governor.  "I know you are disgusted
with your brother’s turpitude; but I want you to speak to him for all
that.  It is hardly likely that having refused to pay attention to his
mother or me, he should listen to you or anybody else, but try him.  For
the honor of the family, tell him that if he adheres to the attitude he
has taken up, he will be an object of hatred and contempt.  As long as
he lives people will despise him, and his family will be ashamed to
acknowledge his name.  If he has no love for Thora, see if he has any
respect for himself.  Speak to your brother, Oscar, for mercy’s sake,
speak to him."

Oscar’s hand on the curtain shook visibly, and he said, with an effort,
while all listened without breathing, and Thora’s parted lips quivered:

"I cannot do that, father.  I do not feel that I have any right.  No
doubt Magnus knows as well as we do what he is doing, and has counted
all the consequences.  Everybody has to live his own life."

At this there was a murmur of disappointment, and the Governor, turning
away, walked to the window.  Then Oscar stepped back to the table, and
said, more firmly, yet with as much emotion:

"But if I cannot appeal to Magnus, there is something I can do--I can
offer to take Magnus’s place.  If you and the Factor will consent I can
accept the conditions of the contract just as they are, and be only too
proud to marry Thora if she will accept me."

At first there were looks of blank amazement about the table, then a
general sigh of relief, and everybody seemed to be saying at once,
"Good!"  "Splendid!"  "The very thing!"

"Yes," said the voice of the Governor, husky with emotion, "it is just
like Oscar--always doing the great thing! But in a matter which so
intimately concerns the boy’s future welfare I cannot allow a momentary
impulse of generosity----"

"It isn’t a momentary impulse, father.  Since I came home from England I
have learnt to love Thora.  But she was engaged to my brother, and I
couldn’t speak until Magnus had spoken----"

"Honorable!"  "Most honorable!" said several voices, and it was with
difficulty that Oscar could go on.

"But now--if it is understood that Magnus retires, that is to say,
refuses to marry Thora----"

"He does, undoubtedly he does," said the Factor.

"And if Thora will take me----"

Every eye looked toward Thora; she hesitated for a moment, then rose
from her chair and timidly held out her hand.  Oscar grasped it eagerly
and there was a chorus of congratulation.

"But we cannot allow Thora, either, to be carried away by a momentary
impulse," said Aunt Margret, who was vigorously wiping her eyes, "and if
she’s only doing this to escape from a shameful position----"

"I’m not, auntie," said Thora.  "I only consented to marry Magnus
because my father wished it, but I love Oscar, and if father will
agree----"

The Factor’s eyes were sparkling with the light of triumph, and he cried
across to the Governor, "What do _you_ say, Stephen?"

"Well, I must say it’s fast ambling--too fast," said the Governor, "but
if the young people are satisfied, and if Oscar is content to give up
his career in England--his music and his studies--and live in Iceland
all his life, it may save a breach between our families and tide us over
an ugly reef----"

"Then so be it, godson," cried the Factor, slapping Oscar on the back,
"and as for England, I’ll take care of that!"

This was received with a shout of approval from the strangers, and then
the Factor called to the lawyer to alter the names in the contract and
get it signed without delay.

"As for you, sir," he said, turning to Magnus, and snapping his fingers
in his face, "your ugly chickens have come home to roost.  You thought
you could corner me, but your selfishness and worldliness have done the
work that everybody seems to have wanted.  Ha, ha, ha! he laughs best
who laughs last!  There’s nothing I like better than to dish a man who
tries to dish me, and I’ll go to bed happy to-night."

Magnus had risen from his low seat and was standing with his head down
and his hands on his hips while the storm beat over him, and thinking he
was still unmoved the Factor burst upon him again in a tone of biting
raillery:

"But if the barter trade is going to the dogs, hadn’t you better cut it
before the crash comes?  Heavy is the fall, you know, when an old man
tumbles, and I might crush you coming down.  I’ll trouble you to leave
my house, sir, without a day’s delay."

"Father!" cried Thora, and she stepped between them, but the Factor
brushed her aside.

"You get away, Thora.  If a daughter of mine had done to me what he has
tried to do to-day she wouldn’t have a roof to cover her to-night."

"Neither shall a son of mine--not in this town, at all events," said the
Governor.  "Magnus Stephenson----"

"Stephen!  Stephen!" said Anna, and Oscar, in the same quivering voice
as before, cried out to his father.

"Hold your tongue, Anna!  Oscar, be quiet, you’ve done enough for one
day!  Magnus Stephenson, when you leave the Factor’s house you will go
to Thingvellir, and stay there, and thank your stars if for the rest of
your life you are allowed to earn your bread by the sweat of your brow."

"The amended contract is ready for the signatures," said the lawyer, and
then everybody save one turned back to the table, and there was a cackle
of cheerful voices.  When the names were all signed and witnessed, the
rings were exchanged, and there was some joking and happy laughter.

"All’s well that ends well," said the Bishop.  "That will do as a pledge
between you until you come to me to be made man and wife."

"Supper is ready," cried Aunt Margret, drawing the curtains of the inner
room, and then seeing a photograph on the floor beneath them, she said,
"but who’s been treading on poor Helga’s portrait?"

"That’s Oscar," said Thora.  "He had it in his hand when he got up."

When the company were seated about the supper table it was seen that
there was one chair too many, and the Governor pushed it back with an
impatient hand.  Magnus had gone--no one had seen him go.


                                 *XII*

Alone and forgotten, a prey to the devilish voices which had tortured
him in the time of his temptation, angry and unsatisfied although he had
carried out his purpose and triumphed as he had intended, Magnus was in
his room at the top of the house gathering up his belongings by the
light of a candle.

They were few and not valuable--a little money, two or three suits of
clothes, two or three pairs of riding, fishing, and snow boots, some
musical exercise books, the "Book of Job," "The Pilgrim’s Progress"
(having illustrations of Apollyon with horns), and the precious flute
with which he had beguiled those blessed evenings that now seemed to
belong to another existence.  He had sent for two ponies to take him to
the farm--a saddle pony and a pack pony--and two small boxes held
everything.  When all was packed he came upon the remains of a bottle of
brandy which he had kept in his bedroom as medicine, and he drank the
spirit and threw the bottle away.

During that short hour of pain and degradation he heard at intervals the
various noises of the company at supper below--sometimes in single
voices, sometimes in climbing cries like the sounds of a geyser,
sometimes in peals of joyous laughter--and his heart grew bitter.  He
could plainly distinguish Oscar’s voice among the rest, at first quiet
enough, but afterward loud and hilarious, and his very soul sickened.

"You fool!" said the other voices at his ear.  "What did you expect?
Did you think he would be overwhelmed with sorrow?  He is glad; he’ll
walk over your head, and over Thora’s head, too!  Listen to him
already--the sweet, unselfish, privileged pet of everybody!"

After the boxes had been sent down-stairs Magnus took a last look round,
and then he tried to shut out all bitter thoughts and evil passions, for
he believed that he was leaving that room for ever.  It had been his
home through seven long years, and some of them had been bad years, but
some of them had been good, and the good ones filled the little place
with memories of many visions.

The sloping roof, the dormer window, the deal furniture, the sheep’s
skin on the bare floor, and the sunflower pattern on the wall-paper were
all ghosts of the dreams he had dreamt there.  Some were dreams of the
great things he was going to do for Iceland, but more were dreams of
Thora, and remembering that both sorts were dead now, and that Thora
belonged to Oscar, to save himself from further repining and to crush
down the riot that was rising within, he blew out the candle and that
chapter of his life was at an end.

But the devilish voices were not yet done with him. Going down-stairs he
had to pass the door of the front room on the first landing, and he went
by it on tiptoe.  For years he had always passed that door on tiptoe,
for it was the door to Thora’s room, a holy place, half nursery, half
sanctuary, as Thora herself had grown to be half saint to him and half
child; but he was not thinking of that this time. He was thinking he
must get out of the house without seeing her again, for she belonged to
Oscar now, and if they were to meet and she began to thank him for
giving her to Oscar--but God forbid!

Thora’s door was closed, but the next room stood open.  It was Aunt
Margret’s bedroom, and Magnus knew that a photograph of Thora was on the
chest of drawers near the door.  He had often envied it, and now he
stooped to look at it for the last time, and the voices at his ear
seemed to say, "Take it; it’s all you are going to carry away of her."

Going down the last flight of stairs he heard the two sitting-rooms
buzzing like the mill-house, and knew that others must have joined the
party; but above all other sounds he heard the sound of Oscar’s voice,
clear as a flute, saluting people as they came in.  "Listen to him!  The
darling!" said the mocking voices by his side.

Coming to the hall, he encountered some of the women of the town in
their feast-day dresses, and with garden flowers in their hands.  Hardly
any of them looked at him, but all passed into the sitting-room, where
Oscar waited to welcome them.

The hat-stand in the hall had been cleared for the new-comers, therefore
Magnus had to go to a rail under the stairs for his overcoat and
riding-whip, and while he was there Aunt Margret opened the door of the
back sitting-room to ventilate the crowded place.  She did not see him,
for she had taken off the spectacles she usually wore, and he was
standing in the shadow, but he saw everybody in the room, and Thora
among the rest.

Thora was sitting by the wall, and the townspeople were going up to her
one after another and offering their flowers and making congratulatory
speeches.  And she was thanking them in her soft voice and looking very
happy.

Magnus was hurt by Thora’s happiness.  He had done all he could to make
her happy; he had sacrificed everything; but now that he looked on her
happiness he was hurt by it; and when Oscar went and stood by her chair,
looking bright and proud, he felt hot with anger and hatred.

While he pulled on his overcoat he could not help hearing what was being
said within the room.  "Such an extraordinary thing, Thora," said one,
"people in the town actually said it was Magnus you were going to
marry!"  "I heard that, too," said another.  "I heard it at Olaf’s, the
silversmith’s, when we were drinking coffee."  "Such an idea!" said a
third, "as if any girl would marry Magnus who could get Oscar!"  And
then Oscar’s voice, large, expansive, indulgent, almost patronizing,
"Tut, tut!  You mustn’t say anything against Magnus, Elisabet!"  "But I
hear Magnus insulted Thora this evening, and the Factor has turned him
out for it."  "Can it be possible?  I saw him in the hall as I was
coming in!"  "No, no, not insulted--not insulted exactly," said Oscar’s
voice again, and then Magnus, sick and dizzy, turned away.

He was going out of the house with head down when the door of the front
sitting-room opened and closed quickly, and he found himself face to
face with Thora.  She was trying to look sad, but the light of her
happiness was still in her eyes, and her parted lips were smiling.

"I heard you were here," she said, "and I couldn’t help coming out to
see you.  Oscar told me yesterday I was not to speak, whatever happened,
but it seems so terrible that you should leave us like this."

"We made a mistake, and we had to get out of it somehow," said Magnus.

"I know," said Thora.  "And of course I think it will be the best thing
in the end.  You would have had no joy of me, Magnus, and I should have
been very unhappy."

"Perhaps you would," said Magnus.

"But it is a great grief to me that you will have to give up all the
schemes you had set your heart upon, Magnus."

"I have given up more than that, Thora," said Magnus, and he tried to
push past her and go.

The light of her smile died off her face, and with a wistful look, in a
pleading voice, she said:

"I feel as if I am losing a friend, Magnus, and you are saying good-by
to me for good."

"Not that exactly," said Magnus.

"Good-by, Magnus!"

"Good-by!"

They were standing with hands clasped in what they believed to be their
last parting when the buzz of the inner room broke out upon them again,
and a cheery voice cried:

"Thora!  Thora!  Where are you?--Oh, it’s you, Magnus?"

It was Oscar, and at the next moment Thora had gone back, the door of
the sitting-room had closed behind her, and Magnus and his brother were
together in the hall.

"I meant to come out to you before, old fellow," said Oscar, "but they
stuck to me like leeches, and I couldn’t get away.  I wanted to thank
you for what you did for me this evening.  It was too generous, too
brotherly, and I can never be sufficiently grateful."

Magnus did not answer, so Oscar went on:

"You pledged me to silence, and you were right, plainly right; but, of
course, I cannot allow the error about your motive to go much farther,
and as soon as it is safe to do so I will set you right.  People shall
know the truth about what you did, and why you did it; and they will
make amends for their mistake."

Still Magnus did not speak, so Oscar continued:

"It’s too bad, though, that you should suffer in the meantime, and if
there is anything I could do for you--in a material way, I mean--if you
are in want of----"

But the dark fire that was rising in Magnus’s face frightened him, and
he could not finish what he wished to say.

"I don’t care a straw what people think I did it for," said Magnus, "and
I don’t care a damn if they never make amends.  You know what I did it
for, and that’s enough for me.  I did it for the sake of Thora.  I gave
her up to you that you might love her and cherish her and make her
happy, and be a better husband to her than I could be.  But if you don’t
do it; if you ever neglect her or desert her or give her up for another
woman, I’ll take her back.  Do you hear me?"--(Magnus swayed like a
drunken man and laid hold of Oscar’s arm)--"I’ll take her back, and
then--then, by God, I’ll kill you!"

Saying this, he walked heavily out of the house, leaving Oscar with
white cheeks and gibbering lips, alone in the hall.

His ponies were waiting for him in the street ready for the journey to
Thingvellir.  The night was dark, but the windows of the house were
bright, for the blinds had been drawn and the sashes thrown open.  A
cackle of many voices came out of them, for the company within was now
large and very merry.  While Magnus tightened the girths somebody played
a guitar, and as he was riding away Oscar began to sing.



                               *PART II*


    "_Impotent pieces of the game he plays_
    _Upon this chequer-board of nights and days;_
    _Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays,_
    _And one by one back in the closet lays._"


                                  *I*

Oscar did his best to keep the fire burning in the inner sanctuary--the
fire of love and duty--but oftener than he was aware it flickered, and
seemed to be in danger of dying out.  He tried to tell the truth about
Magnus, but as frequently as he thought out a way of doing so he was
confronted by the ugly question which would surely be asked: "Can it be
possible that you stood passively aside while we condemned Magnus for a
vice he was not guilty of, and praised you for a virtue you did not
possess?"  The humiliation of speech like that would be deeper than the
degradation of silence, and from day to day Oscar postponed the painful
confession.  Thus a month passed, and he had said nothing.

His position would have been easier if he had been getting on better
with his work--if he could have felt it impossible that the Factor could
regret the loss of Magnus.  Then he would have said, "After all, though
naturally you didn’t think so at the time, everything has been for the
best," whereupon the Factor would have said, "You are right, god-son,"
and after that he would have told all.

But his work was going badly, and there was no blinking the fact that he
was a poor business man.  On first going into the Factor’s, on the
footing the contract gave him, he rambled from office to warehouse with
aimless and shiftless uncertainty, dressed with Bohemian freedom, and
looking like a butterfly in a back alley.  Then the Factor said, "Come,
come, young fellow, we must be getting to work; choose a department and
be responsible for it."

Oscar selected the export department.  This brought him into relation
with the farmers, and some of them cheated him unmercifully, concealing
their inferior wool in the body of the packs he bought from them.
Magnus would have rooted out both the bad stuff and the men who brought
it, and they would have gone flying before his threatening face; but
Oscar wished to stand well with everybody, and the firm suffered
accordingly.

After a week he wished to change.  He thought the import department
would suit him better: "Very well," said the Factor.  "Mistakes are made
by the young as well as the old--buckle to at the imports, my boy."

The imports brought him into relation with the mates of steamers and
trading ships, and they were quick to shuffle their responsibility for
damaged freights onto Oscar’s shoulders.

After another week he went back to the Factor and said, "I don’t think a
department is what suits me best, god-father--why not let me have a
general supervision?"  The Factor shrugged his shoulders, but replied,
"I’m willing. You shall be my right-hand man, then, and I’ll ease off as
soon as you are ready."

But from that moment onward Oscar did nothing, good, bad, or
indifferent.  He was always running about like one out of breath, but he
came at any hour in the morning and left at any time in the evening, and
was always skipping off to see Thora.  That little lady was entirely
content, but the Factor was heard to say to Aunt Margret, "There was
something in Magnus after all, Margret."  And Aunt Margret was heard to
answer, "Many a good sword is in a bad sheath, you know."

But one day Oscar came flying to the Factor in breathless haste with his
mouth full of great news.  The Member of Parliament for the town was
dead, and the Radical party were already preparing to run a
candidate--an out-and-out Socialist named Oddsson, an enemy of the old
order in both politics and trade.

"Why shouldn’t I go into Althing?" said Oscar.  "I could protect the
business against these rascally revolutionaries, and help to preserve
the old principles."

"Let me talk to your father first," said the Factor.

The old friends agreed that the scheme was a good one. Not only was the
man Oddsson a believer in Magnus’s doctrine about the barter trade, but
he was the champion of an agitation for establishing a new constitution
in Iceland, which would abolish the Governor and set up a Minister
responsible to Parliament alone.  He must be kept out.  In self-defense
they must fight the common enemy!  Oscar would be a good candidate,
being young and bright and clever, and a personal favorite.

"But I cannot appear in the contest," said the Governor.

"Leave it to me," said the Factor, and he went back and told Oscar, who
shouted with delight and shot off to tell Thora.

By this time Thora had spent a long month in radiant happiness.  If she
thought sometimes of Magnus’s position, she remembered that Oscar had
said he would set things right, and the delay counted for little,
because she measured existence by days no longer, but by emotions, and
she was conscious of one emotion only--love for Oscar, and therefore for
everybody and everything in the world.

As the year was growing elderly and its withering winds made further
excursions to the islands of the fiord impossible, they remained at home
and romped like children or played the guitar and piano.  At such times
Thora was not without certain backward thoughts of Magnus, for the room
was the same and nothing was different except the hour of the day, but
there was always the difference of its being Oscar.

He taught her some Icelandic love songs, and she sang them in a thin
sweet treble, which Oscar cheered tumultuously. It did not hurt her in
the least that Oscar never took her singing seriously--he did not take
Thora herself seriously.  He called her "Baby Thora," and she christened
him the "Bad Boy."

The moment he had left her sight she would send a letter after him, like
a handkerchief he had forgotten.  He always replied, and his letters
were full of affectionate banter, but perhaps at the bottom of her heart
she was a little disappointed with them.  They were not quite lover-like
enough; there were scarcely any of them she could not read aloud to Aunt
Margret; there was hardly one that was her very own. But Oscar made up
for every deficiency when he arrived himself, and on the day when he
came with a hop, skip, and a jump into the sitting-room, and announced
that he was to be member of Althing, she saw him for one moment great
and glorious, like the top of a mountain when it has broken through the
mist and the sun has flashed on to it, and then she said, "And now the
Bad Boy must play with me--he hasn’t played me blindman’s buff since
yesterday."

Thora was too happy to think of her happiness, but she told herself
sometimes that there was only one thing wanted to make it complete--that
Helga should come home to share it.  She broached the subject to Oscar,
but it was at a moment when he was immersed in his manifestoes, and he
merely said, "Good idea!  Splendid!  Helga looks like a stunner!  Send
for her certainly if the Factor approves," and he went on with his
tiresome politics.

She broached it next to Aunt Margret, who was less encouraging.  Putting
her spectacled face close to Thora’s, she shook her ringlets, and said,
"Don’t be a ninny!  Two’s company, three’s none!"

But Thora mentioned the matter to Anna also, and the motherly old thing
was moved.  "That would be beautiful if you could manage it, Thora," she
said, "and if it should lead to bringing the others together, what a
blessing it would be!"

After that Thora regarded herself in the light of the family
peace-maker, and in this character she approached her father.  The
Factor listened to her with sympathy, for nature is stronger than
lawyer’s ink, and he had often told himself he had been foolish to part
with his child.  "Well, I don’t see why she shouldn’t," he said.  "She
might come for the wedding--or, say for a year--one year at all events.
I’ll write to the lawyer in Denmark."

By the same mail Thora wrote to Helga:

Dearest Helga:--Father is writing to the lawyer to ask him to send you
back to Iceland.  It is only for a year, so I hope mamma will not
object.  I am sure you will not when I tell you what is to happen.
There is to be a wedding, and, of course, a party, and great goings on.

Dear, I am to be married to Oscar Stephenson, who has come back from
England, and is so handsome and so clever. If you could see him as he is
now, you would fall in love with him instantly, but he is so fond of me,
and I am so happy.  I was to have married his brother Magnus, but the
engagement broke down, and now I am very sorry for Magnus, and if ever
you hear anything against him when you come home you are not to believe
a word of it, because Magnus is as good as gold, only I could not care
for him, so it was no use trying.

Dear, there are such lots of things I want to tell you, but I must save
them until you come.  We have had bad trade this summer, and Oscar has
gone into father’s business.  I am weaving a web of cloth for father’s
Christmas suit, but it does not make much progress, because somebody is
always interrupting, and when you are about to be married there is so
much to do--isn’t there?

Dearest Helga, I have no more to write about now, so give my love to
mamma, and mind you come before long, for the wedding may be soon,
although nothing is fixed yet. Your affectionate sister, Thora.

P.S.--Come quickly.  I am dying to introduce you to Oscar.

A fortnight later the Factor announced that he had heard from the lawyer
in Denmark, and Helga was to come by the next steamer.

"The ’Laura,’ and she’s due on the first of November, and that’s the day
of the election!" said Oscar.

"What a good omen!" said Thora, and she sang her Iceland love songs all
that evening through, for she was very happy.


                                  *II*

On the morning of the day when the "Laura" was due, there was no sign of
her on the sea, but that was a matter of moment only to Thora, who had
been up early and down at the jetty before breakfast.  The rest of the
little world in which she lived were immersed in preparations for the
election and were going about like dogs on the leash before the hunt
begins.  Oscar was flying to and fro with red ribbons in his
button-hole; ponies were coming and going with red ribbons in their
bridles, and red flags were hanging all over the town; but,
nevertheless, there was a sense of uncertainty everywhere and an
atmosphere of intense excitement.

The day opened dull and rayless, with a pale sun behind a slaty sky like
a white wafer on an old parchment.  An hour before the polling booths
opened the Governor called upon the Factor, under pretense of his
morning’s walk, and said:

"I’m doubtful of the result, Neilsen, and I now see that Oscar was the
worst possible candidate to stand for our cause.  Everybody who has a
grievance against the Governor is going to vote against the Governor’s
son, and everybody who has a grievance against the Factor will vote
against his son-in-law."

"Oh, I know the people, bless them," said the Factor. "Master when you
want anything--slave when you don’t. But we’ll see, Stephen, we’ll see!"

After finishing his breakfast comfortably the Factor walked leisurely to
his counting-house and called for his ledger.  It showed that nearly
half of the electors of the town were indebted to him, some of them
slightly, others deeply, and not a few beyond hope of payment without
pressure or distraint.  He counted up their total indebtedness, and it
proved to be frightful.  "But life is precious when death is at the
door," he thought, and lighting his long German pipe, he put the
leather-bound book under his arm and strolled quietly across to the
polling-station.

As chairman of Oscar’s committee the Factor had a right to sit inside
the polling booth, but he merely asked to be allowed to take a chair
outside the counter to which the voters would come up when they recorded
their votes.  "A low seat is often easy," he said, sitting with his face
to the Sheriff and his back to the door.

When the doors were opened the Factor laid his ledger across his knees
and took out a thick blue pencil.  Then, as each voter came up to the
counter and his name was called and looked up in the register, the
Factor was seen to turn up the voter’s account in his own book and hold
his blue pencil over it.

"Whom do you vote for?" asked the Sheriff, "Oscar Stephenson or Jon
Oddsson?" and if the voter answered "Oscar Stephenson," the blue pencil
was seen to descend in two broad strokes across the account as if
cancelling it altogether; but if he answered "Jon Oddsson," it was seen
to score the total with a double underline as if marking it for
immediate recovery.

The opposition had entered in hot haste, but the effect was
instantaneous.  A voter would come swaggering up to the counter, call
his name in a robustious voice, and then (while waiting for the
verification of his right to vote) see the Factor sitting below with his
own account open before him, and, understanding everything in a moment,
would begin to answer the Sheriff with a faltering, "Odd----," then
pause, tremble, mumble "Stephenson," and go stumbling out of doors.

Silently, hour after hour, from the beginning of the day to the end of
it, the Factor sat at his task, never once looking up from his ledger
and apparently doing nothing but checking, as he had a right to do, the
Sheriff’s record of the votes. Aunt Margret came to say that dinner was
ready, but he answered that he was not hungry.  Toward three in the
afternoon Thora arrived in great excitement to say that the "Laura" had
been sighted outside the head, but he told her to meet her sister
herself, and tell her that he did not expect to be home before midnight.

When the cathedral clock struck four the Sheriff rose and ordered the
shutting of the doors.  The short winter’s day had closed in by this
time, and while the counting was going on with its monotonous beat in
the silence of the breathless room, like the splashing of rain on the
pavement--"Stephenson, Stephenson, Oddsson, Stephenson"--the Factor, who
had lit his pipe, was pacing the corridor outside, like a man who walks
in his orchard when the fruit is ripe.

When the counting was finished the Sheriff told the attendants to open
the window, and then the deep hum of a crowd which had been cheering and
singing outside, with a noise like the waves breaking on a bar far off,
rose to a roar, like that of the sea running up a stony beach.  At the
next moment everybody was shaking hands with Oscar, a band was beginning
to play in the street, and the Sheriff was stepping on to the balcony.

Meantime Thora, fluttering with excitement of another sort, had gone
down to the jetty to meet Helga.  As soon as the "Laura" had steamed up
the fiord and cast anchor outside the town, she put off in her father’s
white boat and drew up alongside.  It was now quite dark, but lights
were burning on the steamer and the dark figures of a line of passengers
were silhouetted against the sky as they leaned over the rail and
shouted to the friends in little boats who had come out to meet them.
Thora was sure that Helga must be there, and she wanted to call to her,
but her heart was beating so fast that her voice would not answer.  At
length the ladder was let down, and Thora’s boat swayed up to it, and
then she climbed up the steamer’s side.

"Helga!"

"Miss Helga is below," said a voice out of the darkness, and though she
felt a pang of disappointment that Helga was not waiting, she ran down
the stairs to the saloon.  At the bottom she called "Helga" again, and
the stewardess said:

"The young lady is in her cabin."

"Which?"

"Second to the left."

Feeling conscious of increasing disappointment, but still panting in her
eagerness, Thora skipped off to the cabin, and then came a shock of
surprise.

Somehow she had expected to find Helga a little thing, grown certainly,
but still smaller than herself.  In her dreams of their first meeting
she had pictured herself stooping to kiss Helga, and then in a
sisterly-motherly sort of way putting her arms about her waist.  But the
young lady who came leisurely out of the cabin with her veil down and
buttoning her kid gloves, was much taller than Thora and quite dignified
and stately.

"Thora!" said the girl.

"So it is you--really you?" said Thora.

"Really me," laughed Helga, and then it was Helga who stooped to kiss
Thora, who had to lift up her face to her.

Thora’s heart was in her mouth in both senses.  She looked at Helga
again by the dim light of the saloon lamp, and felt herself small and
insignificant.  Helga was beautiful, with fine features, large gray eyes
and rich dark complexion, and Thora felt herself to be plain and
commonplace.  Helga was fashionably dressed in the Danish manner, with
the soft silk things about the neck and bosom which give charm to a
charming girl, and Thora felt herself to be dowdy and countrified in her
Iceland hufa and stiff velvet cloak.

"Have you come alone?" asked Helga.

"Quite alone," said Thora.

"But hasn’t father come with you?  Or Aunt Margret? Or that wonderful
Oscar?  Is there nobody but you?"

"Nobody but me," said Thora, and then, though she felt crushed and
small, she delivered the Factor’s message and told about the election.

"So that was the meaning of the band we heard as we were sailing up?"
said Helga, and at the first moment Thora thought perhaps Helga had
hoped it was in honor of her own arrival, but at the next she felt
ashamed and foolish.

"We might as well go, then," said Helga, and she swept up the stairs,
leaving Thora to follow.  It was all so different from what Thora had
expected--so utterly different--that she would have given anything to
run away and cry.

But going ashore in the boat, she sat at the helm side by side with
Helga, and there, the lights being gone, and Thora no longer in awe of
Helga’s fashion and beauty, she slipped her arm about her sister’s
waist, as she had always intended to do, and after that they got on
better.

When they touched the jetty there was much shouting and scrambling in
the darkness, and Thora was nervous and excited, but Helga was quiet and
even amused.

"No carriages in this benighted country yet, I suppose?" said Helga.

"No, but I’ve brought Silvertop to take you up," said Thora.

"And what is there for you?"

"Oh, I’ll walk--I love walking."

The street at the top of the jetty was thronged with the people who were
waiting outside the polling place to hear the result of the election,
and when the girls came to the crowd, which was good-natured but
boisterous, they found it difficult to plow their way through until a
big man stepped before them and swept the people aside like ninepins.

"What a tremendous creature that was," said Helga.  "He could have
felled an ox, I fancy."

"But didn’t you know him, Helga?  It was Magnus Stephenson," said Thora.

"Magnus?  Why didn’t he speak, I wonder?"

They had reached the outskirts of the crowd and were crossing in front
of the polling place when the people raised a great shout, for it was
the moment when the Sheriff stepped on to the balcony.

"He’s going to declare the poll.  Shall we wait?" asked Thora.

"It might be amusing," said Helga.

As soon as there was silence the Sheriff read the figures. Oscar had
been elected by three votes to one.  At this there was another hurricane
of cheers, with cries of "Oscar!" "Oscar!" and Thora said:

"Oscar will come next.  Shall we wait and see him?"

"Why not?  It will be good fun," said Helga, and in the interval Thora
patted Silvertop to keep him quiet, and creeping closer to her sister
squeezed her hand.

Then Oscar came bounding on to the balcony amidst a wild breaker of
applause, and behind him came two men bearing torches, so that his
figure and face were plainly visible to the crowd below--his slight,
lithe form, his fair hair slightly ruffled, his sparkling eyes, his
mobile mouth and the never-failing smile that captivated everybody.

It was thus that Helga saw him for the first time since he became a man,
and her face, which had worn a playful expression, became grave.

"How fine!" she said.

Thora could hardly catch the words over the sibilation of the running
cheers, but she said:

"He will speak--shall we wait to hear him?"

"Assuredly," said Helga, and when Oscar began with "Fellow townsmen and
fellow countrymen," Thora felt Helga’s hand shiver and heard her say,
"The same voice!"

Oscar’s speech was punctuated by applause at the end of every sentence,
and when it was finished, and the speaker and the men with the torches
had disappeared, Thora spoke to Helga again, but she answered at random,
and sat in her saddle like one in a dream.

Somebody else came on to the balcony and had a mixed reception.

"It must be father," said Thora, and then the Factor’s voice, utterly
indifferent to hostile interruptions, was heard to say that a supper had
been prepared at the hotel for the committee of the successful
candidate, and they were to go there at once--the new member would
follow presently.

With that the crowd broke up, and the girls went their way--Thora
clinging closer than ever to her sister, for her heart was warm with
love and pride.

"Well," she said, "what did you think of him?"

"Think of him?  Oscar?" said Helga.  She laughed uncomfortably, and then
stooped from the saddle and whispered:

"Only to think that a little thing like you, dear, should capture a man
like that!"

Thora laughed also, but she hardly knew whether she was pleased or hurt.
A sudden chill had struck her.  It was like the breath of the mountain
snow which sometimes comes down in summer.


                                 *III*

The gods of riot were playing so hard a game with Thora that she was in
a fever to introduce Oscar to Helga, and when he did not appear by noon
of the following day she sent a letter across to Government House to
order him to come forthwith.  The "Bad Boy" was too full of his silly
politics, while there was something far more charming and absorbing
waiting for him there.  But an answer came back from Anna to say that
Oscar was still asleep, and after the excitement of the day before, and
the late hour of the previous night, she was unwilling to waken him.

Early in the afternoon Anna herself came over expecting to see the
first-fruits of the peace-making, and, while Aunt Margret was below
stairs preparing chocolate for the company that was expected, the
motherly old thing tried various artful ways of finding out from Helga
what her upbringing had been in Denmark, and, particularly, what
religious instruction and society her mother had given her.  Helga saw
through the device in a moment, and with her red lips a little awry she
painted an alarming picture of theaters and concert-halls, and a flat in
Copenhagen frequented by actors and actresses, especially on Sunday
evenings, where everybody, including the ladies, smoked cigarettes and
drank brandy.

Meanwhile Thora watched for Oscar out of the sidelight of the projecting
window, and as soon as she saw him swinging down the road, she darted
into the hall and threw herself into his arms and kissed him, whereupon,
with his head full of his victory, he said:

"Congratulations, eh?  The sweetest I’ve had yet," and pushed through
toward the drawing-room.

"Wait, wait, wait!  Somebody to show you!" cried Thora.

Then the poor victim of God knows what maleficent powers--not knowing
what she did, but laughing merrily as if a song-bird had been imprisoned
in her throat--began to play the old familiar trick of children;
standing behind Oscar on tip-toe in order to reach, she put her hands
over his eyes, and crying, "Forward, soldier!" marched him blindfold
into the drawing-room and up to the place where Helga was waiting.
Then, removing her hands sharply, she cried, "There!" and stood off to
see the effect.

Oscar found himself face to face with a girl as unlike Thora as could
be, tall, dark, with hair parted at the side and hanging over the
forehead, dressed in a light silk blouse and silver-grey skirt, and
having an odor of violets about her.

"Helga!  Can it be possible?"

He stretched out his hand and Helga took it, and held it, and so they
stood for some moments, while Thora, breathing rapidly, watched the
changing lights in their faces: in Oscar’s, astonishment, admiration,
and rapture: in Helga’s, curiosity, satisfaction, and delight.  And
Thora’s own face, too--to the pitying angels who alone were looking at
it--showed expressions just as various: pride, joy, then uneasiness, and
finally a little twinge of secret pain.

To relieve this feeling, Thora burst into laughter, and then everybody
laughed, and Aunt Margret came into the room with the chocolate and
cakes.

"So you’ve brought them together again, Thora?" said Aunt Margret, and
Thora swallowed a lump in her throat and answered, "Yes."

Then Oscar and Helga went over to the window and talked together with
great animation.  Thora heard snatches of their conversation as she
carried round the cups.  It was about things of which she knew
nothing--Denmark, Copenhagen, England, London, Oxford, the English
theater, the Danish theater, and, above all, music, music, music.

"How well they get along," said Thora.

"Trust them for that," said Aunt Margret.

Toward dusk the Factor returned home--not having altered his habit of
work by a hair’s breadth; and then came half the great people of the
town--the Bishop, the Sheriff, the Rector of the Latin School, and
finally the Governor. Helga moved among them with the quiet ease of one
accustomed to company.  Within an hour she had captured all the men, but
the women were less sure of her.

"The minute I set eyes on her," whispered Aunt Margret to Anna, "I said
to myself, ’Thora is a Neilsen out and out, but there’s more of the
stranger in this one.’"

"She’s the living picture of what my wife was when I saw her first,"
said the Factor in a low tone to the Governor, who answered
significantly, in the same low tone:

"Then I don’t wonder, old friend--I say I don’t wonder!"

"Helga’s head and yours were nearer together when I laid my hand on them
last," said the Bishop to Thora.  "Take care!  Your sister is running
away from you, little one."

"Isn’t she?" said Thora.

Thora did not feel quite so happy in Helga’s visit as she had expected,
but still struggling to show her off, she asked her to play something on
the piano--she had played after breakfast and it was beautiful.

Helga played brilliantly, and Oscar, who turned over her music,
applauded her boisterously.

"And now Oscar ought to play something," said the Governor.  "From his
earliest years he made us conceive the highest hopes that he might
become a great musician."

"He will, too--my son Neils at the College of Music says he will," said
the Sheriff.

"Nonsense!" said the Factor.  "Oscar has something better to do now than
to scrape catgut or blow his lungs through a steam-pipe."

"Still, an occasional flirtation with the muses," said the Hector, "you
wouldn’t object to that, Factor?"

"I would object to flirtations of all sorts," said the Factor, "and I
should think the man a fool who put himself in the way of them."

"Surprising how many men do," said the Governor with a wink at the
Rector.  "Would you believe it--a certain friend of yours wrote a poem
in the days of his youth!"

"Never!" cried the Rector, and while the old people laughed, the Factor
said:

"When I was a child I behaved as a child, but when I became a man I put
away childish things."

"Well, I so far agree with the Factor that I think a man can’t have his
heart in two places at once," said the Governor.  "What do you say,
Thora?"

"I suppose not," said Thora.

"Certainly not, any more than a man can love two women at the same
time," said the Governor; and then Oscar began to play.

He played as the bird sings because the song is in the soul of it, and
when he had finished, the company cheered him lustily, and Helga,
putting her face close to his, said in a whisper:

"And you asked me to play--I who only play as I am taught, and you can
play like that!"

Oscar was delighted with Helga’s praises and suggested that they should
play together.  They played a difficult selection, full of flourishes,
and the company declared they had never heard anything like it.

"Wonderful, wasn’t it?" said somebody.

"Yes, wasn’t it?" said Thora.

She was feeling utterly eclipsed and forgotten when Helga wheeled round
on the music-stool and said:

"And now Thora must give us something on her guitar--Aunt Margret says
she plays it beautifully."

"Indeed she does--beautifully!" said Aunt Margret.

But Thora begged off in alarm, saying, "No, indeed, no! I couldn’t
possibly play after playing like that."

So Oscar and Helga began again.  This time it was an English ballad.
Helga played the accompaniment, and Oscar sang the air, and there was a
chorus which they gave together.  The company were completely carried
away. "Charming!"  "Exquisite!"  "But how well their voices harmonize!"
"They might have been meant by nature to go together!"

"Might they not?" said Thora.

"But now Thora ought really to play her guitar," said Helga.

"Certainly!  Thora and her guitar," said Oscar.  "And let her sing one
of her Iceland love songs to it."

It was cruel, it was heart-breaking, it was almost as if Helga were
trying to humiliate her, as if Oscar were joining her, as if they were
conspiring together to expose her inferiority.

"No, no, don’t ask me, please don’t," she pleaded.

But Helga continued to ask and Oscar to second her, and being able to
bear the strain no longer, Thora burst into tears, and fled from the
room.

"How extraordinary!" said Helga.

But Oscar followed Thora and coaxed and comforted her and brought her
back with a smile on her face, although the tears were scarcely dry in
her eyes.

"I was silly," she said.  "I don’t know what came over me."

"Perhaps it was the heat," said the Governor, and he opened one of the
windows.


                                  *IV*

During the next month Oscar was every day and nearly all day at the
Factor’s, to the total disregard of his public work and the complete
neglect of business.  But his visits were not always to Thora, who was
ceasing to be "Baby Thora" either to him or to any one, and becoming a
serious little figure with a wistful face.  She never romped about the
house now, but sat in a corner with a ball of wool in her lap and a
crochet hook in her hand while Oscar and Helga played the piano and
talked music.

It was music, music, always music at the Factor’s in those days.  Early
in her visit Helga brought down a pile of the music of Wagner, and Oscar
was completely carried away by it.  Other composers produced beautiful
harmonies, a subtle and clever combination of sweet sounds, but when
Oscar played Wagner, the piano seemed to him to waken and weep, to burn
the flame under his fingers.

"It’s glorious!" he would say.  "I can never thank you enough, Helga.
It’s a new world, a new revelation."

Helga had heard of Oscar’s songs from the Sagas, and one day she said,
"I wonder you don’t try to compose something yourself, Oscar--something
in the style of Wagner--I’m sure you could."

Then with diffidence and apologies Oscar produced his ’prentice efforts,
and Helga praised them enthusiastically. "Do you know you are a born
musician?" she said.  "And you should never do anything except create
music--never!"

Oscar was intoxicated by her applause, but he only laughed and said,

"Ah, that’s impossible."

"Why impossible?"

"Parliament--public duties--and so forth."

"But, my dear Oscar, you don’t mean to say you are going to waste your
life like that?"

"Do you call it waste, Helga?"

"Not for everybody--not for a man like Magnus, for example--but for you,
yes," said Helga, and then, with irresistible drollery, she mimicked the
manners of Parliament, with its "Mr. Speaker, permit me to rise to a
point of order," and "Will the honorable and learned member explain,"
and all the other inanities of a legislative assembly in a little
country.

Oscar laughed until tears, (from more springs than one) began to roll
down his cheeks, and then he said--

"What an actress you would make, Helga!  But principles, my dear girl,
principles are the soul of politics, and if a man can guide his country
in the higher paths, he can afford to forget the plains--don’t you think
so, Thora?"

And Thora, who had been feeling dizzy and faint, answered in a helpless
way, "Yes, Oscar.  But I forgot to tell you that father wished to see
you on business."

"Business!" cried Helga.  "That, too!"

"Then you object to business also?" asked Oscar.

"For you--certainly, because you are not fit for it," said Helga.  "And
if you go into business you’ll be like a man who has married the wrong
woman.  She may be an excellent, thrifty soul, quite suitable to
somebody else, but she was never meant for him."

"There’s something in that, though it’s wonderful how you know it," said
Oscar.  "I’m about the silliest beggar at a bargain that ever breathed
out of an oyster shell."

"Of course you are, Oscar--you must be.  Now, if Magnus had gone into
business he might have got something out of it.  But you--what in the
world do you expect to get?"

"Ah, now you’re wrong, Helga!  I have got something out of it
already--I’ve got Thora!"

"Thora?"

"Didn’t you know?  Thora was the prize I was bidding for when I took
over that contract."

"So that was it--was it?" said Helga; and then Thora herself, feeling
sick and ill, gathered up her work and stole out of the room.

Nevertheless the seed which Helga had sown had not fallen on stony
ground.  Within twenty-four hours Oscar appeared with a new composition
in his hands.

"An idea came to me last night and I had to get it off," he said, and
then he sat down to the piano and played.

"Beautiful!" cried Helga.  "Really beautiful!  But this subject suggests
the organ--why not set it to that, and try it on the organ in the
cathedral?"

"Splendid idea!" said Oscar.  "Thora knows the curator and can get the
key.  What do you say, Thora?"

"If you would like to," said Thora, and next day they carried out their
scheme.

Oscar and Helga sat together in the organ loft, while Thora was sent
down the communion steps to report the effect at a distance.  "How did
that go, Thora?" cried Oscar, once or twice at the beginning, and Thora
answered, "Very nicely, I think," but then the two in the organ loft
forgot her altogether in the rapture of their rehearsal.

During the next two or three weeks Oscar and Helga went to the cathedral
every day, and sometimes Thora went with them, but more frequently she
remained at home.  A sudden wave of energy seemed to lift Oscar out of
himself, and he produced one composition after another.  Helga applauded
all of them, and her praises intoxicated him like glory.

"I can never be sufficiently grateful to you, Helga," he said, "for all
the good things you have poured out on me since you came back to
Iceland.  You have given my life a new joy, a new splendor!"

"Nonsense!" said Helga.  "I am nothing but a voice to awaken your
genius.  You were born to create music, and whatever happens you must
never, never throw away a life which has the glory of a future like
that."

To this, and such as this, he always answered "Ah, no!" or "Impossible!"
or "It’s past praying for," but Helga’s words were as the very incense
of the dreams which, in vaguer forms, he had been trying to forget since
the day he engaged himself to Thora.

"Why shouldn’t there be another Wagner, an Icelandic Wagner, a Wagner
with a still grander scene and still greater stories--the Sagas and
Eddas of this stern old land?"

About a month after Helga returned to Iceland she suggested to Oscar
that he should write an anthem on a passage which she selected from one
of the Sagas.  It was that in which the old gods of the Pagan world, in
anger with the family of man for permitting the establishment of
Christianity, tore open the bowels of their fruitful valleys with
earthquakes, and deluged them with molten lava, and how Christ came
through the chaos saying, "Let there be peace!"

"Great!  Glorious!  A stunning subject!  But can I do it?" said Oscar.

"You can, you must," said Helga, and from that moment a continual fever
burned in Oscar’s blood until the task was done.  Thora saw nothing of
him for days, except when he bounded in to run over a part of his score
with Helga, and then away, without a word, to his work again.  When the
anthem was written and he was ready to try it on the organ, he said:

"Are _you_ coming across to the cathedral to-day, Thora? No?  Perhaps
you had better not.  We’ll have to go over the thing again and again--it
might be tiresome."

It was the afternoon of a dull week-day in the early winter, and some of
the dreary noises of the work-a-day world followed Oscar into the
cathedral.  A vessel was unloading in the fiord--he could hear the
rumble of the iron trolleys as they rolled up the paved jetty to the
Factor’s warehouse. A new house was being erected on the corner of the
cathedral square--he could hear the thin clank of the mason’s trowel.  A
steamer was on the stocks in the shipyard down the harbor--he could hear
the sharp beat of the riveter’s hammer.

But there was another atmosphere in the cathedral, and Oscar floated on
it as on a flood--the silent sanctuary, the rows of empty pews going up
to the chancel, the empty pulpit with its sounding-board, the empty
altar with the Eastern subject painted above it, the marble font for the
baptism of future generations, the marble monuments to the memory of
past ones, and then the listening air, awakened by a whisper or a
footfall, and full of the breath of dead prayer and vanished praise.

In this atmosphere of art and religion Oscar sat down at the organ, with
Helga by his side, to try his anthem for the first time.  The organ
throbbed under his fingers, the empty cathedral shook like a sea-cave
under the boom of his waves of sound, and when he came to the end of his
first reading he was quivering with excitement and Helga was in a fever.

"What did I tell you?" she said.  "Was I not right? Oh, if this could be
heard in Denmark!"

"Or in England!" said Oscar.

They played the piece again and again, and at every fresh playing their
excitement increased until it reached the point of hysteria, and their
voices in that silent place became as shrill as the wind on the mountain
top.  At last they tried the words, and then their emotion knew no
limit.

The organ trembled and throbbed again, and then on the top of all other
sounds came the sound of Helga’s voice, like a human cry above the
thundering waves of nature, sometimes weeping, sometimes raging,
sometimes crouching, sometimes springing out of the surge, and finally
sinking down to the soft whisper of "Let there be peace!"

When the anthem was over and all was still, Oscar sat quiet for some
moments while the unheard echo of the music seemed to roll through the
silent air; and then the lightning-flash of joy or madness which comes
to every man of genius once in his life came to him also, and his heart
cried out, in its delirious happiness, "I, too, am a great composer!"

In the intoxication of that moment, Oscar’s hand swung down and took
Helga’s hand and held it, and their fingers trembled together and they
seemed to hear the beating of each other’s heart.  They looked at each
other, and his eyes were bloodshot and hers were wet.

"Helga!" he cried.

"Oscar!" she answered, but at the next moment a window blew open on the
staircase to the organ loft and Oscar heard again the dreary noises of
the work-a-day world without--the rumble of the iron trolleys, the thin
clank of the mason’s trowel, and the quick beat of the riveter’s hammer.
It was like the wakening of a prisoner in his cell when the warder beats
at the door and the dream of glory is gone and the prison walls close
round him again.

Oscar’s fingers slackened, and the next moment he heard Helga’s rapid
breathing behind him, and her voice saying with a strange bitterness:

"Is that Thora?"

He started and turned.  "Where?" he asked.

"Down there by the communion steps--by the altar.  No, I was mistaken.
It’s only a shadow.  The light is fading."

Then with the same bitterness she said, "But I suppose she will be there
soon, and you with her."

Oscar shuddered as if a wounded artery had been torn open, and Helga
continued:

"Then you will go back to business, and Oscar--Oscar Stephenson, the
musician--will be dead."

He fingered the organ stops fumblingly, and made no reply, whereupon
Helga, with undisguised irony, began to picture the dull routine of the
business life that was waiting for him after marriage--its calculations
of discounts, its squabbles with farmers, its buying and selling of pots
and pans.

"It is such a pity," she said.

"Don’t torture me, Helga," he cried.

"But is there no way out of it?"

"No, no, no!"

"No way at all, Oscar?"

"Let us go," he said, and he had got down to the door before he
remembered that he had left his hat behind him in the organ loft.

Thora had tea ready when they got back to the Factor’s. She was kneeling
before a cozy fire, making toast, after cutting the bread and butter,
and she looked up at them as they entered with a nervous, questioning,
tearful smile.

"Poor little soul!  She must never know--never, never!" thought Oscar.


                                  *V*

Thora knew already, and the big heart in her little breast was breaking.
She had begun to think that what had happened to Magnus when Oscar came
back was now happening to her--Oscar was falling in love with Helga, and
she, like Magnus, was being left alone.

Yet she could not reconcile herself to this suspicion without a hard
battle, and the first skirmish of the sweet heart was to fight for the
enemy--Oscar had made a great, great sacrifice when he agreed to marry
her; it was not to be wondered at if he had spasms of regret sometimes.
She hinted as much to Aunt Margret in one of the long hours in which
they were left together.

"Don’t you think that Oscar was very unselfish when he signed that
contract?" she said.

"Unselfish?  I don’t call it unselfishness to sign yourself into a
fortune," said Aunt Margret.

"But he had to take up the business, you know."

"Certainly he had--the best business in Iceland."

"Helga seems to think it is a little beneath him, Aunt Margret."

"It’s good enough for Helga’s father, and he made it. Besides, Oscar had
nothing else, and an ugly sheep is better than no mutton."

"Oh, yes, he had his music, auntie, and Helga thinks that was a good
deal."

"Does she, indeed?  People who are naked needn’t go about mending other
people’s clothes.  Oscar’s music wouldn’t have brought him a penny of
profit, and as for honor--what about Althing, and all the other things
he couldn’t have got without being rich?"

"So you don’t think Oscar sacrificed himself very much when he signed
the contract?"

"Sacrificed himself?  Perhaps the boot was on the other leg, if you ask
me."

Thora was happy for days after this interview, and while Oscar and Helga
played their Wagner, she went about the house singing her little love
ditties, and thinking of the time when Parliament would begin its
session, and Oscar would throw himself into politics, and become
Speaker, and perhaps Governor, and it would all come of having married
her.

But it was hard to sit for hours in the same room with people who were
scarcely conscious of her presence, and though Thora tried to hide her
pain lest Oscar should feel ashamed, she sometimes felt bitter about
Helga, and wanted to burst out on her.  The only thing which restrained
her from doing so was a sweet doubt which she cherished in the most
secret chamber of her heart that perhaps she was mistaken after all, and
Oscar did not really care for Helga.

"Auntie," she said, "don’t you think it’s silly to be jealous?"

"Depends upon circumstances, Thora."

"If a wife--for example--fancies her husband is paying too much
attention to another woman--don’t you think she is silly to be jealous?"

"She’s silly to show she is, my precious.  It doesn’t prevent the sting
to bite the head off the serpent, and if a wife shows the husband she’s
jealous, she’s just doing what the other woman wants."

"So you think she ought to be quiet and say nothing?"

"Certainly, I do.  If the man is going to run away from her, she had
better let him run, and if he isn’t, he’ll be the more ashamed because
he thinks she doesn’t know."

"You mean that if the man is only fascinated for a time----"

"Just so!  Fascination may be good enough for a flirtation, but it’s
like bright metal--it soon gets tarnished in a damp cellar.  You want
gold for the dark places, my honey."

"That is to say, auntie dear, that love is the only thing for married
life?"

"I should think so, indeed, with its crosses and disappointments, and
children and croup, and all the rest of it. And when it comes to
marrying, the silliest of the men know that, bless them!"

"What a lot you know about the men, auntie darling--I wonder you never
married, yourself, dear."

"That’s why, my precious!"

It was easier for Thora to veil her agonies with smiles after this
conversation.  She pictured to herself the time when her love would be
everything to Oscar.  In the secret places of her soul she thought of
the days when children would come, and perhaps even sickness, and they
would be drawn close--so close--together, because the dear clouds of
life hung over both of them.  She was not beautiful, she was only a
homely and humble little thing, she was unworthy of Oscar, and there
were so many things in which she was inferior, but oh, her love was
wonderful!  Nothing in the world was so wonderful as her love.  It would
work miracles, it would be stronger than death, it would stand by Oscar
to the end.

But all the same it was hard to receive her wounds without a cry, and
when Oscar and Helga went off to the cathedral and left her at home she
told herself she was too ignorant to be Oscar’s wife, and all her sweet,
heroic love was wasted.

"Don’t you think Helga is very clever, Aunt Margret?"

Aunt Margret lifted her eyes from her knitting, and blinked through her
spectacles.

"Clever?--a girl who can’t darn a stocking or boil a potato!"

"But see how she can talk, auntie."

"So can the parrot, my dear, and the raven is seldom sparing of his
voice either."

"But surely a man wants his wife to be a companion, auntie--to be able
to converse with him on the subjects he is interested in, and to
criticise his work, perhaps."

"Does he?  Perhaps he does, but it would be a crazy creature of a man
who would rather marry a critic than a cook for all that."

Always after this Thora had tea ready when Oscar and Helga returned from
the cathedral, and if her heart had its tremors, still she tried to take
care that Oscar should never see a tear in her eyes.  But many a time
when she felt herself to be like an isthmus between the two, holding
them together, yet keeping them apart, the strung bow of her will
slackened and she was nearly breaking down.  She waited day by day for
Oscar’s heart to speak to her, and when it did not speak she told
herself it was because Helga was so beautiful.

"Isn’t Helga beautiful, Aunt Margret?"

"Perhaps," said Aunt Margret.

"You _know_ she is, auntie.  You know she is the most beautiful girl in
Iceland."

"Maybe I do--maybe I don’t!"

"What an advantage beauty like Helga’s gives to a girl--she gets
everything and everybody.  If a girl is only beautiful enough, she has
all the men at her feet."

"They must he chiropodists, then, and there are not many of them in
these parts.  No, no, beauty isn’t everything, Thora, and that’s a mercy
for some of us."

The color began to mount to Thora’s eyes, and catching sight of this
flag of distress, Aunt Margret continued:

"But fine feathers make fine birds, and I know some in Iceland dress
would make Helga look small if they were done up in her Danish
folderols."

Thora’s blushing face began to shine like the sunrise.

"But what’s the use?  Beauty fills the eye, but not the belly."

"Auntie Margret, what plain things you say!"

"Do I?  Then it’s best to say them plainly.  It isn’t good to gild
copper with gold, my honey."

After this talk with Aunt Margret, Thora was more the mistress of
herself than before, because the dividing line between Helga and herself
seemed less.  She made up her mind that she would dress in the English
manner, so that Oscar should not see so much difference.

She had money--the dress money her father gave her. It was not very
much, but in previous years she had given away most of it, and this year
she had intended to buy a Scotch overcoat for Hans, the sailor, who was
losing all respect for himself and going about in cold weather with
nothing over his shirt.  But now she would be selfish, she would spend
her money on herself, and that was only right since it was spending it
on Oscar also.

It must be a secret, a great secret; it must come upon everybody as a
surprise, because that would be half the battle.  So she bought postal
orders with her savings, and sent to Edinburgh for a costume such as she
saw in the picture of a trade advertisement.

The costume came by a trading steamer, and she was like a child in her
secrecy and joy, smuggling the big cardboard box up-stairs to her room,
and answering the inquisitive questions of the Factor and Aunt Margret
with mysterious little nods and subterfuges.

The day was crisp and frosty, and when Oscar, coming in the afternoon,
suggested a walk to the lake to try the ice for skating, Helga responded
readily, but Thora said no, she had something to do, something
important--a little surprise, they should see when they came back again.

As soon as Helga and Oscar had gone, and Aunt Margret had promised to
make tea, Thora stole up to her room, locked the door, opened the box,
and took out the new garments that were to work the wondrous change.
They were beautiful, they were dreams, they were lovelier than anything
of Helga’s--a blue voile dress with a silk corsage and embroidered yoke.
The pleated skirt was like the sun’s rays over Hecla after a shower of
summer rain, and the silk of the blouse was as beautiful as the ice of a
glacier with the flowery bubbles of air in it.

Thora laughed for joy, and taking off her old Iceland costume she threw
it aside as a thing she had done with--the granny skirt, the stiff
treya, and the starchy brjest.  She wondered how she could have worn
them so long, and even told herself what she would do with them--she
would give them to a young widow who had lately lost her child by
diphtheria and joined the people at the Salvation shelter.

When she took up the new garments she had some doubt as to how they were
to be put on, and almost wished she had inquired of Helga.  The
accordion skirt was easy enough, and its ample train made her feel tall
and imposing, but the blouse was a besetting trouble.  It fastened
behind, and after despairing efforts to catch the hooks and eyes she was
tempted to call Aunt Margret; but she thought no, that would never do,
so she struggled on.

The room was cold, but when she had finished dressing her face was
flushed and heated.  She had put on her silver belt, because it was a
present from Oscar, and brushed her hair sideways over the forehead,
because that was how Helga wore it.  Then looking at herself in the
glass she laughed again, for she was proud and happy.

What would Oscar say when he saw her?  He would say, "Why, this is
Helga!  Another Helga!  Not quite so tall perhaps--but just--yes, really
just as nice-looking!"  And then Helga would be angry, and envious, and
perhaps go back to Denmark.

She was walking to and fro on tiptoe, glancing with sparkling eyes at
her figure in the glass, when she heard voices in the hall below.

"Thora!" cried somebody from the foot of the stairs. It was Oscar.

"I’m coming," she answered.

"What about the great surprise?"

"Presently!" she cried.

She waited until she heard a door close below, and then, still laughing
a little, but breathing rapidly, feeling sure of victory, yet with a
fluttering at her heart, she went down the stairs, and sailed into the
sitting-room.

Oscar was leaning on the marble stove, and Helga, sitting on a low seat,
was warming her feet at the fire.  They turned to Thora as she entered,
and looked at her with wide eyes.  There was a moment of chilling
silence, and then Thora, breathing faster and faster, said:

"Well, what do you think of it?"

Helga began to laugh, first in a smothered titter, hut finally in an
outright roar, whereupon Oscar, who had struggled not to smile, caught
the contagion and joined her.

Thora’s pitiful face fell, and she said, with a crack in her voice:

"But what are you laughing at, Oscar?"

"My dear, dear child!" said Oscar; and Helga, who was still laughing,
said:

"A little milliner!  It makes her look like a little milliner!"

"No, no, not that," said Oscar.  "But it’s not Thora. Thora is a sweet,
simple Iceland maiden whose charm is her simplicity, whereas this----"

"I see," said Thora, and with her heart in her mouth she turned to go.

Oscar stepped to the door to stop her, but with the shrill cry of a hare
that is wounded to death she flung out at him and passed through.  She
went up-stairs with a slow step, took off her English costume, put it
back in the cardboard box, and pushed it under the bed--crying a little
and wiping her eyes.

She knew the truth at last--she knew where she stood in Oscar’s mind.  A
simple Iceland maiden--that was all he had ever seen in her!  It was she
who had merely fascinated him, and Helga whom he loved!

When the door of the sitting-room closed on Thora, Oscar looked at Helga
and said:

"Whatever has come over her?"

"Don’t you see?" said Helga.

"Why, no--what is it?"

"How stupid these clever boys can he!  I could tell you in three words."

"Tell me, then--tell me."

"Thora is jealous."

"You don’t mean that?"

Helga’s face flushed; she looked up at Oscar, and a mysterious thrill
went through him.  The great surprise had come indeed.


                                  *VI*

Oscar slept badly that night.  For two months he had been moving in a
garden of dreams, where the odor of sweet flowers overpower the senses,
but he was awake at last, and was being dragged to trial in a tribunal
of his own creating.  In that court of conscience he was both righteous
judge and guilty prisoner, and through the long hours of broken sleep,
when he saw his life and motives as by flashes of lightning, he asked
and answered some terrible questions:

Is Thora’s jealousy justified?

No, yes!  That is to say--I may have neglected her--thoughtlessly
neglected her.

Do you love Helga?

It isn’t necessary to think that.  I admire her--I admire her beauty,
and her intellect, but----

Then you do not love her?

I love her society--I love to be with her; she is bright and brilliant;
we have many interests in common.

Then if you do not love Helga, why not cut her off rather than see Thora
suffer?

I can’t!  I can’t!

So you _do_ love Helga?

Yes! Yes!  I do love her.

Then what about Thora?

I am sorry for Thora--very sorry.

Have you ceased to love her?

Don’t say that.  My feeling for Thora is the same now as it has always
been.

Then you have _never_ loved her?

I thought I did--I sincerely thought I did.

So your feeling for Thora was an illusion?

A most unfortunate illusion, and I am troubled about her--I shall always
be troubled about her.

But you are betrothed to her?

God help me, so I am!

What are you going to do now?

What am I going to do?  I am--yes, I am going to obey the commandment of
Nature.  Accident and error and illusion have betrothed me to the wrong
woman, but must I hold to her after I have found out that I do not love
her?  No! She is sweet and loving, and I have no fault to find with her,
but I must obey the law of my heart, and who shall judge me if I do
that?

But what about the law of the land--you have signed a contract to marry
Thora?

Even so, is marriage like any other worldly transaction? Are you bound
to go on merely because you have begun? Can human hearts be dealt with
like so much merchandise?

So you do _not_ intend to marry Thora?

I cannot--it is impossible--now that her sister has appeared before me,
I see too well I do not love her.

But _she_ loves _you_!

That is the pity of it.  Poor Thora!

She thinks you are slipping away from her?

It is very pitiful--I see how I have made her suffer.

What will happen if you leave her altogether?

Her heart will break--her tender, sweet, child heart will break.

Can you break Thora’s heart?

No, no, no!  Better break my own!

Then what are you going to do?

I must go on with the marriage.  I see now that I must--it is my
duty--there is no help for it.

Wait!  There is something you have not thought about. If you go on with
your contract and marry Thora, you must be prepared to live her life.

I know!  I know!  And I am not fit for it!  Good or bad, I am not fit
for it!

But if you break your contract, and do not marry Thora, you may live the
life of Helga.

Yes, yes, and I am fitted for that life above everything else.  It
thrills me, it inspires me, it lifts me up.

The one is the lower life, while the other is the higher life.

I cannot bear to think of it.

You know that if you marry Thora you condemn yourself for ever to the
lower life, and give up all hope and all thought of the higher one?

Don’t torture me!  Don’t torture me!

But the higher life will be a life consecrated to self, whereas the
lower life will be a life devoted to self-sacrifice--which is it to be?

That settles it--I must go on with the contract, whatever the
consequences.

When Oscar awoke in the morning from his restless sleep he thought he
saw his way clearly.  There was only one solution of the hard problem of
his iron destiny--he must sacrifice himself!  He was betrothed to Thora,
and he must go on with the marriage.  He loved Helga, but he must tear
her out of his heart.  He wished to be a musician, and to live the
higher life, but he must be content with the lower life and do his duty.

A few irresistible pangs of regret, a few tears which he could not quite
keep back, and then, feeling a certain satisfaction with himself, a
certain pride in his self-sacrifice, Oscar went early to his work.

It was the autumn caravan time, when the farmers come with the last of
the year’s tallow and wool to have their accounts made up and settled.
The offices and warehouses were like a market-place, and there was work
for everybody. Oscar threw himself into the day’s doings with
astonishing energy, and when the Factor returned from breakfast he
bantered him on his industry.  "Better late than never, though," said
the Factor, "and a good day in the autumn is worth two in the spring."

Oscar spent the morning in the office helping at the accounts.  His part
was to reconcile the farmers to their balances, for many of them were
dissatisfied, and nearly all were in the Factor’s debt.  Some grumbled
at the rate they received for their produce, others at the price they
paid for foreign goods.  Oscar’s task was to persuade, cajole, and
comfort them, and finally to draft the notes of hand on the bankers with
which they discharged their debts.  He felt mean and miserable.

Toward noon Helga sent a messenger to say that she hoped to rehearse
some of the new music in the cathedral in the afternoon and to ask if
Oscar would go with her. He answered that he could not, business was
pressing, and he must stick to his work.  It cost him a pang to send
back this answer, but he had made his bed and he meant to lie on it.

He spent the afternoon in the warehouse, where the produce brought by
the farmers was weighed and stacked away for the winter.  The odor of
the tallow and wool, mingling with the smell of the men’s clothes and
the reek of their bodies, made the atmosphere close and noisome, and to
freshen the air Oscar ordered the big doors to be thrown open.

All at once through the clear, crisp winter air outside came the sound
of the organ being played in the cathedral, and that was the last drop
in his cup.  It was like a voice calling him out of the lower world he
lived in to the higher one he yearned for.  It was like Helga beckoning
to him in his unblessed surroundings, and through the roll of the music
he could see her face.

For the first time Oscar was feeling bitterly about Thora, as if he were
a prisoner and she were his jailer, when a man rode up to the warehouse
door on a bright chestnut pony, with a line of pack ponies behind him.
It was Magnus, and seeing him stand outside the counter, which he had
formerly stood within, Oscar felt some qualms of shame, and called him
into the scalesman’s office.

The interview between the brothers was brief and commonplace, but every
simple word seemed to throb and scorch like a flame.  Oscar asked how
Magnus was getting on at the farm, and if he had good servants, and
Magnus answered "Yes"; he had always been fond of farming, and for
servants he had only the old ones, and everything was as before.  Oscar
asked if the Governor had made satisfactory arrangements, and Magnus
said he had, that the farm was his own now on terms of tenancy, and was
to become his property at the old people’s death.

"And how are you getting on here?" asked Magnus.

"I?  Oh--pretty well, I think."

"You like the work?"

"Yes--well--not to say like, perhaps; I never expected to do that, you
know; but I’m all right, I think."

They had to pause, for the din in the warehouse was louder than
usual--some of the farmers were squabbling with the scalesmen.

"And Thora?" said Magnus after a moment.

"Thora?  Oh, Thora is all right, too, I think.  Yes, Thora is all
right," said Oscar.

"Mother tells me she looks pale."

"Pale?  Does she?  I hadn’t noticed it.  Perhaps she does though, the
weather is getting cold."

There was a painful pause in their conversation, and while they waited
Oscar could hear the organ in the cathedral breaking into the opening
notes of his own anthem.

"I hear that Helga has come home," said Magnus.

"Oh, yes, Helga has come home," said Oscar.

"They say she is handsome."

"Handsome?  Yes, she’s rather handsome, in fact, distinctly
handsome--and musical--decidedly musical.  Indeed, she has grown to be a
very attractive girl--very!"

There was another awkward silence, in which the anthem pealed out over
the jangling voices in the warehouse.

"I suppose the wedding will be soon," said Magnus.

"The wedding?  Well, to tell you the truth, Magnus, nothing has been
fixed yet."

"Not yet?"

"Nothing definite, I mean--no precise date.  I don’t know why, but----"

Oscar looked at his brother, and felt his tongue arrested.

Magnus was calm, his eyes were quiet, and his voice was soft, but there
was something in his face which brought back a terrible memory.  It was
the memory of the night of the betrothal, the last time they talked
together, when Magnus had said, "If you ever neglect or desert her or
give her up for another woman, I’ll take her back--do you hear me?--I’ll
take her back, and then, by God, I’ll kill you!"

Oscar supped at the Factor’s house that night.  He was unusually solemn,
and more than once during the meal Aunt Margret bantered him on his
silence, but, at the end of it, while lighting a cigarette, he said:

"Godfather, I hope you’ll consent to our having the wedding soon?"

Thora, who had been looking pale and nervous, colored up with a glad
look, while Helga, who had been flushed and excited, grew white and
rigid.

"What do you call soon, Oscar--Easter?" asked the Factor.

"Earlier, much earlier, say the middle of January at latest," said
Oscar.

"But what does Thora say?"

Rising from her seat, with brightening eyes and heaving bosom, Thora
crossed over to Oscar and kissed him.

"So that’s what Thora says!" laughed the Factor.  "Very well, I’m
willing!  The middle of January let it be then, and fix the date between
you."

Helga’s white face quivered.  "So _that’s_ settled!" she cried, and
leaping up she went across to the piano and began to play with great
vigor.  She played the wild "Ride of the Valkyries," becoming faster and
louder at every bar.

Oscar was in torture, and he went home early.  "What a mercy Helga does
not know!" he thought.  "If she did, I could not trust myself even yet!
And if she loves me as I love her--good God!"

But Thora was very happy.  Going to bed that night she thought, "How
wrong I have been about Oscar; how cruelly, wickedly, shamefully wrong!"


                                 *VII*

Next morning Oscar thought the battle was over, and his conscience had
conquered, but the devil was not done with him yet.  He had hardly
settled to his work in the warehouse when a letter came from Helga,
saying:

"The ice is perfect on the lake this morning, ant in spite of business
and every other botheration you must carry out your promise to take me
to skate.  Therefore come at two o’clock to the minute, and you will
find me waiting to go with you."

It was the first letter he had received from Helga, and it seemed to
burn his fingers.  The scented note-paper and the free, bold handwriting
gave him a physical thrill which he had never felt before.

Should he go?  His soul said, "Certainly not!  Why expose yourself to
temptation, especially now, when you are as weak as water."  But his
heart said, "You must!  To make any difference in your attitude toward
Helga would be to run the risk of betraying your secret.  And what about
the future--can you always run away like that?"  His heart won, and at
the appointed time he was walking up to the Factor’s.

Helga was standing by the door at the top of the steps. She was dressed
in pale blue serge, a short skirt exposing the long tanned boots, a
jersey revealing the flexible lines of her shapely figure, and a white
woolen cap, like a chain helmet, covering half her forehead and closing
under her chin, leaving her vivid face bare and beautiful as a young
nun’s in hood and bands.

Oscar was beginning to doubt himself already, and he asked where was
Thora.

"I’m here," said a cheerful voice from the hall, and Thora came to the
door bright and happy, but bareheaded, and sewing a piece of moleskin
cloth.

"Not ready?" said Oscar.

"I’m not going, I can’t skate," said Thora.

"Then we’ll take a walk instead," said Oscar.  But Thora would not hear
of it.  Helga had set her heart on skating, and she had set her heart on
something else--making a sleeve waistcoat for Hans, the sailor.

"Well, if you really wish it," said Oscar.

"Really, truly!  And I’ll have tea ready for you at five o’clock."

"We’ll be back before that," said Oscar, and then he and Helga went
swinging down the road.

Helga, in her short skirt, walked with a spring, like a young horse in
sharp weather, and Oscar, as he swung along by her aide, sometimes
touching her, felt his blood tingling, and every nerve tremblingly
alive.  This frightened him a little, and turning to look back he saw
Thora waving to them from the house, and said, "God bless her, the dear
little soul!"  And then Helga glanced at him sideways and laughed.

The frost had filtered the air, and it was crisp and quivering with
currents of electricity, which stimulated all their senses.  Their
voices crackled when they spoke, and when Helga laughed the sound was
like that of dry sticks in a quick fire.

"What are you laughing at, Helga?"

"I don’t know," she said, and then they laughed together.

The ice of the lake was glorious--a broad mirror black as ink, for there
had been no snow yet, the water had frozen as by first intention, and
through five fathoms they could see the stones and pebbles at the
bottom.

"What a pity Thora didn’t come," said Oscar.

"Isn’t it?" said Helga, and again she glanced at him sideways and
laughed.

They sat on the bank to put on their skates, and while Helga fumbled at
her straps, Oscar thought, "I must not, I will not!"  But Helga looked
across at him with a smile that seemed to ask a question, and at the
next moment he was down on his knees in front of her, with one of her
skates and one of her long tanned boots in his quivering hands.

Oscar thought Helga’s skating was wonderful.  It was divine, it was
devilish, it intoxicated him, he could not trust himself to look at it
alone, and seeing a number of skaters at the farther side of the lake,
where there was an island of lava rocks, he said:

"Let us go over to the others."

Hours passed, the exercise and the air warmed his blood, his tremors
left him, and he forgot about Thora.  At length the sun began to set
over the sea in a flood of glory, and Oscar said, "Time to go home."

"Not yet," said Helga, and they went round and round the island,
sometimes apart, sometimes with clasped hands, sometimes side by side
with arms interlaced across their breasts.

The sun went down, and both sea and land became gray and cold, but still
the tops of the mountains were golden.

"Tea will be waiting," said Oscar.

"A little longer!" said Helga, and nothing loath, Oscar went round and
round with her again.

The night came striding up from the plain behind, and somebody lit a
fire on the island.

"Too late for tea now," said Helga, and once again Oscar went round and
round with her.  It seemed to him that Helga’s face flashed with
electric flame as she swirled out of the darkness into the red glow from
the fire, and back again into the darkness.

One of the skaters started the Elf-song, others joined him, and then it
was a scene of complete enchantment.  The frost had laid its hand on the
falls that fed the lake, and they were quiet; it had stroked the
streams, and they were still; but if the voices of the waters were
silent, the voices of the skaters rippled and rang in the crisp night
air.

    "Dance by night and dance by day,
    Life and Time will pass away:
    Love alone will last alway."


