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Title: Tales from Two Hemispheres
Author: Boyesen, Hjalmar Hjorth
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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By Hjalmar Hjorth Boysen






ON the second day of June, 186--, a young Norseman, Halfdan Bjerk
by name, landed on the pier at Castle Garden. He passed through the
straight and narrow gate where he was asked his name, birthplace, and
how much money he had,--at which he grew very much frightened.

“And your destination?”--demanded the gruff-looking functionary at the

“America,” said the youth, and touched his hat politely.

“Do you think I have time for joking?” roared the official, with an

The Norseman ran his hand through his hair, smiled his timidly
conciliatory smile, and tried his best to look brave; but his hand
trembled and his heart thumped away at an alarmingly quickened tempo.

“Put him down for Nebraska!” cried a stout red-cheeked individual
(inwrapped in the mingled fumes of tobacco and whisky) whose function it
was to open and shut the gate.

“There ain’t many as go to Nebraska.”

“All right, Nebraska.”

The gate swung open and the pressure from behind urged the timid
traveler on, while an extra push from the gate-keeper sent him flying in
the direction of a board fence, where he sat down and tried to realize
that he was now in the land of liberty.

Halfdan Bjerk was a tall, slender-limbed youth of very delicate frame;
he had a pair of wonderfully candid, unreflecting blue eyes, a smooth,
clear, beardless face, and soft, wavy light hair, which was pushed back
from his forehead without parting. His mouth and chin were well cut, but
their lines were, perhaps, rather weak for a man. When in repose, the
ensemble of his features was exceedingly pleasing and somehow reminded
one of Correggio’s St. John. He had left his native land because he was
an ardent republican and was abstractly convinced that man, generically
and individually, lives more happily in a republic than in a monarchy.
He had anticipated with keen pleasure the large, freely breathing life
he was to lead in a land where every man was his neighbor’s brother,
where no senseless traditions kept a jealous watch over obsolete
systems and shrines, and no chilling prejudice blighted the spontaneous
blossoming of the soul.

Halfdan was an only child. His father, a poor government official, had
died during his infancy, and his mother had given music lessons, and
kept boarders, in order to gain the means to give her son what is
called a learned education. In the Latin school Halfdan had enjoyed the
reputation of being a bright youth, and at the age of eighteen, he had
entered the university under the most promising auspices. He could make
very fair verses, and play all imaginable instruments with equal ease,
which made him a favorite in society. Moreover, he possessed that very
old-fashioned accomplishment of cutting silhouettes; and what was more,
he could draw the most charmingly fantastic arabesques for embroidery
patterns, and he even dabbled in portrait and landscape painting.
Whatever he turned his hand to, he did well, in fact, astonishingly
well for a dilettante, and yet not well enough to claim the title of an
artist. Nor did it ever occur to him to make such a claim. As one of
his fellow-students remarked in a fit of jealousy, “Once when Nature had
made three geniuses, a poet, a musician, and a painter, she took all the
remaining odds and ends and shook them together at random and the result
was Halfdan Bjerk.” This agreeable melange of accomplishments, however,
proved very attractive to the ladies, who invited the possessor to
innumerable afternoon tea-parties, where they drew heavy drafts on his
unflagging patience, and kept him steadily engaged with patterns and
designs for embroidery, leather flowers, and other dainty knickknacks.
And in return for all his exertions they called him “sweet” and
“beautiful,” and applied to him many other enthusiastic adjectives
seldom heard in connection with masculine names. In the university,
talents of this order gained but slight recognition, and when Halfdan
had for three years been preparing himself in vain for the examen
philosophicum, he found himself slowly and imperceptibly drifting into
the ranks of the so-called studiosi perpetui, who preserve a solemn
silence at the examination tables, fraternize with every new generation
of freshmen, and at last become part of the fixed furniture of their
Alma Mater. In the larger American colleges, such men are mercilessly
dropped or sent to a Divinity School; but the European universities,
whose tempers the centuries have mellowed, harbor in their spacious
Gothic bosoms a tenderer heart for their unfortunate sons. There the
professors greet them at the green tables with a good-humored smile of
recognition; they are treated with gentle forbearance, and are allowed
to linger on, until they die or become tutors in the families of remote
clergymen, where they invariably fall in love with the handsomest
daughter, and thus lounge into a modest prosperity.

If this had been the fate of our friend Bjerk, we should have dismissed
him here with a confident “vale” on his life’s pilgrimage. But,
unfortunately, Bjerk was inclined to hold the government in some
way responsible for his own poor success as a student, and this, in
connection with an aesthetic enthusiasm for ancient Greece, gradually
convinced him that the republic was the only form of government under
which men of his tastes and temperament were apt to flourish. It was,
like everything that pertained to him, a cheerful, genial conviction,
without the slightest tinge of bitterness. The old institutions were
obsolete, rotten to the core, he said, and needed a radical renovation.
He could sit for hours of an evening in the Students’ Union, and
discourse over a glass of mild toddy, on the benefits of universal
suffrage and trial by jury, while the picturesqueness of his language,
his genial sarcasms, or occasional witty allusions would call forth
uproarious applause from throngs of admiring freshmen. These were the
sunny days in Halfdan’s career, days long to be remembered. They came to
an abrupt end when old Mrs. Bjerk died, leaving nothing behind her but
her furniture and some trifling debts. The son, who was not an eminently
practical man, underwent long hours of misery in trying to settle up her
affairs, and finally in a moment of extreme dejection sold his entire
inheritance in a lump to a pawnbroker (reserving for himself a few rings
and trinkets) for the modest sum of 250 dollars specie. He then took
formal leave of the Students’ Union in a brilliant speech, in which
he traced the parallelisms between the lives of Pericles and
Washington,--in his opinion the two greatest men the world had ever
seen,--expounded his theory of democratic government, and explained the
causes of the rapid rise of the American Republic. The next morning he
exchanged half of his worldly possessions for a ticket to New York, and
within a few days set sail for the land of promise, in the far West.


From Castle Garden, Halfdan made his way up through Greenwich street,
pursued by a clamorous troop of confidence men and hotel runners.

“Kommen Sie mit mir. Ich bin auch Deutsch,” cried one. “Voila, voila,
je parle Francais,” shouted another, seizing hold of his valise. “Jeg
er Dansk. Tale Dansk,” [1] roared a third, with an accent which seriously
impeached his truthfulness. In order to escape from these importunate
rascals, who were every moment getting bolder, he threw himself into the
first street-car which happened to pass; he sat down, gazed out of the
windows and soon became so thoroughly absorbed in the animated scenes
which moved as in a panorama before his eyes, that he quite forgot where
he was going. The conductor called for fares, and received an English
shilling, which, after some ineffectual expostulation, he pocketed, but
gave no change. At last after about an hour’s journey, the car stopped,
the conductor called out “Central Park,” and Halfdan woke up with
a start. He dismounted with a timid, deliberate step, stared in dim
bewilderment at the long rows of palatial residences, and a chill sense
of loneliness crept over him. The hopeless strangeness of everything
he saw, instead of filling him with rapture as he had once anticipated,
Sent a cold shiver to his heart. It is a very large affair, this world
of ours--a good deal larger than it appeared to him gazing out upon
it from his snug little corner up under the Pole; and it was as
unsympathetic as it was large; he suddenly felt what he had never been
aware of before--that he was a very small part of it and of very little
account after all. He staggered over to a bench at the entrance to the
park, and sat long watching the fine carriages as they dashed past him;
he saw the handsome women in brilliant costumes laughing and chatting
gayly; the apathetic policemen promenading in stoic dignity up and down
upon the smooth pavements; the jauntily attired nurses, whom in his
Norse innocence he took for mothers or aunts of the children, wheeling
baby-carriages which to Norse eyes seemed miracles of dainty ingenuity,
under the shady crowns of the elm-trees. He did not know how long he
had been sitting there, when a little bright-eyed girl with light kid
gloves, a small blue parasol and a blue polonaise, quite a lady of
fashion en miniature, stopped in front of him and stared at him in shy
wonder. He had always been fond of children, and often rejoiced in their
affectionate ways and confidential prattle, and now it suddenly touched
him with a warm sense of human fellowship to have this little daintily
befrilled and crisply starched beauty single him out for notice among
the hundreds who reclined in the arbors, or sauntered to and fro under
the great trees.

“What is your name, my little girl?” he asked, in a tone of friendly

“Clara,” answered the child, hesitatingly; then, having by another look
assured herself of his harmlessness, she added: “How very funny you

“Yes,” he said, stooping down to take he tiny begloved hand. “I do not
speak as well as you do, yet; but I shall soon learn.”

Clara looked puzzled.

“How old are you?” she asked, raising her parasol, and throwing back her
head with an air of superiority.

“I am twenty-four years old.”

She began to count half aloud on her fingers: “One, two, three, four,”
 but, before she reached twenty, she lost her patience.

“Twenty-four,” she exclaimed, “that is a great deal. I am only seven,
and papa gave me a pony on my birthday. Have you got a pony?”

“No; I have nothing but what is in this valise, and you know I could not
very well get a pony into it.”

Clara glanced curiously at the valise and laughed; then suddenly she
grew serious again, put her hand into her pocket and seemed to be
searching eagerly for something. Presently she hauled out a small
porcelain doll’s head, then a red-painted block with letters on it, and
at last a penny.

“Do you want them?” she said, reaching him her treasures in both hands.
“You may have them all.”

Before he had time to answer, a shrill, penetrating voice cried out:

“Why, gracious! child, what are you doing?”

And the nurse, who had been deeply absorbed in “The New York Ledger,”
 came rushing up, snatched the child away, and retreated as hastily as
she had come.

Halfdan rose and wandered for hours aimlessly along the intertwining
roads and footpaths. He visited the menageries, admired the statues,
took a very light dinner, consisting of coffee, sandwiches, and ice, at
the Chinese Pavilion, and, toward evening, discovered an inviting leafy
arbor, where he could withdraw into the privacy of his own thoughts,
and ponder upon the still unsolved problem of his destiny. The little
incident with the child had taken the edge off his unhappiness and
turned him into a more conciliatory mood toward himself and the great
pitiless world, which seemed to take so little notice of him. And he,
who had come here with so warm a heart and so ardent a will to join
in the great work of human advancement--to find himself thus harshly
ignored and buffeted about, as if he were a hostile intruder! Before
him lay the huge unknown city where human life pulsated with large,
full heart-throbs, where a breathless, weird intensity, a cold, fierce
passion seemed to be hurrying everything onward in a maddening whirl,
where a gentle, warm-blooded enthusiast like himself had no place and
could expect naught but a speedy destruction. A strange, unconquerable
dread took possession of him, as if he had been caught in a swift,
strong whirlpool, from which he vainly struggled to escape. He crouched
down among the foliage and shuddered. He could not return to the city.
No, no: he never would return. He would remain here hidden and unseen
until morning, and then he would seek a vessel bound for his dear native
land, where the great mountains loomed up in serene majesty toward the
blue sky, where the pine-forests whispered their dreamily sympathetic
legends, in the long summer twilights, where human existence flowed
on in calm beauty with the modest aims, small virtues, and small vices
which were the happiness of modest, idyllic souls. He even saw himself
in spirit recounting to his astonished countrymen the wonderful things
he had heard and seen during his foreign pilgrimage, and smiled to
himself as he imagined their wonder when he should tell them about the
beautiful little girl who had been the first and only one to offer him a
friendly greeting in the strange land. During these reflections he fell
asleep, and slept soundly for two or three hours. Once, he seemed to
hear footsteps and whispers among the trees, and made an effort to rouse
himself, but weariness again overmastered him and he slept on. At last,
he felt himself seized violently by the shoulders, and a gruff voice
shouted in his ear:

“Get up, you sleepy dog.”

He rubbed his eyes, and, by the dim light of the moon, saw a Herculean
policeman lifting a stout stick over his head. His former terror came
upon him with increased violence, and his heart stood for a moment
still, then, again, hammered away as if it would burst his sides.

“Come along!” roared the policeman, shaking him vehemently by the collar
of his coat.

In his bewilderment he quite forgot where he was, and, in hurried
Norse sentences, assured his persecutor that he was a harmless, honest
traveler, and implored him to release him. But the official Hercules was

“My valise, my valise;” cried Halfdan. “Pray let me get my valise.”

They returned to the place where he had slept, but the valise was
nowhere to be found. Then, with dumb despair he resigned himself to his
fate, and after a brief ride on a street-car, found himself standing in
a large, low-ceiled room; he covered his face with his hands and burst
into tears.

“The grand-the happy republic,” he murmured, “spontaneous blossoming of
the soul. Alas! I have rooted up my life; I fear it will never blossom.”

All the high-flown adjectives he had employed in his parting speech in
the Students’ Union, when he paid his enthusiastic tribute to the Grand
Republic, now kept recurring to him, and in this moment the paradox
seemed cruel. The Grand Republic, what did it care for such as he? A
pair of brawny arms fit to wield the pick-axe and to steer the plow it
received with an eager welcome; for a child-like, loving heart and a
generously fantastic brain, it had but the stern greeting of the law.


The next morning, Halfdan was released from the Police Station, having
first been fined five dollars for vagrancy. All his money, with the
exception of a few pounds which he had exchanged in Liverpool, he
had lost with his valise, and he had to his knowledge not a single
acquaintance in the city or on the whole continent. In order to increase
his capital he bought some fifty “Tribunes,” but, as it was already
late in the day, he hardly succeeded in selling a single copy. The next
morning, he once more stationed himself on the corner of Murray street
and Broadway, hoping in his innocence to dispose of the papers he
had still on hand from the previous day, and actually did find a few
customers among the people who were jumping in and out of the omnibuses
that passed up and down the great thoroughfare. To his surprise,
however, one of these gentlemen returned to him with a very wrathful
countenance, shook his fist at him, and vociferated with excited
gestures something which to Halfdan’s ears had a very unintelligible
sound. He made a vain effort to defend himself; the situation appeared
so utterly incomprehensible to him, and in his dumb helplessness he
looked pitiful enough to move the heart of a stone. No English phrase
suggested itself to him, only a few Norse interjections rose to his
lips. The man’s anger suddenly abated; he picked up the paper which
he had thrown on the sidewalk, and stood for a while regarding Halfdan

“Are you a Norwegian?” he asked.

“Yes, I came from Norway yesterday.”

“What’s your name?”

“Halfdan Bjerk.”

“Halfdan Bjerk! My stars! Who would have thought of meeting you here!
You do not recognize me, I suppose.”

Halfdan declared with a timid tremor in his voice that he could not at
the moment recall his features.

“No, I imagine I must have changed a good deal since you saw me,” said
the man, suddenly dropping into Norwegian. “I am Gustav Olson, I used to
live in the same house with you once, but that is long ago now.”

Gustav Olson--to be sure, he was the porter’s son in the house,
where his mother had once during his childhood, taken a flat. He well
remembered having clandestinely traded jack-knives and buttons with him,
in spite of the frequent warnings he had received to have nothing to
do with him; for Gustav, with his broad freckled face and red hair, was
looked upon by the genteel inhabitants of the upper flats as rather a
disreputable character. He had once whipped the son of a colonel who
had been impudent to him, and thrown a snow-ball at the head of a
new-fledged lieutenant, which offenses he had duly expiated at a house
of correction. Since that time he had vanished from Halfdan’s horizon.
He had still the same broad freckled face, now covered with a lusty
growth of coarse red beard, the same rebellious head of hair, which
refused to yield to the subduing influences of the comb, the same
plebeian hands and feet, and uncouth clumsiness of form. But his linen
was irreproachable, and a certain dash in his manner, and the
loud fashionableness of his attire, gave unmistakable evidences of

“Come, Bjerk,” said he in a tone of good-fellowship, which was not
without its sting to the idealistic republican, “you must take up a
better business than selling yesterday’s `Tribune.’ That won’t pay here,
you know. Come along to our office and I will see if something can’t be
done for you.”

“But I should be sorry to give you trouble,” stammered Halfdan, whose
native pride, even in his present wretchedness, protested against
accepting a favor from one whom he had been wont to regard as his

“Nonsense, my boy. Hurry up, I haven’t much time to spare. The office
is only two blocks from here. You don’t look as if you could afford to
throw away a friendly offer.”

The last words suddenly roused Halfdan from his apathy; for he felt
that they were true. A drowning man cannot afford to make nice
distinctions--cannot afford to ask whether the helping hand that is
extended to him be that of an equal or an inferior. So he swallowed
his humiliation and threaded his way through the bewildering turmoil of
Broadway, by the side of his officious friend.

They entered a large, elegantly furnished office, where clerks with
sleek and severely apathetic countenances stood scribbling at their

“You will have to amuse yourself as best you can,” said Olson. “Mr. Van
Kirk will be here in twenty minutes. I haven’t time to entertain you.”