Oscar was enraptured.  The humming of the skates, the swaying of the
ice, the music of the singers, the heat, the glow, the sinuous movement,
and above all the girl by his side, so bright, so beautiful, so full of
life and laughter, carried away every sense, and flesh and blood were
afire.

Then the moon rose, a brilliant moon, and it was reflected full and
round and white in the black mirror of the ice, with its streamers going
off from it, as if it had been a comet that had fallen to the earth, and
lay there at their feet.

"Look!  Let us cut across it," cried Helga, and away they shot in the
darkness, with the moon’s reflection receding as they followed it, until
they came to the limit of the lake, and then the skaters and the fire
and the singing were far behind them.

"What a will o’ the wisp she is!  I could catch you quicker than I could
catch her!" said Oscar.

"You couldn’t!"

"I could!"

"Do it then!" cried Helga, and off she went, laughing at first, but
afterward silent yet breathing fast, and at last panting audibly while
she twisted and turned to escape from him, until he came down on her at
length with outstretched arms and a cry of "Done!"  And then, before he
knew what he was doing, he was clasping her to his breast, and she was
clinging to him lest she should fall, and he was beating kiss after kiss
upon her lips.

At the next moment consciousness came back to him like an ice wind
blowing in a furnace.  His arms slackened away from Helga, and he said
in a cold voice:

"I beg your pardon, Helga.  It was wrong of me.  I am very sorry."

Helga laughed, a nervous, broken laugh which seemed to say, "Are you
sure you are thinking of me?"

"I am betrothed to your sister, and in less than two months I am to be
married to her.  I had no right to give way to my feelings like that,"
said Oscar.

The nervous, broken laugh came again, and it said, as plainly as words
could speak, "Do you know what you are saying, Oscar?"

Oscar trembled like a withered leaf.  He was like a man standing on the
hot ground of the geysers, where the crust was thin and cracking under
his feet.

"Let us go home," he said.

"Take off my skates then," said Helga.

She sat on the bank in the moonlight, and while he knelt at her feet and
fumbled with the straps, his tongue went on with rambling sentences, but
every word was tearing as at a torn tendon.

"When a man has engaged himself to a good woman, he ought to be true to
her.  It is his duty, and whatever the consequences to himself, he ought
to do it.  If he has to suffer, he must suffer, Helga, and if he has to
sacrifice himself----"

A faint sound stopped him.  Helga was crying.  Her crying seemed to
search his innermost thoughts, and to say, "But have you any right to
sacrifice _me_?"

"Helga!  Helga!" he cried, but she took no notice.  She covered her face
with her hands, and her crying became deep and long and inconsolable.

He wished to comfort her, but he dare not do so.  He remembered Thora
and Magnus, the Factor, and his father, and his thoughts danced about
his naked soul like demons.

"Helga!  Helga!" he cried again, but still Helga’s weeping continued.
If it had gone on a moment longer he must have taken her in his arms
again and told her that he loved her; that his love for her was above
all laws, all illusions, all conventions; it was the commandment of
Nature, and he was compelled to obey it; and they must fly from Iceland
and never return, whatever the waste of ruined lives they had to leave
behind them.

But Helga’s crying stopped suddenly, and throwing back her head she said
fiercely, "Very well, if you are satisfied, so am I!"

Then she leapt to her feet, wiped her eyes vigorously and laughed--a
short, hard, bitter laugh, and after that Oscar recovered control of
himself.

"Let us be off," she said.

Going back by the road that skirts the lake, side by side, but neither
touching the other, and both silent, Oscar thought, "Good heavens, what
an escape!  Another moment and what might not have happened!  What a
fool I was to expose myself to this temptation!  Marriage is my only
safeguard.  It must be soon.  Thora and I must go away.  When we return,
Helga may be back in Denmark, and then a scene like this will never
occur again!"

When they reached the house at last, he felt like an adulterer coming
home after his first offense, but Thora looked happy and unsuspicious.

"I knew you couldn’t tear yourselves away from your skating, so I put
the tea away, and now supper is nearly ready," she said.

After supper Oscar said, "Godfather, I wish you would permit me to alter
the arrangement of last evening."

"You want to go back to Easter, eh?" said the Factor.

"No, sir, to come on to Christmas," said Oscar, and then he gave his
reasons.  Thora was looking pale--everybody thought so--she wanted a
change--he would like to take her to England, perhaps to France, and
even to Italy.  They might stay away during the months of spring and
come back for the first of summer, when Althing would open its session,
and by that time Thora would be well, and he himself would be ready to
set to work in earnest.

"But Christmas, my gracious!" cried Aunt Margret, "hardly time for the
banns!  And what about Thora’s wedding-dress?"

But Thora herself was in raptures, and Aunt Margret’s objections were
borne down.

"Christmas let it be then," said the Factor, whereupon Thora gave a cry
of joy, and Helga, whose eyes had passed with a quick glance from face
to face, while her own grew paler and paler, leapt up, saying:

"And now let us have a dance to celebrate the happy event!"

"No, no, no," said Oscar.

"Yes, yes," said Helga, and sitting down to the piano she played a dance
tune with a rapid and passionate touch. "Make him dance, Thora," she
cried with an awful brightness in her eyes.

Thora took hold of Oscar and dragged him to his feet, saying laughingly,
"Why not, Oscar?"

Tables and chairs were pulled aside, the Factor went off to smoke, and
Oscar and Thora danced while Helga played, laughing loudly, and calling
to them again and again.

"Helga!  Helga!  Not so fast!  You’ll kill us," cried Thora.

But Helga only laughed the louder and played the faster, with a
fierceness that seemed to consume her like a fire.

Oscar went home that night with an aching heart, but Thora went to bed
happy.

"How wrong I was about dear Helga, also!" she thought, and then drawing
a deep breath she fell asleep.


                                 *VIII*

To think yourself happy is to be happy, and Thora thought herself the
happiest little woman in the world.  The weeks before her wedding were
the brightest period of her heart’s existence.  She counted the days
backward from the day she was living in to the day of all days that was
to come, and every morning, the moment she awoke, she said to herself,
"Only nineteen now," and then eighteen, seventeen, and sixteen, until it
became three, two, and one.  "Our Thora is like a white mouse in a
revolving cage--she can’t make the world go round quickly enough," said
Aunt Margret.

Hers was not the happiness that makes the heart afraid, and she had not
a moment’s misgiving about Oscar now. She never once saw him alone for
more than two minutes together, but that did not trouble her at all.  He
came and went every day, always in a hurry, and always breathless, and
she gave him the benevolence of a smile, and occasionally the charity of
a kiss, when it could be done decently behind the dining-room door.  But
usually he had to be content to see her seated among her dressmakers and
sewing-maids, and that suited him better than she knew.

There was nothing to tarnish the white simplicity of her happiness, and
when Oscar could come with maps and tour lists to arrange about their
journey she would say:

"Why don’t you talk it over with Helga?  She knows more about
traveling."

And then Oscar would stammer a little and say, "Well, if you are willing
to be guided by Helga’s judgment, and Helga herself will----"

"Certainly I am, so be off to my bedroom and settle everything."

Whereupon Oscar would cry, "No, no, we’re right enough here," and then
Helga and he--the one trembling lest a word should betray him, the other
going through the bitterness of looking at happiness through another’s
eyes--would discuss routes and railway journeys to the click of scissors
and the buzz of the sewing machine.

"We’ll go up by the Mont Cenis, eh?"  "No, by the St. Gothard."  "We’ll
come back by San Remo and Nice."  "And Monte Carlo!"  "Yes, of
course--Monte Carlo."

"My gracious, it might be Helga who was going on her honeymoon," Aunt
Margret would say.

"Mightn’t it?" Thora would answer, and then she would laugh like a
child.

In the Holy Land of her innocent heart she had only one thought about
her sister--that she had done her the wrong of suspecting her.  Helga
might know nothing about that, but _she_ knew, and she could never be
quite satisfied until she had made amends.  Time and again she thought
of a way to do this, and at length an artful scheme occurred to her. It
was a daring design, and asking herself when she could bring it to pass
she concluded that it must be on her wedding-day, because she would be
the queen of her own little kingdom then and nobody could deny her
anything.  Meantime it was to be her secret, and Helga was to hear
nothing about lit, and even Oscar himself was not to know.

There was only one other streak of alloy in Thora’s happiness, and that
was her memory of Magnus.  The brave heart did not break and Magnus’s
despair might be dumb, but the thought of his suffering was the tang of
iron in the sweet wine of Thora’s life.  To complete her happiness
everybody had to share it, so when Oscar came one day she took him into
the hall and said:

"Oscar, who is to be best man?"  And Oscar stammered:

"Well, really, to tell you the truth, I hadn’t--that is to say----"

"Why not Magnus?" said Thora.

"Magnus?  I thought of that, but--" and then came the old difficulty--he
had not yet set Magnus right on the subject of the betrothal, and until
that could be done the old people would object to him.

"But why shouldn’t you do it now, Oscar?  Such a splendid moment to heal
every sore and let bygones be bygones."

"Yes, certainly, that’s so," said Oscar, but he went off with a troubled
face, and Thora heard no more from him on the subject until the day
before the wedding, when he said:

"Oh, by the way, about the best man, that splendid scheme of yours was
impossible, Thora."

"Impossible?"

"Mother tells me Magnus has gone to the Northlands--went away about a
week ago, it seems."

"In the winter and on the eve of the wedding?"

"She thinks he’ll be back for that, but, of course, we can’t take risks,
so Neils--you remember Neils Finsen, the Sheriff’s son?--Neils came back
in the last steamer, and he’ll be best man, so that’s settled."

"What a pity!" said Thora, and then Oscar, who had opened the door,
cried:

"Helloa!  Snowing!  We’re going to have a white wedding, Thora!" and
with a nervous laugh he buttoned up his coat collar and went off without
kissing her.

She remembered this again when she was going to bed, and, sitting on the
great chair before the cheerful stove, with the curtains drawn and all
so sweet and cozy, she reflected that it was the last time she was to
sleep in her father’s house.  The three weeks were almost gone at last,
and so was her girlhood; and now that both were nearly over they seemed
to have vanished like a dream.  She was happy still, but it would have
taken very little to turn her happiness into pain.  It was a pity Oscar
had forgotten to kiss her, and it was a pity Magnus would not be present
at the wedding.

Toward the mirk of night she went to bed, and then the snow was still
falling.  She thought of Magnus traveling over the desert, and wondered
why he had gone away just then.  Perhaps it was because he could not
bear to look upon their happiness--hers and Oscar’s!  Poor Magnus!

But the memory of Magnus was whirled away in a cloud of other
thoughts--the wedding, the wedding presents, the wedding-feast, and
Oscar, always Oscar--and then the tired eyelids of her mind closed in
peace and good-will with all the world, and she slept the last sleep of
her maidenhood.


                                  *IX*

"Thora!  Thora!  Well, I declare!  The girl is still sleeping!"

"On her wedding-day, too.  Thora!  Thora!"

Thora awoke with a start at the calling and knocking at her door.
Leaping out of bed she ran to the window and parted the curtains.  It
was broad morning, the sun was shining brightly over the snow, and all
the world was white.

She opened the door, the sewing-maids and dressmakers trooped into the
room, and from that moment onward for several hours the universe was a
chaos without form and void, in which all talked at once and everybody
ran up against everybody else, and Thora ate her breakfast while walking
about or being "fitted on."

But the dress and the dressing were finished at length, and Aunt Margret
was called up to look.  Nobody in Iceland had ever seen such a bridal
costume--the silk kirtle, the silver-gilt crown, the faldur, the veil,
and the blue plush cloak.

"Isn’t she beautiful, Margret?" said the maids, whereupon Aunt Margret,
whose eyes were glistening behind her spectacles, said:

"Talk about Helga--tut!"

Then the cathedral bells began to ring and a hush fell on everybody.
Thora went slowly down-stairs and found her father (looking taller than
ever in a new silk hat) waiting for her in the hall, and Silvertop
standing ready in the street, with a side-saddle of red plush and gilt.
There were a few jests, a few laughs, a few furtive tears, and then they
started off.  The snow underfoot was as dry and soft as flour, and it
was with difficulty that the pony could be made to walk sedately.

From the moment they reached the cathedral it was all like a dream to
Thora, a beautiful day-dream, such as she had dreamt sometimes when she
thought she was dead and her happy soul was entering heaven.

The bridesmaids were waiting in the porch--Helga looking wondrously
beautiful in an English dress, and two former school-fellows in Iceland
costume.

Thora, who was moving as in a vision, felt somebody taking off her plush
cloak, and then the bells stopped and the organ began.  At the next
moment the choir was singing a hymn--the usual hymn, "When God the
Father led the first of brides"--and then she was going up the aisle,
leaning on her father’s arm.

She had never seen so many faces since the day she was confirmed.  They
seemed to move past her, and they made her almost dizzy.  She remembered
how at other weddings the congregation had watched for the bride and
looked at her as if she had been a supernatural thing.  "She’s coming!"
"Here she comes!"  She herself was the bride now, and the people were
craning their necks to see her.

Thora could feel their smiling faces, and she knew that her own face was
smiling.  She could hear what the people were saying as she passed them:
"Dear Thora!"  "How lovely she looks!"  "I’m satisfied now, and I don’t
care if I go--I only wanted to see how Thora looked in the kirtle."  And
meanwhile the voices of the choir were coming down from the gallery as
from the sky and floating round and round her.

At the top of the nave Oscar was waiting--so perfectly dressed, so
handsome, so noble-looking--with a fair young man on his right hand, and
on his left the Governor, very solemn and stately with his iron-grey
hair and beard.

The hymn came to an end, the organ died down, and Thora found herself
standing by Oscar’s side at the foot of the chancel steps, with the old
Bishop in his pleated black gown and white ruff at the top of them.
There was a rustle behind her, then there was silence, and the Bishop
began to speak.

"My children," he said, "when long ago God the Father led the first of
brides to the first of men in the beautiful garden of Eden he linked
their hands together in love, and that was the first marriage.  Since
then He has carried on the human story by the same sweet means, and love
is still the bond that binds man to woman, and woman to man."

"My children," said the Bishop again--he was speaking to her and
Oscar--"you come here to be made man and wife, and because you love one
another God is willing to join your hands in holy wedlock, for He
blesses and sanctifies no other union, whether of wealth or worldly
advantage or any other interest whatsoever.

"We know you both, my children; we who are gathered here have watched
the flower of your affection bud and bloom, and now we pray to God that
you may be true to the vows you are to make to-day, always bearing each
other’s burdens, forgiving each other’s faults, and cherishing the human
love that is a symbol of the love divine.

"My daughter, love him who is to be your husband; let him find on your
breast his solace for every sorrow, whatever the world may do to him,
and whatever the world may say.

"My son, love her who is to be your wife.  There is nothing nobler in
this imperfect existence, no sight more sweet and heavenly, than when a
good girl leaves the father who loves her, and the home where she has
been happy, and says to him who is to be her husband: ’The past was
beautiful, but I trust the future all to you.’  Be worthy of that trust,
my son, be strong, be brave, be faithful, and He who knows our
weaknesses, having trodden the earth before us, will bear you up if your
feet should falter.

"Be companions to each other in the journey of this world, my dear ones,
and if it should please God to give you children let them be bonds to
bind you closer together. Above all, love one another, for that is the
first commandment, and may He who gave it guard and guide you through
all the thorny paths of life."

The Bishop’s voice became tremulous toward the end, and when he finished
there was some coughing and blowing of noses among the congregation.
Oscar, too, was breathing heavily by Thora’s side, and Helga was
trampling on her train, but Thora herself was as calm as a trustful
child.

At the next moment she was kneeling by Oscar’s side on the communion
steps--just where they had knelt as children to be confirmed--and the
Bishop was administering the vows.  There was a breathless hush in the
crowded cathedral during this solemn and beautiful ceremony--a ceremony
for ever new, for ever old, for ever awful--the consecration of the man
to the woman, the woman to the man, for better or for worse, in sickness
and in health, "till death us do part."

Oscar was still breathing heavily, but Thora felt too happy to be
agitated, too sure to be afraid.  When the Bishop put their hands
together, and laid his own hand on the top of them, she felt Oscar’s
hand tremble and his pulse throb, and she wanted to calm and comfort
him.  But it was all over in a moment, for they had risen to their feet,
and one of the assistant clergy was giving out a hymn.

    "Guide Thy children, Father, guide them,
    Through the thorny paths of life."


The choir began it, but the congregation joined in, and all the voices
seemed to quiver with emotion.  Thora felt herself carried away, far
away, but still she was holding Oscar’s hand.  She thought she could
hear Magnus’s voice among the voices behind her--the deep voice she used
to hear on those evenings so long ago.  Poor Magnus!  But then he could
have had no joy of her, so it was better even for him.

It was something of a descent when the hymn ended and the Bishop shook
hands with her, and the Governor followed his example, and the
bridesmaids came up and kissed her in the presence of the whole
congregation.  But Oscar gave her his arm, and as they moved down the
nave the organ and choir began again:

    "O Perfect Love, all human thought transcending,
    Lowly we kneel in prayer before Thy throne."


She was now sure she could hear Magnus, and looking up at the organ loft
she saw him.  Yes, he was there; he was in the choir; he had come back
from the Northlands to sing at her wedding.

    "That theirs may be the joy that knows no ending,
    Whom Thou for evermore dost join in one--"


She had only one glance at his face, but she saw it plainly. She had
never seen it like that before--so broken up, and so soft, yet so strong
and brave.  His eyes were steadfastly fixed on his music book, and he
was swaying a little and singing as with all his might.

    "Grant them the joy which brightens earthly sorrow,
    Grant them the peace which calms all earthly strife--"


But Magnus was whirled away from her in a moment, for the people
whispered as she was going past.  "Dear Thora! God bless our Thora!"

Oscar was bowing on both sides of the aisle, and the people were talking
to him also.  "How handsome he looks!"  "He looks as if he could take
care of her, too!"  "Take care of her, Oscar!"

They were back in the porch at length, and somebody was putting her
plush cloak over her shoulders.  Silvertop was standing outside, and
Hans the sailor (in his new sleeve waistcoat) was giving him water out
of his pail.

Oscar lifted her to the saddle, and they turned their faces homeward.
The bells began to ring again--a merry peal--and then, at last, Thora’s
tears began to flow.  How good everybody had been to her!  It was all
for Oscar’s sake! How sweet to think they were good to her for the sake
of Oscar!  Thank God for Oscar!


                                  *X*

Anna and Aunt Margret were at the door of the Factor’s house to receive
them.  They kissed Thora, and called her "Mrs. Stephenson," and then
took her up-stairs to change. When she came down again the friends
invited to the wedding feast were coming in quickly, taking off their
snowshoes, shaking hands with Oscar, and talking all at once.

The table was laid in the double sitting-room which had been the scene
of the betrothal.  The Factor sat at the head with Oscar on his right
(just in the place where he had trodden on Helga’s photograph), and
Thora on his left (where Magnus had sat on the low seat beside his
mother), while the Governor faced the Factor, with Anna and Aunt Margret
at either side of him, and the Bishop, the Sheriff, and the Doctor
between.  Helga sat midway down the table, with Neils Finsen on one side
of her and the Rector on the other.

Thora was bashful but bright, reddening a little with maidenly reserve
when pointed remarks were made to her, but filling the room with musical
laughter.  During the meal nearly everybody raised his glass to her, and
at the end of it the Governor rose, bowed to her down the table with a
stately grace, and began to speak.

"I rise," said the Governor, "to propose the health of the bride and
bridegroom.  We are all happy in the marriage which has just been
celebrated, and no one can be more happy than myself.  It had been for
many years the dearest hope of my heart that the life-long friendship
between Factor Neilsen and myself might be cemented in our children by a
still closer bond."

"Your health, old friend," interrupted the Factor, raising his glass,
and the Governor stopped to drink with him.

"Time was, perhaps," he continued, "when I feared lest this hope might
be frustrated."

"No, no!" said the Factor, while Thora dropped her head, Anna sighed
audibly, and there was silence for a moment, as if the spirit of some
one who was not present had passed through the room.

"But sweet is the bliss that follows bale," said the Governor, "and
thank God we are now of one mind and one family."

When the glasses of the company had ceased to jingle, the Governor went
on to speak of Thora.  "She has always been like a daughter in our
house, and now she is our daughter indeed.  We have loved her all her
life, and to-day we have given her the best we had to give to any
one--our son, our favorite son, the idol of our hopes and the pride of
our hearts.  God bless both of them!"

As soon as the Factor had done wiping his eyes with his print
handkerchief he rose with a laugh and said:

"Stem before stern when the sea gets up, and I’m not much used to
pulling backward, but I’m with the Governor in thanking God that the
storm that threatened has blown over and we are sailing in smooth water.
As for Oscar, he has been my godson ever since he was anything; and
to-day he has become my son, and I could not wish for a better.

"And now," said the Factor, as soon as he was allowed to go on, "a small
promise kept is better than a big one forgotten, and I’m going to keep a
little promise which I made on the day of the betrothal.  Perhaps some
of you wouldn’t think it, but I believe in young people enjoying their
youth while they’ve got any.  I managed to miss mine somehow, and it’s
been work, work, work with me all my days.  The same with the Governor;
it’s been work, work, work with him too, and we haven’t had a holiday
between us.  But we are going to have a holiday now--we’re going to
travel to the sunny south lands, where the ground and the sea aren’t
white like this and that."  (The Factor waved his hands toward the
windows front and back.)  "Yes, we’re going to see the world in our old
age, the Governor and I, but it’s got to be with eyes that are better
than ours are now--the eyes of our children."

"What’s more," continued the Factor, when the company were again quiet,
"we’re not going to grudge the expense either, and if Oscar will look
under his bottom plate he’ll find a little oil that will grease the
wheels on the way."

Oscar lifted his fruit plate and took up two checks, and when the toast
had been honored he rose to reply.  Nobody had ever before seen him so
pale, so nervous, or so serious.

"I thank the Governor and the Factor," he said, "for the splendid
present they have given us--so much more than we can possibly require on
our journey.  I thank you all for coming to our wedding--it is so
pleasant to be surrounded by the people who have known us all our lives.
’Find your wife among your friends,’ says one of our Sagas.  I have
found mine almost in my family, and I trust the two branches now made
one may never be divided as the result of what we have done this
morning."

There was some applause, and when Oscar began again his voice faltered
and broke.

"I thank the Bishop, too," he said, "for the words--the wise and
touching words--he spoke in marrying us.  I know that love--love is the
only foundation of a true marriage, and I--I trust my marriage is a true
one.  I do not love my wife as much as I ought--as much as she deserves.
I can never do that; it is impossible, but I hope to love her more and
more as time goes on, and to fly from every temptation to love her less.
I know I am not worthy of the dear good girl who has given herself to me
to-day, but I will try so to live that she may never regret it.  Often
forgive the woman’s faults, says another of our Sagas, but a truer word
in this case would be forgive the man’s, and I pray God my wife may
never have too much to forgive."

When Oscar sat down the men thought his speech had been a little
affected and far-fetched, but there was not a woman in the room who did
not want to leap up and kiss him.  Thora was openly wiping her eyes, but
her face was one high noon of enjoyment, and in the buzz which followed
the silence Aunt Margret called across to her.

"Mrs. Stephenson, you had better take care of your husband or some of
these young women will run away with him."

There were other toasts, "The Governor," "The Factor," and finally, "The
Bridesmaids," proposed by the Rector in a playful speech.

"They say a kiss isn’t the same thing from all women," he said, "and
being an old bachelor I know nothing about that; but the young fellow on
my left" (the Rector indicated Neils Finsen), "who has a right to
consider himself the best man in Iceland to-day, has confessed to me in
a whisper that he finds one of the bridesmaids so charming and beautiful
that if he had been in Oscar’s place, and compelled by a narrow-minded
law to choose between the Factor’s two daughters, he would have cut off
to some eastern country where he could have married both."

Everybody laughed and looked at Helga, who had herself been laughing
rather hysterically, and looking at Oscar all through dinner.  And then
Thora, who was overflowing with happiness, glanced down at her sister,
and remembered the great scheme she had conceived to make amends for
mistrusting and suspecting her.  Now was the moment to carry it into
effect--now that she was queen in her little kingdom--and, half bold,
half shy, she rose from her seat, put her arms about her father’s neck,
and whispered something in his ear.

The Factor’s face straightened for a moment, then broadened again, and
he said, "But what does Oscar say?"

"Oscar will be sure to agree," said Thora, and she whispered in her
father’s ear again.

"Well, I’m not going back on my word; I’m willing; but you must ask
Oscar."

Then, laughing and reddening, Thora crept up behind Oscar and whispered
in his ear also, while looking sideways down at Helga.  As Oscar
listened his face became serious and he said:

"But you are quite sure that you wish it, Thora?"

"Yes, yes, yes," said Thora, laughing and blushing, for now the eyes of
the whole company were on her.

"Let us talk of it to-morrow," said Oscar.

"No, no, now," said Thora.

"But perhaps Helga herself--" began Oscar, and then he stopped,
whereupon Helga, hearing her own name, said with a nervous laugh:

"What is that about Helga?"

"Yes, what is it?" said several voices at once, and then the Factor
explained.

"Thora wants to have her sister to accompany them on their tour, and she
is trying to persuade Oscar."

There were some unconvincing cries of "Why not?" and "Splendid!" and
then there was silence, broken only by Thora’s voice saying:

"Please, Oscar, please!"

It was the last thing Oscar could have expected--to have temptation
thrown in his way at the moment when he was trying to escape from it; to
have the flood-gate of passion opened afresh after he had struggled so
hard to dam it--and to have this done by Thora herself, in her blind
unselfishness and innocent joy, as if the powers of hell were making
game of her.

But the company were waiting for Oscar’s answer; and, not to betray
himself, he tried to escape by banter.  "I’m not like Neils--I don’t
want both of you," he said; but still the pleading, coaxing voice was at
his ear, saying:

"Please, Oscar, please, please!"  And when Oscar continued to hesitate
the Rector said:

"Tut, tut, Oscar, refusing your wife’s first request is a bad
beginning."

"I’m not refusing," said Oscar, "and if Helga herself really and truly
thinks she would like to go with us----"

"Would you like to go, Helga?" asked the Factor, and then there was
another moment’s hesitation, in which Helga, biting her lower lip with a
fierceness which betrayed the struggle in her soul, looked across at
Oscar as if trying to read in his face what her answer was to be.

"Tell her to say yes, Oscar," said Thora.

"Yes," said Helga, and at the next moment Thora was clapping her hands
in triumphant delight and making the room ring with her laughter.

Neils Finsen had sat down to the piano and the servants were clearing
the table to make way for dancing, when Anna came up behind Thora and
whispered:

"Somebody outside wishes to see you, Thora."

"Is it perhaps----?"

"Yes, dear," said Anna, and Thora followed her out of the room.


                                  *XI*

Magnus was waiting in the hall, dressed in snow stockings and a long
cape overcoat, rough and worn and belted about the waist.  His face was
stamped with the deep lines which in a strong man stand for resignation
and in a weak one for despair.  Thora thought she had never seen him
look so big and brawny, but his voice when he spoke to her was as soft
as a woman’s, and he broke into the sunniest of smiles. She closed the
door of the sitting-room to shut out the sound of the piano, and then
came forward and held out her hand, feeling little and weak in her
kirtle and the bridal crown across her forehead.

"I came to say good-by and to wish you a good voyage," he said.

"I’m so glad you’ve come," said Thora.  "I heard you had gone away, and
I was afraid I was going to miss you."

"I’ve brought you this for a wedding present," said Magnus, taking up
from the hall table a large white bear’s skin which Thora had not
noticed before.

"What a magnificent rug!" said Thora.

"Is it a good one?" said Magnus.

"It is perfectly beautiful.  I have never seen anything like it.  It
must have cost you a fortune."

"No, not a great deal.  I bought it in the Northlands."

"Then it was to get this that you went there?"

"Yes."

"In the winter, too--such a long, cold journey!"

"I am strong, Thora--I never feel the cold."

His sad eyes were glistening, and Thora’s throat was thick.

"I shall use it on the ship and in the train and everywhere," she said.
"And whenever I use it I will always think of you."

"Will you?"

"Indeed I will.  But we are going south, you know."

"I know."

"To England and France--perhaps to Italy."

"It will do you good, Thora.  The sun will do you good. And you will see
the fruit and the flowers growing--it will be beautiful."

"Will it not?"

The piano was becoming louder, and there was a sound of shuffling
feet--the people in the sitting-room were beginning to dance.

"And what do you think--Helga is going with us," said Thora.

"Helga!"

"Didn’t Anna tell you?"

"Is Helga to go with you to Italy?"

"Oh, yes, and we are delighted to have her.  She’s so clever and
bright--Oscar can never be dull for a moment while Helga is with us."

The grave face looked sideways for a moment, and then he said, in a
still gentler voice:

"I hope you’ll be happy on your journey, Thora."

"I’m sure I shall.  We shall all be happy.  We sail by the ’Laura’
to-morrow morning."

"So mother told me--I’ve been taking your baggage aboard and seeing to
your cabin."

"And you have been doing that while we----"

"I wanted to do something for you, Thora."

"But, Magnus, you ought to have been here by rights. Oscar always wished
it.  In fact he wanted you to be his best man."

"Oscar did?"

"Indeed he did, but you couldn’t be found, because you had gone on your
journey."

Over the sound of the music and the dancing the Governor’s voice came
from within, mingled with the Factor’s hearty laughter.

"Perhaps it was just as well I was away," said Magnus. "The old people
have never forgiven me for what I did, and if they ever came to suspect
that somebody else was responsible----"

He stopped, and then Thora dropped her eyes and said:

"I was so glad you were in the cathedral."

"It was beautiful," said Magnus.

"You have no feeling against Oscar now?"

"Not now.  When I saw you kneeling together at the communion rails I
thought of the day when we all knelt there. And then--then Oscar was my
little brother once again."

"Magnus--won’t you--won’t you kiss me?"

He hesitated for a moment, but she held her sweet face up to him--pure
as a saint’s and wet with tears--and he opened his great arms and
gathered the little white figure to his breast and kissed her on the
forehead under the bridal crown.

"Good-by, little girl, and God bless you and make you very happy.  But
if you ever want me say ’Come,’ and I’ll come to you--if it’s to the
farthest corner of the earth."

Thora began to cry audibly and Magnus bustled about and made for the
door.  He must be off, he had a long journey before him.

"And then Silvertop is outside--I must not keep him waiting.

"Silvertop?"

"Mother told me to take care of him until you return--so I’m taking him
back to the farm."

"Let me say good-by to him," said Thora.

Magnus covered her from head to foot in the bear’s skin and led her down
the steps to the street.  It was dark, but the stars were out and the
northern lights were cleaving the sky as with the sweep of a mighty
saber.  All was white and silent, save for the deadened beat of the
piano and the thud of the feet of the dancers.  Two horses, saddled and
bridled, stood quietly in the snow with their reins hanging over their
heads, and Magnus, mounting one of them, said:

"This is Golden Mane--Silvertop’s big brother."

Thora found her own pony, stroked its ears and kissed its nose, and then
fled back to the door out of the frosty air.

"Good brothers go well together; we’ll be home by midnight," cried
Magnus.

Thora watched them go.  A glittering shaft of the aurora lit up the
three as they turned the corner of the road--Magnus riding Golden Mane,
and Silvertop, with an empty saddle, running briskly beside him.


                                 *XII*

When Thora returned to the sitting-room Oscar and Helga, both with
sparkling eyes and flushed faces, were waltzing vigorously.  Then Thora
herself danced with the Governor, the Factor, the Hector, and, of
course, with Oscar. But the room grew hot and stuffy, too full of
excitement, and after a while Thora became pale and faint.  Seeing this,
after Aunt Margret had called attention to it, Oscar began to say it was
time to break up.  The young men bantered him ("Want to get rid of us,
eh?") and Helga, who grew more and more hysterical, protested that the
evening was still young, but Oscar sent his bride up-stairs to prepare
for the journey to her husband’s house.

"Let us all take her home, then," said one of the bridesmaids, and when
Thora reappeared, muffled up for her night walk, with only eyes, nose,
and mouth visible, she was surrounded by a group of merry girls,
similarly bandaged, and chirping over her like linnets in spring.

At last the final moment came when Thora had to leave her father’s house
for good, and then Aunt Margret, whose face had become grotesquely long
and watery, broke down altogether.

"It’s no use," she said.  "I’m losing her, and I don’t know what they’ll
do with my precious now."

"Nonsense, Margret," said the Factor.  "Oscar will take care of her."

"He’d better, or I’ll murder him," said Aunt Margret; and the idea of
Aunt Margret murdering anybody was so amusing to the company that they
broke up merrily.

The Factor’s family went to the door to see them off, and Helga, who was
hot with dancing and excitement, but wore no wraps, stood on the top of
the steps holding a lamp above her head to light them down the road.  It
was a paraffin lamp with a glass reservoir, but she paid no heed to any
warning.

"Take care, Helga, do take care," said Oscar, but she only cried:

"Good night, pleasant dreams!" and continued to wave the flickering lamp
above her head.

"Helga, for mercy’s sake, Helga!" shouted Oscar, and Thora said:

"Yes, dear, don’t let us have an accident on our wedding-day."

"The better the day the better the deed," cried Helga, and she sent a
ringing, hysterical laugh after them as they disappeared in the
darkness.

The wedding party went off in two batches, Oscar in the midst of the
young men, whose arms were round his shoulders, and Thora in the midst
of the young women, who were holding her by the waist and stopping at
intervals to whisper mischievous messages in her ears.  The crisp snow
crackled under their feet, and the starry sky, with its northern lights,
pulsed and throbbed like the hearts in their bosoms.

When they came to the gate of Government House somebody suggested that
Oscar, as a zealous Sagaman, ought to carry out the ancient custom of
lifting his bride across the threshold; and then to Thora’s delight,
amid a squealing chorus of laughter, Oscar picked her up in his arms and
carried her into the house, where Anna (who had gone on ahead) smuggled
her up-stairs while the others went into the drawing-room to drink the
last toast before parting.

A bright fire was burning in the bridal chamber, the curtains were
drawn, the bed was laid open, and the room looked like a white nest of
eiderdown when Thora, with a fluttering heart, stepped into it.

"What a day it has been!" she said.

"Hasn’t it?" said Anna, closing the door behind them.

"Well, I can always say I had a wonderful wedding-day, can’t I?"

"Indeed, you can.  A woman has only two days in her life that are her
own--her very own--and her wedding-day is one of them."

"And what is the other day, Anna?"

"The other?  Oh, the other day is too far away for you to think about it
yet, but all the days between belong to somebody else--her children or
her husband."

"But how sweet!  How beautiful!  To live in your husband, to give up
everything to him, your life, yourself, everything!  There’s happiness
in that, isn’t there, Anna?"

"Indeed, there is, my dear, and pain, too, perhaps.  But there’s
something better in this life than happiness, Thora, and that’s
blessedness, you know."

This made Thora think of Magnus, but she heard Oscar laughing in the
room below, and soon forgot everything else in a delicious shuddering
which suddenly came over her. Anna helped her to undress, and when the
crown and the kirtle were laid aside, she moved about for some moments
without speaking.  Then she said, softly:

"Will you go to bed now, dearest, or shall I give you your
dressing-gown?"

"Give me my dressing-gown," said Thora faintly.

Anna moved about on tiptoe a moment or two longer, turning the lamp down
and fixing the shade.  Then she opened the door and stood for an instant
on the threshold looking back at Thora where she sat combing out her
hair before the stove.  All at once her middle-aged, homely face became
young and beautiful by the magic of a memory of her own, and going
softly back she kissed Thora without saying a word, and then crept
silently out of the room.

Left alone, Thora looked timidly around her, and seeing things of
Oscar’s lying among her own she felt a new and still more delicious
sense of happiness.  During the days preceding the wedding she had
thought that as soon as the service in the cathedral had come to an end
and she was Oscar’s wife a mysterious change would come over her, but
that had not been so, and all day long she had felt quite the same.  But
now it was different, and in this room she had become another being--not
herself only, but Oscar also. It was very sweet and beautiful, but it
was a little frightening, too, and to ease her fast-beating heart she
got into bed and covered up her face.

She could hear the company breaking up below, and a little later she
heard their footsteps crunching the snow under her window, which fronted
the road.  They stood there and sang a bridal song.  It was the song of
the "Two Roses."

The winter was cold and the ground was white, but two roses of love
still grew in the garden of God.  The frost could not freeze the two
roses of love, for they were warmed by the air of heaven; the sun could
not scorch the two roses of love, for they were watered from the well of
life.  Two roses of love on a single stem; two roses of love in two fond
young hearts; two roses of love and joy!

When the song came to an end there was some merry giggling under the
window, followed by shouts of "Good night, Thora!"  "Happy dreams!"
Then as the company went off they started the bridal song again, and in
her mind’s eye Thora could see them going back to the town, arm in arm,
young girls and young men.

Thora listened to the voices dying down the street, and for a moment all
life seemed to be set to the music of love; Oscar and she would be
children always, never growing older, but rambling hand in hand through
a flowery world where everybody loved them and they loved everybody, and
there could be no real trouble because love was all in all.

But just then the cathedral clock struck eleven, and she remembered
Magnus.  She could see him crossing the desolate white heath under the
shooting stream of the northern lights--a lonesome man riding one horse,
while another, with an empty saddle, was running by his side.  Poor
Magnus!  But there was no help for it!

The voices died away in the distance, and there was a moment of silence
in the cozy nest--a warm, muffled, secret kind of silence, broken by
nothing but the underthrob of the ceaseless sea.  Thora closed her eyes
and held her breath. How happy she was!  She was trembling like a bird
caught and held in the hand, but even her fear was full of happiness.

At the next moment there was a noiseless footstep on the floor, a sense
of somebody in the room, and then--Oscar was leaning over her and
kissing her on the lips.



                               *PART III*


    _Yet ah, that spring should vanish with the rose!_
    _That youth’s sweet-scented manuscript should close!_
    _The nightingale that in the branches sang,_
    _Ah, whence, and whither flown again, who knows?_


                                  *I*

The wedding being over, and the wedding party gone, Anna went on a visit
to Magnus in order to bear him company during the first weeks of his
first winter, and to see that his house was in order.

The farm was thirty-odd miles from the capital, not far from the scene
of the sheep-gathering and in the middle of the great plain of
Thingvellir--an historic spot, formerly the place of the Icelandic
parliament, for the neglected Mount of Laws may still be seen there.

There were only two houses on the plain--the farmhouse and the
parsonage, with its little church beside it.  The farmhouse was the
larger of the two, and being on the line of road from the capital to the
chief market of the Northland it had become a resting place for
travelers.

The Inn-farm had belonged to Anna’s family for many generations and her
father had been the last to hold it.  He was a worthy man, silent and
serious, much like Magnus in personal character, but he left the place
badly embarrassed, having fallen into the hands of a defaulting factor.
After his daughter married he lost his wife and then he died
suddenly--people said of drink.  Since then the estate had been twenty
years in the hands of a steward, but the Governor had paid off the
mortgage out of the savings of his salary and the farm was free.

It was an endless delight to Anna to bring the place back to its former
condition.  She began with the sleeping accommodation, for sin comes
with a laugh, she said, but goes with a cry.  The shepherd and his wife
she put in the upper bedroom (the Badstofa), the maids in the lower one,
and the farm-boys in the loft.  Each of the rooms was under its own
roof, and the homestead as a whole was less like a single house than a
group of houses, or like a gipsy encampment, with its peaked tents going
off in different directions.  The principal apartment was a large square
hall, with two guest-rooms opening out of it.  Magnus was to sleep in
one of these guest rooms, except when both were wanted for travelers,
and then he was to lie on a mattress stretched on the floor.

Anna inspected the kitchen (the Elt House) and the storehouse (the
Skemma)--examined the winter’s stock of potted meat and dried and salted
cod and whale, and put a lock on the Bur, for seldom does the
servant-maid starve in the larder, she said.  Finally she turned her
attention to the Hall, which was the general living room, and furnished
it afresh with a settle, an armchair, a Bornholme clock, and a big
German stove.  As a finishing stroke she hung two large photographs on
the walls, one of the Governor, the other of herself.  The Governor was
gorgeous in his gold-braided uniform, but she was homely in her black
hufa, and on second thoughts she would have taken her own picture down
but Magnus said something nice about it and she allowed it to remain.

Anna’s visit was a long one, but as often as she prepared to go, saying
home was the best place for the stupid, Magnus answered that in that
case Gudrun must unpack her trunk, for the Governor could not be
expecting her.  In this way she stayed at Thingvellir until the snow
began to be honeycombed by the thaw and the ribs of the landscape to be
revealed again.

Meantime her life at the farm was simple and primitive and every day had
its own duty.  Before it was light in the morning she rang the bell in
the hall which awakened the household, and sent the maids to the
shippons and the boys to the beasts in their pens.  And when the short
day had closed in she rang the bell again for supper, and finally for
prayers, when the house-father (Magnus now) gave out a hymn and read a
lesson.

On Sunday she went to church, and met the fifty-odd people who had
ridden over from the farms that bordered the plain.  She sat in the seat
in front of the communion rail, with its picture of Christ in white
robes among warm eastern foliage.  Magnus sat in the choir and put up
the figures on the plate that gave the numbers of the hymns.  He had
little voice and no music, but Anna listened and was happy.

Though the nights were long the household was never idle.  While the
servants had to mend and make blankets in their own quarters, Magnus
would weave on a loom he set up in the hall and his mother would spin or
knit stockings. He was full of great projects again, and though his
former schemes were impossible to him now he had others of equal
consequence.

What Iceland wanted was roads; roads were the landmarks of civilization;
without roads the most productive country in the world could not
prosper, for what was the use of a cow that gave much milk if it kicked
over the pail?

Night after night in the pauses of the loom Anna had to listen to this
story and to assent to the schemes that were tied on to it.  Yes, Magnus
was going to be very comfortable and she could go home in content.

"After all, perhaps everything was for the best," she said, "and if
there were only a mistress in the house----"

But Magnus rattled at the loom and nothing more was heard for some
moments.

"John and Gudrun are very well, in their way, but it’s thin blood that
isn’t thicker than water, and when I go back----"

The loom rattled still louder.

"But a young man who couldn’t be satisfied with a girl like Thora isn’t
likely to find many to his liking."

And then the loom rattled louder than ever, and nothing more was said
that night.


                                  *II*

At intervals during Anna’s visit to the farm there came news of the
wedding party--the letters being sent on by the weekly post from
Government House and from the Factor’s. The first to come was from
England, and it was a joint letter to everybody written by all three of
the wanderers.  Oscar began it, with a playful review of their journey
from the time of the departure of the "Laura."

"As soon as we set foot on the ship we were told that Captain Zimsen had
given up his own cabin to us, and from that hour to this everybody has
shown us boundless hospitality, especially father’s old college friends,
the professor at Oxford and the banker here in London.  Naturally we
know we owe everything to the magic of the Governor’s name, and
consequently I am cultivating an extraordinary reverence for it, though
I doubt if I shall ever find it more beautiful than I did on the morning
of our wedding at the bottom of that splendid check."

"Ha, ha, the mouse knows where to come back for his cheese," said Anna.

Helga came next, with a glowing account of the London theaters,
opera-houses, and picture-galleries.

"The half had not been told me, as the big Book says, and I wonder more
than ever why a poor girl should be doomed to waste her life in a
wilderness when she might live in a world of so many clever and
beautiful people."

"M’m!  It’s poor work pouring water on a rock," said Anna.

Thora came last with a rather sad little note.  It was all very
wonderful, no doubt, but she was feeling just a wee bit home-sick.  Did
not care so very much for operas and picture-galleries, so Oscar had to
take Helga by herself.

"I like best to sit in the window of the hotel and look at the crowds in
the square.  Such multitudes!  Always going and coming and hardly
anybody ever speaking to anybody else!  That’s what strikes you at first
as most extraordinary.  It is so strange to think that the people in the
streets do not even know each other by sight, and that every young woman
who goes by has her own family somewhere--her own husband and perhaps
her own children--and that she is hurrying away to them.  I don’t know
why, but it makes me feel so lonely, and then I almost want to be back
in my dear, sweet, homely old Iceland."

Magnus had to read this letter aloud--for Anna was no reader of
handwriting--and when he came to Thora’s part his voice thickened and
broke.

The next letter came from Paris, and Helga wrote the whole of it.

"Such sights!  Such luxury!  Such gaiety!  And such dreams of dresses!
And then the opera--Chopin, Verdi, Wagner, Greig!  We are at the opera
every night--that is to say, Oscar and I are, Thora not caring very much
for music.  Thora’s chief pleasure is to walk in the flower market by
the Madeleine and watch the children playing, and look as if she wished
she were one of them."

"Just like our Thora," said Anna.

"Neils is here--Neils Finsen you know.  Neils has finished his course at
the Musical College, and is connected in some way with Covent Garden and
has come to Paris on managerial business.  He seems to be getting along
wonderfully and it makes me feel almost envious.  Oh, to get on in life!
To escape forever from that grey sky and all those freezing
surroundings!  What I would give to do it! Nothing should stand between
me and success in life if I only saw the chance of it.  And who
knows--perhaps I may some day!  Neils declares that my voice has
improved wonderfully and I am practising constantly.  But to have any
real opportunity in music one ought to be here or in London or Dresden,
and it is so expensive.  I’m nearly penniless as it is, and I am so
shockingly dowdy that if some one does not send me----"

The letter was to the Factor and he had cut away the end of it.

"M’m!  M’m!" said Anna.  "What the Miss is used to, the Misses keeps
up."  And then they ate their supper of smoked mutton and black bread in
silence and rang the bell for prayers.

The third letter from the wedding party came from Italy, and it was
written by Oscar only.  The post that brought it had been delayed by a
snow-storm, and had sheltered two nights on the Moss Fell Heath.  At the
Inn-farm the cattle-pens had been completely buried, and Magnus and the
men had worked up to their waists from daylight to dark, digging a way
out of the snow that the beasts might be fed and watered.

"The world will be white with you in Iceland, but here in Italy the
roses are in bud, and the sky is blue and the air is balmy.  What a time
we have had of it!  We came down from Venice, the city of silence and
dream, through Florence, the city of sunshine, and Rome, the mother of
cities, to Naples, the city of song.  Italy seems to set all Europe to
music!  Lovely and beloved Italy!  If only some one could do the same
for Iceland!  Rugged, gaunt, grand old Iceland! But wait--only
wait--perhaps somebody will do it yet!"

"Ah, Oscar, Oscar," said Anna, "it’s easier to count twelve mountains
than to climb one."

"Helga is enjoying the trip tremendously.  Out every minute of the day
and making friends on every side.  Thora does not seem so well, poor
child, and she hardly cares to go about.  We are going on to the Riviera
next week and thence back to Iceland.  I must, of course, be home for
the opening of Althing, but Helga is grudging every day.  It is now two
o’clock in the morning and we have just returned from a Veglioni--that
is to say a masque ball--this (yesterday) being the last of Lent.
Flowers, streamers, confetti, and such dresses!  Helga looked
magnificent in a pale blue chiffon of the latest model and was, out of
all comparison, the belle of the evening.  Poor Thora did not care to
go, so she stayed in the hotel and went to bed early."

Magnus and his mother also went to bed early on the night they read that
letter.  Anna rung the bell that hung from the ceiling of the hall, and
the servants in their skin slippers and woolen stockings trooped in for
prayers.  The lesson was the story of the widow’s cruise and the hymn
was--

    "Meek and low, meek and low,
    I shall soon my Jesus know."


The last letter they received from the wanderers came on the first day
of spring, when the thaw had set in, and the water was running down the
discolored snow on the mountains like tears on a wrinkled face, and the
sheep were beginning to lamb.  It was from Monte Carlo and was written
by Thora to Anna herself.

"This place is so beautiful, Anna, yet I do not think I like it very
much.  The houses are all splendid palaces, but they don’t seem so
comfortable as the little homes in Iceland.  I dare not say this to
Oscar, lest he should think me ungrateful, and certainly there is no fog
or mist here, and no big white waves, because the sea is always blue;
and of course the trees are so wonderful and the blossoms so beautiful!
Sometimes they have a carnival, and then wagon-loads of flowers are
flung about everywhere; but next day it is quite pitiful to see the
lovely roses that have been trampled upon being swept up in the streets.

"In the afternoon a band plays in a garden and you drive in a carriage
round and round it.  At night you go to a restaurant--bigger than the
Artisan’s Institute--and there another band plays while you eat your
dinner--two or three hundred at once, and all the ladies in low dresses.
After that you go to a Casino, where all is silent and rather dark and
people sit round tables and play cards for money. Everybody plays cards
here because everybody seems to be always taking a holiday."

"Ah, but the devil never does," said Anna.

"It is shocking to hear, though, how much is sometimes lost in a moment.
Last night Oscar pointed out a pale-faced young man who had gambled away
the whole of his estate--larger and more valuable than the Inn-farm
itself.  They say he had not intended to play at all when he went into
the room, but the fever mastered him and he could not resist it.

"Ay, ay, we don’t see the ruts when the snow covers them," said Anna.

"It made me feel ill and I couldn’t stay any longer, but Helga wished to
remain, so Oscar put me in a carriage and I came back to the hotel and
went to bed.  I do wish Helga were not so fond of such places.  She is,
however, and as a consequence Oscar is compelled to go with her,
although he does not want to, and sometimes he comes back very
depressed.  Since we came here his sleep has been much broken, and his
manner very restless.  I shall be glad when we leave this place.

"But we have had such a wonderful time altogether, and Oscar has been so
kind to me and I have been so happy.  All the same, I shall be glad to
be home again, to see all the dear old faces--yours and Auntie Margret’s
and father’s and the Governor’s.  I suppose Magnus does not talk of me
now--does he?  How is Silvertop?  Tell Magnus to rub his ears for me and
kiss his rough old nose.  What a romp we’ll have over the Heath some
day!  But I suppose I must not romp too much now, must I?  It is so
strange, Anna--there are hardly any babies about this place!  Not like
Italy, where you see them everywhere, with their poor little legs
wrapped up like a mummy’s.

"We are to be back for the first of summer, and I’m counting the days
already.  Give our love to everybody and if anybody asks after me in
particular say I am so well and so happy."

The loom in the hall lay idle on the night when Magnus read this letter.
Nobody spoke until Anna lit two candles and gave one of them to Magnus,
saying:

"Here!  You’re tired, and no wonder, being up before daybreak.  How many
lambs this morning, Magnus?"

"Twenty-two, but one of the best of them is dead."

"That’s the way of it always.  Good night!"

"Good night!"

At the door of his bedroom Magnus paused, candle in hand.

"Mother!"

"Well?"

"Do you think she is so very happy?"

"Our Thora?  God knows, my son!" said Anna.


                                 *III*

The snow was gone and the pale ground was green and golden with the
raiment and the jewels of spring when the travelers returned to Iceland.
Rounding the head of the fiord in the early morning, when the little
capital was smoking for breakfast, Captain Zimsen had fired a cannon in
honor of their home-coming, and everybody ran out-of-doors in delight,
thinking the man-of-war had come from Copenhagen, but there was greater
joy still when the "Laura" dropped her anchor and the little boats that
had gone out to meet her came back with the news that the wedding party
had returned.

Half the men of the town went down to the jetty to welcome the
wanderers; among them the Governor in his gala uniform, the Factor in
his best scull-cap, smoking his best German pipe, the Sheriff, the
Rector, and the Bishop.

The Factor’s big white boat had been sent off instantly to fetch the
three ashore, and when it was coming back there was a good deal of
curiosity as to how they would look after their long journey.  Oscar,
who was standing in the bow, was seen to be sunburnt, and slightly
older-looking, having grown a small, fair mustache, which was curled up
at the ends.  It was observed by somebody that he wore the latest
pattern of waistcoat and carried an Italian cloak over his arm.  Helga,
who was standing in the middle of the boat, looked a shade more buxom,
and wore a new French hat. She had a kodak swung over her shoulder and
was looking at the people on the jetty through an ivory-framed
field-glass. And Thora, who was sitting in the stern in the costume in
which she went away, with Magnus’s white bearskin across her knees,
looked a thought thinner than before, but her face was bright with
smiles, though there were tears in her sparkling eyes.

When the boat came alongside the salutations were lusty and robustious.
Such laughter!  Such chaff!  Such prolonged handshaking and slapping on
the back!  After the Governor and the Factor had kissed Thora they found
their cheeks were wet, but Helga was as bright as the day and Oscar made
everybody happy.  He shook hands all round and hailed even the fishermen
and boatmen by name.  "He doesn’t forget an old friend, eh?" said an old
fellow in bare feet.

Then away they trooped to Government House, where Anna was waiting in
apron and hufa at the door of the porch. Thora cried for joy at sight of
her, and had to be carried off to her bedroom.  And when Aunt Margret
came in her oiled ringlets and Oscar would have kissed her she beat him
off with a playful pat on the cheek, and saying, "I must see what you’ve
done with my child first," ran straight upstairs.

Helga went up also to take off her hat, and the Governor and the Factor
carried Oscar into the drawing-room, where the Bishop, the Sheriff and
the Rector joined them.  Maria brought in coffee and chocolate, and the
old men charged their pipes and plied Oscar with questions.  The
Governor asked about English politics, the Factor about custom-house
duties, the Bishop about the Vatican, and the Rector about the
excavations in the Roman Forum.

Oscar answered all of them with a dash and emphasis that had the look of
knowledge and the effect of wit, and then glancing off the heavy ground
of fact he went tobogganing down the slippery slopes of fiction, with
amusing tales of their travels and of the ridiculous things that had and
had not happened to them.

All his stories told, every time he pulled the trigger his pistol fired,
and the old men laughed until they cried. "What a boy he is!"  "He plays
with every finger."  His high spirits affected them like sunshine after
dark days, like a breeze after a calm at sea, like the swing of a boat
after the first dip of the oar.  He was the same reckless,
irresponsible, lovable prodigal as before, and it was not until
afterward that anybody remembered there had been a hollow ring in his
hilarity, a false note in his joy.

Helga came down to the drawing-room and the men received her with a
shout.

"How plump she has grown!" said the Governor.

"She has certainly filled out on the trip," said the Factor.

"Hasn’t she?" said Oscar.  "Just what she wanted--all she wanted."

"Nonsense!  Let us talk of something serious," said Helga.

Thora came next, with Anna and Aunt Margret buzzing and humming about
her like bees.  She had changed to her old Iceland dress--just for
remembrance--and now that she could be seen without her veil she was
undoubtedly thinner, and she had a pinched look about the nostrils and a
feverish spot in the middle of her cheeks.  But her face was shining
with timid smiles and she was overflowing with gratitude.

"Anna has given us such beautiful rooms, Oscar, the big one overlooking
the road and the long one behind it, though I don’t know what in the
world we are going to do with two."

"Oh, don’t worry yourself about that, dear--we may find a use for them
by and by," said Anna with a knowing nod of the head, and then the color
flew up to Thora’s eyes like a flag of distress, and the men began to
smile.

Anna was smiling also and making signals to the Governor and chuckling
to him behind her hand.  "Is it so?"  "Yes, indeed, I asked her
up-stairs and it’s just as I expected."  Then the Governor in his turn
began to chuckle and to whisper to the Factor.  "No?  Is it a fact?"
"So Anna tells me."  And then they chuckled together, until everybody
laughed at them, whereupon the Factor said:

"And now, Oscar, you’ve told us all about London and Paris and Rome, but
not a word about the place where they make money without working for
it."

"Monte Carlo?  Haven’t I?" said Oscar.  "Oh, well--a beautiful place!
In fact an absolute paradise."

"An absolute hell if half one hears is true," said the Governor.

"Well, yes--yes, that’s so, too," said Oscar.

"I once heard of a man who made ten pounds in a single night--think of
that," said the Factor.

"Goodness’ sake!" cried Aunt Margret.

"But what’s the good of having a chest full of gold if the devil keeps
the key?" said the Governor.

Then Helga, who was sitting on the piano-stool, began to play softly,
and Oscar swung round to her.

"Ah, ’Addio Napoli!’  We must sing you some of the Neapolitan songs,
father."

This was received with a chorus of approval, and for the next half-hour
Helga played and Oscar sang the gay ditties with which Naples fills the
air of Italy with song.  And when at one moment the Factor would have
come back to the man who made ten pounds in a single night, Helga struck
up the tarantella and Oscar danced it.

At length the Governor said, "Everything has a stopping place except
Time.  It’s late, and Thora is looking tired, so I’m going to turn out
everybody who doesn’t live here."

"Quite right, too," said Aunt Margret, "and I’m going to carry Helga off
to her own quarters."

"_I_ will take Helga home," said Oscar, and with further handshaking and
well-wishing the party began to break up.

"After all I suppose you are glad to be back, Thora?" said the Bishop.

"Very, very glad," replied Thora.

"Ha, ha!  It isn’t easy to hobble a home-sick pony," laughed the Rector.
"And you, Helga?"

"I’m not glad at all, Rector.  Who could be glad to leave all that
loveliness for a wilderness like this."

That chilled everybody for a moment, and thinking to come to Helga’s
relief, Oscar said:

"There’s something in what Helga says, certainly."

"Then you, also, Oscar----"

"No, Rector, no--that is to say--well, I’m glad to be back and I shall
be glad to go away again."

And then everybody was as happy as before.


                                  *IV*

Next day Oscar and Helga spent many hours in a round of return visits,
while Thora, who was still tired, stayed at home and received some of
her old schoolfellows.  One of them, who had been the beauty of her day,
had married a farmer fifteen miles away and borne him three children.
It was all work, work, work with her now and the once-bright girl was a
slave.

"Ah, Thora, how lucky you were not to marry Magnus!" she said.

"Do you think so?" said Thora.

"Why, yes, Thora.  And then everybody says Oscar is going to be such a
distinguished man."

It was the spring caravan time and Magnus himself, who had brought his
wool to the Factor’s, came late in the afternoon.  Thora thought he
looked brawnier and bigger than ever, and she could not help seeing that
his hands were coarser and his nails chopped off square.  But his voice
was as soft as it used to be, and he was shy and even nervous.

The light was low when he came into the drawing-room, and looking
closely at her face he asked three times over if she was well, until she
laughed as she gave him the same answer again and again.  Then he
laughed, too, and after that they got on better, and exchanged all the
"newses."

Silvertop was in good condition; he had got his summer coat and looked
splendid; in fact, he had been too well fed and was getting a little
over himself and would have to be taken down a peg or two before Thora
rode him again.  Ah, well, she wouldn’t want him just yet--not just
yet--and Magnus had better keep the rascal at the farm a little longer.

"But what a time you’ve been away!" said Magnus.

"Haven’t we?" said Thora.  "Five months, nearly six."

"Six months come Tuesday week," said Magnus.

At that they both became confused, and Thora began to show some
photographs taken by Helga on the journey.

"How beautiful!  How wonderful!" said Magnus.  "But I wonder your ship
wasn’t floating on the pumps, as they say, before you got back to
harbor--it must have cost a good deal of money to see all those places."

"It must," said Thora, "traveling is so expensive--especially when there
is more than one to pay for."

"And then there was Helga," said Magnus.

"Yes, indeed, there was Helga.  But the check which father and the
Governor gave to Oscar seems to have been sufficient for all."

"Still I can not understand how he made it pay for everything."

"No, it isn’t easy to understand that, is it?"

"Venice!  Rome!  Monte Carlo!  How you must have enjoyed your journey!"

"Oscar did--every day of it."

"And you, Thora?"

"I’m not a good traveler--I soon tire of sight-seeing, and if it hadn’t
been for Helga----"

"So you are not sorry you took Helga with you?"

Thora faltered a little and then said, "Helga was able to go
sight-seeing with Oscar when I had to stay in the hotel."

"But were you not lonely while they were away?"

"Perhaps--sometimes--just a little--being so much alone, and among so
many strange faces."

Magnus, who seemed to be absorbed in the photographs, said almost
unconsciously, "Poor little thing!"

Then the flag of distress ran up to Thora’s eyes and she answered
hurriedly, "Oh, it was my own fault.  Oscar always wanted to stay with
me, and if it hadn’t been for Helga----"

But a little catch came into her throat, and she had to stop.  Whereupon
Magnus said:

"And I hoped you were so happy!"

But then Anna brought in the lamp and the lights relieved the tension,
yet being able to see the photographs plainly Magnus laid them down and
Thora put them away.

He left early, having a long ride before him, and Anna followed him to
the door.

"Is Thora quite well?" he asked in a whisper.

"As well as can be expected under the circumstances," said Anna.

"And is Oscar kind to her?"

"Kind?  Oscar, kind?  Why should you ask that, Magnus?"

"She looks so pale, so depressed."

"Oh, that’s often the way with young wives in her condition. Haven’t you
noticed anything--anything particular? Our Thora will be a mother before
long."

"And is that all that’s the matter with her?" said Magnus.


                                  *V*

The summer session of Parliament was to begin almost immediately and
Oscar plunged straightway into preparations for his campaign.  He was to
move a resolution proposing that the Acts of Althing should henceforward
be promulgated on the last day of the session, as in the old times, from
the ancient Mount of Laws at Thingvellir.  It was to be his maiden
speech and much depended upon it.  Before he wrote it he went over to
the Factor’s to discuss with Helga its scheme and argument.  After he
had written it he went over to the Factor’s again to read it to Helga,
and obtain the benefit of her suggestions.  And when he had committed it
to memory he went over to the Factor’s a third time to rehearse it
before Helga.  It was Helga first and last, all day and every day until
the day of the opening sitting.

"Helga is a great politician, but you care nothing about politics, do
you, Thora?"  And Thora would swallow the lump in her throat and answer
"No."

Thora and Helga were both present when Oscar took his seat.  They
occupied the Governor’s ante-room that opened off the parliamentary
chamber.  The galleries were crowded with spectators, and there was much
curiosity when Oscar rose to speak.  Thora felt a little faint at the
first sound of his voice, and she would have fled away if she could have
done so, but Helga held her to her chair.

"Hush!  For goodness’ sake be quiet," she whispered. "You’ll make him
still more nervous."

The speech was a great success.  It was an appeal for the preservation
of the old order--for all that made Iceland what it was--the land of
Saga and song.  Even the party of progress who thought much of its
moonshine were carried away by the fervor and enthusiasm, the poetry and
passion of the young speaker.  When Oscar finished there were vollies of
applause; the people in the galleries clapped their hands and Helga
stood up and waved her handkerchief, but Thora covered her face and
cried into her gloves.

The resolution was passed unanimously, and Oscar was made chairman of a
committee to carry out the necessary preparations.  This work occupied
all his spare time during the six weeks of the parliamentary session.
It took him to the Factor’s every day, for Helga was full of schemes for
the great ceremonial.  Being in Parliament every morning and at the
Factor’s every afternoon Oscar was nearly always from home and Thora saw
little of him.  Every night he returned with a mouthful of apologies and
a torrent of explanations. They had been searching the Sagas for the
exact course taken by the procession in the old days, or they had been
selecting flags to hang over the rocks, or they had been composing a
hymn to celebrate the occasion--Oscar had improvised one in a moment and
Helga had written it down.

"And how has my little baby been going on all day long? Lonely?  What a
shame!  I’m sorry--very, very sorry," he would say.

And then Thora would answer, "Don’t think of me, Oscar. You have your
work to do, and I only wish I could help you, like Helga."

But in the long hours of loneliness, when her head was on her hands and
her feet were in the fender, the poor little soul would sink and the
tender heart grow bitter.  Only Anna would be with her then, comforting
and consoling her, and pretending to be blind to what every eye could
see.

"Anna," she said at length, "when Magnus was here he asked me such a
strange question."

"What was that, Thora?"

"He asked if I wasn’t sorry that Helga had gone with us on our journey."

"And are you?"

"Sometimes--perhaps it is foolish--but sometimes I think I am."

"I know.  I think I know.  And it isn’t foolish of you at all, dear.
Oscar is doing wrong.  I must speak to him--I must speak to him
severely."

"It isn’t Oscar’s fault.  Helga is so selfish."

"Yes, she takes after somebody else in that way, Thora."

"She was always taking Oscar away from me when we were on our journey."

"But your journey is over now, and he must mend his manners."

"Ah, no!  That part of our journey isn’t over yet, Anna. Sometimes I
think it has only begun."

"You don’t mean to say that Helga is trying to----"

"Helga has no pity.  When she once gets hold of anybody she will never
give him up."

"You think she is trying to get hold of Oscar?"

"I think she has got hold of him."

"You mustn’t say that about your husband, Thora."

"Oh, I don’t blame Oscar.  Helga is so beautiful, so clever. She has
every advantage over me."

"Now that’s just where you are wrong.  There is one point in which our
little Thora has an advantage over Helga and every other woman in the
world."

"You mean with Oscar----"

"Yes, with Oscar--you are going to be the mother of his child."

"Will that make any difference?"

"Any difference?  I should think it will indeed.  My poor mother used to
say, ’When people are married it’s the children who keep the pot
boiling.’"

"You mean that when my baby is born Oscar will come back to me?"

"Certainly I do."

"And that he will never go away from me any more?"

"Never!  Oscar has always loved children--wait till he has a child of
his own and see."

"Well, you are his mother--you know him best."

"Trust me, Thora!  It isn’t a good well if water has to be carried to
it, but when the child is born Oscar will begin all over again."

"You think that?  Really?  You think Oscar will love me again for my
baby’s sake?"

"Any man must if he has a good heart--and Oscar’s heart is good whatever
his head may be."

"Indeed--indeed it is."

"He must love the mother for the sake of the child, and the child for
the sake of the mother."

"How sweet!  How beautiful!"

Thora’s own eyes were now like the eyes of a child--so full of wonder
and love.  She fell to counting the weeks that must pass before the
fulness of her time.

"Nine weeks--hardly nine--eight--think, mother--only eight.  How I wish
it were even less!  I used to look forward to that time with anxiety and
dread, but there is nothing to be afraid of if so much good can come out
of a little pain--nothing really--now is there?"


                                  *VI*

In this sweet hope Thora comforted herself for four weeks, and then
something happened which disturbed all her calculations.  It was the eve
of the proclamation and the committee of which Oscar was the chief
decided to visit Thingvellir in order to complete their preparations for
the ceremony.  On this errand Helga was to go with them, and having so
many things to attend to they were to sleep one night at the Inn-farm
and return the following day.  When Oscar announced this program a
sudden change came over Thora’s patient and submissive spirit.

"Then I must go, too," she said.

"You?  You, Thora?" said Oscar.  "Why, what can you be thinking of?
Thirty-three miles away--in that desolate region--without a doctor or a
nurse--and so near your time, too.  Impossible!  Quite impossible!"

"Then Helga mustn’t go either."

"But Helga is so useful, so necessary."

"I don’t care.  If I can not go with you then Helga shall not do so,
either."

"My dear Thora, this is so unlike you.  But as you please. I shall be
ashamed to tell Helga, and explain to the committee, but still, if you
wish it--  No, no, you must not cry.  You must not disturb yourself.  My
little woman must keep herself very quiet while I am away--very, very
quiet."

Two hours after Oscar had gone Helga came to Government House.  Thora
was alone, and the sisters faced each other for some instants without
speaking.  At length Helga said:

"Well, I trust you are satisfied.  Now that you have shown your foolish
jealousy and made us the talk of the town, I trust you are satisfied."

"Oscar said I was to keep myself quiet, Helga, and you know I ought to
do so."

"Oh, you can excite yourself enough it seems, when you wish to express
your paltry feelings.  Because I have sympathized with Oscar and tried
to help and inspire him, you who have never sympathized with him and can
never help him, because you cannot understand him, and he is beyond
you--you must come with your paltry spite----"

"Helga!  You have never been kind to me--never since you came home a
year ago--but now you are cruel."

"Am I?  Perhaps I am.  And perhaps I’ve gone through enough to make me
so."

"You speak as if your disappointment of this morning in not going with
Oscar were a great and grievous matter, but you don’t seem to remember
how often I have been disappointed in the same way."

"Oh, I dare say you think you are much to be pitied."

"I don’t say I’m to be pitied, Helga, because I know it was my own fault
at the beginning.  But I do say I’ve never known a moment’s peace since
you came home from Denmark. I persuaded father to send for you because
you were my sister, and I wished you to share my happiness, but you have
never shown me any sisterly feeling--never.  On the contrary, you found
me happy and you have made me miserable. You have done your best to
render life intolerable to me."

"I thought you said you were not to excite yourself, Thora?"

"It is you that are exciting me, Helga, because you are always
inflicting the sharpest tortures upon me and hurting me where you know I
can bear it least.  From the first you tried to take Oscar away from
me--you know you did.  You tried to do it before our marriage and you
have tried to do it ever since.  You were not even ashamed to try during
our honeymoon and you are trying now, because you have lost all sense of
loyalty or justice or remorse or even shame."

"Oh, yes," said Helga, "you think you have been a great martyr.  But
would it surprise you to hear that somebody else has gone through a
still greater martyrdom?  You accuse me of having inflicted tortures
upon you--what of the tortures you have inflicted upon me?"

"I, Helga?"

"Yes, you!  You speak as if I were the sort of woman who draws a man
into her net, who tears him away from the wife he loves and drags him
down to his death.  You would have been nearer right if you had thought
of me as another kind of woman altogether--one who is herself the
sufferer--who is shut out and cut off and must remain unmated because
the man who loves her is married to somebody else."

"Helga!"

"Oh, I should have had mercy on your condition, but you would not let
me.  And now if you wish to hear the truth I will tell you."

"And what is the truth, Helga?"

"The truth is that Oscar does not love you at all--perhaps he has never
loved you."

"Helga, how dare you!  The falseness of what you say is on the face of
it.  If Oscar has never loved me, why am I his wife?  What advantage had
he to gain by choosing me instead of you?  What compulsion was put upon
him?  If he did not love me why did he marry me?"

"He married you out of pity--from a mistaken sense of duty--because he
had contracted to marry you and thought it honorable to go on with his
bargain.  But he loved somebody else and so he sacrificed both of them.

"It’s false, Helga, it’s false, and it’s only your vanity that makes you
say so."

"Oh, you must not suppose that I am saying this without a certainty.  I
had it from himself----"

"Himself?  He, himself?"

"----from his own mouth, on the very eve of your marriage."

"On the eve of his marriage to me, he told you----"

"He told me that he loved me.  And since then, if he has not said it in
words he has said it in other ways again and again.  He loves me
still----"

"No, no, no, it is not true."

"He will always love me."

"It is not true, it is not true."

"And he loves you no more than a man loves his dog or his horse, or the
man of the Bible days loved the handmaiden of his wife."

"Helga, for shame!  Are you without conscience or truth that you can lie
to me like that?  If Oscar had never loved me do you think I should not
have found it out long ago? And if he loved you do you think I should
not know it--I who am bearing his child?"

"Oh, you needn’t taunt me with that, Thora.  Yes, yours are the lips
that kiss him, but it isn’t the lips that matter. It is the love behind
the lips, and that love is mine, and every time he kisses you the kiss
is meant for me."

"You lie, Helga, you lie."

"And the child too, it is not your child, because the love that gave it
life was my love."

"You lie, you lie."

"What do I care if you are the bondwoman who bears his child?  The child
will be my child, and when he is born he will have my face----"

"No, it is not possible."

"It is, it is--you know it is."

Thora gasped for breath.  Then an extraordinary change came over her
that made her almost unrecognizable.  The patient and gentle woman
seemed suddenly possessed by a demon.  Something strange and horrible
seemed in an instant to enter into her soul.  The homicidal impulse
which takes hold of wild animals appeared to assail and conquer her.
One moment she stood facing her sister, convulsed and livid, and then in
a voice that was hoarse with rage and shame she said:

"Very well, if that is so, and if my child is not my own, if it has been
conceived in the love of another woman, and I am only the bondwoman who
bears it, then--then--then--it shall never be born, or if it is born
I--I--I will kill it!"

With that she burst into a peal of laughter, and fell on to the floor.

The noise brought Anna into the room panting.

"What have you done to her?  What have you said? Thora!  Thora!"

"I will kill the child.  I will kill it, I will kill it!"

The wild, shrieking laughter continued and increased until the Governor
came running from his room.  He listened for a moment to the mad cries
and then said, "Let us lift her up and carry her to bed.  Helga, go for
the doctor and for Margret Neilsen.  Tell them to come quickly.  She’s
in labor--there’s no time to lose."


                                 *VII*

All night Thora tossed about in a strong delirium, which expressed
itself in the one wild, homicidal cry.  Aunt Margret came and found Anna
in the sick-room.  The Factor followed, and sat for hours with the
Governor in his bureau below.

The Doctor (Doctor Olesen) never left Thora’s side.  He did not conceal
the gravity of her condition.  The delirium was due to premature labor.
Such homicidal mania was not unknown in the cases of young mothers.  It
generally originated in some startling event, perhaps a great loss, or a
great shock or a grievous disappointment.  Doctor Olesen questioned
Anna, but she knew nothing to account for Thora’s seizure.  He asked
Helga, but she said little.

Helga was obviously in a state of terror.  Her face was deathly pale and
her lips quivered.  She could not be got to leave the house.  When the
Factor returned home at ten o’clock, being powerless to do anything, he
could not tear Helga away.  It was observed by all three attendants on
the invalid that Helga did not ask to be admitted to Thora’s room.  "A
sensible girl," thought the Doctor.  "She knows better than ask me,"
thought Anna.  But Helga seemed anxious to help in any menial way, no
matter what.

When there was nothing else to do Helga sat in the drawing-room, still
wearing her cloak and hat, and listening in fear to the mad cries from
the chamber overhead.  In the long dark hours she was a prey to the most
agonizing thoughts.  She was feeling like one who had committed a murder
and asking herself what would happen if Thora died.

Beyond the physical agony of hearing those wild cries from the chamber
overhead, beyond the pangs of a troubled conscience and beyond the pain
of the sisterly love and pity which overcame her and surprised her in
these dark hours, Helga suffered from one overmastering terror--the
terror of what Oscar would say to her when he came back.  He had been
sent for; there would be no need to tell him anything.

Oscar arrived at midnight, covered with dust and sweat. Somebody opened
the hall door to him.  He did not stop to look who it was--but pushing
through the house came first upon Helga in the drawing-room.  For a
moment they stood face to face, like guilty things.  She was trembling
from head to foot; he was breathing heavily.

"How is she now?" he asked.

"No better," she answered.

He heard the cries from the room above.

"Is that she?"

"Yes."

"Oh, God!" he muttered, and began to load himself with reproaches.  "I
should have taken her with me when she asked me.  Why didn’t I?  I ought
to have known what would happen."

Helga had expected that he would fly out at her, and she could have
borne any insult, but this she could not bear.

"It’s all my fault," he said.  "I have been a fool--a weak, selfish
fool.  Oh, Thora, my sweet, innocent, long-suffering Thora, forgive me,
forgive me!"

Helga could not endure the house any longer.  She felt like a criminal
and wanted to escape.  Leaving Oscar with his head on his arms over the
cushions of the couch, she slipped out and went home through the dark
and silent streets alone.

Finding Helga gone, Oscar crept up to the door of Thora’s room, but he
was not permitted to enter where the mere breath of excitement might
quench the glimmer of life within.  His mother came out to him in the
large room at the back and found him with his face down on the table.
She had intended to rate him soundly the moment she set eyes on him, but
the sight of his distress silenced her reproaches and she fell to
comforting him instead.

"No, no," said Anna, "you couldn’t have taken her with you.  Things are
bad enough as they are, but think how much worse they would have been if
all this had happened there."

"Then I should have stayed at home," said Oscar.  "I should have given
up everything."

"Thora couldn’t have wished you to do that, my son.  None of us had a
right to expect it."

"But you don’t know everything, mother.  I have behaved shamefully to
Thora.  I thought I was doing right by her, but I was doing wrong,
dreadfully wrong.  The poor girl has suffered terribly, and this is the
result."

As the first streaks of dawn began to fret the sky above the glaciers of
the Eastern fells, the delirium abated, and there came a period of
conscious pain.  Anna ran in to Oscar to tell him of the change, and
then down-stairs on a similar errand to where the Governor lay in his
shirt-sleeves on the sofa in his bureau.

"She’s herself at last, thank the Lord, and the doctor says she’s going
along as well as can be expected."

Two hours later, when the sun rose on the little town, and the fiord and
the fells were crimson with his glory, the angel of peace came down to
the house of pain, hearing a babe in her arms.

With a smile and an outstretched hand, the doctor entered Oscar’s room,
and said:

"I am happy to congratulate you.  A girl--a beautiful child."

"But Thora?"

"She is weak, but quite at ease, and as well as can be expected under
the circumstances."

"Thank God!"

"And now go to bed yourself, Oscar, and sleep, if you can, until this
time to-morrow."

"I will--I will.  Thank you, doctor, thank you a thousand times."

Meanwhile Anna was in the bureau telling the glad news to the Governor,
and then running about the house to find some one to carry it to the
Factor.

"I’ll go, mother," said a voice from the kitchen.

"Goodness!  Is that you, Magnus?  When did you come?"

"About eleven o’clock last night."

"Then you were here before Oscar?"

"Golden Mane gallops fast, mother."

"And what have you been doing in the kitchen?"

"Carrying the wood and boiling the water for Margret Neilsen."

"Then you must go to bed now--you’ll be sleepy."

"Not I--I can lie awake six nights, you know, when the lambs are
coming."

"Well, a lamb has come to-night, Magnus," said Anna.

"God bless it, and the little mother as well," said Magnus.


                                 *VIII*

Thora slept until midday under the combined effects of exhaustion and a
sleeping draught, and when she awoke the evil spirit which had possessed
her had gone, and she was her own sweet simple self once more.  But the
struggle had been a terrible one, and if the better part of her soul had
conquered the frail body which had been its battlefield was a waste of
weakness.  She was pale and thin and her blue eyes were large and
liquid.

Before opening them she heard from the back room (which had been
transformed into a nursery) the sweetest, most thrilling sound that ever
comes to a woman’s ears, a sound which sums up into its joys all the
ecstasy that a human soul can know, a sound which no woman in the world
has ever heard but once--the first cry of her first-born.

Thora opened her eyes, and saw Anna knitting by her side.

"Is that baby?" she asked.

"Ah, I thought you were awake!" said Anna.  "Yes, Thora, that is baby.
Margret Neilsen is bathing her."

"Bring her to me.  Tell Aunt Margret to bring her immediately."

"By and by, dear, by and by."

"No, now!  If she doesn’t bring baby this instant, I’ll get up and go to
her."

"Hush!  You are to be very quiet, and not to excite yourself.  And as
for getting up, the doctor says if you stir out of bed within a week
goodness knows what will happen."

"Yes, I know.  I am very naughty, and you must forgive me.  But I’ve not
seen baby yet--not really seen her--and if you will bring her to me I
shall be so good.  I shall not excite myself at all--not at all.  You
will see how quiet I shall be."

"Well, if you promise me, faithfully promise me," said Anna.

"Wait!  Sit down again, mother.  Sit here by the window. I have
something to ask you first.  Does she--does baby resemble anybody?"

"Resemble anybody?  I should think she does, indeed. I have never in all
my life seen a child so like its mother."

"Like me?  Oh, bring her!  Bring her!  I can’t wait a moment longer."

Anna went into the nursery and told Aunt Margret that Thora was awake
and calling impatiently for the child.

"But she’ll want to take her," said Aunt Margret.

"Trust her for that, if she’s a mother," said Anna.

"But will it be safe?  Is she quite herself again?"

"We’ll chance her," said Anna.

Aunt Margret gathered up the baby in its long clothes and with its
feeding-bottle at her breast, and carried it into Thora’s room, and
stooping by the bed she said, "There! Look at that now!"

"Give her to me, give her to me," cried Thora, stretching out two
trembling white arms.

"Carefully then, carefully," said Aunt Margret.

There was no need to fear: Thora gathered her child to her breast with
the free and daring but gentle touch that comes to mothers of every
species.

"My baby!  My baby!" she whispered, and her pale face overflowed with
joy.  "Yes, she is like me.  I can see it myself.  But why doesn’t she
open her eyes?  Is she asleep? That can not be, because she is still
sucking.  Coo-coo!  Isn’t she beautiful?  How foolish of me to say that!
And yet it’s true.  Coo!  My baby!  My bootiful, bootiful baby!"

Through all this broken jargon--the divine foolishness of
motherhood--the two older women stood by, trying to cackle and laugh
behind their black silk aprons, but finding it hard to keep back their
tears.

"Has Oscar seen her yet?"

"Not yet," said Anna.

"But he has come back, hasn’t he?  Didn’t you tell me he had come back?"

"Yes, but he was quite worn out with watching and I sent him off to
bed."

"Poor boy!"

"And Magnus has come, too, but I couldn’t get him to go to bed and he
still is working away in the kitchen.

"What a deal of trouble I am to everybody!"

"Trouble?  We don’t call that trouble."

"You’ve got a baby for it, haven’t you?" said Thora, and she looked down
at the treasure at her breast as if she had brought them the wealth of
the world.  All at once she cried, "Oh, oh!  Look!  Look!"

Aunt Margret, who was at the other side of the room, almost fainted at
Thora’s sudden cry.

"What has happened?" she gasped.

"Baby has opened her eyes," said Thora.

Aunt Margret dropped to a chair to breathe.

"They’re blue like mine.  Oscar’s are brown, and Helga’s--hers are grey.
But perhaps baby’s eyes will change their color!  Do children’s eyes
change their color, Anna?"

"Sometimes they do," said Anna.  "Blue eyes sometimes become brown----"

"Never grey?"

"Not that I know of," said Anna.

"I’m so glad baby is like me," said Thora, and she gazed down at the
child with looks of wonder and love.  Then her delicious selfishness
took another turn and she said:

"Mother, do you not think Oscar has slept long enough now?"

"Doctor Olesen said he was to sleep until to-morrow," replied Anna.

"But couldn’t you wake him up for a moment--just for a moment, to come
and see us as we are now--baby and me--would it do him much harm?"

"No, but it would do you a great deal.  You would over-excite yourself,
and then, my gracious, I should get into trouble."

"Oh, no, I shall be quite calm--I promise you I shall be calm.  And
Oscar can come in his dressing-gown and then go back to sleep.  Do call
him--do--please do--Anna, Aunt Margret--mother!"

They could not resist the pleading voice, and Anna went off to Oscar’s
room.  Oscar was awake.

"How is she now?" he asked.

"Still a little weak, but getting stronger every hour," said Anna.

"And the child?"

"She’s got it in bed with her, and wishes you to come and see them."

"I’ll come at once."

"Dear Thora!  She is happy at last.  I have never seen anybody so happy.
And nobody ever deserved happiness more.  Just now when I left her she
had the eyes of a child. But she is still on the brink of life and
death.  It wouldn’t need much to make her take flight from this world.
Therefore watch over your words, Oscar, and don’t say anything that will
agitate her."

Oscar promised, and then followed his mother into Thora’s bedroom.  At
the threshold he heard the soft "Boo-oo--coo-coo" of motherly
endearment, and then saw the shining pale face on the pillow with the
tiny red one below it.

"My poor Thora," he said, kissing her forehead, "you are not suffering
now, are you?  A little pale, perhaps, and a little thin, but better,
are you not?"

"Look!" she whispered, uncovering the child and having no thoughts to
waste on lesser matters.  "Who is she like, Oscar?"

"Like?  Do you ask me who she’s like, Thora?  Why, she’s
like--ridiculously like you!"

"Kiss me, Oscar.  Put your arms around both of us, dearest.  That
way--so."

But at the next moment the baby was crying and the older women were
protesting loudly.

"Come away you great, clumsy creature," said Aunt Margret.

"No, no," cried Thora.  "It wasn’t Oscar.  He never hurts anybody.  It
was I, auntie," but auntie, making no terms with such heroics, took the
child out of bed and proceeded to rock it, face downward, across her
knee.

When the baby had been hushed to sleep they fell to the discussion of
its name.  Oscar was for "Thora," but Thora herself said no, that was
her own name, the name Oscar knew her by, and therefore she could not
share it even with her child.

"Then what do you say to ’Elin’?" said Oscar.

"Beautiful!  Anna, Aunt Margret, listen.  Say it again, Oscar."

"’Elin.’"

"Isn’t it lovely as Oscar says it?"

So they decided straightway that "Elin" it should be, and next came the
question of the godparents.  Thora was for Magnus ("Poor Magnus") and
Oscar assented.  But when Oscar in his turn nominated Helga the sunshine
died off Thora’s face, whereupon Anna gave him a quick glance, and began
to make a noise.

"Then Magnus for godfather and Aunt Margret for godmother," said Oscar,
and so it was agreed.

"And let us have the baptism to-day," said Thora.

"To-day?" cried Anna.  "Why, Thora, a child is never baptised on the day
of its birth except when it is going to die."

It was now Aunt Margret’s turn to make a noise, and this she did by
wakening baby in rising suddenly, and protesting that Oscar ought to be
turned out of the room and Thora left to rest.

"Yes, yes, that’s true," said Oscar, and kissing Thora again he followed
Aunt Margret and the baby into the nursery.  When they were gone, and
the door had closed on them, Anna leaned over the bed and whispered:

"There!  Didn’t I know what o’clock it was striking? Hasn’t Oscar come
back to you?  When he kissed you didn’t you feel that all his heart was
yours?"

"Yes, it is true," said Thora.  "But will it last, think you?"

"Certainly, it will last.  Last night he was reproaching himself with
all sorts of things, and to-day he is like a man who is beginning over
again a new life."

"You think so, Anna?  You really think so?"

"Indeed I do.  Depend upon it he’ll not lose sight of that baby for five
minutes in the day.  And he’ll never look at her but he’ll think of
you."

"How happy I am!  I have never been so happy before--never, never!"  She
took a deep breath and closed her shining eyes to ease the beating of
her heart.  There was a moment’s silence and then in another voice she
said, "Mother?"

"Yes, dear?"

"Last night--when I was so ill--didn’t I say----"

"Hush!  That’s all over.  We’ll not speak of it any more."

"All the same if I could die now--now when I am so happy--and baby,
too----"

And then Anna sank into a chair, trembling from head to foot.


                                  *IX*

Anna was right about Oscar and the baby--he could not willingly allow it
to be out of his sight for any five minutes of the day or night.  When
it was to be bathed he felt it necessary to superintend the operation,
and when it was fed he was compelled to keep watch and ward.  He had a
thousand fears of accidents that might happen to it and became dizzy
when it lay naked on the edge of Aunt Margret’s lap. If it cried while
he was in the dining-room he rushed upstairs, and if anything fell on
the floor above he turned pale and trembled.  Sleeping in the room next
to the nursery he kept his door open at night, and if the baby was
fretful he walked Aunt Margret to and fro (being afraid to carry the
child himself) as if she had taken too much laudanum.

Two days passed in this way and he was never once out-of-doors.  Thora
overheard him in the adjoining room, coaxing and scolding Aunt Margret,
and talking or laughing to the child, and her heart overflowed with
happiness.  "But will it last?" she asked herself.

Meantime Helga, sitting at home, shut out from these joys, was feeling
herself neglected.  On the third day Oscar had a message from her,
saying she wished to see him on an important matter and asking him to
come round immediately. He could not resist it.  The little scented
envelope drew him like a magnet.  Going out for a walk, to think of what
he should do, every step took him in the direction of the Factor’s.
Within half an hour he found himself in the little sitting-room
overlooking the lake, and Helga was standing before him with head down,
more meek and modest, but also more beautiful and irresistible than ever
before.

"I have a confession to make to you," she said, "and if you are angry
with me I must bear it."

She had been the cause of poor Thora’s sudden illness. Stung by the
disappointment of some days ago she had gone across to Government House
to reproach her sister with the humiliation she had put upon her.
Perhaps she had said too much, and more than was true, and she was sorry
and ashamed.  She could wish to ask Thora’s forgiveness, and if Oscar
would do it for her----

"With pleasure, Helga," said Oscar.  "But all’s well that ends well, and
why should we say more on this subject?"

"There is another that I wished to speak of," said Helga, and then came
the real burden of her message.

Poor Thora’s delirium had been homicidal.  She had threatened to take
the life of her unborn child.  What a frightful thing it would be if out
of her weakness and hallucination she should attempt to carry out her
threat!

"But that’s all over now, Helga," said Oscar.  "Since her baby came
Thora had been as gentle as a lamb, and running over with tenderness and
love."

"So I thought until this morning," said Helga.  "But father tells me
that your mother sees signs of dementia still."

"Good heavens!" cried Oscar.

"Everybody appears to have heard of it except you.  I thought it was
wrong to keep you in the dark, and so I’ve told you."

"Thanks, Helga, it is good of you, and if poor Thora is still suffering
in that way----"

"There can’t be a doubt of it, Oscar.  She told your mother she wished
she could die, and baby with her."

"She must be watched--the child, too.  There must be nurses night and
day."

"Is that enough, Oscar?  You know how cunning people are when they are
suffering from dementia.  And then a child is such a frail thing--its
life might be snuffed out in an instant."

"You mean that baby should be removed?"

"It might be safest--for a time at least.  It might come here--I should
take the greatest care of it.  But it needn’t change its nurse--Aunt
Margret must come home soon in any case."

"It must be done, Helga.  It would be too awful if anything happened to
the child.  I should go mad."

"And then think of Thora.  It would be ten thousand times more terrible
for her."

"Poor Thora!  It will break her heart," said Oscar.  "It seems as if I
am doomed to bring grief and pain and death to her."

"We must be cruel only to be kind, Oscar.  But don’t act on my advice
only and for mercy’s sake don’t say I suggested anything.  Ask somebody
else."

"I will."

"Ask the Governor."

"The Governor?"

At the mention of that name they paused and looked at each other in
silence, as if a ghost had passed between them.

"Any news from Monte Car--I mean Copenhagen?" asked Helga.

"Nothing yet, but I am in daily fear of something happening."

"Whatever happens I shall never forget that you did that for me, Oscar."

She held out her hand to him, and he took it, kept it for a moment, then
kissed it passionately and fled from the house.

Later the same day a family conference was held at Government House to
consider what ought to be done.  The Governor and the Factor were there,
as well as Oscar and Anna.  Aunt Margret came down last, having left one
of the maids in charge of the child.

"Magnus is in the nursery too," she said.  "He came up with wood for the
stove and Thora heard his voice, so now they are talking through the
open door."

Doctor Olesen had been called into consultation and he gave a guarded
opinion.  Such forms of homicidal mania were due to weakness and were
usually transient.  Since the night of the confinement he had seen no
signs of it himself, but if Anna had seen them he would not take the
responsibility of opposing the step that was suggested.

Anna rocked herself and moaned and said that after all she could not be
certain.  She might have mistaken what had fallen from Thora.  Perhaps
the poor child had been thinking of something quite different.

Aunt Margret was now of the same mind, but much more emphatic.  "I don’t
believe a word of it," she said, "and I’m sorry I ever doubted her.
Thora is a Neilsen, and she wouldn’t hurt a hair of the child’s head."

"This is no time to indulge sentimental feelings," said the Governor.
"If Thora is suffering from dementia, however transient, we must protect
her from the dangers of her weakness."

"I agree, Stephen," said the Factor.  "I’m sorry--I’m sorry for my
daughter--but I agree, I agree."

"That is our duty--our plain duty," continued the Governor, "first to
the child who is the offspring--at present the only probable
offspring--of two families, and next to the poor young mother herself,
than whom no one would have more right to reproach us if we failed to do
it and a disaster occurred."

"No one, Stephen, no one," said the Factor.

"It seems so cruel, so dreadfully cruel," said Anna.

"But it’s all for Thora’s own good, mother," said Oscar.

"I know, Oscar, I know, yet it’s cruel for all that."

"But I should like to know who’s going to do it," said Aunt Margret.
"I’m not, I tell you flat."

"Then Anna must do it herself," said the Governor.

"No, no, don’t ask me," said Anna.

"Why not?  Who so proper to do such an act of mercy and love?  And
Oscar, too--Oscar himself if need be must carry the child over to the
Factor’s."

Oscar’s lips whitened and quivered and his heart clutched at his ribs.

It was decided that the child should be taken from the mother that
night, as soon as she was asleep and the house was quiet.

"But she goes to sleep with the child at her breast and always awakes
when it wants the bottle," said Anna.  "I’ll give her a draught--she’ll
sleep until morning," said the Doctor.

"Oh, dear me!  Oh, dear me!  I shall feel like a thief," said Anna.

"Or like a murderer," said Aunt Margret.


                                  *X*

Meantime Magnus in the nursery was looking down at the little face in
the cot, sometimes blinking at the light, sometimes digging its little
fist into its face, sometimes gripping with its tiny soft hand his own
coarse finger.  Through the open door to the adjoining room there came
the voice that he knew so well, a little weaker, a little thinner, but
more joyous and silvery than before.

"Is that you, Magnus?"

"Yes, Thora."

"Have you seen my little Elin?"

"I’m looking at her now, Thora."

"Isn’t she beautiful?  Isn’t she a darling?"

"She’s like a little angel, Thora."

A joyous thrill came from the other room, and then the silvery voice
began again: "She’s awake, isn’t she?  Can’t I hear her laughing?  She
laughs already, the little rogue! Do you know you are to be her
godfather, Magnus?"

"I am?"

"Yes, Oscar agreed to it immediately, and the baptism is to take place
soon."

"It will be the happiest moment of my life, Thora."

"Oh, she’ll give you lots of trouble.  She’s going to be such a little
mischief.  Can’t you see her growing up, Magnus?"

"I see her just like her mother when she was a child, Thora."

Another joyous trill came through the open door and then the silvery
voice once more: "She’ll be going to stay with you at the farm some day,
and then she’ll pull up all the flowers in your garden."

"She shall do whatever she likes, Thora."

"But there are chasms and caves and rifts in the earth there, aren’t
there?"

"I’ll keep watch on her, Thora."

"If she should slip anywhere----"

"I’ll keep watch on her all her life, Thora."

The joyous trill came again, but with a slightly different note: Then:
"Magnus?"

"Yes, Thora?"

"Why don’t you marry and have a little Elin of your own, you know?"

"I?  Oh, no."  And then a gruff laugh and something about "a poor
farmer."

"Don’t say that, Magnus."

Then the silvery voice that came to him through the open door became
serious and sweetly patronizing, hoping he would be happy and prosperous
at Thingvellir.  It wasn’t a great life, certainly, not a distinguished
career like Oscar’s--that is to say what Oscar was to be--and it wanted
hard work early and late, yet still----

"But, Magnus, you’ve been here three days, haven’t you? How have you
been able to spare them?"

"I’ll make up for them when I get home, Thora."

"But Anna says you haven’t been to bed since you came, and now the
Proclamation is near and you’ll be kept busy at the Inn with that."

"I’m strong, Thora--fearfully strong," said Magnus.

Thora lay back in her bed and with a blush there was none to see said:

"Magnus, I think--I really think you would do anything in the world for
me."

A gruff laugh came back to her, half smothered as in a man’s beard, and
then a choking voice said, "I believe I would, Thora."

"And if I wanted you--or baby wanted you--I think you would follow us to
the ends of the earth."

"Only say ’Come’ and I’ll come, Thora."

There was a moment’s silence, and then a merry laugh came rippling out
to him, and he felt hot to the roots of the hair.

"But of course that can not happen, Magnus.  We have Oscar, so we can
never need you."

"No, you can never need me, Thora."

At that moment Anna and Aunt Margret came back, heated and nervous after
the conference, and bundled Magnus out of the room.  Then while baby was
being bathed for bed, behind closed doors, to the customary chorus of
screams, Anna combed out Thora’s hair for the night, and Thora talked of
Magnus.

"People think him heavy and stupid, but he’ll startle them some day,"
she said.

"Is it to be plaited as usual?" asked Anna.

"Just as usual.  But how your hands tremble to-night, mother!  That’s
nursing, you know.  Poor Magnus!  He hasn’t a selfish thought in his
heart.  Any girl might love him, and perhaps if I had never known
Oscar----"

"Doctor Olesen says you are to take a powder to-night, child.  It will
make you sleep until morning."

"It’s you that should take the powder--you and Aunt Margret."

"Ah, if I could take it for you I would, dear," said Anna. "But here it
is--take it quickly or I may."

Thora drank from the glass Anna gave her and said, "There!  It’s gone!
Now bring me baby."

Aunt Margret came with the child, hushing it to sleep, and put it gently
down into the mother’s arms.

"The darling!  She needs no sleeping draught.  My precious, precious
pet!  But I declare--Aunt Margret’s hands are trembling, too!  I’ve worn
you out, both of you."

"Nonsense!  Go to sleep.  I’m going to put down the light," said Aunt
Margret, and she lowered the lamp and put it to stand on a table behind
the bed-curtains.

"How good you are to me!  Everybody is good to me," came in a fainter
voice from the shadow of the bed.

"That is because everybody loves you, Thora," said Anna in a husky
murmur.  "You must always believe that, whatever happens."

"How sweet it is to be loved!  If I could only think that it would
last----"

The baby became fretful, and Thora began to sing it to sleep.

    "Sleep, baby, sleep,
    Angels bright thy slumbers keep,
    Sleep, baby, sleep."


Her drowsy voice ran a line and stopped; then ran another line and
stopped again, and then the faint voice said:

"How sweet it would be to fall asleep like this some day--baby and
I--and awake in heaven!"

"Hush!"

"I should be sorry for Oscar, but still----"

The faint voice lisped, the soft breathing lengthened, the blue eyelids
closed, the pale lips parted, the white arms slackened, and then the two
children, mother and babe, lay together in the lap of sleep.

There was silence for some minutes, wherein the two older women who sat
in the gloom like guilty things heard nothing but the ticking of a
clock.  Then Aunt Margret crept over to where Anna sat with her head
covered by her black silk apron and whispered:

"Oscar is waiting at the door.  If it has to be done at all let it be
done now."

Anna uncovered her face and saw Oscar on the threshold in his cloak and
hat.  She rose on trembling limbs and felt her way to the bedside.
There she stood listening for a moment to Thora’s measured breathing.
Then she drew the mother’s white arms apart and lifted the baby out of
them.

Aunt Margret wrapped a shawl about the sleeping child and Oscar covered
it with his cloak.

"The night is warm, she will take no harm," he faltered. At the next
moment he had gone and Aunt Margret had followed him.  Then Anna
tottered into the outer room and sank into a chair and covered her head
again.  "Oh, God forgive me!  God forgive me!  God forgive me!" she
said.


                                  *XI*

The sun was shining into the bedroom when Thora awoke, with a slight
flush on her pale cheeks and a look of happiness in her eyes, and saw
Anna rocking herself sadly by the bedside.

"Where is baby?" asked Thora.

"Presently, dear, presently," said Anna.

"Where is she?"

"Lie quiet, Thora.  You shall hear everything by and by."

"But tell me where is my little Elin, Anna?"

"Promise me not to excite yourself, Thora, and I will tell you all about
her."

Thora raised herself on her elbow and said with quick-coming breath,
"You don’t mean that you have taken her away?"

"There now, you are exciting yourself already, Thora."

"Have you stolen my child away from me?" cried Thora.

"Oh, dear!  Oh, dear!  What things you are saying, Thora."

Thora thought a moment and then she said, "I am sorry I said that, Anna.
It was very, very wrong of me.  I know you wouldn’t hurt me for worlds.
But why don’t you tell me where my little girl is?  She’s in the
nursery, isn’t she? You took her away from me in the night, and now
she’s asleep in her cot--isn’t that so?  Or perhaps Aunt Margret has
taken her down to the door?  There!  Isn’t that she?--that child crying
in the home-field?  Or was it somebody else’s baby in the road?  Speak,
Anna!  You are only teasing me, I know.  But I’m so weak, so foolish,
and my heart is beating like a drum."

Anna continued to rock herself and to moan, "Oh, dear! Oh, dear!"

Thora watched her for a moment with eyes that filled with fear, and then
called in a shrill voice, "Aunt Margret! Aunt Margret!  Aunt Margret!"

"Aunt Margret has gone, Thora," said Anna.

"Gone!  And my baby--has she gone too?"

Anna only rocked herself and moaned, "Oh, dear!  Oh, dear!"

Thora struggled to raise herself in bed, but her cheeks whitened and her
eyes rolled and with a loud scream she fell back fainting.

The maids came running into the bedroom and opened Thora’s clinched
hands while Anna bathed her forehead.

"What have I done?  Oh, those doctors!  Little they know of a mother’s
feelings!  It will kill her in any case.  My poor child!  My poor child!
Come, then; come, then!"

Thora recovered consciousness after a moment, and looked about her with
dazed eyes.

"Oscar!" she said, "I want to see Oscar."

"And so you shall, dear," said Anna, and she sent one of the maids
across to the Factor’s to fetch him instantly. Oscar came up-stairs four
steps at a stride and entered the room like a rush of wind.

"My poor Thora!" he said with panting breath, and he leaned over the bed
to kiss her.

Thora’s eyes, which had been dry and hard, now melted and grew wet.
"Oscar," she said, "your mother has sent our little Elin away--stolen
her from me in the night--and I am so weak and faint I can not get up to
follow her."

"Ah, no, dear, not mother," said Oscar.  "Lie quiet and I will explain."

"Fetch her back to me, Oscar.  I love my baby.  I can not live without
her."

"I know you love her, Thora, and I promise you that you shall have her
back in due time."

"No, no, dear, now."

"Not just yet, Thora, but I give you my word for it that baby is safe.
They are taking every care of her."

"What _right_ have they to take care of my baby?" cried Thora.  "I must
have her back.  I _will_ have her back."

In Thora’s flashing eyes, which changed the character of her
countenance, and in her voice, which was husky with rage and hatred,
there was something of the fierce animal which has been robbed of its
young.  Oscar shuddered at sight of the convulsed and livid face, but he
answered quietly:

"Thora, if you give way to feelings like those you will make yourself
ill again, and then baby will never come back to you.  If you will only
listen, I will tell you everything. You were very bad before baby came,
and doctor feared you might even do some harm to her.  Therefore to save
you from pain and shame I took her away from you for a little
while--only for a little while--until you were better and more sure of
yourself, Thora."

Then a great silence fell on Thora’s bewailing and she said in a husky
whisper:

"So it was you, Oscar?"

"Well--yes, dear, it was I--but what I did was for your own good--yours
and our little Elin’s.  And if you will only wait, only be patient, your
baby shall be brought back to you and we shall be happy."

Thora’s wet eyes dried of themselves, but it was a glassy and smileless
light that came into them.

"Where is my baby now?" she asked.

"Not far away.  In fact, only at your father’s.  Aunt Margret wrapped
her in a shawl and I took her across myself."

"Then you gave my child to Helga?" said Thora.

"Well--yes, I gave her to Helga.  But Aunt Margret is there now.  And
besides, I intend to go over myself off and on all day long, so you are
not to worry or be anxious about anything--not about any single thing.
You understand everything now, dear, do you not?"

"Yes, I understand everything now," said Thora.

The glassy, smileless eyes continued to look up at him, but he mistook
the light that shone in them.

"That’s a dear, good girl," he said.  "Everybody will be delighted to
hear you are so reasonable and resigned, because everybody thought you
would be inconsolable--everybody except Helga."

"Helga?"

"Helga said you would be yourself within an hour, and she was right.
Helga knew you better than any of us."

"Yes, Helga knew me better than any of you," said Thora.

Then he sat on the end of the bed and chatted gaily on many subjects,
while Anna, crying for joy of the change in Thora’s spirits, called for
her breakfast and coaxed her to swallow some of it.  He talked of his
work--of the work he was going to do when he began, which would be soon,
very soon now.  Then of his ambitions in Parliament, and finally of the
Proclamation.  It was fixed for the day after to-morrow, everybody was
going to it and the town would be empty.  As for himself, he had made up
his mind to stay at home with Thora, but seeing that the celebration at
Thingvellir had been his idea and that he had taken such a prominent
part in it, people were saying that it would be a thousand pities if he
could not be present.

"Then there’s the hymn, you know," said Oscar.  "I’ve been rehearsing
the choir and they are very shaky, but if I thought the organist could
hold them together I shouldn’t go in any case."

"What does Helga say?" asked Thora.

"Helga?  Oh, Helga?  Helga says I must go," replied Oscar.

"So do I," said Thora.

"You do?  Really?  What a sweet, unselfish soul it is, to be sure," said
Oscar, and kissing Thora on the forehead he ran back to see Elin.

The glassy, smileless eyes on the pillow followed him out of the room,
but their light was the light of despair.


                                 *XII*

Going out of Government House Oscar came upon Magnus, who was standing
at the foot of the staircase, riding-whip in hand, and with Golden Mane
at the door of the porch.  By the dark cloud on Magnus’s face Oscar
could see that his brother was in a sullen and rebellious mood, and to
avoid further hostilities he saluted him and tried to run on.

"Wait," said Magnus.

"Another time," said Oscar.

"Now," said Magnus, and laying his big hand on Oscar’s arm, he drew him
back into the hall.

Oscar flushed up at the indignity and said sharply, "Well, what is it?"

"Oscar," said Magnus, "I heard what passed in the bedroom."

"Then you were listening?"

"I was."

"You are not ashamed to say you were listening on the stairs--on your
hands and knees perhaps--to my conversation with my wife?"

"I would have listened on my belly if need be," said Magnus, and his
face darkened more and more.

"May I ask why you listened?" said Oscar.

"Because I could not do otherwise."

"How so?"

"I had given my word to be here when wanted."

"To my wife?"

"Yes."

"You will excuse my saying, Magnus, that it would be much better if you
attended to your own business."

"This is my own business.  Oscar, you must give the child back to
Thora."

"Really, Magnus, you are taking a most unwarrantable liberty.  If you
were not my brother----"

"Shah!  Give the mother her child."

"Good Lord, man," said Oscar, breathing hard as if he had been running,
"do you really think that I am going to allow an outsider, even if he is
my brother, to dictate to me what I shall do with my family difficulties
and to travel all the way from Thingvellir to conduct my domestic
affairs? What right have you to mix yourself in my business--the
business of my wife and me?"

The cloud that contracted Magnus’s face grew darker every moment, and he
said:

"You ask me what right?"

"I do."

"I loved Thora Neilsen."

"You think it necessary to tell me that?" said Oscar. "To remind me that
she threw you up for me?"

"That’s a lie, Oscar Stephenson."

"Strong!" said Oscar, with a laugh, but he was trembling visibly.

"I gave her up when I could have kept her to her word. I decided in
favor of the girl’s happiness against my own. I gave her up to you that
you might make her happy.  Those were the terms on which I gave her up
to you, and what is the result?  What is the result, I ask you?  You
have allowed another woman to take her place."

"Another woman?" said Oscar.  "Is that the way you talk of her own
sister--of Helga?"

"Sister or not, she has tortured Thora by every art her selfish soul
could think of," said Magnus.  "That’s what she has done, and you have
helped her, and the treasure I valued more than my life you have flung
away."

Oscar made a cry of protest, but Magnus bore him down with a torrent of
words such as never came from his silent lips before.

"Do you think I don’t know what kind of life you led that poor unhappy
child while you were away--you and the girl together?  And now that her
baby comes and her husband returns to her, as he must if he is a man,
you let her sister’s scheming heart rob her of her only happiness."

Again Oscar with his whitening lips did his best to laugh. "Magnus," he
said, "it is impossible to be angry with you. Apparently you do not know
that it was with the consent of the family and by the advice of the
doctor that the child was taken from its mother!"

"Bah!  Do you think I don’t know who suggested it? ... Do you think that
I don’t see her object?  Do you think I don’t hear her pitiful
pleas--the same as if I had listened to them!  The little innocent is in
danger of its life!  It must come to her--she must take charge of it.
Why?  To bring you back to her feet--to attach you to her at any cost.
And you like a fool fall into her plans--because you want to--because
you don’t know yourself or your wife or the woman that isn’t worthy to
tie her shoes."

Oscar winced under Magnus’s words, for they cut him to the bone.

"Oscar," said Magnus again, "you will give the child back to the
mother--it will be best, I promise you."

"I have my own opinion of what is best," said Oscar, bridling, "and if I
think that for the time being mother and child are best apart----"

"Oscar Stephenson," interrupted Magnus, "you will give the child back to
the mother."

"And if I refuse, by what right will you command me?" said Oscar.

"By the right I acquired when I gave Thora up to you," replied Magnus.

"And by the right I acquired when she became my wife I will do with her
child as I think proper," said Oscar.

At that Magnus lost all control of himself.

"Is she a dog that you can take her whelps?" he cried.

"The law gives me the right to dispose of her offspring as I think
proper," said Oscar.

"Then damn the law," cried Magnus.  "And if you are deaf to my
entreaties I--I will----"

"Go on," said Oscar.  "It will not be the first time that you have
threatened to break the law."

"You are breaking that poor girl’s heart, yet you talk to me about
breaking the law.  But I’ll do more than that. If you will not give the
child to its mother I will take it by force and give it back to her
myself.  And if any man tries to prevent me, no matter who he is or what
he is, by God I’ll break his teeth down his throat."

Flinging down his riding-whip Magnus had taken a step forward and lifted
his clinched fist into Oscar’s quivering face when a cry came from the
head of the staircase: "Magnus! Oscar!  Magnus!  Magnus!"

It was Anna.  She ran down and put herself between the two men--the
slight, lithe, figure and fair head of Oscar, and the burly form and
swarthy face of Magnus, both panting hard and livid with rage and hate.

"My sons!  My sons!  For shame!  For shame!" she cried.  "Every word
could be heard in the bedroom and Thora is crying her eyes out."

Magnus dropped his arm and fell aside a pace or two, rebuked and
ashamed, but Oscar stood with an unflinching front where his mother had
found him.

"Magnus--Oscar," continued Anna, "if you both love the poor girl who is
lying helpless up-stairs, isn’t that a reason why you should be friends
and not enemies?  And then think of me, my sons.  I am your mother.
Surely the sons of one mother can live at peace.  I nursed you both when
you were little ones and if there should be strife between you now, and
blows and perhaps bloodshed, it would kill me--I could never survive
it."

Then she turned toward Magnus and said, as well as she could for the
tears that choked her:

"Magnus, you mustn’t be angry with Oscar.  He is your younger brother,
remember.  You and he slept in the same bed when you were children.  And
when he was a boy you used to carry him on your back and fight all his
battles."

Magnus groaned and turned again until he stood sideways to his mother,
and thinking he was not to be moved, she faced about to Oscar.

"Oscar," she said, "you must make peace with Magnus. You must, if only
for Thora’s sake.  Remember, you have got her, Oscar, and if it is true
that Magnus gave her up to you, although he loved her himself, think of
the sacrifice he must have made for both of you!  Perhaps he loves her
still, and has condemned himself to life-long loneliness because he has
lost her.  And perhaps he weeps his heart out for her the long nights
through.  Love that suffers like that has a great excuse, Oscar.
Doesn’t it give him a right to look to Thora’s happiness?  And if he
thinks she is suffering for want of her little Elin----"

Oscar’s throat was hurting him, and in a husky voice he said, "She shall
have the child back, mother.  If the doctor says it is safe she shall
have the child back immediately."

"There!" said Anna.  "That’s fair--nothing could be fairer than that,
Magnus.  Come, now, you must shake hands with Oscar."

She put her hand on Magnus’s arm, but he did not move.

"Magnus," she said, "your mother’s love may be all that is left to you
now, but it will last long, my son.  You need not give it up to any one,
and no one can take it away. After all a mother’s love is best.  It will
cling to you and comfort you whatever you do and whatever the world may
do to you.  Magnus, you must make friends with your brother--for your
mother’s sake, Magnus----"

Magnus turned about and saw Oscar before him with broken face and
outstretched hand.  Then his own hand swung out, drew back, swung out
again, and at the next moment the big, burly fellow had flung his arms
about Oscar’s neck and was sobbing over him like a child.

Two minutes later Magnus was on his way home, cracking his long whip
over Golden Mane’s flying head and whooping and galloping like a madman.



                               *PART IV*


    "_For some we loved, the loveliest and the best_
    _That from his vintage rolling time hath prest,_
    _Have drunk their cup a round or two before,_
    _And one by one crept silently to rest._"


                                  *I*

The day of the Proclamation of the Laws was to be kept as a general
holiday.  A hundred pack horses, carrying tents and provisions, had left
the little capital for Thingvellir the day before.  The Danish
man-of-war anchored in the fiord had lent half its flags and the Order
of Good Templars had sent all their insignia.  It was to be a great and
gorgeous spectacle.

Before daybreak the town was astir, and elderly people on slow ponies
were setting out on their journey.  Everybody was on horseback, for the
way was long and Iceland had few roads and no coaches.  Soon after dawn
the Governor started off in his cocked hat, and with his Inverness
belted over the bright gold of his official uniform.  Factor Neilsen
rode beside him, and the Bishop, the Chief Justice and most of the
Thingmen followed in his train.  The idea of reviving a great ceremony
of ancient days, and clasping hands with the mighty dead over a gulf of
a thousand years, had taken hold of everybody’s imagination.

Oscar Stephenson, who had been the first to think of it, was among the
last to go.  He had been round to the Factor’s house to see the child
and to fetch Helga.  The sun was reddening the sky over the eastern
hills when they mounted their fleet young ponies.  It was a quiet
morning, with the promise of a radiant day.

Helga wore her woolen helmet and a fur cape over a white jersey.  Oscar
was in riding dress, with his new Italian cloak hung loose from his
shoulders.  Their way out of the town lay past the end of Government
House, under the windows of Thora’s bedroom, and Oscar stopped and
called up to it.

"Helloa!  Helloa!" cried Oscar.

"Is it worth while to waken her?" said Helga.

But the window opened and Anna’s face appeared at it.

"It’s Oscar," she said, facing back into the room.

"Good-by, Thora!  We’ll be back this evening."

There was an indistinct murmur from within, and then Anna said, "Thora
says ’Good-by’ and you are not to hurry home on her account."

Oscar laughed and answered, "We’ll see, we’ll see."  And then the riders
put their heels to their ponies and bounded away.  Helga was in high
spirits, but the clouds hung on Oscar and he tried in vain to banish
them.

"All goes well, doesn’t it?" asked Helga.

"God knows," said Oscar.  "She’s quiet certainly, and apparently
resigned.  Yet her eyes are so dry, her lips so pale, and her cheeks so
white and thin----"

"But what else can you expect four days after her confinement?" said
Helga.

"True!  But I’ve never seen her quite like this before. It is almost as
if a wall of ice had frozen about her soul."

"You took my advice, didn’t you?"

"I did."

"And what did the Governor say?"

"He said Magnus’s interference was an impertinence, and he wouldn’t hear
of it for a moment."

"So things are to remain as they are?"

"As they are," said Oscar.

"And what about Magnus himself?" asked Helga.

"Magnus is at the farm."

"But if he should come back while everybody is away?"

"He can not come back to-day--his guests will keep him busy."

"But if he should in spite of everything?"

"In that case," said Oscar, dropping his voice and turning his head,
"the Sheriff has orders to deal with him."

By this time they had come to the tail of the train which had started
before them, and the dust and the noise of the clattering caravan were
too much for Helga.

"Let us go round by the hot springs and come out ahead of them," she
said, and they went cantering down a lane to the left where vapor
floated over a flowing stream.  Half an hour later they returned to the
main road, forded a river and toited up a hill beyond it.  The cavalcade
was now far behind them, and the little wooden capital was a long way
off, with its feet in the grey fiord and the white encircling arms of
the snow-covered hills stretching out to the brightening line of the sea
and sky.

"There!" said Helga, drawing rein and looking at Oscar with a sparkle in
her eyes.

"Poor little Thora!  I was sorry to leave her.  But I dare say
everything will be well," said Oscar.

"Sure to be," said Helga.

"Is that a steamer out there--out by the head?" asked Oscar.

"Undoubtedly it is a steamer," replied Helga.

"The ’Laura’ is a day late--she was due to arrive yesterday."

"Then it’s the ’Laura’ to a certainty."

The sun had now risen, but Oscar shivered as with cold. "I must be a
miserable coward, Helga, for the sight of a mail-ship frightens me," he
said.

But Helga only laughed and held up a warning hand. "We’ll not talk of
that to-day, Oscar--not to-day at all events.  Look!" she cried,
pointing to the line of moving forms on the brown streak of road that
ran through the plain of black lava.  "Look at your tribe down yonder.
Don’t you feel like Mahomet going back to Mecca?  Or like Jacob going up
to the Mount of Gilead with his flocks and his herds and----"

"And his wives?" said Oscar.

"Yes, and his wives," laughed Helga, and then both laughed together.

They put heels to their ponies again and Helga sang to herself as they
swung along.

"What a fool I am," thought Oscar.  "Why should I meet misfortune before
it comes?  And why should I trouble so much about Thora?  Isn’t Helga as
greatly to be pitied? In the wretched tangle of our fate hers is the
knot that can never be untied.  Yet how happy she looks!  Why shouldn’t
I be happy?"

"Helga!" said Oscar, when they slowed down again, "you wouldn’t like to
have lived in those old days I suppose?"

"Certainly I should," said Helga.

"What?  And share your husband with another woman?"

"That’s nothing.  Women do the same in these days, you know."

And then they laughed again, though with a dubious gaiety, and broke
into a canter once more.

"I’m a brute," thought Oscar.  "And badly as I have injured Thora the
wrong I have done to Helga is still more terrible.  For her there is no
outlook, no prospect, no future. She must go back to Denmark and I must
go on with my duty.  But why shouldn’t we have one day of happiness
first? One day of delight before the dream is over?"

They drew up at a river that ran by the road to water their ponies and
to take off their cloaks and pack them behind their saddles, for the sun
was now bright and the air was warm.

"There’s one curious point about the patriarchs," said Oscar.

"And what’s that?" asked Helga.

"Clearly they thought it possible for a man to love more than one
woman."

"And can’t he?" said Helga.

"I ask you," said Oscar--"can’t a man love more than one woman?"

"Why not?  Aren’t we all told to love one another?" laughed Helga, and
then Oscar lifted her in his arms and swung her back to her saddle and
they started on their journey afresh.

Their road lay through a bleak and barren country, past red hills of
volcanic sand and jagged mouths of extinct volcanoes, over a deep dale
of lava rocks, rutted with paths and scored with fissures, but
brightened by a farmstead here and there with its little green-roofed
elt house smoking for breakfast and its hummocked home-field gleaming
like a gem in a wilderness of waste.  At the last of these farms they
stopped to rest their ponies and to refresh themselves, being now
half-way to Thingvellir, with the caravan far behind them.

An untidy man in his shirt-sleeves took possession of their ponies and a
slatternly housewife in a soiled apron brought them milk and skyr.  She
was still young, but already she had three children.  One of them was
whimpering at her breast, another was dragging at her skirts and the
third was bellowing for her from the floor above.  She belonged to the
capital and had once been considered a beauty, but she was seven years
married and it was six since she had seen the town.

"There!" said Oscar, when they returned to the road. "That’s the
patriarchal life, if you please."

"Then I’m done with it," said Helga.  "Ugh!  To think of being buried in
a place like that, year in year out, with three children and only one
man!  It might do for Thora, but give me life, life, life!"

"And the man who gives you that may have you body and soul, perhaps?"
said Oscar.

"Body and soul," laughed Helga.

For the next hour their course lay across an almost trackless heath,
bare as a desert and flat as an inland sea.  The mountains that bounded
it were stark and cold and far away--on the one side steep with running
screes and on the other side clouded with steaming vapor, which rose out
of the glistening snow.  Not a house was to be seen on any side, not a
tree or a bush or a flower or a plant, and hardly a blade of grass, but
only a broad stretch of silver moss, leaden and dull, like the mold on a
dead man’s face.  No birds sang in that solitude, but sometimes the
wimbrel sent its long love cry across the waste; sometimes the wild swan
sped far overhead and uttered its eerie ululation, and sometimes the
raven perched on a stone and croaked out its melancholy note.  A line of
beacons, broken and old, each with a projecting stone like an amputated
arm, showed the course of the road, going on and on like soldiers in
single file tramping back after a lost battle.  Midway on the Heath
there was a House of Rest for travelers overtaken by the storms of
winter--a little hut, half cubicle and half stable, with nothing but a
plank bed and a truss of hay.

"Gracious heavens, what a place to be lost in in a snowstorm," said
Helga.

"But what a country for Saga and song," said Oscar, "and if some one
could set it to music, grim as its glaciers and fierce as its fires, it
would take the world by storm."

"Do it, Oscar, do it, and I’ll love you," cried Helga.

"As we are commanded to love one another?" asked Oscar.

"Perhaps," laughed Helga, and when he swung her to the saddle again her
hand slipped from his shoulder and his lips touched her cheek.

After that they both sang as they cantered along, for the clouds that
had hung over Oscar had gone by this time, and if the ground was grey
the sky was blue and their blood was red and warm.

But suddenly a new scene opened at their feet--a deep plain with a
shining blue lake in the midst of it, splashed with islands like spots
on an eagle’s egg and fenced by soft green fells.  It was a dream in a
desolate land, a cistern of sunshine encircled by countless peaks which
stood round it clothed in white, like a surpliced choir that were
singing their hymns to God.  The black lava was there as elsewhere, and
the valley was blistered with mounds and wrinkled with ruts and scored
with fissures; but the blood-root grew in the clefts of the jagged rocks
and the blueberry hung over the face of the gaping chasms, and it was
almost as if an angel had passed over the surface torn by earthquakes
and brushed it with the bloom of his wings.

This was Thingvellir, the place of the Proclamation, the Thing-place of
the Northlands, the scene of a hundred Sagas, the subject of a thousand
songs.

Oscar and Helga were now near the end of their journey and they watched
for the townspeople to overtake them. Half an hour later the caravan
came up in a cloud of dust, all noisy, but good-natured and ravenous for
breakfast.  There were some shouts at the pioneers, and certain dubious
compliments, but Oscar did not hear and Helga did not heed. They took
their places behind the Governor, and went down to the law-plain in his
train.

The way to it was through a wide chasm whose parallel walls stood up on
either side of the steep causeway like the ruined street of some
prehistoric city, but thrice grander and more awesome than any work of
the hand of man, because straight from the loins of nature and rent from
the womb of the earth.  There were great openings as of arches, empty
spaces as of windows, broken peaks as of pediments and curious stones as
of carvings, all shaken from their foundations and toppling as if to
fall; while over them, from beetling side to side, hung the gay flags of
the Danish man-of-war, and through them came the bright shafts of the
morning sun.

Half-way down the gorge there was a mound like a platform (the
"Law-mount" explained Oscar to Helga) and at the foot of it there was a
pool whose clear green depths looked cold and chill in the palm of the
cliffs that darkened it.

"That’s the drowning pool," said Oscar.  "When a woman was unfaithful to
her husband they hurled her from the rocks into the water."

"And what did they do with the unfaithful men?" laughed Helga.

From the edge of the pool a frothy river fell with a thunderous clamor
over a precipice to the valley below, where it forked into many fingers
and ran off to the margin of the lake.  Beyond these rivulets there was
the rutted plain, now dotted over with tents, but having only two houses
within sight--the little wooden parsonage with its tiny church built of
stone and shingles and the Inn-farm of Magnus Stephenson.

Magnus himself stood waiting there, washed and dressed, after working
the whole night through with his man John Vidalin, to prepare for his
expected guests.  And when Oscar rode up, a little excited and confused,
he received him with the cheerful face of one who had made his peace
with his brother and meant to keep it.

"How’s Thora to-day?" asked Magnus, as he loosened the girths of Oscar’s
saddle; and Oscar answered nervously:

"Better--that is to say--well, perhaps not so very well to-day, Magnus."

"Her child has been given back to her?" said Magnus.

"Not yet," said Oscar.  "To tell you the truth, the Governor--," and
then he faltered out the sequel to his broken promise.  Magnus’s face
darkened, and he said:

"So the doctor has not been consulted at all?"

"No.  In the teeth of the Governor’s orders it was plainly
impossible----"

"And Thora is still at Government House and her child is still at the
Factor’s?"

"That is so."

Magnus looked from Oscar to Helga, who now stood beside him, and his
face darkened more and more.

"John Vidalin," he cried in a thick voice over his shoulder to a man
behind him, "saddle my horse--I am going to Reykjavik."

"But Magnus," said the servant-man, "with all this work to do to-day and
all this money coming----"

"Saddle it quick," cried Magnus, like a man who was choking.

"Magnus," said Oscar, "for your own sake I think it only right to tell
you----"

But Magnus cut him short by turning on his heel.

"Let him go," said Helga, and before the people in the tents and the
Inn-farm had settled down to breakfast Magnus was riding back to town.


                                  *II*

Meantime Thora at home was in the throes of a great temptation.  She had
heard the peace-making between Magnus and her husband and had said to
herself, "Oscar will go to see Dr. Olesen at once, and the dear doctor
will say: ’Certainly, the little mother is quite well enough now to take
care of her baby--give the child back to her immediately.’"  Then Oscar
would come rushing up-stairs, and her room would be the same as if a
window had blown open, and he would cry, "Hip-hip-hurrah!  Doctor says
baby may come back!" and then Anna would take him by the shoulders and
turn him out and everybody would laugh.

But Oscar was long in coming, and when he came he said nothing about the
doctor.  He only talked about their little Elin, and said he had just
returned from seeing her. She was so rosy and well, and she was
beginning to "notice."  If you held out your finger she looked at it as
if it were the bough of a great tree, and then held it tight as if her
little body hung by it.

"I couldn’t tear myself away from her, Thora," he said. "It’s wonderful
what a lot of pleasure you can get out of a baby."

It was strange that Oscar did not see that he was hurting her every
minute, but she only thought, "I know what it is--he is going to take me
by surprise.  He doesn’t want to tell me that baby is coming until she
comes.  He will bring her back as he took her away, in the night, while
I am asleep; and when I awake in the morning she will be there."

In this sweet hope Thora closed her eyes early that evening, before the
red glow of the sunset had quite gone from the walls of her room, saying
a little prayer for Oscar, and another little prayer for Elin, that she
might be as lovely as ever when she saw her in the morning; and then she
fell asleep.

When she awoke next day she listened for the baby’s breathing, and
thinking she heard it she stretched out a gentle hand to the place where
the child should lie, and then with a smile she opened her eyes.  But
her baby was not there, and the sun in the room died out.

When the doctor came to see her that morning he looked grave and
anxious.  "I’m afraid my little patient is worrying overmuch," he said.
"The head is hot and there is some fever.  She must lie quiet, perfectly
quiet for the next few days, or I won’t answer for what may happen."

Only this, not a word about baby, and even when the doctor took Anna
into the nursery to give the usual instructions Thora listened intently,
but there was not a syllable about the child.

The Governor came next, with the odor of snuff on his gold-laced coat,
and he stroked Thora’s arm as it lay on the counterpane, and said she
was not to worry about anything.

"My dear little daughter must get better as fast as ever she can," he
said.  "She must eat more and if she wants anything she must ask for it
and she shall have it, whatever it is."

She tried to say that all she wanted was her little baby, and if they
would give her that she would soon be well, but her throat was hurting
and she could not speak.

Her own father came last, smelling of breakfast and strong tobacco, and
he rallied her in a loud voice.

"Tut, tut!  This will never do!  We’ll have to send you away again, with
Helga to look after you.  And look here, young lady, you’ve got to get
better soon and come and carry away that baby.  She’s turning our house
upside down.  Nobody over there can see the sun for that little mite,
and Aunt Margret and Auntie Helga haven’t a thought for anybody else."

By this time the conviction had forced itself upon Thora’s mind that the
family had agreed that the child was not to be returned to her, and that
Helga was responsible for this cruel resolution.  Then a fierce passion
took possession of her, such as she had never known before.  She hated
her sister with a terrible hatred.  Helga, who had first robbed her of
her husband, had now robbed her of her child, and throwing dust in her
people’s eyes had used her weakness as an excuse and a blind.  But she
would defeat her, she would defeat everybody, she would get back her
child whatever the consequences, and not all the powers of earth or
heaven or hell should take it away from her again.

The intensity of her feeling, if it could have been realized by those
about her, would have made her sweet and gentle soul unrecognizable.
She was like a feline animal robbed of its young and going out to
recover it.  All the other passions and emotions that had ever possessed
her--love of her husband, affection for Anna and Aunt Margret and her
father and the Governor, pity for Magnus and tenderness toward all
living things--were burnt up by the one consuming desire--the desire for
her child.  It made her terrible, it made her cruel, it made her
cunning.

Thora determined to steal back her own child.

The following day--the day of the Proclamation--would give her an
opportunity of doing so.  Nearly everybody would then be at Thingvellir,
therefore her path would be more clear.  Only Anna would stay at home to
attend to herself, and Aunt Margret to attend to the child.  Her one
feverish anxiety was that Oscar should not stay behind as well, for if
Oscar were to remain Helga would remain also and then her scheme would
come to naught.

Thora lay awake the whole night through.  Before daybreak she heard the
people shouting in the darkness; at dawn she heard the departure of the
Governor, and when Oscar called up at her window she knew that Helga was
with him, for she heard the hoofs of two horses.

When everybody had gone she lay back on her pillow with a sigh of
immense relief.

"How soon will they be back, mother?" she asked.

"Not much before midnight, I’m afraid.  But you must not fret after
anybody, my child, for everything shall be done for you," said Anna.

Then the transparent young soul, in the fierce fire of its temptation,
began to lay plans for deceiving Anna and for getting her out of the
way.  At one moment she said:

"Haven’t you any errands to do this morning, dear--in the town, I
mean--being left alone, you know, and even the servants gone?"

"Errands?  Bless your dear heart, it’s like Sunday in town to-day and
not a shop open anywhere," said Anna.

At another moment Thora said:

"Mother, if you wish to go down into the kitchen to cook you needn’t
think of me?"

"The cooking is all done, dear," said Anna.  "Maria did it yesterday,
and I’ve nothing to do now but warm up the dishes on the nursery stove.
So I needn’t leave you for a minute, you see."

Thora was beginning to be restless in her perplexity, but presently she
thought, "I know!  I’ll tell her to lie down after dinner, and then I’ll
get up and dress and go."

That suggested thoughts about her clothes, which had been taken off on
the night of her attack and packed away somewhere.  There would be
drawers to open and search, and that would take time and make noises.
So she said:

"Mother, dear, don’t you think my clothes must be getting damp lying so
long unused?"

"Damp?  In five days and the middle of summer, too!" cried Anna.

"Still, it would be nice to see them airing--it would make me think of
getting up, you know."

"Then you shall, sweetheart, certainly you shall," said Anna, and with
the playfulness of one who indulges a child the good soul took Thora’s
clothes out of a wardrobe, held them up to her one by one, and then hung
them on the chairs in front of the stove in the nursery, clucking and
crowing of the day when Thora would put them on and go down-stairs, with
wraps and scarves, and Oscar helping her.

Thora watched intently and then said:

"I haven’t seen my cloak yet, mother."

"Your cloak!  Your outdoor cloak!  Bless me, what a heart she has to be
sure!  But no, no!  We’ll all be dancing with delight if you need that
for the next three weeks, Thora."

The hours lagged cruelly before dinner, and after it the sun’s line on
the wall was long in leaving the bed; but at last three o’clock struck
on the Bornholme clock below stairs and then Thora said:

"Mother, I’m sure you are very tired--I wish you would go to your room
and rest."

"And leave my honey alone?  Not I," said Anna.

"But I want to rest myself and I can’t rest unless you are resting."

"If you really think you’ll sleep better----"

"I’m sure I shall," said Thora.

"Well--seeing you slept so little last night," said Anna, and Thora
began to yawn and sigh.

"I’ll leave both doors open then.  And see, Thora--I’ll put this little
handbell on the table, and if you awake and want me--I sleep like a cat,
you know, the least noise wakens me----"

"Good night, mother," said Thora in a drowsy tone, and Anna, smiling and
nodding to herself over Thora’s "error," stole on tiptoe out of the
room.

Thora listened for the last footfall in the corridor and then raised
herself in bed.  She was alone at last, and the time had come to defeat
the conspiracy of love and kindness, prompted by jealousy and envy, that
had robbed her of her child.  Her child, her child!  She must get back
her child, whatever it might cost her!

She dropped to the floor and in doing so she brushed the hand-bell off
the table.  It fell to the carpet with a deadened clang, and for a
moment she held her breath and listened. But there was no sound from
Anna’s room, so she clutched at the bedclothes and stood erect.  Then
the walls went round, and she knew for the first time how weak she was.
But her heart was strong if her limbs were feeble, and she found her way
to the nursery, where her clothes still hung over the backs of chairs.
It was a weary task to put them on, but her purpose never flagged.  At
last she was dressed and looking at herself in the glass.  Her eyes were
red, her lips were pale, and her cheeks were sucked in and white. Nobody
would know her who met her in the street, yet still if she could find
her cloak----

The Bornholme clock chimed half past three, and Thora began to steal
down the corridor.  She had to go by Anna’s bedroom and the door was
standing open.  Anna’s shawl lay on a chair within and she snatched it
up and wrapped it over her shoulders and her head.  Then she went
down-stairs. Her limbs trembled under her, but not from fear, and if
anybody had tried to stop her now she would have fought like a fiend.

"My child is mine!" she thought.  "What right have they to keep her from
me?"

The next moment she was in the street.


                                 *III*

The Bornholme clock struck four.  Anna awoke and hearing no sound from
Thora’s room she went back to the nursery and busied herself noiselessly
at the stove.

Presently the lace curtains in the bedroom were rustled by the wind from
an open window and Anna cried through the door:

"Lie quiet, Thora--I’m making tea," and then she began to sing to
herself in the voice of her youth.

A few minutes later she said, "That sleep must have made me stupid--I’ve
actually put in the hot water before the tea-leaves."

Soon afterwards she sailed into Thora’s room with the tea tray in both
hands and a smile on her face, saying, "Here it is, but you’ll thank
your stars when Maria comes back in the morning."

She was setting down the tray on the round table by the bedside where
the hand-bell should have been, when her eyes fell on the empty bed.
Her breath jumped in her throat, and she turned her head slowly over her
shoulder, calling, "Thora!"

There was no answer; the room was empty.  Anna remembered the clothes
which she had laid out on the chairs in the nursery.  They were gone.
"Thora!  Thora!" she cried, in an agitated whisper.

Then the smile came back to her face.  "I know," she thought.  "Thora
has dressed herself and gone down to the drawing-room, just to show me
what she can do."

At that thought the smile was chased away by a mighty frown.  "But I’ll
give it her," she thought, and downstairs she went with a determined
step and banged the drawing-room door back saying, "Really, Thora, it is
very naughty----"

But the protest died in her throat, for Thora was not there.  Then her
heart shook like a leaf stiffened by hoar frost and she ran through the
house, from room to room, crying in a voice shrill with fear and
thickened by sobs, "Thora, where are you?  Thora!  Honey!  Don’t hide
yourself from me!  Thora!  Thora!"

At that moment Golden Mane came tolting up to the green and Magnus
entered the house.  Hearing his mother’s voice he ran up-stairs, and
came face to face with Anna in the corridor.

"What has happened?" he asked.

"Thora’s lost," said Anna.

"Lost?"

"She coaxed me to lie down this afternoon, and while I was asleep she
got up and dressed herself, and she is gone."

"Let us be sure first," said Magnus, and the slow fellow shot through
the house like a torpedo, while Anna sat on the chair by the door of her
own room and wrung her hands and reproached herself.

"Oh, dear!  Oh, dear!  What have I done?  How can I ever forgive myself?
The poor child was not herself--she didn’t know what she was doing."

Magnus returned with a slow step, saying, "Be quiet, mother!  Can’t you
see what has happened?  Thora has gone to the child."

"The child?  The Factor’s?  God grant you may be right, Magnus.  But she
hasn’t mentioned the baby for two days."

"Nevertheless," said Magnus, "her poor heart has been torn to pieces by
this accursed scheme of separating her from her child, and she has gone
to join it."

"Let us go and see," said Anna.  "But, oh dear, what a thing to do!  And
she so ill and weak!  It will kill her! Oh, why did I leave her for an
instant?  What will Oscar say?"

"If Oscar’s wise he will say nothing," said Magnus.  "And if anything
happens, and he has any conscience, he’ll damn himself to the last day
of his life."

"Don’t say that, Magnus," said Anna.  "If there was anything wrong we
were all to blame for it.  It wasn’t Oscar’s fault----"

"Certainly, it was Oscar’s fault," said Magnus.  "It was Oscar’s fault
that he allowed Helga to twist him round her finger and make you all her
miserable slaves."

"Where is my shawl?  I laid it down somewhere, and now I can not find
it.  But let us go.  And don’t be hard on your mother, Magnus.  She was
trying to do her best----"

"It’s not you I’m blaming, mother," said Magnus, "but if," he added, and
his words came through his clinched teeth, "if there were a law in this
infernal land to punish people like Oscar, as sure as I live I should be
the first to use it."

They were going out of the house when three men came up to the door--the
Sheriff and two strangers.

"Good evening, Mrs. Anna," said the Sheriff.  "These gentlemen are
officials from Copenhagen, just arrived by the ’Laura.’  They wish to
see the Governor on an important matter, and I thought perhaps you could
tell them when he will be back from Thingvellir."

"I can’t say--I don’t know--I am in a great hurry," said Anna.

"This young man," said the Sheriff to the strangers, "is the elder son
of the Governor, and if you would like to speak to him----"

"We should," answered the men.

"Is it so very important?  My son is going out with me. Can’t the matter
wait until to-morrow?" said Anna.

"Go on ahead, mother--I’ll follow you presently," said Magnus, and while
Anna hurried away, he led the strangers into the Governor’s office.  One
of the two men took a paper from an inner breast pocket and said:

"Naturally, you know your father’s handwriting?"

"I do," said Magnus.

"And of course you are familiar with his signature."

"I am."

"Will you be good enough to say if this is your father’s signature?"
said the man, opening his paper and handing it to Magnus.

It was a note of hand in favor of Oscar Stephenson for an advance of one
hundred thousand crowns, signed in the name of the Governor and
witnessed by the Factor.

The world reeled round Magnus, for he saw in a moment what the paper
meant.  It was almost as if his prayer to punish Oscar had been answered
on the instant.  The paper rustled in his hand and for some seconds he
did not speak. Then he lifted his face and said:

"You ask me if this is my father’s signature.  Don’t you think it would
be more proper to ask my father himself?"

"No doubt--certainly--you are right," said the stranger, "but to protect
your father--not to say yourself perhaps----"

"Perhaps," said Magnus, and he handed the paper back.

"Magnus," said the Sheriff, "I was told to watch you if you came to town
to-day, but it seems to me that somebody else in your family needs
watching a good deal more.  Will you not give us your assistance?"

Magnus shuddered in the toils of his temptation.  A voice within cried,
"Speak!  Denounce him!  Now’s your time!"  His lower lip quivered, his
eyelids trembled, and he answered in a hoarse voice:

"The Governor will not be back until midnight--let me come to you
to-morrow morning."

"Good!" said the Sheriff, whereupon Magnus showed them out of the house
and then fled away to the Factor’s.

"That big fellow will speak when he wants to," said one of the strangers
as the three men walked down the street, "and when he doesn’t the devil
himself won’t make him do so."


                                  *IV*

Of two ways to the Factor’s Thora had taken the shortest and most
frequented, yet she had gone through the streets unobserved.  Coming
near the house she had passed the Sheriff and the two strangers, but
they were immersed in their conversation and did not see her as she
stumbled by them with her head covered up in Anna’s shawl.

Twice she had stopped to take breath, and once she had steadied herself
by a lamp-post, for she was dizzy and her ankles ached.  The little
distance which had hitherto seemed so short was now a great journey, but
it came to an end at length, and she approached her father’s house from
the front.

She had intended to creep up softly, enter by stealth, listen until she
learned where the child was kept, watch until Aunt Margret left the
little one alone for a moment and then steal into the room and take it.

With this purpose she ascended the stone steps to the front entrance and
gently turned the handle, but as soon as she had given the door a
noiseless push, there was the loud ringing of a bell which had not been
there before.

At the next moment there was a sound of slippered feet coming hurriedly
down-stairs and before her dizzy brain could tell what to do Aunt
Margret was peering into her face.

"Mercy me, is it you?" cried Aunt Margret, and she looked as if she were
ready to drop.

With a crushing sense of failure Thora stood silent and her heart
fluttered like a captured bird.

"Good Lord!  How did you get here alone?  And what on earth was Anna
doing to let you come?" said Aunt Margret.

Then with a convulsive little burst Thora said, "Anna knew nothing about
it, Aunt Margret--she was asleep--I came to see baby."  And then she
broke down utterly, leaned against the doorpost and cried like a child.

The kind soul with the sharp tongue could bear no more. "And so you
shall, dear.  Certainly you shall, my pretty poppet," she said with
infinite compassion.  "As sure as my name is Margret Neilsen you shall,"
she said again, with stern determination.  "They have left me here as a
watch-dog with an order that nobody is to come near the child, but that
was meant for somebody else--somebody who was going to steal it--so they
said--though what a grown man can want with a suckling infant it baffles
my stupid old head to see.  But what a silly I am to keep you at the
door!  Come up-stairs, my precious.  Go before me, Thora, dear!  That’s
right--but not so quick--you shall see your baby soon enough.  And
Thora, darling, if I haven’t exactly tried to take it back to you it
wasn’t because I didn’t love you, and feel for you, and suffer with you,
my poor child, but because your father and Helga and even Oscar--no, the
other way, Thora--baby is in the front bedroom."

"Is she well?" said Thora, breathing quickly as she reached the landing.

"She’s as well as well, and so rosy and bonny--look!" said Aunt Margret,
pushing ahead of Thora and opening the bedroom door.

But having climbed the stairs so much too rapidly, Thora paused at the
threshold of the room and held her left hand hard against her side.
"Wait!  I can’t go in yet," she said. "Not just yet, Aunt Margret.  Is
she asleep?"

"Yes, she’s fast asleep, bless her!"

"Is that her breathing?"

"No, that’s the cat.  Yes, it is the baby.  But come, my own, come,"
said Aunt Margret, and then, holding her breath, the young mother
entered the room.

The child was sleeping in a cradle with a hood covered with light blue
lace, and its little head, streaked with yellow hair, lay red against
the white pillow.  A cat purred on the floor in a warm shaft from the
setting sun, and all was sweet and peaceful.

"My baby!  My baby!" cried Thora, and she sank down on her knees by the
cot and stretched her arms over it like a bird covering its nest with
her sheltering wings.

The child was awakened by the soft gale of its mother’s breath on its
sleeping face and it began to cry, whereupon Thora gathered it in her
arms and lifted it out of the cot and nursed it lovingly, holding its
little plunging hand in her own hand, so thin and white and delicate.

"It’s her bottle she wants, Thora," said Aunt Margret, "and here it is
ready and waiting--I keep it warm on the top of the stove."

"Let me give it her, let me give it her," cried Thora.

"Do you think you can, my pretty?  But of course you can!  My goodness,
it’s wonderful--when a person is a mother she can do anything with a
baby.  An angel seems to whisper, ’Do that,’ and she does it, and it’s
just right for the child."

The little creature was now sucking vigorously with its tiny face toward
the mother’s breast and its plump red hand on her pallid cheek.

"But it’s you that wants milk, my child," said Aunt Margret. "Yes, and
some spirits too, and you shall have both in a minute.  Lay your poor
head against this pillow, my precious, and wait while I get the
decanter."

The child was now dropping off to sleep and Thora looked lovingly down
at it and said:

"God bless my motherless baby!"

"Motherless, indeed!  Who says she’s motherless?  She has too many
mothers, it seems to me," said Aunt Margret.

The tit slipped from the child’s slackening lips, and Thora leaned down
and kissed away the drops that trickled from the little mouth.

"I wish I could die," she said.  "I wish I could die now, Aunt Margret."

And Aunt Margret, who was snuffling audibly, said, "Die, indeed!  Just
drink off this drop of brandy and water and don’t talk such nonsense."

Thora drank the brandy and straightway her weakness left her, and with
the return of her strength the secret purpose which had brought her to
the house revived.

"I must be quick," she thought.  "Anna will follow me."

The innocent selfishness of her starved and injured motherhood knew no
conscience, and she set herself to consider how she could get rid of
Aunt Margret and so carry away the child.  That was a perplexing
problem, and she sat long to think it out, but accident solved it at
last.

"Goodness me," Aunt Margret was saying, "how lovely you look, sitting
there with the child!  But what a fit some people would have if they
could drop in and see you!  They can’t, thank goodness!  They’re thirty
miles away, and before they get back you’ll be gone, and nobody a penny
the wiser.  When the cat’s away the mice will play!  But mercy me, what
a storm there would be if they ever came to know that I had let you
touch the little angel!  I don’t know which is the worst on that
subject--your father, or Oscar, or Helga.  I think Helga is the worst if
you ask me.  You’re a Neilsen, Thora, but Helga--she’s a sheep from
another sheepfold.  She’s so cute, and she has such ways with her. It
was Helga who put those bells on the door, and when I heard you coming
in I thought, ’It’s that Sheriff again,’ but you could have knocked me
down with a feather--Good gracious!"

Aunt Margret, who was looking out of the window, suddenly threw up her
hands.

"What is it?" said Thora.

"It is--no--yes, it’s Anna!  And the Sheriff and two officers are coming
behind her!"