A dreary half hour passed. Then the door opened and a tall, handsome
man, with a full grayish beard, and a commanding presence, entered and
took his seat at a desk in a smaller adjoining office. He opened, with
great dispatch, a pile of letters which lay on the desk before him,
called out in a sharp, ringing tone for a clerk, who promptly appeared,
handed him half-a-dozen letters, accompanying each with a brief
direction, took some clean paper from a drawer and fell to writing.
There was something brisk, determined, and business-like in his manner,
which made it seem very hopeless to Halfdan to appear before him as a
petitioner. Presently Olson entered the private office, closing the door
behind him, and a few minutes later re-appeared and summoned Halfdan
into the chief’s presence.

“You are a Norwegian, I hear,” said the merchant, looking around over
his shoulder at the supplicant, with a preoccupied air. “You want work.
What can you do?”

What can you do? A fatal question. But here was clearly no opportunity
for mental debate. So, summoning all his courage, but feeling
nevertheless very faint, he answered:

“I have passed both examen artium and philosophicum, [2] and got my laud
clear in the former, but in the latter haud on the first point.”

Mr. Van Kirk wheeled round on his chair and faced the speaker:

“That is all Greek to me,” he said, in a severe tone. “Can you keep

“No. I am afraid not.”

Keeping accounts was not deemed a classical accomplishment in Norway. It
was only “trade-rats” who troubled themselves about such gross things,
and if our Norseman had not been too absorbed with the problem of his
destiny, he would have been justly indignant at having such a question
put to him.

“Then you don’t know book-keeping?”

“I think not. I never tried it.”

“Then you may be sure you don’t know it. But you must certainly have
tried your hand at something. Is there nothing you can think of which
might help you to get a living?”

“I can play the piano--and--and the violin.”

“Very well, then. You may come this afternoon to my house. Mr. Olson
will tell you the address. I will give you a note to Mrs. Van Kirk.
Perhaps she will engage you as a music teacher for the children. Good


At half-past four o’clock in the afternoon, Halfdan found himself
standing in a large, dimly lighted drawing-room, whose brilliant
upholstery, luxurious carpets, and fantastically twisted furniture
dazzled and bewildered his senses. All was so strange, so strange;
nowhere a familiar object to give rest to the wearied eye. Wherever he
looked he saw his shabbily attired figure repeated in the long crystal
mirrors, and he became uncomfortably conscious of his threadbare coat,
his uncouth boots, and the general incongruity of his appearance. With
every moment his uneasiness grew; and he was vaguely considering the
propriety of a precipitate flight, when the rustle of a dress at the
farther end of the room startled him, and a small, plump lady, of a
daintily exquisite form, swept up toward him, gave a slight inclination
of her head, and sank down into an easy-chair:

“You are Mr. ----, the Norwegian, who wishes to give music lessons?”
 she said, holding a pair of gold-framed eyeglasses up to her eyes, and
running over the note which she held in her hand. It read as follows:

DEAR MARTHA,--The bearer of this note is a young Norwegian, I forgot to
ascertain his name, a friend of Olson’s. He wishes to teach music.
If you can help the poor devil and give him something to do, you will
oblige,               Yours,              H. V. K.

Mrs. Van Kirk was evidently, by at least twelve years, her husband’s
junior, and apparently not very far advanced in the forties. Her blonde
hair, which was freshly crimped, fell lightly over her smooth, narrow
forehead; her nose, mouth and chin had a neat distinctness of outline;
her complexion was either naturally or artificially perfect, and
her eyes, which were of the purest blue, had, owing to their
near-sightedness, a certain pinched and scrutinizing look. This look,
which was without the slightest touch of severity, indicating merely
a lively degree of interest, was further emphasized by three small
perpendicular wrinkles, which deepened and again relaxed according to
the varying intensity of observation she bestowed upon the object which
for the time engaged her attention.

“Your name, if you please?” said Mrs. Van Kirk, having for awhile
measured her visitor with a glance of mild scrutiny.

“Halfdan Bjerk.”

“Half-dan B----, how do you spell that?”


“B-jerk. Well, but I mean, what is your name in English?”

Halfdan looked blank, and blushed to his ears.

“I wish to know,” continued the lady energetically, evidently anxious
to help him out, “what your name would mean in plain English. Bjerk, it
certainly must mean something.”

“Bjerk is a tree--a birch-tree.”

“Very well, Birch,--that is a very respectable name. And your first
name? What did you say that was?


“Half Dan. Why not a whole Dan and be done with it? Dan Birch, or rather
Daniel Birch. Indeed, that sounds quite Christian.”

“As you please, madam,” faltered the victim, looking very unhappy.

“You will pardon my straightforwardness, won’t you? B-jerk. I could
never pronounce that, you know.”

“Whatever may be agreeable to you, madam, will be sure to please me.”

“That is very well said. And you will find that it always pays to try to
please me. And you wish to teach music? If you have no objection I will
call my oldest daughter. She is an excellent judge of music, and if
your playing meets with her approval, I will engage you, as my husband
suggests, not to teach Edith, you understand, but my youngest child,

Halfdan bowed assent, and Mrs. Van Kirk rustled out into the hall where
she rang a bell, and re-entered. A servant in dress-coat appeared, and
again vanished as noiselessly as he had come. To our Norseman there was
some thing weird and uncanny about these silent entrances and exits;
he could hardly suppress a shudder. He had been accustomed to hear the
clatter of people’s heels upon the bare floors, as they approached, and
the audible crescendo of their footsteps gave one warning, and prevented
one from being taken by surprise. While absorbed in these reflections,
his senses must have been dormant; for just then Miss Edith Van Kirk
entered, unheralded by anything but a hovering perfume, the effect of
which was to lull him still deeper into his wondering abstraction.

“Mr. Birch,” said Mrs. Van Kirk, “this is my daughter Miss Edith,” and
as Halfdan sprang to his feet and bowed with visible embarrassment, she

“Edith, this is Mr. Daniel Birch, whom your father has sent here to know
if he would be serviceable as a music teacher for Clara. And now, dear,
you will have to decide about the merits of Mr. Birch. I don’t know
enough about music to be anything of a judge.”

“If Mr. Birch will be kind enough to play,” said Miss Edith with a
languidly musical intonation,” I shall be happy to listen to him.”

Halfdan silently signified his willingness and followed the ladies to a
smaller apartment which was separated from the drawing-room by folding
doors. The apparition of the beautiful young girl who was walking at
his side had suddenly filled him with a strange burning and shuddering
happiness; he could not tear his eyes away from her; she held him as
by a powerful spell. And still, all the while he had a painful
sub-consciousness of his own unfortunate appearance, which was thrown
into cruel relief by her splendor. The tall, lithe magnificence of her
form, the airy elegance of her toilet, which seemed the perfection of
self-concealing art, the elastic deliberateness of her step--all wrought
like a gentle, deliciously soothing opiate upon the Norseman’s fancy and
lifted him into hitherto unknown regions of mingled misery and bliss.
She seemed a combination of the most divine contradictions, one moment
supremely conscious, and in the next adorably child-like and simple, now
full of arts and coquettish innuendoes, then again naïve, unthinking
and almost boyishly blunt and direct; in a word, one of those miraculous
New York girls whom abstractly one may disapprove of, but in the
concrete must abjectly adore. This easy predominance of the masculine
heart over the masculine reason in the presence of an impressive woman,
has been the motif of a thousand tragedies in times past, and will
inspire a thousand more in times to come.

Halfdan sat down at the grand piano and played Chopin’s Nocturne in G
major, flinging out that elaborate filigree of sound with an impetuosity
and superb ABANDON which caused the ladies to exchange astonished
glances behind his back. The transitions from the light and ethereal
texture of melody to the simple, more concrete theme, which he rendered
with delicate shadings of articulation, were sufficiently startling to
impress even a less cultivated ear than that of Edith Van Kirk, who had,
indeed, exhausted whatever musical resources New York has to offer. And
she was most profoundly impressed. As he glided over the last pianissimo
notes toward the two concluding chords (an ending so characteristic
of Chopin) she rose and hurried to his side with a heedless eagerness,
which was more eloquent than emphatic words of praise.

“Won’t you please repeat this passage?” she said, humming the air with
soft modulations; “I have always regarded the monotonous repetition of
this strain” (and she indicated it lightly by a few touches of the keys)
“as rather a blemish of an otherwise perfect composition. But as you
play it, it is anything but monotonous. You put into this single phrase
a more intense meaning and a greater variety of thought than I ever
suspected it was capable of expressing.”

“It is my favorite composition,” answered he, modestly. “I have bestowed
more thought upon it than upon anything I have ever played, unless
perhaps it be the one in G minor, which, with all its difference of mood
and phraseology, expresses an essentially kindred thought.”

“My dear Mr. Birch,” exclaimed Mrs. Van Kirk, whom his skillful
employment of technical terms (in spite of his indifferent accent)
had impressed even more than his rendering of the music,--“you are a
comsummate{sic} artist, and we shall deem it a great privilege if
you will undertake to instruct our child. I have listened to you with
profound satisfaction.”

Halfdan acknowledged the compliment by a bow and a blush, and repeated
the latter part of the nocturne according to Edith’s request.

“And now,” resumed Edith, “may I trouble you to play the G minor, which
has even puzzled me more than the one you have just played.”

“It ought really to have been played first,” replied Halfdan. “It is
far intenser in its coloring and has a more passionate ring, but its
conclusion does not seem to be final. There is no rest in it, and it
seems oddly enough to be a mere transition into the major, which is its
proper supplement and completes the fragmentary thought.”

Mother and daughter once more telegraphed wondering looks at each
other, while Halfdan plunged into the impetuous movements of the minor
nocturne, which he played to the end with ever-increasing fervor and

“Mr. Birch,” said Edith, as he arose from the piano with a flushed face,
and the agitation of the music still tingling through his nerves. “You
are a far greater musician than you seem to be aware of. I have not
been taking lessons for some time, but you have aroused all my musical
ambition, and if you will accept me too, as a pupil, I shall deem it a

“I hardly know if I can teach you anything,” answered he, while his
eyes dwelt with keen delight on her beautiful form. “But in my present
position I can hardly afford to decline so flattering an offer.”

“You mean to say that you would decline it if you were in a position to
do so,” said she, smiling.

“No, only that I should question my convenience more closely.”

“Ah, never mind. I take all the responsibility. I shall cheerfully
consent to being imposed upon by you.”

Mrs. Van Kirk in the mean while had been examining the contents of a
fragrant Russia-leather pocket-book, and she now drew out two crisp
ten-dollar notes, and held them out toward him.

“I prefer to make sure of you by paying you in advance,” said she, with
a cheerfully familiar nod, and a critical glance at his attire, the
meaning of which he did not fail to detect. “Somebody else might make
the same discovery that we have made to-day, and outbid us. And we do
not want to be cheated out of our good fortune in having been the first
to secure so valuable a prize.”

“You need have no fear on that score, madam,” retorted Halfdan, with a
vivid blush, and purposely misinterpreting the polite subterfuge. “You
may rely upon my promise. I shall be here again, as soon as you wish me
to return.”

“Then, if you please, we shall look for you to-morrow morning at ten

And Mrs. Van Kirk hesitatingly folded up her notes and replaced them in
her pocket-book.

To our idealist there was something extremely odious in this sudden
offer of money. It was the first time any one had offered to pay him,
and it seemed to put him on a level with a common day-laborer. His first
impulse was to resent it as a gratuitous humiliation, but a glance
at Mrs. Van Kirk’s countenance, which was all aglow with officious
benevolence, re-assured him, and his indignation died away.

That same afternoon Olson, having been informed of his friend’s good
fortune, volunteered a loan of a hundred dollars, and accompanied him to
a fashionable tailor, where he underwent a pleasing metamorphosis.


In Norway the ladies dress with the innocent purpose of protecting
themselves against the weather; if this purpose is still remotely
present in the toilets of American women of to-day, it is, at all
events, sufficiently disguised to challenge detection, very much like a
primitive Sanscrit root in its French and English derivatives. This was
the reflection which was uppermost in Halfdan’s mind as Edith, ravishing
to behold in the airy grace of her fragrant morning toilet, at the
appointed time took her seat at his side before the piano. Her presence
seemed so intense, so all-absorbing, that it left no thought for
the music. A woman, with all the spiritual mysteries which that name
implies, had always appeared to him rather a composite phenomenon,
even apart from those varied accessories of dress, in which as by an
inevitable analogy, she sees fit to express the inner multiformity of
her being. Nevertheless, this former conception of his, when compared
to that wonderful complexity of ethereal lines, colors, tints and
half-tints which go to make up the modern New York girl, seemed
inexpressibly simple, almost what plain arithmetic must appear to a man
who has mastered calculus.

Edith had opened one of those small red-covered volumes of Chopin where
the rich, wondrous melodies lie peacefully folded up like strange exotic
flowers in an herbarium. She began to play the fantasia impromtu, which
ought to be dashed off at a single “heat,” whose passionate impulse
hurries it on breathlessly toward its abrupt finale. But Edith toiled
considerably with her fingering, and blurred the keen edges of each
swift phrase by her indistinct articulation. And still there was a
sufficiently ardent intention in her play to save it from being a
failure. She made a gesture of disgust when she had finished, shut the
book, and let her hands drop crosswise in her lap.

“I only wanted to give you a proof of my incapacity,” she said, turning
her large luminous gaze upon her instructor, “in order to make you duly
appreciate what you have undertaken. Now, tell me truly and honestly,
are you not discouraged?”

“Not by any means,” replied he, while the rapture of her presence
rippled through his nerves, “you have fire enough in you to make an
admirable musician. But your fingers, as yet, refuse to carry out your
fine intentions. They only need discipline.”

“And do you suppose you can discipline them? They are a fearfully
obstinate set, and cause me infinite mortification.”

“Would you allow me to look at your hand?”

She raised her right hand, and with a sort of impulsive heedlessness let
it drop into his. An exclamation of surprise escaped him.

“If you will pardon me,” he said, “it is a superb hand--a hand capable
of performing miracles--musical miracles I mean. Only look here”--(and
he drew the fore and second fingers apart)--“so firmly set in the joint
and still so flexible. I doubt if Liszt himself can boast a finer row of
fingers. Your hands will surely not prevent you from becoming a second
Von Bulow, which to my mind means a good deal more than a second Liszt.”

“Thank you, that is quite enough,” she exclaimed, with an incredulous
laugh; “you have done bravely. That at all events throws the whole
burden of responsibility upon myself, if I do not become a second
somebody. I shall be perfectly satisfied, however, if you can only make
me as good a musician as you are yourself, so that I can render a not
too difficult piece without feeling all the while that I am committing
sacrilege in mutilating the fine thoughts of some great composer.”

“You are too modest; you do not--”

“No, no, I am not modest,” she interrupted him with an impetuosity which
startled him. “I beg of you not to persist in paying me compliments. I
get too much of that cheap article elsewhere. I hate to be told that
I am better than I know I am. If you are to do me any good by your
instruction, you must be perfectly sincere toward me, and tell me
plainly of my short-comings. I promise you beforehand that I shall never
be offended. There is my hand. Now, is it a bargain?”

His fingers closed involuntarily over the soft beautiful hand, and once
more the luxury of her touch sent a thrill of delight through him.

“I have not been insincere,” he murmured, “but I shall be on my guard in
future, even against the appearance of insincerity.”

“And when I play detestably, you will say so, and not smooth it over
with unmeaning flatteries?”

“I will try.”

“Very well, then we shall get on well together. Do not imagine that this
is a mere feminine whim of mine. I never was more in earnest. Men, and
I believe foreigners, to a greater degree than Americans, have the idea
that women must be treated with gentle forbearance; that their follies,
if they are foolish, must be glossed over with some polite name. They
exert themselves to the utmost to make us mere playthings, and, as such,
contemptible both in our own eyes and in theirs. No sincere respect can
exist where the truth has to be avoided. But the majority of American
women are made of too stern a stuff to be dealt with in that way. They
feel the lurking insincerity even where politeness forbids them to
show it, and it makes them disgusted both with themselves, and with the
flatterer. And now you must pardon me for having spoken so plainly to
you on so short an acquaintance; but you are a foreigner, and it may be
an act of friendship to initiate you as soon as possible into our ways
and customs.”

He hardly knew what to answer. Her vehemence was so sudden, and
the sentiments she had uttered so different from those which he had
habitually ascribed to women, that he could only sit and gaze at her
in mute astonishment. He could not but admit that in the main she had
judged him rightly, and that his own attitude and that of other men
toward her sex, were based upon an implied assumption of superiority.