"They’re coming for me," cried Thora.  "They want to tear me away from
my baby.  Go down and stop them, Aunt Margret.  Say I’m not here--say
I’m gone--say anything----"

"Hush, dear, don’t excite yourself.  Leave Margret Neilsen to manage
this little matter.  I’ll take Anna and the Sheriff into the back parlor
and tell them something.  Then you’ll slip out by the front and get back
home and nobody will know."

"Yes, yes, that will do," said Thora.

"You’ll be as quiet as a mouse, and I’ll make lots of noises."

"Yes, yes, yes."

There was the clang of a bell from below, and Aunt Margret whispered,
"There they are!  Now put baby back in the cot, my own, and cover her up
with the blanket."

"Not yet, let me kiss her again, just for the last time," said Thora.

An agitated voice came from the bottom of the stairs, "Margret!  Margret
Neilsen!"

"I must go--be quick," whispered Aunt Margret, and scuttling
down-stairs, she cried, "I’m coming," and then there was a rumble of
confused voices, followed by the closing of a door.

Thora was alone once more, and the feverish strength of outraged
motherhood possessed her like a madness.  "They’ve come to take my child
again," she thought.

In a moment she had slipped off her slippers, snatched up the blanket
and wrapped it about the sleeping infant, crept down the stairs in
stocking feet and out of the house by a back passage.


                                  *V*

Meantime a little tragi-comedy was being acted in the back parlor.  Anna
was white and trembling, while Aunt Margret was looking wondrous wise
and subtle.

"Thora?" gasped Anna.  "Have you seen anything of Thora?"

"Have _I_ seen anything of Thora?  You must be dreaming, Anna dear."

"Then she has gone, and I was right after all," said Anna.

"Can it be possible?" said Aunt Margret.

"Magnus would have it that she had gone to see the baby, but she has
gone farther than that, poor child, and we shall never see her again."

"What a pity!" said Aunt Margret, and then Anna flew out at her.

"Margret Neilsen, don’t you understand what I am saying?  The poor child
was demented, and she stole out while I was asleep and goodness knows
what she has done with herself."

"Hush!  Hold your tongue, Anna, and come into this room and I’ll tell
you something.  Magnus was right after all."

"Then she has been here?"

"She’s here now--she’s up-stairs this very minute."

"Oh, thank the Lord----"

"Don’t speak, or the poor thing will hear you.  And don’t be angry with
her either, and if you brought the Sheriff to take her back----"

"I brought the Sheriff!  What are you saying, you crazy woman?"

"Then can’t we let her stay a little longer?  It isn’t every day she has
the chance----"

"She can stay all night for me, Margret."

"That is impossible--the Factor is so frightened.  And then there’s the
Governor----"

"That’s true," said Anna.

"But she can safely stay an hour more with her child, can’t she?" said
Aunt Margret.

"Just one hour more," said Anna.

"Poor thing, she was to steal out while we were talking, but we’ll go up
and surprise her.  And when you see her with the little mite at her
breast, looking down at it and kissing it, with such a pitiful smile,
the dear, it will fill your heart brimful.  But for goodness’ sake wipe
your eyes and blow your nose, Anna, and do for mercy’s sake look more
cheerful.  Quietly now, quietly, or she’ll think the Sheriff is behind
us."

With that the two old things, snuffling as if they had colds in the
head, but struggling to smile and seem happy, went creeping up to the
bedroom.

By that time the room was empty and Thora was gone.

The women looked at each other for an instant, and then Aunt Margret ran
to the cradle.  The child was gone, too.

At that moment the bell of the front door rang again. Aunt Margret
cried, "There she is," and the two women raced down-stairs to see.

It was Magnus coming in.

"Thora has been here, but she has gone--gone this very minute," cried
Anna.

"And she has taken the child along with her," cried Aunt Margret.

Without a word Magnus turned about and leapt back to the street.  There
he met the Sheriff and told him what had happened.  At the next minute
the two women were running hither and thither and the two men were gone
different ways.

Half an hour afterward they met at the Factor’s house again.  Thora and
the child had not been found.  They had disappeared as utterly as if a
lava stream had swallowed them.

The women were sitting side by side with blanched faces and startled
eyes, twisting their handkerchiefs into knots.

"The doctor was quite right after all," said Anna.  "They were all
right, though we thought them so hard and cruel. The poor thing wanted
to die--she told me so herself."

"She told me too--she told me this very day," said Aunt Margret.

"Is there no house in town she was accustomed to go to?" asked the
Sheriff.

"None," said Anna, and Aunt Margret said, "Thora was not like that--she
would never drink coffee or talk scandal with any one."

"Let us try again," said Magnus to the Sheriff.

The sun had set over the fiord and the black rocks of the plain were
dying out in the dusky haze of evening when the two men returned to the
Factor’s for the second time.  Their search had been fruitless and
Magnus’s face was white and haggard.

Anna and Aunt Margret sat in the parlor window stricken with grief, but
finding a certain satisfaction in their affliction from the melancholy
glances of groups of other women who had gathered in the street.

"I knew it would be useless," said Anna.  "She’s gone, poor dear--I’m
afraid she’s gone to heaven, poor darling."

"And taken the little innocent infant along with her," said Aunt
Margret.

"Has anybody thought of going back to Government House?" asked the
Sheriff.

"I went there first," said Magnus.

"And to the lake?"

"I went there next."

"And the jetty?"

"I went to the jetty also.  But I don’t believe Thora has destroyed
herself," said Magnus.

"Then she has died of exhaustion by this time and it’s all the same in
any case," said Anna.

"She’s in her stocking feet too--see," said Aunt Margret, showing the
slippers which Thora had left up-stairs, and falling to kissing and
weeping over them.

"There’s one chance left--she may have tried to follow her husband,"
said Magnus.

"So far, and without a horse?" said the Sheriff.

"It’s the last hope--I’m going to follow it up," said Magnus.  "Mother,"
he added, "you had better go back home."

"I can’t--I daren’t--and if anything happens I’ll never be able to go
into the poor girl’s room again," said Anna.

Outside, in the fading light, Magnus stood for a moment wiping the
flanks of Golden Mane and patting his drooping neck.

"I suppose there isn’t another horse left in the town," said the
Sheriff, "but you’ll kill your splendid pony."

"Then he’ll die well," said Magnus.

"Magnus," the Sheriff continued, "I intend to search every house in
Reykjavik, and if I succeed to-night I’ll expect you to help us in the
morning."

"If you don’t succeed I’ll help you," said Magnus, with a hoarse laugh,
and at the next moment he was lost in the darkness.


                                  *VI*

Thora had done the most natural and therefore the most unexpected thing.
Only thinking of getting back to her bed in Government House, and of
carrying the child along with her, she had taken the simplest means
toward doing so.  In order to escape the Sheriff she had left her
father’s house by the back, and to avoid observation from people in the
frequented thoroughfare she had taken the longer and quieter of the two
roads home.

This road led her past the lake, but she had no desire to destroy
herself.  Often before she had longed for death from the depths of her
heart, but love for her child conquered all such feelings now.  The way
was very long, but she did not know that she was tired; the roads were
rough, but she did not feel that they were cutting her feet; she was
going fast, but she did not realize that she was breathless.  She had
only one fear--the fear of being overtaken; only one dread--the dread of
the child being torn away from her.

Clinging to the little one with feverish arms she hastened along,
weeping to herself, laughing to herself, full of a wild joy that had no
remorse, no qualms of any kind, and neither looked before nor after.  It
was motherhood--the most divine, the most devilish, the most tender, the
most terrible, the most sweet, the most sublime, the most savage of all
the passions of the heart.

Reaching home at last she found the house silent, but every room wide
open, as if lately ringing with the noise of hurrying feet.  Creeping
up-stairs with her precious burden she got safely back to her room, and
instantly locked the door behind her.  She laughed as she did so,
thinking how Anna and Aunt Margret would follow her and find themselves
defeated.

Then she undressed and got back into bed and for one long, heavenly hour
she gave herself up to the delight of having her child--to hold it, to
nurse it, to fondle it, to kiss it, and to devour it with all her
senses.  The little creature had slept during its journey through the
town, but now it awoke, and lay quiet by its mother’s side while she ran
her hungry hands over its tiny body and put its clinched fists and its
feet one by one into her mouth.

After a while the child tired and began to cry, whereupon Thora
remembered for the first time that she had left its feeding-bottle
behind her.  She tried to hush it, but it would not be hushed, and then
a sudden thought, a blind impulse of maternity, came to her, and she put
the little one to her breast.  The child clung to it and was quiet, and
the milk, which had never come until now, instantly began to flow.

It was the crowning miracle of that joyous hour, a physical rapture such
as Thora had never known before.

After that a more tender spirit stole over her, and she looked lovingly
down at the child in her bosom and kissed it again and again, and said,
"God bless my baby."

Then in a voice so weak and silvery that it was like a voice descending
from the sky, she began to sing the child to sleep:

    "Sleep, baby, sleep,
    Angela bright thy slumbers keep,
    Sleep, baby, sleep."


The child slept, and even while she sang Thora became aware of alternate
waves of heat and cold going over her. A vague, broken, delirious
consciousness came and went, and people seemed to be entering and
leaving the room.  First it was Helga, then it was Oscar, and finally it
was Magnus. Helga was taking the child out of the bed and Oscar was
helping her, and she was trying to cry out and could not, when Magnus
appeared in the doorway.

At one moment she thought she was dead, and people were talking around
her.  They were all strangers, chiefly women whom she had seen going
into the Salvation Shelter. "She’s gone, poor girl," said some one, and
somebody else said, "So much the better--the poor thing’s troubles are
over."  "They say she tried to make away with herself," said one.  "And
what wonder?" said another.  "There was no place left for her in this
world."  "Nobody can say she didn’t love her husband," said a voice at
her feet.  "That was the pity--he loved her sister," said a voice above
her. "Perhaps that was why she thought of taking her life--to leave him
free--perhaps to make him happy?"  "Well, she did wrong by Magnus, but
we all know who killed her."  And then everybody said in chorus, "He’ll
get his reward, he’ll get his reward," and she was sorry for Oscar.

At another moment she thought she was a blessed saint in paradise, with
lilies and roses around her head, but there was a thorn in her heart for
all that, and even among the joys of heaven she had a dull pain there
was no ease for, because she could not help thinking about her baby.  So
she asked the dear God to let her go down to earth to see her little
Elin, and He suffered her to come and she came. Oscar and Helga were
together now, in a country that was sweet with smiling gardens and a
house that was full of gilded furniture.  But she could not see her Elin
anywhere, until at length she found her in an upper room, neglected and
lonely.  Then the burning tears ran down her face and she sat by her
child and comforted her, and Elin was not afraid.  "Stay with me a
little longer," said the child, and she stayed with her and sang to her,
and no one heard but little Elin:

    "Sleep, baby, sleep,
    Angels bright thy slumbers keep,
    Sleep, baby, sleep."


When she came to herself again it was dark in the bedroom, yet she was
still singing.  The baby began to cry and she wished to comfort it, but
she found she could not speak. It’s little body felt cold against her
breast and she wanted to cover it up in the blanket, but her arms were
heavy and she could not lift them.

There was a moment of agonized consciousness, but the good Father sealed
the senses of His suffering child again. She thought a majestic figure
entered the room, clothed all in white, and lifted the baby out of her
bosom, saying, "Suffer little children to come unto Me."  She knew quite
well who It was, but when she looked a second time the figure had the
face of Magnus.

Then it seemed to her that it was she herself and not the baby that had
been lifted up, yet she felt no fear at all, nor any pain, nor any
heartache.

At that moment the women who had stood about the bed came back and they
began to sing, "Safe in the arms of Jesus"--just as she had heard them
singing it when she listened at the door of the Shelter.

She smiled and drew a deep sigh; a sweet, long breath of joy and
rapture; and then the darkness lifted and--it was day.


                                 *VII*

That day had been a prolonged triumph for Oscar.  The festival of the
Proclamation began with service in the parish church, and though the
Governor and the Thingmen only had been able to pack into the little
place, the churchyard outside and the home-field of the parsonage had
been thronged.

After the service there was a procession from the church door to the
ancient place of proclamation, and Oscar had ordered and marshaled every
one.  First the town band, then the Governor and his executive in their
gold-braided uniforms, the Bishop in his robes, the Thingmen in their
scarfs, the clergy in their black cassocks and white ruffs, and finally
a vast following of the people.  It was a gorgeous spectacle, such as no
man could remember to have seen on that spot before.

The Proclamation itself was an imposing ceremony.  Sitting on the
law-mount as on a natural platform of lava rock, with his face to the
east and the Cross of Dannebrog on his breast, the Governor read out one
by one the titles and descriptions of the Acts which had been passed by
Parliament; and after each of them he lifted his head and cried to the
people on the plains below, "Is it Yea or Nay?"  And then the people,
led by Oscar, shouted "Yea."

When the reading was finished the Governor cried, "Long live the King,"
whereupon Oscar led the cheering, three times three, and when the band
struck up the national hymn he started the words of the chorus.

But the last feature of the function was the best, and that was the
singing of the hymn composed by Oscar himself. It was a hymn to Iceland,
the cradle of the Vikings, the scene of the Sagas, the parent of
parliaments, the mother of the mighty Northlands.

Standing under the brant face of the law-mount with his choir of one
hundred and fifty on the sloping ground in front, Oscar conducted with
great vigor.  His prelude pleased the people, but when he rose to the
height of his argument and struck the patriotic note, his love for the
stern old Northland--

    "Isafold!  My Isafold!  Great land of frost and fire,"

his hearers were carried away and some of them shouted and wept.

After the hymn was over the Thingmen crowded about Oscar to congratulate
him and some of the country-people fell upon his neck.  The Governor,
too, sitting above, was the object of many congratulations.  "But this
is genius," said one.  "An inspiration," said another.  "Our Oscar will
be a great musician some day," said a third.  And the old man took the
tributes quietly, almost silently, but with the shining face of a father
proud of his favorite son.

When the ceremonies ended only one name was on everybody’s lips, and
that was the name of Oscar Stephenson, and hundreds hummed the strains
of "Isafold!  My Isafold!" as they trooped off to dinner.

Oscar and Helga dined together at the Inn-farm in a corner of the hall
which was thronged with guests.  But they were both too much excited to
remain in mixed company, and after dinner they escaped to the margin of
the lake and to the solitary parts of the plain.  There they gathered
blueberries and, partly to restrain their excitement and partly to
nourish it, they talked of nothing but the wild flowers.

When the sun began to sink they returned by way of the parsonage, where
the Governor, with the Factor, the Bishop and certain other officials
had taken their dinner apart.  The little guest room was dense with
smoke, like the mouth of a geyser, and the faces that came and went in
it were discussing the merits and defects of the old order and the new.
Both Governor and Factor were for the old, as exemplified by the day’s
ceremony and Oscar’s hymn, but others held that changing times brought
changing needs and that Iceland would be the better for a new
constitution, with Free Trade and modern methods.

"They’ll go on till midnight and never get home to-night," whispered
Helga, as she slipped out with Oscar.

On returning to the farm they found people striking tents and leading
horses from the crowded horsefold to prepare for the return journey.

"I’m afraid I’m too tired to go back to-night," said Helga.

"Then stay--stay by all means," said Oscar.

"And you?" asked Helga.

"I must go home in any case--there’s Thora," said Oscar.

"Your mother will look after her," said Helga.

But Oscar shook his head, and ordered Gudrun, the housekeeper, to make
one of the two guest-rooms ready for Helga.

At that moment some young townspeople were clearing the floor for a
dance and they called on Oscar and Helga to lead off with a waltz.  They
did so with great delight, and when the waltz was finished they joined
the round dance which followed it, and then they danced a second and a
third waltz, until they were flushed and hot and had to go out to cool.

By this time it was dark, and the people who meant to encamp for the
night had lighted fires at the mouths of their tents and were beguiling
the hours with various pleasures. One of these was fortune-telling.  An
old woman, not thought to be overwise, was going from tent to tent,
making random shots amid shrieks of laughter.

"And what do you see here?" said Helga, holding out her hand.

"Ah, this is a good hand," said the witch.  "You are going to be a great
lady and eat mutton and beef every day and drink golden wine and
ginger."

"And what do you see in this?" asked Oscar

"This?  Oh, dear!  Oh, dear!" said the witch.

"What’s amiss, mother?"

"Cold water runs between my skin and my flesh."

"Is it as bad as that, old lady?"

"Don’t ask me--don’t ask me!  You have a brother, haven’t you?"

"And if I have, what about him?"

"Beware--beware!" said the witch, and Oscar and Helga turned away
laughing.

The moon rose and they wandered into the great chasm, and walked among
the shadows of the toppling stones, until they came under a huge stone
called Stoker, which stands like a mighty gravestone over a deep pit
that is like a tomb. There they sat, with the white moon above and the
red camp fires below them, and then the boiling, bubbling geyser of
excitement in their breasts could be kept down no longer.

"You have had a great success to-day, Oscar," said Helga.

"So have you, Helga, so have you, for without your presence to prompt
and inspire me I should have done nothing."

"I am happy if I have helped you, Oscar, but you must go on now, and
never look back--never."

"You are right, Helga, you are right--to stop would be a sin--an
unpardonable sin--almost like a sin against the Holy Ghost."

"Exactly like it, Oscar, for if any one has a gift he gets it from God,
and to bury it, like the man in the parable----"

"There would be no fear of that if I could have you beside me always,
Helga."

"And can’t you, Oscar?"

A fragrance seemed to envelop him.  He felt Helga’s breath upon his
face.  It made him tremble all over.

"Would to God I could, but it is impossible.  You will return to
Denmark----"

"Not I, indeed!  I am not without my own ambitious also. I must go back
to England, to France, to Germany, to Italy. And so must you, Oscar--you
must, if you are to be true to your talents and to yourself and to the
great future----"

"I know it, Helga, I feel it, and if I could write even one song that
would stir the souls of millions it would be better than making a
fortune or passing an act of parliament.  But when a man has given
hostages to fortune, and they are dragging him down--with silken
threads, perhaps--but still down, down, down----"

He was speaking out of a dry and husky throat, but she answered softly
and sweetly, "Are things so absolutely irretrievable, Oscar?"

"Absolutely, Helga, absolutely; and henceforth and all my life long I
must learn to go without your comradeship----"

"And what must I do?"

The compulsion of passion was driving him on, but he was struggling to
hold back.  "Helga," he cried, "do you know what is the deadliest thing
in life?  It is Love.  The painters paint Love as a harmless little
Cupid, with a handkerchief about his eyes and a tiny bow and arrow in
his hands.  But Love is a great, blind, blundering monster with a
two-edged sword, dealing destruction on every side."

His words were as nothing, but his quivering voice sang like music in
Helga’s ears, and she said, "Is it Love or man that does that,
Oscar--man with the false sense of right and wrong, his foolish ideals
of honor?"

"God knows!  Perhaps if I could have thought so a year ago, before I
added injury to injury and brought unhappiness on others--but
now--now----"

A sensation of triumph came to her and she said, "Isn’t it cowardly to
talk like that, Oscar?"

"I am a coward, Helga," he answered, trembling from head to foot; "to
you I can speak the truth--I am a coward, a moral coward, and I can not
face the certainty----"

"But if," said Helga excitedly, getting closer, "you had some one beside
you who had the courage of life, the defiance of life----"

"Helga!" cried Oscar, breathing heavily--the earth seemed to be slipping
under him like an avalanche.

"Some one who would go on helping you, and ask nothing but your
comradeship----"

"Helga!  Helga!"  He was gasping as for breath in the intoxication of
his emotion.

"Nothing but to work with you and to conquer the world with you----"

"Helga!  Helga!  Helga!"

"Oscar!"

There was a breathless cry from both, and then an almost inaudible
whisper, "I shall not go back to-night, Helga."

                     *      *      *      *      *

When they came to themselves again they were returning--more flushed and
excited than before--out of the white moonlight into the yellow mist of
the smoking lamp that hung over the dancers in the hall.  The young
townspeople received them with a shout and called on them to join the
dance they were dancing.  It was called "Weaving the Cloth," and the
figures were intended to represent the spinning and carding, the
weaving, stretching, hammering and rolling of the thick Icelandic
Vadmal.

The dancers crossed and recrossed, twisted each other about, beat each
other breast against breast, and finally rolled each other round and
round.

The music was going fast, and the dancers were singing loud and laughing
louder, when there came from outside the sudden barking of dogs,
followed by the clatter of the hoofs of a galloping horse.  Immediately
afterward there was the rattle of the metal end of a riding-whip against
a window-pane, and a voice crying, "God be with you!"

The new-comer did not wait for the customary answer to his salutation,
but pushed the door open and entered hurriedly.  It was Magnus, dusty
and dirty, with a white face and wild eyes.

At that moment Oscar and Helga, blushing and smiling, were in the middle
of the floor, locked in each other’s arms, performing the last figure of
the dance, and it was thus that Magnus came face to face with them.

"Is she here?" he cried.

"She?"

"Thora!  She is lost--I thought she might have found a horse and
followed you."

Then the shuffling feet stopped, and the fiddles tailed off into silence
as Magnus, in broken sentences, told the story of Thora’s flight to the
Factor’s, her disappearance with the child, and the vain search that had
been made for her.

"But surely she would go back to Government House eventually," said
Oscar.  "The poor girl would go the long way round to escape observation
and home by way of the lake.  Did nobody think of that, and stay in the
house to see?"

Magnus looked like a man whose eyes, dulled by groping in a dark tunnel,
had been stunned by sudden light.  Before the others had recovered
themselves he had turned about and was gone.

At the next moment Oscar was tramping to and fro on the floor, with his
clinched fists to his forehead, moaning, "My God!  My God!"  Helga was
combing her hair and putting on her wraps.


                                 *VIII*

John, the servant at the farm, was sent over to the parsonage to tell
the Governor and the Factor.  He found the gentlemen settling themselves
for the night, having talked so long that they had decided to remain
until morning.  But the news of Thora’s disappearance altered
everything.

"We must go back immediately," said the Governor.

"Bring the horses round instantly," said the Factor.

Less than half an hour afterward a silent and gloomy company were going
home--the Governor, the Factor, Oscar, Helga, and a various following of
the sympathetic and the inquisitive.

The two old friends were morose and ill-tempered, and for the first time
in fifty years disposed to nag and quarrel. The Governor blamed Aunt
Margret, the Factor blamed Anna; the Governor blamed Helga, the Factor
blamed Oscar; the Governor blamed the Factor, and the Factor blamed the
Governor.  In the half light of uncertainty and suspense their
friendship fell before fear, and blood was thicker than water.

It was a miserable home-going to Oscar.  The explanation of Thora’s
movements with which he had surprised Magnus soon ceased to satisfy
himself and he thought of a hundred fatal consequences.  Helga tried to
comfort him with various plausible arguments.  He had acted for the
best--the best for Thora, the best for the child, the best for himself,
the best for everybody--and if accident had intervened or the dreadful
freaks of dementia had followed, he was not responsible and could not be
blamed.

But Oscar’s worst sufferings were from a secret purgatory which Helga’s
pleadings did not touch, for the cruelest part of his remorse concerned
Helga herself.

The journey was long and tiresome and every step had its own peculiar
misery.  During the first hour the moon was shining--a brilliant moon
that bathed everything in loveliness--and Oscar remembered the scene in
the chasm and reflected that in the very hour of his delirious happiness
Thora, perhaps, was lying dead.

Then the moon died out and darkness fell--a murky darkness, blacker than
the lava--and as Oscar pushed and plunged along over the stumbles of his
pony, the thought came to him that if Thora were dead perhaps it was the
best that could have happened to her--the best under the
circumstances--saving her from the bitterness of a future which must
surely come when Helga and he, struggle as they might, would have to
break the bonds that bound them.

And then in that dark and treacherous hour, with no face to look into
his face, he felt an immense relief, remembering that if Thora was gone,
the consequences of his life’s error were at an end and he was free.

But the dawn came--a bleared, rainy dawn, with scarfs of vapor
stretching across the sun like a cataract over a blood-shot eye--and
Oscar’s remorse was doubled by the wounds he had inflicted upon his
conscience in the darkness, and he dare not look at Helga as she rode,
muffled up and silent, by his side.

They were crossing the Moss Fell Heath by this time, and everything
around was dark and drear.  A solitary raven kept them cheerless company
for a while, flying from beacon to beacon and uttering its husky cry.
Oscar remembered the scenes of yesterday when the sky was blue, and
their blood was warm, and then the thought came to him--like the
shooting of the bolt on a man buried in a tomb--that if he was not to be
henceforward the most miserable of men he must pray with all his soul
and strength that when they reached the end of their journey Thora
should be alive.

On reaching the more inhabited districts Oscar allowed the Governor and
the Factor to forge on ahead, and Helga to wait for him in the road,
while he glanced off to the farmhouses and shouted up at the bedroom
windows.  But the result was always the same--Thora had not been seen
and Magnus had been there before him.

When they came to the top of the hill from which they had looked back on
Reykjavik and on the Danish mail-steamer entering the fiord, the little
capital floated in the mist of morning like a city in a woolly sea, and
the "Laura" lay anchored outside of it; but the apprehensions of
yesterday were consumed by the fears of to-day, and Oscar thought of one
thing alone.

They met farmers trotting out of the town on their little caravans of
ponies, yet Oscar did not question them, lest he should hear the news he
dare not listen to, and coming at length to the long street of the
little capital, he did not raise his face to the eyes that peered at him
through the curtains of upper windows, lest they should reveal the truth
he dared not learn.

The fear of disaster had by this time swallowed up any flicker of hope
in Oscar, and when, coming up to Government House, he found a crowd of
people standing in front of it, he knew too well that all was over.
From that moment onward fact after fact led up to the fatal certainty.

The window of Thora’s bedroom--the window at which Oscar had shouted his
adieus the day before--stood open, and a ladder had been raised against
it.  By the gate to the green a horse lay dead on the gravel--it was
Magnus’s horse, his magnificent Golden Mane--covered with dust and
sweat, as it fell under its rider at the last step of his fearful
journey.

In the middle of the hall Anna and Aunt Margret stood with the Governor
and the Factor, sobbing out their pitiful explanations.  Afraid to
return to the empty house which had been the scene of a painful memory,
Anna had sat the night through with Margret at the Factor’s, waiting
hour after hour for the reports of the Sheriff and his constables.
Nothing had been heard of Thora, but in the early morning Magnus had
returned and found the door of her room locked on the inside.  Then he
had run for them and they had called to Thora, but received no answer,
though sometimes they heard the baby crying.  And now Magnus, having
failed to force the door, had gone for a ladder, and he intended to
climb into the room from the outside.

Oscar was conscious of no more until he found himself knocking at
Thora’s door and calling in his agony:

"Thora!  Thora!  Thora!"

There was a heavy, staggering step inside the room; the lock was thrust
back and the door thrown open.

"Thora!" cried Oscar again, but it was Magnus who stood before
him--Magnus with a face white and set and full of anger and hatred.

"You were right," he said, pointing to the bed.  "There she is with
God--and you!"

Thora lay high on the pillow, with her eyes open and her parted lips
smiling, as if she had just awakened from a beautiful dream.  She was
dead, but her baby was alive, and it was rolling its little round head
and digging its red hand into her cold, white breast.

With a low, choking cry, Oscar fell to his knees at the bedside and
buried his face in the bedclothes.  Magnus left the room, the others
entered it, and Aunt Margret lifted the living child out of the mother’s
breast over the father’s kneeling form.


                                  *IX*

During the few days before the funeral the Government House felt
motionless and empty, like a room when the clock has stopped in it.
Behind the drawn blinds everybody talked in whispers, as if the dead
were asleep and must not be wakened.  The stillness of the house
centered in the room where Thora lay, and that was white and fresh with
the odor of clean linen and wild flowers.  In the deadened sunshine, as
it filtered through the yellow blinds, there was a halo about the waxen
face on the bed, and it seemed to diffuse solemnity on all around it.

Anna never allowed herself to be long away from this chamber.  Her fear
of the room had gone, now that death had entered it.  Early and late, in
daylight and dark, she went to and fro in the silent place, walking
softly and seeming to count the hours during which her dear girl would
be above ground.

The Governor did nothing from the day of Thora’s death until the day of
her burial.  Dressed always in his official uniform he sat in his
bureau, but received no one.  He wrote no letters and read no books and
seldom spoke at his meals.  For hours together he would sit with folded
arms looking fixedly at the pattern on the carpet.  A shadow had fallen
on him--a shadow of shame--and in the sealed chamber of his proud soul
he was struggling to reconcile his conduct to himself and finding it
difficult to do so.

The Factor went on with his work as usual, for in the decalogue of his
duty there was no maxim that forbade business, but sometimes as he
turned the leaves of his ledger he looked long and saw nothing, and
once, as he counted up the figures in his bank-book, the thought smote
him with the force of a blow on the brain that perhaps Nature was
beginning to strike a balance with him against the sum of his
successors, and that the cruel bereavement which had just befallen him
was the first stroke of the Nemesis which was to follow in the wake of
his wealth.

Aunt Margret and Helga were always at home, the one busy with the baby,
which had been taken back to the Factor’s, and the other with the
"black" which had to be ordered for everybody.

Little was known of Magnus, except that he was still in town, that he
had been seen with the Sheriff and two strangers, that in spite of the
trouble which had overtaken his family he was spending most of his time
in the dark smoking-room of the Hotel, and that he was said to be
drinking heavily.

But the grief of Oscar touched and satisfied everybody. He had eaten
little and had never been known to sleep. Sometimes he was seen to be
sitting apart and weeping silently; sometimes he was moving from room to
room, as if every spot on which his eye could rest was charged with the
memory of happy days that were dead; sometimes he was heard in the white
room in which Thora lay--the room in which she had been so merry and so
sad, so wild with delirium and so happy with her baby--and there he was
sobbing out his wild regrets in muffled cries of "Forgive me! Forgive
me!"  Once in the middle of the night he was heard at the harmonium in
the room below the death chamber, playing softly a pitiful lament which
awakened his father and mother and brought the salt tears to their eyes.

The desolate soul in these ghastly hours was prostrating itself in the
dust.  Death strikes sternly, and Oscar in his penitence was accusing
himself of every crime.  He had killed Thora--not her body only, but her
heart, that faithful heart which had loved him so deeply, so tenderly,
so passionately.

In this conscience-stricken condition he looked back on the path of his
life with Thora, and every step as he now saw it seemed to be thick set
with the stubble of sin and rank with the weeds of self-deception.  When
he returned from England he had taken Thora from Magnus, although he did
not love her.  It was true he had thought he loved her, but the
brotherly thing would have been to stand back in silence, and if he had
only done so Time itself would have undeceived him.

That was the first of his offenses, and the next was no less hideous.
When, being betrothed to Thora, he awoke to the certainty that his heart
was with Helga, he had gone on with his bargain and led the girl who
loved him into a loveless marriage.  It was true he thought he was doing
his duty, but behind duty was fear, fear of the world and fear of
Magnus, while the courageous thing, the manly thing, even the merciful
thing would have been to stop at the church door, if need be, and face
the facts and take the consequences.

But having cheated Thora of her love and lied to her at the altar, he
had crowned the sum of his sins by exposing himself to the temptation of
infidelity.  It was true that Thora herself, in her innocent affection,
had paved the way to this temptation; true, too, that his marriage had
been an imperfect partnership; but all the same his course had been
clear and he should have cut himself off from Helga at once and for
ever.  That he had not done so, that he had paltered with temptation was
the last cause of this terrible calamity. Thora had died because her
heart was dead, and he himself had killed it.

Thus the desolate soul of the unhappy man laid down its faults at the
feet of God, hiding nothing, palliating nothing, and seeing everything
in naked light.  If to be sorry for having sinned is to be innocent,
Oscar had ceased to be guilty in his pitiful, but useless, sorrow.  In
the dizzy hours of pain and shame, when the wheel of life goes rapidly,
Oscar asked himself how it had come to pass that Thora was dead, and
something whispered "Helga," and again and yet again something whispered
"Helga," but his heart would not listen to that excuse.  Helga had not
been to blame.  He alone had been at fault.  He had sacrificed Thora to
his ambitious dreams--his dreams of greatness, of glory.  Helga had been
merely the symbol of those dreams, and Thora was dead because he had
tried to become a great musician.

But the past was past, and when Oscar asked himself what punishment he
could impose upon himself for the future, he heard but one answer.  If
his ambitions had been the cause of his sin, to bury them would be the
true expression of his repentance.  He _would_ bury them.  He would bury
his genius and the expectation of becoming a composer in the grave of
the sweet girl he had destroyed, and go through the rest of his life in
the drudgery of the nearest duty, eating the bread of affliction in
obscurity and remorse.

When Oscar first attempted to carry out this resolution, it was in a
scene of such tragic beauty that no one who witnessed it could ever
afterward wipe it out of mind.  The family had gathered for that last
office of love, which makes perhaps the saddest moment of human
experience--sadder than the moment of turning away from the newly
covered grave, sadder even that the moment of returning to the void and
empty home--the moment when the coffin-lid is closed down and the
beloved face disappears for ever.

The death chamber was the same that in a better time had been the bridal
chamber, but the air which had tingled with all exquisite thoughts of
life was now heavy with the hush of death.  It was night-time and the
same lamp burned under the same shade, while a gilt-edged prayer-book
lay in a circle of lighted candles on the little table that stood by the
bed.  Besides the members of the family, only two persons were
present--one of the sewing-maids, who had made the wedding-dress for the
cathedral, and had just put the last stitch to the garment intended for
a darker house, and a joiner in his shirt-sleeves.

One by one the family approached the bed to take their last look at the
burden that lay on it--the Governor with a solemn tread, as if he had
been approaching the presence of a king, the Factor with rigid strides
and a bewildered stare, and Helga with a nervous step and a furtive
glance, as if duty had called her and she wished herself away.  But Anna
and Aunt Margret moved about the body without dread or ceremony, laying
flowers on the bosom and smoothing the soft hair that was dressed down
the cheek, as if the dear dead belonged to them by right of nature, and
they would give it up to no one until Earth herself, the mother of us
all, should claim it for her own.

The man in the shirt-sleeves had stepped forward to finish his task when
the Governor held up his hand.

"Wait!  Where is Oscar?" he asked, and then Maria, the old housemaid,
who had been weeping noiselessly outside the door, was sent to fetch
him.

While Maria was away, Aunt Margret went up to Thora and whispered over
her:

"My precious, precious pet!  You never changed to your stupid old
auntie, did you?--not even when she kept your dear baby away from you
and your sweet heart was broken! Don’t think she didn’t love you for all
that, my precious. She loved you every minute, my own.  And now that she
has got your baby she intends to keep it.  She will keep it as long as
she lives, so don’t you ever be troubled about that, Thora.  Aunt
Margret is going to be a mother to your little girl, and nobody in the
world shall ever touch a hair of your darling’s head."

It was at this moment that Oscar entered the room, with old Maria
creeping up behind him.  His pale cheeks and sunken eyes testified to
the strength of his remorse, but his step was firm and his whole figure
showed intense vitality of will.  He carried a bundle of papers in one
hand, and they were loose and irregular, as if they had been snatched up
hurriedly at the moment he was called.  In the utter absorption of his
mood he seemed to be unconscious of anybody or anything in the room
except one thing--the thing that lay upon the bed--and walking up to it
he looked down at the white face and spoke to it as if the dead--and the
dead alone--could hear.

"Thora," he said in a calm voice, "these are the only copies of my
compositions, and I wish you to take them with you.  They were written
in hours when your faithful heart was suffering through my fault--when I
neglected you and deserted you for the sake of my foolish visions of art
and greatness.  That was the real cause of your death, Thora, and in
punishment of myself for sacrificing your sweet life to my selfish
dreams, I wish to bury the fruits of them in your grave.  Take them,
then, and let them lie with you and fade with you and be forgotten.  I
will never write another note of music as long as I live, and from this
hour onward my ambitions are at an end."

Saying this he put the papers beside the body of Thora and wrapped them
in the long plaits of her beautiful hair.

"Oscar!  Oscar!" cried Helga in breathless horror.

The others listened and looked on, hardly realizing what Oscar had
resigned, but Helga realized it, and she was trying to warn him against
the life-long sacrifice.  But he did not seem, to hear her, and at such
a moment further remonstrance was impossible.

"My sweet girl," said Oscar, stretching both arms over the bed, "forgive
me for all my failures of duty.  Oh, what I would give to forget them
now; but I can’t, I can’t!  You are gone, and I can never make amends."

Thinking to put an end to a scene which was touching everybody too
deeply, the Governor signed to the man in the shirt-sleeves, but when
the man stepped forward Oscar’s grief broke out afresh, and in the
vehemence of his sorrow his tongue lost all control of itself.

"Not yet!" he cried.  "Oh, God!  Thora!  My wife! My sweet young wife!
Let me look at her face again! How bright and happy it used to be, and
now it is leaving me like this!  Forgive me, my angel!  Say you forgive
me before you go!  I can not live without your forgiveness!  I wronged
you and sinned against you, but you were good and your childlike heart
was from God!"

The desolate cry rang through the room, and each of those who heard the
revelation of the naked soul read it by the light of his own.  Helga
trembled and turned to the window, the Governor and the Factor dropped
their heads, but Aunt Margret cried openly in innocent sympathy, and
Anna touched Oscar’s arm and tried to comfort him.

After a moment Oscar became more calm and even signed to the man
himself, and when all was over he walked firmly and courageously out of
the room.


                                  *X*

On the day of the funeral Oscar was weak and ill, and more fit for his
bed than for a journey to the cemetery, but no one could prevail on him
not to go.  The morning was dull and drear, with black clouds from the
mountains and some sprinklings of rain, and when the dread hour struck,
and Oscar came down among the mourners, his face looked ghastly in the
void and heavy air.

The bell in the cathedral tower began to toll, the solemn burden was
borne slowly down the stairs, and then Oscar’s white face became yet
more white and he would have fallen but for his father’s arm which held
him up.

The body was first rested on the green outside the door, and while the
mourners grouped themselves round in a wide half-circle to sing a
parting hymn, Oscar stood bareheaded in the drizzling rain which had
begun to fall.

John, the servant, stood at the gate, holding Silvertop, Thora’s pony,
which he had brought from the farm to carry her on her last journey, and
the sight of this horse seemed to be more than Oscar could bear.  The
coffin was laid cross-wise on the panniers and the procession began to
form. It passed through deep lines of the townspeople, Oscar walking
first after the body, alone, bareheaded and conscious of nothing but his
grief.  The bell was still tolling and a Sabbath quiet had fallen over
the town.

The cathedral was crowded with the same faces that had looked on at
Thora’s wedding, when she came down from the altar in her bloom and
beauty, happy and smiling on her husband’s arm; and now that she was
being carried up to it, while the organ played the funeral march, and
Oscar walked with drooping head behind, the people nearest the aisle
said he was weeping audibly.

The coffin in its pall was set down on the steps to the communion
rail--the spot where Thora had knelt as a young girl to be confirmed and
as a bride to be married--and then the Bishop who had been waiting to
receive it delivered a consolatory address.

They should not ask themselves why this sweet and lovely life had been
so ruthlessly cut off.  The ways of Providence were inscrutable, but God
was in heaven and the Judge of all the earth did right.  Neither should
the family who were there to mourn take blame to themselves for what had
occurred, for if it had pleased the Almighty to lay His hand on the
afflicted brain of their dear departed sister.  He knew best why He did
so, and to what end it was done.  Rather let them kneel in gratitude to
God that in His mercy He had not suffered her to lift her hand against
herself, and so rob them of the blessed hope of eternal life.

"To the young husband who is here plunged in sorrow," said the Bishop,
"what can we say but that all our hearts go out to him?  It seems only
yesterday that he stood on this spot to make his vows before heaven and
before men to love and cherish the dear girl who has been so suddenly
taken away.  If she had lived he would have kept his promises, and
though she is gone, he will preserve the spirit of them still.  The pure
and innocent soul who linked her life with his life will be an abiding
memory, a perpetual inspiration against sin, and when the first pangs of
grief are over, a constant solace and a lasting joy."

If it was possible for Oscar to look more wan and weak than when he went
into the cathedral, he did so when he came out of it.  The rain was now
falling heavily, but when the procession was formed again for the last
stage of the journey, he walked bareheaded as before.

The Factor, who was behind Oscar (with Helga quivering on his arm),
begged him to put on his hat, but he refused, and when the Governor, who
came next with Anna, passed up an umbrella, he shook his head and sent
it back.  The bell tolled again, the little town sat quiet, and the
townspeople who wept floods of tears for Thora, wept for Oscar even
more.

When the procession reached the cemetery the rain was coming down in
torrents and even the priest put an overcoat over his cassock, but Oscar
stood uncovered by the open grave.  During the short prayer--"dust to
dust"--he suffered visibly, and during the long hymn that is always sung
at an Icelandic funeral, while the grave is being filled in, the hollow
thuds of the falling earth seemed to beat upon his twitching face.

When all was at an end he could not be drawn away until his father took
him by the arm and said in a firm voice, "Come."  Then with a stronger
step he walked with a remnant of the broken procession across the little
cemetery--the hummocked home-field of the dead--through the gate to the
road--where Hans, the water-carrier in the sleeveless waistcoat Thora
had made for him, was giving water to her horse--past the Factor’s
house--where Aunt Margret watched at a window with the baby in her
arms--and thus back to his empty home.

At the foot of the stairs he excused himself when the mourners went in
to their meal, and he was seen no more that day.

The dinner was a cheerless thing, being served in the room that had
witnessed the home-coming, and so chilled with memories of that happier
event.  Silently, or in whispers, the mourners bade their adieus and
crept away one by one, leaving the few remaining members of the two
families with wide spaces between them at the table like gaps in a
toothless skull.

The Governor and the Factor had not spoken since their return from the
Proclamation, and the interval of silence had made the rift between the
two old friends grow wide.

"Ah, well!" yawned the Factor, "it’s all over, I suppose."

Then he turned to the Governor and asked sharply, "Where is Magnus?
I’ve seen nothing of him to-day."

The Governor did not answer and Anna dropped her head, and then Helga,
who was the only other person present, said quietly:

"Somebody saw him at the Hotel--he did right not to come to the
funeral--they say he was not quite sober."

"Just like him," said the Factor.  "A yell is all you hear of a wolf,
and but for his last drinking bout, perhaps nothing of this would have
happened."

The Governor’s proud face quivered, but he did not speak, and soon
afterward the Factor and Helga went away.


                                  *XI*

Early next morning, before the household was astir, the Governor was in
his bureau, ready to begin on the arrears of business, when somebody
knocked at the door.  It was Magnus, white and worn, but sober and
serious as a judge.

"May I speak to you, sir?" said Magnus.

"Well--perhaps for a moment--come in," said the Governor.

It occurred to the Governor as Magnus entered the bureau that he had
come for money to help him with the farm, and he said immediately:

"If you have come for financial assistance toward stock and seed and
what not, I ought to tell you at once, Magnus, that I have nothing to
give you.  I have already spent as much on the farm as I am justified in
spending--more perhaps than I ought to have spent on the inheritance of
one of my sons in justice to the claims of the other one--and if it is
money--ready money----"

"I do not come to ask for money," said Magnus.  "But I come to speak
about it," he added, and then he sat on a low seat and twisted his felt
hat between his knees, while the Governor leaned back in his desk-chair
and fingered a pen.

"I wish to ask," said Magnus, "whether you drew, about six months ago, a
bill on the Bank of Denmark for one hundred thousand crowns."

The Governor uttered a contemptuous snort and said, "Certainly not; I
have never drawn a bill in my life and never shall do so.  Why do you
ask?"

"Because a bill for that amount is in town at this moment," said Magnus.

"Then it is a forgery--an impudent forgery--and the forger must be found
and promptly punished."

The Governor had risen in his chair when he looked at Magnus’s drooping
head and a thought occurred to him.

"But are you sure of what you say?  Is this story true?" he asked.

"I have seen the paper myself," replied Magnus.

"And it is signed in my name?"

"It is signed in your name, sir, and witnessed in the name of the
Factor."

"That, too," said the Governor, while a painful smile came into his
face.  "And pray whom is this extraordinary document drawn in favor of?"

Magnus did not reply immediately--he continued to twist his hat between
his knees.

"That may help us to find the motive, and therefore the forger--who is
it?"

"Oscar Stephenson," said Magnus.

"Oscar?  Your brother?"

"Yes, sir--and the money was paid to him in Paris."

"What?" cried the Governor, crossing the floor.  "You tell me that
Oscar--your brother Oscar--has committed a forgery?  Oh, that’s what you
mean--don’t deny it--you mean that my son is a forger?"

Magnus made no answer, and after a moment the painful smile about the
Governor’s face broke into a more painful laugh.  "But why do I trouble
myself with such a trumpery story?  I see how it is, Magnus--strong
drink is a strong tongue--you have been drinking."

"I have been drinking, sir--I was ill and I couldn’t help it--but I’m
sober now, and what I tell you is God’s truth."

Magnus rose as he said this and father and son stood face to face--the
little Governor in his uniform with flushed cheeks and pigeon-breast
distended, and Magnus big, black, clumsy, unkempt, and with lines of
suffering in his face.

"And this document, you tell me, is at present in Iceland?"

"It is, sir--two officers of the law brought it here from Copenhagen."

"Officers of the law, you say?"

"The bank found reasons to suspect the signatures, so they sent across
to verify them."

"You have talked with these men yourself, no doubt?"

"The Sheriff brought them to see me," said Magnus.

"The Sheriff, too!  The Sheriff of all men!"

"He is to bring the two men here to-morrow morning."

"So he is to bring them here to-morrow morning!"

The Governor, though heated and agitated, laughed once more, and said
with a sneer:

"Of course, in the interests of the family, you felt it necessary to
examine the signatures they showed you?"

"I did," said Magnus simply.

"And without consulting me to denounce the forger?"

Magnus made no reply.

"And even to hint--only to hint--that perhaps you could point to the
forger?"

Still Magnus made no answer, and dropping his cynical tone, the Governor
burst out in choking anger:

"Out on you, man, out on you!  I thought you were drunk, or suffering
from the delusions of drink, but you are worse--you are sweltering in
hatred--and it is an unnatural hatred, too--the hatred of your own flesh
and blood."

Magnus flinched as if a lash had cut him through the skin.

"You are jealous of your brother--always have been, always will
be--because he is clever and successful and amiable and because
everybody loves him--you are as jealous of your brother as Cain was of
Abel, and this is your way of destroying him."

Magnus stood with drooping head while the Governor’s lash fell over him.

"Aren’t you ashamed to stand before your father and parade the whole
diabolical catalogue of your unnatural passions?  You allow yourself to
consort with my enemies, with Oscar’s enemies, with your own enemies, if
you had the sense to see it, while they try to bring him down at the
highest moment of his success."

The Governor was walking to and fro and lashing himself into a fury.

"At the deepest moment of his distress, too!  Just when the poor boy is
unmanned by the loss of his wife--the dear girl he loved and you
insulted.  But I don’t believe one word of this cock-and-bull story.
That accursed document is nothing but a trick to dishonor my son and to
discredit me at the very time when a pack of rascals who call themselves
reformers are trying to abolish the Governorship.  Let them do it if
they can, but while I am Governor here I’m master in this house, and Mr.
Sheriff shall be suspended and those men sent back to Copenhagen."

"Hadn’t you better speak to Oscar first, sir?" said Magnus.

"Certainly, I shall, and if I find as I expect--as I am sure--that your
story is a pack of falsehoods--let me never see your face again."

Without a word of defense or explanation, Magnus left the room, and a
few minutes afterward Oscar, at the call of the Governor, entered it.

Oscar’s face was as pale as yesterday, but with a different pallor, a
different expression--an expression not of grief and regret, but of fear
and shame.

"Oscar," said the Governor, "I am sorry to trouble you about business so
soon after your great sorrow, but an ugly story is being told about you
in town, and as every lie has its tail, it is only right that you should
hear of this one immediately, so that it may be quashed without delay."

Oscar’s lower lip trembled--he felt the blow before it fell.

"Magnus--your brother Magnus--I am aware he has not been on brotherly
terms with you--your mother has told me something about that--and let me
say I do not sympathize with his protests and pretensions--I think them
nothing but an excuse for his own selfishness--Magnus has just been
here, and he tells me that a note of hand drawn in your favor for no
less a sum than one hundred thousand crowns has been forged in my name.
I do not believe the story and I do not want you to discuss it.  I only
ask you to contradict it--to contradict it flatly--or to leave me to
deal with the real offender as I think best."

Oscar, standing by the Governor’s desk, remained for a moment quite
still.  Then in a voice so low that it hardly seemed to come from him,
he said:

"I can not contradict it, father.  What Magnus has told you is true."

"True?  You say it is _true_?"

Father and son stood facing each other for some moments without a word
more being spoken.  Then in hot words, broken by breathless pauses, the
Governor poured out question after question, to which Oscar made no
answer.

"You received that sum and signed for it in your father’s name?--in the
name of your father-in-law also?  One hundred thousand crowns?  What has
become of the money?"

"It is lost," said Oscar.

"Lost?"

"It was to pay the debts I had already contracted."

"Was that at Monte Carlo?"

"Yes."

There was another long silence, in which Oscar stood with quivering lips
and the Governor with contracted brows.

"But this document--how did it come about?"

"I ask myself that question over and over again, father, and I fail to
find an answer.  I can not understand myself--I try and I can not."

"Were you mad?"

"Sometimes I think I was--I must have been."

"Did somebody tempt you--put the idea into your head?--somebody,
perhaps, who helped you to lose and promised to help you to repay?  If
so, who was it?"

"I do not wish to accuse anybody, father--I suppose I have no right to
do so."

"Right?  Don’t talk to me about rights.  Think about your duties--and
the first of your duties is to me, not to the person, whoever it may be,
who has helped to destroy you. You have pledged my credit and my honor,
but I don’t want to think you altogether bad, and if anybody suggested
this devilish device to pay your debts, I ought to be told who it was.
Was it Helga?"

At the mention of that name Oscar’s drooping head drooped lower still;
the Governor saw this and then he understood everything.

"Lord God forgive us," he said, in a breathless whisper. "Then Magnus
was right, after all!  And the death of the poor child we buried
yesterday was perhaps a part of the diabolical harvest we are reaping
to-day!  You needn’t wince, sir--I see it’s true without that."

Oscar did not attempt to excuse himself, and after some moments of
silence the Governor spoke again.

"You have deceived and disappointed me, Oscar.  I thought I had one son
who was an intelligent man and a gentleman, not a forger and a fool.
But it is of no use to prolong a painful interview.  You may go."

Oscar staggered out of the room and the Governor sank into his chair.


                                 *XII*

The proud man was abased.  For the first time in his life he was
degraded in his own eyes.  His own son had committed a vulgar crime and
exposed himself to a vulgar punishment.

In the first pain of surprise and humiliation he saw himself covering up
the whole wretched episode.  But he was too proud to be proud, and at
the next moment he began to count with his conscience.  Thus far he had
tried to do what was right in Iceland, and he would do what was right to
the end, whatever it might cost him.

Oscar had offended against the law and he must bear its righteous
punishment.  It might be eight years’ imprisonment, with the ruin of all
his prospects, the waste of all his talents, and the wreck of all his
happiness, but he must go through with it to the last hour, the last
penalty, the last pang.

So felt the Governor as Judge, and if as the father he felt differently
it was only with a different intensity.  His favorite son--the son whom
he had indulged and pampered in the past--for whom he had planned and
prepared so many things in the future--had committed a crime against his
country and against himself, relying upon his father’s love and pride to
save him from the painful consequences, no matter what sacrifice it
might cost him in hard-earned money or in money still to earn; no matter
how much it might put him at the mercy of a scheming crew who were
striving to pull him from his place!  It was selfish, it was heartless,
it was shameful, it was infamous, and it deserved a double punishment.

Feeling more bitterly against his son than he had ever felt before
against any human creature, the Governor passed the day in torment, and
he was sitting alone in his room late at night, with no light but the
sleepy glow from the open stove, when the door opened noiselessly and
Anna entered. She looked as if she had been crying, although her eyes
were dry, and the Governor reproached himself that in all his sorry
summary of the consequences of his son’s crime he had never once thought
of his son’s mother.

But neither did she think of herself, and now sitting by the stove and
stirring it, she began to talk of Oscar.

"He has fallen asleep at last," she said, "and his troubles are over for
a little while anyway.  He went up to his old bedroom to-night, Stephen,
the one he slept in when he was a boy--when Magnus and he were boys
together.  I sat with him until he dropped off, and he held my hand all
the time, just as he used to do after he had been naughty and you had
sent him to bed without his supper.  He looks quite like himself now,
poor boy, and if you could see him lying there on the pillow, you would
think the old days had come back, when you used to go up with the candle
to look at him, and wipe the tears from his little face while he lay
asleep, and stroke his curly hair.  Ah, dear, how easily he could throw
off his troubles in those old days, Stephen!  Next morning you would
hear him romping about overhead, and singing like a lark."

"A shallow nature, Anna," said the Governor, "a shallow nature, on which
nothing makes a serious impression--always has been, always will be."

"Oh, but this will, Stephen, this will make a deep impression, and if
the poor boy could only have another chance he would turn over a new
leaf and set to work in good earnest, and realize all your expectations.
And then think--only think, father, what a dreadful thing it would be if
one brother were to drag the other into the dock--dreadful for us, I
mean.  We should lose both our children, for Oscar would be lost to us
one way and we should never be able to look on Magnus again."

"Our children have always been at war, Anna, ever since their earliest
infancy."

"Don’t say that, Stephen.  When they were little they loved each other
dearly.  It was not until they grew up that they were different.  And
then others came between them--one other anyway, and--who
knows?--perhaps she has been the cause of all this trouble."

"Has Oscar said so?" asked the Governor.

"He will say nothing against anybody," replied Anna. "That was always
the way with Oscar.  But if somebody tempted him and he was weak, and if
our poor boy must go to prison while she----"

"There is a weakness that is wickedness, Anna, and must bear its pains
and penalties."

"Yes, I know," said Anna.  "I remember you said the same words long ago
when the sailor lad killed his sweetheart in a fit of drunken passion.
The mother was a widow and she came to ask me to plead with you for her
son.  He was a good boy, she said, and if it had not been for the drink
he would never have hurt any one.  You spared his life, you know, and he
was sent to prison.  And dear me, how the poor woman kissed me and wept
on my face for joy!  But she came to think that for her part it might
have been better if her boy had died instead of being locked up for
ever.  She could never forget it, and when her eldest daughter was
married and her house was full of people, and everybody was happy, she
suddenly remembered and ran up-stairs to cry.  And then on wintry
nights, when the wind was moaning over the sea and she was putting the
little boys to bed, she always thought of their brother lying alone in
the big brown house up the road and round the corner.  It wouldn’t have
been so bad if he had been sent away, she thought.  And she was only a
poor widow who washed at the hot springs."

The night wind was moaning over the sea at that moment, and the
Governor, who had been walking to and fro, struggling to be righteous
and severe, was feeling a pain in his parched throat.

He stood for some moments by the window, with his hands interlaced
behind him, looking out through the dark pane on the flying moon, and
then with an obvious inward effort he said:

"Anna, if I acknowledge this signature we shall have nothing
left--nothing but my salary.  Even my salary is threatened, and if it
goes we shall be without anything in the world."

"Why should we think of that, Stephen?" said Anna. "We had nothing when
we married, and yet we were very happy.  It is true we were young then,
and now we are old, but if poverty comes again we shall know better how
to bear it.  And if we have nothing else we will have each other--and
our boys, too--both our boys--wherever they may be by that time--and
neither of them will love us the less because we have given up
everything--everything we had in the world--that they might still be
honored and respected."

The clock struck twelve in the tower of the cathedral, with a
reverberant ring that passed over the sleepy town, and the Governor
stopped in his restless perambulation.

"It is late, mother," he said, in a husky voice, "let us go to bed."


                                 *XIII*

Next morning the Governor was in his bureau again.  He was now firm and
composed and waiting calmly for the officers from Copenhagen.  They came
early, headed by the Sheriff, and bore themselves largely, like men who
were conscious that they were about to administer a painful shock.

After the formal introductions the Sheriff leaned above the Governor’s
desk and said suavely, almost condescendingly:

"These gentlemen have been anxious to show every consideration.  They
came on an urgent matter--I may say a most urgent matter--but they have
waited five days, rather than break in upon you at a time of domestic
tribulation."

"I am busy this morning, Mr. Sheriff," said the Governor. "Be so good as
to waste no more time than is necessary."

The Sheriff gasped and fell back from the desk, whereupon the strangers
stepped up to it, and one of them opening a large envelope, said in a
tone of indulgent courtesy:

"We have a document here, your Excellency, which claims to be drawn by
your authority.  Will you be good enough to see if this is your
Excellency’s signature?"

The Governor fixed his eye-glasses leisurely, and glancing hastily,
almost casually, at the paper put before him, replied promptly:

"It is."

The strangers looked at each other in silence before they spoke again.

"In that case we presume your Excellency will be prepared to honor it?"

"Certainly," said the Governor.

"Then your Excellency will be aware that the bill is already overdue and
that two applications have been made for payment?"

The Governor flinched at that question, but recovering himself in a
moment, he said, shortly:

"The bill shall be met immediately."

"How soon, your Excellency--a week, a fortnight?"

"Three days," said the Governor.  "Good-morning, gentlemen," and without
more ceremony he took up his pen and began to write a letter.

The Sheriff, who was perspiring visibly by this time, had edged round to
the door, and after a short silence, in which nothing was heard but the
scratching of the Governor’s quill, the strangers bowed to his stooping
forehead and backed themselves out of the room.

The Governor’s letter was to the Factor, asking him to come immediately.
He came, looking sullen and suspicious, with the air of one who knew
something already of the business for which he had been summoned.

"Old friend," said the Governor, "we have known each other for fifty
years, and I have never yet asked you to do me a favor, but I am going
to ask you now."

"H’m!" said the Factor, with a cold smile.

"It is not for my own needs I ask it, but for one who is nearer to me
than myself.  We who are fathers know what that means; and we also know
that a favor done once to our children is done twice to ourselves."

"H’m, h’m!" said the Factor, with the same cold smile.

"It is a private matter--strictly private--but to you, old friend, I can
reveal the secret--your godson has got himself into trouble."

And then, excusing and extenuating nothing, the Governor told the story
of Oscar’s downfall, and the Factor listened with the impatience of one
who had heard the sorry tale before.

"He signed my name also, you say?" said the Factor.

"That, too, unhappily," answered the Governor, "but you were merely made
witness to the deed, and I am responsible for the money."

"What are you going to do about it?" asked the Factor in a hard tone.

"Pay it and give the lad another chance in life," replied the Governor.
"And that’s why I sent for you this morning. I can find fifty thousand
crowns and I want you to lend me the other fifty thousand."

"Not fifty thousand cents," said the Factor.  "Not fifty--to shield a
criminal and to cheat the law."

The Governor’s face whitened, but he answered quietly, "Don’t speak so
fast, old friend.  Remember that the offense against the law is only an
offense against myself, and if I choose to forgive it the law can have
nothing to say."

"What about the offense against me?" said the Factor.

"Remember, too," continued the Governor, "that if Oscar has made free
with your name he has certain claims upon your purse--there is the
marriage contract."

"The marriage contract was made for Thora, and Thora is dead," said the
Factor.

"There is the child," said the Governor.

"I hold the child now and I am prepared to provide for it in the
future," said the Factor, "but I will have nothing more to do with a man
who has forged my name, and if any further claim is made--on my business
or estate or what not--I will protest against it and publish my reasons
for doing so."

"Oscar Neilsen," said the Governor, "there is something I have not told
you, something I did not intend to tell you, but I must tell it to you
now.  I have reason to believe--to be confident--that for the trouble in
which Oscar finds himself Helga is partly responsible."

"Can you prove that, Stephen Magnusson?" said the Factor.

"If I can not prove it," replied the Governor, "it is because my
son--whatever his faults and follies--is still a gentleman; and if you
do not know it by this time it is because your daughter is not a lady."

"Speak for your own, Stephen Magnusson, and leave mine to me," said the
Factor.

"Therefore," continued the Governor, "when I pay this money--and I shall
pay it--you will have the satisfaction to know that though I am a poor
man and you are a rich one, I am discharging your debt as well as mine."

With that, red and angry, the Governor walked to the door and opened it.
The Factor looked at him in blank amazement, and for one swift instant
his better nature conquered his greed and he saw what a pitiful thing it
was that after fifty years of friendship they should quarrel thus about
their children.  But one sword draws another from its sheath, and he
snapped his fingers contemptuously and strode out of the room.

Then the Governor sent for the manager of the Bank of Iceland.

"Manager," he said, "I wish you to arrange a loan of one hundred
thousand crowns on the security of my farm at Thingvellir."

"The farm is hardly worth so much, sir--I say it is hardly worth so
much," said the manager.  "But in your case there can be little
difficulty--none whatever if you are willing to pay the higher
interest--I say none whatever if you are willing to pay the higher
interest."

"I agree," said the Governor, "and let the deed be drawn without delay."


                                 *XIV*

Having gone through the material part of his preparations the Governor
had now a spiritual and more trying ordeal before him, and he went out
into the home-field to think over it.  Leaving the town behind he
walked, with hands, as usual, interlaced behind him, as far as to the
margin of the fiord.

It was a beautiful morning.  The light was wonderful, a silvery light
that made the light of other days seem dull and leaden, full of
innumerable sparkles like the stars that are sown in snow.  The waters
of the fiord were heaving slowly under a quivering haze, and on the sea
outside--wide, vast, stretching far away--a number of fishing-boats,
with their white sails bellied to a breeze that could not be felt on
shore, were going on and on as if sailing into the sky.  The
mail-steamer was lying at anchor in the bay, getting up steam for her
voyage back to England, and a flock of lighters, painted white, were
floating about her black hull, like sea-fowl at the foot of a lava rock.
The gulls were calling high up in the air, and from the sheltered side
of a little island the last of the year’s eider-duck were coaxing or
driving their young ones into the sea to prepare them for their flight
to far-off lands.

It was a cruelly beautiful morning, one of those radiant days when
Nature in her indifference to man and his sufferings, seems to conjure
up every joyous sound and sight that can trouble the bitterest waters of
memory--when the very sunshine seems to break one’s heart.

At length the proud man who was walking through the hummocked
home-field, with head bent low by the sorrow of a wrecked and shattered
hope, saw plainly what he had to do.  In love no less than anger, in
justice no less than duty, he had to cast off forever his favorite son,
the pride of his heart and the hope of his life.

As soon as he returned to the house he sent up-stairs for Oscar.  After
some moments Oscar came down slowly, looking more ill and weak than
ever, and stood by the stove with drooping head like a prisoner about to
receive his sentence. The Governor glanced up at his son from over the
rims of his eye-glasses, and at first his heart failed him, but after a
moment he steeled himself to his task and began to speak in a steady
voice.

"I have sent for you to tell you," he said, "that for your mother’s
sake--I prefer to put it so--I have acknowledged that signature and am
preparing to pay the money you have wasted.  To do so I am compelled to
mortgage every pennyworth of property we possess, so that apart from my
official salary I shall soon have nothing.  Worse than that I have had
to eat up your brother’s inheritance in order to purchase your liberty,
and whether I had a right to do so God alone can say."

Oscar shivered as from cold; the Governor saw this, waited a moment, and
then went on.

"The condition on which I make this sacrifice is that you leave Iceland
immediately.  You will sail by the ’Laura,’ which goes back this
evening, and, as your honor is my honor, I will give it out that your
health is broken after the death of your wife, and that you have gone
away to recruit."

The Governor paused a second time, and when he spoke again his voice was
thick and hoarse.

"I shall not expect you to come back soon--I shall not expect you to
come back at all.  Inasmuch as you have done your best--or worst--to
wreck my happiness I will ask you to consider that henceforth our lives
are to run in different courses, and that for my own part I wish to see
you no more."

The Governor’s voice was now husky and indistinct, but still he
struggled on.

"You will look to yourself for your livelihood in the future, but
that--with your talents, little as you have made of them
hitherto--should not be difficult.  Whatever happens here I shall never
expect you to do anything for me, or for your mother, but if fortune
should favor you, and you are able to repay your brother, your
conscience may be the easier and--though I do not pity him, for his
heart was hard--the earth on my grave the lighter."

The Governor paused for the last time, cleared his throat, and then said
in a firmer tone:

"Only one word more.  I thought perhaps your father-in-law might have
done something for you, but apart from a promise to provide for the
child, he will do nothing. Therefore, as I have reason to fear that his
daughter Helga was at the root of the trouble which has so nearly
wrecked us all, and perhaps a first cause of the death of our dear
Thora, I will ask you to promise me--for your own sake more than
mine--to hold no further intercourse with him or his--do you promise?"

There was silence for some moments and then a muffled sob came as from
the stove itself:

"I promise."

After that there was silence again for a perceptible period, and then a
voice--a strange voice that was like a cry said:

"That is all.  And now--good-by and--and God help you!"

Choking with emotion and blind with tears, Oscar turned about to
acknowledge the justice of his punishment--to say that he deserved
everything--everything and more--a hundred-fold more--but he found
himself alone.  His father had fled from the room.


                                  *XV*

When Magnus heard of what his father had done, his wrath knew no
measure.  On the day when he found Thora dead in her bed he had said to
himself, "Oscar has done this and he must be made to suffer."  But there
was no legal way to punish a man who had tortured his wife to death by
every refinement of hypocrisy and pretense, and it was at the height of
his anger that the offense against his father’s property had come to him
with its diabolical temptation. "Use me," it whispered, "the damnable
spirit of the world understands me better," and after a struggle in
which the devils seemed to fight for his soul, he yielded.

He thought he knew the price he would have to pay and that was the
reason he did not join his family at the funeral. Everybody would loathe
him for giving up his brother to the punishment he deserved.  His own
mother would turn from him, and after his father, being confronted by
poverty, had allowed the law to take its course, he would hate and
despise the son who had saved him from beggary.

But no matter!  When he stood up in court and said, "This is Oscar
Stephenson’s handwriting, for he is a forger and a thief," and a thrill
of horror ran through the crowded room, and every eye turned on him with
contempt, he would say to his secret heart, "He killed her, and he had
to suffer, and there was no other way than this!"

Yet that was not what had happened.  His father had saved Oscar from the
just punishment of his infamous offense.  And how had he saved him?  By
making him--Magnus--pay the price of Oscar’s riotous living abroad.
Thus the vengeance which he had vowed upon his brother had recoiled upon
himself, and while his rightful inheritance was wiped out, while the
farm on which he had built his last hopes was embarrassed beyond the
possibility of redemption, and he was ruined for the rest of his life,
the man for whom and by whom he was ruined--ruined in his affections as
well as his fortunes--was to be allowed to steal away amid a croaking
chorus of sympathy and pity under the cloak of broken health and a
broken heart!

What a devil’s world it was in which infamy could masquerade as honor
and hypocrisy as grief!  When Magnus thought in this way his eyesight
grew dull and his hearing dense and he felt a cold pain at the back of
his neck.  Then he began to use again the only remedy he had recourse to
when his head was bad--he began to drink.

But sitting in the darkest corner of the smoking-room of the hotel,
every word he heard--every conversation that filtered through the smoke
and noise and his deadened senses--seemed to stimulate the idea which
had taken possession of him--it was the devil’s own world and God had
nothing whatever to do with it!

At one moment a student ran into the room and shouted, above the
laughter and singing of his fellow-students, "Boys, what do you think?
Oscar Stephenson is sailing by the ’Laura’ to-night!"  And thereupon a
babel of voices cried, "Really!"  "Never!"  "You don’t say so!"  "True
enough--smashed up for good and going abroad for an indefinite period!"
"Not a bit of it!  Oscar isn’t the sort to be broken up like that.  Six
months abroad and he’ll be home again as bright and fresh as ever."

"So he will," thought Magnus, but his heart was fierce and bitter.

At another moment the chairman of the Town Board came in panting and
cried, "News, gentlemen, news!  Oscar Stephenson has resigned his seat
in Parliament!"  "Impossible!" "Listen!" and the little fat man read,
out of his rasping, asthmatical throat, from a sheet smelling of damp
paper and printer’s ink a letter from Oscar to his constituents.  Broken
in health and happiness--compelled to go abroad--impossible to fix date
of return--consequently forced to tender resignation--deeply grieved and
disappointed--but set the duties too high to ask his constituents to
wait, etc.--"That means he’s not coming back!"  "But, good heavens, does
he know what he’s giving up?  Why, there’s nothing that’s not within the
man’s reach--absolutely nothing!"  "I wonder the Governor has allowed
him to do it!"

And then Magnus laughed out loud in the fierce bitterness of his heart.

After that the voices were lower for a little while, and when Magnus
heard them again somebody was saying, "But a man can love a woman too
much altogether.  Breaking your life to pieces because you’ve lost your
wife isn’t brave, it isn’t manly."  "Perhaps not, but it’s human," said
somebody else, "and if Oscar Stephenson is smashed up by the death of
Thora Neilsen, he’s in the right of it, I say."

"So do I," cried Magnus, and laughing wildly, he dropped his head over
his arms on the table.  What a devil’s own world it was to be sure!

There was some whispering and then two louder voices: "Poor fellow!  So
unlike his brother!  Going it fast, they say!"  "His father was pretty
hard on him, though!"  "Not harder than he deserved, poor devil!"

The poison in the soul of Magnus was fermenting every moment.  Hearing
the contemptuous pity with which he was contrasted with his brother--his
brother who had wrought all the evil--his temples beat furiously and one
wild thought expelled all other thoughts from his brain.  If there was
no law to punish Oscar, if his father had conspired to help Oscar to
escape and if the hypocritical community agreed to cover up his fault,
one thing at least remained--before Oscar left Iceland he must meet with
him!  Then if this was the devil’s own world let the devil look after
his elect!

Magnus’s mind was weltering in this thought as in a boiling sulphur pit
when the captain of the "Laura" came into the smoking-room with the
agent of the steamship company, and seating themselves near to him,
began to converse apart. "Then he will have to put up with a bed in the
hold, for all the berths are gone," said the captain.  "But why can’t he
wait for the next steamer?"  "I’ll tell you why," whispered the agent,
"because the Factor’s daughter is to sail by the Vesta and there seem to
be reasons why they should not meet."  "So that’s it, is it?  But their
fathers are fools not to know that they’ll meet on the other side if
they want to."

Overhearing this conversation, Magnus lifted his head from his arms,
drank a large tumbler of brandy and water to the last drop, and walked
heavily out of the house.  He had not been conscious of the passing of
time, but the darkness was now closing in, porters were hurrying with
luggage toward the pier and the first of the "Laura’s" three bells was
ringing.

Magnus was like a man who could not see or hear properly. More than once
he collided with people on the parapet, and being big and strong he
brushed them out of the way.  Some of them cursed him, but he did not
stop.  His clouded faculties were conscious of one idea only--that he
must go to Government House and meet Oscar face to face before he
sailed.

Reaching his former home he found the door open, as usual on an autumn
evening, and nobody in porch or hall. Avoiding his father’s door, he
walked up-stairs and turned mechanically toward the apartments which had
lately been occupied by Oscar.  But that was a part of the house sacred
to his memory of Thora, and even in this hour of passion and pain
something whispered to his tortured conscience, and he turned away.  A
moment later he was in Oscar’s bedroom on the upper floor.

The furniture was in disorder, the carpet was awry, and articles of
apparel were scattered about as if somebody had been packing trunks, but
the trunks were gone and there was nobody in the room.  Magnus was about
to go when his eyes were arrested by papers on a desk.  Among sheets of
music and scraps from newspapers there were the remains of a letter
doubled up and torn across.

Magnus knew the handwriting--it was Helga’s--and without any compunction
he put the pieces together and read the letter:

"Oscar:--As soon as I heard that the Governor had spoken to you on the
fatal subject, I confessed everything to my father and took my own share
of the transaction.  Of course, he was furious, and now he vows that I
must go back immediately to my mother in Copenhagen.  That does not
trouble me, seeing that you are leaving Iceland, but I must see you
before you go.  In spite of all you say, and notwithstanding any promise
you may have given to anybody, it is impossible that we can part like
this.  It would be too selfish and too cowardly not to give me the
chance of seeing you for the last time.  Your steamer sails at nine
o’clock--come to me at half-past eight.  If you do not come I may even
follow you to London--I _will_ do so if----"

Magnus read no more, but ramming the pieces into his pocket he plunged
down the stairs and out into the street. If anybody could have seen him
at that moment his appearance must have seemed terrible, for his eyes
were bloodshot, and the veins on his forehead were swollen and dark.  It
was now night and the second bell was ringing in the bay.

He was lunging along in the direction of the Factor’s, when somebody
crossed in front of him in the thoroughfare. It was Oscar himself and he
was going in another direction. Magnus was like a man whose reason is
clogged, but he saw everything in the light of his own making.  His
brother was returning from the pier after taking his baggage aboard, and
he had come ashore on a last errand.  Magnus knew what errand that
was--it was to see Helga, and they were going to meet where they could
be unobserved.

The moon had risen by this time and Magnus could keep his brother in
view while he followed like a hound behind him.  He saw nothing else and
was not even conscious of what streets they passed through, save that
they were going toward the upper part of the town, near to the lake, and
down the road that runs beside it.

He tried to walk softly and to make no noise, but sometimes a hard laugh
broke from his dry throat and once or twice a great sob came behind it.
He was thinking of Thora, and telling himself what he would say when
Oscar met Helga and he came face to face with them.  He would say, "I
loved your wife--I’m not ashamed to say so--I loved her and gave her up
to you and you promised to cherish her, but you neglected her and
allowed her child to be stolen away.  I would have given my heart’s
blood to make her happy, but you made her miserable and now she is dead,
and you are here with this woman who helped to torture her.  You are a
perjurer and a forger and a scoundrel and you may take that--and
that--and that--and carry the mark of my hand on your face when you go
where this wanton means to follow you!"

He was now outside the town, but he could not see or hear or think like
a Christian man, and was merely ranging along the road like a beast.
Then all at once, in the still air and the silence of all around him, he
heard the voice of some one who was saying in low, quivering, pleading
tones:

"My darling!  My darling!"

Magnus knew whose voice it was!  He thought he also knew what sight he
should see a moment later.  It would be Oscar and Helga locked in each
other’s arms as they had been when he saw them last in the dance at the
farm--flushed, hot and excited.

With his fists clinched and his teeth set hard, he plunged through a
gate that was like the gate to a garden, and then ran forward a few
paces.  But he drew up suddenly, as if an unseen hand had seized his
arm.  He saw where he was, and his breath seemed to leave him--he was in
the cemetery, and some twenty yards farther down the path his brother
Oscar was kneeling by the side of a grave and sobbing as if his heart
would break.

Magnus stumbled back to the road, sobered, ashamed and broken into utter
helplessness.

It might be the devil’s own world, but God was in it also.


                                 *XVI*

When the last of the "Laura’s" three bells were ringing, Magnus stood
alone on the little wooden jetty going down to the bay.  The whistle
screamed in the steam-pipe, the anchor-chain rattled in the hawse-holes,
and the steamer turned her head to the sea.

Then a row-boat came back from the vessel’s side, bringing an elderly
lady who was trying to hide her tear-stained face from the gaze of the
boatmen and even the eyes of the night, behind the folds of a little
lace shawl which she wore over her hufa.  It was Anna, and as Magnus
helped her ashore, she said:

"Give me your arm and take me home--I’m not feeling well to-night,
Magnus."

But before they had gone many paces she stopped and looked back lovingly
at the ship that was now steaming down the fiord, and said in a pitiful
voice:

"He is gone and I have lost him!  My poor boy!  My poor Oscar!  I had
him for six and twenty years and to think it should come to this!"

She walked a few more paces and then looked back again, and said:

"I have never seen anybody so deeply affected.  ’Oh, mother, mother!’ he
cried at last--just like a child.  I could have fancied the years had
rolled back and he was still a boy--feeling ill and helpless and wanting
to lie in his mother’s lap."

Again she walked a few steps and looked back as before.

"There was nobody to see him off--nobody at all.  The story must have
leaked out somewhere, and of all the people he used to call his friends
there was not one to say farewell. My poor boy!  My poor Oscar!  He did
wrong--very wrong--but God knows how he is suffering.  We think we
punish people when we put them in prison, but what punishment is like
the pain of an awakened conscience?  And Oscar is leaving everything
behind him--everything and everybody--and going away in disgrace."

Once more she walked a few steps and then she said in the voice of a
crying child:

"I shall never see him again.  I pretended I should, but I know quite
well I shall not.  ’Some day you will come back,’ I said, ’and make
amends and wipe out everything.’  And he said ’Yes’ and ’Yes,’ but we
both knew well it wasn’t true.  When the bell rang and I had to come
away he said, ’Mother, you’ve been the best mother a man ever had,’ and
I knew it was the last word I shall ever hear from him."

After that she could not speak for some minutes and then she said, as if
trying to comfort herself:

"Perhaps God will give my boy another chance where he is going to.  If
so I think he will do better, but if not----"

She could not finish what she intended to say--that God’s mercy was more
terrible than the vengeance of man, and he who renounced it would surely
be destroyed.

They walked on in silence until they came to the gate of Government
House, and then Anna took her last look at the dark ship that was dying
away to an indistinguishable mass in the shades of night and the mists
of her blinding tears, and said in a brave voice:

"We must be very good to each other in future, Magnus. You are the only
son left to me now, and if you have to suffer for the sin of somebody
else you must let me help you to bear it.  I will always do so as long
as I live, Magnus, and when I am gone from you God will not forget.
Good-night, Magnus!  And God bless you!"

Magnus stood for some time where his mother had left him, for the
breakers of passion were still surging in his throat.  Then he returned
to the jetty and dropped the remains of Helga’s letter into the sea, and
they went out with the ebbing tide.



                                *PART V*


    "_Indeed, indeed, repentance oft before_
    _I swore--but was I sober when I swore?_
    _And then, and then came Spring, and rose-in-hand_
    _My threadbare penitence apieces tore._"


                                  *I*

Above all other cities of the world, London is the home of the outcast,
the refuge of the disgraced and rejected, the asylum of the moral leper,
the grave of the moral suicide. She offers him obscurity and a kind of
cleansing if he will cast himself into the rolling billows of her six
millions of people, and she keeps her word but exacts her penalties.
Her penalties are homelessness, friendlessness, and loneliness, but
above all loneliness.  There is no loneliness like that of London.  The
loneliness of an open boat on an open sea in an impenetrable fog, or the
loneliness of a trackless heath in a blinding snowstorm, is not so
desolating to the human soul as the loneliness of London’s crowded
thoroughfares, with their lines of unknown faces filing on and on.

Within a year Oscar Stephenson knew the loneliness of London to its last
pang, its utmost bitterness.

When he parted from his mother on the deck of the "Laura" she slipped a
purse into his pocket, just as she used to do when he was a boy going to
college or going away for his holiday.  The purse contained gold and
notes to the value of fifty pounds, and this, with the little he had of
his own, was the whole sum of his fortune and all he had to face the
future with.  He was not so young as to think it inexhaustible, or so
sanguine as to expect the world to fall at the feet of a fallen man, so
he tried to be frugal and to spend his substance prudently.

He spent his first night in London at the hotel in Trafalgar Square at
which he had stayed with Thora and Helga on their way to Italy, but
besides being too expensive for his present means the place was too full
of tragic memories, and next day he removed to a house in one of the
first of the side streets going down to the river from the Strand.  His
lodging was a single room on an upper floor, having a stuffy odor of
carpets and curtains and a prospect of the neighboring roofs with
various causeways of red chimney-pots.

In this apartment Oscar Stephenson had his first experience of the
loneliness of London.  He lived there six months without seeing any face
belonging to the house except the face of his landlady, and without
knowing more about his fellow-lodgers than that his neighbor in the
adjoining room never returned home at night until after the great clock
at Westminster had struck twelve, and that he whistled "Onward,
Christian Soldiers" in varying degrees of alcoholic uncertainty while he
put himself to bed.

Before the end of those six months Oscar was in debt to his landlady, he
had no regular employment and no prospect except the imminent one of
being homeless and penniless.

By what stages of quick descent he came down to this condition it would
be a needless task to tell.  His story is that of the great army of the
disgraced and the castaway who fly to London as to a sanctuary and are
allowed to live only by lying at its doors.  He had struggled and
failed. He was young and active, but nobody needed him.  In some places
his want of references was a difficulty.  In others his superior
education was a cause of suspicion.  He was too good for one post and
not good enough for another.  In a world full of work there was no work
for him to do.

The slow agony of those first six months kept alive the shame and misery
of his breakdown and nearly sapped his moral courage.  As day followed
day and the feeling of uselessness deepened, he felt like a boy, a
friendless, abandoned boy.  He had done wrong and he was ready to bear
his punishment, but the great, irresistible, unanswerable world was
using him cruelly.  It would not make peace with him on any terms.  It
was leaving him without hope, or counsel or encouragement or
consolation--it was leaving him alone. This sense of being of no
account, of being nothing and nobody in the world, with the terror of
sinking out of sight some day and nobody knowing or caring, was harder
to bear than poverty or even shame itself.

When the clouds looked blackest he swallowed the last remnant of his
pride and appealed to the few friends of his father in England who had
been so good to him in the careless days of his college life and so
boundlessly hospitable in the happy time of his honeymoon.  He appealed
to the professor at Oxford, making a clean breast of his misdoings and
no concealment of his sufferings and asking for influence and assistance
in obtaining a sub-librarianship or such other employment as might
provide him with bread and butter, and the answer that came back was
prompt and courteous but as cold as the breath of an iceberg.

He appealed to the banker in London, asking for a junior clerkship, or a
position as messenger or even porter, and the reply he received was as
smooth as a dog’s tongue and as useless for help and healing.  And then
he knew by bitter knowledge that the kindness which had been shown to
him in the better time was kindness to his father’s son, and that he had
wasted that heritage and was his father’s son no more.

Meantime he spent his days, and a great part of his nights also, in the
streets.  There he was like a piece of helpless driftwood in the roaring
current of life, always going on yet never going anywhere, always
floating along yet never making headway.  The ceaseless stream in the
busy thoroughfares tormented him terribly, but the emptiness of the
obscurer streets tortured him still more, and the blankness of Sunday
morning in the Strand afflicted him most keenly of all, for it was full
of memories of Sunday morning in Iceland with its atmosphere of peace
and rest and the sound of church bells.

When he was at his lowest depths of hopelessness he sent his first
letter home.

"Dearest Mother," he wrote, sitting in his stuffy back room overlooking
the roof-tops, "You would naturally have expected to hear from me before
this, and I certainly should have written earlier, only that I have been
waiting for a long, quiet hour in which I could tell you all the news,
everything that has happened to me since we parted on the steamer and I
saw your dear face disappearing in the boat.  That hour seems never to
come, so I must snatch a few moments without any more delay to say that
all is well and everything goes swimmingly."

"The dear old soul, why should I make her miserable?" he thought.

"You will easily understand that in a great city like London, especially
when one is beginning again and one has so much to do and so many people
to see, there is not an hour left for oneself and hardly a moment to
write a letter.  But this does not prevent my thinking of you at all
events, and I do so every day and always."

"That’s true at least," he told himself, and he went on boldly with his
affectionate fictions.

"I know that my dear little mamma will want to know first the condition
of my creature comforts and I hasten to tell her that these are as right
as can be.  This is a large and handsome house just off the tide of
greatest traffic where splendid horse wagons (called omnibuses) and
upholstered sleighs on wheels (called hansoms) roll about in countless
numbers day and night, making a roar like that of the Ellida river where
it falls into the fiord.  But my bedroom, in which I am writing this
letter, is quiet and cozy and homelike, and my landlady is a good little
creature who visits me daily and is always most kind and motherly."

As he went on his pen flowed freely and his handwriting became big and
reckless.

"I am making new and influential acquaintances every day, and seeing in
the flesh the faces we are all familiar with in prints.  Walking in the
Park yesterday I passed the Queen, who is one of our own princesses, you
know, so I felt myself entitled to bow to her and she bowed back with
the sweetest courtesy.  I see the Prime Minister frequently, for he
lives in a house that is only down the street and round the corner, and
the homes and offices of nearly all the Ministers of State are within a
stone’s throw of this place.  In fact one way or another I am certainly
coming in touch with the leading men in England, and when I open my
window at night I can see the light that burns in the clock-tower above
the Houses of Parliament.

"So you see that I am finding life wonderfully interesting in this
mighty maelstrom of human activity, and if I do not write as often as I
ought, my anxious little mamma is not to imagine there is anything amiss
with me, but merely to tell herself that no news is good news and that I
am immersed in many occupations.

"Perhaps if I have a lonely hour occasionally"--the pen trembled in his
fingers and the handwriting became loose and shaky--"it is when I think
about home and wonder what is happening there and what people are saying
about me now. I suppose I have no right to complain whatever it may be,
but sometimes when I am coming back to my lodging on a starry night
after a tiring day and I look up to the Milky Way and think, ’That is
the road to my country,’ the thought goes to my heart like a stab that
when I left it last my father’s door was closed against me, and I saw
nothing of Magnus at the end.

"How are they both, and how are you, and how are the Factor and Aunt
Margret, and how--oh!  how is our dear little Elin?  My sweet, sweet
child!  What I would give to see her again!  Has she grown?  Is she
still as much like her poor mother?  Does she ’notice?’  She will begin
to babble and talk by and by.  Will they bring her up to know nothing
about her father?  Or perhaps to think ill of him?  If I return to
Iceland some day (and I shall) to take up the broken threads of my life
again, and find that the mind of my own child has been poisoned against
me, I don’t know what will happen; I believe I shall go back instantly
and wipe myself out for ever.

"But I will not think of that even as a remote possibility, and,
meantime, I am working day and night to build up a new career, and, as
you see, I am getting on splendidly.  So good-by, dearest, and God bless
you, and God bless everybody at home, for we shall all be good friends
yet.--OSCAR.

"P.S.--Is Helga still in Iceland, or has the Factor carried out his
threat of sending her back to Denmark?  I suppose I ought not to think
of her, having given that promise to the Governor, yet I can not help
doing so, and I can not help asking."


                                  *II*

It was the time when a young English composer was creating some
sensation by writing an opera on the subject of "King Olaf."  The theme
was one which Oscar had often proposed to himself, and raised his fancy
and emulation upon, in the delirious days when he had hoped to become a
musician, and the dazzling dreams of glory were not yet so dead that he
could restrain himself from rambling up to Covent Garden on the night of
the first performance.

He knew he was penniless and he was conscious that his clothes were
shabby and his shoes in a woful condition as he lounged by the arches
and watched the audience assemble. The carriages were rolling up and
discharging their occupants--the Queen and her ladies, the Prime
Minister and finally the King--and he was turning away feeling more
miserable and destitute than ever, when a hand touched him on the
shoulder and a familiar voice at his side said cheerily,

"Helloa!  Can it be possible?"

It was Neils Pinsen, his former schoolfellow and companion, fresh and
bright in evening dress under a handsome fur-lined overcoat.

"Heard you were in London, but didn’t know where to find you.  Want to
see you immediately, old fellow.  Where do you stay?"

As soon as he had got rid of a stifling sensation in the throat Oscar
answered him, and then Finsen said,

"Should I call upon you there, or would you prefer to come here to me?"

"I will come to you," said Oscar.

"Good!  When shall it be?  Will to-morrow at twelve be convenient?"

"Any time will be convenient to me."

"Happy man!  Twelve to-morrow in my office, then.  Glad to have found
you at last.  Thought you might have looked me up and wondered what on
earth had become of you. Good-by!  Busy to-night and enough work for a
regiment. By the way, if you would like to see the performance--can’t
promise you a seat, but if you would care to stand at the back of the
balcony--You would?  Come this way--Johnson!  Take this gentleman in
front and give him anything you have left.  By-by!"

Before Oscar had quite recovered his breath, he was sitting in the
half-light at the back of the upper circle, feeling miserably humiliated
and ashamed, yet tingling with a strange excitement.  He never quite
knew what happened thereafter.  He forgot that his money was all gone,
that he had not eaten since morning, that his trousers were frayed at
the bottom and his shoes down at the heels.  He only felt that out of
the sordid conditions of the past six months he had suddenly emerged
into an atmosphere that was as the vivid breath of his soul.

When the conductor entered--it was the young composer himself--Oscar
craned forward to catch a glimpse of the man who was on the eve of
snatching the triumph which but for the hard buffetings of fate might
perhaps have been his own, and when the opera began he listened with
every faculty.  It was good, it was human, it was modern, its harmony
was exquisite, its orchestration sure, its form showed mastery of the
mystery of music, and yet it lacked something. What did it lack?  It
lacked the life-blood of the stern old Northland.  The Englishman could
not give it that, for the root of the matter was not in him.  But he
could have done so, for his blood was the blood of the Vikings, the
blood of Flosi and Snorri and Eric and Olaf and all the mighty men of
old.

Oscar did not hear his fellow-lodger go to bed that night, with his
lunging step on the stairs and his drunken whistling of "Onward,
Christian Soldiers," and next morning when his landlady came up to speak
to him, according to her wont, he was hardly conscious of what she said
except that it was some protest, some threat, and that he did not feel
it worth while to soften and sweeten her with such promises as he had
made before.

The intoxication of last night was still upon him when he set out to
keep his appointment.  Music was calling to him again, calling him like
a siren, out of his friendlessness and loneliness, his humiliation and
obscurity, his poverty and shame, out of the pitiless cruelty of crowded
thoroughfares and the grimy sordidness of obscure streets, into the
glory of success and fame.

"Come in, old fellow," cried the familiar voice of yesterday, and Oscar
found himself in Finsen’s office.

"Let me see," said Finsen, removing a pair of pince-nez, "how long have
you been in London?"

"Six months--nearly seven," said Oscar.

"And what have you been doing?"

"Nothing."

"Lucky chap!  Nothing at all?"

"Yes, there is one thing I’ve been doing--I’ve been doing it rather
industriously."

"What’s that?"

"Starving."

Finsen laughed loud, but Oscar laughed louder--he had not yet broken his
fast.

"We all go through it at some time," said Finsen, "and it’s best to get
it over at the beginning.  So I congratulate you, old fellow, and now to
business.  I’m managing here--managing for a syndicate.  Under four
eyes, as we say in Iceland, I intend to give a series of concerts and
I’m looking out for fresh material.  You compose?"

"Used to do," said Oscar.

"I understand," said Finsen.  "Your life has been off the tracks lately
and you’ll not write much more that’s worth anything until you get back
into the groove.  But I know what you used to do and that’s good enough
for me.  I heard some of your songs from the Sagas, you remember, and I
don’t mind saying that as the work of a man who was nearly self-taught
in the matter of harmony I thought them wonderful. But Helga tells
me--Helga Neilsen, I mean, I hear from her occasionally----"

Oscar flinched as if a lash had cut him.

"Helga tells me," continued Finsen, "that you did some things in Iceland
last year that beat your Saga songs to little bits, and if you think we
can try them here----"

"They’re gone," said Oscar.

"I know," said Finsen.  "I’ve heard what has become of them.  But
perhaps you have copies?"

"Not a copy," said Oscar.

"Or perhaps you can remember some of them?"

"Not one."

"Even so, the case is not quite hopeless.  You are a person of some
influence in Iceland?"

"Used to be," said Oscar.

"Well, I presume to think I am--my father is Sheriff and likely to be
something better--so if you care to give your consent we may recover the
things still."

A mist arose between Oscar’s eyes and Finsen’s face. "You surely do not
mean----?"

"Certainly I do.  If the things are half as good as Helga says, they’re
worth all the trouble.  Anyhow, I’m willing to gamble on her judgment,
to give you something to go on with, and when the stuff comes to devote
a morning to trying it with the orchestra, and ask you to conduct the
rehearsal."

Finsen’s figure was floating in the mist that was between it and Oscar’s
eyes.

"You wish me to authorize you to exhume----"

"Why not?  It’s not an unheard of proceeding.  And if ever there was a
moment that justified it it’s now.  If compositions that might give
pleasure to the world and make pots of money are lying buried in a
grave----"

"I’ll starve first," said Oscar, rising from his seat.

"My dear chap," said Finsen, putting back his pince-nez, "you tell me
you’re doing that already.  But here’s your chance of doing it no more,
and if----"

"I’ll starve to death first," said Oscar, turning to the door.

"Nonsense, old fellow!  If the things were doing any good where they are
I could respect your feelings.  But they’re not.  They are merely
rotting away and they will soon disappear altogether.  What your object
was in burying them you know best--I confess I thought it very
quixotic--but whatever it was it has served its purpose.  And now there
they lie--works of genius, as I’m willing to believe--that might
possibly make your name and begin to make your fortune, while you----"

"I’ll die in a ditch rather than touch them," said Oscar, and without a
word of farewell he flung out of the room.

No words could describe the agony he endured during the remaining hours
of that day.  The intoxication of the night before was gone by this time
and he suffered the pains of the spirit that has buoyed itself up on a
bankrupt hope. If he had ever had any uncertainty about the meaning of
the blind impulse of remorse which had prompted him to bury his
compositions in his wife’s grave he had none now.  It was God’s own
punishment to shut up the only channel to fame and success, nay to
livelihood itself, as by the door of a tomb.

Hour after hour he walked the streets, feeling that escape from the way
of life he had been living was now utterly hopeless.  He would go down
and down, day by day, little by little, until he was submerged beneath
the flood, or became, but for the mercy of God, a vagabond and a
castaway.

It was long before he could bring himself to go back to his lodging and
when he did so he found that the street door would not open to the key
he carried in his pocket. He rang the bell and a little maid-of-all-work
came up as from her bedroom below stairs with curl papers in her hair
and some loose clothes about her body.

"Why did you bolt the door, my child?" he said.  "Didn’t you know that I
had not come home?"

"Yes, sir, but mistress told me to tell you as how your room has been
let and you can have your trunks when you pay what you owes her."

"Do you mean that I am to be turned out?"

"It ain’t my fault, sir, and I’m very sorry."

Oscar and the girl stood looking vacantly at each other for a moment,
and then he turned away and walked up the street with a new
sensation--the blank, desolating sensation of not having a roof over his
head.  No one knows what it means to be one night homeless in a great
city except those who have gone through it.  It is not so much the
poverty of privation that is hard to bear as the sense of utter
worthlessness, of being less to the world than its dogs, for they are
cared for, or its horses for they are housed.

His money was gone, and he had no luggage in his hands to make shift to
find another lodging with, so he walked on and on, up Lower Regent
Street and across Piccadilly, through noisy throngs of people--young
women smoking cigarettes, young men laughing and singing and a
bedraggled girl being lugged along by a policeman--on and on until he
came to a wide and quiet thoroughfare where a line of broughams waited
outside a house that was brilliantly lighted up, and there he paused in
his aimless perambulation to listen to the music that was coming through
the open windows.

He had been asking himself for the hundredth time how it had come to
pass that he, so lately the pampered son of his father--who was the
Governor of his people and their upright judge--was tramping the streets
of London without a penny in his pocket or a roof to cover him, when the
door opened and an elderly gentleman came out bare-headed to escort some
ladies to their carriage.  Then his stunned faculties awoke and he saw
where he was standing.  He was outside the house of his father’s friend,
the banker.  The deep remembrance came back to him of the time, so near
yet so far away, when he himself, with Thora and Helga, had been honored
guests in that house, and lest the banker should see him, the wayfarer
he then was, skulking there at that untimely hour, he turned about and
walked quickly away.

Nothing that had happened on that evil night had wounded his feelings so
acutely, or made him feel so surely that rescue from his accursed
condition there could be none.  Was it to be a part of his punishment
that even when his senses slept he was to be constantly brought up
against himself and reminded of the days that were dead?  If so, life
would be unendurable, and existence an everlasting hell.  Did Nature
never forget?  Did God never forgive?

Half an hour afterward he was walking along the Embankment, past the
crouching and sleeping forms of the sordid things whom the city casts
out on to the river’s bank by night; and looking wildly at the waters of
the Thames, glistening and glimmering under the electric light, he asked
himself why he should not end it all and have done with further torture.

What was the thought that restrained him?  Was it the thought of his
dead wife whose memory was to be a safeguard against sin and a perpetual
inspiration?  No!

By the inscrutable will of fate it was the thought of the one being
whose love had wrecked him--it was the thought of Helga.  In spite of
the pledge he had given to the Governor, he could not help thinking of
her.  No day had been so dark but he had thought of her on going to bed
at night and on awakening in the morning.  She was gone, they might
never meet again, their love was a page of his life which he had crossed
out and turned down for ever, yet her eyes were in his eyes and her
smile was the only sunshine that shone upon his face.

The thought of Thora was a sweet and sacred thing which he had wrapped
up and laid by in the lavender of memory, but the thought of Helga was
warm and alive and always with him.  It was with him now, and it saved
his soul from despair and his body from death.


                                 *III*

Before Oscar’s letter reached Iceland many changes had taken place
there.  The estrangement of the Governor and the Factor had developed
into open antagonism.  Everybody knew of it and the enemies of each had
been playing upon his hatred of the other.

The Factor was the first to suffer.  The downfall of the barter trade,
which Magnus predicted, had already come to pass, and the Factor’s
business had tumbled to pieces like an unbound faggot.  There is always
a good reason to kill a fat ox, and while people said, "The Factor gives
the farmers what he likes for his wool and charges them what he pleases
for foreign produce," the true ground of the attack upon his business
had been his intimidation of the town at the time of Oscar’s election.

Oddsson, the defeated candidate of that day, never rested until he had
established a company on the cash principle. Even then the Factor would
have borne down all opposition, for the Factor was rich while the
farmers were poor, but Oddsson had secured an ally in the most powerful
person. As the smith uses the tongs to spare his fingers, so Oddsson had
used the Governor to save his company.

The Governor knew full well that Oddsson was his enemy, and that if his
party got the upper hand they would upset the old order, but he could
not resist the temptation to join him when he was trying to destroy the
Factor.  By his help the preferential tariff with Denmark was broken
down and the Iceland markets were opened to English produce, and that
was the death-blow to the barter business.

For three months the Factor kept his doors open by selling at less than
cost price and buying at more than market value, but the end was sure.
It was whispered at the bank that he was parting with his securities in
stocks and shares and his estate in land and loose property, and that
sooner or later he would come down with a crash.  Nobody pitied him, and
at the bottom of his tortured heart one man rejoiced.

But the smiter has often short joy of his stroke, and when Oddsson and
his party, having done with trade, turned their attention to
constitutional subjects the Factor, though he hated them, joined their
agitation.  The winter had been severe, there had been many deaths among
the older members of Parliament and as often as a by-election had
occurred the Factor had thrown the weight of his remaining influence and
the force of his diminishing fortunes into the scale of reform.  By the
end of the spring it had become certain that the next session of Althing
would witness the passing of a bill for the reconstruction of the
Constitution and the abolition of the Governorship.

Thus each of the two men who had stood shoulder to shoulder for fifty
years destroyed himself in destroying the other, and the prophecy of
long ago was fulfilled that if the Governor and the Factor ever ceased
to be friends they would become the bitterest of enemies.

Meantime Anna had tried to make peace and failed.  When the quarrel was
young, and chiefly about the children, she had attempted a tone of
sympathetic protest.  "Come, come, Stephen, pardon is the best
punishment--you must make peace with the Factor."

"He might have saved my son by the lifting of his hand and he would not
do so--I shall never make peace with him," said the Governor.

"Oscar Neilsen," said Anna, meeting the Factor in the street, "when are
you coming to see Stephen?  If you stay away much longer the house-dog
will fly at you."

"The house-dog flew at me when I was there last, Anna--I shall never
trust him again," said the Factor.

When the quarrel grew old and ugly and personal to the men themselves,
Anna thought of another means of reconciliation.  The child was the last
remaining link between the Governor and the Factor--it should bring them
together again.  "God has always a use for these little angels," she
said.

Aunt Margret joined in the conspiracy and the two old things concocted
many schemes--all simple and transparent but womanly and good--to get
the men into the same room. They never succeeded, but a thousand beams
of sunshine shone out of the baby’s cradle, and little by little the ice
that had frozen about the men’s souls was seen to melt.

When the child was "shortened" it was taken over to Government House and
wheeled in its perambulator into the Governor’s bureau.

"Isn’t she a beauty, Stephen?" said Anna; and Aunt Margret said,

"The precious pet couldn’t possibly be more like her father if she were
not so wonderfully like her mother, too."

The Governor looked down at the little face without saying a word, and
when the child blinked up at him with the eyes of Thora and the smile of
Oscar he went up-stairs to his bedroom, and Anna heard him lock the
door.

When the child cut her first tooth, and everybody according to custom
ought to have given her a "tooth-fee," the Factor, coming home at night,
found no presents on the nursery table, but the little one was propped
up under the blue lace of her hooded cradle and making the air hideous
with the divine discord of a baby’s silver-mounted rattle.

"That’s Stephen’s present and it must have cost him a fortune," said
Aunt Margret, whereupon the Factor, weary as he was, walked out into the
road where he could hear nothing but the cold lapping of the lake.

Yet love of the little one was not bringing the two men together--it was
thrusting them still farther apart.  "That man is scheming to get hold
of the child," thought the Factor.  "He and his have robbed me of my
daughters and now they’re trying to rob me of my granddaughter also."

"She’s my son’s child," thought the Governor, "and my son’s child is my
child--why did I allow that man to have her?"

"No use, woman!" said Aunt Margret.  "It’s late to withdraw the sword
when it is thrust to the heart."

But then came Oscar’s letter and Anna’s hopes went up with a bound.  She
was like a child herself in her joy over it.  Her happiness was too
great to permit her to see holes in its picture of prosperity.  Oscar
was well, he was getting on splendidly and he sent his love to
everybody.

She read the letter first to the Governor, and after he had heard it he
walked out into the home-field where the eider-ducks were building their
nests afresh on the edge of the fiord, and the fishing-smacks were
coming back to harbor. Then she took it over to the Factor’s, rolled it
up in the baby’s hand like another rattle, and left it with Aunt Margret
to be shown to her brother.

But that day had been a bad day with the Factor and when Oscar’s letter
came back to Anna it was torn across the middle and enclosed in an empty
envelope.  Anna was nearly broken-hearted at the treatment of her
treasure, for no girl of sixteen had ever so loved her first
love-letter, and she had intended to show it to everybody--to the
Bishop, the Rector, the Sheriff, and above all to Magnus.

Magnus had been coming and going at intervals throughout the winter.  It
had been a hard one for him as for others, and he had begun to realize
what it would be when his father was gone and he had to bear the burden
of the monstrous mortgage.  But harder to bear than any winter had been
the sight of his mother’s sufferings during Oscar’s silence.

"Any news yet!" he would ask, and Anna would say No and No, with
countless explanations and excuses.

So it was through the dark days, and his feeling against Oscar grew hard
as the ground he trod upon.  But when the snow had gone and he went up
with the spring caravan there was Anna with a face like the rising sun,
and by that he knew that a letter must have come at last.  Sure enough
in less than a minute out it came from the bosom of her embroidered
treya, torn across as the Factor had left it and she was calling on him
to write an answer to her dictation.  This is what he wrote:


"MY DEAR SON: Your letter arrived safely by the last steamer and made up
by its welcome news for the long time we had to wait for it.  It is so
good to hear that you are well and prosperous and enjoying your life in
the great English city.  Many a time I feared it might be otherwise, but
now I have your letter and I am happy and contented.

"I am proud that my son is rising into such high and good company, and
though your father speaks little I am sure that he feels the same.  He
always said that you would do great things some day, and it is not the
way of God’s goodness to disappoint such expectations where they are
built on a good foundation.

"And now I have to tell you that your father is well in bodily health,
though a little oppressed by worldly anxieties, but I tell him our home
in this life is always on a steep mountain and if we trust in God there
is no reason to be afraid.  As for myself, I am as well as can be
expected at my age, though my left ear troubles sometimes and my eyes
are not what they used to be for knitting and small print. But I must
not allow myself to complain, for perhaps it is a part of God’s mercy to
us old people that our senses should die by degrees so that when they
come to die altogether we may not be taken unawares.

"Magnus is writing this letter and he is strong and hearty. The snow was
deep at the farm this year and he lost six of his best beasts, but his
lambs came beautifully and now they are on the mountains and his ewes
are milking well and the home-field is closed for the hay.

"I have to tell you that the one you ask about has gone back to her
mother at Copenhagen and that there are those who can not be very sorry.
Sometimes to silence the evil tongues that speak ill of you here I am
tempted to blame her for all that has happened, but who am I to judge
any one? And the worst I wish for her is that she may soon become a
God-fearing girl.

"Margret Neilsen is just as she always was, a twisted bough with plenty
of sap in it, and the Factor would be well enough but for a bad hip.  He
too, like your father, is much oppressed by worldly cares and taking it
ill that they should fall so fast upon him in the evening of his days.

"And now I have to tell you of your little Elin that she is as well as
can be, and she has cut two front teeth and her hair is curling over her
forehead.  She is the best child that ever was born, and when she smiles
she is so like somebody that it nearly breaks my heart to look at her.
Margret is as good to the darling as if she were her own mother, and
your father and the Factor can hardly see the sun for her. As for me it
fills my heart brimful to think how God in His goodness has sent us old
folks this little angel after our late troubles, for she is like the
spring after a hard winter when the snow and ice have stayed so long
that we think surely we shall never see the grass or hear the rivers
again, and then all at once there are the green fields and the shining
streams and all the gladness of the flowers.

"And now, though you are getting on so well, you must not be angry with
your mother for sending you a little present.  Maria has been all day in
the kitchen packing your college box, and goodness knows what things she
may have put in it.  But I am knitting you a pair of stockings out of
old Maggie’s brown wool, and I hope you will not be ashamed to wear
them, for they will keep your feet warm in the cold weather, when the
English socks must be so thin and cottony. Then I remember how fond you
used to be of our smoked mutton, so I am telling Maria to put in some of
that too, and a few rolls of Rullapilsa.

"I dare not let the Governor know I am sending the mutton--he would
think it foolish and unnecessary--and of course, with so many good
things to eat and drink I do not expect you to offer it to your English
friends, but perhaps you can hide it in a cupboard somewhere and take a
slice when you are quite alone.

"And now I must conclude for Magnus is coming to the end of his paper.
It makes me happy to think your bedroom is comfortable and I wish I
could thank your landlady for being so kind and motherly.  I may never
see her in this world, but we shall meet in heaven some day and then I
will thank her.

"And now, my dear son, in the midst of your great prosperity, do not
forget that all good things come from God and remember to put your trust
in Him.  To His care I commit you, for He knows all our wants and all
our troubles and all our secrets, and His eye ever watches and His heart
never sleeps.

"Your affectionate mother,
       "ANNA."


                                  *IV*

When Oscar received his mother’s letter he was living in a slum in
Westminster.  It was called Short Street, and it was a typical example
of the mean streets which nearly always, and in all countries, lie near
to a great minster, like sea-wrack at the foot of a rock.

Short Street was a cul-de-sac, whereof one end was a gin-palace and the
other an archway to the railway depot of a suburban necropolis.  Late at
night the inhabitants were kept from sleep by the quarreling of tipsy
men who had been turned out of the public-house, and early in the
morning they were awakened by the rumbling of the hearses that rattled
the corpses over the cobbles of the street.

Oscar’s home in Short Street was at Number One, a grimy house with a
soiled card in the fanlight above the door, saying, "Lodgings for single
men."  Besides himself, there were four lodgers, three of them being
porters at the funeral depot and the fourth head barman at the
public-house.  The bar-man had the parlor floor, and he generally
brought home a number of noisy companions at closing time to play cards
and drink beer.

Oscar’s bedroom in this house was not so much a room as a stifling
closet of miserable aspect, in which the refuse furniture seemed to make
an effort to range itself in order--a threadbare carpet, an iron
bedstead without foot or head, a painted washstand, a broken-lipped
water ewer, two or three rickety chairs, a table that was safest when it
rested against the wall, a few pictures of race-horses on the remains of
a dirty wall-paper, and a looking-glass blotched by damp, like a sheet
of ice spotted and scabbed by thaw.

His landlady lived in the basement and was never seen except on Monday
mornings, when she went round for her lodgers’ rent some two or three
hours before the collector called for her own.  The only person whom
Oscar saw constantly was the landlady’s servant, Jenny, a typical
cockney girl of the humblest class, untidy and unclean, but as bright as
a London street sparrow, and with a big soft heart in her vulgar little
breast.

Jenny had conceived a certain affection for Oscar, based on no grounds
more personal than that he did not shout at her down the pairs of
stairs, or take liberties, or use bad language, and that he always
raised his hat when he passed her in the street.

The only effect of this sentimental attitude on Jenny’s part was that
she always dressed in her clean "print" on the days when Oscar happened
to be at home to tea, and it was on one of these afternoons that she
came knocking at the door of his bankrupt garret and said, "Letter for
you, sir."

It was so long since Oscar had received a letter of any kind that he
leaped up with a kind of fear, and on taking the envelope out of Jenny’s
hand and seeing it was addressed in Magnus’s writing, and had been sent
on from his former lodging, he turned pale and trembled.

"Is it bad news, sir?" said Jenny.  "I wouldn’t ’a’ brought it up on no
account if I’d knowed."

"No, no!  Leave me, Jenny," said Oscar, and when the girl had gone and
he had opened the letter with nervous fingers, he read it with eyes that
were wet with tears while his cheeks were flushed with shame.

When he came to the end his heart was beating wildly and he was asking
himself if it would not be the brave and manly thing to write at once
and say that all this story of his prosperity was a miserable fiction,
that he had never been otherwise than wretched, that he was living in a
common way among common companions, doing common work which he dare not
think of, and that no words could express the secret agony of his soul
at having sunk so low.  But deep as was the degradation of that bitter
hour it was not so deep as that of the following morning when Jenny came
lugging his college box up-stairs, and chattering gaily as if she had
brought him a fortune.

"The railway man said as ’ow it was as ’eavy as lead, so I give ’im
twopence for ’isself--I ’ope I did right, sir."

"Quite right, Jenny.  Here’s the money.  You can go now."

"Can I ’elp ye to unpack it, sir?  There ain’t no sort o’ box as I can’t
unpack.  My! what a long way it must ’a’ come!"

"It came from Iceland, Jenny."

"Fancy that now!  Pat Looney, the lorry man, ’e come from there, and the
neighbors says it’s a pity ’e don’t go back. They never says that about
you, though.  ’He’s so perlite,’ they says."

Oscar allowed the girl to open the box and empty it of its contents, and
as she did so she chirped away like the street sparrow that she was,
while he sat with the mist of his boyish associations floating up to him
from the happy past.

"Well, I never!" she cried, sitting back on her heels as she knelt
before the box.  "Polonies!  And sausages!  And pickled tongues!  And
hams!  Why, you won’t ’ave to buy nothin’ to eat for months!  Isn’t that
lucky now?  Just when you’re ’out’ too!  Is it a present?"

"Yes, it is a present, Jenny."

"They must think somethin’ of ye as sends ye a present like this," said
Jenny, and then, after a moment, in a fluttering voice, "Is it a laidy,
sir?"

"It’s my mother," said Oscar.

"Your mother!" said Jenny, in a tone of relief.  "Well, that’s what I do
call a mother--being good to anybody like this."

"She has been good to me all my life, Jenny, and all my life I’ve
treated her badly."

Jenny looked at him strangely as if something surprised and pained her.

"You have, sir?"

"Shamefully, Jenny, yet she has forgiven me again and again."

Jenny was silent for a moment and then she said, "Mothers is like that,
isn’t they?  Now there’s Jim Cobb, the shandry man, ’e knocks ’is mother
about somethin’ cruel, but she never ’aves ’im up for it, never!
Mothers is proper good!"

"Is your mother good to you, Jenny?"

"Me?  I’m an orfling," said Jenny, and then, lowering her voice to a
tone of confidence, she added, "I don’t mind tellin’ you, but I am!  I
always tells the other lodgers as my mother was one o’ them girls as ye
see at the Aquarium at nights covered with silks and diamonds."

"And was she?"

A look of dejection crossed Jenny’s face.  "I don’t see as she could
’ave been, because they say at the Orflinage as I was born in Holloway
when my mother was doin’ time."

By this time the contents of the box were ranged on the table and
chairs, and Jenny was sitting back on her heels again to look at them.

"There!  They’re as pretty as a ’am and beef shop!  And I do believe as
that’s what your mother meant ’em for too. Jim Cobb, ’e wanted me to set
one up with ’im, but not me! Not as I ’ave any objections to the ’am and
beef business, and if anybody else thought of starting it----"

Jenny’s hint was interrupted by the sound of a vehicle stopping suddenly
outside the house.

"Now, I bet ye I know who that is," she said with a wink. "It’s that
blessed Jim Cobb again.  He’s always a-wantin’ me to go for a ride in
’is shandry."

But going to the window she cried, "Goodness!  It’s a handswim cab!  And
there’s a laidy a-gettin’ out of it!"

"A lady?"

"You can’t see ’er now--she’s on the steps.  There she is," cried Jenny,
as a rat-tat came to the street door, "and me not ’ad time to comb my
’air yet!"

With an indefinable feeling of mingled fear and hope which there was yet
no cause for, Oscar stood on the landing and listened while Jenny ran
down the stairs.  When the street door was opened he heard his own name
in a voice that sent the blood to his head and made him reel with
dizziness.  A moment later Jenny came back with a face that looked white
even under the smudges that soiled it, and she said in the same
fluttering voice as before:

"I thought as much.  It’s you she’s askin’ for.  I’ve took ’er into the
barman’s parlor--’e won’t be ’ome till tea."

Oscar went down-stairs slowly, but when he got to the bottom his breath
was coming and going in gusts, and his heart was beating against his
breast as with the blows of a hammer.  The parlor door stood ajar and a
perfume he knew was coming out to him.  After a moment he pushed the
door open and then she whom he expected to see was standing before him,
she herself, more radiantly beautiful than ever, with something soft and
white about her neck and a face shining with smiles.

How much he lived in that moment no one could say.  A hundred emotions
coursed through his soul like the flash of flame--joy, delight, pain,
shame, the rapture of seeing her, the humiliation of being found in such
a common place, the degradation of being ill-clad and obviously poor,
but above all love--the uncontrollable love that leads men on to
happiness and victory or to ruin and death.  His face broke up, tears
burst from his eyes and holding out both hands he cried--

"Helga!  My God!  Helga!"


                                  *V*

Helga appeared to be not less excited than Oscar himself. She was
genuinely moved to see how the joy he had in meeting her affected him,
and when he had kissed both her hands she kissed one of his and tears
which she could not keep back came to her eyes also.  There was a shiny
leather-covered sofa in the room and they sat on it side by side and
hand in hand.

"I have never, never been so glad," he said.

"And I am glad too," she said.  "Let me look at you again, Oscar.  A
little paler, and perhaps a little thinner, but otherwise not changed in
the least."

"Yet you have changed a great deal, Helga."

"Grown older, have I?"

"Grown lovelier and more beautiful than ever."

At that she leaned her face toward him and he kissed her, and for some
moments they could not restrain their fondness. Helga was the first to
recover self-possession.

"And now let us talk seriously," she said, but Oscar was still quivering
with excitement and, having brushed away his tears, he laughed
hysterically.

"How long have you been in London?" he asked.

"A month--a month to-morrow," she replied.

"And to think that I have never known it until now! But how did you come
to leave Copenhagen?"

"That’s just what I am trying to tell you.  My father, for some unknown
reason, elected to reduce my mother’s income by half, so something had
to be done.  Then I remembered Neils Finsen and the wonderful things he
used to say about my voice."

"Finsen!" repeated Oscar, in a graver tone.

"So I wrote to him, and he answered that if I would come to London he
would have experts to hear me, and then they would see what could be
done."

"Well?  Well?"

"Well, I came, and the experts heard me, and they concluded that my
voice was quite unusual--the most promising soprano they had found for
years."

"And now?"

"Now I’m at the Royal Academy of Music, and by and by I am to go to
Paris for two years, three years, perhaps four to study under Marchesi
or Bonby and to attend an acting class, and finally I am to be taken to
Monte Carlo or Nice in representations of "Faust" and "Someo," as a
first step toward taking London by storm as Marguerite or
Juliette--there!"

"And Finsen is doing all this for you?"

"Well, yes, so to speak, I suppose I must say that."

"Is he to pay your expenses?"

"I really don’t know who is to pay them, but I’ve signed a contract to
come out under his management and to refund everything when I am fairly
launched.  And now about yourself, Oscar?"

"About me?"

"It’s nearly a year since I saw you last.  What have you been doing?"

Oscar made a clumsy laugh.  "Oh, I’m like the lilies of the field--I
toil not, neither do I spin."

But his forced gaiety broke down badly, and he said more soberly, "Don’t
ask me what I’ve been doing, Helga."

Helga’s eyes wandered around the room for a moment and then she said, "I
know!  Neils told me something about it, and he wished me to say----"

Before she could finish Oscar had risen to his feet.  "If you come from
Finsen I know what your errand is, and I would rather die----"

"_No, no, no,_" said Helga, clinging to his nervous hand. "Sit down.
It’s not that at all.  Listen!"

He sat and the sweetness of her look banished all his fears.

"They’re giving what they call promenade concerts at Covent Garden, and
a few days ago there was some difference with the leader of the
orchestra.  It seemed desirable to make a change and the question was
who the new leader ought to be. Naturally I thought of you."

"Of me?"

"Why not?  Didn’t I see what you could do with those hundred and fifty
numskulls at Thingvellir?"

"But Covent Garden!"

"My dear Oscar, I’ve seen every leader they have here, and while they
are all your superiors in knowledge and experience, there’s not one of
them with a tittle of your magnetism and genius.  So I said, ’Neils, if
you want the finest leader that London has ever seen let me go and fetch
him!’"

"But you can’t know, Helga--you can’t imagine--if you had the least idea
of what I’ve gone through to live--merely to live----"

Helga looked around the room again and she said, "Can’t I see?  Haven’t
I got eyes?  But if you were to tell me that nobody has had any use for
you in the meanest work that is ever done by the commonest men, I should
still say what I said to Finsen."

Oscar’s throat was hurting him.  The thought of Helga’s faith and
championship broke down his self-control.  He never allowed himself to
think there could be any selfish ground for it.

"What do you wish me to do, Helga?" he asked.

"To meet me in Finsen’s office at eleven o’clock to-morrow morning."

"But I vowed I could never set foot in the place again."

"You didn’t know then that _I_ should ask you.  And I do ask you,
Oscar."

He remembered the promise he had given to his father; he reflected on
the danger of reopening a page of his life which he had crossed out and
turned down as for ever; he thought of Finsen and his interest in Helga
and the hold he would have of her through her hopes and ambitions; and
his will was like a broken withe, for the controlling destiny of his
life was leading him on.

"You will be there, will you not?" she whispered, and Oscar answered:

"Yes."

She leaned her face forward again, and again he kissed her and then she
rose to go.

"Where are you staying?" he asked, and she told him. It was in a
fashionable apartment-house on the edge of the Green Park.

"Does Finsen live there also?"

"Well, yes, he lives in the same building.  And you must live there,
too.  I shall want to see you constantly.  There are a thousand things I
want you to do for me.  But now I must be off."

He could not let her go, and they renewed their caresses. "It will seem
like a dream when you are gone," he said.  "I shall hardly be able to
believe you have been here, or that you will ever come back again."

"Don’t say that.  I told you in Iceland that I should come to you if you
didn’t come to me, and I’ve kept my word, haven’t I?"

"My dear, dear Helga!"

"It wasn’t quite good of you to go away without giving me an opportunity
of seeing you again."

"I know, I know!"

"You had a certain duty to me, you know, after what had passed----"

"Hush, dear, hush!"

"But I’m willing to believe it was the fault of other people."

"Don’t let us speak of it, Helga," said Oscar, and his arms, which had
been about her in a close embrace, slackened away and fell.

It was easier to part with her after that, but before he opened the door
he kissed her again, and when he helped her into the hansom he put her
fingers to his lips.

He stood bare-headed on the pavement oblivious to all surroundings until
the cab had rounded the corner of the public house and Helga had waved
to him through the glass.  Then he became aware that the sight in that
sordid slum of so lovely a girl, so beautifully dressed and with a
hansom waiting for her, had brought the neighbors to their doors, and
that the women were thumbing their apron-strings and grinning to each
other across the rails.

When he reentered the house Jenny passed him in the lobby with a
stealthy and guilty air which seemed to say that her poor tortured
little soul had not resisted the temptation to listen and to watch.

He returned to the parlor for a moment and the perfume of Helga’s
presence was still to be felt there over the odor of dead ale and
tobacco.  Never had he envied the barman before, but at that moment he
would have given all he possessed to keep this room for the rest of the
day, that he might sit on the sofa where Helga had sat, and lay his hand
on the table where her hand had rested and kiss the carpet where her
feet had trod.

He was like a man moving in a dream, and when he went back to his own
apartment he was not conscious of his squalid surroundings.  The dirty
wall-paper, the threadbare carpet and the blotched looking-glass
humiliated and compromised him no longer.  His body was still in his
bankrupt garret, but his soul was far away.  It was in another world--a
world that was bright with Helga’s eyes as its sun and stars, for he was
going over again the time he had spent with her, every word of it, every
tone, every look, every gesture.

This lasted the whole of the day and when darkness fell a curtain seemed
to have fallen on the life he had been living during the past twelve
months.  The mire and slime of vulgar associations, the degradation of
common companionship, the sense of loneliness, of friendlessness, of
being nothing and nobody, the deep remembrance of being homeless and
hopeless and helpless and useless--all this had gone.  That passage of
his life was over now, and never, never, never would its pain and shame
come back to him again.  He had passed through it because he had sinned;
but if he had sinned he had suffered, and God Himself had seen that he
had suffered enough.

His eyes were wet when he lay down on his soiled pillow, but he fell
asleep in a blissful condition and in the first dream of the night he
was back with Helga.  Once in the dark hours he awoke and heard the
deadened hum of the barman and his friends at their cards and ale; and
again he awoke in the dawn and then he heard the hearse of the
necropolis thundering up Short Street and rumbling under the archway at
the top of it.

At eleven o’clock that morning he went to Covent Garden, and again and
again at eleven the following mornings he went there.  On the tenth
morning he called to Jenny, who had grown shy of him and was leaving his
breakfast on a tray outside his door, and said:

"Jenny, I wish you to tell your mistress that I shall be leaving this
lodging in another week."

Then Jenny’s white and wistful face broke down utterly, and with a crack
in her voice, and the ghost of a smothered sob in it, she said:

"I knowed as it ’ud come to this.  The minit I set eyes on ’er I said as
she’d take ye away from me--_an’ she ’as._"


                                  *VI*

The Governor never knew that Oscar had broken faith with him.

When the time came for the next session of Althing, a Bill for the
reform of the Constitution, reenacting the abolition of the Governorship
and the appointment of a Minister, was passed by a large majority.  But
an Act involving a constitutional change had to be voted by two
Parliaments and therefore a dissolution of Althing became necessary.
The time of dissolution was at the discretion of the Governor, and he
might have delayed it until the fever for reform had passed. Instead of
doing so he decided to dissolve immediately, thus feeding the agitation
and precipitating his own fate.

Many things befall the man whose day is done, and the measure of the
Governor’s errors was not yet full.  When the time came to select the
candidates it was found that the constituency for which Oscar had
sat--the capital--was once more without its man, and to everybody’s
astonishment the Governor himself, in order to secure a voice in the
popular assembly, determined to stand for it.

This unusual step on the Governor’s part created great excitement, but
the fever increased tenfold when it was announced that the Factor
intended to oppose him.

Never had popular feeling run so high as on the night when the Governor
and the Factor had to confront each other on the same hustings.  The
better people stayed away, being sorry and ashamed that these two
friends of fifty years should claw each other face to face like eagles,
but the baser sort were reveling in the prospect of that spectacle and
the Artisan’s Institute was crowded.

"You learn a lot when your servants quarrel," they told each other, and
they were not to be disappointed.

The Sheriff was in the chair, and it was clear from the beginning that
his life-long rivalry of the Governor did not prompt him to restrain
either candidate from making a fool of himself.  Bad luck is a quick
voter and the Governor played into the Sheriff’s hands without suspicion
and without delay.

The once silent and dignified man had lost all reticence and
self-control, and when his time came to speak he flung innuendoes on
every side.  If you hate a man all his deeds are hateful, and coming at
length to the Factor’s business life the Governor said:

"Never is selfishness satisfied, my friends.  Will you commit the care
of your public purse to one who in order to grasp all is losing all and
hurling himself into bankruptcy and want?"

This thrust was received with ironical cheers and counter cheers, not
unmixed with derisive laughter, and when the Factor’s turn came he said
with a humorous leer over a face that was white as death:

"A blunt knife should seek the joints and not hack at the solid bone.
But if it comes to asking conundrums I’ll ask one also: Will you commit
the care of your public purse to one whose son was banished from the
country because he was a forger and a thief?"

This charge against Oscar, often whispered, but never before publicly
uttered, fell on the reeking crowd with the effect of a thunderbolt, and
before the audience had recovered from its astonishment the Governor was
on his feet again, against all rule and order, saying in a loud voice:

"And will you commit the charge of your public morality to a man who in
his youth contracted an alliance with an abandoned woman and only
married his mistress after his first daughter had been born a bastard?"

This was the climax of sensation.  The chewing and spitting crowd were
silent, save for the sound of their audible breathing which was like the
hissing in-wash of an ebbing wave.  The Factor was pallid and
speechless, as if the Governor’s cruel word had struck all sensibility
as well as sneering out of his face, while the Governor faced him with
bloodshot eyes and blazing cheeks and lips that quivered convulsively.
Thus the two men stood for a long moment with scarcely a yard’s space
between them, and then a big man was seen to be parting the people at
the back of the platform and coming forward with great strides.  It was
Magnus, and he was making for his father as if to take him forcibly
away.

But before the Governor had seen him, or could be conscious of his
presence, another hand, an unseen hand, had been laid upon his shoulder.
With a blow on the brain that was like a stroke from heaven, the
Governor had realized that in returning the insult of the Factor, in his
mad wrath and blind passion, he had outraged the memory of Thora, and
that Thora was in her grave, and he had loved her better than any human
soul that was not of his own flesh and blood. Then the noisome place in
its ghastly silence spun round him, and with a low whine like that of a
poisoned dog he fell heavily to the floor.  Magnus took him up and
carried him home--he had a stroke of paralysis.

There was only one nomination for the capital, the Factor was returned
unopposed, and when the writs came back from the country it was found
that the reform party had a larger majority than before.

The Governor made a slow recovery, but he was moving about by the time
that Althing was next in session and when the constitutional question
came up again he hobbled down to Parliament House on two sticks, in
spite of all remonstrance, and took a seat in his little room
overlooking the legislative chamber.

The debate was short and not exciting, and no one looked toward the
alcove in which the Governor sat in his faded uniform, a doddering
shadow of his old authority, but many cruel sallies of clumsy wit were
aimed in that direction.  The Governor grew more and more indignant, and
at length he rose, frothing at the lips, to protest against unmerited
insult, and was put down by the Speaker, who had formerly been his own
private secretary.

The Act was passed by acclamation; there was much cheering, with the
usual nine hurrahs after "God save the King," and then the fallen man
was carried home.

In the middle of the night he had a second seizure, and he never left
his room again.  But as soon as he had recovered his speech he occupied
his time dictating petitions to the King praying him not to give his
sanction to an Act that was designed to degrade his servant.

After a few weeks Magnus came to persuade his father and mother to leave
Government House and make their home at the farm.

"It’s of no use to resist Parliament, sir," he said.  "The new Minister
will be appointed presently, and why should you wait until he turns you
out?  Come to Thingvellir--I’m strong, I can work for all of us."

But his father flew at him in a fury.  "How dare you make such a
proposition?" he said.  "And how dare you show your face in this house?
Don’t you know that you have been the cause of everything?  If it had
not been for what you did at the beginning none of this mischief would
have happened. As for the new Minister, if he comes here to turn me out
tell him to bring my coffin with him--do you hear me?--tell him to bring
my coffin."

The idea that Magnus was really to blame for all that had occurred,
being the first cause and origin of the trouble, grew upon the Governor
day by day, so that Oscar seemed to be without fault and even came to be
regarded as a martyr.  He called upon Anna to read Oscar’s letter to him
again, and when he had heard it a second time he was so seized by the
idea that the Prime Minister of England was a friend of his son’s that
he had himself propped up in bed in order that he might write to Oscar
with his own hand calling on him to defeat his father’s enemies.

"You have great influence now, Oscar, and you must save your father from
the machinations of these malicious scoundrels, of whom the worst and
most devilish is the Factor."

That was what he thought he was writing, but his poor brain was far gone
by this time and the paper he scribbled on over the counterpane was
merely covered with unintelligible curves and strokes which Anna could
not send on to Oscar.

When it seemed certain that the intensity of the Governor’s wrath would
kill him, and that he would die with nothing in his heart but hatred of
the Factor, Anna and Aunt Margret put their heads together and thought
of a way to soften his feelings and sweeten his end.  It centered in the
child as before.  "A little child shall lead them," they said.

They took little Elin to the Governor’s bedroom, and left her to play on
the floor.  She had grown to be the sweetest thing, with an angel’s
face, a little beam of spring sunshine that ran about the room and
talked.  But the only effect of her presence was to make the sick man
stretch his arms to a safe near the head of his bed and take out a roll
of papers.

Nobody knew what the papers were, except that they were old and that
they crinkled in his stiff fingers.  He kept them under his pillow at
all times save when his bed was being made and then he smuggled them
into the breast of his night-shirt.

When the women talked of Elin and all her pretty ways and sweet
mysteries of childish make-believe, the Governor talked of Oscar.
Although his memory was confused about recent events it was wondrously
clear about distant ones, and he had countless stories of Oscar as a
child.  Some of them were humorous and he would laugh at them as well as
he could with his distorted face, but all were meant to show that Oscar
was not like other children, and when he had come to an end he would
say:

"My son is a great man now, as I always said he would be, and when he
gets my letter you’ll see what he will do."

Meantime the Act had been sent over to Denmark and the Sheriff had been
called across to Copenhagen.  There was only one thing that this could
mean, and in the absence of telegraphic communication the little capital
sat waiting for the return of the steamer that was to bring the Sheriff
back. She was due on a Sunday night, and the bell-ringers of the
cathedral stood ready to ring a peal in honor of the new Minister.

The Governor heard that the "Laura" was expected and he conceived the
idea that Oscar was coming with her to bring the King’s veto and to
scatter his father’s enemies.  He was very ill that day, and Doctor
Olesen had said he might not last until morning.  But he would have
nobody to nurse him, and Magnus, who had come at his mother’s call, but
dared not show his face to his father, sat on the stairs outside the
door.

Aunt Margret was coming and going during the whole of the day, and
toward evening the Factor himself was seen tramping to and fro outside
the house, looking up at intervals at the Governor’s windows with a face
in which the madness of love and fear was fighting with the greater
madness of pride and wrath.  At length Anna went out to him and said:

"Oscar Neilsen, come into the house to see your old friend."

"Not till he asks me--not till he asks me," said the Factor; whereupon
Anna went indoors again and whispered over the bed of the dying man:

"Stephen, the Factor is outside, and he only wants to be asked to come
in."

"He must come in on his knees then," said the Governor, and that was the
end of everything.

The steamer did not arrive that night, and the bell-ringers went to bed.
But at daybreak, when the fishing-boats in the bay were breaking through
a veil of mist and the sunlight was glistening on the mountain-tops, the
bells began to ring merrily, for the "Laura" was sailing up the fiord
with flags floating from stem to stern.

Magnus heard the bells, and then a shuffling movement in his father’s
bedroom.  A little later he heard the hurrahs of people cheering in the
streets, and then a smothered echo of the same sound at the other side
of his father’s door.

"Hurrah!"  "Hurrah!" cried the people outside.

"Hur-a!  Hur-a!  Hur-a-a--" echoed the voice within.

At the next moment the house shook as with a heavy fall and Magnus burst
into his father’s bedroom.  His father lay in his night-shirt on the
floor.  He was dead, but his face was smiling and in his withered hands
were the crinkled papers on which Oscar in his boyhood had scribbled his
childish compositions.

Later the same day Magnus wrote to Oscar: "This is to tell you that our
father died this morning.  I think he died happy."

But the mail did not leave until the end of the week, and under Magnus’s
message Anna wrote for herself: "He loved you to the last, and we hav
berrid him next to our dere Thora."


                                 *VII*

When Oscar received the news of his father’s death he was near the close
of what he had believed to be the happiest period of his life.  His
success as a leader of orchestra had been substantial and immediate, and
when the concerts at Covent Garden came to an end he had been offered
engagements in other quarters.

"There!  Didn’t I know what I was talking about?" Helga said.  "But this
is nothing to the reputation you will make when you consent to appear as
a composer."

"Ah, that is past praying for!" Oscar answered with a shake of the head,
but all the same he was pleased and happy.

On leaving his dismal lodgings in Short Street, he took rooms in the
same house with Helga and Finsen at the corner of Piccadilly and the
Green Park.  There the three friends lived the innocent lives of
children, observing few of the restrictions which society imposes on the
manners and conduct of men and women.

Helga’s sitting-room was the general rendezvous, and the men used it
with the utmost freedom.  Oscar, in particular, was nearly always to be
found there, except in the mornings when Helga was at the Academy and in
the evenings when he was himself at the theater.

No hour was too early and hardly any hour too late for Oscar to call on
Helga.  He ate with her, played with her, sang with her, read with her
and helped her with her lessons. Mozart, Cherubini, Ouseley, Macfarren,
Parry, and again Mozart--their work was all play and their play was all
music.

Helga was more than satisfied that Oscar should be always with her,
always assisting her, always praising and encouraging and inspiring her,
and he on his part was entirely happy to devote himself to her service.
To think for a moment that this was all she wished for, all she wanted
with him, was more than his heart was capable of.

On their off days, and nights they went to other concerts and
opera-houses; attended the English cathedral services and the masses at
Catholic Oratories; heard the old masterpieces over and over again;
became familiar with nearly every new opera, oratorio, symphony, and
voluntary, and studied the methods of most of the great singers and
players who appeared in London.  It was one long feast of music eaten at
the table of love.

They had their social pleasures too, and kept open house on Sundays.
Sometimes they supped or dined at restaurants with their new friends,
who were chiefly Finsen’s friends, and then brought their hosts back to
Helga’s rooms for cards and conversation until one, two, or three
o’clock in the morning. It was a reckless, irresponsible, unconventional
life, a little like the life Oscar had lived at college, a little like
the life Helga had lived with her mother at Copenhagen, and more than a
little dangerous, though they never thought of that.

Oscar found only one cause for uneasiness and that concerned Finsen.  A
certain pride which he felt at first in Finsen’s interest in the girl he
loved, the girl who loved him, soon gave place to jealousy.  He was
jealous of Finsen’s hold over Helga, his control of her career, his
power over her destiny.  Little by little this became a gnawing anxiety
until at length every pleasant word Helga exchanged with Finsen, and
every smile she gave him, seemed to go to Oscar’s heart like a stab.

He spoke to her on the subject, and she only laughed at him for his
folly.  Her endearing words and caresses dissipated his uneasiness for a
time, but it always came back.  Sometimes it seemed to him that Finsen
presumed on his position as the one who was finding the ways and means,
and that Finsen’s friends interpreted this attitude according to the
morality of the atmosphere they lived in.  At length to ease the secret
gnawing at his heart Oscar proposed that they should marry.  Why not?
There was no longer any impediment, and there would be an end of
damaging misconceptions.

Remembering the past he thought Helga would have received his proposal
with delight, but times had changed since they were together in Iceland
and a cheerless smile hung about her lips as she shook her head.  She
showed him how fatal marriage at this stage would be to a girl in her
position,--fatal to her aims, her ambitions, her standing with the
public, and above all with the men to whom she had to look for
favors--until he felt almost as much ashamed as if he had proposed a
guilty thing.

"But why should you be jealous?" she said, approaching him to embrace
him.  "If _he_ is so there may certainly be some cause."

She put her arms about his neck and added, "Business is business, you
know, and I may have to do things in the future which neither of us
could wish--unless," she whispered, laying her head on his breast, "my
bad boy will at length consent to be true to himself and to his genius
and promise to write the great works I know he can write, and let me
sing them all over the world.  Then," she cried with passion, while her
eyes shone and her arms clutched his neck, "then he will see what I can
do."

To this, and such as this, Oscar answered, "No, no," or, "It’s
impossible," or "Don’t let us talk of it;" but Helga’s endearing words
and caresses, again and again repeated, were like the water from sunny
streams which trickles between the snow and the frozen rock and brings
down the avalanche at last.

The days passed--they kept no count of them--six months, a year, a year
and a half, and at length the time approached when Helga, according to
the program which had been mapped out for her, was to leave the Academy
of Music and begin her lessons in Paris.  The prospect of an early
separation was a constant nightmare to Oscar, who was striving in vain
to devise schemes to prevent it, when that secret play of fate which men
call chance, helped out by the blind strivings of human passion, brought
him unexpectedly to the end he aimed at.

One day Finsen came dashing into Helga’s sitting-room with his mouth
full of news.  The syndicate which held the theater and Casino in one of
the principal towns of the Riviera had applied to him to recommend a
leader of orchestra who should be capable of controlling a season of
opera; he had recommended Oscar; his recommendation had been accepted,
and it had been left to him to conclude terms with the company’s servant
and to despatch him without delay.

If a desire to separate Oscar from Helga had been a part of Finsen’s
plan his hopes were instantly frustrated, for Helga herself cried:

"Splendid!  But if Oscar is to control the opera season why can’t I go
also?  He can put me into small parts under an assumed name in that
distant place where I can never be recognized, and that will be better
practise for the stage than all the acting-classes in Christendom."

"Admirable idea!" shouted Oscar, and Finsen--not half-convinced--was
compelled to agree.

It was while Oscar’s heart rode high on this last freak of fortune,
while he was preparing for his flight to the Riviera and while Helga was
writing to Paris to postpone her lessons, that the letter came from
Iceland and fell on him like a thunderbolt.  The sight of a black-edged
envelope addressed in Magnus’s handwriting sent the blood rushing to his
head.  It was long before he could gather courage to open it.  Feeling
numb and faint he put the letter in his pocket and went out into the
park to breathe and to think.

He had not written to his mother since the early days in his first
lodging, being afraid to write from Short Street from dread of
disclosing his poverty or from Piccadilly from fear of saying anything
about Helga.  As a consequence he had heard nothing from home since
Anna’s letter; the only news that had reached him had come through
Finsen by way of his father and concerned public matters chiefly--the
fall of the barter trade, the passing of the new Act and the progress of
the elections.

Some one belonging to him was dead--who could it be? For no other reason
than that little Elin was the youngest and frailest he concluded that it
must be the child.  His poor motherless darling!  He reproached himself
with having thought so little of her amid the appeals of an absorbing
passion.  Yet he had thought of her: he had thought he would go back for
her some day, as it was his right and duty to do, and so make amends to
Thora in the care and love he would bestow on her child.  But perhaps
that atonement was impossible now and his sweet child was with her
mother in heaven.

Oscar thought that of all disasters that could befall him at home the
death of his child would be the worst, but when at length he opened his
letter and found that it was his father who was gone from him his grief
was greater still.  His dear father who had loved him better, perhaps,
than any one else in the world, and whom he had rewarded the worst!  He
remembered the forgery and felt choked with shame; he thought of the
promise to break with Helga and felt crushed by remorse.  His father,
who had pampered him and cherished such high hopes for him that should
never be realized, never justified now, was dead far away in Iceland,
and had loved him to the last!

Sitting on a bench under a tree he was trying to read again, as well as
he could for the fading light and the blinding mist in his eyes, the
written sob of his mother’s misspelled postscript, when a park-keeper
touched him on the shoulder to say the gates were closing, and then the
dull hum of London’s burrowing mazes fell on his ear again.

Helga had expected him in her room that afternoon to make the last
arrangements for their journey, but the sun set, the evening closed, the
night fell and he did not come.  Next morning he walked in with drooping
head and a dejected step and she saw that something had occurred.

"You have had bad news, Oscar--what is it?"

"My father is dead," he answered, and after that they sat for some
moments without speaking.

Then Helga recovered herself--her brain had been going like a
fly-wheel--and she said, scarcely above her breath:

"Well, what do you intend to do?"

"I intend to go hack," said Oscar.

"Back to Iceland?"

"Yes--to my mother and my child."

He lifted his eyes and looked at her, and at the sight of her face, so
full of pain and disappointment the blood rushed from his heart, and he
said:

"Helga, why shouldn’t you go with me?  Why shouldn’t we marry and go
back together?  I know it is a good deal to ask, dear, but we should be
everything to each other, and I should make up to you for any sacrifice
by my devotion and love.  What matter if we have to forget our cherished
dreams and aspirations?  Life is the fulfilment of duty, and our duty is
at home--mine is at all events--and if you will share it, if you will go
back with me----"

He stopped suddenly and dropped his head on his hands and his elbows on
his knees.  With every word he uttered the impossibility and folly of
what he proposed forced itself upon him, and the blood that had flamed
up to his head fell back to the depths of his heart.

Helga sat a moment without speaking; then she said in a steady voice:

"I’m sorry, very sorry, but it’s impossible!  If I had nothing and
nobody else to think about I should have to think of Neils.  He has
spent money upon me and I have given him a contract, therefore I can’t
run away from him like that."

Oscar drew deep, gasping breaths and answered, "Then I must go alone.
It will be hard, terribly hard, but I must go.  There is the mortgage--I
must take up that burden now that my father is gone--I can not let
anybody else be borne down by it.  And then there is the child--I’ve not
done too much for her hitherto, and it is my duty, my sacred duty----"

"The child is all right, Oscar.  Aunt Margret is taking care of her.
Nothing you could do for the little mite would be half as good as is
being done for her already.  As for the mortgage, you can bear that
burden just as well in England as in Iceland!  Better--far better!
You’ll earn more money here--ten times, a hundred times more.  And then
think of the difficulty of beginning over again under the old
conditions.  Everybody must know everything by this time.  They do--I
know they do!"

She rose, and standing over him she stroked his hair--the uncombed curls
of his fair hair--and said, softly:

"No, no, dear!  You can never go back to Iceland until you go back rich
and famous.  And you may!  I say you may!  And then I, too, perhaps----"

But he covered his ears with his hands, for what Helga was saying
sounded like mockery.

"Meantime you can not think of leaving me--especially now when I want
your help so badly--and when everything depends upon it--my work and my
future."

She dropped to her knees by his side and put her arms around his neck.

"Say you will not leave me, dearest!  Say you will not!"

She loaded him with caresses, she addressed him by every endearing name,
she conquered him.  He felt that the impulse to go back to Iceland--the
impulse of duty--was overcome by the rapture of love, and that he must
stay where Helga was, whatever happened.

"I belong to you, body and soul, Helga--do as you like with me," he
said.

"And you will go to the Riviera?"

"Yes."

If he had known what he was saying he would rather have called upon the
river to carry him to its lowest depths and count him in the death-roll
of its damned.  But none of us can foresee the future.  We must all bow
before the Unknown.


                                 *VIII*

The engagement on the Riviera was completely successful and Oscar
covered himself with honor, but when the opera season came to an end he
declined all offers to come back.

Finsen was there.  Under cover of professional and fraternal interest he
had made frequent visits to Oscar and Helga during the course of the
season, and at the close of it he was staying at the same hotel.  Oscar
was nervous, fretful, and unhappy.  The secret gnawing anxiety which had
oppressed him in London had returned with redoubled force.

Helga’s love of the gaiety and grandeur of the life of the Riviera was
only too evident, and Finsen set himself to feed it.  He fed it by every
art and resource of a full purse and an open hand.  Races, regattas,
fêtes, flowers--he gave her everything that was being enjoyed by other
women living in abundance.  Oscar protested, but she laughed at his
protests or tried to coax him out of his jealousy.  Her caresses and
endearments were beginning to fail of their old effect.  In spite of
himself he was beginning to feel a certain contempt for her, and at some
moments even a sort of hatred which tore his heart to pieces.

For his own part Oscar hated the life of the Riviera.  What nature had
done for the place was good, but what man had done was bad.  The soft
air, the blue sky, the deep blue sea, the smiling gardens, the flowers,
the oleanders, the orange groves, the scent of the resin and then the
still nights and the nightingale--could anything be more enchanting?
Yet this paradise of nature, this God-blest corner of the earth was
degraded by every gross desire that was at war with beauty and art and
genius and the everlasting laws of life.

But Oscar’s hatred of the Riviera was due to a cause more personal than
his moral revolt--a poignant memory of the past.  In the Casino which
stood in the middle of the gardens, beyond the brilliant hall and the
noisy orchestra, there was an inner room, guarded by keen-eyed
door-keepers and watched by spies, where men and women sat about a
green-topped table in a dusky and clammy silence; and at the end of that
room, in the darkest part of it there was an alcove, almost covered by
palms, where two persons could sit unseen.  Helga and he had once sat
there, and she had pleaded with him to do something that his soul shrank
from, and he had done it. "Why not?" she had said.  "He will never hear
of it, and it will only be a matter of form.  My luck must change, it
must, and then we will pay back this money and everything will be wiped
out.  Do, Oscar, for me, please!"