“I am afraid I have shocked you,” she resumed, noticing the startled
expression of his countenance. “But really it was quite inevitable,
if we were at all to understand each other. You will forgive me, won’t

“Forgive!” stammered he, “I have nothing to forgive. It was only your
merciless truthfulness which startled me. I rather owe you thanks,
if you will allow me to be grateful to you. It seems an enviable

“Now,” interrupted Edith, raising her forefinger in playful threat,
“remember your promise.”

The lesson was now continued without further interruption. When it was
finished, a little girl, with her hair done up in curl-papers, and
a very stiffly starched dress, which stood out on all sides almost
horizontally, entered, accompanied by Mrs. Van Kirk. Halfdan immediately
recognized his acquaintance from the park, and it appeared to him a
good omen that this child, whose friendly interest in him had warmed his
heart in a moment when his fortunes seemed so desperate, should
continue to be associated with his life on this new continent. Clara was
evidently greatly impressed by the change in his appearance, and could
with difficulty be restrained from commenting upon it.

She proved a very apt scholar in music, and enjoyed the lessons the more
for her cordial liking of her teacher.

It will be necessary henceforth to omit the less significant details in
the career of our friend “Mr. Birch.” Before a month was past, he had
firmly established himself in the favor of the different members of the
Van Kirk family. Mrs. Van Kirk spoke of him to her lady visitors as “a
perfect jewel,” frequently leaving them in doubt as to whether he was a
cook or a coachman. Edith apostrophized him to her fashionable friends
as “a real genius,” leaving a dim impression upon their minds of flowing
locks, a shiny velvet jacket, slouched hat, defiant neck-tie and a
general air of disreputable pretentiousness. Geniuses of the foreign
type were never, in the estimation of fashionable New York society, what
you would call “exactly nice,” and against prejudices of this order
no amount of argument will ever prevail. Clara, who had by this time
discovered that her teacher possessed an inexhaustible fund of fairy
stories, assured her playmates across the street that he was “just
splendid,” and frequently invited them over to listen to his wonderful
tales. Mr. Van Kirk himself, of course, was non-committal, but paid the
bills unmurmuringly.

Halfdan in the meanwhile was vainly struggling against his growing
passion for Edith; but the more he rebelled the more hopelessly he found
himself entangled in its inextricable net. The fly, as long as it keeps
quiet in the spider’s web, may for a moment forget its situation; but
the least effort to escape is apt to frustrate itself and again reveal
the imminent peril. Thus he too “kicked against the pricks,” hoped,
feared, rebelled against his destiny, and again, from sheer weariness,
relapsed into a dull, benumbed apathy. In spite of her friendly
sympathy, he never felt so keenly his alienism as in her presence. She
accepted the spontaneous homage he paid her, sometimes with impatience,
as something that was really beneath her notice; at other times she
frankly recognized it, bantered him with his “Old World chivalry,” which
would soon evaporate in the practical American atmosphere, and called
him her Viking, her knight and her faithful squire. But it never
occurred to her to regard his devotion in a serious light, and to look
upon him as a possible lover had evidently never entered her head. As
their intercourse grew more intimate, he had volunteered to read his
favorite poets with her, and had gradually succeeded in imparting to her
something of his own passionate liking for Heine and Björnson. She
had in return called his attention to the works of American authors
who had hitherto been little more than names to him, and they had thus
managed to be of mutual benefit to each other, and to spend many a
pleasant hour during the long winter afternoons in each other’s company.
But Edith had a very keen sense of humor, and could hardly restrain her
secret amusement when she heard him reading Longfellow’s “Psalm of Life”
 and Poe’s “Raven” (which had been familiar to her from her babyhood),
often with false accent, but always with intense enthusiasm. The
reflection that he had had no part of his life in common with her,--that
he did not love the things which she loved,--could not share her
prejudices (and women have a feeling akin to contempt for a man who does
not respond to their prejudices)--removed him at times almost beyond
the reach of her sympathy. It was interesting enough as long as the
experience was novel, to be thus unconsciously exploring another
person’s mind and finding so many strange objects there; but after a
while the thing began to assume an uncomfortably serious aspect, and
then there seemed to be something almost terrible about it. At such
times a call from a gentleman of her own nation, even though he were
one of the placidly stupid type, would be a positive relief; she could
abandon herself to the secure sense of being at home; she need fear
no surprises, and in the smooth shallows of their talk there were no
unsuspected depths to excite and to baffle her ingenuity. And, again,
reverting in her thought to Halfdan, his conversational brilliancy would
almost repel her, as something odious and un-American, the cheap result
of outlandish birth and unrepublican education. Not that she had ever
valued republicanism very highly; she was one of those who associated
politics with noisy vulgarity in speech and dress, and therefore thanked
fortune that women were permitted to keep aloof from it. But in the
presence of this alien she found herself growing patriotic; that
much-discussed abstraction, which we call our country (and which is
nothing but the aggregate of all the slow and invisible influences which
go toward making up our own being), became by degrees a very palpable
and intelligible fact to her.

Frequently while her American self was thus loudly asserting itself,
Edith inflicted many a cruel wound upon her foreign adorer. Once,--it
was the Fourth of July, more than a year after Halfdan’s arrival,
a number of young ladies and gentlemen, after having listened to a
patriotic oration, were invited in to an informal luncheon. While
waiting, they naturally enough spent their time in singing national
songs, and Halfdan’s clear tenor did good service in keeping the
straggling voices together. When they had finished, Edith went up to him
and was quite effusive in her expressions of gratitude.

“I am sure we ought all to be very grateful to you, Mr. Birch,” she
said, “and I, for my part, can assure you that I am.”

“Grateful? Why?” demanded Halfdan, looking quite unhappy.

“For singing OUR national songs, of course. Now, won’t you sing one
of your own, please? We should all be so delighted to hear how a
Swedish--or Norwegian, is it?--national song sounds.”

“Yes, Mr. Birch, DO sing a Swedish song,” echoed several voices.

They, of course, did not even remotely suspect their own cruelty. He
had, in his enthusiasm for the day allowed himself to forget that he
was not made of the same clay as they were, that he was an exile and a
stranger, and must ever remain so, that he had no right to share their
joy in the blessing of liberty. Edith had taken pains to dispel the
happy illusion, and had sent him once more whirling toward his cold
native Pole. His passion came near choking him, and, to conceal his
impetuous emotion, he flung himself down on the piano-stool, and struck
some introductory chords with perhaps a little superfluous emphasis.
Suddenly his voice burst out into the Swedish national anthem, “Our
Land, our Land, our Fatherland,” and the air shook and palpitated
with strong martial melody. His indignation, his love and his misery,
imparted strength to his voice, and its occasional tremble in the PIANO
passages was something more than an artistic intention. He was loudly
applauded as he arose, and the young ladies thronged about him to ask if
he “wouldn’t please write out the music for them.”

Thus month after month passed by, and every day brought its own misery.
Mrs. Van Kirk’s patronizing manners, and ostentatious kindness, often
tested his patience to the utmost. If he was guilty of an innocent
witticism or a little quaintness of expression, she always assumed it
to be a mistake of terms and corrected him with an air of benign
superiority. At times, of course, her corrections were legitimate, as
for instance, when he spoke of WEARING a cane, instead of CARRYING
one, but in nine cases out of ten the fault lay in her own lack of
imagination and not in his ignorance of English. On such occasions Edith
often took pity on him, defended him against her mother’s criticism, and
insisted that if this or that expression was not in common vogue,
that was no reason why it should not be used, as it was perfectly
grammatical, and, moreover, in keeping with the spirit of the language.
And he, listening passively in admiring silence to her argument, thanked
her even for the momentary pain because it was followed by so great a
happiness. For it was so sweet to be defended by Edith, to feel that
he and she were standing together side by side against the outer world.
Could he only show her in the old heroic manner how much he loved
her! Would only some one that was dear to her die, so that he, in that
breaking down of social barriers which follows a great calamity, might
comfort her in her sorrow. Would she then, perhaps, weeping, lean her
wonderful head upon his breast, feeling but that he was a fellow-mortal,
who had a heart that was loyal and true, and forgetting, for one
brief instant, that he was a foreigner. Then, to touch that delicate
Elizabethan frill which wound itself so daintily about Edith’s
neck--what inconceivable rapture! But it was quite impossible. It could
never be. These were selfish thoughts, no doubt, but they were a lover’s
selfishness, and, as such, bore a close kinship to all that is purest
and best in human nature.

It is one of the tragic facts of this life, that a relation so unequal
as that which existed between Halfdan and Edith, is at all possible. As
for Edith, I must admit that she was well aware that her teacher was in
love with her. Women have wonderfully keen senses for phenomena of that
kind, and it is an illusion if any one imagines, as our Norseman did,
that he has locked his secret securely in the hidden chamber of his
heart. In fleeting intonations, unconscious glances and attitudes,
and through a hundred other channels it will make its way out, and the
bereaved jailer may still clasp his key in fierce triumph, never knowing
that he has been robbed. It was of course no fault of Edith’s that she
had become possessed of Halfdan’s heart-secret. She regarded it as on
the whole rather an absurd affair, and prized it very lightly. That
a love so strong and yet so humble, so destitute of hope and still so
unchanging, reverent and faithful, had something grand and touching in
it, had never occurred to her. It is a truism to say that in our social
code the value of a man’s character is determined by his position; and
fine traits in a foreigner (unless he should happen to be something very
great) strike us rather as part of a supposed mental alienism, and as
such, naturally suspicious. It is rather disgraceful than otherwise
to have your music teacher in love with you, and critical friends will
never quite banish the suspicion that you have encouraged him.

Edith had, in her first delight at the discovery of Halfdan’s talent,
frankly admitted him to a relation of apparent equality. He was a man
of culture, had the manners and bearing of a gentleman, and had none
of those theatrical airs which so often raise a sort of invisible wall
between foreigners and Americans. Her mother, who loved to play the
patron, especially to young men, had invited him to dinner-parties and
introduced him to their friends, until almost every one looked upon him
as a protege of the family. He appeared so well in a parlor, and had
really such a distinguished presence, that it was a pleasure to look
at him. He was remarkably free from those obnoxious traits which
generalizing American travelers have led us to believe were inseparable
from foreign birth; his finger-nails were in no way conspicuous; he did
not, as a French count, a former adorer of Edith’s, had done, indulge an
unmasculine taste for diamond rings (possibly because he had none); his
politeness was unobtrusive and subdued, and of his accent there was just
enough left to give an agreeable color of individuality to his speech.
But, for all that, Edith could never quite rid herself of the impression
that he was intensely un-American. There was a certain idyllic
quiescence about him, a child-like directness and simplicity, and a
total absence of “push,” which were startlingly at variance with the
spirit of American life. An American could never have been content to
remain in an inferior position without trying, in some way, to better
his fortunes. But Halfdan could stand still and see, without the
faintest stirring of envy, his plebeian friend Olson, whose education
and talents could bear no comparison with his own, rise rapidly above
him, and apparently have no desire to emulate him. He could sit on a
cricket in a corner, with Clara on his lap, and two or three little
girls nestling about him, and tell them fairy stories by the hour, while
his kindly face beamed with innocent happiness. And if Clara, to coax
him into continuing the entertainment, offered to kiss him, his measure
of joy was full. This fair child, with her affectionate ways, and her
confiding prattle, wound herself ever more closely about his homeless
heart, and he clung to her with a touching devotion. For she was the
only one who seemed to be unconscious of the difference of blood, who
had not yet learned that she was an American and he--a foreigner.


Three years had passed by and still the situation was unchanged. Halfdan
still taught music and told fairy stories to the children. He had a
good many more pupils now than three years ago, although he had made no
effort to solicit patronage, and had never tried to advertise his talent
by what he regarded as vulgar and inartistic display. But Mrs. Van Kirk,
who had by this time discovered his disinclination to assert
himself, had been only the more active; had “talked him up” among her
aristocratic friends; had given musical soirees, at which she had coaxed
him to play the principal role, and had in various other ways exerted
herself in his behalf. It was getting to be quite fashionable to admire
his quiet, unostentatious style of playing, which was so far removed
from the noisy bravado and clap-trap then commonly in vogue. Even
professional musicians began to indorse him, and some, who had
discovered that “there was money in him,” made him tempting offers for a
public engagement. But, with characteristic modesty, he distrusted
their verdict; his sensitive nature shrank from anything which had the
appearance of self-assertion or display.

But Edith--ah, if it had not been for Edith he might have found courage
to enter at the door of fortune, which was now opened ajar. That fame,
if he should gain it, would bring him any nearer to her, was a thought
that was alien to so unworldly a temperament as his. And any action that
had no bearing upon his relation to her, left him cold--seemed unworthy
of the effort. If she had asked him to play in public; if she had
required of him to go to the North Pole, or to cut his own throat, I
verily believe he would have done it. And at last Edith did ask him to
play. She and Olson had plotted together, and from the very friendliest
motives agreed to play into each other’s hands.

“If you only WOULD consent to play,” said she, in her own persuasive
way, one day as they had finished their lesson, “we should all be so
happy. Only think how proud we should be of your success, for you know
there is nothing you can’t do in the way of music if you really want

“Do you really think so?” exclaimed he, while his eyes suddenly grew
large and luminous.

“Indeed I do,” said Edith, emphatically.

“And if--if I played well,” faltered he, “would it really please you?”

“Of course it would,” cried Edith, laughing; “how can you ask such a
foolish question?”

“Because I hardly dared to believe it.”

“Now listen to me,” continued the girl, leaning forward in her chair,
and beaming all over with kindly officiousness; “now for once you must
be rational and do just what I tell you. I shall never like you again if
you oppose me in this, for I have set my heart upon it; you must promise
beforehand that you will be good and not make any objection. Do you

When Edith assumed this tone toward him, she might well have made him
promise to perform miracles. She was too intent upon her benevolent
scheme to heed the possible inferences which he might draw from her
sudden display of interest.

“Then you promise?” repeated she, eagerly, as he hesitated to answer.

“Yes, I promise.”

“Now, you must not be surprised; but mamma and I have made arrangements
with Mr. S---- that you are to appear under his auspices at a concert
which is to be given a week from to-night. All our friends are going,
and we shall take up all the front seats, and I have already told my
gentlemen friends to scatter through the audience, and if they care
anything for my favor, they will have to applaud vigorously.”

Halfdan reddened up to his temples, and began to twist his watch-chain

“You must have small confidence in my ability,” he murmured, “since you
resort to precautions like these.”

“But my dear Mr. Birch,” cried Edith, who was quick to discover that she
had made a mistake, “it is not kind in you to mistrust me in that way.
If a New York audience were as highly cultivated in music as you are,
I admit that my precautions would be superfluous. But the papers, you
know, will take their tone from the audience, and therefore we must make
use of a little innocent artifice to make sure of it. Everything depends
upon the success of your first public appearance, and if your friends
can in this way help you to establish the reputation which is nothing
but your right, I am sure you ought not to bind their hands by your
foolish sensitiveness. You don’t know the American way of doing things
as well as I do, therefore you must stand by your promise, and leave
everything to me.”

It was impossible not to believe that anything Edith chose to do was
above reproach. She looked so bewitching in her excited eagerness for
his welfare that it would have been inhuman to oppose her. So he meekly
succumbed, and began to discuss with her the programme for the concert.

During the next week there was hardly a day that he did not read some
startling paragraph in the newspapers about “the celebrated Scandinavian
pianist,” whose appearance at S---- Hall was looked forward to as the
principal event of the coming season. He inwardly rebelled against
the well-meant exaggerations; but as he suspected that it was Edith’s
influence which was in this way asserting itself in his behalf, he set
his conscience at rest and remained silent.

The evening of the concert came at last, and, as the papers stated the
next morning, “the large hall was crowded to its utmost capacity with
a select and highly appreciative audience.” Edith must have played her
part of the performance skillfully, for as he walked out upon the stage,
he was welcomed with an enthusiastic burst of applause, as if he had
been a world-renowned artist. At Edith’s suggestion, her two favorite
nocturnes had been placed first upon the programme; then followed one
of those ballads of Chopin, whose rhythmic din and rush sweep onward,
beleaguering the ear like eager, melodious hosts, charging in thickening
ranks and columns, beating impetuous retreats, and again uniting
with one grand emotion the wide-spreading army of sound for the
final victory. Besides these, there was one of Liszt’s “Rhapsodies
Hongroises,” an impromptu by Schubert, and several orchestral pieces;
but the greater part of the programme was devoted to Chopin, because
Halfdan, with his great, hopeless passion laboring in his breast, felt
that he could interpret Chopin better than he could any other composer.
He carried his audience by storm. As he retired to the dressing-room,
after having finished the last piece, his friends, among whom Edith and
Mrs. Van Kirk were the most conspicuous, thronged about him, showering
their praises and congratulations upon him. They insisted with much
friendly urging upon taking him home in their carriage; Clara kissed
him, Mrs. Van Kirk introduced him to her lady acquaintances as “our
friend, Mr. Birch,” and Edith held his hand so long in hers that he came
near losing his presence of mind and telling her then and there that he
loved her. As his eyes rested on her, they became suddenly suffused with
tears, and a vast bewildering happiness vibrated through his frame.
At last he tore himself away and wandered aimlessly through the long,
lonely streets. Why could he not tell Edith that he loved her? Was there
any disgrace in loving? This heavenly passion which so suddenly had
transfused his being, and year by year deadened the substance of his old
self, creating in its stead something new and wild and strange which he
never could know, but still held infinitely dear--had it been sent to
him merely as a scourge to test his capacity for suffering?