From fear of reviving this memory Oscar had avoided the Casino during
his present visit.  That was easy enough to do while the opera season
lasted, but when it was over, and his work no longer wanted him, it was
hard to see Helga go off with Finsen night after night, and to wander
round the Casino like an uneasy spirit that could find no rest while
they were inside of it.  The jealousy that was rankling in his breast
could not bear that ordeal long and when Helga said, "What nonsense!
You needn’t play--why should you?" he followed her into the
gambling-house.

He saw the usual sights there, and found the usual company gathered
about the tables--all middle-class whatever their rank and station--the
middle-class financier, the middle-class millionaire, the middle-class
baron, the middle-class peer, the middle-class duchess smoking her
cigarettes, and then the prostitute in her feathers and the black-leg in
his diamonds, as well as reputable men and virtuous women, for the
gambling-house knows no distinctions of means or morality or intellect
and is the high court of the devil’s democracy.

On the night of Oscar’s first visit Helga played and lost; and seeing
the strained look in her face his very soul felt sick and he walked out
into the gardens.  On the second night she lost again and he saw her
borrow from Finsen who stood behind her.  On the third night it was
Finsen who played and he won largely, and then Helga, who sat by his
side, seemed to be intoxicated by excitement and delight.

Next day she showed him a costly jewel which Finsen had bought for her
out of his winnings.  "For luck!" she said, and when Oscar protested
against the present, she said:

"But why shouldn’t I take it?  Every penny he spends on me makes me more
necessary to him for the future.  Come, dear, don’t be jealous.  Didn’t
I tell you that I should have to do things that neither of us could
wish?"

At this, and such as this, Oscar’s sense of shame was choking him.  His
feeling for Helga was now in a perpetual alternation between love and
hate.  He loved her, he hated her, he despised her, he was proud of her,
and this red riot in his blood was driving him to despair.

At one moment he thought her nature was utterly selfish, and that she
would sacrifice anything and anybody to gain her ends; at the next
moment he believed she loved him with an unselfish love, but that her
disposition was such that she had to struggle between her love for him
and her love for luxury and success, and therefore she was as much an
object for pity as himself.

Sometimes, when he walked in the gardens of the Casino, he remembered
how Thora had suffered as he was suffering now; and then, while the
nightingale sang unseen above his head and the peace of the night
soothed his soul, he told himself he was rightly punished.  As he had
done so he was being done by, and now the manly thing was to leave Helga
and go away; and then if she loved him she would suffer, too, and that
would be his best revenge.

But at other times, when he saw Helga wearing the bracelets and brooches
which Finsen had given her he felt that flight was impossible; that he
must fight this man with his own weapons and subdue this woman on her
own terms.

Yet how was he to do it?  When he asked himself that question one
answer, and one only, came back to him with every breath he drew in that
atmosphere of gamblers, the old, delusive, mocking answer--he must do it
by means of play.

But while he had money enough for his own needs he had none for the
gambling-table, and it was not at first that he saw a way to the means
with which to begin.  Suddenly an idea came to him--he would make the
man himself find the means--and without waiting to consider this,
without pausing to count the cost, with his pulses throbbing painfully
and his heart leaping with a devilish joy, he hurried into the Casino
and drew Finsen aside to the alcove covered by palms, and said, in a
false and tremulous voice:

"Old friend, do you remember the first time I called on you at Covent
Garden?"

"When you said you were starving--perfectly."

"You offered me something if I would sell you some compositions of mine
that are buried in Iceland."

"And you said you would die in a ditch first."

"Would you still be disposed to take your chance with them?"

"Why not?  My father is Minister now--there ought to be no difficulty."

"And you would be prepared to pay me the money at once?"

"Certainly--as soon as you are ready to sign the necessary
authorization."

"I’m ready to sign it now," said Oscar in the same tremulous voice.

Within ten minutes everything was settled, and Oscar was pocketing the
notes that were being paid on Finsen’s account from the treasury of the
Casino.  His hands were trembling, his lips quivering, and his face was
white.

"So you’re caught by the fever at last, old fellow," laughed Finsen.
"And what you wouldn’t do before to feed your stomach, you are doing now
to feed your luck."

"Just so, to feed my luck," said Oscar.

That night Oscar played carefully and won.  The following night he
played more freely and won again.  On the third night he took the bank
and won once more.  He took the bank on the fourth, fifth, sixth, and
many succeeding nights with the same result.  Such a rapid and unbroken
run of luck had scarcely ever been seen.  The manager of the Casino, a
plausible person with a rubicund face, congratulated Oscar. The "house"
had rarely had a banker so popular as well as so fortunate, and it
rejoiced in his success.

Meantime Oscar was never for a moment his own man.  He seemed to be
laboring under a wild intoxication of soul.  In a fortnight he had
become rich, but he had no love for money for himself and he heaped it
upon Helga.  There were presents to outshine Finsen’s, excursions in
steam launches and in automobiles and even some social entertainments.
The winsome and remarkable-looking young leader of the opera, with his
handsome if reckless sister-in-law, became objects of attention.  They
gave one or two dinners in the restaurant of the Casino, where the rich
of all nations ate their food in the glitter of a thousand diamonds and
to the music of an orchestra in red coats and black silk stockings.

Then the change came--the inevitable change.  One night it became
evident that the tide of Oscar’s luck had turned. He did not flinch--he
doubled his risk and played on.  The ebb set in with frightful rapidity,
and every night he increased his stakes, and lost his money with a
smile.  At the end of a week Helga, who had been transported with
rapture became pallid with alarm.

"Your luck is leaving you--hadn’t you better stop?" she said, but he
would not listen.

He touched bottom at last.  Sitting in his usual seat he called for
fresh counters, and said with a laugh, "Life or death--this is my last."

"Do you mean that?" said Helga, and he nodded and laughed again.

Finsen had been punting silently at the other side of the table, and now
Helga went over to him and stood behind his chair.  It was only the
straw that told how the wind was blowing, but Oscar saw it and his
twitching face grew red.

The inscrutable gods of chance seemed to hover over the table.  A
greater risk than that of money depended on the issue of the nest coup,
and both men knew it.

When the cards had been cut Oscar served them slowly, very slowly, and
when he came to the last card his trembling fingers seemed loath to turn
it.  He turned it at last with a rapid movement and at the same moment
he rose from his seat and laughed.

He had lost, and the clammy silence was broken.

"Are you going?" asked Helga, in a listless tone, with wandering eyes.

"Certainly.  And you?"

"Not yet--Neils is winning splendidly."

Then in a moment, as in the twinkling of an eye, his month-long
intoxication of soul left him and he saw where he was and what he had
done.  He had taken money from Finsen to permit the grave of his wife to
be opened, and he had gambled with that money and lost it!

When he saw things in this way he could scarcely stand upright, but with
an effort he walked out of the gambling-room, down the corridor where
the spies were watching, past the restaurant where the sluggards were
smoking, through the hall where the band was playing and out into the
garden.

There he looked for a dark place and sat on a bench under a tree.  The
night was clear and quiet, the stars were out, and the sea was singing
in the distance, but he could hear nothing except an owl that was
hooting somewhere in the eaves.  Oh, for the snows of his own country to
cool his hot forehead! Oh, for the storms of Iceland to silence the
babel in his brain!

When he thought of his conduct he hated himself, and when he remembered
his temptation he hated Helga also. The one hatred counteracted the
other or he would have destroyed himself.  He must live, if only to
subdue Helga, to bring her to his feet and then to cast her off forever!

How was he to do this?  There was one way, but it was closed to
him--closed by the vow he had made when he stood by the open coffin of
his wife and, in punishment of himself for having neglected her and
sinned against her, he had sworn before God to bury his ambitions in her
grave and never write another line of music as long as he lived.

If he could only wipe out that vow, if he could only begin again, if he
could only say to himself some day, "Oscar Stephenson is dead!"  But
that could never be and Oscar Stephenson must go on to the end, trailing
the slag of his burned-out life behind him.

Deciding to return to England immediately, he walked back to the hotel
and asked for his bill.  When it was given to him he found that the
money remaining in his purse was hardly sufficient to discharge his debt
and pay the expense of his journey.  Without a moment’s thought he sat
down and wrote to Helga:


"DEAR HELGA:--I want to go back to London by the midnight train and I
find I am a little short for my railway ticket.  Send me a hundred
francs by the messenger who brings you this letter, and for mercy’s sake
do not keep him too long waiting--I can not live in this place another
night.

"OSCAR."


He had lavished so many presents upon her that he never dreamt she could
refuse him, but this was the answer that came back:


"DEAREST OSCAR:--How unlucky!  I’ve just this very minute lost my last
sou, and you don’t like me to borrow from Finsen.  But, you bad boy, you
can not be in earnest about going off at midnight.  It’s impossible!
Your devoted

"HELGA."


Oscar had nothing that he could turn into money except his watch, and
that was his father’s gift and all he had to remember him by, but after
a sharp struggle he called for the manager, and parted with his
keepsake.

When his bill was paid and his luggage ready, the clock across the
gardens was striking eleven.  He had still an hour to spare, and
bitterly as he felt toward Helga he could not go away without saying
good-by to her, so he walked for that purpose by the shore road to the
side door of the Casino.

It was there that his fate encountered him.


                                  *IX*

As he was going into the Casino he met the manager, who greeted him
effusively.

"Ah, Mr. Stephenson, they told me you were going away--I’m glad to see
it isn’t true!"

"It is quite true, sir," said Oscar.

"Why should you?  The season isn’t at an end yet."

"But my money is," said Oscar; whereupon the manager laughed, put his
arm through Oscar’s and walked back with him toward the baccarat-room,
whispering:

"Mr. Stephenson, I told you the house liked to see you take the hank.
The game is good when you are in the chair. Now there are a few
gentlemen here to-night who would play high if they had the proper
inducement.  Don’t go, Mr. Stephenson."

"But I’m penniless--don’t you understand me?--penniless."

"Come this way."

They were in the baccarat-room by this time and the manager was drawing
Oscar toward the alcove.

"I must ask you to excuse me.  I have a lady to speak to, and my train
to catch," said Oscar.

"Listen for a moment," said the manager, and then with a glance toward
the company who stood absorbed and silent under the bright light in the
middle of the room, he added, in a low voice, "Mr. Stephenson, I suggest
that you return to the table and take the bank.  When you call for
counters they will be provided.  If you lose your first coup the loss
will be the loss of the house, and if you win the gain will be your
own."

Oscar laughed, and chopping the air impatiently with a pair of gloves
which he carried in his hand, he said, "Do you run this house on
philanthropic lines then?"

"Hush!  At your second coup you will call for fresh cards as you have a
right to do, and when you receive them you--you will win.  You
understand me?  You will win!"

The impatient chopping ceased and Oscar stood looking steadfastly at the
man’s eyes.

"At your next coup and your next you will call for cards as before and
at the end of your fourth coup you will rise from the table."

"And then?"

"Then you will divide your earnings with the house, and be richer than
you have ever been in your life."

Oscar had listened first with astonishment, then with indignation, and
finally with ungovernable wrath.  "How dare you?  What do you take me
for?" he said in a loud, choking voice, and lifting his hand he smote
the man with his gloves across his ruddy and smiling face.

The unexpectedness of the attack compelled the manager to utter a
startled cry, and in a moment the people from the table were crowding
round, asking, "What is it?  What’s happened?"

But the manager recovered himself in an instant and said: "It’s nothing!
The gentleman misunderstood something I was saying to him.  I beg of you
to resume the play."

Helga had come up with the rest, and when the others had returned to the
table she drew Oscar into the alcove and said: "Tell me what occurred."

He told her, and still trembling with unsatisfied anger, he added: "This
is what I have come down to, Helga--that a man can think it safe to make
a proposal to me like that! Can you wonder that I want to get out of
this place--this atmosphere of cheats and cheating?  And yet people talk
of the honor of the gambling-house!  They might as well talk of the
morality of hell."

Helga was sitting with her head down and her fingers--which sparkled
with some of Oscar’s presents--interlaced upon her knee.

"You might have spared me one of these, Helga," he said, touching her
rings.  "We could have replaced it some day, whereas I’ve had to part
with the watch my father gave me, and I can never replace that."

"I didn’t want you to go, Oscar, that’s why I didn’t send you the
hundred francs--I didn’t want you to go away without me."

"Do you mean that, Helga?  Really mean it?  You do? Then come with me
now!  I came to say good-by, but how can I leave you behind in a place
like this?  It will destroy you as it has destroyed others.  It will sap
away your health and spirit and talent and charm and everything a woman
wants to keep.  Helga," he said, rising to his feet, "I am nearly
distracted by what has occurred to-night, but I know what I am saying.
If you will throw in your lot with me--with me only--I will devote my
whole life to your welfare, and do everything you wish.  If there is
anything you want me to do for you I will do it.  Do you understand me,
Helga?"

"Yes, Oscar."

"Then let us go back to London--to our own world, our own work, Helga."

"I should like to--dearly like to."

"Then why not?"

"If I throw in my lot with you--with you only--I must break with
Finsen--and I’m in Finsen’s debt.

"I know!  Oh, I know!"

"If I could only repay him somehow!  But I have nothing!"

"You have your jewels, Helga."

"They are not enough.  And besides, how could I part with a present of
yours, Oscar?  But if there were any other way of getting money----"

"Helga, what are you thinking of?"

"I am thinking that if this is an atmosphere of cheats and cheating
perhaps you have been cheated also."

"Helga!"  His voice was tremulous with protest.

"Would it be so very wrong to do to them as they have done to you,
Oscar?"

"Helga!  Helga!"  His tremulous voice was breaking into gasps of
helplessness.

"I suppose it would, but how happy I should be if we could go back
together, and live for each other and our art, and have nothing and
nobody else to think about!"

Oscar was standing by her side and quivering like a frightened horse.
There were some moments of silence in which nothing could be heard but
the call of the croupier in the middle of the room.  Then a waiter went
noiselessly by the mouth of the alcove carrying an empty tray to his own
quarters, and by a sudden impulse, in a thick croupy voice Oscar called
to him:

"Garçon!  My compliments to the manager!  Say I am sorry for what
occurred just now, and if he is still of the same mind I will take the
bank."

A few minutes later Oscar, who had thrown off his overcoat and hat, was
taking the banker’s chair at the baccarat-table. The people seated about
it welcomed him with nods and smiles, and when he called for counters
and received a huge pile of ivory ones a bald-headed man with a sinister
face said, "I congratulate you, sir!  It isn’t everybody who can revive
his credit as quickly as that."

"What does it mean?" whispered Finsen to Helga, whereupon Helga
whispered back:

"Don’t ask me yet," and then she walked up to Oscar and stood close
behind his chair.

There were a few strange faces about the table, including an English
lord and an American financier.  The manager of the Casino stood
watching from the back.  Stakes were high for the first coup and the
bank lost it.

"I’m afraid the luck is still against you, sir," said the bald-headed
man.

"I’ll try again," said Oscar.  "Fresh cards, please!"

The stakes were higher for the second coup, and the bank won it.

"That’s better," said the bald-headed man.

"Another pack of cards, please!" said Oscar.

When the money was on the table for the third coup it was seen to be
double what it had been for the second.  The bank won once more.

"But this is like your old luck, sir," said the bald-headed man.

"Another pack!" cried Oscar, and he swept all his winnings into the
bank.

The money for the fourth coup was four times what it had been for the
third.  The bank won again, and then Oscar rose from the table.

"But aren’t you going to give us our revenge, sir?" asked the American.

"This is mine," said Oscar, as he left the chair.

Helga’s face was quivering with excitement and delight. There were tears
in her eyes as she congratulated Oscar, and she looked as if she were
going to kiss him.

"If you will step this way, Mr. Stephenson--" the manager’s suave voice
was saying, when all at once a commotion broke out behind.

"Croupier," said a voice with a nasal accent, "I will trouble you to
examine them cards," whereupon the manager swung round with an aggrieved
expression.

"Surely, sir, you do not mean to say, to imply----"

"I can only say I’ll trouble the croupier to examine them last three
packs of cards."

In the confusion that followed Finsen came up to Helga, who was now
trembling by Oscar’s side and said: "You had better let me take you out
of this."

Oscar saw Helga hesitate, then take one step away from him and stop, but
when somebody in the throng about the table cried excitedly: "The bank
ought to be impounded," he saw her drop her head and follow Finsen out
of the room.

"Come this way, Mr. Stephenson," whispered the manager, and while most
of the company were still crowding about the croupier he half-led,
half-pushed Oscar through a small door to a private corridor, and a
moment afterward there was a roar from the other side of it.

"Stay here.  Leave everything to me.  I’ll do the best I can," said the
manager, and then Oscar found himself alone in a small room, quite dark
and silent, save for the glimmering of lamps in the garden and the
deadened rumble of the tumult he had left behind.

How long he stayed there he never knew.  It seemed like an hour, but it
could hardly have been more than a few minutes.  The tumult grew louder,
then there was the report of a pistol-shot, and then the noises frayed
off to silence.

Unable to restrain himself any longer, and delirious with a wild desire
to face the consequences of his conduct, whatever they might be, Oscar
was opening the door of his room when the manager returned to it,
bringing his hat, overcoat, and gloves.

"I’ve done the best I could for you," said the manager, panting and
gasping.  "I have told them you have shot yourself, and your friends
have supported that explanation.  You must get away at once.  You must
catch the midnight train to Paris.  You’ve only four minutes, but you’ll
do it if you run.  Here is a second-class ticket to London.  Good night!
And remember," said the man, as Oscar was passing through a private door
to the garden, "remember--_Oscar Stephenson is dead_."


                                  *X*

Oscar was just able to control his faculties long enough to reach the
railway-station, find the train, and search out an empty second-class
compartment and then he collapsed utterly.  He was like a beast that has
been smitten in the shambles and is shattered in every sense and nerve.

Looking up at the lamp in the roof and seeing smoke floating above it,
he thought at first the carriage must be afire, but looking again the
smoke was gone and then he knew his sight had suffered and he supposed
he must be going blind. There was a roaring noise in his ears and he
thought it was the roaring of the train, but when the train stopped the
noise continued, and then he knew that his hearing was injured and he
supposed he must be going deaf.  Two officials came into the carriage to
examine the tickets, but though he saw their lips moving he could not
hear what they said, or rightly grasp what they wanted, until they were
turning to go, and then the noise in his head slid off for a moment and
he heard one of them say to the other, "Drunk, poor devil!"

This lasted through the dark hours of the night, and when the morning
dawned his experiences were yet more terrible. At the first gleam of
light his stunned soul awoke, and with a sharp pain like the after-pain
of a bullet wound, he realized where he was and what he was doing.  He
was flying from the consequences of perhaps the most base and infamous
conduct a man could be capable of--conduct the more base and infamous
because there was no law to punish it.

Low as he had sunk hitherto he had never sunk so low as this.  This was
as low as man could go and live in the face of other men and the eye of
the light.  And he had descended to this depth, he, Oscar Stephenson,
son of the Governor of his country!  When he thought of his father he
thanked God that death had taken him before this disgrace befell.

Every artery in his body seemed to bleed, every tendon to be torn.  When
the sun rose on him in his ghastly solitude it seemed to sere his very
brain and he pulled the blind down to shut it out.

Then the women passengers began to move about the corridor of the train
and he thought of Helga.  Although it seemed so long ago as almost to
belong to another existence, he could still see her frightened face as
she sidled away from him last night and left him standing alone at that
hideous moment when it seemed certain that he must pay the penalty of
the offense to which she had tempted him. He despised her for her
cowardice; he loathed her for her treachery; he hated her for herself;
and he told himself that never again as long as he lived should love of
Helga hold dominion over him.

At one moment he found himself cursing her.  At the next he found
himself weeping.  Could it be Helga whom he was thinking of like this?
Helga, who had been so much to him during so many years, who had come so
very close to him, nearer than his father, nearer than his mother,
nearer--Heaven forgive him!--than his wife or child? Helga, who had been
with him early and late, a soft voice always at his ear, a sweet
presence always at his heart, a spirit, a support, an inspiration?
Helga, whom he had loved and should always love, let her do what she
would with him, let him do what he would with her?  God pity him!  God
help him!

Yet his tenderness and tears were stronger than his hatred and rage, and
he resolved that for her perfidy and selfishness, Helga should be
punished, and that he should punish her.  There was no longer any need
to ask himself how this was to be done.  The words that had rumbled in
his ears like the roll of a muffled drum when he ran from the gardens of
the Casino were rumbling in his ears still.  _Oscar Stephenson is dead_!
At first he could not be sure that the manager had really spoken them,
so exactly did they echo the wish that had been bubbling within his own
breast.  But Oscar Stephenson was dead indeed, and the words that might
have crushed him with shame moved him more than a trumpet.

If Oscar Stephenson was dead, then the vow he had made in Thora’s
death-chamber was dead also!  That vow had been intended to punish
himself for his infidelity and for all his failures of love and duty, by
denying himself the gratification of his greatest pride, the realization
of his highest hopes.  But what pride could be gratified and what hopes
realized to Oscar Stephenson if his name was wiped out, his identity
lost, and he was dead to all the world except himself?

The feverish soul in its hour of suffering found the reasoning
sufficient, and Oscar thought he saw as in a glass everything that he
had to do.  He had to take another name, to bury himself in London and
to set to work on the only task he was fit for!  He had to write an
opera, as he was now free to do, since Oscar Stephenson was dead, and he
was living in the name of another man.

The scene was to be in his own country, among the lonesome grandeur of
its untrodden glaciers and the stark sublimity of its burned-out plains,
and the story was to be from one of the fiery Sagas of the same stern
old land.  And when, after many days, many months, perhaps years, eating
the bread of poverty in loneliness and obscurity, he had finished his
task, and had sent it out like a dove from the ark, men were to know
that a new voice had come among them and the name of Iceland was to be
on the lips of the world.

Then when people asked each other, who was he that in the darkness of
years of labor had learned all the art and mystery of music, he would
give no sign because his lips would be sealed, but there would be one
who would read his secret.  It would be Helga, and she would come back
to him in shame if not remorse and throw herself at his feet and cry: "I
did wrong, forgive me, and take me back to your heart!"

And then he would answer and say: "You came between me and my sweet
young wife; you persuaded me to the act that broke her heart and killed
her; you tempted me to the crime that ruined my father and to the
offense that destroyed myself, and then you left me to bear my
punishment alone.  Therefore, I have wiped you out of my life; I have
cut you off as I would cut off a rotten limb that threatened to drag the
whole body down to death.  I love you--yes, I can never cease to love
you--that is the punishment I shall always bear--but there can be
nothing more between us--we part now forever--your course lies that way,
mine this. Farewell!"

As the train rolled along he found a delirious joy in this prospect,
which began and ended with the idea that Oscar Stephenson was dead.  In
the light of that thought he looked back on the past of his life and
many things that had been hard to understand became plain.  Again and
again he had tried to stop on his downward course and he could not do
so.  Before he could rise out of the degradation of his past life he had
had to drink his cup to the dregs, to go down to the depths, to be
covered by darkness and the shadow of death!  But at last Oscar
Stephenson was dead!  Thank God!  Thank God!

How strange that at the moment when Helga was tempting him to the
infamous act, which if it had succeeded would have made him her slave
and the slave of sin forever, she was leading him by one of Death’s
terrific strides to life and liberty!  How mysterious and how mighty,
aye, and how cynical also, were the powers of Destiny, whose
supernatural wings hovered over the lives of men and women and moved
their little motives of love and hate and revenge and selfishness like
pawns on the chess-board of Fate!

It was in this mood he reached Paris, and having some three hours to
wait before his train started for Calais, he walked through the streets
until he came to the center of the city, and then sat outside a café to
eat a roll of bread and drink a cup of coffee.  It was six o’clock, and
the news-vendors were crying the evening papers.  He bought one to
beguile the time of waiting, and had not yet opened it when he saw his
own name standing out from the front page as if it had been printed in a
different ink.

For some moments thereafter a mist seemed to float between the newspaper
and his eyes, but he read the paragraph at last.

It was a telegram from Nice, headed: "Suicide in a Casino," giving a
mangled version of the events of last night, clearly inspired by the
manager to protect himself and his house, and closing with the words:

"The deceased, who was from Iceland, is understood to be a son of the
late much-respected Governor-General of that country."


                                  *XI*

The paper slipped from Oscar’s fingers and his transport of rapture
passed.  He told himself that this report would go far, that it would
reach Iceland, that his mother would hear of it, and that his child
would be told that she was fatherless.

Little Elin was too young to feel grief, but could he allow his mother
to believe that he was dead and to weep for him as for one who was lost
to her forever?  That would be too cruel; it would be impossible; he
would write to his mother immediately; he would write privately saying
he was still alive and that part of the report was untrue.

But then came the chilling thought that though he might dispose of the
fiction of his death he could not get rid of the fact of his offense,
and that when his mother pictured him as one who was flying from the
consequences of his conduct, skulking in a slum and hiding his face from
the faces of his friends, there would be something in the shame of that
end more bitter than death itself, and even his own mother would wish
that he had died.

He had not thought of this before, and in the confusion and pain of it
he got up from the table at the café and began to walk the streets
again.  After a while he found himself ascending the steps of the
Madeline, hardly knowing what he was doing, except that he was trying to
pass the time by following a stream of people into the building.

It was the hour of Benediction, the most beautiful, the most tender, the
most moving of all the offices of the Catholic Church.  The congregation
were chiefly women, and among ladies in silks, whose carriages stood
outside, were some flower-sellers from the flower-market round the
corner, for there is only one caste in the commune of the Cross.  One
poor woman who took a chair and knelt close beside Oscar, had the sad
and storm-beaten face that the Cross draws to it in every church in the
country, for its empire is the empire of the oppressed and bereaved and
broken-hearted.

"_Somebody’s_ mother," thought Oscar, as she crossed herself and sighed.
But when she raised her weary eyes to the figure of the world-mother
above the altar, her sad face softened and smiled and it was almost as
if an angel had come down and whispered to her.

Then as the sweet music swelled through the great church the hard lump
rose to Oscar’s throat, and thinking of his own mother so far away, he
told himself that if she believed he was really dead the angel of Death
would comfort her. His faults would be forgiven, his errors would be
forgotten, and the dust of death would cover all his transgressions. She
would be happier in his death than she had ever been in his life, and
though it was a sore thing to think of that, the pain would be his, not
hers, and her poor heart would be at ease.

He thought of Magnus, too, how his hatred would be appeased when he
heard that his brother was dead, and all the flames of his rage
extinguished.  Then he thought of his enemies at home, how they would
cease to revile him, and how he would pass out of shame, reproach, and
contempt into the charity of silence and the peace of forgetfulness.
Finally he thought of his little Elin, his sweet motherless daughter,
how she would hear no more hard words spoken of her father, but would
grow up to think of him merely as one who had died early.  Oh, blessed
and merciful death which can make those who hate us hate us less and
those who love us love us more!

It was bitter to comfort himself with the thought that he was dead--dead
in disgrace and in a foreign country, with no mother’s tears falling on
his face and no child weeping by his side, that tragic consolation of
the dying. But just at that moment the music ceased, the bell tinkled at
the altar, and raising his eyes as the priest elevated the host the awe
deepened about him, and he told himself that it was not he who was dead
at all but only his sin and misery, and that he might rise, if he would,
out of the shadow of death into another and better life.

Then, almost before he knew it, the thought had become a prayer, and he
found himself praying that he might be permitted to begin again, to put
the past behind him, and to think of the lost days of his life hitherto
as seed that was not dead though he had trampled it into the clay.  Out
of the heart came the only songs that went to the heart, and out of his
shame and suffering in that future he had foreshadowed for himself the
voice might come that would speak to other souls as stained with sin as
his.

Yet who was he to speak to any one?  Only a prodigal in a far country
who had wasted his substance in riotous living, and having come to
himself at last, now that no man would give to him, was turning his eyes
homeward and crying, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before
thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son!"

The service came to an end and the people rose to go.  As Oscar rose,
too, he told himself that in actual fact he would go back home some day.
A little longer, only a little longer, and he would return to Iceland.
His father would be gone, yes, his poor father would be gone, but his
mother would be there, and he would make amends to her for everything
she had suffered for his sake and wipe all tears from her eyes. His
child would be there also, and he would claim her as he had always
intended to do, and though she might not even know his face, she would
hear the voice of nature calling her and she would come to him and he
would be a father to her, guiding and protecting her, and she would be a
daughter to him, cheering and comforting him, and her love would be his
solace for all the pains of life.  A little longer, only a little
longer!

When he came out of the great church he felt himself lifted into a purer
air, where he was no longer a fugitive from the vengeance of his
fellow-men, but a pardoned soul born again in a blessed resurrection;
and when he had settled in the train for Calais he set himself to
consider what other name he should be known by in that new existence
which he had just begun.

It had to be a name that would sufficiently conceal his own, yet one
that would be characteristic of his country, and, after much beating of
the wings of memory, he decided on Christian Christiansson as a name
which not only answered to the conditions, but possessed an added
nobleness of meaning and associations that would forever forbid the
lowering of the flag of his purpose.

But after he had concluded that Christian Christiansson was to be his
name in the future, it cost him a pang to think that Oscar Stephenson
was to be his name no longer. Stephen had been his father’s name and his
poor father had expected him to carry it on from strength to strength
and from glory to glory.  Oscar had been the name his mother had known
him by, and it came back to him now in the tones of her voice with the
happiest memories of his boyhood.  He could hear it in Thora’s voice
also in the tremulous happiness of her bridal chamber, in the tender joy
of her motherhood, and in the pleading accents of her despair. It was
like burying something of himself to bury his name, but Oscar Stephenson
was dead, and that name could be his no more.

It was early morning when he reached London, and returning to it after
six months’ absence he felt like one who had been dead and was alive
again.  As the empty streets echoed to his footsteps his spirits rose
and he looked to the future without fear.  Though he was coming back
friendless and nearly penniless, he saw himself as he would be some
day--Christian Christiansson, the composer, rich, respected, honored
perhaps, and perhaps beloved.  It might be months, it might be years,
but God willing, it should come!  A little longer, only a little longer!

He had at first intended to look for a lodging where he would be quite
unknown, but in his present elevation of feeling it seemed unnecessary
to do so, and he determined to return to his old home in Short Street.
When he came to Westminster Bridge, he stopped for a moment to look down
at the houseless wretches who were still asleep on the benches of the
embankment, and to remember the night when he had been one of them, and
to think of the other night that was soon to come when the first-fruits
of his new life would be in his hands.

He could see it all as in a glass that revealed the future. The curtain
would be down on the new opera and there would be a great demonstration
in the crowded opera-house. Again and again the singers would be
recalled and then there would be loud cries for the composer.  The cries
would rise to a deafening clamor, and the whole audience from the royal
box to the top-most gallery would be calling for the unknown man who had
breathed his suffering soul into an old Saga and made the dry bones
live.  But the Unknown would not appear; he would not be there.  Where
would he be?  He would be down here--here under the night sky, weeping
for joy and gratitude, emptying his pockets among these homeless
outcasts in memory of the night when he, too, was homeless and an
outcast, and vowing never again to forget the friendless and the fallen
or to be hard on the sinner and the prodigal.  He could see it happening
as plainly as if it had already come to pass.  It _should_ come to pass!
A little longer, only a little longer!

When he reached Short Street the hearse of the Necropolis had just
turned the corner and was rattling up the archway. Nearly all the
window-blinds of Number One were still down, but as he hesitated at the
foot of the front steps the door opened and a young woman in curl papers
came out with a mop and pail.  She stared at him as if he had been a
stranger, but he knew her instantly.

"Don’t you remember me, Jenny?" he said.

At the sound of his voice Jenny’s face assumed a look of bewilderment;
this was followed by a smile of recognition.

"Well, I never!  Mr. Steevison!  Is it you, sir?  Ye’r so changed I
wouldn’t ’a knowed ye, an’ when ye spoke ye might ’a knocked me down
with a feather."

"Can I have lodgings here again, Jenny?"

"Certingly ye can, sir.  An’ ye’ve come in the nick o’ time, too.  We
buried the barman a week come Wednesday and ’is room ’as been just
cleaned out.  Come in, Mr. Steevison!"

"Hush, Jenny!  That is not my name now."

"Isn’t it really?" said Jenny, with a puzzled look, and then, as by
sudden enlightenment, "Well, I’m married myself and I’ve changed my
name, too.  I’m Mrs. Cobb now, an’ I’ve took over the ’ouse since the
missus ’as been down with the stroke, an’ my ’usband’s asleep in the
cellar."

They had stepped into the lobby by this time and putting down the pail
Jenny cried over the banisters of the basement stairs:

"Jim!  Jim Cobb, you bone-lazy thing, come up an’ see an old friend."

"Don’t disturb him now!  Another time!  I’m tired."

"Ye look it, sir.  Ye really do.  I’m afraid she’s been ’a treatin’ ye
cruel.  I knowed she would.  It’s always the way with them women.  Ye’d
better ’a stayed with me, sir--I’d ’a been real good to ye in them days
and never ’a wanted nothink.--But go inside, sir, and I’ll get ye some
brekfist. The kittle is just on the boil an’ ye’ll have a cup o’ tea an’
a rasher afore ye can say ’Jack Robison.’"

Jenny went scurrying down the stairs like an old slipper, and Oscar
stepped into the barman’s parlor and sat on the shiny leather-covered
sofa.  He remembered that he had sat there before, he remembered who had
sat with him, he remembered all that had happened since, and then for
one brief moment his visions of the future failed him; his hopes and
intentions sank away; everything was blotted out except the sweet and
bitter memory of the woman he had loved and lost, and he broke down
utterly.


                                 *XII*

It takes a long time for the truth to travel from a distance, but a lie
flies on the wings of the wind.  The report of Oscar’s death in a
gambling-house on the Riviera reached Iceland by the next steamer.

Three days before the steamer’s arrival Magnus and his mother were
sitting in front of their farm at Thingvellir. Anna was spinning and
Magnus was making rope by a twister turned by a small boy a dozen yards
away, for it was just after the wool-plucking and a little before the
hay-harvest.

The sun was setting behind the crags of the Almanagja, the blueberry
ling was reddening over the green waters of the chasm, and there was no
sound in the evening air save the plash of the Axe waterfall, the lowing
of kine and the cry of curlew.  Then over the hum of the wheel and the
wis-wis of the twister came the dull thud of horses’ feet on that hollow
ground and Anna stopped to listen.

"That must be the post coming," she said, and Magnus answered,
"Perhaps," without turning to look at the road, which was still empty as
far as to the top of the cleft, where it opened on to the plain.

"I wonder if there will be a letter from Oscar?"

"Why should you wonder, mother?  Has he answered your letter of three
years ago?  Has he had the decency and humanity to reply to the news of
his father’s death?  No!"

"Still, I can not give up hoping.  He must know by this time how you are
placed with the farm, and perhaps he is only waiting until he can send
you some assistance."

Magnus made no reply, but the wis-wis of the rope was louder.

"It’s true he doesn’t know everything.  He doesn’t know that his father
left nothing behind him but the debt to the bank, and that the bank has
been so hard----"

"Mother, if you go on talking like that I shall never get this rope
finished.  I don’t want anybody to help me to pay my way, and the bank
shall have its money every Christmas if hard work can make it."

"You’ll work yourself to death--that’s what you’ll do, Magnus.  You sent
Asher away in the winter, although he was so good at feeding the beasts
when the snow was on the ground, and now that the hay has to be cut and
the lambs killed, you’re discharging Jon Vidalin."

"We’ll have to thin down somewhere, and the sooner we begin the
better--it’s too late to spare when you see the bottom of the
meal-barrel, you know."

"That’s what you call thinning down--sending everybody away who can help
you with the farm and keeping a houseful of women who are of no use for
anything."

"Why, which of them is of no use, mother?"

"Gudrun for one.  She only milks the cows in the morning and the ewes in
the evening, and I could do both myself and save her keep and wages."

"Nonsense, mother!  You’re not young enough now to get up at four
o’clock winter and summer and I won’t hear of it for a moment."

"Then there’s Maria--_she’s_ old enough for anything, and what’s the use
of her?"

"Maria’s been in the family since before I was born, and we can’t turn
her away now because she’s old and rheumatic."

"And here’s Eric," said Anna, dropping her voice and glancing at the boy
who was turning the twister.

"Eric?  Poor little chap, he’s lost his father, and he only gets a lamb
for his wages anyway."

"It’s to be a sheep this year, remember, and then there’s his food--
But if it’s an orphanage you want to keep, or a home for invalids----"

"Helloa!  Here’s the post!  And who’s this he has got with him?  The
Rector!  The Rector and two strangers!" cried Magnus, as a
canvas-covered wagon, drawn by four ponies, rumbled over the bridge
above the waterfall and galloped up to the Inn-farm.

"Welcome, Rector," said Anna.

"Thanks, Anna.  These are friends from America, traveling to see the
country.  We should like to sleep here to-night and go on to Geyser in
the morning."

"With pleasure!  Maria!  Gudrun!  Jon Vidalin!" cried Anna, and while
the strangers were being taken to the guest-room and the horses to the
stable, the Rector went indoors with Anna and Magnus and they sat and
talked around the hall table.

"You look hale in spite of everything, Anna."

"And you, too, Rector!"

"Ah, yes, old wood burns slow!  But I sometimes wonder if it’s well to
live long.  Better go to bed early than sit up too late, I say."

"Any new trouble in town lately?"

"The Factor is down at last, poor fellow."

"You mean that he’s----"

"Bankrupt, and about to be sold up--business, office, everything."

"Poor Margret Neilsen!"

"What about the child?" asked Magnus.

"I think he would part with it now.  To tell you the truth, he is
feeling bitterly about Oscar just at present.  ’A dove doesn’t come out
of a raven’s egg,’ he said yesterday."

"He said that?"

"So the new Minister says--but then it was the Minister who made him
bankrupt."

"But I thought they were such friends; and when poor Stephen was
petitioning the King----"

"Then you haven’t heard what happened about Thora."

"Thora?" said Magnus.

"Poor Thora’s grave, I mean.  It makes the blood run between my skin and
my flesh to think about it."

"Tell us," said Anna.

And then the Rector told them how the Minister, acting under
instructions received from abroad, had ordered Thora’s grave to be
opened and certain musical compositions which had been buried in it to
be taken out; how this had been done and the papers despatched to
England; how the Factor had heard of it, and, being furious, had
threatened an action against the Minister; and finally how the Minister,
to cut the ground under the Factor’s feet, had caused the bank to make
him a bankrupt.

During the progress of the Rector’s story Magnus sat without saying a
word, but every moment his cheeks grew whiter and his eyes glared and
his lips quivered.  Meantime Anna covered her face and said:

"It must have been Neils who did that.  I never liked the boy--he was
always too much like his father--and now that he is----"

"It wasn’t Neils, Anna.  It was Oscar."

"Oscar?" said Magnus, and his hands clutched the corners of the table.

"Oh, dear!  Oh, dear!  I couldn’t have believed it of Oscar.  But who
knows how he may have been tempted? Perhaps he was poor, yes, perhaps
after all he was in want and they offered him money.  There are such ups
and downs in these foreign countries--perhaps he was starving in the
streets of London----"

"He wasn’t in London at all, Anna.  He was at Monte Carlo, or Nice, or
somewhere."

"Then you mean he only wanted the money to--the same as before, when
he--I won’t believe it!"

"Be quiet, mother," said Magnus, with the hoarse croak of a raven, and
then turning to the Rector, "Who did it--the work itself, I mean?"

"Hans, the sailor--they could get nobody else, it seems."

"Hans, the sailor," repeated Magnus, in the same hoarse croak, and while
the table creaked under the clutch of his great hands, his face grew
hard and ugly.

During the remainder of that day Magnus went about without speaking to
any one, and next morning, after the strangers had started on their
journey, he saddled Silvertop and rode off toward Reykjavik.  Anna saw
him go, and calling to Jon Vidalin, she said:

"Take the fastest horse and ride to town by the low road and find Hans,
the sailor.  Tell him to fly before Magnus comes and never to come back
again."


                                 *XIII*

When Magnus returned to the farm three days afterward he was like
another man.  His face was no longer hard and ugly, it was as soft as a
tender woman’s, and he was smiling down at something that looked like a
huge bundle which he carried on the saddle in front of him.  Anna saw
him crossing the bridge, and she ran out to meet him.

"Goodness me!" she cried.  "Is it the child?"

"Yes, it is the child, mother," said Magnus, and out of a mountain of
rugs and shawls came little Elin, now in her fifth year, and she was
dropped into Anna’s arms.

"The darling!  What a great girl she has grown!  So she has come to see
her gran’ma?"

"Yes, gran’ma," said the child.

"And here are her clothes--all of them," said Magnus, swinging a satchel
off his shoulders.

"Then she has come for good!  And she is going to live with her gran’ma
and Uncle Magnus!"

"And Silvertop and the sheeps and the doggies," said the little one.

"So she shall, bless her!  Jon Vidalin, see to the master’s pony.  Eric,
where are you?  Ah! that’s a good boy--carry the satchel into the house.
Maria, did you _ever_ see anything so bonny?  But, Magnus, how ever did
the Factor come to part with her?"

"He wouldn’t at first, for all his worries and the hard things he had
been saying.  And when he came to it at last he wanted me to promise
that if Margret Neilsen died before himself he should have the child
back again."

"You didn’t agree to that, Magnus?"

"I said the girl should choose for herself if she was old enough, and at
last he consented."

"But what about Margret Neilsen?"

"That was harder still.  ’I promised her mother I should keep her as
long as I lived,’ she said."

"Ah, poor thing!  She didn’t know what was to happen."

"’I wouldn’t part with her to anybody in the world hut Anna,’ she said."

"I always said Margret Neilsen was as good as gold."

"’And I wouldn’t part with her now,’ she said, ’only Anna is in such
trouble.’"

"Trouble?"

"Give the child to Maria and come into the house, mother."

The sunshine died off Anna’s face; she saw what was coming.

"Here, take her in and give her some barley cake and syrup, and for
goodness’ sake, woman, don’t sniffle as if you had a cold.  What is it,
Magnus?  Am I the only one who doesn’t know?  Tell me plainly--is he in
disgrace again?"

"Have courage, mother," said Magnus.

She looked at him and understood everything.  "Wait," she said, and she
went down on her knees in the hall and prayed for some moments.  After
that she got up, pale but calm, and said:

"Now tell me everything--I am ready."

Magnus told her what he had heard and all that had happened: how he had
gone to town with murder in his heart, intending to punish Hans, the
sailor; how some one had warned him and Hans had taken refuge in a
schooner that was to sail for Norway; how he had hired a boat to follow
the man when the mail steamer dropped anchor in the bay and somebody
shouted from the deck that Oscar was dead, and it was the same as if a
hand from heaven had stopped him.

"Dead, did he say?"

"Dead in France, he said, and he threw down a Danish newspaper.  Here it
is, mother, but God knows if I should read you the report in it."

"Read it," said Anna.

He read it--it was the same which had appeared in Paris--and she
listened without drawing breath.

"Then he died in a gaming-house--by his own hand, too--and to save
himself from further disgrace!"

Magnus did not attempt to speak, and presently Anna’s tears began to
flow.  After a few moments she wept bitterly and prayed aloud, now for
Oscar, that God would forgive him; now for Elin, that God would protect
the little orphan; finally for herself, that God would have pity upon
her and let her die.

Magnus went over to the dresser for a bowl, dipped it in the
water-crock, and gave her a drink, and after that she seemed better.

"My poor Oscar!" she said.  "He wasted his life, poor boy!  Such a
precious life, too!  Such talents!  There wasn’t anything he couldn’t
master.  Everybody said what great things he would do some day.  And to
think it should come to this!  I never expected to thank God that his
father was dead, but I do now.  Oh, God, I thank Thee--  But what am I
saying?"

After a few minutes more she began to blame herself for everything that
had happened.

"I didn’t bring him up properly.  I could never be strict with children.
And he was always so sweet, and even when he was naughty he was so
loving.  Everybody loved that child.  Yes, it was my fault, and God
ought to punish me. Almighty Father, be merciful to my poor boy, and if
I was to blame----"

"Mother!  Mother!" said Magnus, and she stopped in her self-reproaches,
waiting for a loving word to comfort and support her, but Magnus said no
more.

A few minutes later all she had suffered at Oscar’s hands was wiped out
of her mind and the wayward sinner had become a saint.

"He never changed to me, never, and even when he grew to be a man he
always kissed me going to bed, just as he used to do when he was a boy.
He was so good to his mother.  Both my sons have been good to me.  No
mother ever had such good sons----"

"Mother!" said Magnus, and again she waited, but Magnus did not speak.

At length she checked her tears and began to comfort herself with the
thought that if Oscar had taken his own life it must have been in
madness, therefore God would not hold him accountable.

"And if he died in disgrace, perhaps it was only because he wanted to
come back rich, so that he could pay the mortgage and make us all happy.
I used to think of that and pray for it so often.  But now if he could
only come back poor--I shouldn’t care how poor--as poor as the prodigal
in the parable----"

"Mother!" cried Magnus.  "I can’t hear you talk like this--I can’t and I
won’t.  Oscar is dead, but he treated you shamefully."

"Don’t say that, Magnus."

"But I do say it.  I say you were the best mother to him a son ever had,
and the only return he made to you for your care and loving-kindness was
to neglect you and forget you."

"Don’t say it, my son."

"I will say it, mother.  And I’ll say, too, that Oscar lived in disgrace
and died in disgrace, and now that he is gone I am not going to pretend
that I wish he could come back again."

"Magnus!  Magnus!"

"I don’t wish it.  If he came back poor, what right would he have to
bring his poverty here?  And if he came back rich, what reason to expect
that his money would make amends to us for the evil days we have had
through him?  I don’t believe in the return of the prodigal, mother, and
I don’t believe in the parable, either.  That may be the way in the
other world, but it isn’t the way in this one, and it shouldn’t be--I
say it shouldn’t be."

"Oh, dear!  Oh, dear!"

"As for Oscar, I tried to forgive him--you know I did--but there are
some crimes that seem to be past forgiveness, and when I think of this
last one against Thora I’m not sorry he never came back--I shouldn’t
have been able to keep my hands off him.  I was thinking of him when I
was following Hans, and if he had returned with the ship that brought
the news of his death it would have been God help both him and me."

"But, my son, your brother is only just dead, and it is your duty to
forgive him whatever he did.’

"He died to me long ago, mother--before he went away from Iceland--and
now that he is dead indeed, I thank God he can never come back again."

"Well, the Lord knows best what He is doing," said Anna, and then her
tears came again, whereupon Magnus, seeing what he had done, walked over
to her and kissed her.  He had never done that in the whole course of
his life before, so her tears flowed faster than ever.  And then he went
out of the house, muttering to himself:

"Ah, well!  My God!  My God!"

That night when the bell in the hall rang for prayers, and little Elin
sat in her grandmother’s lap and the farm-servants trooped in with the
awesome looks of persons who knew what shadow hung over the little house
among the lonely hills, Magnus, in his quality of family priest, took up
the Bible and hymn-book at the place where Anna opened for him.  The
chapter was from second Samuel, and it ended with the verse:

"And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate,
and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son
Absalom!  Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son."

The hymn was--

    "Meek and low, meek and low,
    I shall soon my Jesus know."

When the singing ended, the farm-servants went out one by one, each
saying to Magnus:

"God give you a good night!"

And Magnus answered, as well as he could for the emotion that mastered
him:

"And you!  And you!"


                                 *XIV*

In the house of sorrow God closes the hearts of little children so that
they may not break.  Little Elin had been bright and happy the whole
evening through.  She was a merry little sprite whose laughter--like the
rippling of a sunny stream--set everybody else laughing.  Old Maria was
at a loss to say which of her parents she resembled most.  When the
child laughed, Maria said: "There’s a deal of the father in the little
one," and when she listened and looked up sideways Maria thought there
was a deal of the mother, too.

Anna put her to bed, and while she was being undressed her little tongue
went like a shuttle.  Existence had gone rapidly since she arrived, and
she was full of stories: how she had gone to the chasm with Maria to
pluck blueberries, and two big, black ravens, sitting on a crag, had
looked down at her and croaked; how she had gone to the cow-house with
Eric to see the cows milked, and Gudrun (to her infinite glee) had
squirted some of the milk at her; and, above all, how all alone she had
found a pet lamb and it was brown, because it had lost its mother, and
lived in the elt-house, because its father had run away from it, and how
it put its cold nose against her face and said, "Bah!" and its name was
"Maggie."

"Maggie shall come and waken you in the morning, darling," said Anna.

"Shall she come in here, gran’ma?"

"Yes, dear," said Anna, and then the sunny stream of the child’s
laughter rippled through the room.

"But now it’s late, and good little girls must be as quiet as mice."

"Yes, gran’ma"--in a breathless whisper.

"This is to be your own little bedroom always, dearest, and gran’ma has
made it nice, so that it may do for you when you grow up."

"Yes, gran’ma"--another breathless whisper.

"That is the wardrobe for your clothes, and this is your little chest of
drawers, and that--up there on the wall--that is your mamma’s guitar and
you will learn to play it some day."

"Yes, gran’ma"--the whisper was growing a little weary.

"The next room is the guest-room, and Uncle Magnus always sleeps there,
except when there are strangers, so if you knock in the night he is sure
to hear you."

"Yea, gran’ma"--the whisper was getting slow and weary.

"Gran’ma wants you to be such a good girl to Uncle Magnus.  He loved
your dear, sweet mother so much.  Oh, so much, but he lost her----"

"Same as Maggie’s mother?"--there was a sudden burst of wakefulness.

"Maggie’s mother was only a sheep, darling."

"Oh!"

"But now God has given you to Uncle Magnus to make up to him for
everything, so you must be as good as good to him."

"Yes, gran’ma"--the whisper was becoming faint.

"When you grow up to be a big, big girl, and grandma isn’t here, you
must love him and comfort him just the same as if he had been your own
father."

"Ye--es, gran’ma."

"And if anybody ever comes and wants to take you away from him, you
mustn’t go--you must always stay with Uncle Magnus."

"Ye--es, gran’----"

"That’s a good girl!  And now climb up into bed, and grandma will kiss
you and tuck you in for the night."

"And will Maggie come in the morning?"

"Yes, dearest."

"Good night, gran’ma."

"Good night, my own darling."

"Goo--nigh--gran’--ma."



                               *PART VI*


    "_One moment in annihilation’s waste_
    _One moment of the Well of Life to taste,--_
    _The stars are setting and the caravan_
    _Draws to the Dawn of Nothing--Oh, make haste!_"


                                  *I*

The Danish mail-steamer "Laura," outward bound on her midwinter trip
from Copenhagen to Leith, and from Leith to Iceland, carried two saloon
passengers only.

One of these, a comfortable, elderly person of ample proportions,
dressed in the warmest Icelandic vadmal, was an Iceland merchant
returning from Edinburgh with a hundred tons of British produce.  This
was Jon Oddsson, formerly radical champion in politics, and now
conservative leader in trade.

The other passenger was a tall, spare man apparently about fifty years
of age, with large and luminous but weary eyes, long pale cheeks deeply
scored with lines of thought, and a pointed beard that was beginning to
be tinged with grey. This was Christian Christiansson, now ten years
older than when he returned from the Riviera to London, and so changed
in every feature by the strange characters which work and sorrow
inscribe on a man’s face with the stern hand of Time, that few or none
would have recognized him.

In the interval Christian Christiansson had carried out his plans and
realized his expectations.  Buried in the depths of London as a man
dying on shipboard is buried in the vast grave of the sea, he had lived
long as one who was dead, but his hour had struck at last.  For five
years he had been one of the most popular of living composers.  His
operas, founded on the Sagas of his own country, had made Iceland
familiar to people everywhere; his works had been represented in every
capital; his tunes had been played in every street, and it was almost as
if he had breathed over Europe and set the air to song.

Meantime he had been faithful to the pledge he had made with himself.
His name was a household word, but it was no more than a name, and his
identity had never been revealed.  No temptation had prevailed with him
to disclose it, and the few who knew his secret had found it to their
interest to maintain the mystery.  And now he was returning to his own
country rich and famous--rich as the man who strikes ore from the rock
and finds it pouring down on him in an avalanche of gold, but famous
only as the "hidden folk" are famous, the good fairies who leave food
and drink at the doors of poor men and then steal away before they awake
in the dawn.

How changed the old world was when he emerged at length into the light
of open day!  The telegram he sent from London, asking for a berth to be
reserved for him, had almost paralyzed the captain with excitement and
delight.  It was the same old Captain Zimsen, who in former days had
given him the best room when he was in favor, and the worst when he was
in disgrace.  The moment he set foot on the ship, lying in dock at
Leith, the time-serving old salt had been there--hat in hand--to lead
him to his private cabin.

"Do me the honor to occupy my stateroom, sir, and if there is anything
you could wish--any little dainty for the table----"

"You are very good, very obliging."

"Don’t mention it, sir.  It is a pleasure, a privilege, to do anything
in my power for the most distinguished Icelander of modern times.  Do
they know you are coming, Mr. Christiansson?"

"Not yet, Captain."

"What a pity!  What a reception they would have given you!  But they
will, they will!"

If the world was changed, the man was changed also. The buoyancy of
youth was gone, and over the old captivating gaiety of manner and
expression, a sad gravity, had fallen, as if a lilac-tree, still bright
with blossom, had been borne down by snow.  But after two days at sea
his spirits rose, and he felt like a slave who had been emancipated,
like a prisoner set free.

It was fifteen years since he had left his own country, but he was
returning to it at last, as he had always hoped and intended to do.  He
had left it in disgrace, he was going back to it in honor; he had left
it in poverty, he was going back to it with wealth.  He was going back
as the prodigal, yet not, like the prodigal, empty-handed and ashamed,
but able to make amends, and to wipe the tears from all eyes.

Would it be wrong to permit himself to be known?  If the people of
Iceland, more observant than this old captain, identified in Christian
Christiansson the Oscar Stephenson who was thought to be dead, would it
be false to the pledge he had made with himself to submit to their
recognition? Fifteen years he had lived in obscurity--was it not enough
for penance and pardon?  Were not the doors of his dungeon even yet
broken open?  Could he not believe that he was delivered from the body
of the death he had lived in?  He had lived, he had died--might he not
live again?


                                  *II*

During the ten years in which he had been as a dead man all channels of
communication had been closed to him, and except for information
casually gathered, he had little or no knowledge of what had occurred in
Iceland.  And now, finding himself for the first time face to face with
men who had been in constant touch with his people, he had a hundred
questions which he yearned to ask: "Is my mother alive? Is she well?
And my little daughter--has God been good to me and let her live, or is
all my labor wasted?"

But he was afraid to learn the truth too suddenly, so he waited and
watched and listened for answers to the questions he dared not ask.
Meantime he tried to amuse himself with the curiosity of the captain and
his fellow-passengers, who were clearly at a loss to know who he was,
where he was born, and what family of the Christianssons he came from.
It was a perilous pleasure, a dizzy joy, to listen to the names of his
family and to hear himself discussed; and sometimes, in mortal shame of
the subterfuges to which his disguise condemned him, he could hardly
resist an impulse to blurt out the truth of his identity, and sometimes
he had to leap up from his place in the smoking-room and fly.

"You’ve not been home very lately, Mr. Christiansson?" said the captain,
who was smoking his long pipe after mid-day dinner while the ship swung
along in open sea.

"Not very lately, Captain," said Christiansson.

"You’ll see changes, then," said the merchant.

"No doubt, no doubt!"

"The new Constitution has worked wonders for Iceland, sir."

"Worked wonders, has it?"

"The barter trade has gone, the cash business is established everywhere,
and as for the fishing, it’s another industry, sir."

"Another industry, is it?"

"Judge for yourself, sir.  Instead of the old open boats we have sixty
smacks, manned by twenty men apiece, and going as far as six days out
and home again."

"Then the people were right, after all, who used to say the old trade
was doomed and the water was to be the wealth of Iceland?"

"They were that, sir," said the merchant, inflating his chest and
pulling down his waistcoat.  "Everybody has benefited by the change, and
I shouldn’t be surprised if you find your own people better off than
when you left them--that is to say, if they are still alive."

"If they’re still alive," said Christian Christiansson, dropping both
voice and eyes.

"By the way, were you at home in Governor Stephen’s time, Mr.
Christiansson?" asked the captain.

"Well, yes, Captain, yes, I was at home then," said Christian
Christiansson, with a momentary faltering in his voice.

"In that case you must have seen the beginning of the end.  The old
Governor tried to resist the change, and lived with a sword over his
head all his latter days, poor devil."

"A wise old man, though, wasn’t he?" said Christian Christiansson--he
could scarcely trust himself to speak. "Wise?" said the merchant, with a
curl of the lip.  "No man is wise who will not be warned, and he had
warning enough.  But it was his sons who settled him."

Christian Christiansson looked up with a start.  "Ah, yes, of course,
his sons, he had two sons, I remember.  What became of them?"

"One of them is living at Thingvellir still."

"Living still, is he?"

"If you call it living--up to his ears in debt."

"In debt, you say?"

"Always has been, always will be.  As for the other one--Olaf,
Eric--what was his name, now?"

"Was it Oscar?" said Christian Christiansson, with a catch in his
throat.

"Oscar it was--what a memory you must have, sir!  Oscar Stephenson!  He
used to think he could do a little in your line, sir, but he was here
to-day and there to-morrow, and he never did anything in his life except
put an end to it. You would hear what happened--it all came out in the
newspapers."

"Died abroad, didn’t he?"

"Shot himself in a gambling hell, sir."

"The young rascal!" said the captain, taking his pipe out of his mouth
to laugh.  "_I_ took it out of him though. The last time he crossed from
Iceland I made him sleep in the hold."

"Serve him right, the scoundrel," said the merchant.

"A scoundrel, was he?"

"He used to beat his poor young wife black and blue, sir.

"Beat his wife, you say?"

"She died of his ill-usage, anyway.  He killed his father, too.  The
night he went away he broke open the Governor’s safe and carried off
everything."

"Broke open the Governor’s safe?"

"That’s so--the old man died a pauper."

"Died a pauper?"

"Left nothing behind him, so it comes to the same thing. Every stick in
the house had to be sold to the new Minister."

"But is this true?"

"True enough, sir.  Everything came out at the general election.  The
Governor and the old Factor were rival candidates, and they told us the
family secrets."

"And is this all they say at home of Oscar Stephenson?"

"All?  Not a tenth of it."

"Then his very name must be hated in Iceland?"

"Hated?  Execrated, sir.  Not that anybody cares about the old Governor;
he is dead and gone with the rotten system he tried to support, but as
for his son, nobody can say bad enough about him."

"So that if he had lived and come back alive----"

"He would have been hounded out of the country, sir."

"Just so, just so," said Christian Christiansson, and rising with a
startling gesture he stumbled back to his stateroom.

The merchant looked after him uneasily.  "Who the deuce can he be, I
wonder!"

"I wonder!" said the captain, pulling at his extinguished pipe.

It was impossible!  The odium attaching to the name of Oscar Stephenson
made it impossible that Christian Christiansson could ever reveal his
identity.  He had thought that the dust of death might cover his
transgressions, but rumor and report had kept them alive and magnified
them.  Even the effort of his family to conceal the truth about his
offenses had given birth to falsehood and fostered slander.

The people of Iceland must never know that Christian Christiansson was
Oscar Stephenson.  If they suspected, he must use means to deepen his
disguise; if they questioned, he must deny.

What else had he expected?  In thinking he could ever allow himself to
be known in his true name and character, what secret craving of pride
and vanity had he been cherishing unawares?  His errand to Iceland was
one of penance and atonement--at the bottom of his heart he had been
looking to it as the top and high-tide of his career, the flush and
crown of his success, as the hour of triumph when he was to justify the
friends who had loved him, and to put to rout the enemies who had hated
him, and to come off with flying colors at the last.  If so, he was
rightly punished.  Oscar Stephenson was dead, and nothing and nobody
could bring him to life again.


                                 *III*

Christian Christiansson became more reserved as the vessel approached
its destination.  Every mile of the voyage was full of memories, and the
sweetest were the bitterest, the happiest were the hardest to bear.  He
was standing in the bow when he caught his first glimpse of Iceland,
glimmering white and blue like a sheeted ghost in the distance where its
glaciers rose out of the sea.  And then, thinking of the enchanted hopes
of the days when he had first seen, it so, and how many of them now were
dead under ashes, he would have broken down badly but for the captain,
who came up behind him and said in his cheery croak:

"There it is, sir!  There’s your country!  That’s the place you’ve made
them all hear about!"

Christian Christiansson returned to his cabin immediately, and he was
not seen on deck again until the following morning, when the "Laura" was
steaming up the fiord.  And then the merchant, in his shore-going hat
and overcoat, began to point out the sights to him as to a stranger.

"There’s the old town, sir.  Bigger, I’ll be bound, than when you saw it
last.  That’s the new shipyard on the right, and that’s the leper
hospital on the left.  This is Engey, the island with the eider
duck--famous place for young folks courting, sir.  That’s the old
cathedral in the middle, and that’s Government House to the left of it.
They’re nearly hidden by the new warehouses now--I built them myself,
sir."

The "Laura" cast anchor under the town, amid a fleet of smacks and
coal-hulks, and remembering how he had stood there last, Christian
Christiansson’s emotion would have mastered him again but for the bustle
that was going on around--the orders of the captain from the bridge, the
shouts of the sailors who were lowering the ladder, and the cries of the
men who had come out in small boats and were clambering up to the deck.

Christian Christiansson knew most of the boatmen, though some were old
who had been middle-aged, and some were middle-aged who had been young,
and some were bearded who had been boys.  But none of them recognized
Christian Christiansson, as they tipped their hats to him and pushed
past to the officers of the ship.

"Good morning, mate!  Good morning, Captain!  What passengers this
time?"

"Only one, besides Jon Oddsson, but he’s a host in himself--Christian
Christiansson!"

"What!  The great Christian Christiansson?"

In less than three minutes half the small boats were scurrying away to
carry the news to the town, while the owners of the other half were
scrambling for Christiansson’s luggage to have the honor of taking it
ashore.

"Easy on, my lads," shouted the captain.  "Mr. Christiansson will go
with me in the ship’s boat, and don’t you forget it."

It was a full half-hour before this could come to pass, for Christian
Christiansson had first to drink the captain’s health and the ship’s
luck in the chart-room.  When at length they were going ashore, with
portmanteaus piled up in the bow of the boat and the captain chattering
in the stern, it was almost more than Christian Christiansson could do
to control himself under the memory of the dark night on which he went
the other way, with no one to see him off except his mother, who sat by
his side and held his hand as if she could never part with it.

When the boat drew up alongside, the jetty was packed with people, and
as Christian Christiansson stepped ashore, with the air of a man trying
to escape from observation but conscious of being under the full fire of
it, a little fat fussy person with asthmatical breathing--Christiansson
knew him instantly--bowed deeply and began to read something from a
sheet of foolscap paper.

It was an effusive address, drawn up hastily by the Chairman of the Town
Board, in the name of the inhabitants, beginning, "Illustrious
fellow-countryman," and going on to hail Christiansson as one who had
"revived the ancient spirit and glory of a thousand years ago."

Agitated and ashamed, hardly daring to speak lest the sound of his voice
should betray him, Christian Christiansson replied with a few
commonplaces, and then, amid a whispered chorus of "Modest!"  "The
modesty of greatness, sir," he tried to push his way toward the hotel.

He had not made many paces before he was confronted by a young man in
the uniform, hat, and cloak of a Government Secretary, who parted the
crowd and said, in the breathless gasps of one who had been running:

"The Minister’s compliments, sir, and will you do him the honor to
become his guest at Government House?"

Christian Christiansson tried to excuse himself, but every eye was on
him, and seeing that he could not escape without the danger of exposing
himself to suspicion, he yielded and allowed himself to be led away.

The little journey to Government House was like the progress to a
Calvary.  Every step was sown with memories--memories of the pleasures,
the passions, the darling joys, the sorrows and the tragedies of the
past--but while they seemed to strike up at him out of the very stones
of the street, he had to nod and smile as the Secretary, walking by his
side, rattled along with explanations and descriptions of the places
they passed on their way.

"This is our principal thoroughfare, Mr. Christiansson. That is our
chief hotel, and this is our national bank.  The large building flying
the Iceland falcon is our parliament hall.  That is our old cathedral,
sir, and this--this is Government House."

Suffocated with shame, choking with a sense of duplicity, and trembling
with the fear of detection, Christian Christiansson continued to say,
"Yes" and "Is that so?" until he reached the porch of his old home.  And
then, remembering how and when he had passed out of it last--alone, at
night, disgraced and with his father’s door closed against him--it was
almost as much as he could do to restrain an impulse to turn about and
fly.  But just at that moment his father’s door opened quickly, and
there on the threshold another man, in the uniform of the Governor,
stood waiting with outstretched hand to welcome him.

The palpitation of Christian Christiansson’s heart was almost choking
him.  What wild harlequinade of real life was this, that he who had been
so nearly flung out of Iceland should be received back to it with open
arms?  What mad game of blind-man’s buff were the powers of destiny
playing with him?  It was not for nothing that he had taken the name of
Christian Christiansson.  What invisible wings of Fate had been over him
when he did so?  And were they plumed to honor or to dishonor, to reward
or to punishment, to joy or to sorrow, to life or to death?


                                  *IV*

The Sheriff made Minister was the same man still.  He received Christian
Christiansson with suavest politeness but without a trace of
recognition.

"Welcome!" he said.  "Welcome to Iceland!  My wife is in the
drawing-room--she will be delighted to see you.  We may go this
way--this way through my bureau--do me the honor to follow me.  Don’t
knock against the stove--strangers do sometimes.  A ramshackle old
house, sir, for which my predecessor was responsible--I’m building a
better in another part of the town.  You’ve not yet dined?  How
fortunate! In these high latitudes we keep up primitive customs, Mr.
Christiansson.  We dine in the middle of the day, and you are just in
the nick of time.  I was holding a meeting of my executive when the news
of your arrival reached me, and I took the liberty to invite one or two
of my colleagues.  This is the drawing-room--have the goodness to step
inside."

Muttering monosyllables only in reply to the Minister’s explanations,
Christian Christiansson followed him through the house that was as
familiar as the palm of his hand until he came face to face with his
hostess and the friends who had been invited to meet him.

The hostess was an acquaintance of his school-days, grown middle-aged
and matronly, and the friends were the Rector of the Latin School,
looking elderly and iron-grey, and the Bishop, looking white and old.
They received him with the utmost cordiality, but, like the Minister,
without a sign of recognition.

Christian Christiansson bowed but scarcely spoke.  He was no longer in
fear of discovery, for now he knew that unless he wished it otherwise he
could pass through Iceland unknown; but standing there in the old home,
with the traces of his boyhood about him, his heart swelled and his
throat thickened, and it was as much as he could do to control himself.

After a moment a servant announced dinner, and the Minister led the way
to the dining-room.  It was the same old room, with the same furniture,
and hardly altered in any particular.  But it was full of ghosts in the
eyes of him who entered it again.  In one rapid glance Christian
Christiansson took in everything--the chair his father used to sit in,
his mother’s place, Magnus’s, and Thora’s.  And remembering that all
these were gone; that everything connected with his own people had faded
away; that the old house was inhabited by others now, and nothing
remained except himself and he had neither part nor lot in it, the
palpitation of his heart nearly choked him again, and he sat at the
table like a guilty thing.

But if Christian Christiansson was silent the Minister talked
incessantly.

"You will find that Iceland knows all about you, Mr. Christiansson--all
about you!  Speaking for myself I may say that in addition to the
ordinary channels of intelligence I have some private sources of
information.  My son--you know my son, I think?"

Christian Christiansson bowed.

"My son has kept me constantly informed, so you will find me abreast of
all your movements.  Certainly, I take it amiss that he did not warn me
of your coming--but perhaps he didn’t know.  He didn’t?  I thought as
much.  Not that he would have told me if you had wished it concealed.
Neils is discretion itself, sir--discretion itself.  For instance I
could never persuade him to tell me who you were.  I tempted him--I
confess I tempted him.  But no!  ’Business is business, father,’ he
would say, and I was forced to be content."

"Iceland is honored that you show yourself first in your own country,
sir," said the Rector.

"Indeed it is, Rector, and Mr. Christiansson will find that his fame is
no empty bubble here."

"There isn’t a student who doesn’t sing your songs, sir," said the
Rector.

"Nor a girl of fourteen in a farmhouse who doesn’t play your music,"
said the Minister’s wife.

"Wonderful!" said the Minister himself.  "It’s perfectly wonderful!  But
I always say the musician is the international artist.  Other
artists--the poets for example--require their translators, but the
musician needs no go-between.  He uses the one universal language, and
when he speaks the whole world may hear.  What a gift!  What a thing it
must be to be among the great composers!  Perhaps it has its penalties,
though.  What does the poet say?  They learn in suffering what they
teach in song.  What a thought that is! I wonder if it’s true?  I wonder
if every great song, every great symphony, every great opera is born of
the suffering--the actual real life suffering, and perhaps in some cases
the sin and sorrow--of the man who created it!  What should you say, Mr.
Christiansson?"

"God knows," said Christiansson, and after that there was silence for a
moment.

"Poor Stephen!" said the Bishop suddenly, and then everybody raised his
face from the table.

"I was thinking," said the Bishop, "that if sin and sorrow, added to the
gift of genius, go to the making of great music, somebody was born in
this very house who should have left immortal works behind him."

Christian Christiansson had looked up with the rest, and now the
Minister leaned across to him and said in an undertone, "A sad story,
sir--a son of my predecessor who made shipwreck of his life, poor
fellow."

"You mean Oscar Stephenson?"

"Yes, indeed.  But can it be possible that you knew him?"

"We talked of him on the steamer."

"Ah, of course, certainly!  And then he was a kind of humble confrère of
yours, and conducted at Covent Garden. What a tragedy!  What a scandal!
When the dreadful news came from Nice everybody here felt ashamed.  Such
a well-known Iceland name, and the son of a former Governor!  It was
almost as if Iceland had been dishonored in the eyes of the world, sir.
So different, so entirely different, from the effects, the glorious
effects of your own magnificent achievements."

Christian Christiansson was quivering from heart to eyelids, but the
same mysterious impulse that compels the lamb to confront the dog forced
him to go on.

"His mother is alive, isn’t she?" he said.

"Anna?  Yes!  She’s alive--that’s nearly all you can say about her."

Christian Christiansson’s voice deepened and shook.  "Is she sick?" he
asked.

"Sick in fortune at all events.  When the old Governor died she went to
live with her other son at Thingvellir, and he is in trouble again, poor
creature."

"In debt, isn’t he?"

"Yes, he is in debt to the Bank for the interest and principal of some
money which his father borrowed on mortgage to keep his brother out of
prison."

"And what is the Bank going to do with him?"

"Sell him up immediately."

Christian Christiansson sank into silent reverie again, and when the
conversation at the table had taken another turn, he said unexpectedly:

"He left a child behind him, didn’t he?"

"Who, sir?  Oh, Oscar Stephenson?  He did--a girl."

"She’s living, too, isn’t she?"

"She is, sir--that is to say, for all I know to the contrary. Rector,
Oscar’s little daughter is still alive, is she not?"

"Alive and well and hearty," said the Rector.

Christian Christiansson’s eyes brightened visibly.  "That’s good news,
at all events," he said.

The altered tone startled everybody, and nobody spoke for a little
while.  Then the Minister said:

"It is really very good of you to take an interest in the family of your
poor dead confrère, and if I’d had the least idea you wished to hear
more about them it would have been so easy--I might have invited the
banker."

"I’ll see him to-morrow," said Christian Christiansson, and then,
breaking through his reserve, he talked for the next half-hour on other
subjects.

He talked well and the company were delighted, for there was no one to
know that his vivacity was nervousness and his laughter something like
shame.  When the dinner was at an end the Bishop, who had fixed his eyes
constantly on Christian Christiansson, rose and held out his hand to
him.

"It has been a great happiness to have seen you, Mr. Christiansson," he
said, "and I trust we may meet again.  I know nothing of music, sir, but
I rejoice to see that the noble musician is only another name for the
noble man, and I pray God to bless you body and soul."

Christian Christiansson could not trust himself to reply, for the
Bishop’s praise added a new bitterness to his remorse, so he stooped
over the old man’s hand and kissed it.

The Bishop was pleased and touched.  "How charming he is!  How perfectly
charming!" he said, as he put on his overcoat in the porch.  "He reminds
me of some one I’ve met somewhere."

"Me, too," said the Rector.

"Those beautiful manners, that captivating smile, and that voice that
goes through and through you!"

"Does he resemble--or is it only because we have been talking at
table----"

"You mean poor young----"

"Yes."

"Ah me!" said the Bishop as he opened the door.  "What brave things he
might have done if Heaven had willed it!"