Once, while he was a child, his mother had told him that somewhere in
this wide world there lived a maiden whom God had created for him, and
for him alone, and when he should see her, he should love her, and his
life should thenceforth be all for her. It had hardly occurred to him,
then, to question whether she would love him in return, it had appeared
so very natural that she should. Now he had found this maiden, and she
had been very kind to him; but her kindness had been little better than
cruelty, because he had demanded something more than kindness. And still
he had never told her of his love. He must tell her even this very night
while the moon rode high in the heavens and all the small differences
between human beings seemed lost in the vast starlit stillness. He knew
well that by the relentless glare of the daylight his own insignificance
would be cruelly conspicuous in the presence of her splendor; his
scruples would revive, and his courage fade.

The night was clear and still. A clock struck eleven in some church
tower near by. The Van Kirk mansion rose tall and stately in the
moonlight, flinging a dense mass of shadow across the street. Up in the
third story he saw two windows lighted; the curtains were drawn, but the
blinds were not closed. All the rest of the house was dark. He raised
his voice and sang a Swedish serenade which seemed in perfect concord
with his own mood. His clear tenor rose through the silence of the
night, and a feeble echo flung it back from the mansion opposite:

     [3] “Star, sweet star, that brightly beamest,
          Glittering on the skies nocturnal,
          Hide thine eye no more from me,
          Hide thine eye no more from me!”

The curtain was drawn aside, the window cautiously raised, and the
outline of Edith’s beautiful head appeared dark and distinct against the
light within. She instantly recognized him.

“You must go away, Mr. Birch,” came her voice in an anxious whisper out
of the shadow. “Pray go away. You will wake up the people.”

Her words were audible enough, but they failed to convey any meaning
to his excited mind. Once more his voice floated upward to her opened

     “And I yearn to reach thy dwelling,
       Yearn to rise from earth’s fierce turmoil;
       Sweetest star upward to thee,
       Yearn to rise, bright star to thee.”

“Dear Mr. Birch,” she whispered once more in tones of distress. “Pray DO
go away. Or perhaps,” she interrupted herself “--wait one moment and I
will come down.”

Presently the front door was noiselessly opened, and Edith’s tall, lithe
form, dressed in a white flowing dress, and with her blonde hair rolling
loosely over her shoulders, appeared for an instant, and then again
vanished. With one leap Halfdan sprang up the stairs and pushed through
the half-opened door. Edith closed the door behind him, then with rapid
steps led the way to the back parlor where the moon broke feebly through
the bars of the closed shutters.

“Now Mr. Birch,” she said, seating herself upon a lounge, “you may
explain to me what this unaccountable behavior of yours means. I should
hardly think I had deserved to be treated in this way by you.”

Halfdan was utterly bewildered; a nervous fit of trembling ran through
him, and he endeavored in vain to speak. He had been prepared for
passionate reproaches, but this calm severity chilled him through, and
he could only gasp and tremble, but could utter no word in his defense.

“I suppose you are aware,” continued Edith, in the same imperturbable
manner, “that if I had not interrupted you, the policeman would have
heard you, and you would have been arrested for street disturbance.
Then to-morrow we should have seen it in all the newspapers, and I
should have been the laughing-stock of the whole town.”

No, surely he had never thought of it in that light; the idea struck
him as entirely new. There was a long pause. A cock crowed with a
drowsy remoteness in some neighboring yard, and the little clock on the
mantel-piece ticked on patiently in the moonlit dusk.

“If you have nothing to say,” resumed Edith, while the stern
indifference in her voice perceptibly relaxed, “then I will bid you

She arose, and with a grand sweep of her drapery, moved toward the door.

“Miss Edith,” cried he, stretching his hands despairingly after her,
“you must not leave me.”

She paused, tossed her hair back with her hands, and gazed at him over
her shoulder. He threw himself on his knees, seized the hem of
her dress, and pressed it to his lips. It was a gesture of such
inexpressible humility that even a stone would have relented.

“Do not be foolish, Mr. Birch,” she said, trying to pull her dress away
from him. “Get up, and if you have anything rational to say to me, I
will stay and listen.”

“Yes, yes,” he whispered, hoarsely, “I shall be rational. Only do not
leave me.”

She again sank down wearily upon the lounge, and looked at him in
expectant silence.

“Miss Edith,” pleaded he in the same hoarse, passionate undertone, “have
pity on me, and do not despise me. I love you--oh--if you would but
allow me to die for you, I should be the happiest of men.”

Again he shuddered, and stood long gazing at her with a mute, pitiful
appeal. A tear stole into Edith’s eye and trickled down over her cheek.

“Ah, Mr. Birch,” she murmured, while a sigh shook her bosom, “I am
sorry--very sorry that this misfortune has happened to you. You have
deserved a better fate than to love me--to love a woman who can never
give you anything in return for what you give her.”

“Never?” he repeated mournfully, “never?”

“No, never! You have been a good friend to me, and as such I value you
highly, and I had hoped that you would always remain so. But I see that
it cannot be. It will perhaps be best for you henceforth not to see
me, at least not until--pardon the expression--you have outlived this
generous folly. And now, you know, you will need me no more. You have
made a splendid reputation, and if you choose to avail yourself of it,
your fortune is already made. I shall always rejoice to hear of your
success, and--and if you should ever need a FRIEND, you must come to no
one but me. I know that these are feeble words, Mr. Birch, and if they
seem cold to you, you must pardon me. I can say nothing more.”

They were indeed feeble words, although most cordially spoken. He
tried to weigh them, to measure their meaning, but his mind was as if
benumbed, and utterly incapable of thought. He walked across the floor,
perhaps only to do something, not feeling where he trod, but still with
an absurd sensation that he was taking immoderately long steps. Then
he stopped abruptly, wrung his hands, and gazed at Edith. And suddenly,
like a flash in a vacuum, the thought shot through his brain that he had
seen this very scene somewhere--in a dream, in a remote childhood, in a
previous existence, he did not know when or where. It seemed strangely
familiar, and in the next instant strangely meaningless and unreal.
The walls, the floor--everything began to move, to whirl about him;
he struck his hands against his forehead, and sank down into a
damask-covered easy-chair. With a faint cry of alarm, Edith sprang up,
seized a bottle of cologne which happened to be within reach, and knelt
down at his side. She put her arm around his neck, and raised his head.

“Mr. Birch, dear Mr. Birch,” she cried, in a frightened whisper, “for
God’s sake come to yourself! O God, what have I done?”

She blew the eau-de-cologne into his face, and, as he languidly opened
his eyes, he felt the touch of her warm hand upon his cheeks and his

“Thank heaven! he is better,” she murmured, still continuing to bathe
his temples. “How do you feel now, Mr. Birch?” she added, in a tone of
anxious inquiry.

“Thank you, it was an unpardonable weakness,” he muttered, without
changing his attitude. “Do not trouble yourself about me. I shall soon
be well.”

It was so sweet to be conscious of her gentle ministry, that it required
a great effort, an effort of conscience, to rouse him once more, as his
strength returned.

“Had you not better stay?” she asked, as he rose to put on his overcoat.
“I will call one of the servants and have him show you a room. We will
say to-morrow morning that you were taken ill, and nobody will wonder.”

“No, no,” he responded, energetically. “I am perfectly strong now.” But
he still had to lean on a chair, and his face was deathly pale.

“Farewell, Miss Edith,” he said; and a tender sadness trembled in his
voice. “Farewell. We shall--probably--never meet again.”

“Do not speak so,” she answered, seizing his hand. “You will try to
forget this, and you will still be great and happy. And when fortune
shall again smile upon you, and--and--you will be content to be my
friend, then we shall see each other as before.”

“No, no,” he broke forth, with a sudden hoarseness. “It will never be.”

He walked toward the door with the motions of one who feels death in his
limbs; then stopped once more and his eyes lingered with inexpressible
sadness on the wonderful, beloved form which stood dimly outlined before
him in the twilight. Then Edith’s measure of misery, too, seemed full.
With the divine heedlessness which belongs to her sex, she rushed up
toward him, and remembering only that he was weak and unhappy, and that
he suffered for her sake, she took his face between her hands and kissed
him. He was too generous a man to misinterpret the act; so he whispered
but once more: “Farewell,” and hastened away.


After that eventful December night, America was no more what it had been
to Halfdan Bjerk. A strange torpidity had come over him; every rising
day gazed into his eyes with a fierce unmeaning glare. The noise of the
street annoyed him and made him childishly fretful, and the solitude
of his own room seemed still more dreary and depressing. He went
mechanically through the daily routine of his duties as if the soul
had been taken out of his work, and left his life all barrenness and
desolation. He moved restlessly from place to place, roamed at all times
of the day and night through the city and its suburbs, trying vainly to
exhaust his physical strength; gradually, as his lethargy deepened
into a numb, helpless despair, it seemed somehow to impart a certain
toughness to his otherwise delicate frame. Olson, who was now a junior
partner in the firm of Remsen, Van Kirk and Co., stood by him faithfully
in these days of sorrow. He was never effusive in his sympathy, but was
patiently forbearing with his friend’s whims and moods, and humored
him as if he had been a sick child intrusted to his custody. That Edith
might be the moving cause of Olson’s kindness was a thought which,
strangely enough, had never occurred to Halfdan.

At last, when spring came, the vacancy of his mind was suddenly invaded
with a strong desire to revisit his native land. He disclosed his plan
to Olson, who, after due deliberation and several visits to the Van Kirk
mansion, decided that the pleasure of seeing his old friends and the
scenes of his childhood might push the painful memories out of sight,
and renew his interest in life. So, one morning, while the May sun
shone with a soft radiance upon the beautiful harbor, our Norseman found
himself standing on the deck of a huge black-hulled Cunarder, shivering
in spite of the warmth, and feeling a chill loneliness creeping over him
at the sight of the kissing and affectionate leave-takings which were
going on all around him. Olson was running back and forth, attending
to his baggage; but he himself took no thought, and felt no more
responsibility than if he had been a helpless child. He half regretted
that his own wish had prevailed, and was inclined to hold his friend
responsible for it; and still he had not energy enough to protest now
when the journey seemed inevitable. His heart still clung to the place
which held the corpse of his ruined life, as a man may cling to the spot
which hides his beloved dead.

About two weeks later Halfdan landed in Norway. He was half reluctant to
leave the steamer, and the land of his birth excited no emotion in his
breast. He was but conscious of a dim regret that he was so far away
from Edith. At last, however, he betook himself to a hotel, where he
spent the afternoon sitting with half-closed eyes at a window, watching
listlessly the drowsy slow-pulsed life which dribbled languidly through
the narrow thoroughfare. The noisy uproar of Broadway chimed remotely
in his ears, like the distant roar of a tempest-tossed sea, and what had
once been a perpetual annoyance was now a sweet memory. How often with
Edith at his side had he threaded his way through the surging crowds
that pour, on a fine afternoon, in an unceasing current up and down the
street between Union and Madison Squares. How friendly, and sweet, and
gracious, Edith had been at such times; how fresh her voice, how witty
and animated her chance remarks when they stopped to greet a passing
acquaintance; and, above all, how inspiring the sight of her heavenly
beauty. Now that was all past. Perhaps he should never see Edith again.

The next day he sauntered through the city, meeting some old friends,
who all seemed changed and singularly uninteresting. They were all
engaged or married, and could talk of nothing but matrimony, and
their prospects of advancement in the Government service. One had
an influential uncle who had been a chum of the present minister of
finance; another based his hopes of future prosperity upon the family
connections of his betrothed, and a third was waiting with a patient
perseverance, worthy of a better cause, for the death or resignation of
an antiquated chef-de-bureau, which, according to the promise of some
mighty man, would open a position for him in the Department of Justice.
All had the most absurd theories about American democracy, and indulged
freely in prophecies of coming disasters; but about their own government
they had no opinion whatever. If Halfdan attempted to set them right,
they at once grew excited and declamatory; their opinions were based
upon conviction and a charming ignorance of facts, and they were not to
be moved. They knew all about Tweed and the Tammany Ring, and believed
them to be representative citizens of New York, if not of the United
States; but of Charles Sumner and Carl Schurz they had never heard.
Halfdan, who, in spite of his misfortunes in the land of his adoption,
cherished a very tender feeling for it, was often so thoroughly aroused
at the foolish prejudices which everywhere met him, that his torpidity
gradually thawed away, and he began to look more like his former self.

Toward autumn he received an invitation to visit a country clergyman in
the North, a distant relative of his father’s, and there whiled away
his time, fishing and shooting, until winter came. But as Christmas drew
near, and the day wrestled feebly with the all-conquering night, the old
sorrow revived. In the darkness which now brooded over land and sea,
the thoughts needed no longer be on guard against themselves; they could
roam far and wide as they listed. Where was Edith now, the sweet, the
wonderful Edith? Was there yet the same dancing light in her beautiful
eyes, the same golden sheen in her hair, the same merry ring in her
voice? And had she not said that when he was content to be only her
friend, he might return to her, and she would receive him in the old
joyous and confiding way? Surely there was no life to him apart from
her: why should he not be her friend? Only a glimpse of her lovely
face--ah, it was worth a lifetime; it would consecrate an age of misery,
a glimpse of Edith’s face. Thus ran his fancies day by day, and the
night only lent a deeper intensity to the yearnings of the day. He
walked about as in a dream, seeing nothing, heeding nothing, while this
one strong desire--to see Edith once more--throbbed and throbbed with a
slow, feverish perseverance within him. Edith--Edith, the very name had
a strange, potent fascination. Every thought whispered “Edith,”--his
pulse beat “Edith,”--and his heart repeated the beloved name. It was his
pulse-beat,--his heartbeat,--his life-beat.

And one morning as he stood absently looking at his fingers against the
light--and they seemed strangely wan and transparent--the thought at
last took shape. It rushed upon him with such vehemence, that he could
no more resist it. So he bade the clergyman good-bye, gathered his few
worldly goods together and set out for Bergen. There he found an English
steamer which carried him to Hull, and a few weeks later, he was once
more in New York.

It was late one evening in January that a tug-boat arrived and took the
cabin passengers ashore. The moon sailed tranquilly over the deep blue
dome of the sky, the stars traced their glittering paths of light from
the zenith downward, and it was sharp, bitter cold. Northward over the
river lay a great bank of cloud, dense, gray and massive, the spectre
of the coming snow-storm. There it lay so huge and fantastically human,
ruffling itself up, as fowls do, in defense against the cold. Halfdan
walked on at a brisk rate--strange to say, all the street-cars he met
went the wrong way--startling every now and then some precious memory,
some word or look or gesture of Edith’s which had hovered long
over those scenes, waiting for his recognition. There was the great
jewel-store where Edith had taken him so often to consult his taste
whenever a friend of hers was to be married. It was there that they had
had an amicable quarrel over that bronze statue of Faust which she
had found beautiful, while he, with a rudeness which seemed now quite
incomprehensible, had insisted that it was not. And when he had
failed to convince her, she had given him her hand in token of
reconciliation--and Edith had a wonderful way of giving her hand, which
made any one feel that it was a peculiar privilege to press it--and they
had walked out arm in arm into the animated, gas-lighted streets, with
a delicious sense of snugness and security, being all the more closely
united for their quarrel. Here, farther up the avenue, they had once
been to a party, and he had danced for the first time in his life
with Edith. Here was Delmonico’s, where they had had such fascinating
luncheons together; where she had got a stain on her dress, and he had
been forced to observe that her dress was then not really a part of
herself, since it was a thing that could not be stained. Her dress had
always seemed to him as something absolute and final, exalted above
criticism, incapable of improvement.