"He might have been another Christian Christiansson by this time," said
the Rector.

"Poor Stephen!" said the Bishop.

"Poor Anna!" said the Rector, and the two old friends went heavily down
the path.

Meantime the man they were talking of, though they did not know it, was
going through an agony of self-reproach. The duplicity of winning his
way to the love and esteem of his people under the cover of a false name
was suffocating him.  It was necessary, it was inevitable, it was a part
of the conduct that was forced upon him by the errand that had brought
him home, but if they who welcomed him in the ignorance of their
enthusiasm could know who he was, how their hearts would turn from him;
how their sympathy would change to loathing and their admiration to
contempt!

The evening was one of prolonged suffering to Christian Christiansson,
for everything that happened in that house, every trivial object that
met his eye, seemed charged with the power to torture him.  As soon as
he could, he excused himself, and asked to be shown to his room.

They showed him to the bedroom that had been occupied by Thora!

That was the last drop in his cup.  He felt like a man who had stumbled
into a hidden grave, and he wanted to say, "Give me any room in the
house except this."  But he dared not speak, lest his slightest word
should betray him.

When the door was closed, he flung himself in the armchair before the
stove, and then one after one, as by flashes of lightning, he saw over
again the scenes of his life with which that room was associated.  He
thought of his wedding night, when with a fluttering heart he came on
tiptoe into the cosy nest of his bridal chamber, and heard Thora’s
tremulous breathing behind the curtains of the bed.  He thought of the
joyous morning when her pale face shone like sunshine, and the air of
the room was full of auroral radiance, because a child was born to them.
He thought of the dark day when he found her lying dead, and of the
heavy hour when he took his last look at her, and buried his
compositions in her coffin.

Oh, miserable mummery!  Oh, broken and senseless vow! Yet not senseless
either, save to his own violated intention, for now he knew why he had
taken the name of Christian Christiansson.  In the blind spasm of his
accusing conscience he had thought it was merely in order to deny
himself the fame which his works were to win for him, but the
inscrutable and ironical powers of Destiny had sterner purposes than
that.

It was in order that, being dead as Oscar Stephenson, he should yet
return to Iceland; in order that he should see the accumulated
consequences of his conduct; in order that he should follow, as if with
bare feet on the hot ground of a geyser, the footsteps and the funeral
of his youth; in order that the living might torture him with gratitude,
and the dead with memories; in order that God’s right hand of Justice
should fall on him as it had never fallen before, and everything he had
done should be paid for.

This was why he had taken the name and won the fame of Christian
Christiansson.  And the martyrdom of his new life was beginning.


                                  *V*

As soon as the Bank opened in the morning Christian Christiansson called
on the manager, and was received with extravagant politeness.

"I must take the liberty to introduce myself," he began.

"Quite unnecessary," said the banker with a bow, "all the world--I say
all the world, sir, has been introduced to you."

"You would receive a letter from my banker in London----"

"We did--it came with the mail that was brought by the ’Laura.’"

"I think it asks you to honor my signature up to two hundred thousand
crowns."

"That is the amount, sir--two hundred thousand.  And if you wish to draw
any of it immediately----"

"I do," said Christian Christiansson, and taking a large pocket-book
from his breast-pocket he drew out a cheque-book and took up a pen.

"Mr. Palsson," he said--the banker started at the mention of his name,
then bowed and smiled--"I was much touched by a case of distress which
the Minister spoke of at dinner yesterday, and I could wish to be of
some assistance."

"You are very generous, Mr. Christiansson, and if I can be of the
slightest use to you--I say if I can be of the slightest use, sir, pray
be good enough to command me."

"It was the case of the family of the late Governor--I understand that
they are in debt to the Bank and that the Bank is in the act of
distraining."

"Unhappily true, sir, but the Bank has been very indulgent--I say the
Bank has been very indulgent--it was impossible to hold back longer."

"I think that the debt is for interest on a mortgage on the Inn-farm at
Thingvellir, and that the money was borrowed by the father of the
present owner?"

"That is so, sir, but the interest is long in arrears, and the
mortgage--I say the mortgage itself, sir, is the reverse of a good
security."

"Mr. Palsson," said Christian Christiansson, "if I were to pay you the
interest out of my own pocket would that stop the proceedings?"

The banker’s breath seemed to be arrested.  "You are very good, sir," he
said after a moment.  "But the interest is large; you can hardly be
prepared for the amount of it."

"What is the amount of it?" asked Christian Christiansson.

"Eight thousand crowns at least, sir--I say at least eight thousand.
And in any case I should be unable to receive it. Things have gone too
far.  The deed of execution has been served, the advertisements of the
auction have been published, and the whole matter is now in the hands of
the Sheriff."

"When is the auction to take place?"

"Let me see," said the banker, consulting a newspaper, "this is the last
day of the year, the auction is advertised for to-morrow, sir."

"Did you say to-morrow?" said Christian Christiansson, rising suddenly.

"To-morrow at nine in the morning, sir."

Christian Christiansson resumed his seat and sat for some moments
nibbling the top of the pen.  Then he said:

"Mr. Palsson, I have been many years abroad, but I seem to remember that
when landed property has to be sold by the law in Iceland three auctions
are necessary--two at the office of the Sheriff, and the third on the
estate itself."

"That is so, sir, but unfortunately this is the third--the two others
have taken place already."

"So the Inn-farm must go to the hammer in any case?"

"It must go to the hammer in any case."

"You think there is no help for it?"

"I am sure, sir--I say I am sure there is no help for it."

"Ah, well--if it must be, it must be," said Christian Christiansson, and
then, as by an after-thought, dipping the pen in the ink, "The interest
is eight thousand crowns, you say?"

"At least eight thousand, sir.  With legal and other expenses probably
ten--I say probably ten."

"And the principal is----"

"The principal is one hundred thousand, sir."

"Poor souls, poor souls!" said Christian Christiansson. He began to
write his cheque, but the banker went on talking.

"I am sorry for the mother, sir--I say I am sorry for the mother.  She
belongs to a generation which is rapidly passing away, but there are
still many in the town who remember her. A good, motherly soul, sir--it
is a pity misfortune should fall so fast on her in the evening of her
days----  Blotting paper?"

"Thank you."

"I am sorry for the son, too--I am very sorry for the son. An Ishmael,
sir--always was and always will be--but he seems to have had a terrible
time of it.  To tell the truth the farm was frightfully over-mortgaged
at the beginning, and if he had thrown it up fifteen years ago it might
have been better for himself and the Bank and everybody.  Apparently he
wished to hold on to it for the sake of the family, and to give the poor
wretch his due he has made a splendid fight for it--I say he has made a
splendid fight for it."

Christian Christiansson had written his cheque and was tearing it out of
the cheque-book.

"Then, as you say, sir, the mortgage was not made by himself, and
everybody knows the conditions under which the first debt was
contracted.  Ah, if that scapegrace brother could only be here to-day!
When a man does wrong he seems to think the consequences of his crime
will end with his own action, but they are like snowballs rolling in the
snow--I say they are like----  Two hundred thousand crowns, sir?"

Christian Christiansson had handed his cheque to the banker, and the
banker, fixing his eye-glasses, was reading the amount of it.

"Do you really mean that you wish to draw the whole sum at once, Mr.
Christiansson?"

"If you please," said Christian Christiansson.

The banker began to laugh.  "Certainly we have no highwaymen in Iceland,
sir--I say we have no highwaymen--but unless the money is wanted for
immediate purposes----"

"It is wanted for immediate purposes, Mr. Palsson."

"In that case, of course--certainly--may I ask you to wait a little?"

It took half-an-hour to find the money for Christian Christiansson’s
cheque, and when it came it was in three banknotes of fifty thousand
each, signed specially by the Minister, and fifty other notes of a
thousand.  Christiansson put the whole of them in his pocket-book, and
they filled it to its utmost capacity.

"I’ve given you a great deal of trouble, Mr. Palsson."

"It has been a pleasure, sir--I say it has been a pleasure. I only
regret that I was unable to help you in that other matter.  If you had
come to me two days ago I should have sent a messenger to the Sheriff,
and perhaps he----"

"Who is the Sheriff in that case, Mr. Palsson?"

"The Sheriff of Ames, sir.  He lives at Borg."

"How far is that from Thingvellir?"

"Only some thirty to forty miles, sir."

"About as far as from here to there?"

"About the same, sir, but in this country of no roads and no railways
that is sometimes a long day’s journey."

"Just so!  Good day, and thank you, Mr. Palsson!"

"Good day to you, Mr. Christiansson," said the banker, and looking after
him he thought, "What does he want with two hundred thousand crowns at
once, I wonder?  And why--I say why did he wish to pay the interest for
Magnus Stephenson?"

"Thank God I’ve come in time!" thought Christian Christiansson.

And going out of the Bank he told himself, with a thrill of hope and
joy, that the inscrutable powers of Destiny, which seemed to have made
him the plaything of chance and error, could not be wholly evil if they
had brought him back to Iceland at the moment of his people’s greatest
peril, that he might succor and save them at their utmost need.


                                  *VI*

The morning was heavy and cheerless.  Dark woolly clouds were rolling
over the mountains, a cold wind was coming up from the east, and the
voice of the North Sea was loud and shrill.

"We shall have snow before the year’s out, sir," said one of a group of
fishermen who were stamping their feet and beating their arms at the
bottom of the Bank steps.

"No time to lose!" thought Christian Christiansson.  "I must send for
horses immediately and start off without delay."

But before going to Thingvellir there was something to do in Reykjavik,
and that was the most important thing of all--by some excuse or
subterfuge he had to see his child as a first step toward claiming and
recovering her.  She had been ten years at the farm, but he thought she
was still at the Factor’s, and he bent his steps in that direction.

Of the Factor himself he knew no more than he had been able to glean at
breakfast without betraying a particular interest--that he was still
alive, that enough had been saved out of the wreck of his fortunes to
enable him to keep his house, and that he lived the life of a
misanthrope, blaming the whole world for his misfortunes and all the
trouble of his days.

Christian Christiansson might have walked to the Factor’s blindfold, but
the house itself when he came in front of it seemed strangely
unfamiliar.  The once bright little villa looked like a witless man who
has lost his place in the world and all hope and all respect for
himself.  The white paint of the walls was cracked and dirty, the
windows were smeared with the salt which is borne on the breath of the
sea, the garden was wild, and the cobbled path was overgrown with grass.

It was hardly like a house a young girl might live in, but after he had
rung the bell he listened for a light step in the hall.  The door was
opened by a withered old woman in white ringlets, with her gown tucked
up in front.  It was Aunt Margret, but the little old maid, once so pert
and dainty, had the neglected and frightened look of a cat in an empty
house, left behind and forgotten.

Her face was the first he had yet seen of the faces of his own people,
and so hard did he find it to play his part that he had mentioned her
name before he was aware of it, and she had started perceptibly, as if
at the sound of a familiar voice.

"Is your brother at home, Margret Neilsen?" he asked.

"He is always at home," she answered, "but he never receives anybody
now.  Who shall I say wishes to see him?"

"Say that Christian Christiansson would like to speak to him."

Aunt Margret, who was not wearing her spectacles, seemed to listen for a
moment as to a voice that came to her from afar, and then she asked him
into the house.

As he passed through the hall he listened, in his turn, for the silvery
voice he wished to hear, but he heard nothing save the sound of his own
footsteps, for the house echoed like a vault.  The sense of change made
him forget for a moment the object of his visit, and when he stepped
into the sitting-room and found the familiar room so different from what
he remembered it, so bare, so bleak, so stamped with the seal of poverty
(with its scrap of worn carpet on the floor and its two broken
firebricks in the cold stove), he felt as if the ironical powers that
controlled his fate had brought him there not to see his child but only
to torture him.

After a moment the Factor came in with the old fire in his eyes and the
old spirit in his step, but wearing a threadbare skull-cap over a
threadbare suit that had once been black, and looking like a grey rock
in a green place when the sun has gone from it, leaving it grim and
hoary.

"I heard of your arrival, Mr. Christiansson," he said, "and I suppose I
ought to thank you for your call, but I am an old man who has lived past
his day, and I can’t think why you wished to see me."

Christian Christiansson had his subterfuge ready.  "Coming from London,"
he said, "I thought I might be able to tell you something of your
daughter."

"Helga?  You know my daughter Helga?"

"I used to know her, but our ways have parted, and we have met only once
in ten years.  Nevertheless I know all about her, and can tell you what
has happened."

"What has happened, sir?"

"She has become a great singer."

"A singer, has she?"

"A great opera-singer."

"Then she’s rich, I suppose?"

"In the way of being so, perhaps, but famous at all events, and a
favorite all over Europe."

The Factor was silent for a moment, leaning on his stick; then he said:

"Well, that will suit her mother, I daresay.  As for me I don’t think it
matters.  It’s ten years since Helga Neilsen left Iceland, and I’ve
never seen the scribe of a line from her since.  If she’s rich I’m poor
and she doesn’t care anything about it.  What I call a daughter is one
who remembers her father when he is old and past work and the world has
got its heel on him.  I had a daughter like that once, but they killed
her between them--they killed her between them, I say."

The old man’s voice was breaking, and thinking to comfort him Christian
Christiansson said, hardly knowing what he was saying:

"I heard of your trouble, Mr. Neilsen."

"When did you hear of it?  Helga couldn’t have told you. She had too
much to do with her sister’s death to talk of it. Did you, perhaps--in
those days you speak of--did you know my daughter’s husband?"

"Yes," said Christian Christiansson, for in that heart-quelling moment
there seemed to be no escape from it.

"Then you knew a scoundrel, sir," said the Factor.

Christian Christiansson dared not flinch, though the Factor’s lash had
cut him to the bone.  With a throttled utterance he tried to plead for
charity.  "Oscar Stephenson never ceased to reproach himself for his
share in Thora’s death or to mourn----"

"It’s a pretty way to mourn for one daughter to corrupt another," said
the Factor.

"Corrupt?"

"What else was it?  He hadn’t been a year in London before he persuaded
Helga to follow him."

"Mr. Neilsen, I have no right to speak for the man we are talking of,
but Helga is your daughter, and if it is any comfort to you I tell you
that you are wrong--I know you are wrong----"

"_How_ do you know--he lived in the same house, didn’t he?"

"Nevertheless I--I believe in my heart that whatever his failures of
duty to your daughter Thora while she was alive, when she was dead he
reverenced her memory too much to----"

"Was it reverencing her memory to sell the right to violate her grave,
and then waste the money at the gaming-tables?"

The perspiration was breaking out on Christian Christiansson’s forehead
and he had forgotten the object of his errand, when the door opened and
he looked up in the expectation of seeing Elin.  It was only Aunt
Margret again, but now washed and oiled, and wearing her spectacles.

Christian Christiansson placed a chair for the childless woman, and
began to talk about the child.

"The man we are speaking of had his faults, God knows, but if you had
heard him talk about you, sir, and your sister and his
daughter--especially his little daughter----"

"He talked about his daughter, did he?"

"Constantly--he seemed to be always thinking of her."

"He never did anything else, then.  He left me to bring her up and never
sent a penny toward her support."

"He was poor himself perhaps--indeed I know he was poor."

"Then what about the letters he wrote to his mother, bragging of his
business and the fine friends he was making?"

Christian Christiansson dropped his head.

"And when my own business was broken up, did he offer to relieve me of
my burden?"

"That was afterward, Oscar--you are confusing the dates," said Aunt
Margret.

"Hold your tongue, Margret Neilsen--I know what I’m saying.  No, sir,
when the ingrate at Government House made me a bankrupt and I didn’t
know if I should have a roof to cover me, it was the father’s brother
who had to take the child off my hands."

"Magnus?"

"Magnus Stephenson, and he had his mother to provide for already."

"Then Elin is at Thingvellir!  And Magnus has been bringing her up all
these years!  How good of him!  And now he is a broken man himself, poor
fellow!"

"Serve him right if he is," said the Factor.  "I’ve no pity for him
either--he was the beginning of all the trouble."

"But when a brave man who has borne other people’s burdens----"

"A brave fool, you mean, sir.  Fortune comes to every man once, sir, and
it came to him, but he wouldn’t have it.  Look at this room, sir.  You
may not believe it, but I used to have four assistants eating and
drinking with me here, and Magnus Stephenson was one of them.  He had
good ideas in those days, and if he had stayed with me we should have
kept out the free traders, and he would have been the first man in the
west of Iceland by this time.  I gave him every chance, too. I was
willing to make him my partner and marry him to my daughter Thora.  But
no, grasp all lose all, he insulted my girl and turned up his nose at my
contract.  And now he’s down, but he’s not done yet.  What gets wet on a
fool gets dry on a knave, and Magnus Stephenson will be worse than a
bankrupt before we’ve heard the end of him."

"Mr. Neilsen," said Christian Christiansson, who was breathing heavily,
"you are wrong again, and you ought to know it."

"Who says I am wrong, sir?  And what am I wrong in?"

"You are wrong in thinking that when Magnus Stephenson refused to marry
your daughter Thora he did so from selfishness."

"If it wasn’t selfishness, sir, what was it?"

"It was unselfishness--sublime unselfishness."

"So?"

"Thora had found that she loved his brother Oscar, and to make her happy
Magnus was willing to give her up to him. But the contract was made, and
you had built all your hopes on it, so to save your daughter from your
displeasure he allowed it to appear that he refused her, although he
loved her dearly and his heart was breaking."

The Factor rose to his feet with a wild lustre in his eyes. "But is this
true?" he said.

"It is God’s truth, sir."

"Who did you have it from?"

"From one who should have told you himself fifteen years ago but dared
not."

The Factor turned rigidly to his sister.  "Margret Neilsen, do you hear
what he is saying?"

Aunt Margret, who was breathing audibly, merely bowed her head.

"I don’t know what to say to you, sir.  If what you tell me is true I’ve
been hating the wrong man for half a life-time.  And yet people talk of
Providence!"

"God veils His face from us, Factor.  We are only His little children.
He has His own plans and purposes."

"Good Lord! sir," said the Factor in a husky croak, "what purpose can
there be in blinding a man for fifteen years and letting him break up
all his friendships?"

He was walking to and fro to calm his nerves under the shock as of a
moral earthquake.

"If I have been wrong about Magnus I may have been wrong about Oscar,
also.  I got frightened when he signed my name, so I helped to send him
out of Iceland.  And now he is dead!"

Christian Christiansson’s head was down--his throat was surging.

"His father is dead, too.  We quarrelled about our children, and now it
seems it all began with a blunder!  He was my friend for fifty years,
and I’ve never had another.  There’s no such thing as making an old
friend in your old age, sir, and when your friends are gone the world
gets lonely. Perhaps I was hard on Oscar, too.  He was my godson.  I
liked the boy in spite of everything, and he always came to see the old
man the minute he set foot in Iceland."

Christian Christiansson wanted to throw off all disguise and cry, "And
I’m here again, godfather," but he could not and dared not speak.  He
rose to go, and the Factor took him to the door.

"I’ll come again before I leave the country," he said at the last
moment, "and then perhaps I’ll have something to say to you."

When the Factor returned to the sitting-room, looking like the same grey
rock but with clouds enveloping it, Aunt Margret, who had scarcely
moved, said in the frightened voice of one who has seen a ghost:

"Do you know who that was?"

"What do you mean?"

"That was Oscar Stephenson."

"Margret Neilson, you are mad.  Oscar Stephenson is dead."

"Then he came to life again.  That is Oscar Stephenson as sure as I’m a
living woman!"


                                 *VII*

Christian Christiansson left the Factor’s house glowing with excitement.
Oh, for the hour when he could lay aside the armor of duplicity!  When
he could say to his own people, "I am Oscar Stephenson.  Let the world
think me Christian Christiansson, but at least you must know me for who
I am."

It was necessary and inevitable that he should reveal himself to his own
family!  How else could he carry out the plan he had formed of buying
the farm at the auction to-morrow morning and giving it back to his
brother?  And how, except by right of blood, by right of parentage,
could he claim the child and take her away with him when he returned to
England?

In this mood he went back to Government House and announced his
intention of going on to Thingvellir.

"Thingvellir!" said the Minister.  "It’s only natural, sir, that you
should wish to see our great historic meeting-place, the scene of so
many of our Sagas.  But why go there to-day? It isn’t every day the old
town is alive, but this is the last of the year, you know, and before
midnight we shall have many interesting ceremonies.  Why not stay until
to-morrow, and then I shall be happy to go with you?"

"I have a particular reason for wishing to go to-day," said Christian
Christiansson.

"That’s a pity, and our townspeople will be wofully disappointed.  To
tell you the truth, I’ve done nothing all morning but receive
deputations asking me to offer you a public banquet.  Every class of the
community is excited, and the students are talking of a torchlight
procession."

"That settles it, Mr. Finsen, I must go now in any case."

"You are too modest, Mr. Christiansson.  But perhaps you don’t know the
way.  And then look at the clouds--a snowstorm is coming."

"I know every inch of the way, and the snowstorm, if it is not too
heavy, will only add to my pleasure."

"If it is not too heavy!  Believe me, there’s nothing in the world more
miserable than being caught in a blinding snowstorm on the Moss Fell
Heath.  But if you must you must, sir, and if you have a particular
reason for going it is not for me to keep you back."

"It is late, Mr. Finsen, and the days are short--I must get off
immediately."

"I’ll send for ponies without delay, sir.  You’ll want two--one for
yourself, the other for your pony-boy.  You’ll be back in a few days, I
trust, so you’ll leave your baggage behind you."

The pony-boy with the ponies came round at noon, and by that time, the
report of Christiansson’s departure having passed through the town, a
number of the townspeople had gathered at the gate to see him off.
Among them were Palsson the banker, Oddsson the merchant, Zimsen the
captain, Jonsson the chairman of the Town Board, and (most surprising of
all) the Factor.

There was a tingling atmosphere of unsatisfied curiosity in the little
crowd, for rumor of the two hundred thousand crowns had passed from lip
to lip, and people were asking who the stranger was, who his father had
been, and what he could want with so much money.  When Christian
Christiansson, in his long blue ulster and close-fitting fur cap, came
out of the house, and parted from his host and hostess at the porch, he
seemed to be in high spirits, for he saluted everybody at the gate, and
mentioned most of the company by name.

This intensified the curiosity, and amid a running fire of chaff and
laughter the bolder ones began to probe with questions.

"You’ll put up at the Inn-farm to-night, Mr. Christiansson?"

"No doubt, Mr. Jonsson, no doubt."

"But there’s to be an auction there in the morning, you know--I say
there’s to be an auction in the morning, so you’ll be turned out
to-morrow."

"Unless," said the captain, with a wink in his weather eye, "unless Mr.
Christiansson buys up the old place and turns farmer and innkeeper."

"And why not, Captain Zimsen, why not?"

"Hard work early and late, sir."

"Well, no man ever won the day by snoring."

Christian Christiansson had swung to the saddle, when the Factor came up
to him with his rheumy eyes shining, and said:

"Don’t be surprised if I follow you to Thingvellir.  Life is short, and
before I die I have something to say to Magnus Stephenson."

"We talked of him on the ship, sir, didn’t we--him and his rascally
young brother?" said the merchant.

"We did," said Christian Christiansson, and then at the last moment, the
pony-boy being mounted, and everything ready, a spirit of recklessness
came over him, and he added, "But you made one mistake, Mr. Oddsson."

"And what was that, Mr. Christiansson?"

"You said Oscar Stephenson had never done anything in his life, except
putting an end to it, but he did one thing once, I remember.  He stood
for parliament when I was at home, and gave a dreadful drubbing to the
dunderhead who opposed him.  Good-bye!"

When he was gone it was the same is if a spell had been broken.
Something in his last word, something in his laugh, and something in the
lifting of his cap as he cantered up the road, had struck a vague
consciousness of his identity into the gossips at the gate.  For a
moment they stared into each other’s face in blank bewilderment and then
the merchant said:

"Who the deuce can he be then?"

"Shall I tell you who my sister says he is?" said the Factor.

"Who?"

"Oscar Stephenson himself."

It fell in their midst like a thunderbolt.

"Well, that would explain something,--I say that would explain
something," said the banker, and he told the story of Magnus
Stephenson’s interest.

Within half-an-hour the word had gone through the town with the rush and
rattle of the holme wind.  Christian Christiansson was Oscar Stephenson!
Almost in as many words he had said so himself, and there could not be a
doubt about it!

That night at the Artisans’ Institute there were a hundred stories of
Oscar Stephenson.  Some of them were good, and they were told with
tears; but some were bad, yet they were received with peals of laughter.
In the smoking-room of the hotel the students sang Oscar’s songs until
the lamps went out, and then they bellowed them through the darkness in
a dozen different keys, while the windows rattled with the vibration of
their lusty voices.

Meantime a group of sedater citizens had taken their surmise to the
Minister, and he had said with his shy smile:

"We cannot uncover his nakedness, you know, but we can go on with the
arrangements for the banquet, and so tempt him to reveal himself."

They went on with them immediately.  The banquet was to be at the
Templars’ Hall the night after the stranger’s return to Reykjavik.  The
Minister was to propose, "Christian Christiansson, Iceland’s favorite
son and heir!"  Then the students were to sing Oscar Stephenson’s
patriotic hymn, "Isafold! my Isafold! great land of frost and fire."
And after the guest had spoken the cathedral choir were to give
Christian Christiansson’s stirring anthem, "Who shall ascend into the
hill of the Lord, who shall rise up in His holy place?  Even he who has
clean hands and a pure heart, and hath not lifted up his mind with
vanity!"

Everything else was forgotten!  The odium attaching for ten years to
Oscar Stephenson’s name was gone!  The dishonor which Death itself could
not kill had disappeared before the blinding light of genius, the
glittering shrine of success!


                                 *VIII*

Meantime the man himself was on his way to Thingvellir. The clouds might
be low, but his heart was high; the sea might break on the black beach
with a monotonous moan, but his whole being sang a song of hope.  A wild
activity of thoughts, imagination, feelings, and impulses possessed him,
and for the first time since he returned to Iceland he was entirely
happy.

God had permitted him to come in time to save his people from being made
houseless and homeless!  He had sinned and he had suffered, but the
sacred duty of atonement was not to be denied him!  The Inn-farm, which
had been mortgaged to save him from the grip of the law, was to be given
back unburdened to his brother!  Two hundred thousand crowns were in his
breast pocket, and they were to buy the old place at the auction
to-morrow morning!

As he cantered up the road that led out of the town his soul careered
like a leaf in autumn under a bottom wind of hope and joy.  He saw
himself arriving at the farm in the dusk of the evening and meeting his
mother and Magnus and his daughter Elin.  He heard himself saying,
"Mother, don’t you know me?  I am Oscar, and I have come back to make
amends."  And next day, when the auction would be over, the Sheriff gone
and everybody crying for happiness, he saw himself taking Elin between
his knees--Elin with the eyes of Thora, yet with his own face looking at
him as in a glass--and saying, "You are to come with me now, my dearest,
and if you have gone short of anything as a child I will make it up to
you as a woman!"

The pony-boy caught the contagion of his high spirits, and as they
cantered along he sang snatches of the Elf-song:

    "Dance by night and dance by day,
    Life and time will pass away,
    Love alone will last alway."


He was a tall lad of eighteen who must have resembled his mother, for he
had the pink and white face of a girl.  They had passed the hot springs
and the Ellida river, and risen to the heights of the first hill on
their journey before the sunshine of the boy’s spirits began to be
overcast.  Then as they rested their ponies and tightened the girths, he
said in a frightened whisper:

"Do you hear it, sir?"

"Hear what?" said Christian Christiansson.

"The Peak," said the boy, pointing to a rock of rugged outline that
stood on the topmost line of the mountain to their right, with a dark
cloud, that was like a great monster of the air, poised above it.

"What about it, my boy?"

"The storm and the Peak are friends, sir, for they always talk together
before the wind comes down.  When people hear them talking they tremble,
because they know the storm is coming."

"Let us get on then," said Christian Christiansson.

In half-an-hour they had come to the bleak and barren country of the Red
Hill, the Red Lake, and the Deep Tarn with its dark waters and gloomy
shore, and by that time the great cloud which had been poised above the
Peak was broken into many parts, and each part seemed to be fighting the
others in the sky, for there were volleys of sound like thunder.

"Hadn’t we better stop at the farm at Middale, sir?" said the boy.

But Christian Christiansson thought of his mother, of Magnus, of Elin,
and of the auction to-morrow morning, and he determined to push on.

They were on the edge of the Moss Fell Heath when the snow began to
fall.  It fell at first in big flakes like dead butterflies, for there
was yet no wind on the ground, although the clouds were still scurrying
across the sky and the noise overhead was deafening.

Christian Christiansson remembered what the Minister had said, that of
all the miseries of life the worst was to be caught in a snowstorm on
this desolate moor, and for one moment he asked himself if he ought not
to go back to Middale and wait there until the storm had passed.  But at
the next instant he told himself that the devilish powers which had
dogged his steps since he landed in Iceland were trying to keep him back
from the good work he meant to do, so he must go on in any case.

"You’re not afraid, my lad?"

"Not to say afraid," faltered the boy.

"Let us gallop, then."

The Heath itself when they came to it was a white wilderness within the
embracement of black rocks and mountains. They were only able to find
the road by following the beacons, which were like white-headed
sentinels in single file, with their backs to the storm, going on and on
over the wide waste.

The sense of desolation was appalling, and a voice seemed to say, "Go
back while there is time to do so."  But again Christian Christiansson
thought of his mother, of Magnus, of Elin, and of the auction to-morrow
morning, and he urged his horse through the deepening snow.

They had not gone much farther when the wind came down and hurled itself
in their faces.  The snowflakes were pelted and slung at them like
splinters of flint.  It seemed as if every flake would cut through their
skin.  Then the cold became intense.  Ice gathered over their eyes, and
at every other minute they had to stop to break it away.

Finally the darkness descended upon them, the deadly, implacable
darkness of the wind and snow.  A wild torrent of whirling snowflakes
swept over the moor and concealed them from each other.  It became so
dark that they could only see a few yards on either side, and they had
to cry out at intervals in order to keep together.

They were now in the mighty grip of the storm and could no longer think
of going back.  The wind hissed and howled and wept; the snow pelted and
cut.  There was no shelter of rock or tree or bush on any side; there
was nothing about or above them but the wide wilderness and the
thickening darkness.

Christian Christiansson was sorry for the boy, but thus far his own
spirits had risen with every fresh phase of the tempest.  He had a sense
of fighting a fierce duel with the elements.  At the other end of his
journey were his mother and Magnus and Elin, and if he could reach them
before morning he would be able to succor and save them.  It was a race
as for life, for the lives of his nearest and dearest, against the wild
wantonness of elemental powers.  Nature herself, with more than her
usual heartlessness toward man, was at devilish war with his effort to
save his people.  But he would conquer her!  Let it snow or blow or hail
or thunder, he would reach home in time for the auction!

The ponies were the first to fail.  The one that Christian Christiansson
rode was a strong mare of mature age, but the boy’s was a young one,
newly broken, and it seemed to be suffocating in the snow and the wind.
After a time it turned its head from the storm and refused to go
forward, and then the boy had to alight and walk in front of it and tug
it along by the bridle.  In a little while it stopped altogether and
slid down on its side, and could with difficulty be raised to its feet
again.

"He’s only four, and this is his first journey," said the boy in a
whimpering tone, as he laid the lash on the pony’s back.

Then the boy himself began to give in.  He wore bag gloves (with two
thumbs but no fingers), and in tugging at the bridle he lost one of
them.  As a consequence his bare hand got frost-bitten and was soon
quite powerless.  In walking before the horse his clothes had frozen
stiff, and he was hardly able to put one foot before the other.  His
voice became weaker and his speech more broken, and when his companion
called back to him he could scarcely send forward his reply.  At last in
a faint voice he cried:

"Come and fetch me, sir--I have no strength left."

A little later he became delirious, talked of his mother, and tried to
strip off his clothes as if he were going to bed.

Christian Christiansson experienced deep anguish of mind at the thought
of the sufferings he had inflicted upon the lad, but he lifted him to
the saddle with his back to the horse’s head, and comforted him as well
as he could in his awful situation.

"Courage, my boy, courage!  The House of Rest cannot be far off.  We’ll
shelter there.  The storm will pass."

A vision of the little house of basaltic rocks, which he had entered
with Helga, had been floating through his mind like a dream of the
Calenture.  How long it took him to get there and with what desperate
exertions he never knew, but walking in front of the young pony and
leading the mare beside him, he reached the little house at last.

As soon as they were under cover, the boy dropped to his knees, and,
with a gibbering accent, as if speaking through half-frozen lips, he
began to repeat the Greed, "I believe in God the Father Almighty."  He
thought he was saying his prayers.

The House of Rest was badly provided, but it had hay for the horses, and
they began to munch it immediately.  There was no lamp, and when the
door was shut to keep out the driving snow, the place was in pitch
darkness.

After a while the air became warm with the breath of the ponies, and the
men’s clothes melted.  This made them very cold, and they had to beat
their arms under their armpits to keep their bodies from shivering and
their teeth from chattering.  Then the atmosphere grew hot, for the
ponies began to sweat, and the boy stripped off his outer garments, and
lay down with the young horse, boy and horse side by side, as if they
had been human companions.

Christian Christiansson threw himself upon the wooden platform prepared
for travelers, and listened to the storm outside.  The wind was howling
and hissing around the corners of the house, and he had the sense of the
snow becoming deeper and deeper about it.  If the storm continued the
little place might be buried before long, and then it would be difficult
or impossible to cut a way out.

His heart fell low.  He began to feel appalled by the awfulness of his
position.  The devilish elements were beating him. He was only half way
on his journey, and if he could not make the rest of it before morning,
his mother and Magnus and little Elin would be homeless.  Yet the storm
showed no sign of abating; the ponies were spent, the boy was done, and
it seemed impossible to go on.

Suddenly a new thought came to him and he raised himself and cried:

"My boy, my boy! do you know the road from Borg to Thingvellir?"

"Yes, sir," said the boy’s drowsy voice in the darkness.

"What sort of road is it?"

"Awful, sir."

"Worse than this?"

"Ten times worse--over the Hengel mountain and past the boiling pits,
sir."

"Thank God!" said Christian Christiansson, and he lay down again with
content, telling himself that the same storm that was keeping him back
must keep back the Sheriff, and therefore there could be no auction
to-morrow morning.

The storm still hissed and howled and wept in the wild wilderness
outside, but the tempest had now lost its terrors. The boy and the young
pony had fallen asleep and were breathing heavily, the mare was munching
the last of the hay, and Christian Christiansson, with his heart at ease
and a sense of safety, had settled himself for the night and was
dropping off into unconsciousness when there came a thud on the roof of
the little house.

He started up and listened, and again he heard the thud-thud over his
head.  The mare also heard the strange sounds, and ceasing to eat she
came across to him, as if in fear, and laid her head upon his legs.  It
was not at first that he realized that the sounds were human footsteps
and that somebody was walking on the roof, but as soon as he did so he
cried out to know who was there, and a voice that was like a voice out
of a grave answered, "Let me in."

He removed the saddles with which he had barricaded the door and opened
it.  There was then another doorway of the snow that had fallen since he
entered, but in a little while he had cut it away with the spade that
hung on the wall for that purpose.  At the next moment a man crossed the
threshold--a man and a horse.


                                  *IX*

"Oh, God!  What a night," said the stranger.  He seemed to be scared and
awe-stricken by the uproar he had come out of.

When Christian Christiansson had closed and barricaded the door afresh
the darkness seemed denser than ever.

"Have you any matches?" he asked.

"No--yes--that is to say, I’m afraid they’re damp," said the stranger.
He struck one and it spluttered out.

"Take care then.  A boy is lying asleep on the floor. Bring your horse
this way."

"Thanks!  How lucky I heard you!  I had lost the road, and was wondering
what hollow ground I was walking on when you shouted from below.  It
nearly frightened my life out."

It was a young voice; the stranger was clearly a young man, probably a
young farmer.  They talked together in the darkness, neither being able
to see the other’s face.

"Who are you, my lad?" asked Christian Christiansson.

"I am Eric Arnasson.  I come from Thingvellir.  Who are you, sir?"

"I am a traveler, and I’m on my way there."

"Going to the sale, I suppose?"

"Yes."

"Then I have just come from the house you are bound for."

"Are you a farm-servant at the Inn-farm?"

"Used to be, but the hands are all gone now.  I was the last to leave,
sir."

"Where are Gudrun and Jon Vidalin?"

"Farming Korastead these ten years sir."

"And Asher?"

"He has gone too.  We thinned down fast when the master got into
trouble.  I was with him from the time I was a little chap, but he paid
me off this afternoon."

"Where’s old Maria?"

"Dead long ago."

"Is there nobody left then?"

"Nobody but the master and his old mother and his young daughter."

"Daughter?"

"Well, everybody calls her so, but she’s only his niece."

"Is there nobody else in the house to-night?"

"Not a soul that I know of.  And they will not be there another night, I
suppose."

"But the sale can not take place to-morrow, my lad.  The Sheriff will
never be able to get there to-day.  He has to come from Borg, and the
road over the mountain is even wilder than this."

"The Sheriff is there now, sir."

"Now?"

"I left him in the kitchen when I came away, making a list of the house
property, and he was to sleep at the Parsonage."

Christian Christiansson’s hair seemed to rise from his head. There was
no escape from the terrible journey.  He must go on in spite of the
storm.  His limbs felt like lead, and when he tried to move them he
could only do so with a tremendous effort.  But he shook off his torpor
and began to saddle his mare.

"What do you think is the time, my lad?"

"I don’t know, my watch has stopped.  And then I have no light either.
It must be seven o’clock at least.  But you’re not thinking of going on
to-night, sir?"

"I must."

"You’ll never get to Thingvellir, sir.  It was bad enough for me with my
back to the storm, but it will be ten times worse for you with your face
to it.  You’ll be lost.  Your friends will see no more of you."

"Good night!  Take the boy back to Reykjavik in the morning."

Out on the snowfield again Christian Christiansson was conscious of
nothing but a headlong impulse to go on.  The saddle was damp, and he
had a sensation of riding in cold water; the snow was deeper than
before, and sometimes his horse stumbled up to its girths; the darkness
was now the darkness of night, and it was with difficulty that he could
follow the line of the beacons; the wind hurled itself against his body,
the snow slung itself against his face, but still he strained along, for
a new and inspiring thought had come to him.

The Almighty was fighting on his side in his fierce war with the
elements!  The devilish powers of Nature had been trying to keep him
back from saving his people, and when he reached the House of Rest they
had lulled him into a false repose, but God had sent the farm-servant to
warn him that his dear ones were still in danger, and that if he stayed
there until morning he would arrive at his journey’s end too late!
Thinking so, his heart grew strong, for he felt himself in the immediate
presence of Him who was greater than the greatest tempest.

But after some two hours had passed the sacred fire of this theory began
to fail him.  He was growing faint, and the beatings of his heart were
suffocating; he was also losing his way in the deepening snow, and when
his mare stumbled into the drifts he was scarcely strong enough to drag
her out of them.  Then, before he was aware of it, the voices of Nature
were speaking to him again.

"Why did you leave the House of Rest?  The Sheriff may be at the farm,
but no buyers can get there to-night, and without people to bid there
can be no auction."

Just as this thought came to him he saw a red speck gleaming through the
darkness, and he turned his horse’s head in the direction of the light.
It proved to be in the window of a farm-house, and finding the door he
shouted, and presently a man came out to him.

"I’ve lost my way," he cried, over the wailing of the wind. "Tell me,
please, what place this is?"

"This is Korastead," the man cried back, and then a woman came into the
hall-way and stood behind him.  The man was Jon Vidalin and the woman
was Gudrun, but neither of them knew him.

"Where were you going, sir?" said Jon.

"To the auction at Thingvellir."

"You are not so far out of your road, then.  Bear to the right until you
cross the river, and then follow the stones until you come to the
Chasm."

Christian Christiansson hesitated.  "I’m tired, having ridden from
Reykjavik, and it doesn’t seem much good going farther.  Nobody else
will be fool enough to travel in weather like this, and without people
to bid there can be no auction. So if you can give me shelter and a
shake-down----"

"You are welcome to the shelter, sir, but if you want the place you had
better go on and get there."

"Why so?"

"Because it’s a Sheriff’s sale, and he’ll sell in any case."

"How can he sell if there’s nobody to buy?"

"He’ll bid for somebody himself, sir, and we all know who that is."

"Who?"

"Somebody at Government House who has wanted the farm these fifteen
years."

"So you think the Sheriff will hold the auction to-morrow morning
whether anybody is there or not?"

"Sure to, sir.  The fewer there are to bid the better he’ll be pleased,
and the bigger the Minister’s bargain."

"I must go on then, I suppose," said Christian Christiansson.

"Come in and melt yourself first," said Jon.  "The wind is going
down--it will be quiet presently."

A few minutes later Christian Christiansson was drinking hot coffee in
the elt-house, while Jon and Gudrun talked of the family at the
Inn-farm.

"We were servants with the family for ten years, so we know them well,
sir," said Jon.

"Poor old Anna!" said Gudrun.  "She would be welcome to anything I have,
but with the boys growing up we haven’t a bed to spare in the
badstofa."’

"There’s an adopted daughter, isn’t there?"

"There is, sir, and anybody would be glad to have her for a helper, but
the master won’t hear of letting her go.  ’Elin shall be servant to
nobody,’ he says."

"It isn’t Magnus Stephenson’s fault if misfortune has overtaken him,"
said Jon.  "He has the strength of Samson and has done the work of six
men."

"How does he bear his troubles?"

"Badly," said Gudrun.  "He never goes to church now or reads the prayers
at home either."

"Yes," said Jon, "he has lost his religion, poor fellow, and when a man
loses that he loses everything, you know."

"People are afraid of him," said Gudrun.  "He looks like a man with no
luck, and he is always beating his arms about him and driving away the
good spirits that walk by a man’s side."

"And what do people say is the cause of the change in him?"

"The Bank and bad times," said Jon.

"And a bad brother," said Gudrun.  "His brother is dead and the old
mistress has made a saint of him, but she daren’t mention his name
before Magnus, or he gets up and goes out of the house."

"Does he hate him so much then?"

"There was a time when I believe in my heart he would have killed him,"
said Jon.

Christian Christiansson started up and prepared to go on to Thingvellir,
although his half-frozen limbs would scarcely cross the saddle or his
swollen fingers hold the reins.  Again his heart had fallen low, and the
hope with which he had begun his journey--the hope of a joyful reunion
at the end of it--was now gone.

The intensity of Magnus’s feeling made it impossible that he should
reveal himself to his people.  If he rode up to the door and said, "I am
Oscar, the report of my death was false, and I have come back rich and
prosperous," what would Magnus say?  He would say, "Your father is dead,
your wife is in her grave, your mother and your child have gone through
poverty and perhaps want, and all the consequence of your
transgressions--do you think that your miserable money will make
amends?"  And then his brother would fling him back into the road.

Not to-night could he make himself known--not to-night at all events!
Perhaps to-morrow, when the sale would be over and the Sheriff gone, and
he had smoothed the way and made sure of his welcome!  But now he must
go to the Inn like any other traveler who had come there to be present
at the auction and to bid for the estate.

Seeing his course clear in this way, his heart rose again and he pushed
on with a better will.  The storm had subsided, and when he came to the
sudden mouth of the Almanagja the wind dropped altogether, and it was
almost as if some vast volcano in the sky had poured its lava over the
earth in snow.

The Chasm itself was full of memories--memories of the day of his
triumph, the day of his disgrace--but icicles hung from where the flags
of the nations had floated, and drifts of snow, like mighty mushrooms,
were lying in the holes where the tents had been.  He remembered the
witch who had said "Beware of your brother," and he thought of the white
face that had broken in upon the dancing.  In the breathless calm the
sky came out and it spanned the brant walls like a majestical roof
studded with stars, but he stumbled in the darkness on to the frozen
surface of the drowning pool, and almost rode up to the spot where he
had sat with Helga.

At the bridge that crossed the frozen waterfall he caught his first
sight of the lighted windows of the Inn-farm, and then his heart seemed
to stand still.  His mother, his brother, and his little daughter were
there, and he had been ten years preparing to join them, but now that he
was so near, he could hardly bring himself to go on.

Would his mother recognize him--she who had read his features first and
known him from the cradle up?  He was afraid she would, and then, in the
tumult of his tossing heart, he was afraid she would not.  Nobody in
Iceland had known him hitherto, and now he was aware that he was leas
like himself than ever, for, seeing his face in a glass as he came out
of Korastead, he saw that his lips were swollen and his eyes bloodshot
with the heavy labor of that awful day.

He had crunched through the broken ice of the river below the bridge and
reached the silent snow of the pathway to the farm, when the door opened
and two men came out of the house.  "The Sheriff and the Pastor," he
thought. He drew rein and they did not hear him, but when they had taken
the path to the Parsonage, the dogs inside began to bark.

The palpitation of his heart was almost choking him, and it would have
taken little to make him turn about and fly. How long he stood
there--whether five minutes or ten--he never rightly knew.  A hundred
thoughts, more wild than the whirling snow, were tossing within his
brain.  But thinking at length that Almighty God who had brought him
through the perils of that fearful day--defeating the designs of the
devil and of the elements, and driving him before His mighty will as
before a greater hurricane--could not have led him there at last to any
end save a good one, he urged his horse to the foot of the steps and
raised his whip to the window.


                                  *X*

Magnus Stephenson had indeed lost his religion.  For fifteen years he
had believed with all the strength of his soul that everybody in this
life was treated according to his deserts; that if you did right you
were rewarded sooner or later, and if you did wrong you were punished.
But experience of the world had little by little, and year by year,
inflicted upon his profound faith in the rule of conscience the most
inexplicable contradictions.  The man who lived a good life was not
being rewarded, and the man who lived an evil one was not being
punished.  What, then, was there left to believe? That there was no God
in the universe at all, or that if there were a God He did nothing!

Magnus Stephenson had tried to do what was right.  He had taken up the
burdens which others laid down and he had struggled on with a strong
heart.  For fifteen years he had labored like a slave, and though his
arrears of debt constantly accumulated, he had never allowed himself to
believe that the end was coming on.  The mortgage was monstrous, the
interest was exorbitant, and the Bank would come to see that more than
he got out of the land and stock it was impossible for man to make!

But the deed of execution had been served on him at length, the
advertisements of the sale had been published, and the two preliminary
auctions had been held.  Then, as if in a moment, the man’s religion had
disappeared and his soul had sent up that sublime if blasphemous cry,
which since the beginning of the world has borne to heaven the
lamentation and protest of humanity against the misery of man: "I have
obeyed Your laws; I have lived a good life; I have assisted the poor and
helped the oppressed; I have shared my bread with the orphan and
protected the widow--what have You done for me?"

In the grim silence which follows that ghastly question, it is more than
a man’s religion that disappears, and Magnus Stephenson’s belief in
right and wrong, his faith in justice, in conscience, and in virtue had
gone down together, leaving nothing but the fierce convulsions of his
animal nature.

From the moment the Sheriff arrived to make the inventory he had done
little but sit in the hall and drink.  He sat there all day long, with
his coarse snow-stockings over his boots, his sullen face to the stove,
his hands deep in his trouser pockets, his broad forehead heavily
wrinkled under the rough stubble of his iron-grey hair, his massive jaw
resting on his breast, and his mighty loins making the chair creak as he
moved and turned.

At intervals during the day his mother tried to comfort him.

"Don’t be too downhearted, Magnus," said Anna.  "The stars shine when it
is dark, you know."

"Isn’t it dark enough yet?" said Magnus, and he laughed bitterly and
drank again.

At intervals Elin came to him also.  She was a tall girl now, nearly
sixteen years of age, with a whisper of womanhood in her face and form,
but coming in her short blue skirt and buckled shoes she would slide
into a seat on Magnus’s knee and, slipping one arm about his neck, put
the other hand on his hot forehead, and try to soothe him in her
motherly little way.

But "There, there!  That will do.  Go to your grandmother. I’m tired,"
he would say.

Early in the day he had been tormented by thoughts of the travelers who
might come from a distance to stay over-night in order to be present at
the auction, and in his mind’s eye he saw the Inn-farm full of them,
with their indifferent talk and heartless laughter, and himself in his
impotent rage itching with a desire to fling them into the road.  But
when the storm broke his fears on that head were appeased, and while the
wind and snow wailed and wept about the house he sat for hours alone in
a gloomy and tragic pence.

Besides the Sheriff, the only person who visited the house that day was
the Pastor, and he came as late as ten at night to take the Sheriff back
to lodge with him.  By that time all that was left of the broken
household had gathered in the hall, where Magnus still sat before the
stove, while the Sheriff, with Anna and Elin, stood by the dresser
making an end of the inventory.

"Ugh!  What a night!" said the Pastor, stamping the snow off his
stockings.  "You’re not likely to be brought out of bed by travelers on
a night like this--that’s some consolation, isn’t it?"

He was a garrulous old man, with a shallow heart and a shallow head, who
chewed the cud of his humdrum livelihood with content on his stipend of
fifty pounds a year.

"So this is to be your last night in the old home, Anna! What a pity!
Well," tapping his snuff-box, "naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and
naked shall I return thither! Blessed be the name of the Lord!"

Magnus moved his chair impatiently and made contemptuous noises in his
throat.

"I’ve known the old house through all its days of joy and sorrow for
forty-five years, Anna.  Ever since your poor father that’s dead--I
buried him myself, God rest his soul!----"

"God rest his soul," said Anna.

"Ever since the day he gave you away as a bride.  And a nervous,
blushing, tender-hearted little bride you were, too!"

Again Magnus shuffled in his chair and made noises in his throat.

"I remember it so well because it was the same year that your father’s
big barn was burnt down, and his cousin Jorgen was found dead in the
Chasm.  What a sensation that made! What inquiries!  What examining
witnesses!  Your predecessor had something on his hands in those days,
Sheriff."

The Sheriff muttered some commonplace and Magnus kicked at the
smouldering wood in the stove.

"Suspicion actually fell upon your father, you remember, and because he
had been drinking and was such an ungovernable man when he was
drunk----"

"Oh, for the Lord’s sake let’s have done with this," cried Magnus.

"Magnus Stephenson," protested the Pastor, "if we are in trouble let us
behave like God’s rational creatures----"

"Rational hell!" growled Magnus, whereupon the Sheriff, to avoid further
friction, closed his book with a bang, saying he had finished and was
ready to go.

Magnus sat quiet while the Sheriff--a sharp-featured man with the eyes
of a ferret--put on his snow-shoes and cloak, and then with a tremor in
his voice and a somber fire in his eyes he turned and said:

"Is it all over, sir?"

"Yes; it was a long job, but it’s over at last," said the Sheriff.

"I mean," said Magnus, "is it certain that the auction must take place?"

"Quite certain.  There has never been any doubt of it that I know of."

"Look here, sir," said Magnus, heaving up to his feet.  "A Sheriff can
do a good deal if he cares to use his influence. Give me another chance,
and you shall have everything I owe. I’ve had five bad years in
succession--no wonder I fell into arrears.  Last spring I lost forty
lambs in a single night, and next morning two heifers and a calf.  The
floods came in the autumn, too.  And half my hay was swept into the
lake.  But weather like that can’t last forever.  We are sure to have a
run of good years next.  Give me four years more, sir--and you shall see
what I can do."

"The thing is past praying for," said the Sheriff.

"Don’t say that, sir.  Listen!  My people have farmed this place for a
hundred and fifty years, and a man doesn’t like to be the one to lose
it.  My own flesh and blood are in the land too--the strength of my
muscles and the sweat of my brow.  Give me three years more, sir--just
three."

"Impossible!" said the Sheriff.

"Sheriff, come this way," said Magnus, drawing the man aside by the arm
and speaking in a low voice, so that the women might not hear.  "I don’t
care a straw about myself I’ll get along somehow, and if I don’t it
doesn’t matter--but there’s the child.  She ought to inherit the farm,
and she’s an orphan, but she’ll get nothing.  Give me a chance for the
child’s sake, Sheriff.  Don’t be hard on me.  Sell up half my stock to
pay part of the interest and let me have two years more--only two."

"You know quite well that the mortgage is on the loose property as well
as the land," said the Sheriff.  "How can I sap away the security?  As
for the girl, she’s young and strong; let her go into service."

Magnus bit his lip in an effort to control himself, and then he said,
"You are quite right, sir; the girl and I can take care of ourselves,
but there’s the old mother.  She was born in this house and she expected
to die here.  I shouldn’t so much mind if she were gone, and to tell you
the truth she’s not well now, sir.  Give me one more year, Sheriff--one
single year."

"It’s no use wasting words," said the Sheriff.  "Matters have gone too
far.  The only thing I can do now is----"

"What, sir?"

"If you can pay me the whole of the interest before nine o’clock
to-morrow morning I can stop the sale on my own responsibility."

"Eight thousand crowns!" said Magnus, raising his voice to a cry of
derision; "you ask me to find you eight thousand crowns before nine
o’clock to-morrow morning?  You might as well ask me to find you the
moon!"

"Then let us say no more on the subject.  The Bank has been very
patient, very indulgent----"

"The Bank!" cried Magnus, in the wild defiance of his despair.  "Has the
Bank got a mother?  Has the Bank got a child?  No!  The Bank is a great,
grinding monster without bowels of compassion for anybody.  God damn the
Bank and all its fools and flunkeys!"

"Magnus Stephenson," said the Pastor, raising his little fat hand, "I
will ask you to remember that a clergyman is in your company, and if you
take God’s name in vain----"

"Take God’s name in vain!  You do that often enough--you do it every
Sunday."

"I’ll not pretend to misunderstand you, Magnus Stephenson, for I know
you are deeply tainted with skepticism, and since you ceased to come to
church----"

"Church!  You pray to God in your churches, and what does He do for you?
What does He do for any one?  What has He done for me?"

"If your life had been straight and pure God would have watched over
you."

"And hasn’t it?  Haven’t I tried to do what was right? And yet God is
seeing me sold up and turned out, and my dear ones left to die in a
ditch."

"God chastises His own, and if we only have faith in Him----"

"Faith in Him?  Where is He?  Is He in the Northlands? I have never
heard of it.  Is He in the Southlands? I’ve never seen Him here, though
I’ve seen the devil often enough.  He’s in the clouds if He’s anywhere,
and that’s no use to me."

"Magnus Stephenson----"

"If God is on the earth let Him do something.  Here’s His chance.  You
call the poor His people, don’t you? Well, I’ve fed and sheltered His
people for fifteen years, and now I want feeding and sheltering myself.
I want eight thousand crowns before nine o’clock to-morrow morning, and
if God can do anything in the world let him find me the money and save
my mother and my child from starvation. But He can’t do it!  He can do
nothing!"

"Magnus Stephenson," said the little clergyman, raising his little fat
hand again, "when you come to stand before the great white throne God
will have something to forgive you."

"Pastor Peter, when I come to stand before the great white throne I
shall have something to forgive God, it seems to me."

"Blasphemy!  Blasphemy!" cried the Pastor, and as he followed the
Sheriff out of the house Magnus sent a ringing laugh of contempt after
him into the darkness of the night. At the same moment two sheep-dogs
that had been lying at the door with their snouts on their paws, as if
anxious to join the uproar, began to growl and bark, whereupon Magnus
(who had always been a lover of animals) kicked them savagely and then
reeled back to his seat by the stove.

The strangers being gone and the little family alone, Elin, who had been
standing by the dresser, went over to Magnus and slid into her seat on
his knee and said:

"You must not think about me, Uncle Magnus.  Wherever you have to go I
will go too, and what is good enough for you is good enough for Elin.
And then, who knows what may happen before the Sheriff comes back in the
morning?  This is New Year’s Eve, you know.  All good things come at New
Year--miracles come at New Year, Uncle."

But the sweet buoyancy of her girlish spirits, which had been the
sunshine of his life for so many years, was failing him at last, and
putting her aside with petulant expressions he got up and went out to
the back.

Then Anna, who had been sitting in silence by the table, took the Bible
and four hymn-books from the corner cupboard and rang the bell for
prayers.

"I wonder why I did that?" she said.  "I forgot that Eric was gone.  I
hope he found shelter somewhere, poor boy--I should pity a dog that had
to be out of doors on a night like this."

And then Elin, in default of Magnus, read the lesson which Anna had
marked for her.  It was the psalm beginning, "The Lord is my Shepherd, I
shall not want."  And when the short chapter was finished the two women
stood up and sang a hymn--Elin in the silvery treble of youth and Anna
in the husky tones of age, they two only in the lonely house among the
solitary hills, with nothing about them but the darkness and the
snow--nothing but that and the immeasurable wings of God.

    "Happy the man whose tender care
    Relieves the poor distressed;
    When he by trouble’s compassed round
    The Lord will give him rest."


Anna sat down when the hymn was ended, but Elin continued to stand by
the table, and closing her eyes with her innocent face uplifted, she
said a little prayer for herself.

"O Father," she said, "bless Uncle Magnus, so that he may fear no evil.
Show me how to help him, so that I may not be a burden and a care.  Dear
Jesus, send the miracle that will save Uncle Magnus and grandma and me.
It will be such a little thing to you, but such a great, great thing to
us, and we shall all be so happy and dwell in the house of the Lord
forever.  For Christ’s sake.  Amen."

Then she opened her trustful eyes and said, "I’m sure He will, grandma,"
and kissing Anna she said "Good night" in a cheery voice and went off to
bed.

Prayers being over, Magnus returned to the hall and began to rake out
the stove for the night.  The clouds hung heavier on him than ever, and
thinking to banish them Anna talked of Elin.

"She grows more and more like her mother, and sometimes I think it can
only be a dream that our dear Thora is dead. If you had heard her
praying for the miracle it would have filled your heart brimful.  She
has gone to bed quite certain that the miracle will come before
morning."

"It would _have_ to be a miracle to help us now, mother," said Magnus.
"And miracles don’t happen--except such of them as we make for
ourselves."

"What do you mean by that, Magnus?" said Anna, lighting the candles.

"I mean--if I had to live my life over again, I shouldn’t try to do what
is right, mother."

"You wouldn’t do what is wrong, would you?"

"There is no wrong and no right, mother; there is only what is best, and
if I had to begin over again, I should do what was best--best for myself
and for the people about me."

"You don’t know what you are saying, Magnus.  There are moments when it
might _seem_ to be best to rob, even to kill----"

"And why not?" said Magnus--he was bolting the door. "If a man came to
this house to-night with eight thousand crowns in his pocket, do you
think I should hesitate to take them?"

"My son, you don’t mean it."

"I do!"

"You are driven to despair, Magnus, and a despairing man’s words belong
to the wind.  If I thought you meant it I should die--I should die this
very minute."

She was crying and there was silence for a moment, and then Magnus said:

"Never mind, mother.  It doesn’t matter whether I meant it or not, the
temptation isn’t likely to come to me.  Give me the candle and let us go
to bed."

"You have borne a terrible burden, Magnus, and if I could only have
helped you to bear it----"

"You have, mother.  If it had not been for you and Elin I should have
gone under ten years ago."

"Your father knew he had robbed you of your inheritance, and perhaps
that helped to kill him in the end."

"It wasn’t father’s fault altogether.  _He_ tried to do what was right,
too.  But the poor wretch who comes after the prodigal gleans in a
barren field, you know."

With their candles in hand they were turning to go--Anna to the badstofa
above, and Magnus to the guest-room off the hall--when the dogs, who had
risen again, and were snuffling at the bottom of the door, began to
growl and bark.

"There’s somebody coming," said Magnus.

A moment later there was a sharp knock at the window, as with a metal
end of a riding-whip, and a tremulous, high-pitched voice outside,
making the customary Icelandic salutation, "God be with you!"

They looked at each other in blank surprise, while backward thoughts
galloped through their minds, and then Magnus, forgetting to give the
customary reply, walked back to the door, and threw it open.

There was a dull thud of heavy feet on the outside steps, and at the
next moment a man stood on the threshold.  He seemed to be an old man,
for his eyebrows, beard, and mustache, and as much as could be seen of
his hair under the peaked hood of his ulster, were white with snow.  One
moment he stood there as if breathless after his journey, looking from
Magnus to the mother, and from the mother to Magnus.  Then he said, in
the same tremulous voice as before:

"Can I have a bed here to-night, and shelter for my horse?"

It seemed to Anna that he spoke to her, but instead of answering
immediately, she looked across at Magnus with helpless eyes that were
full of inexpressible fears.  Magnus looked back at his mother and
hesitated for an instant, while he held the door open with his hand.
Then:

"Come in, sir," he said, and the stranger stepped into the house.



                               *PART VII*


    "_The ball no question makes of ayes and noes,_
    _But right or left, as strikes the player goes;_
    _And He who tossed you down into the field,_
    _He knows about it all--He knows--HE knows._"


                                  *I*

"The little mare is hot--she’ll want a rub down and a rest before you
give her a feed."

"I’ll see to that, sir," said Magnus, and he went out and pulled the
door after him.

Christian Christiansson had taken two paces into the hall, and was
standing there like a man who is dazed.  His heart was thumping against
his ribs, and his pulse was beating violently, and he felt that he would
fall if he took another step forward.  So often had he pictured himself
in that place that he could not at first believe in the reality.  Coming
out of the darkness, the light of the candles dazzled him, but he looked
round the room, trying to remember.  At one glance he took in
everything--the old portraits on the wall, the old Bornholme clock in
the corner, the stove and the armchair in front of it--and, fresh from
the warm comfort of Government House, the Inn-farm seemed bare and
bleak.  This sent a chill pang of remorse to his mind, and the pain of
conscience increased when he looked at his mother.

Her hair was white that had once been dark, and her face, which had been
full of the loveliness of love and the beauty of happiness, was scored
deep with lines of suffering.  His heart yearned over her, and
notwithstanding his determination not to reveal his identity until
morning, it was as much as he could do to restrain himself from saying
as well as he could for the emotion that was mastering him, "Mother,
don’t you know me?  I am Oscar," and then throwing his arms about her
dear neck as he had always meant to do.

Meantime Anna, who had recovered her self-control and was lighting the
lamp that swung from the ceiling, glanced across at the new-comer and
thought, "He’s nearly frozen stiff, and no wonder."  With that thought
she bustled about to rekindle the stove, and called on him to remove his
snow-covered clothing.

"Won’t you take off your cloak and boots, sir?" she said, and though the
question was so commonplace he could not answer immediately, for his
voice would not come.

"Your cloak and boots, sir, and I’ll put them to dry by the stove."

"Ah yes, of course, certainly."

She stood by him while he threw off his ulster and shook the snow from
his hair and beard, emerging a younger and stronger man, but she only
thought, "A stranger, I suppose. Why does he travel in this weather?"

When he had pulled off his riding-boots, she brought him a pair of
Magnus’s slippers and said:

"You must have had a terrible ride, sir."

"It was pretty bad certainly," he said, and after that he got on better.

"A gentleman must have been anxious to get on with his journey to travel
on a day like this."

"I was--I had something to do at the end of it."

"Have you come far, sir?"

"Altogether?  Yes, very far."

"From Reykjavik perhaps?"

"Farther than that--from England."

"From England!"

"From London."

As he stooped to put on the slippers he thought his mother was looking
at him, and he trembled between fear and hope of being recognized.

"I suppose," he said--his head was down--"I suppose you’ve never been as
far as that, landlady?"

"No, sir."

"Nor any of your family?"

He could not resist the temptation to say this, but his mother did not
seem to hear him--she was on her knees, breaking sticks into the stove.

"Sit up and warm yourself, sir.  My son raked out the fire, but these
sticks will burn presently.  You are here on business, I suppose?"

"Yes, I’m here on business."

Anna thought of the auction and waited for the stranger to speak of it.
When he did not do so she said, "Travelers come from England to buy
sheep and ponies, but they don’t often come in the winter, sir."

Still he did not speak (he was thinking of Elin and looking round for
any trace of her), and rising from the stove Anna said:

"But you’ll be hungry after your long ride--what can I give you to eat?"

"Anything at all--anything you have ready."

"I’m afraid I have nothing ready--that is to say, nothing that is good
enough for the like of you, sir."

As soon as he could find his voice after that he said, "Don’t you always
keep smoked mutton in an Iceland house?"

"Well, yes, if that will do, sir."

"I should like it above all things."

There was a moment’s silence, and he thought his mother was looking at
him again.  "Then perhaps you are an Icelander?" she said.

"Yes, I’m an Icelander," he answered.

"What is your name?"

Another wild impulse to reveal himself immediately to his mother, nearly
swept down his fears, for he was choking with a sense of duplicity and
his conscience was fighting in contrary ways, but after a moment his
prudence conquered, and with a gulp in his throat he said:

"They call me Christian Christiansson."

"Well, it’s lucky you found us up, sir.  We were on the point of going
to bed."

"I suppose the other members of your family are gone already?"

"There’s only one besides what you’ve seen--my granddaughter--and she
had just gone off as you came in, sir."

He looked at her as she was crossing in front of him, and saw that she
was wearing the brooch which he had given her when he came back from
Oxford.  That sent all the blood to his head again, and he was saying,
before he was aware of it--

"Do you know, landlady, I’ve slept in this house before?"

"It must have been a long time ago then--I don’t remember you."

"It was a long time ago.  That," pointing to the portrait of Anna on the
wall, "that is a portrait of yourself, isn’t it?"

"It used to be, but I was younger when it was like me, sir."

A sudden softening came into his voice as he replied, "It was exactly
like you when I saw you last, landlady."

"Then you’ve not been here for ten years at least, sir."

"Quite ten years," he answered.  "And that," pointing to the portrait of
the Governor, "is a portrait of your husband."

"It must be more than ten years since you were here, sir, for my husband
is more than twelve years in his grave."

"It is more than ten years.  In fact it is sixteen years--nearly
sixteen."

She looked fixedly at him for a moment and something in her memory
seemed to stir, for her bosom heaved perceptibly, but she only said,
with a deep sigh, "We’ve seen trouble since you traveled in these parts
before, sir."

"Ah, yes, I’ve heard of it--I heard of it in Reykjavik. You had a
son----"

"That was my son who opened the door to you."

"But you had another son--a younger son."

"Yes, but--we never talk of him now, sir."

"Who’s portrait is that in your brooch, landlady?"

"It’s his--he is dead."

"Died in disgrace, didn’t he?"

"Who knows that, sir?  Man sees the deed, they say, but God the
circumstance."

"They think hard things of him in Reykjavik, though. They say he robbed
his father of every penny when he went away, and never sent anything
home toward the maintenance of his child."

"It needs no skill to wound the defenceless," said Anna, bridling up.
"The father robbed himself to save his son, if you want to know the
truth, and as for never sending anything home for the child the poor boy
had nothing to send, for he was poor himself, sir."

"So you found that out, did you?"

"After he was dead we did--one of his father’s English friends wrote to
tell us so.  And all the time he had been writing letters to me to say
how busy he was and how well he was succeeding--just to keep up my heart
and save me from fretting."

The mother’s lingering fondness for her prodigal was rising in her eyes
and breaking in her voice and she was trying to turn away, but he could
not let her go.

"What a pity his father didn’t live long enough to hear that!  It would
have softened his heart toward him, perhaps."

"It didn’t need softening, sir--not at the end at all events."

"His father forgave him, did he?"

"He died thinking his son had become a great man and had justified all
his hopes and atoned for everything.  It was only a delusion, sir, but
it made him very happy."

"Your son was a musician, wasn’t he?"

"Yes, sir, and from the time he was a child he used to scribble things
and call them his compositions.  The pieces of paper always disappeared
and I never knew what had become of them, but when his father was lying
dead I found out where they were."

"And where were they?"

"In his poor father’s hands."

Christian Christiansson had gone on and on, while the hot blood throbbed
in his brain, struggling between the desire to reveal himself and the
fear of doing so, but he was drawn up at last by a stifling sense of his
own unworthiness, and before he knew what he was doing he said:

"The man who could do wrong to a father who loved him like that must
have been a scoundrel--a bad-hearted scoundrel, and he deserved
everything that happened to him."

"He was nothing of the kind, sir," said Anna.  "He may have done
wrong--I’m not defending him--but a better-hearted boy was never born
into the world.  Everybody loved him, and he loved everybody, and as for
me----"

Christian Christiansson recovered himself at the sound of Anna’s
faltering words.  "God bless her!" he thought, and his heart danced to a
new song, but he only said, with a perceptible lowering of his voice, "I
beg your pardon!  Naturally his mother cannot think so, but this is the
first time I’ve heard a good word for him since I came to Iceland."

"I hadn’t meant to speak of him at all, sir.  I never do when my other
son is near--Hush!  He is coming back."

But the noise which they heard behind them was that of the opening and
closing of a bedroom not a kitchen door, and it was followed by the
light footstep of a girl, whereupon Anna said:

"Elin!  I thought you were in bed and asleep, my child."

"I was, but I awoke and heard you had a visitor, so I got up to help,
grandma."

Christian Christiansson trembled from head to foot.  The silvery voice
at his back seemed to come to him from across a wide abyss--for it was a
familiar voice but vague as with the mist of dreams and dim as with the
clouds of night.

"This is my granddaughter, sir," said Anna.  And then Christian
Christiansson turned and saw her--a young girl as tall as a woman, with
fair complexion, a soft smiling face, and beautiful blue eyes.  She wore
a laced bodice, a turned-down collar, a hufa, a tassel, plaited hair,
and looked like the living picture of what her mother had been when he
came from college.

It was his daughter, his little Elin, whom he had traveled so far to
see, but it seemed to him as if all the cruel years had rolled back in a
moment, and it was Thora returned to life.


                                  *II*

"Well, now that you are here, you had better lay the table," said Anna.

"Yes, grandma," said the girl.

"Put on the smoked mutton and the Rullapilsa and the Rikling, while I go
to the elt-house to make coffee."

"Yes, grandma."

"Make yourself at home, Christian Christiansson--my granddaughter will
wait on you."

"I will," he tried to say, but his voice would scarcely come.

Anna being gone, he sat for some moments looking at Elin while she
tripped from dresser to table, and in and out of the pantry, spreading
the cloth, and laying the plates and the food.  The girl was so simple,
so natural, so free from self-consciousness, that she seemed to be
hardly aware of his presence, for she hummed to herself softly as if
some song-bird in her breast could not be kept quite still.  His heart
swelled and throbbed as his eyes followed her about, and when she left
the room the light seemed to fail in it, and when she came back the air
seemed to become warm.  In the dizzy happiness of that hour he felt as
if he had lost a daughter in every one of the fifteen years he had lived
without her, and now that she was near, so close, his hands burned and
itched to hold her.  He wanted to take her in his arms and say, "My
child!  My child!  Doesn’t something tell you who I am?  I am your
father, and I have wanted you so much and thought of you so often, and
now I have come to fetch you and we shall never be parted again!"  But
between fear of frightening her and dread of disclosing himself, all he
could do was to conquer the fluttering in his throat and say:

"Your name is Elin, isn’t it?"

"Yes, sir," said the girl.

"What a beautiful name it is, too--Eleen!  Your father chose it, didn’t
he?"

"I have never heard that, sir.  Did grandmother say so?"

"Grandmother and I," he stammered, "have been talking of your father.
You don’t remember him?"

"Oh no, sir--he died when I was quite little."

"What a loss that must have been to you, my child!"

"I can’t say that, sir," said the girl, "because, you see, Uncle Magnus
has been the same as a father to me all my life, and I have never known
any difference."

"What a loss to your father himself then!  How happy you would have made
him, and how proud he would have been of you!"

"I can’t say that either," said the girl again, "because he lived five
years after I was born, and it seems he never took any notice of me."

"Did grandmother tell you so?"

"Oh no, sir.  Indeed no!  Nor Uncle Magnus neither. But everybody know
all about my father, and even the girls at school knew that."

A feeling of mortal shame came over him, and the warm pulsing place in
his breast grew still and cold.

"So you are not sorry your father is dead, Elin?"

"It wouldn’t be right to say that, sir."

"At all events you feel no love for him?"

"I never knew him--you can’t love somebody you never knew, can you?
Perhaps if he had lived longer and returned home I might have come to
love him.  But I don’t see how I could if what people say about him is
true."

"What do they say, my child?"

"They say he was unkind to my mother, and that that was one of the
reasons why she died so early."

"Then you never wish you could have seen and known your father?"

"How can I?  If he wasn’t good to my poor mother, why should I think he
would have been good to me?  But see, your supper is ready.  Grandma
will bring the coffee presently; won’t you begin with the meat, sir?"

He sat down to the table but his hunger was gone.  For a moment he
almost wished himself back in the black night from which he had come.
The girl’s simple words had been ringing the death-knell of his
expectations.  He had left her all these years to the keeping and care
of others--could he expect to come back now and find the affection he
had forfeited?  Ah no!  He had come too late--too late!  But just as one
part of the plan he had formed for himself was becoming vague and
shadowy a gleam of new light was shot into his brain, and his heart rose
with a bound.