As I have said, Halfdan walked briskly up the avenue, and it was
something after eleven when he reached the house which he sought. The
great cloud-bank in the north had then begun to expand and stretched its
long misty arms eastward and westward over the heavens. The windows on
the ground-floor were dark, but the sleeping apartments in the upper
stories were lighted. In Edith’s room the inside shutters were closed,
but one of the windows was a little down at the top. And as he stood
gazing with tremulous happiness up to that window, a stanza from Heine
which he and Edith had often read together, came into his head. It was
the story of the youth who goes to the Madonna at Kevlar and brings her
as a votive offering a heart of wax, that she may heal him of his love
and his sorrow.

     “I bring this waxen image,
       The image of my heart,
       Heal thou my bitter sorrow,
       And cure my deadly smart!” [4]

Then came the thought that for him, too, as for the poor youth of
Cologne, there was healing only in death. And still in this moment
he was so near Edith, should see her perhaps, and the joy at this was
stronger than all else, stronger even than death. So he sat down beside
the steps of the mansion opposite, where there was some shelter from the
wind, and waited patiently till Edith should close her window. He was
cold, perhaps, but, if so, he hardly knew it, for the near joy of seeing
her throbbed warmly in his veins. Ah, there--the blinds were thrown
open; Edith, in all the lithe magnificence of her wonderful form, stood
out clear and beautiful against the light within; she pushed up the
lower window in order to reach the upper one, and for a moment leaned
out over the sill. Once more her wondrous profile traced itself in
strong relief against the outer gloom. There came a cry from the street
below, a feeble involuntary one, but still distinctly audible. Edith
peered anxiously out into the darkness, but the darkness had grown
denser and she could see nothing. The window was fastened, the shutters
closed, and the broad pathway of light which she had flung out upon the
night had vanished.

Halfdan closed his eyes trying to retain the happy vision. Yes, there
she stood still, and there was a heavenly smile upon her lips--ugh, he
shivered--the snow swept in a wild whirl up the street. He wrapped his
plaid more closely about him, and strained his eyes to catch one more
glimpse of the beloved Edith. Ah, yes; there she was again; she came
nearer and nearer, and she touched his cheek, gently, warily smiling
all the while with a strange wistful smile which was surely not Edith’s.
There, she bent over him,--touched him again,--how cold her hands were;
the touch chilled him to the heart. The snow had now begun to fall in
large scattered flakes, whirling fitfully through the air, following
every chance gust of wind, but still falling, falling, and covering the
earth with its white, death-like shroud.

But surely--there was Edith again,--how wonderful!--in a long snow-white
robe, grave and gracious, still with the wistful smile on her lips. See,
she beckons to him with her hand, and he rises to follow, but something
heavy clings to his feet and he cannot stir from the spot. He tries to
cry for help, but he cannot,--can only stretch out his hands to her, and
feel very unhappy that he cannot follow her. But now she pauses in her
flight, turns about, and he sees that she wears a myrtle garland in her
hair like a bride. She comes toward him, her countenance all radiant
with love and happiness, and she stoops down over him and speaks:

“Come; they are waiting for us. I will follow thee in life and in death,
wherever thou goest. Come,” repeats Edith, “they have long been waiting.
They are all here.”

And he imagines he knows who they all are, although he has never heard
of them, nor can he recall their names.

“But--but,” he stammers, “I--I--am a foreigner ”

It appeared then that for some reason this was an insurmountable
objection. And Edith’s happiness dies out of her beautiful face, and she
turns away weeping.

“Edith, beloved!”

Then she is once more at his side.

“Thou art no more a foreigner to me, beloved. Whatever thou art, I am.”

And she presses her lips to his--it was the sweetest kiss of his
life--the kiss of death.

The next morning, as Edith, after having put the last touch to her
toilet, threw the shutters open, a great glare of sun-smitten snow burst
upon her and for a moment blinded her eyes. On the sidewalk opposite,
half a dozen men with snow-shovels in their hands and a couple of
policeman had congregated, and, judging by their manner, were discussing
some object of interest. Presently they were joined by her father, who
had just finished his breakfast and was on his way to the office. Now
he stooped down and gazed at something half concealed in the snow, then
suddenly started back, and as she caught a glimpse of his face, she saw
that it was ghastly white. A terrible foreboding seized her. She threw
a shawl about her shoulders and rushed down-stairs. In the hall she was
met by her father, who was just entering, followed by four men, carrying
something between them. She well knew what it was. She would fain have
turned away, but she could not: grasping her father’s arm and pressing
it hard, she gazed with blank, frightened eyes at the white face, the
lines of which Death had so strangely emphasized. The snow-flakes which
hung in his hair had touched him with their sudden age, as if to bridge
the gulf between youth and death. And still he was beautiful--the clear
brow, the peaceful, happy indolence, the frozen smile which death had
perpetuated. Smiling, he had departed from the earth which had no place
for him, and smiling entered the realm where, among the many mansions,
there is, perhaps, also one for a gentle, simple-hearted enthusiast.


THERE was an ancient feud between the families; and Bjarne Blakstad
was not the man to make it up, neither was Hedin Ullern. So they looked
askance at each other whenever they met on the highway, and the one
took care not to cross the other’s path. But on Sundays, when the
church-bells called the parishioners together, they could not very well
avoid seeing each other on the church-yard; and then, one day, many
years ago, when the sermon had happened to touch Bjarne’s heart, he had
nodded to Hedin and said: “Fine weather to-day;” and Hedin had returned
the nod and answered: “True is that.” “Now I have done my duty before
God and men,” thought Bjarne, “and it is his turn to take the next
step.” “The fellow is proud,” said Hedin to himself, “and he wants to
show off his generosity. But I know the wolf by his skin, even if he has
learned to bleat like a ewe-lamb.”

What the feud really was about, they had both nearly forgotten. All they
knew was that some thirty years ago there had been a quarrel between the
pastor and the parish about the right of carrying arms to the church.
And then Bjarne’s father had been the spokesman of the parish, while
Hedin’s grandsire had been a staunch defender of the pastor. There was a
rumor, too, that they had had a fierce encounter somewhere in the woods,
and that the one had stabbed the other with a knife; but whether that
was really true, no one could tell.

Bjarne was tall and grave, like the weather-beaten fir-trees in his
mast-forest. He had a large clean-shaven face, narrow lips, and small
fierce eyes. He seldom laughed, and when he did, his laugh seemed even
fiercer than his frown. He wore his hair long, as his fathers had
done, and dressed in the styles of two centuries ago; his breeches were
clasped with large silver buckles at the knees, and his red jerkin was
gathered about his waist with a leathern girdle. He loved everything
that was old, in dress as well as in manners, took no newspapers, and
regarded railroads and steamboats as inventions of the devil. Bjarne had
married late in life, and his marriage had brought him two daughters,
Brita and Grimhild.

Hedin Ullern was looked upon as an upstart. He could only count three
generations back, and he hardly knew himself how his grandfather had
earned the money that had enabled him to buy a farm and settle down
in the valley. He had read a great deal, and was well informed on
the politics of the day; his name had even been mentioned for
storthingsmand, or member of parliament from the district, and it
was the common opinion, that if Bjarne Blakstad had not so vigorously
opposed him, he would have been elected, being the only “cultivated”
 peasant in the valley. Hedin was no unwelcome guest in the houses of
gentlefolks, and he was often seen at the judge’s and the pastor’s
omber parties. And for all this Bjarne Blakstad only hated him the more.
Hedin’s wife, Thorgerda, was fair-haired, tall and stout, and it was
she who managed the farm, while her husband read his books, and studied
politics in the newspapers; but she had a sharp tongue and her neighbors
were afraid of her. They had one son, whose name was Halvard.

Brita Blakstad, Bjarne’s eldest daughter, was a maid whom it was a joy
to look upon. They called her “Glitter-Brita,” because she was fond of
rings and brooches, and everything that was bright; while she was
still a child, she once took the old family bridal-crown out from the
storehouse and carried it about on her head. “Beware of that crown,
child,” her father had said to her, “and wear it not before the time.
There is not always blessing in the bridal silver.” And she looked
wonderingly up into his eyes and answered: “But it glitters, father;”
 and from that time forth they had named her Glitter-Brita.

And Glitter-Brita grew up to be a fair and winsome maiden, and wherever
she went the wooers flocked on her path. Bjarne shook his head at
her, and often had harsh words upon his lips, when he saw her braiding
field-flowers into her yellow tresses or clasping the shining brooches
to her bodice; but a look of hers or a smile would completely disarm
him. She had a merry way of doing things which made it all seem like
play; but work went rapidly from her hands, while her ringing laughter
echoed through the house, and her sunny presence made it bright in the
dusky ancestral halls. In her kitchen the long rows of copper pots and
polished kettles shone upon the walls, and the neatly scoured milk-pails
stood like soldiers on parade about the shelves under the ceiling.
Bjarne would often sit for hours watching her, and a strange
spring-feeling would steal into his heart. He felt a father’s pride in
her stately growth and her rich womanly beauty. “Ah!” he would say to
himself, “she has the pure blood in her veins and, as true as I live,
the farm shall be hers.” And then, quite contrary to his habits, he
would indulge in a little reverie, imagining the time when he, as an
aged man, should have given the estate over into her hands, and seeing
her as a worthy matron preside at the table, and himself rocking his
grandchildren on his knee. No wonder, then, that he eyed closely the
young lads who were beginning to hover about the house, and that he
looked with suspicion upon those who selected Saturday nights for their
visits. [5] When Brita was twenty years old, however, her father thought
that it was time for her to make her choice. There were many fine, brave
lads in the valley, and, as Bjarne thought, Brita would have the good
sense to choose the finest and the bravest. So, when the winter came, he
suddenly flung his doors open to the youth of the parish, and began to
give parties with ale and mead in the grand old style. He even talked
with the young men, at times, encouraged them to manly sports, and urged
them to taste of his home-brewed drinks and to tread the spring-dance
briskly. And Brita danced and laughed so that her hair flew around her
and the silver brooches tinkled and rang on her bosom. But when the
merriment was at an end, and any one of the lads remained behind to
offer her his hand, she suddenly grew grave, told him she was too young,
that she did not know herself, and that she had had no time as yet to
decide so serious a question. Thus the winter passed and the summer drew

In the middle of June, Brita went to the saeter [6] with the cattle; and
her sister, Grimhild, remained at home to keep house on the farm. She
loved the life in the mountains; the great solitude sometimes made her
feel sad, but it was not an unpleasant sadness, it was rather a gentle
toning down of all the shrill and noisy feelings of the soul. Up there,
in the heart of the primeval forest, her whole being seemed to herself
a symphony of melodious whispers with a vague delicious sense of
remoteness and mystery in them, which she only felt and did not attempt
to explain. There, those weird legends which, in former days, still held
their sway in the fancy of every Norsewoman, breathed their secrets into
her ear, and she felt her nearness and kinship to nature, as at no other

One night, as the sun was low, and a purple bluish smoke hung like a
thin veil over the tops of the forest, Brita had taken out her knitting
and seated herself on a large moss-grown stone, on the croft. Her eyes
wandered over the broad valley which was stretched out below, and she
could see the red roofs of the Blakstad mansion peeping forth between
the fir-trees. And she wondered what they were doing down there, whether
Grimhild had done milking, and whether her father had returned from the
ford, where it was his habit at this hour to ride with the footmen
to water the horses. As she sat thus wondering, she was startled by a
creaking in the dry branches hard by, and lifting her eye, she saw a
tall, rather clumsily built, young man emerging from the thicket. He
had a broad but low forehead, flaxen hair which hung down over a pair of
dull ox-like eyes; his mouth was rather large and, as it was half open,
displayed two massive rows of shining white teeth. His red peaked cap
hung on the back of his head and, although it was summer, his thick
wadmal vest was buttoned close up to his throat; over his right arm he
had flung his jacket, and in his hand he held a bridle.

“Good evening,” said Brita, “and thanks for last meeting;” although she
was not sure that she had ever seen him before.

“It was that bay mare, you know,” stammered the man in a half apologetic
tone, and shook the bridle, as if in further explanation.

“Ah, you have lost your mare,” said the girl, and she could not help
smiling at his helplessness and his awkward manner.

“Yes, it was the bay mare,” answered he, in the same diffident tone;
then, encouraged by her smile, he straightened himself a little and
continued rather more fluently: “She never was quite right since the
time the wolves were after her. And then since they took the colt away
from her the milk has been troubling her, and she hasn’t been quite like

“I haven’t seen her anywhere hereabouts,” said Brita; “you may have to
wander far, before you get on the track of her.”

“Yes, that is very likely. And I am tired already.”

“Won’t you sit down and rest yourself?”

He deliberately seated himself in the grass, and gradually gained
courage to look her straight in the face; and his dull eye remained
steadfastly fixed on her in a way which bespoke unfeigned surprise and
admiration. Slowly his mouth broadened into a smile; but his smile had
more of sadness than of joy in it. She had, from the moment she saw him,
been possessed of a strangely patronizing feeling toward him. She could
not but treat him as if he had been a girl or some person inferior to
her in station. In spite of his large body, the impression he made upon
her was that of weakness; but she liked the sincerity and kindness which
expressed themselves in his sad smile and large, honest blue eyes.
His gaze reminded her of that of an ox, but it had not only the ox’s
dullness, but also its simplicity and good-nature.

They sat talking on for a while about the weather, the cattle, and the
prospects of the crops.

“What is your name?” she asked, at last.

“Halvard Hedinson Ullern.”

A sudden shock ran through her at the sound of that name; in the next
moment a deep blush stole over her countenance.

“And my name,” she said, slowly, “is Brita Bjarne’s daughter Blakstad.”

She fixed her eyes upon him, as if to see what effect her words
produced. But his features wore the same sad and placid expression; and
no line in his face seemed to betray either surprise or ill-will. Then
her sense of patronage grew into one of sympathy and pity. “He must
either be weak-minded or very unhappy,” thought she, “and what right
have I then to treat him harshly.” And she continued her simple,
straightforward talk with the young man, until he, too, grew almost
talkative, and the sadness of his smile began to give way to something
which almost resembled happiness. She noticed the change and rejoiced.
At last, when the sun had sunk behind the western mountain tops,
she rose and bade him good-night; in another moment the door of the
saeter-cottage closed behind her, and he heard her bolting it on the
inside. But for a long time he remained sitting on the grass, and
strange thoughts passed through his head. He had quite forgotten his bay

The next evening when the milking was done, and the cattle were gathered
within the saeter enclosure, Brita was again sitting on the large stone,
looking out over the valley. She felt a kind of companionship with the
people when she saw the smoke whirling up from their chimneys, and she
could guess what they were going to have for supper. As she sat there,
she again heard a creaking in the branches, and Halvard Ullern stood
again before her, with his jacket on his arm, and the same bridle in his

“You have not found your bay mare yet?” she exclaimed, laughingly. “And
you think she is likely to be in this neighborhood?”

“I don’t know,” he answered; “and I don’t care if she isn’t.”

He spread his jacket on the grass, and sat down on the spot where he
had sat the night before. Brita looked at him in surprise and remained
silent; she didn’t know how to interpret this second visit.

“You are very handsome,” he said, suddenly, with a gravity which left no
doubt as to his sincerity.

“Do you think so?” she answered, with a merry laugh. He appeared to her
almost a child, and it never entered her mind to feel offended. On the
contrary, she was not sure but that she felt pleased.

“I have thought of you ever since yesterday,” he continued, with the
same imperturbable manner. “And if you were not angry with me, I thought
I would like to look at you once more. You are so different from other

“God bless your foolish talk,” cried Brita, with a fresh burst of
merriment. “No, indeed I am not angry with you; I should just as soon
think of being angry with--with that calf,” she added for want of
another comparison.

“You think I don’t know much,” he stammered. “And I don’t.” The sad
smile again settled on his countenance.

A feeling of guilt sent the blood throbbing through her veins. She saw
that she had done him injustice. He evidently possessed more sense, or
at least a finer instinct, than she had given him credit for.

“Halvard,” she faltered, “if I have offended you, I assure you I didn’t
mean to do it; and a thousand times I beg your pardon.”

“You haven’t offended me, Brita,” answered he, blushing like a girl.
“You are the first one who doesn’t make me feel that I am not so wise as
other folks.”

She felt it her duty to be open and confiding with him in return; and in
order not to seem ungenerous, or rather to put them on an equal footing
by giving him also a peep into her heart, she told him about her daily
work, about the merry parties at her father’s house, and about the
lusty lads who gathered in their halls to dance the Halling and the
spring-dance. He listened attentively while she spoke, gazing earnestly
into her face, but never interrupting her. In his turn he described to
her in his slow deliberate way, how his father constantly scolded him
because he was not bright, and did not care for politics and newspapers,
and how his mother wounded him with her sharp tongue by making merry
with him, even in the presence of the servants and strangers. He did not
seem to imagine that there was anything wrong in what he said, or that
he placed himself in a ludicrous light; nor did he seem to speak
from any unmanly craving for sympathy. His manner was so simple and
straightforward that what Brita probably would have found strange in
another, she found perfectly natural in him.

It was nearly midnight when they parted{.} She hardly slept at all that
night, and she was half vexed with herself for the interest she took
in this simple youth. The next morning her father came up to pay her a
visit and to see how the flocks were thriving. She understood that it
would be dangerous to say anything to him about Halvard, for she knew
his temper and feared the result, if he should ever discover her secret.
Therefore, she shunned an opportunity to talk with him, and only busied
herself the more with the cattle and the cooking. Bjarne soon noticed
her distraction, but, of course, never suspected the cause. Before he
left her, he asked her if she did not find it too lonely on the saeter,
and if it would not be well if he sent her one of the maids for a
companion. She hastened to assure him that that was quite unnecessary;
the cattle-boy who was there to help her was all the company she wanted.
Toward evening, Bjarne Blakstad loaded his horses with buckets, filled
with cheese and butter, and started for the valley. Brita stood long
looking after him as he descended the rocky slope, and she could hardly
conceal from herself that she felt relieved, when, at last, the forest
hid him from her sight. All day she had been walking about with a heavy
heart; there seemed to be something weighing on her breast, and she
could not throw it off. Who was this who had come between her and her
father? Had she ever been afraid of him before, had she been glad to
have him leave her? A sudden bitterness took possession of her, for in
her distress, she gave Halvard the blame for all that had happened.
She threw herself down on the grass and burst into a passionate fit of
weeping; she was guilty, wretchedly miserable, and all for the sake of
one whom she had hardly known for two days. If he should come in this
moment, she would tell him what he had done toward her; and her wish
must have been heard, for as she raised her eyes, he stood there at her
side, the sad feature about his mouth and his great honest eyes gazing
wonderingly at her. She felt her purpose melt within her; he looked so
good and so unhappy. Then again came the thought of her father and of
her own wrong, and the bitterness again revived.

“Go away,” cried she, in a voice half reluctantly tender and half
defiant. “Go away, I say; I don’t want to see you any more.”

“I will go to the end of the world if you wish it,” he answered, with a
strange firmness.

He picked up his jacket which he had dropped on the ground, then turned
slowly, gave her mother long look, an infinitely sad and hopeless one,
and went. Her bosom heaved violently--remorse, affection and filial duty
wrestled desperately in her heart.

“No, no,” she cried, “why do you go? I did not mean it so. I only

He paused and returned as deliberately as he had gone.

Why should I dwell upon the days that followed--how her heart grew ever
more restless, how she would suddenly wake up at nights and see those
large blue eyes sadly gazing at her, how by turns she would condemn
herself and him, and how she felt with bitter pain that she was growing
away from those who had hitherto been nearest and dearest to her. And
strange to say, this very isolation from her father made her cling
only the more desperately to him. It seemed to her as if Bjarne had
deliberately thrown her off; that she herself had been the one who
took the first step had hardly occurred to her. Alas, her grief was as
irrational as her love. By what strange devious process of reasoning
these convictions became settled in her mind, it is difficult to tell.
It is sufficient to know that she was a woman and that she loved. She
even knew herself that she was irrational, and this very sense drew her
more hopelessly into the maze of the labyrinth from which she saw no

His visits were as regular as those of the sun. She knew that there was
only a word of hers needed to banish him from her presence forever. And
how many times did she not resolve to speak that word? But the word was
never spoken. At times a company of the lads from the valley would come
to spend a merry evening at the saeter; but she heeded them not, and
they soon disappeared. Thus the summer went amid passing moods of joy
and sorrow. She had long known that he loved her, and when at last
his slow confession came, it added nothing to her happiness; it only
increased her fears for the future. They laid many plans together in
those days; but winter came as a surprise to both, the cattle were
removed from the mountains, and they were again separated.

Bjarne Blakstad looked long and wistfully at his daughter that morning,
when he came to bring her home. She wore no more rings and brooches,
and it was this which excited Bjarne’s suspicion that everything was not
right with her. Formerly he was displeased because she wore too many;
now he grumbled because she wore none.


The winter was half gone; and in all this time Brita had hardly once
seen Halvard. Yes, once,--it was Christmas-day,--she had ventured to
peep over to his pew in the church, and had seen him, sitting at his
father’s side, and gazing vacantly out into the empty space; but as he
had caught her glance, he had blushed, and began eagerly to turn the
leaves of his hymn-book. It troubled her that he made no effort to see
her; many an evening she had walked alone down at the river-side, hoping
that he might come; but it was all in vain. She could not but believe
that his father must have made some discovery, and that he was watched.
In the mean time the black cloud thickened over her head; for a secret
gnawed at the very roots of her heart. It was a time of terrible
suspense and suffering--such as a man never knows, such as only a woman
can endure. It was almost a relief when the cloud burst, and the storm
broke loose, as presently it did.

One Sunday, early in April, Bjarne did not return at the usual hour from
church. His daughters waited in vain for him with the dinner, and at
last began to grow uneasy. It was not his habit to keep irregular hours.
There was a great excitement in the valley just then; the America-fever
had broken out. A large vessel was lying out in the fjord, ready to take
the emigrants away; and there was hardly a family that did not mourn the
loss of some brave-hearted son, or of some fair and cherished daughter.
The old folks, of course, had to remain behind; and when the children
were gone, what was there left for them but to lie down and die? America
was to them as distant as if it were on another planet. The family
feeling, too, has ever been strong in the Norseman’s breast; he lives
for his children, and seems to live his life over again in them. It is
his greatest pride to be able to trace his blood back into the days of
Sverre and St. Olaf, and with the same confidence he expects to see his
race spread into the future in the same soil where once it has struck
root. Then comes the storm from the Western seas, wrestles with the
sturdy trunk, and breaks it; and the shattered branches fly to all the
four corners of the heavens. No wonder, then, like a tree that has lost
its crown, his strength is broken and he expects but to smoulder into
the earth and die.

Bjarne Blakstad, like the sturdy old patriot that he was, had always
fiercely denounced the America rage; and it was now the hope of his
daughters that, perhaps, he had stayed behind to remind the restless
ones among the youth of their duty toward their land, or to frighten
some bold emigration agent who might have been too loud in his
declamations. But it was already eight o’clock and Bjarne was not yet to
be seen. The night was dark and stormy; a cold sleet fiercely lashed the
window-panes, and the wind roared in the chimney. Grimhild, the younger
sister, ran restlessly out and in and slammed the doors after her. Brita
sat tightly pressed up against the wall in the darkest corner of the
room. Every time the wind shook the house she started up; then again
seated herself and shuddered. Dark forebodings filled her soul.

At last,--the clock had just struck ten,--there was a noise heard in
the outer hall. Grimhild sprang to the door and tore it open. A tall,
stooping figure entered, and by the dress she at once recognized her

“Good God,” cried she, and ran up to him.

“Go away, child,” muttered he, in a voice that sounded strangely
unfamiliar, and he pushed her roughly away. For a moment he stood still,
then stalked up to the table, and, with a heavy thump, dropped down into
a chair. There he remained with his elbows resting on his knees, and
absently staring on the floor. His long hair hung in wet tangles down
over his face, and the wrinkles about his mouth seemed deeper and
fiercer than usual. Now and then he sighed, or gave vent to a deep
groan. In a while his eyes began to wander uneasily about the room; and
as they reached the corner where Brita was sitting, he suddenly darted
up, as if stung by something poisonous, seized a brand from the hearth,
and rushed toward her.

“Tell me I did not see it,” he broke forth, in a hoarse whisper, seizing
her by the arm and thrusting the burning brand close up to her face.
“Tell me it is a lie--a black, poisonous lie.”

She raised her eyes slowly to his and gazed steadfastly into his face.
“Ah,” he continued in the same terrible voice, “it was what I told
them down there at the church--a lie--an infernal lie. And I drew
blood--blood, I say--I did--from the slanderer. Ha, ha, ha! What a lusty
sprawl that was!”

The color came and departed from Brita’s cheeks. And still she was
strangely self possessed. She even wondered at her own calmness. Alas,
she did not know that it was a calmness that is more terrible than pain,
the corpse of a forlorn and hopeless heart.

“Child,” continued Bjarne, and his voice assumed a more natural tone,
“why dost thou not speak? They have lied about thee, child, because thou
art fair, they have envied thee.” Then, almost imploringly, “Open thy
mouth, Brita, and tell thy father that thou art pure--pure as the snow,
child--my own--my beautiful child.”

There was a long and painful pause, in which the crackling of the brand,
and the heavy breathing of the old man were the only sounds to break
the silence. Pale like a marble image stood she before him; no word
of excuse, no prayer for forgiveness escaped her; only a convulsive
quivering of the lips betrayed the life that struggled within her. With
every moment the hope died in Bjarne’s bosom. His visage was fearful to
behold. Terror and fierce indomitable hatred had grimly distorted his
features, and his eyes burned like fire-coals beneath his bushy brows.

“Harlot,” he shrieked, “harlot!”

A cold gust of wind swept through the room. The windows shook, the doors
flew open, as if touched by a strong invisible hand--and the old man
stood alone, holding the flickering brand above his head.

It was after midnight, the wind had abated, but the snow still fell,
thick and silent, burying paths and fences under its cold white mantle.
Onward she fled--onward and ever onward. And whither, she knew not.
A cold numbness had chilled her senses, but still her feet drove her
irresistibly onward. A dark current seemed to have seized her, she only
felt that she was adrift, and she cared not whither it bore her. In
spite of the stifling dullness which oppressed her, her body seemed as
light as air. At last,--she knew not where,--she heard the roar of the
sea resounding in her ears, a genial warmth thawed the numbness of
her senses, and she floated joyfully among the clouds--among golden,
sun-bathed clouds. When she opened her eyes, she found herself lying
in a comfortable bed, and a young woman with a kind motherly face was
sitting at her side. It was all like a dream, and she made no effort to
account for what appeared so strange and unaccountable.

What she afterward heard was that a fisherman had found her in a
snow-drift on the strand, and that he had carried her home to his
cottage and had given her over to the charge of his wife. This was the
second day since her arrival. They knew who she was, but had kept the
doors locked and had told no one that she was there. She heard the story
of the good woman without emotion; it seemed an intolerable effort
to think. But on the third day, when her child was born, her mind was
suddenly aroused from its lethargy, and she calmly matured her plans;
and for the child’s sake she resolved to live and to act. That same
evening there came a little boy with a bundle for her. She opened it and
found therein the clothes she had left behind, and--her brooches. She
knew that it was her sister who had sent them; then there was one who
still thought of her with affection. And yet her first impulse was to
send it all back, or to throw it into the ocean; but she looked at her
child and forbore.

A week passed, and Brita recovered. Of Halvard she had heard nothing.
One night, as she lay in a half doze, she thought she had Seen a pale,
frightened face pressed up against the window-pane, and staring fixedly
at her and her child; but, after all, it might have been merely a dream.
For her fevered fancy had in these last days frequently beguiled her
into similar visions. She often thought of him, but, strangely enough,
no more with bitterness, but with pity. Had he been strong enough to be
wicked, she could have hated him, but he was weak, and she pitied him.
Then it was that; one evening, as she heard that the American vessel was
to sail at daybreak, she took her little boy and wrapped him carefully
in her own clothes, bade farewell to the good fisherman and his wife,
and walked alone down to the strand. Huge clouds of fantastic shapes
chased each other desperately along the horizon, and now and then the
slender new moon glanced forth from the deep blue gulfs between. She
chose a boat at random and was about to unmoor it, when she saw the
figure of a man tread carefully over the stones and hesitatingly
approach her.

“Brita,” came in a whisper from the strand.

“Who’s there?”

“It is I. Father knows it all, and he has nearly killed me; and mother,

“Is that what you have come to tell me?”

“No, I would like to help you some. I have been trying to see you these
many days.” And he stepped close up to the boat.

“Thank you; I need no help.”

“But, Brita,” implored he, “I have sold my gun and my dog, and
everything I had, and this is what I have got for it.” He stretched out
his hand and reached her a red handkerchief with something heavy bound
up in a corner. She took it mechanically, held it in her hand for
a moment, then flung it far out into the water. A smile of profound
contempt and pity passed over her countenance.

“Farewell, Halvard,” said she, calmly, and pushed the boat into the

“But, Brita,” cried he, in despair, “what would you have me do?”

She lifted the child in her arms, then pointed to the vacant seat at
her side. He understood what she meant, and stood for a moment wavering.
Suddenly, he covered his face with his hands and burst into tears.
Within half an hour, Brita boarded the vessel, and as the first red
stripe of the dawn illumined the horizon, the wind filled the sails, and
the ship glided westward toward that land where there is a home for them
whom love and misfortune have exiled.

It was a long and wearisome voyage. There was an old English clergyman
on board, who collected curiosities; to him she sold her rings and
brooches, and thereby obtained more than sufficient money to pay her
passage. She hardly spoke to any one except her child. Those of her
fellow-parishioners who knew her, and perhaps guessed her history, kept
aloof from her, and she was grateful to them that they did. From morning
till night, she sat in a corner between a pile of deck freight and the
kitchen skylight, and gazed at her little boy who was lying in her lap.
All her hopes, her future, and her life were in him. For herself, she
had ceased to hope.

“I can give thee no fatherland, my child,” she said to him. “Thou shalt
never know the name of him who gave thee life. Thou and I, we shall
struggle together, and, as true as there is a God above, who sees us,
He will not leave either of us to perish. But let us ask no questions,
child, about that which is past. Thou shalt grow and be strong, and thy
mother must grow with thee.”

During the third week of the voyage, the English clergyman baptized the
boy, and she called him Thomas, after the day in the almanac on which he
was born. He should never know that Norway had been his mother’s home;
therefore she would give him no name which might betray his race. One
morning, early in the month of June, they hailed land, and the great New
World lay before them.


Why should I speak of the ceaseless care, the suffering, and the hard
toil, which made the first few months of Brita’s life on this continent
a mere continued struggle for existence? They are familiar to every
emigrant who has come here with a brave heart and an empty purse.
Suffice it to say that at the end of the second month, she succeeded in
obtaining service as milkmaid with a family in the neighborhood of
New York. With the linguistic talent peculiar to her people, she
soon learned the English language and even spoke it well. From her
countrymen, she kept as far away as possible, not for her own sake,
but for that of her boy; for he was to grow great and strong, and the
knowledge of his birth might shatter his strength and break his courage.
For the same reason she also exchanged her picturesque Norse costume for
that of the people among whom she was living. She went commonly by the
name of Mrs. Brita, which pronounced in the English way, sounded very
much like Mrs. Bright, and this at last became the name by which she was
known in the neighborhood.

Thus five years passed; then there was a great rage for emigrating to
the far West, and Brita, with many others, started for Chicago. There
she arrived in the year 1852, and took up her lodgings with an Irish
widow, who was living in a little cottage in what was then termed the
outskirts of the city. Those who saw her in those days, going about the
lumber-yards and doing a man’s work, would hardly have recognized in her
the merry Glitter-Brita, who in times of old trod the spring-dance so
gayly in the well-lighted halls of the Blakstad mansion. And, indeed,
she was sadly changed! Her features had become sharper, and the firm
lines about her mouth expressed severity, almost sternness. Her clear
blue eyes seemed to have grown larger, and their glance betrayed secret,
ever-watchful care. Only her yellow hair had resisted the force of time
and sorrow; for it still fell in rich and wavy folds over a smooth white
forehead. She was, indeed, half ashamed of it, and often took pains to
force it into a sober, matronly hood. Only at nights, when she sat alone
talking with her boy, she would allow it to escape from its prison; and
he would laugh and play with it, and in his child’s way even wonder at
the contrast between her stern face and her youthful maidenly tresses.