"Didn’t grandma call you Christian Christiansson?" asked the girl.

"Yes," he answered.  "Ever hear that name before, my child?"

The girl turned to him with a face glowing with excitement and said,
"Everybody in Iceland has heard it, sir.  It is the same as the name of
the great composer who lives in England."

A deafening tumult of joy was rising within him, and he said, "So
you--you have heard of him, have you?"

"I sing his songs, sir.  They are beautiful!  I think they are the most
beautiful songs in the world.  Would you like me to sing one of them
while you eat your supper?"

"Will you?"

"I should like to," she said, and before he could catch the breath which
had been suspended she had slipped off like a shaft of moonlight and was
back like a ray of the sun, bringing a guitar in her hands.

"This was my mother’s guitar, and now it’s mine, and it’s such a good
one," she said, and with the utter freedom from self-consciousness which
is the charm of children she sat and began to play.  After a moment she
stopped, with her head aside, and said:

"Which should it be, I wonder?  But perhaps you know them all and would
like me to sing something in particular?"

His face was down, the waves of emotion were surging through and through
him.  "Sing--sing anything you like, my darling," he replied.

The fluttered earnestness of his words startled her for a moment, but
she only smiled with a new sweetness and began to sing, first in low,
clear half-tones, and then in a high, tremulous treble that was like the
peal of a lark at the gate of heaven.

Christian Christiansson could not eat; he could only rest his elbows on
the table and cover his face with his hand. His own child was singing
his own song to him in a voice that was like her mother’s voice and like
his own voice too!

When the song was done she turned to him again with eyes shining with
unshed tears and said, "Isn’t that beautiful?"

"It was beautifully sung, my child, beautifully!" he said. And then,
after a moment, "Elin, would you like to hear something of the man who
wrote that song and how he came to write it?"

Elin’s eagerness was heart-breaking.  "Indeed, indeed I should," she
said.  "Do you know your namesake then?"

"I have known him all his life, my child."

"Tell me about him.  Oh, do tell me.  One who has such beautiful
thoughts and feelings must be so good and noble."

"He is neither the one nor the other, Elin, but only a poor wayward
sinner like ourselves.  In early life he did wrong by his young wife and
she died.  Then he did wrong by his father and he had to fly from his
country.  After that he went through many sufferings and was guilty of
many sins, but he came to himself at the end, and then he remembered a
little daughter whom he had left behind him.  He wished to return to her
immediately, and be a father to her at last, and make it up to her for
all that he had done amiss to her mother who was dead.  But there were
many things to do first, for he was like one who was buried under an
avalanche which he had brought down on himself, and he had to work his
way back to life and the world.  So when he was far away and his heart
was hungry for the love of his little girl, and he didn’t know what was
happening to her, and he wanted so much--oh so much--to go to her, but
could not do so yet because he had sinned and must pay his penalty, he
wrote that song, and it was the cry of his soul to the mother in heaven
to comfort and care for their child on earth."

As Elin listened to the story of Christian Christiansson the tears which
had been standing in her eyes rolled down her cheeks, and her bosom
under her laced bodice slowly rose and as slowly fell again.

"How beautiful!" she said.  And seeing how much she was moved by the
sorrows of the man who was not her father, the new light came to him and
he asked himself why, if she could not care for him in his true
character, she should not love him as Christian Christiansson.

There was a shadowy ghost of pain in that thought too, but he put it
aside.  After years of hope and heavy labor he had come home to claim
his child, and what he had dreaded had come to pass--her heart had been
poisoned against him.  But while she loathed him as Oscar Stephenson she
loved him as Christian Christiansson!  Oh, beautiful, blind, pathetic
fallacy, could he not let it be?

In a tumult of heart and brain that was like a whirlpool in a dark
river, he had risen to go to the girl, hardly knowing what he was to do
or say, when Anna came back with a smoking coffee-pot in her hand,
saying in a cheery voice:

"Here it is at last!  The fire had gone out in the elt-house, and I had
work enough to kindle it."

And then, having both in the room at one moment--his mother and his
daughter--his feelings almost mastered him again, and he had as much as
he could do to keep himself from blurting out everything and so being
done with further torture.  But just as the words of his confession were
trembling on his lips he thought, "Not to-night; to-morrow morning; and
then what joy, what happiness!"

Almost at the same moment Magnus returned to the house and said, "The
little mare was nearly done, sir, but I’ve rubbed her down and given her
hay, and she shall have a mash before I go to bed."

"Let us have a bottle of brandy first," said Christian Christiansson,
and a few minutes later Elin was carrying away the dishes to wash them,
Anna was going into Magnus’s bedroom to make it ready for the guest, and
the two brothers were sitting at opposite sides of the table with the
bottle between them.


                                 *III*

They were less like each other now than ever before--the elder with his
matted, black beard, his strong features, and the vertical lines in his
low brow under the upright stubble of his iron-grey hair; the younger
with his luminous brown eyes and delicate face, his full round forehead,
and his thin, silken, light hair brushed backward to the crown.

Christian Christiansson was quivering to the core at this first
encounter with the brother whom he had wronged and ruined, but he tried
to bear himself bravely and to see how safe it would be to reveal his
identity when the time came to do so.

"It’s good of you to give up your room to me," he began.

"That’s nothing--nothing at all," said Magnus.

"And perhaps you ought to know why I’m here to-night."

"Please yourself, sir--please yourself."

"To tell you the truth, then, I’m here to attend the auction to-morrow
morning.  I only heard of it in Reykjavik yesterday, having arrived by
the ’Laura’ the day before."

"So that was the business that brought you, sir?"

"It was.  I’ve been abroad for fifteen years, and I’ve made some money,
and now I’ve come home to invest it.  So knowing this was a good
farm----"

"None better in Iceland, sir, if it only had a chance, and if you can
afford to buy it out and out----"

"I think I can--I’ve money enough in my pocket at this moment to buy the
place to-morrow and leave some for something else.  I’m sorry for you,
though, and if it’s painful to you to hear me talk like this----"

Magnus, who had been rolling in his chair like a man whose mind as well
as his body was uneasy, began to laugh immoderately.  "Not at all, sir!
Not at all!" he said, filling his glass.  "It’s pleasant to hear of
anybody having more money than he wants.  For my part, I’ve never had
enough to pay my debts, sir.  For sixteen years I’ve been ploughing the
waves and now," raising his glass and draining it, "I’m reaping the
breakers, b---- them!"

Christian Christiansson trembled to his very heart at the sound of
Magnus’s laughter--the bitter laughter of rebellion and despair--but he
tried to cover up his fear and to carry it off with a cheery tone.

"Don’t be too depressed," he said.  "Nobody knows what the future has in
store for him.  It’s a pretty dark night outside, but all the same the
sun will rise to-morrow morning. Besides, there’s always a sunny side to
misfortune if we’ll only allow ourselves to see it.  Life is sweet, my
friend, whatever happens."

"You think it is, sir?"

"I know it is, so why should we sit down on our little handful of
thorns?"

"Because some of us have nothing else to sit upon," said Magnus, and he
laughed again--the same cold, quaking laughter.

Christian Christiansson shuddered, but struggled on. "You think you’ve
failed, but I know some that have succeeded who would be glad to change
places with you any minute.  They’ve got their gold or their fame or
both pouring down on them like an avalanche, and nothing to do with it,
nobody to share it with--so it is only so much Dead Sea fruit being
piled on their backs.  You are not like that. Even if you have to lose
your land, you’ve got your health, and a good character and a clean
conscience, and your dear ones left to you, haven’t you?"

"That’s why!" said Magnus.  "You don’t suppose I’m thinking of myself,
do you?  It’s just because I’ve got my dear ones left to me that this
accursed ill-luck is so hard to bear.  What’s it to me to have my houses
full of lambs, if the floods have come and they are floating on the
lake? You talk like a man who has never known misfortune, sir."

Christian Christiansson felt dizzy.  "Perhaps I haven’t--perhaps I
have," he said in a faint voice, "but I’ve known despair, and I know
that no man can live by that.  We can only live by hope--not what is,
but what is to be--and if we cannot believe when the clouds are dark,
that the world is ruled in righteousness----"

"And is it?" said Magnus.  "Does the bad man suffer in this world?  Do
his sheep die of the rot and his cattle tumble over the rocks, or do
they increase faster than anybody else’s? No, sir," he said, turning
away in his seat, "if you’re a rascal ready to rob your own father, the
chances are you’ll prosper in this world, but if you’re an honest man
trying to do good to everybody, as likely as not you’ll do no good to
yourself or to anybody about you."

The dizziness which had seized Christian Christiansson was increasing
every moment, but he said:

"The world has its own way of punishing offenders, and even if they
escape in life, death is always waiting for them----"

"Death?" said Magnus, swinging round in his creaking chair.  "Death is a
blind, blundering monster who strikes down the young and leaves the old,
the happy and leaves the miserable, the innocent and leaves the guilty,
the poor helpless betrayed one and leaves the betrayer!  We have all
seen that, haven’t we?  _I_ have, I know that much."

The heat and flame of Magnus’s husky voice had fallen to a thick whisper
that was like a broken sob.  Christian Christiansson dared not raise his
face, but he tried to say:

"God brings out all things well in the end.  I have always found it so.
The march of the world may be enveloped in darkness, but it tends toward
justice in the long run."

"What is the long run to me, sir?" said Magnus.  "I’m only here for a
few years and I want justice now.  I want to see the bad man punished in
the present, not in some future generation.  Justice, you say!  The sins
of the fathers visited on the children--that’s the only justice I see in
this world. A poor child left penniless because her father gambled or
drank the money he didn’t make--do you call that justice, sir?  I
don’t!"

Magnus’s thick voice was breaking again, and there was silence for a
little while.

"No, no, sir!  Don’t tell me we get our deserts in this world--any of
us--good or bad.  Life gives the lie to that old story--always has,
always will do.  If you are a cheat or a profligate, or a prodigal, you
may live in luxury and travel as far as the sun, but if you are a poor
devil staying at home and working your fingers to the bone you’ll get
thrown out into the road.  But what’s the good of talking?  The evil day
is coming.  Let it come!"

Never before had Christian Christiansson felt so little and so mean.
The sources of pride were dry in him and he was brought very low in his
own esteem.  In the presence of the brother who had borne his burdens
and broken down under them he saw himself as an abject and pitiful
thing.  He could not raise his head, for he felt as if his shame were
written on his forehead, but he struggled to say something, and the only
words that came to him seemed to scorch his tongue and parch his throat.

"I can not dispute with you," he said.  "You’ve suffered more than I
have, and no doubt your present troubles are the legacy that was left to
you by the prodigal brother your mother was talking about."

Magnus’s manner changed instantly at the mention of his mother.  "She
was talking about him again, was she?" he said.

"Does she often talk of him then?"

"Too often, and she seems to think of nothing else.  He was the
foundation she built her house upon, poor soul, and it fell, but she
holds to him all the same."

"God bless her!" said Christian Christiansson involuntarily. "God bless
all women, I say.  They’re always on the side of the sinners and the
sufferers.  They’ll get their compensation somewhere--they must,"--he
was thinking of to-morrow morning.

"I see no sign of it in this case," said Magnus.  "She was the best
mother to him a man ever had, and he knew it, but he repaid her with
neglect and contempt."

"Contempt?"

"What else would you call it?  He lived five years abroad and wrote to
her only once in all that time.  Yet every night she used to stand
outside the door until the post passed, winter and summer, dry or fine,
waiting for the letter that never came."

Christian Christiansson felt as if his very soul were shriveling up with
shame.

"She forgave him for that, though, and when he died--you know how he
died, everybody knows it--she thought that all he had been trying to do
when he fell into that foul dishonor was to get money enough to come
back home and make amends."

"She thought that, did she?"

"She still thinks it."

Christian Christiansson had a sense of hysterical oppression at his
heart.  Again he wanted to tell all, and he dared not.  "But if it had
been true," he said--"I don’t say it was, but if it had been--if your
brother had really been trying for years to make money solely in order
to wipe out the debts he had left behind him--if he had come home with
the fortune in his hands----"

Magnus’s dark face darkened ominously, and bringing his great fist down
on to the table he said, "There would have been a curse on every coin of
it, and I should have flung it in his face."

Christian Christiansson did not ask him why.  He knew too well what
Magnus meant.  In an instant, by such a flash of the lightning of the
mind as must come to the guilty soul on the Day of Judgment, the past of
his life lay open before him, and the most awful fact of it stood out
with naked vividness--the desecration of his wife’s grave.

It was impossible to plead that this had been only the act of a moment;
that he had repented it a thousand times with bitter tears; that he had
derived no profit or advantage from it, and had endured for ten years
its fearful penalty in the death of his identity.  Again and again he
had soothed himself with such excuses, but he could not cheat his
conscience now.  Why was he Christian Christiansson?  How had it come to
pass that he had two hundred thousand crowns in his pocket and that his
works were known all over the world?

All the miserable sophistry and false reasoning which had made him what
he was, the owner of fame and fortune, had been riddled through and
through by Magnus’s terrible words. All the mocking vanity which had
lured him onward to that hour with promises of the great surprise, the
great dénouement, when he should say, "See, I am here; I have justified
all expectations," lay stark and dead and cold.

No, he could not reveal himself to his family to-morrow morning.  He
could not reveal himself at all.  Having once become Christian
Christiansson, he could never again be known as Oscar Stephenson.  Thus
did the dead punish him, and the desecration of his wife’s grave had but
rendered the vow he made to himself perpetual and registered the oath he
made to her in heaven.

Christian Christiansson was feeling as if all the world had gone away
from him when Anna came out of the guest-room, saying:

"There, sir!  Your room is ready and you can go to bed at any time."

Magnus got up to go to the elt-house to mix the mash for the pony, and
then mother and son were together again.


                                  *IV*

In the confusion of that heart-quelling moment he was asking himself how
he could carry out his plan of rescuing his family from their
misfortunes if he could not tell them who he was, and how he could claim
his daughter and take her away with him, if he could not say, "I am her
father, she is mine," when chance and a commonplace word--those twin
sisters of invention and wisdom--showed him what he was to do.

"I shall want to be awakened early in the morning, landlady, for I
suppose the Sheriff will come soon."

"The Sheriff, sir?"

"I’ve just been telling your son that I intend to bid for your farm at
the auction to-morrow morning."

"So that was what you had to do at the end of your journey?"

"Yes, it was what I had to do, landlady."

She looked at him for a moment, and then asked, "What can a gentleman
like you want with a farm like this?"

He did not reply, so she said, "You can not think of living in such a
lonesome place as Thingvellir."

Still he did not speak, and she said again, "You might let the farm
certainly, but it is hungry land, I assure you, and everything depends
on how you work it."

She busied herself about the table as if trying to find something to do.
"My son," she said, "is the only one who has ever been able to work it
properly, and if he has got into difficulties at last it wasn’t his
fault, for there isn’t a man in Iceland who would have been able to keep
his head above water."

She waited for him to say something, but he gave no sign. "His
difficulties are not so very serious, either.  Eight thousand crowns
arrears of interest--that is all, in sixteen years, sir."

Again she waited, but he was still silent.  "When the Sheriff went off
this evening, he said if my son could find the money before nine o’clock
to-morrow morning, he wouldn’t go on with the auction."

Christian Christiansson had rested his head on his hand and seemed to be
listening intently.

"If my son could only find somebody to lend him the money----"

There was a ring of appeal in her voice which startled herself, for she
stopped, and looking nervously round at the stranger, said:

"I’m sure he would never regret it, sir.  Magnus would work his fingers
to the bone to repay every penny.  He has always been a boy like that,
and with better seasons and a little luck----"

It was then that the new scheme came to Christian Christiansson and he
covered his face with his hand to think of it, whereupon Anna, mistaking
the meaning of the altered gesture, faltered and began again.

"I’m taking a great liberty, sir, but I’m not thinking of myself--I’m
thinking of my son.  In one sense I’m to blame for all that has happened
to him.  He doesn’t know it and I daren’t tell him, but I am."

Christian Christiansson looked up at her.

"It was all my fault that his father took the mortgage."

"_Your_ fault?"

"Yes, sir.  My husband loved the poor boy who is gone, but he was the
Governor of Iceland and every eye was on him to see that he kept his own
house in order, and but for me he might have let the law take its
course.  I pleaded and prayed with him, thinking that we ourselves would
be the ones to suffer.  But I only ruined one son in trying to save the
other--and I didn’t save him."

Christian Christiansson dropped his head, for the waters of bitterness
were falling over him in a flood, and Anna, thinking she had touched
him, went on more eagerly:

"Then there’s the girl, sir, my granddaughter.  You’ve seen her
yourself, and you’ll say she doesn’t look like a servant, but if the
auction comes off she’ll have to go out to service.  They treat girls
shamefully in some farmhouses, and my son can not bear the thought of
it.  Neither can I, for I can’t help thinking of her father.  Whatever
else he may have been he was a gentleman, and to think of his daughter
being a drudge to somebody----"

Anna’s voice was faltering again, but after a moment she went on
bravely.

"As for myself, I’m an old woman, and a little misfortune more or less
doesn’t matter to me now.  My time is short in any case, and I shall be
glad to go when I’m called.  Most of my loved ones are gone already--my
son and my granddaughter are all that are left--and if I could feel that
I was leaving them happy and comfortable----"

Christian Christiansson could bear no more.  "Landlady," he said, "I had
set my heart on buying the farm--I had a particular reason for wishing
to buy it--but instead of doing so I’ll lend your son the money to pay
the interest."

Anna’s eyes opened wide in astonishment, and now that her prayer was
answered her breath seemed to be suspended. "You _will_, sir?" she said.

"I will, on one condition.

"Oh, never mind the condition, let me go and tell him."

"My condition is that you give me the girl to adopt as my daughter."

"Ah!"

"I’m a lonely person, too, though I’m not so old as you are, and when
I’m in England I haven’t wife or child or mother or brother to share my
life with me.  The girl’s sweet face would be a great comfort to me
there, and I’m ready to pay this interest if you are willing to let her
go."

The light had died out of Anna’s eyes--her head was down.

"I should give you every guarantee that she would be taken care of.  I
am rich, as men of my class go, and she should want for nothing."

"But I didn’t think your condition would be like that, sir," said Anna.

"Why not?  Are you thinking of the girl or of yourself, landlady?"

"I am thinking of my son.  No man was ever so wrapped up in a child.  He
has had her nearly all her life, and he is very, very fond of her.  When
she was little and the snow was deep as it is to-day he used to take her
to school on his shoulder, and at night when she was sleepy he would
carry her in his arms to bed.  If she were his own he could not love her
more dearly.  It is like fatherhood to him, and he will never be a
father now, because----"

Anna hesitated as if trying to say something which she was afraid to
say, and then through her gathering tears she blurted out her secret.

"To tell you the truth, sir, he cared for her mother, but gave her up to
somebody else and she died, and from that day forward all the best years
of his life were wasted in a cruel longing for something to love.  Then
the child came, and it was almost as if the mother herself had sent her
little one to comfort him.  _She_ could not love him, for she loved the
other one to the last, but the child might, and she has--God bless her,
she has!"

Christian Christiansson was wrung to the heart, but he struggled on.
"So you think he could not part with the girl even for her own welfare
and happiness?"

"I don’t say that, sir; and perhaps if it were put to him properly----"

"Put it yourself, landlady."

"I daren’t!  He might suppose that I was thinking of myself."

"And if he did, would that be such a serious matter? Can it be nothing
to him that his mother will be saved from being homeless if no harm is
to come to the girl?  And no harm shall come to her--you may take my
word for that."

Anna thought for a moment and then she said, "You would tell us where
she is to go, and what she is to do, and how she is to be brought up?"

"Indeed I would."

"She might write to us constantly and come to see us sometimes,
perhaps?"

"Certainly she might."

"After all, it would just be like going into service."

"Just."

"Only she would be a lady, not a servant?"

"Only that."

"You would be good to her?  Something tells me you would.  And you
would, wouldn’t you?"

"I should be as good to the girl as if--as if I were her own father,"
said Christian Christiansson.

Anna dried her eyes and said:

"I don’t know what to say, sir--I really don’t know what to say to you."

"Say nothing to me--speak to your son, landlady."

"You will lend him the money to pay the interest immediately?"

"Immediately."

"Eight thousand crowns--you can find it all by nine o’clock to-morrow
morning?"

"See," said Christian Christiansson, taking the pocketbook out of his
breast-pocket, "there’s enough in this purse to pay the interest twenty
times over.  And I’ll not _lend_ the money to your son--I’ll _give_ it
to him if he will give me the girl instead."

"He will be sorry to part with her, but after all it will be one mouth
less to feed, and when I’m gone that will be another, and then perhaps,
having no burdens and no embarrassments----"

"Speak to him--he’s here," said Christian Christiansson, and just at
that moment Magnus returned to the hall carrying a wooden bowl of
smoking bran.

Then in a low and trembling tone, hardly daring to raise her eyes to his
face, Anna told her son of the stranger’s offer, dwelling chiefly on the
advantages to himself when Elin would be provided for, and she herself
would be under the earth, and he, no longer crippled by grinding debt,
would be able to pay his way and win back his lost inheritance.  But as
she went on her voice faltered, and her words became confused, for he
was looking down at her with a lowering brow, and at last she stopped
altogether, saying:

"I didn’t mean any harm, Magnus.  I only thought----"

"You thought I could sacrifice Elin to save myself, mother," said
Magnus, and at that hard word Anna sank into a chair and sobbed.

Then Magnus turned to Christian Christiansson and said, "I’m much
obliged for your offer, sir, but my niece is not for sale."

With that he was passing out of the house, when Christian Christiansson,
who was quivering from head to foot, cried, "Wait!"

"Well?"

"You have decided for yourself fast enough--have you thought of anybody
else?"

"Who else is there to think about?"

"Your mother for one.  If you refuse my offer and the house is sold over
your heads to-morrow morning, what is to become of her?"

Magnus flushed as if an invisible hand had smitten him across the face.

"What is to become of the girl, too--have you thought of that?  Have you
a right to send her into service--to be a drudge to somebody?"

Magnus was shuddering visibly--even the bowl was trembling in his hands.

"No doubt you are fond of the girl and have been good to her, but if she
were your own daughter she would be a separate being, and in a case like
this you would have no right to speak for her."

"Then she shall speak for herself," said Magnus, and putting the smoking
bowl on the table he crossed to the inner door and cried in an agitated
voice, "Elin!  Elin!  Elin!"

In a moment the girl came running into the room with a look of alarm,
saying, "What is it?  Has anything happened?"

"Listen!" said Magnus, and Christian Christiansson could see that though
his voice shook as if his soul were shaken he was trying to speak
calmly.  "This gentleman," he said, "has told your grandmother that he
wishes to adopt you as a daughter, and he offers to pay my debts if I am
willing to let you go."

"Uncle!" cried the girl.

"I have told him you shall speak for yourself, and so you shall, and
whatever you decide to do your grandmother and I will agree to."

"But, Uncle!"

"Don’t speak yet, my child.  It is only fair that you should hear
everything.  Elin, I am a broken man and I have no longer a home to
offer you.  After the auction to-morrow morning I don’t know what is to
become of grandmother and you and me, or where we are to go or what roof
is to cover us.  But this gentleman is rich, and he promises to provide
for you all your life, and to give you all you need and everything you
could wish for.  If you stay with me you may suffer privations, but if
you go to him you will never know a poor day again as long as you live."

His deep voice had all it could do to support itself, but he bore up to
the end, and then Anna, whose eyes were filling as fast as she could
wipe them, said:

"Isn’t it wonderful, Elin?  Isn’t it like a miracle?  Like an answer to
your prayer, my child, just when we were so low and downhearted?  The
gentleman will satisfy us that you are going to a good Christian home
and that you will be properly brought up and cared for."

And then Christian Christiansson himself, though he could scarcely speak
for the contending emotions that shook Him to the soul, stepped forward
and said:

"Let me tell you who I am, Elin.  We spoke of Christian Christiansson
the composer, and you sang his song to me and said you would like to
hear something about him.  I am Christian Christiansson."

The girl made a little involuntary cry, and his voice faltered for a
moment.

"Yes, I am he, and the story I told you was the story of my own unhappy
life, only--I have lost my daughter since I wrote that song, and now I
am quite alone.  Will you not come and take her place, my child?  You
shall be just the same to me as my own daughter, and you shall never
know the difference.  You will return with me to England and live my
life, and whatever I do you shall do, and wherever I go you shall go
also."

"Think of that, Elin!" said Anna.  "You love music--you take after your
poor father that way--and you will travel about just as your dear mother
used to do!"

"It would be beautiful!" said Elin.

She had been standing all this time by the table with one hand resting
lightly upon it, while her sweet face reflected the changing lights of
alarm and pain and surprise and joy.

"I can’t think of anything in the world I should love so much, but--I
can not, I must not."

"Elin!"

"Grandma, didn’t you tell me yourself when I came here long ago, and you
put me to bed the first time, that I was never to leave Uncle Magnus,
and if anybody ever came to take me away I was not to go?  I was a
little mite, but I gave you my word, I remember, and I am going to keep
it."

"But I was thinking of somebody else then, Elin.  I couldn’t know that
this gentleman would come--at a time like this, too----"

"But that makes no difference, grandma.  Besides, if I were to go to
this gentleman and he were to treat me as if I were his own daughter, I
should have to think of him as if he were my own father.  Would you like
that, grandma? And would Uncle Magnus like it?"

"We should sacrifice ourselves, honey, we should sacrifice ourselves
that you might be well off and happy."

"But I don’t want to be well off if you and Uncle Magnus are going to be
poor.  And I shouldn’t be happy at all--I should be miserable."

"Oh, dear!  Oh, dear!" moaned Anna, unable to say more. And then the
girl turned with a smile to Christian Christiansson, who was throbbing
with pride and pain, and she said:

"It is very, very good of you, sir, and there isn’t another girl in the
world who wouldn’t be glad to go; but I can’t, you must see yourself I
can’t--I must stay with my uncle. Grandma is going to do so, and why
shouldn’t I?"

"He would be better without either of us, Elin," said Anna.

"Don’t say that, grandma."

"I do say it, my child, and if you only knew how cruel the world is----"

"But God isn’t, and He will not separate us now after we have been
together so long.  You said so yourself, you know, when I talked of
going into service.  You said He would find another way, and He
will--I’m sure He will."

It wrung Anna’s heart to have her own teaching coming back to reproach
her, yet thinking of Magnus she made one more effort.  "But don’t you
see, dear, that if you stay with Uncle Magnus he will lose the land,
whereas if you go with this gentleman he will be able to keep it?"

Then the innocent young face which had been so full of beautiful trust
in the greatness and the goodness of God to triumph over all perils and
privations clouded over for one moment, and she said, "Do you _want_ me
to go, grandma? And does Uncle Magnus want it?"

Neither of them answered her, and she looked from one to the other--Anna
brushing her eyes with the back of her wrinkled hand, and Magnus
standing motionless with a white face broken up like the melting
snow--and then the cruel swelling in the girl’s heart subsided and her
eyes shone like the sun.

"I _know_ you don’t," she answered herself.  "You are only thinking
about _me_."

And then the brave little soul tossed up her head with a proud look and
said, "As for the land--if it comes to losing that or losing me, I know
what Uncle Magnus will say.  He will say--I _know_ he will--’Let me keep
my little Elin and the land--_the land may go_!’"

"And so I do, my darling," cried Magnus, and he opened his great arms to
her, and she ran into them and was gathered to his breast.

At the next moment Anna had joined them and Magnus had put his arms
around both, and it was just as if they had conquered a great
temptation--as if some dark shadow which had threatened to separate them
had passed away--for they were clinging together and crying like
children.

Christian Christiansson stood aside for a moment and looked on at their
happiness, feeling himself without part or lot in it, and then, fearing
that he might cry out and betray himself or break down altogether, he
turned away and fled into the guest-room.


                                  *V*

He threw himself face downward on the bed, and the waters of Marah went
over and over him.  Sight of the happiness he had lost the right to
claim was the hardest experience that had yet come to him, and he wept
bitterly. "My child!  My dear, dear child!" he had wanted to cry, but
those were words of proud endearment which he might never use except in
the voiceless chambers of his empty heart.

But this mood lasted only for a few moments, and then a fierce and
almost savage jealousy took possession of him, and he dried his eyes and
sat up in contempt of his own weakness. What right had any one to rob
him of his child? Elin was flesh of his flesh, and no man should take
her away. Even the law would recognize his right to his own offspring.
He had merely to say to the Sheriff, "She is mine," and the Sheriff
would have no choice but to deliver her up to him.

Then calmer moments came, and he saw that he could only assert his legal
right to his daughter by disclosing his identity, and that was out of
the question.  And even if it were possible to carry his daughter away
by force, it would be a poor triumph to take her body if he could not
also take her soul.  Every man wished his children to love him, and
unless Elin could love her father, what was the good of claiming her?

He opened his eyes to calm the deafening tumult of his conflicting
thoughts, and saw a little faded photograph in a stand on a table that
stood beside the bed.  It was an old photograph of Thora, and he
remembered it immediately, for it was the same that in the better time
belonged to Aunt Margret and stood on the drawers beside her door.  He
took it up in his shaking hand and held the candle to look at it, and
then, in a moment, by that magic the Almighty knows, he was back with
Thora in the birth-room at Government House, and she was saying, in the
tremulous joy of her young motherhood, "Kiss me, Oscar!  Put your arms
about both of us, dearest!  That way--so!"

Something of the tenderness of Thora’s sweet heart returned to him with
that haunting memory, and along with it came a new and thrilling
thought.  If Elin belonged to him by right of Nature, then Nature
herself would speak for him. He had only to say to her, "I am your
father; you are my daughter," and she would come to him--she could not
help herself--because Nature is a mighty thing and none of us can resist
the mysterious call that comes to our blood from the blood that gave us
birth!

He would do so; he would find the girl alone and speak to her; he would
whisper the secret of his life in the ear of his own child, and then the
marvelous Mother of us all would do the rest.

When he returned to the hall, Elin was shaking out the cloth and
removing the last of the supper things--all except the bottle and
glasses, which she left on the table.  "It must be now," he thought, and
though his heart quailed at coming to this last throw in the game he had
played for life and love, he put his fortune to the test.

"It was very brave of you, my child," he said, "to choose poverty when
you might have chosen wealth.  But you did well, for wealth is only of
this world’s making, and the angel that brings us happiness does not ask
us if we are poor or rich."

His voice faltered when he came to what he had to say next, but he
rallied and went on:

"It was very sweet of you, too, to remain with your uncle and your
grandmother, instead of coming to a stranger, for being of your own
flesh and blood they have naturally the first claim upon you.  But
if--if, instead of Christian Christiansson, I had been _your own
father_, would you--would you have come to me then?"

Elin did not answer him immediately, and he looked steadfastly into her
face, feeling that all hope of happiness for the remainder of his life
hung on her reply.

"Would you?"

The sweet young face looked troubled for a moment, and then slowly--very
slowly and sadly--Elin shook her head.

He felt like a man who had been sentenced to death, but while his face
clouded and fell, the girl’s rose and became beautifully calm.

"I don’t see how that could make any difference," she said. "I couldn’t
feel as if you were my father unless I had known you as long as I could
remember, and longer even than that. What I call a father is one who has
nursed you on his knee when you were a little thing, and kissed you and
coaxed you when you were sick, and thought of you and cared for you
always, not one who has been away from you all your life, who has never
cared for you at all, and whom you wouldn’t know if you met him in the
road."

"But don’t you feel, dear, that there is something in the relation of a
child to her father, however he may have neglected her--something
intimate and sacred--something she can never know in her relation to
anybody else, however much he may have done for her--don’t you feel
that, Elin?"

Again the girl thought for a moment, and again she shook her head.

"But if I were to say to you, ’My child, my dear, dear child, I may have
done nothing for you, but still I am your father, and you are the only
one who is left to me now, and I want you to come to me and be my
daughter, and we shall never be parted again’--if I were to say that to
you, would you still hold to your uncle?"

The tremulous fervor with which he spoke these imploring words brought
tears to the girl’s eyes, but her heart stood firm and strong.

"Yes," she said, "I couldn’t help it, because Uncle Magnus has been my
real father after all."

It was all over.  His last hold of the girl was lost.  Again he felt as
if the world had gone away from him, as if the dark column of hope which
had shown its bright face for a moment had turned again, and now all was
hopeless darkness.

He had thought Nature would speak to the girl, but it had not spoken.
Nature was a great, inexorable instrument in the hand of God, and God’s
hand was on him.  _As he had done, so he was being done by_--as he had
taken the love of Thora from Magnus, so Magnus, after many years, had
taken the love of Elin from him.  It was right, it was inevitable, and
he must bow his head in speechless submission before the justice and the
vengeance of God!

He must leave the house as he had come to it, not only without revealing
himself to his mother and brother, but also without his child.  It would
be the bitterest moment of his life, but he must meet it and go on.

"You are quite right, my dear--quite right," he said. "A child’s love is
like a flower in the window--it cannot grow without somebody to water
it.  Your uncle has done everything for you, and he is entitled to all
your affection. It wouldn’t be fair if your father could come back,
after all these years, and take you away from him.  Cling to him, Elin,
love him, and comfort him, and may God bless you for your loyalty and
trust!"

He had tried to speak bravely, but his voice broke and he stopped.
After a moment he said calmly:

"Can you give me pen and ink and a sheet of writing-paper?"

She brought them instantly, and he sat at the table and wrote a line or
two.  Then he took out his pocket-book, opened it, and put the paper
inside of it, and closed it up again.

"Elin, will you do me a great favor?"

"Oh yes, sir," said the girl.

"It is late, and I’ve had a long day, and I may not be up when the
auction begins in the morning--will you take this pocket-book and give
it to the Sheriff the moment he arrives?"

"With pleasure, sir."

"You will not open it or show it to anybody else, but you will carry it
to your room at once and put it under your pillow, and to-morrow morning
you will be up early and give it to the Sheriff before he begins the
sale--will you do this for me, my dear?"

"Indeed I will, sir."

"Thank you!  And now you must go to bed.  Good-by, my child!"

"But I’ll see you in the morning, sir?"

"Who can say?  We may both have other things to think about by that
time, so we had better say good-by to each other now."

"But am I not to see you again?"

"Who can say that either!  I have come a long way, you know, and now I
may have to go--" he hesitated, and then turning away he said, "I may
have to go still farther."

"You have been so kind to me, sir--I am sorry I can not go with you."

"Ah, God forbid!--I mean, you can not--I see you can not!  But if you
_could_ have done so I should have been so fond of you, and we should
have been such good friends together."

"I shall never forget you, sir."

"Nor I you.  I shall always think of the brave little girl I met
once--only once--and then could see no more.

"You are only a stranger to me, sir, but--but----"

"Yes, I am only a stranger to you, my child, but we have come together
on the great ocean of life, and now--now we must say good-by and part."

"Good-by, sir!"

"Good-by, little girl, and God bless you!"

The girl stepped to her bedroom door and then stopped and turned and
looked back at him.  Her eyes were full--she knew not why.  Nature was
saying something to her at last--she knew not what.

He was looking after her with all his hungry soul in his quivering face,
and when she turned he stretched out his arms to her.

"Elin!" he whispered, and she came back to him, and he folded her to his
heart and kissed her on the forehead and on the lips.  Ah, sweet, soft,
warm lips, he felt them to the last!

A mist floated before his eyes; he heard footsteps going away from him;
he heard a door open and close, and then--his child was gone.

                     *      *      *      *      *

Christian Christiansson was alone.  He felt that he had come to the lees
of his life and saw nothing but a blank where he might crawl to die.
Could he go back to Reykjavik? That was impossible, for the Minister and
his people would be preparing their banquet in honor of his visit, and
to go through such rejoicing would be a scorching martyrdom at which the
devil himself would laugh.  Could he return to England and resume his
old life as the unknown composer? That was impossible also, for he could
never write as he had written before, because the old impulse was gone,
the fire was burnt out, the life that had inspired him was dead, and
because the foundations of his fame were broken up by the new
consciousness that he had no right to it, by the sense that his career
and all that had come of it had been built on the desecration of his
wife’s grave, and by the certainty that his success had been paid for as
by the sweat of his very soul.

What then was before him?  Old age?  What was old age without friends,
without children, without love, without respect and with memory--that
last joy of a man’s declining days--like a poisoned river running
through a wasted land?

Was there nothing before him then?  Yes, there was one thing--one
only--and as he lay in that room alone with his head over his hands on
the table, he had the trembling, thrilling, palpitating sense of
supernatural wings hovering above him, and of an awful voice that seemed
to say, "THE WAGES OF SIN IS DEATH!"

At that moment he became aware of other voices--more human and homely
voices--murmuring about him, and one of them said, "He has fallen
asleep, poor gentleman," and another, "He has drunk too much, perhaps."
Then a hand touched him on the shoulder and somebody cried in his ear:

"Hadn’t you better go to bed, sir?"

It was his mother, with Magnus behind her, and looking at both he could
see that they supposed he was intoxicated.  In the wild laboring of
heart and brain, it suited him that they should continue to think so,
and indeed the strain of nerve had been so hard that when he rose to his
feet he staggered like a drunken man.

"Heigho!  What’s this?" he laughed.  "Your brennie-vin must be pretty
heady, landlady.  But no matter!  It will be a good nightcap and make me
sleep the sounder.  I’m tired, very tired, but I’m going to have a long
sleep at last--a long, long sleep at last."

"But to-morrow will be New Year’s Day," said Anna. "The bells ring at
daybreak, and the Sheriff will be here soon after, so you’ll have to be
stirring early if you want to be ready for the auction."

"Why, so I shall--I had forgotten all about it--and since we can not
agree about the girl I must buy the farm whatever happens.  I told you I
wanted it for a particular purpose, but I didn’t say what it was.  It’s
my secret, landlady, but I don’t mind telling you.  I want it for my
mother."

"Your mother?"

"That’s so!  She was born in these parts, and the poor old thing would
like to end her days here."

"So she tells you to buy up my farmstead?"

"Not she!  She doesn’t know anything about it.  That’s to be my
surprise.  I’ve not been a good son, but when I go away never to come
back again I want to feel that the dear old soul is happy and
comfortable and has a roof to cover her."

He laughed, with the same sense as before of an hysterical oppression of
the heart, and then turned to Magnus and said:

"Sorry to buy your house over your head, but business is business, you
know, and anybody is at liberty to bid who has money to pay."

Magnus moved aside with a contemptuous expression.

"Don’t look so glum, my man.  You think you’ve been badly treated and
perhaps you have, but you’re the luckiest man in Iceland if you ask me.
You think because you’ve done well you ought to be rewarded, but what
right have poor wretches like us to expect reward in this world?  You
think because a man is rich he is to be envied, but what’s the use of
having your pocket full if your heart is empty?  And you think because
Death kills the innocent and the happy it is a cruel monster, but there
are worse things than Death, and Life is one of them when you’ve nobody
to care whether you live or die.  Then cheer up, old fellow!  You’ve got
your health and your good name, and your mother and that sweet girl to
love and to love you, so what the devil have you got to complain of?
Nothing at all!"

Saying this with a mixture of real emotion and its mocking make-believe,
a touch of the boy came back to him for a moment and he put his arm
across his brother’s shoulder as he used to do in the old days, but
Magnus shuddered and shrank away.

"Your candle is burning in the bedroom, sir," said Anna coldly.

And then he saw that his mother also looked black at him, as one who had
come to turn them out of house and home, and as one who had tried to
tempt the girl away from them, and as one who could laugh at their
condition and have no thought except for himself.  And thinking that
this was the last he would see of her; that it was so different from the
parting he had expected; that all hope of pardon and reconciliation was
lost; that his mother would never hear that her lingering faith in her
prodigal had been justified and never know that he had been and gone, he
had as much as he could do not to break down and betray himself even at
the end.

But gathering up his clothes which had been drying by the stove, he
turned toward the bedroom, saying with another laugh--a laugh that went
to Anna’s heart like a sword:

"Don’t look so downhearted, landlady.  When things are at their worst
they can’t move without they mend.  You’ve had your troubles, but you
shall drink my health under my mother’s roof-tree to-morrow morning.
Good night!"

And then he reeled into the guest-room.


                                  *VI*

The stranger being gone, mother and son looked into each other’s faces.
Then they spoken in whispers.

"Did you hear him?" said Anna.

"About his mother’s roof-tree?" asked Magnus.

"About the auction--about everything.  The man can have no feeling--no
pity."

"None."

"’Business is business,’ he said, when he talked of buying the place
over our heads.  And when he spoke of his mother ending her days here he
never once thought of me."

"He never thought of Elin either.  He would have taken the girl away
from us without a moment’s hesitation."

"He would," said Anna.  "’There’s enough in this purse,’ he said, ’to
pay your interest twenty times over.’"

"Did he say that?"

"He did.  He took his pocket-book out of his breast-pocket and----"

"His breast-pocket, you say?"

"Yes, ’and I’ll _give_ the money to your son,’ he said, ’if he’ll give
me the girl instead.’"

Anna talked on in an innocent, helpless way without knowing what bad
work she was doing, but suddenly, mysteriously, at the mention of the
purse a change passed over Magnus’s face and it grew ugly with evil
passions.

"He must be rich," said Anna.

"Richer than anybody has a right to be," said Magnus.

"Surely God can not mean that anybody should be as rich as that while
other people are so poor."

"God!" said Magnus, and his distorted face quivered.

"If he would only lend us enough to satisfy the Sheriff in the morning!"
said Anna.

"What’s the good of expecting a man to help us to keep the farm when he
has come to buy it for himself?"

"It’s hard, though, cruelly hard, to be turned out of house and home by
the first person who comes along with more money."

"That’s what I was thinking," said Magnus.

Down to this moment Anna had only been trying to sympathize with
Magnus’s mood, but now something in his tone made her suspect that she
had awakened a devil, and she looked at him in terror.

He took up the bottle and drank; he drank out of the neck; and there was
a new devil in every drop.  His eyes began to gleam with a feverish
luster, and Anna trembled.  She remembered that Magnus had not taken any
strong drink until to-day since the day of Thora’s funeral, and then she
thought of her father, and a sensation of extreme cold crept over her.

"Let us not talk of it any more," she said, as she tried to put the
bottle away, but Magnus held on to it.

Mother and son looked at each other again, and then Anna went over to
the stranger’s door and listened.

"Has he locked it?" asked Magnus.

"No, I’m afraid--  No, no, he has not."

"What is he doing?"

"The candle is out--he must be in bed already."

"Then," said Magnus, "he has thrown himself down without undressing and
the pocket-book is on him still."

"Magnus, what are you thinking of?" said Anna--her teeth were
chattering.

"Would it be so very wicked?"

"What?"

"To take as much as would satisfy the Sheriff in the morning?"

"Magnus!  I didn’t mean that."

"He would never miss it--never know it was gone--and it would enable us
to keep the farm and so save us from starvation."

"Oh, dear!  What have I done?"

"He’s a prodigal himself, it seems.  Very well, let prodigal pay for
prodigal."

She could not breathe freely--she could only look at Magnus in
speechless surprise.  He took up the bottle again and gulped clown the
last of the liquor.

"He has drunk a good deal--he will sleep heavily--and he won’t awake
until the auction is over."

"Let us go to bed," said Anna.

"Go yourself," he growled, for the furies that march in the brain of the
drunken man had mastered him.

"Magnus," said Anna, "if you will not go to bed I shall stay up all
night with you."

Then the devil that had changed Magnus into a cunning, savage beast,
showed him what he had to do.

"Very well, let us go to bed," he replied.

He bolted the outer door again and raked out the stove, while his mother
extinguished the lamp and re-lit the candles. She thought the evil
impulse that had come to him had been conquered, and she talked of other
matters.

"I’ve made up Eric’s bed for you, and you’ll find everything
comfortable," she said.

As she passed Elin’s door she opened it gently and held her head aside
to listen.  The sound of the soft and measured breathing came out to
them for a moment and then the door was closed again.

"Poor child!  She would lay her head on her pillow full of faith in the
miracle that is to happen before to-morrow morning.  Of such is the
kingdom of heaven!"

They parted at the door of the badstofa, and a few minutes afterward the
little house lay silent and dark in the arms of the hills and on the
breast of the snow, but the wings of Death hung over it.

                     *      *      *      *      *

Magnus did not go to bed.  He threw himself on the eiderdown and went
through a fierce fight with God as represented by God’s vicar, his
conscience.  A vision of the pocket-book in the stranger’s breast-pocket
danced before his dark heart, and he told himself that come what would
he must take enough of the stranger’s money to pay the interest in the
morning.  If he did not do so the man would buy the farmstead and Elin
and his mother would be turned adrift.

On this thought came compunctions.  To take the man’s money would be to
steal, and Magnus had never stolen.  But faith being already gone,
morality followed, and he wrestled with his conscience and overcame it.
What he was going to do was what men did every day, only they called it
business, and they did it to wrong the right, whereas he would do it to
right the wrong.  Magnus marshaled his reasons and justified himself.
Here was a man so rich that he would not know to-morrow morning that he
had lost what was sufficient to make his dear ones happy.  That man was
going to expose them to poverty and destitution.  Surely it was right,
it was necessary, it was his duty to prevent him.

In the mad tangle of his disordered brain he saw everything that had
happened that day in a sinister light, and it seemed as if fate had
thrown the man into his hands.  He might have gone to lodge at the
Parsonage--he had come there!  He might have concealed the purpose of
his coming--he had revealed it!  He might have said nothing of the
pocket-book--he had shown it with childlike simplicity! Surely this was
the way out of his difficulties which Destiny had marked out for him,
and not to take it would be to cover himself with self-reproaches when
his dear ones came down to want.

Having persuaded himself that he could not help but take as much of the
stranger’s money as was necessary to pay the interest, he began to ask
why he should take so little.  If the pocket-book in the man’s
breast-pocket contained enough to pay the interest twenty times over,
why not take enough to buy the farm out and out?  That would enable him
to leave to Elin the inheritance which he had lost through his brother’s
extravagance and crime.  This man was about to take it away from her--he
must not and he should not do so!

Stage by stage he pushed back the bulwarks of conscience until he came
to ask himself why he should not take all.  His mind was clogged and
numb by this time, but he knew well what that meant.  It meant taking
the stranger’s life.  There was at first an indescribable horror in the
thought of killing a human being, but after a moment it passed away.
This man alone stood between his dear ones and shelter--why shouldn’t
he?  This man threatened to take their lives by exposing them to
starvation--why shouldn’t he take his life instead?

A momentary qualm came with the thought that he would be attacking one
who had trusted himself to the hospitality of his house, a defenseless
man in his sleep.  But he thought of the stranger’s heartless laughter,
his callousness to their condition, and recalled what he had said of his
mother, and pictured her sitting there surrounded by every comfort while
his own mother, born in that place, was turned out to perish, and then
his gorge rose again and his heart knew no pity.

He began to ask himself how it could be done.  It could be done, quite
easily.  Nobody except themselves had seen the man; nobody else would
ever know that he had been to their house.  He could tell his mother and
Elin that the stranger had gone away in the early morning.  They would
believe him, and even if they did not they would hold their tongues, for
his interest would be their interest, and all he would do would be done
for them.

A new and awful light illumined his gloomy mind, and he saw himself
doing everything.  No other eye would see, no other ear would hear.  It
was freezing hard to-night, and if it was found in the drowning pool
when the ice melted the story would be that the stranger had lost his
way in the snowstorm and stumbled over the rocks.

Having satisfied himself that he could defeat this world’s judgment, the
tortured man in the toils of his temptation began to think of the
judgment of the next.  But fear of that vanished in a moment.  Nothing
was known in the other world of what took place in this one, and God
interfered but little in the affairs of men!

At the thought of God a singing noise came into his ears like water in
the ears of a drowning man.  It was his conscience going down after its
last gasp, for he was telling himself that murder though it might be,
and contrary to God’s law, God had done nothing for him, and therefore
he was not called upon to do anything for God.  He had been a good man
all his life, yet God had left him in the lurch.  God and the world were
letting his mother and Elin perish, therefore he must fight the
world--and God!

In the last convulsion of his human nature he remembered that once
before the impulse to kill had come to him, and that he had suffered the
tortures of the damned whenever afterward he had thought of it.  But
that was different, that was in the whirlwind of outraged passion, and
if he had carried out his threat it would have been the worst of crimes,
the unpardonable sin, the sin against the Holy Ghost--a brother’s
murder!  A thousand times he had thanked God that Oscar had not lived to
come home, but how strange were the ways of fate--another man, another
heartless prodigal, had come there, and if his dear ones were to be
saved from starvation and the consequences of Oscar’s crimes, he knew
what he had to do!

"Let prodigal pay for prodigal," he thought again, and then he leaped up
from the bed.

His brute nature, goaded on by the flattering devil of drink, had
conquered his conscience, yet his knees knocked together as he went on
tiptoe by his mother’s room, and when he came to Elin’s door he could
hardly breathe.  Their pure souls were sleeping in the protecting
atmosphere of prayer; and when he asked himself what he was to say in
the morning if they wanted to know where he had got the money, his mind
was so clogged and numb that he could find no answer.

But this thought, with the vision that came after it of how his mother
and Elin would look at him with searching and suspicious glances--of how
when all would be over and he hoped to be at rest he would find them
sitting together in silence, staring at nothing--nearly broke down the
brute in him and his whole body was shaken by a kind of tearless sob.
Nevertheless the flash of human light on his dark heart only made the
blackness more profound, and after a moment he went on with his
preparations.

When he stepped on tiptoe into the hall, the two sheep-dogs who had been
sleeping on the mat by the door got up and stretched themselves and
yawned, and lest they should make a noise he took them out and locked
them up in a shed. After that he went over to the stable, which was at
some distance from the dwelling, and saddled and bridled the stranger’s
mare, and then with a sharp cut of his whip he sent her galloping and
whinnying into the darkness.  A breath of icy wind was coming down the
valley as if day were stirring in its morning sleep, and a faint pink
and white light in the eastern sky, with a glint on the western
glaciers, seemed to say that the dawn was near, but the drink was in
Magnus’s eyes and he could not see clearly.

No snow had fallen since the traveler arrived, and returning to the
front of the farmstead Magnus made backward tracks from the porch to the
river, partly in order to obliterate the stranger’s footsteps and partly
to conceal his own when he should come out again, carrying a heavy
burden.  The man was gone by this time, and Magnus was like a night-bird
hovering about his own house and thinking of his prey.

When he returned to the hall there was no sound there except that of the
ashes slipping in the stove, and of the clock ticking in the darkness
the deliberate seconds.  He took off his boots, leaving on his
snow-stockings only, and then he picked up a large cushion from the
arm-chair and stepped to the stranger’s door and listened.

But heaven as well as hell is in the heart of every man, as long as life
is with him, and the tearless sob came back to Magnus and shook his
whole body, as he thought at the last moment of the awful pity of the
thing he had to do.  Yet telling himself again that God did nothing in
this world, and saying once more, "Let prodigal pay for prodigal," he
turned the handle and opened the door.

Then he stepped softly into the guest-room and bolted the door behind
him.


                                 *VII*

Anna, at that moment, had awakened from a frightening dream.  On first
going to her room she had been troubled by the memory of what she had
done to awaken evil thoughts in Magnus, and visions had come to her of
how, if anything happened, Magnus might say, "You put it into my head,
mother."  To banish her self-reproaches she had said a prayer for
forgiveness, telling God she had never once thought of theft or
violence, but only of Magnus and Elin and the inheritance they had lost
through her importunity, and how cruel it seemed that while other people
had so much more than they wanted, such hard times should come to her
dear children.

Then she had gone to bed, and the voice of the stranger, which had
teased her all the evening through with memories she could not fix,
haunted her again, and the light being out, and her eyes no longer
disturbed by sight of the stranger’s different face, she knew whose
voice it reminded her of.  It was a voice very dear to her, a voice
always near to her, Oscar’s voice, which she was never to hear again.

When, with a thrill of the heart, this thought came to Anna, it altered
the stranger altogether.  His laughter ceased to be cruel, and what he
had said of himself not being a good son became touching.  And when she
thought of his poor mother waiting for her prodigal and so soon to see
him home again, and pictured her joy when he should say, "Mother,
mother!  I’m here at last, and we shall never, never be parted again!"
her heart overflowed with sympathy, and she was sorry she had not been
kinder to him when he was going to bed.

Then she went to sleep and the dream spirit took her back to the good
time when she had two boys in her house, a dark one and a fair one, and
the father had punished the dark one unjustly, and his stern and gloomy
soul, with its sense of wrong, would not suffer him to explain, but the
fair one was sobbing out a confession--"It was not Magnus, it was me,
papa"--and a moment afterward two happy little heads were on the same
pillow side by side, and both were laughing merrily.

In the shifting kaleidoscope of her dream this picture had hardly gone
when Anna awoke with the clearest consciousness of Oscar’s voice crying,
"Mother!  Mother!  Mother!"  She thought it must have been the stranger
calling in his sleep, for the china ornaments on her dressing-table
seemed to ring, but when she listened there was no other sound.

Then the memory of Magnus’s temptation came rolling back on her like a
thundercloud over a clear sky, and she got up to go to her son’s room to
make sure that he was in bed.

Magnus had not been to bed!

With candle in hand, and still in her night-dress, Anna hurried to the
hall, crying in a whisper of only half-realized apprehension, "Magnus!
Magnus!"

There was no reply.

She listened at the stranger’s door and thought she heard a movement
inside the room, but she dared not enter or knock.

"Magnus!  Magnus!" she whispered again, but no answer came back to her.
She heard the neighing of a horse that seemed to be running round and
round the house and her flesh began to creep, for that sound in the
night was like the cry of a disembodied soul.  Then there came the
deadened noise of dogs barking, and she knew they were their own dogs
and that they must have been shut up in an outhouse.  This started a new
thought, and she ran to the outer door to see if it had been opened.

The door was unbolted!

She was about to open it and cry again when she heard a noise behind
her.  It came from the stranger’s room, and putting her ear to the door
she distinctly heard the sounds of sobs.  Some one inside was sobbing.

She knew the low, stifled voice.  It was Magnus.  He was on his knees or
prostrate on the floor, and he was sobbing as if his heart would break.
At that Anna boldly tried to open the door, but found it fastened on the
inside.

"Magnus!  Magnus!" she whispered, but he did not answer.

She was now sure that the awful thing she had thought of had come to
pass.  Her suspense had deepened to fear, but pity and love conquered
every other feeling, and going down on her knees in her night-dress, she
whispered through the key-hole:

"Magnus!  Magnus!  Open the door.  It is only mother! It was all my
fault, dear!  Let me come in!"

But the smothered sobbing inside continued, and no other sound came back
to her.  Then in the silence of all else she heard the sound of
sleigh-bells outside.  At first she thought this must be a ringing in
her ears, but the bells grew louder and came nearer, and then the dogs
in the outhouse barked again.

Fear deepened to terror, the necessity for concealment flashed upon her,
and she knocked at the bedroom door and cried in the same affrighted
whisper:

"Magnus, there is some one coming.  Wait till he has gone.  Don’t stir.
Don’t come out.  Only tell me you hear me."

The sobbing ceased, but Magnus did not speak.  Meantime the sleigh-bells
came nearer and nearer, with the cracking of a whip, the whoop of a
driver, and the hiss of runners in the soft snow.

"Magnus!  Magnus!" cried Anna loudly, in a last effort, but she was
stopped by the near shout of some one outside, "Helloa! helloa
there!"--and she rose to her feet with an intention of bolting the outer
door.

Before she could do so there was a metallic knock on the window-pane, a
voice crying, "God be with you!" and footsteps hurrying up the outer
steps.  Then Anna turned about and fled back to her bedroom.

While she dressed she heard the outer door thrown open and the sound of
many persons trooping into the hall.  They were very bright and happy,
for they laughed merrily and talked all together, and the house was full
of noise.

When she came out of the badstofa she met the postboy on his way to the
elt-house to boil water to give his ponies a hot drink, and on returning
to the hall she found the door and the shutters of the window open, the
daylight streaming in, and the postman himself there with several
passengers, including the Factor, who was muffled up to the eyes, and
Margret Neilsen, who was unrolling herself from the folds of a white
bearskin.

"Helloa!" cried everybody, and the postman said, "Here we are at last,
you see!  We couldn’t come yesterday by reason of the snowstorm, but the
Factor actually got me to start away as soon as it stopped at eleven
o’clock last night--eleven!"

"Well, we don’t kill a pig every day, do we?" said the Factor, and while
the men laughed and winked, Margret Neilsen said:

"And how’s Anna?"

Anna was speechless and ghastly white, so the Factor said, "We seem to
have startled her out of her senses, for she looks as if she had seen a
ghost.  But where’s Magnus?"

"Magnus?  Oh--somewhere about," said Anna.

"And how’s my precious Elin?" said Aunt Margret.

"She’s not up yet," said Anna.

"Then I’ll go and waken her.  Which is her room--this one?" said Aunt
Margret, making for the guest-room.

"No, no," said Anna, intercepting her and standing with her back to the
guest-room door.  "That one," and Aunt Margret went into Elin’s bedroom.

"And now," said the Factor, with winks all round him, "what about the
other one?"

Anna looked at the Factor in mute terror.

"The new-comer, you know?  Not stirring yet, I suppose?"

"New-comer?"

"Well, guest, friend, whatever you choose to call him."

"What friend?"

"Why, the friend who came last night, of course."

Anna, who had never lied in her life, wanted to lie now, but she could
not do so.  "I don’t understand you, Factor," she said faintly.

"Well!" said the Factor, and then, as if by an afterthought, "I thought
he wouldn’t wish to startle you, having been so long away and supposed
to be dead.  But don’t you know yet who he is?"

Anna trembled and said, "Of whom are you speaking, Oscar Neilsen?"

"Of the tall fair man with the pointed beard who came to lodge at your
house last night."

Anna was now speechless with terror, and the company, misunderstanding
her silence, became suddenly very grave. "Can it be possible that he
lost his way in the snowstorm?" said one.  "But he knew every inch of
the road, and could find his way blindfold," said another.  "Such a
night, though," said a third.  "He got as far as the House of Rest."
"But the boy there said he would never see the end of his journey."

"Well, this is serious," said the Factor.  "The Minister wanted him to
stay at Government House over-night, but he seemed so anxious to see
you----"

"To see me!" said Anna.

"Naturally, after his long absence.  Strange! very strange! But do you
mean to say that no traveler came here last night?"

A vague shadow of the Factor’s meaning had flashed upon Anna’s mind, and
the terror of a moment ago had deepened to horror.  What had Magnus done
in the blindness of his passion and despair?  But even then the desire
to save her son was above all other emotions, and she was about to deny
all knowledge of the traveler, when the door behind her was opened and a
voice over her shoulder said:

"Yes, a traveler did come here last night, but he went away again in the
early morning."

It was Magnus, and when Anna turned to look at him she drew a deep
breath of relief, for she knew he was telling the truth.  His face,
since she saw it last, had undergone a mysterious and miraculous change.
The gloomy arrogance of despair had gone, something had carried light
into the darkness of his soul, and he looked like a man who had come as
from the immediate presence of his God.

"But this is stranger than ever," said the Factor.  "It was known that
he had taken a large sum of money out of the Bank, and everybody
supposed he meant to buy up this place at the auction."

"Yes," said Aunt Margret, coming out of Elin’s bedroom, "to give to his
old mother."

And then Elin’s soft voice was heard to say, "Has the Sheriff come yet?"

"Who is asking for the Sheriff?" said the Sheriff himself, coming
forward at that moment.

"The gentleman gave me this pocket-book last night, and told me to
deliver it to you before the auction began this morning."

"It’s not for me, though," said the Sheriff, who had taken the
pocket-book to the table and opened it, and was reading the writing on
the sheet of paper which fell out first, "’For Elin, Oscar’s daughter,
from Christian Christiansson.’"

"A present for Elin, perhaps," said the Factor.

"A thousand-crown note!" cried the Sheriff.

The gaiety of the company was breaking into loud congratulations, when
the Sheriff, who was still opening the folds of the pocket-book, said,
"Wait!  There’s more than that--much more!  One--two--three--fifty
thousand--another--and another--and"--then the rapid rustling of
bank-notes, followed by the delighted cry, "Two hundred thousand
crowns!"

"The very sum he took out of the bank!" said the Factor.

"Kiss me, my precious!" said Aunt Margret.

"Me, too, granddaughter," cried the Factor.

Anna looked stunned, and Magnus like one who wished the earth to swallow
him.  But the Factor rattled along with shouts and laughter.

"Now I understand everything.  He has given the money to the girl, but
left it to her friends and relations to advise her as to what she is to
do with it."

Elin’s blue eyes being still full of bewilderment, the Factor kissed her
again and said, "Now who do you think has left you this great fortune,
little one?"

"Christian Christiansson," said the girl.

"Certainly!  But don’t you know who Christian Christiansson is?  No?
You neither, Anna?"

Anna was trembling on the verge of discovery.  "Who?" she said, but
rather with her lips than with her voice.

"Why, Oscar--your son Oscar, who isn’t dead at all, and has come back
and made amends to everybody!  I always knew there was good stuff in my
godson!"

The truth burst on Anna in a whirlwind of joy--joy that her son was
alive, joy that he had come home and justified her faith in him, joy,
too, though with a twinge of pain in it, that he had gone away again and
further trouble with Magnus was averted.  A prayer gushed from her heart
and she wanted to go down on her knees.

"My son!" she said in a breathless whisper.

"My father!" said Elin, with a tenderness the word had never had for her
before.

The company were now cackling and crowing again, but the two women--the
old one and the young one--looked round for Magnus.  He was standing at
the back, his strong face all broken up and melted.  It was not at this
moment that the truth had first burst on him.  That had come like a
blinding blow of light the instant he had entered the guest-room and
realized that God did something after all in this world for His
children.

"Mother--Elin!" he stammered, and he opened his arms to them.

"It’s the miracle, isn’t it?" said the girl.

It was the miracle indeed.

                     *      *      *      *      *

There was no auction in Thingvellir that day, and when the bells rang
for service the company went to church.  The little wooden tabernacle
was full of worshippers, for it was New Year’s Day, and the farmers had
ridden over with their families from all the country round about.  They
sat, in their thick mufflers and snow-stockings and the mist of their
smoking breath, as far up the church as the square rail enclosing the
communion table, on stools about the octagonal pulpit and even among the
refuse, the lumber and potted-meat barrels that were stored in the
gallery.

The Factor was there, very loud in his responses, fixing up the figures
on the tin plate which announced the hymns; Elin, too, with the wonder
not yet gone from her innocent blue eyes; Anna with her tempered
happiness and a heart overflowing with thanksgiving, and (most strange
of all) Magnus himself, a changed and humbled man.

Everybody looked at Magnus, in surprise at seeing him there, but Magnus
looked at no one.  While the Pastor read the lesson ("All we like sheep
have gone astray"), while he gave out his text ("This day shalt thou be
with Me in Paradise"), while he preached his homely sermon on the
conversion of the dying thief on the cross, showing the shortness of
time, the power of redemption, and the certainty of death’s sundering,
and even while the deacon chanted the anthem ("Weeping may endure for a
night, but joy cometh in the morning"), and the congregation sang the
closing hymn, and Elin’s silvery young voice ringing up to the round
ceiling reminded him of her mother’s, Magnus sat with his face toward
the picture on the wall above the communion-table.

It was a picture of Christ in white robes and among warm eastern
foliage, healing the blind man by the wayside, and while he looked at it
a great softening of the heart came to him, for he thought of the
blessed but awful moment, only just passed, when the scales fell from
his own eyes, and his naked soul stood face to face with its Maker.

That was the moment when, with murder in his mind and a spirit of war
with God, he had entered the stranger’s bedroom and bolted the door
behind him, and then found that his victim had been snatched out of his
hands and heard a fearful voice which seemed to say, "Stop! or the voice
of thy brother’s blood will cry unto Me from the ground!"

When the service was over there was much handshaking and well-wishing
outside the porch, for rumor of what had happened in Anna’s household
had passed from mouth to mouth, but Magnus took his old mother on his
arm and walked home with her alone, except for Elin, who tripped through
the crisp snow by their side, humming a little of the last hymn.

The young people were racing the ponies to and fro in their joy of the
first snow; the old ones were gossiping in groups on the exciting news
of the day; and the Factor, who was swinging along in his plaid-shawl,
with a contented expression, like an old cow going home in the evening
with her udder full, was saluting everybody, and inviting all and sundry
to the Inn-farm, for a cup of coffee.

It was more than a cup of coffee he had had prepared for them, for
assuming command while Magnus seemed paralyzed by surprise, he had
ordered a lamb to be killed, and Aunt Margret remained behind to roast
it.

The dinner was a large and long one, for everybody was welcome to it,
and before it came to an end the Factor rose to propose a toast.

"Every snow-cowl has an end," he said, "and I am happy to inform you all
that the cloud that has hung so long over the Inn-farm, over Anna
Magnusson’s family and over my family, is now gone for good.  ’Show the
man and not the table,’ says one of our Sagas, but in this case we have
had to show you the table and not the man.  He will be on his way to
Reykjavik by this time, I suppose, and, if prophecy is the wise man’s
guess, I guess he will get such a rousing welcome there as no man ever
had in this old island before.

"Brothers and sisters, I give you a health--Anna’s long-lost son, _our_
long-lost son, Iceland’s long-lost son--Oscar Stephen-son!"

The toast was received with shouts and the jingling of glasses, but Anna
did not drink, and Magnus dropped his head.


                                 *VIII*

On the east of the plain and the lake of Thingvellir there is a pass
going over the mountain of Hengel to the little trading station of
Eyrarbakki.  It winds through a number of geysers and mineral springs
which seem to be always smoking against the bare side of the fell.  They
are little pools of simmering water in the crusted yellow earth, some of
them, white and sparkling as a star, some round and deep-blue as a
woman’s eye, some oval and blood-red, like the living heart of some
monstrous animal.

You walk warily on the path between, for the earth is hot and thin under
his feet, and sometimes it throbs like the lid of a boiling kettle, and
sometimes there is a smothered roar beneath you as of mighty battles in
the bowels of the earth, and then the pools begin to boil and send up
spouts of foaming water and tongues of liquid flame, and the air is full
of sulphurous vapor.

An awful, evil, and devilish place, looking like a cauldron over a
circle of hellish fire.  But higher up the pass the snow lies white and
calm and crisp, and higher still are the glistening glaciers, and there,
while the mountain quakes in its volcanic throes, the avalanche comes
down in winter so suddenly that no man can hear or see it, for it is
loud as the crack of doom and swift as the shaft of death.

At daybreak that day Christian Christiansson was crossing this pass on
his way to Eyrarbakki, intending to take ship to Norway.  Although it
was only two hours since he had pushed open the guest-room window and
left the Inn-farm, he was already a stronger and braver man.  Then he
had thought of nothing but ending everything, and the shadow of
self-destruction had floated before him, but now he saw clearly that
until God ordained he should die it was his duty to live.  As he had
sinned so he should suffer.  He must pay his penalty to its last pang,
its uttermost moment.  His penalty was to live on without the love he
had forfeited, the happiness he had lost the right to claim.  It was
hard, but it was just, and he must face the end without flinching.
Welcome life, then, as long as it lasted!  Welcome death when it was
due!

After he had passed through the heat and smoke and come out on the clear
heights beyond he paused to look back.  The world around was all white
and stark under the snow of last night’s storm, but a crimson shaft from
the sun which had not yet risen was crossing the topmost peaks, and the
lowlands were still sleeping in a veil of mist.  He thought he could
hear the ringing of the church bell, and that sweet human sound came
winging its way up to him through the vapor of the sulphur-pits as the
singing of a star might rise through the clouds of the world to the ears
of the souls in heaven.

Presently the sun strode up and the mist fell back, and then he saw in
the valley far below the little church itself and the home he had left
behind him.  He had left happiness there, and love, and warm comfort,
for that was his reparation to the dear ones he had injured, and now for
his atonement to God he was going out alone, stripped of everything and
unknown to any one.

It was as much as he could bear to think of that, but he smiled to
himself sadly while he pictured the surprise and joy of the happy scene
when the girl would come out with the pocket-book and the auction would
be stopped.  He thought, too, of his mother in church, with a soul full
of gratitude, and saw Elin with a ray of sunlight from the lead-lighted
window on the heart-breaking sweetness of her smile.  It was not thus
that he had expected to leave them when for ten years he had worked by
the sweat of body and spirit that he might come back and be forgiven.
But it was not in this world that the prodigal could be taken back; not
here that any earthly father could run to meet him and throw his arms
about his neck.  What he had sown he must reap, and not all his
penitence and tears could undo what he had done.

It was long before he could take his last look at the home he was
leaving forever, and when at length he drew a deep breath and went on,
he had to comfort himself with the thought that Thora would be pleased
with him for giving up their child to Magnus.  Her voice from the other
world seemed to come to him and say, "Well done!  Poor, brave, wounded
heart, God’s angels rejoice over you!"  But it was hard to find solace
in heavenly cheer while his blood ran warm and yearned for human
company.

Before he was aware of it he was at the foot of the glaciers, those
great lone homes of Nature never trodden by the foot of man or animal,
where no bird sings and no flower grows, where only the wind moans over
motionless billows of ice and the sun rises in a blank barrenness on
chasms of the frozen deep.  Looking back from this place he could see
nothing of the valley and the houses of men, or of anything but a wide
circle of mountain peaks, all silent and white, in which he was the only
living thing.  And then the feeling of being cut off from the rest of
humanity amid these grand but grim surroundings elevated his senses and
affected him like music, like composing, with a sort of ecstacy which
was part rapture and partly pain.

In this ecstasy of emotion he asked himself if his life had been wasted,
if happiness was gone from him even if, because he had sinned, there was
nothing before him now but renunciation and suffering.  And then the
teaching of his childhood came back to him with a new and sublime
significance, and he saw for the first time the lesson of life and the
meaning of death.  The lesson of life was Duty--to do right without
expectation of reward or fear of punishment; and the meaning of death
was to bring to the sinful, penitent soul the pardon the world can not
give.

Then thank God for life, but thank God for death also! Whatever a man’s
sin, Nature could not forget it, and the laws of life could not forgive,
but the mercy of God was without measure of guilt, and the gates of
heaven were wide!

God veiled His face from His creatures, and to man’s questioning eyes
the infinite wisdom was as blank as these white walls of ice and snow,
but two thousand years ago a simple Galilean had read this riddle of
life as no man before or since has read it.  He had read it for all men,
good or bad, but most of all for wayworn sinners like himself, for whom
the world has no pity, and no forgiveness.  And though he was the
guiltiest of the guilty, and his sin had found him out, and as the price
of his repentance he had had to give up everything in life that he held
most dear--the love of his child and the hope of pardon and
reconciliation--yet love and pardon and reconciliation were waiting for
him still when God’s own voice should call him, and "this mortal should
put on immortality."

By this time he was in that mood in which a man of his temperament finds
it difficult to distinguish the real from the imaginary, in which he
hears the sounds of Nature and mistakes them for voices from the other
world.  He had wandered without knowing it from the path of the pass,
which was marked by stones standing upright out of the snow, when the
volcanic fire in the womb of the mountain began to shake it with mighty
throbs, and then suddenly the awful stillness was broken by a crash and
a resounding rumble as of echoing thunder coming down from the
snow-capped heights.

Oscar Stephenson did not see or hear or feel anything.  He was only
conscious of a burst of heavenly music, of a sense of ten thousand
angels singing an anthem, a triumphant pæan of praise that grew louder
and louder every moment; a sense of blinding light, and of traveling at
a terrific velocity into the realms of the sun; a sense of the Day of
Judgment, of the life of the world being over, its busy throngs gone,
its pageants finished, its honors, distinctions, castes, gold, wealth,
and fame passed into nothingness; a sense of being outside the great
Judgment Hall with an infinite multitude of kings and beggars, good men
and bad, the guilty and the innocent, and of kneeling there among the
meanest and most ashamed; a sense of a spirit stooping to him and taking
his hand and saying, "Come," of looking up into her face, and seeing it
was Thora, and of his breath coming so fast and short that he could
scarcely breathe; a sense of stumbling along with his head down and the
spirit leading him forward and singing as they ascended; a sense of an
overwhelming Presence somewhere in front of him, of the music dying down
and becoming fainter and fainter, and then of an awful hush and of a
blessed Voice which said:

"FOR THIS MY SON WAS DEAD AND IS ALIVE AGAIN, WAS LOST AND IS FOUND."

                     *      *      *      *      *

A moment afterward there was no one on Hengel mountain, the great lone
home of Nature was calm and white and silent.



                                THE END





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "- To be updated" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home