This Thomas, her son, was a strange child. He had a Norseman’s taste for
the fabulous and fantastic, and although he never heard a tale of Necken
or the Hulder, he would often startle his mother by the most fanciful
combinations of imagined events, and by bolder personifications than
ever sprung from the legendary soil of the Norseland. She always took
care to check him whenever he indulged in these imaginary flights, and
he at last came to look upon them as something wrong and sinful. The
boy, as he grew up, often strikingly reminded her of her father,
as, indeed, he seemed to have inherited more from her own than from
Halvard’s race. Only the bright flaxen hair and his square, somewhat
clumsy stature might have told him to be the latter’s child. He had a
hot temper, and often distressed his mother by his stubbornness; and
then there would come a great burst of repentance afterwards, which
distressed her still more. For she was afraid it might be a sign of
weakness. “And strong he must be,” said she to herself, “strong enough
to overcome all resistance, and to conquer a great name for himself,
strong enough to bless a mother who brought him into the world

Strange to say, much as she loved this child, she seldom caressed him.
It was a penance she had imposed upon herself to atone for her guilt.
Only at times, when she had been sitting up late, and her eyes would
fall, as it were, by accident upon the little face on the pillow,
with the sweet unconsciousness of sleep resting upon it like a soft,
invisible veil, would she suddenly throw herself down over him, kiss
him, and whisper tender names in his ear, while her tears fell hot and
fast on his yellow hair and his rosy countenance. Then the child would
dream that he was sailing aloft over shining forests, and that his
mother, beaming with all the beauty of her lost youth, flew before him,
showering golden flowers on his path. These were the happiest moments of
Brita’s joyless life, and even these were not unmixed with bitterness;
for into the midst of her joy would steal a shy anxious thought which
was the more terrible because it came so stealthily, so soft-footed
and unbidden. Had not this child been given her as a punishment for her
guilt? Had she then a right to turn God’s scourge into a blessing? Did
she give to God “that which belongeth unto God,” as long as all her
hopes, her thoughts, and her whole being revolved about this one earthly
thing, her son, the child of her sorrow? She was not a nature to shrink
from grave questions; no, she met them boldly, when once they were
there, wrestled fiercely with them, was defeated, and again with a
martyr’s zeal rose to renew the combat. God had Himself sent her this
perplexing doubt and it was her duty to bear His burden. Thus ran
Brita’s reasoning. In the mean while the years slipped by, and great
changes were wrought in the world about her.

The few hundred dollars which Brita had been able to save, during the
first three years of her stay in Chicago, she had invested in a piece of
land. In the mean while the city had grown, and in the year 1859 she was
offered five thousand dollars for her lot; this offer she accepted and
again bought a small piece of property at a short distance from the
city. The boy had since his eighth year attended the public school, and
had made astonishing progress. Every day when school was out, she would
meet him at the gate, take him by the hand and lead him home. If any
of the other boys dared to make sport of her, or to tease him for his
dependence upon her, it was sure to cost that boy a black eye{.} He soon
succeeded in establishing himself in the respect of his school-mates,
for he was the strongest boy of his own age, and ever ready to protect
and defend the weak and defenseless. When Thomas Bright (for that was
the name by which he was known) was fifteen years old he was offered
a position as clerk in the office of a lumber-merchant, and with his
mother’s consent he accepted it. He was a fine young lad now, large and
well-knit, and with a clear earnest countenance. In the evening he would
bring home books to read, and as it had always been Brita’s habit to
interest herself in whatever interested him, she soon found herself
studying and discussing with him things which had in former years been
far beyond the horizon of her mind. She had at his request reluctantly
given up her work in the lumber-yards, and now spent her days at home,
busying herself with sewing and reading and such other things as women
find to fill up a vacant hour.

One evening, when Thomas was in his nineteenth year, he returned
from his office with a graver face than usual. His mother’s quick eye
immediately saw that something had agitated him, but she forbore to ask.

“Mother,” said he at last, “who is my father? Is he dead or alive?”

“God is your father, my son,” answered she, tremblingly. “If you love
me, ask me no more.”

“I do love you, mother,” he said, and gave her a grave look, in which
she thought she detected a mingling of tenderness and reproach. “And it
shall be as you have said.”

It was the first time she had had reason to blush before him, and
her emotion came near overwhelming her; but with a violent effort she
stifled it, and remained outwardly calm. He began pacing up and down the
floor with his head bent and his hands on his back. It suddenly occurred
to her that he was a grown man, and that she could no longer hold the
same relation to him as his supporter and protector. “Alas,” thought
she, “if God will but let me remain his mother, I shall bless and thank

It was the first time this subject had been broached, and it gave rise
to many a doubt and many a question in the anxious mother’s mind. Had
she been right in concealing from him that which he might justly claim
to know? What had been her motive in keeping him ignorant of his origin
and of the land of his birth? She had wished him to grow to the strength
of manhood, unconscious of guilt, so that he might bear his head
upright, and look the world fearlessly in the face. And still, had there
not in all this been a lurking thought of herself, a fear of losing his
love, a desire to stand pure and perfect in his eye? She hardly dared
to answer these questions, for, alas, she knew not that even our purest
motives are but poorly able to bear a searching scrutiny. She began to
suspect that her whole course with her son had been wrong from the very
beginning. Why had she not told him the stern truth, even if he should
despise her for it, even if she should have to stand a blushing culprit
in his presence? Often, when she heard his footsteps in the hall, as
he returned from the work of the day, she would man herself up and the
words hovered upon her lips: “Son, thou art a bastard born, a child of
guilt, and thy mother is an outcast upon the earth.” But when she met
those calm blue eyes of his, saw the unsuspecting frankness of his
manner and the hopefulness with which he looked to the future, her
womanly heart shrank from its duty, and she hastened out of the room,
threw herself on her bed, and wept. Fiercely she wrestled with God in
prayer, until she thought that even God had deserted her. Thus months
passed and years, and the constant care and anxiety began to affect her
health. She grew pale and nervous, and the slightest noise would annoy
her. In the mean while, her manner toward the young man had become
strangely altered, and he soon noticed it, although he forbore to speak.
She was scrupulously mindful of his comfort, anxiously anticipated his
wants, and observed toward him an ever vigilant consideration, as if he
had been her master instead of her son.

When Thomas was twenty-two years of age, he was offered a partnership in
his employer’s business, and with every year his prospects brightened.
The sale of his mother’s property brought him a very handsome little
fortune, which enabled him to build a fine and comfortable house in one
of the best portions of the city. Thus their outward circumstances were
greatly improved, and of comfort and luxury Brita had all and more than
she had ever desired; but her health was broken down, and the physicians
declared that a year of foreign travel and a continued residence in
Italy might possibly restore her. At last, Thomas, too, began to urge
her, until she finally yielded. It was on a bright morning in May that
they both started for New York, and three days later they took the boat
for Europe. What countries they were to visit they had hardly decided,
but after a brief stay in England we find them again on a steamer bound
for Norway.


Warm and gentle as it is, June often comes to the fjord-valleys of
Norway with the voice and the strength of a giant. The glaciers
totter and groan, as if in anger at their own weakness, and send huge
avalanches of stones and ice down into the valleys. The rivers swell and
rush with vociferous brawl out over the mountainsides, and a thousand
tiny brooks join in the general clamor, and dance with noisy chatter
over the moss-grown birch-roots. But later, when the struggle is at an
end, and June has victoriously seated herself upon her throne, her voice
becomes more richly subdued and brings rest and comfort to the ear and
to the troubled heart. It was while the month was in this latter mood
that Brita and her son entered once more the valley whence, twenty-five
years ago, they had fled. Many strange, turbulent emotions stirred the
mother’s bosom, as she saw again the great snow-capped mountains, and
the calm, green valley, her childhood’s home, lying so snugly sheltered
in their mighty embrace. Even Thomas’s breast was moved with vaguely
sympathetic throbs, as this wondrous scene spread itself before him.
They soon succeeded in hiring a farm-house, about half an hour’s walk
from Blakstad, and, according to Brita’s wish, established themselves
there for the summer. She had known the people well, when she was young,
but they never thought of identifying her with the merry maid, who had
once startled the parish by her sudden flight; and she, although she
longed to open her heart to them, let no word fall to betray her real
character. Her conscience accused her of playing a false part, but for
her son’s sake she kept silent.

Then, one day,--it was the second Sunday after their arrival,--she rose
early in the morning, and asked Thomas to accompany her on a walk up
through the valley. There was Sabbath in the air; the soft breath of
summer, laden with the perfume of fresh leaves and field-flowers,
gently wafted into their faces. The sun glittered in the dewy grass, the
crickets sung with a remote voice of wonder, and the air seemed to be
half visible, and moved in trembling wavelets on the path before them.
Resting on her son’s arm, Brita walked slowly up through the flowering
meadows; she hardly knew whither her feet bore her, but her heart
beat violently, and she often was obliged to pause and press her hands
against her bosom, as if to stay the turbulent emotions.

“You are not well, mother,” said the son. “It was imprudent in me to
allow you to exert yourself in this way.”

“Let us sit down on this stone,” answered she. “I shall soon be better.
Do not look so anxiously at me. Indeed, I am not sick.”

He spread his light summer coat on the stone and carefully seated her.
She lifted her veil and raised her eyes to the large red-roofed mansion,
whose dark outlines drew themselves dimly on the dusky background of the
pine forest. Was he still alive, he whose life-hope she had wrecked, he
who had once driven her out into the night with all but a curse upon his
lips? How would he receive her, if she were to return? Ah, she knew him,
and she trembled at the very thought of meeting him. But was not the
guilt hers? Could she depart from this valley, could she die in peace,
without having thrown herself at his feet and implored his forgiveness?
And there, on the opposite side of the valley, lay the home of him who
had been the cause of all her misery. What had been his fate, and did he
still remember those long happy summer days, ah! so long, long ago? She
had dared to ask no questions of the people with whom she lived, but
now a sudden weakness had overtaken her, and she felt that to-day must
decide her fate; she could no longer bear this torture of uncertainty.
Thomas remained standing at her side and looked at her with anxiety
and wonder. He knew that she had concealed many things from him, but
whatever her reasons might be, he was confident that they were just and
weighty. It was not for him to question her about what he might have no
right to know. He felt as if he had never loved her as in this
moment, when she seemed to be most in need of him, and an overwhelming
tenderness took possession of his heart. He suddenly stooped down, took
her pale, thin face between his hands and kissed her. The long pent-up
emotion burst forth in a flood of tears; she buried her face in her lap
and wept long and silently. Then the church-bells began to peal down in
the valley, and the slow mighty sound floated calmly and solemnly up to
them. How many long-forgotten memories of childhood and youth did
they not wake in her bosom--memories of the time when the merry
Glitter-Brita, decked with her shining brooches, wended her way to the
church among the gayly-dressed lads and maidens of the parish?

A cluster of white-stemmed birches threw its shadow over the stone where
the penitent mother was sitting, and the tall grass on both sides of
the path nearly hid her from sight. Presently the church-folk began to
appear, and Brita raised her head and drew her veil down over her face.
No one passed without greeting the strangers, and the women and maidens,
according to old fashion, stopped and courtesied. At last, there came
an old white-haired man, leaning on the arm of a middle-aged woman. His
whole figure was bent forward, and he often stopped and drew his breath

“Oh, yes, yes,” he said, ill a hoarse, broken voice, as he passed before
them, “age is gaining on me fast. I can’t move about any more as of old.
But to church I must this day. God help me! I have done much wrong and
need to pray for forgiveness.”

“You had better sit down and rest, father,” said the woman. “Here is a
stone, and the fine lady, I am sure, will allow a weak old man to sit
down beside her.”

Thomas rose and made a sign to the old man to take his seat.

“O yes, yes,” he went on murmuring, as if talking to himself. “Much
wrong--much forgiveness. God help us all--miserable sinners. He who
hateth not father and mother--and daughter is not worthy of me. O,
yes--yes--God comfort us all. Help me up, Grimhild. I think I can move
on again, now.”

Thomas, of course, did not understand a word of what he said, but seeing
that he wished to rise, he willingly offered his assistance, supported
his arm and raised him.

“Thanks to you, young man,” said the peasant. “And may God reward your

And the two, father and daughter, moved on, slowly and laboriously, as
they had come. Thomas stood following them with his eyes, until a low,
half-stifled moan suddenly called him to his mother’s side. Her frame
trembled violently.

“Mother, mother,” implored he, stooping over her, “what has happened?
Why are you no more yourself?”

“Ah, my son, I can bear it no longer,” sobbed she. “God forgive me--thou
must know it all.”

He sat down at her side and drew her closely up to him and she hid her
face on his bosom. There was a long silence, only broken by the loud
chirruping of the crickets.

“My son,” she began at last, still hiding her face, “thou art a child of

“That has been no secret to me, mother,” answered he, gravely and
tenderly, “since I was old enough to know what guilt was.”

She quickly raised her head, and a look of amazement, of joyous
surprise, shone through the tears that veiled her eyes. She could read
nothing but filial love and confidence in those grave, manly features,
and she saw in that moment that all her doubts had been groundless, that
her long prayerful struggle had been for naught.

“I brought thee into the world nameless,” she whispered, “and thou hast
no word of reproach for me?”

“With God’s help, I am strong enough to conquer a name for myself,
mother,” was his answer.

It was the very words of her own secret wish, and upon his lips they
sounded like a blessed assurance, like a miraculous fulfillment of her
motherly prayer.

“Still, another thing, my child,” she went on in a more confident voice.
“This is thy native land,--and the old man who was just sitting here at
my side was--my father.”

And there, in the shadow of the birch-trees, in the summer stillness of
that hour, she told him the story of her love, of her flight, and of the
misery of these long, toilsome five and twenty years.

Late in the afternoon, Brita and her son were seen returning to
the farm-house. A calm, subdued happiness beamed from the mother’s
countenance; she was again at peace with the world and herself, and her
heart was as light as in the days of her early youth. But her bodily
strength had given out, and her limbs almost refused to support her. The
strain upon her nerves and the constant effort had hitherto enabled
her to keep up, but now, when that strain was removed, exhausted nature
claimed its right. The next day--she could not leave her bed, and
with every hour her strength failed. A physician was sent for. He gave
medicine, but no hope. He shook his head gravely, as he went, and both
mother and son knew what that meant.

Toward evening, Bjarne Blakstad was summoned, and came at once. Thomas
left the room, as the old man entered, and what passed in that hour
between father and daughter, only God knows. When the door was again
opened, Brita’s eyes shone with a strange brilliancy, and Bjarne lay on
his knees before the bed, pressing her hand convulsively between both of

“This is my son, father,” said she, in a language which her son did not
understand; and a faint smile of motherly pride and happiness flitted
over her pale features. “I would give him to thee in return for what
thou hast lost; but God has laid his future in another land.”

Bjarne rose, grasped his grandson’s hand, and pressed it; and two heavy
tears ran down his furrowed cheeks. “Alas,” murmured he, “my son, that
we should meet thus.”

There they stood, bound together by the bonds of blood, but, alas, there
lay a world between them.

All night they sat together at the dying woman’s bedside. Not a word
was spoken. Toward morning, as the sun stole into the darkened chamber,
Brita murmured their names, and they laid their hands in hers.

“God be praised,” whispered she, scarcely audibly, “I have found you
both--my father and my son.” A deep pallor spread over her countenance.
She was dead.

Two days later, when the body was laid out, Thomas stood alone in the
room. The windows were covered with white sheets, and a subdued light
fell upon the pale, lifeless countenance. Death had dealt gently with
her, she seemed younger than before, and her light wavy hair fell softly
over the white forehead. Then there came a middle-aged man, with a dull
eye, and a broad forehead, and timidly approached the lonely mourner.
He walked on tip-toe and his figure stooped heavily. For a long while
he stood gazing at the dead body, then he knelt down at the foot of the
coffin, and began to sob violently. At last he arose, took two steps
toward the young man, paused again, and departed silently as he had
come. It was Halvard.

Close under the wall of the little red-painted church, they dug the
grave; and a week later her father was laid to rest at his daughter’s

But the fresh winds blew over the Atlantic and beckoned the son to new
fields of labor in the great land of the future.


RALPH GRIM was born a gentleman. He had the misfortune of coming into
the world some ten years later than might reasonably have been expected.
Colonel Grim and his lady had celebrated twelve anniversaries of their
wedding-day, and had given up all hopes of ever having a son and heir,
when this late-comer startled them by his unexpected appearance. The
only previous addition to the family had been a daughter, and she was
then ten summers old.

Ralph was a very feeble child, and could only with great difficulty be
persuaded to retain his hold of the slender thread which bound him to
existence. He was rubbed with whisky, and wrapped in cotton, and given
mare’s milk to drink, and God knows what not, and the Colonel swore a
round oath of paternal delight when at last the infant stopped gasping
in that distressing way and began to breathe like other human beings.
The mother, who, in spite of her anxiety for the child’s life, had found
time to plot for him a career of future magnificence, now suddenly set
him apart for literature, because that was the easiest road to fame, and
disposed of him in marriage to one of the most distinguished families of
the land. She cautiously suggested this to her husband when he came to
take his seat at her bedside; but to her utter astonishment she found
that he had been indulging a similar train of thought, and had already
destined the infant prodigy for the army. She, however, could not give
up her predilection for literature, and the Colonel, who could not bear
to be contradicted in his own house, as he used to say, was getting
every minute louder and more flushed, when, happily, the doctor’s
arrival interrupted the dispute.

As Ralph grew up from infancy to childhood, he began to give decided
promise of future distinction. He was fond of sitting down in a corner
and sucking his thumb, which his mother interpreted as the sign of that
brooding disposition peculiar to poets and men of lofty genius. At the
age of five, he had become sole master in the house. He slapped his
sister Hilda in the face, or pulled her hair, when she hesitated to
obey him, tyrannized over his nurse, and sternly refused to go to bed in
spite of his mother’s entreaties. On such occasions, the Colonel would
hide his face behind his newspaper, and chuckle with delight; it was
evident that nature had intended his son for a great military commander.
As soon as Ralph himself was old enough to have any thoughts about his
future destiny, he made up his mind that he would like to be a pirate.
A few months later, having contracted an immoderate taste for candy, he
contented himself with the comparatively humble position of a baker; but
when he had read “Robinson Crusoe,” he manifested a strong desire to go
to sea in the hope of being wrecked on some desolate island. The parents
spent long evenings gravely discussing these indications of uncommon
genius, and each interpreted them in his or her own way.

“He is not like any other child I ever knew,” said the mother.

“To be sure,” responded the father, earnestly. “He is a most
extraordinary child. I was a very remarkable child too, even if I do say
it myself; but, as far as I remember, I never aspired to being wrecked
on an uninhabited is land.”

The Colonel probably spoke the truth; but he forgot to take into account
that he had never read “Robinson Crusoe.”

Of Ralph’s school-days there is but little to report, for, to tell the
truth, he did not fancy going to school, as the discipline annoyed him.
The day after his having entered the gymnasium, which was to prepare
him for the Military Academy, the principal saw him waiting at the gate
after his class had been dismissed. He approached him, and asked why he
did not go home with the rest.

“I am waiting for the servant to carry my books,” was the boy’s answer.

“Give me your books,” said the teacher.

Ralph reluctantly obeyed. That day the Colonel was not a little
surprised to see his son marching up the street, and every now and then
glancing behind him with a look of discomfort at the principal, who
was following quietly in his train, carrying a parcel of school-books.
Colonel Grim and his wife, divining the teacher’s intention, agreed that
it was a great outrage, but they did not mention the matter to Ralph.
Henceforth, however, the boy refused to be accompanied by his servant. A
week later he was impudent to the teacher of gymnastics, who whipped him
in return. The Colonel’s rage knew no bounds; he rode in great haste to
the gymnasium, reviled the teacher for presuming to chastise HIS son,
and committed the boy to the care of a private tutor.

At the age of sixteen, Ralph went to the capital with the intention of
entering the Military Academy. He was a tall, handsome youth, slender of
stature, and carried himself as erect as a candle. He had a light, clear
complexion of almost feminine delicacy; blonde, curly hair, which he
always kept carefully brushed; a low forehead, and a straight, finely
modeled nose. There was an expression of extreme sensitiveness about
the nostrils, and a look of indolence in the dark-blue eyes. But the
ensemble of his features was pleasing, his dress irreproachable, and his
manners bore no trace of the awkward self-consciousness peculiar to his
age. Immediately on his arrival in the capital he hired a suite of
rooms in the aristocratic part of the city, and furnished them rather
expensively, but in excellent taste. From a bosom friend, whom he met
by accident in the restaurant’s pavilion in the park, he learned that
a pair of antlers, a stuffed eagle, or falcon, and a couple of swords,
were indispensable to a well-appointed apartment. He accordingly bought
these articles at a curiosity-shop. During the first weeks of his
residence in the city he made some feeble efforts to perfect himself in
mathematics, in which he suspected he was somewhat deficient. But when
the same officious friend laughed at him, and called him “green,” he
determined to trust to fortune, and henceforth devoted himself the
more assiduously to the French ballet, where he had already made some
interesting acquaintances.

The time for the examination came; the French ballet did not prove a
good preparation; Ralph failed. It quite shook him for the time, and
he felt humiliated. He had not the courage to tell his father; so he
lingered on from day to day, sat vacantly gazing out of his window, and
tried vainly to interest himself in the busy bustle down on the street.
It provoked him that everybody else should be so light-hearted, when
he was, or at least fancied himself, in trouble. The parlor grew
intolerable; he sought refuge in his bedroom. There he sat one evening
(it was the third day after the examination), and stared out upon the
gray stone walls which on all sides enclosed the narrow court-yard.
The round stupid face of the moon stood tranquilly dozing like a great
Limburger cheese suspended under the sky.

Ralph, at least, could think of a no more fitting simile. But the
bright-eyed young girl in the window hard by sent a longing look up to
the same moon, and thought of her distant home on the fjords, where the
glaciers stood like hoary giants, and caught the yellow moonbeams on
their glittering shields of snow. She had been reading “Ivanhoe” all the
afternoon, until the twilight had overtaken her quite unaware, and
now she suddenly remembered that she had forgotten to write her German
exercise. She lifted her face and saw a pair of sad, vacant eyes, gazing
at her from the next window in the angle of the court. She was a little
startled at first, but in the next moment she thought of her German
exercise and took heart.

“Do you know German?” she said; then immediately repented that she had
said it.

“I do,” was the answer.

She took up her apron and began to twist it with an air of

“I didn’t mean anything,” she whispered, at last. “I only wanted to

“You are very kind.”

That answer roused her; he was evidently making sport of her.

“Well, then, if you do, you may write my exercise for me. I have marked
the place in the book.”

And she flung her book over to his window, and he caught it on the edge
of the sill, just as it was falling.

“You are a very strange girl,” he remarked, turning over the leaves of
the book, although it was too dark to read. “How old are you?”

“I shall be fourteen six weeks before Christmas,” answered she, frankly.

“Then I excuse you.”

“No, indeed,” cried she, vehemently. “You needn’t excuse me at all. If
you don’t want to write my exercise, you may send the book back again. I
am very sorry I spoke to you, and I shall never do it again.”

“But you will not get the book back again without the exercise,” replied
he, quietly. “Good-night.”

The girl stood long looking after him, hoping that he would return.
Then, with a great burst of repentance, she hid her face in her lap, and
began to cry.

“Oh, dear, I didn’t mean to be rude,” she sobbed. “But it was Ivanhoe
and Rebecca who upset me.”

The next morning she was up before daylight, and waited for two long
hours in great suspense before the curtain of his window was raised. He
greeted her politely; threw a hasty glance around the court to see if he
was observed, and then tossed her book dexterously over into her hands.

“I have pinned the written exercise to the fly-leaf,” he said. “You will
probably have time to copy it before breakfast.”

“I am ever so much obliged to you,” she managed to stammer.

He looked so tall and handsome, and grown-up, and her remorse stuck in
her throat, and threatened to choke her. She had taken him for a boy as
he sat there in his window the evening before.

“By the way, what is your name?” he asked, carelessly, as he turned to


“Well, my dear Bertha, I am happy to have made your acquaintance.”

And he again made her a polite bow, and entered his parlor.

“How provokingly familiar he is,” thought she; “but no one can deny that
he is handsome.”

The bright roguish face of the young girl haunted Ralph during the whole
next week. He had been in love at least ten times before, of course;
but, like most boys, with young ladies far older than himself. He found
himself frequently glancing over to her window in the hope of catching
another glimpse of her face; but the curtain was always drawn down,
and Bertha remained invisible. During the second week, however, she
relented, and they had many a pleasant chat together. He now volunteered
to write all her exercises, and she made no objections. He learned that
she was the daughter of a well-to-do peasant in the sea-districts of
Norway (and it gave him quite a shock to hear it), and that she was
going to school in the city, and boarded with an old lady who kept a
pension in the house adjoining the one in which he lived.

One day in the autumn Ralph was surprised by the sudden arrival of his
father, and the fact of his failure in the examination could no longer
be kept a secret. The old Colonel flared up at once when Ralph made
his confession; the large veins upon his forehead swelled; he grew
coppery-red in his face, and stormed up and down the floor, until his
son became seriously alarmed; but, to his great relief, he was soon made
aware that his father’s wrath was not turned against him personally, but
against the officials of the Military Academy who had rejected him. The
Colonel took it as an insult to his own good name and irreproachable
standing as an officer; he promptly refused any other explanation, and
vainly racked his brain to remember if any youthful folly of his could
possibly have made him enemies among the teachers of the Academy. He
at last felt satisfied that it was envy of his own greatness and rapid
advancement which had induced the rascals to take vengeance on his son.
Ralph reluctantly followed his father back to the country town where
the latter was stationed, and the fair-haired Bertha vanished from his
horizon. His mother’s wish now prevailed, and he began, in his own easy
way, to prepare himself for the University. He had little taste for
Cicero, and still less for Virgil, but with the use of a “pony” he soon
gained sufficient knowledge of these authors to be able to talk in a
sort of patronizing way about them, to the great delight of his fond
parents. He took quite a fancy, however, to the ode in Horace ending
with the lines:

 Dulce ridentem,
 Dulce loquentem,
 Lalagen amabo.

And in his thought he substituted for Lalage the fair-haired Bertha,
quite regardless of the requirements of the metre.

To make a long story short, three years later Ralph returned to the
capital, and, after having worn out several tutors, actually succeeded
in entering the University.

The first year of college life is a happy time to every young man, and
Ralph enjoyed its processions, its parliamentary gatherings, and
its leisure, as well as the rest. He was certainly not the man to be
sentimental over the loss of a young girl whom, moreover, he had only
known for a few weeks. Nevertheless, he thought of her at odd times, but
not enough to disturb his pleasure. The standing of his family, his own
handsome appearance, and his immaculate linen opened to him the best
houses of the city, and he became a great favorite in society. At
lectures he was seldom seen, but more frequently in the theatres, where
he used to come in during the middle of the first act, take his station
in front of the orchestra box, and eye, through his lorgnettes, by
turns, the actresses and the ladies of the parquet.


Two months passed, and then came the great annual ball which the
students give at the opening of the second semester. Ralph was a man of
importance that evening; first, because he belonged to a great family;
secondly, because he was the handsomest man of his year. He wore a large
golden star on his breast (for his fellow-students had made him a Knight
of the Golden Boar), and a badge of colored ribbons in his button-hole.

The ball was a brilliant affair, and everybody was in excellent spirits,
especially the ladies. Ralph danced incessantly, twirled his soft
mustache, and uttered amiable platitudes. It was toward midnight, just
as the company was moving out to supper, that he caught the glance of a
pair of dark-blue eyes, which suddenly drove the blood to his cheeks
and hastened the beating of his heart. But when he looked once more the
dark-blue eyes were gone, and his unruly heart went on hammering against
his side. He laid his hand on his breast and glanced furtively at his
fair neighbor, but she looked happy and unconcerned, for the flavor of
the ice-cream was delicious. It seemed an endless meal, but, when it
was done, Ralph rose, led his partner back to the ball-room, and hastily
excused himself. His glance wandered round the wide hall, seeking the
well-remembered eyes once more, and, at length, finding them in a remote
corner, half hid behind a moving wall of promenaders. In another moment
he was at Bertha’s side.

“You must have been purposely hiding yourself, Miss Bertha,” said he,
when the usual greetings were exchanged. “I have not caught a glimpse of
you all this evening, until a few moments ago.”

“But I have seen you all the while,” answered the girl, frankly. “I knew
you at once as I entered the hall.”

“If I had but known that you were here,” resumed Ralph, as it were,
invisibly expanding with an agreeable sense of dignity, “I assure you,
you would have been the very first one I should have sought.”

She raised her large grave eyes to his, as if questioning his sincerity;
but she made no answer.

“Good gracious!” thought Ralph. “She takes things terribly in earnest.”

“You look so serious, Miss Bertha,” said he, after a moment’s pause. “I
remember you as a bright-eyed, flaxen-haired little girl, who threw her
German exercise-book to me across the yard, and whose merry laughter
still rings pleasantly in my memory. I confess I don’t find it quite
easy to identify this grave young lady with my merry friend of three
years ago.”

“In other words, you are disappointed at not finding me the same as I
used to be.”

“No, not exactly that; but--”

Ralph paused and looked puzzled. There was something in the earnestness
of her manner which made a facetious compliment seem grossly
inappropriate, and in the moment no other escape suggested itself.

“But what?” demanded Bertha, mercilessly.

“Have you ever lost an old friend?” asked he, abruptly.

“Yes; how so?”

“Then,” answered he, while his features lighted up with a happy
inspiration--“then you will appreciate my situation. I fondly cherished
my old picture of you in my memory. Now I have lost it, and I cannot
help regretting the loss. I do not mean, however, to imply that this new
acquaintance--this second edition of yourself, so to speak--will prove
less interesting.”

She again sent him a grave, questioning look, and began to gaze intently
upon the stone in her bracelet.

“I suppose you will laugh at me,” began she, while a sudden blush
flitted over her countenance. “But this is my first ball, and I feel
as if I had rushed into a whirlpool, from which I have, since the first
rash plunge was made, been vainly trying to escape. I feel so dreadfully
forlorn. I hardly know anybody here except my cousin, who invited me,
and I hardly think I know him either.”

“Well, since you are irredeemably committed,” replied Ralph, as the
music, after some prefatory flourishes, broke into the delicious rhythm
of a Strauss waltz, “then it is no use struggling against fate. Come,
let us make the plunge together. Misery loves company.”

He offered her his arm, and she arose, somewhat hesitatingly, and

“I am afraid,” she whispered, as they fell into line with the procession
that was moving down the long hall, “that you have asked me to dance
merely because I said I felt forlorn. If that is the case, I should
prefer to be led back to my seat.”

“What a base imputation!” cried Ralph.

There was something so charmingly naïve in this self-depreciation--
something so altogether novel in his experience, and, he could not help
adding, just a little bit countrified. His spirits rose; he began to
relish keenly his position as an experienced man of the world, and, in
the agreeable glow of patronage and conscious superiority, chatted with
hearty ABANDON with his little rustic beauty.

“If your dancing is as perfect as your German exercises were,” said she,
laughing, as they swung out upon the floor, “then I promise myself a
good deal of pleasure from our meeting.”

“Never fear,” answered he, quickly reversing his step, and whirling with
many a capricious turn away among the thronging couples.

When Ralph drove home in his carriage toward morning he briefly summed
up his impressions of Bertha in the following adjectives: intelligent,
delightfully unsophisticated, a little bit verdant, but devilish pretty.

Some weeks later Colonel Grim received an appointment at the fortress of
Aggershuus, and immediately took up his residence in the capital. He saw
that his son cut a fine figure in the highest circles of society, and
expressed his gratification in the most emphatic terms. If he had
known, however, that Ralph was in the habit of visiting, with alarming
regularity, at the house of a plebeian merchant in a somewhat obscure
street, he would, no doubt, have been more chary of his praise. But the
Colonel suspected nothing, and it was well for the peace of the family
that he did not. It may have been cowardice in Ralph that he
never mentioned Bertha’s name to his family or to his aristocratic
acquaintances; for, to be candid, he himself felt ashamed of the power
she exerted over him, and by turns pitied and ridiculed himself for
pursuing so inglorious a conquest. Nevertheless it wounded his egotism
that she never showed any surprise at seeing him, that she received
him with a certain frank unceremoniousness, which, however, was very
becoming to her; that she invariably went on with her work heedless
of his presence, and in everything treated him as if she had been his
equal. She persisted in talking with him in a half sisterly fashion
about his studies and his future career, warned him with great
solicitude against some of his reprobate friends, of whose merry
adventures he had told her; and if he ventured to compliment her on
her beauty or her accomplishments, she would look up gravely from
her sewing, or answer him in a way which seemed to banish the idea of
love-making into the land of the impossible. He was constantly tormented
by the suspicion that she secretly disapproved of him, and that from a
mere moral interest in his welfare she was conscientiously laboring
to make him a better man. Day after day he parted from her feeling
humiliated, faint-hearted, and secretly indignant both at himself and
her, and day after day he returned only to renew the same experience.
At last it became too intolerable, he could endure it no longer. Let it
make or break, certainty, at all risks, was at least preferable to this
sickening suspense. That he loved her, he could no longer doubt; let his
parents foam and fret as much as they pleased; for once he was going to
stand on his own legs. And in the end, he thought, they would have to
yield, for they had no son but him.

Bertha was going to return to her home on the sea-coast in a week.
Ralph stood in the little low-ceiled parlor, as she imagined, to bid her
good-bye. They had been speaking of her father, her brothers, and the
farm, and she had expressed the wish that if he ever should come to that
part of the country he might pay them a visit. Her words had kindled
a vague hope in his breast, but in their very frankness and friendly
regard there was something which slew the hope they had begotten. He
held her hand in his, and her large confiding eyes shone with an emotion
which was beautiful, but was yet not love.

“If you were but a peasant born like myself,” said she, in a voice which
sounded almost tender, “then I should like to talk to you as I would to
my own brother; but--”

“No, not brother, Bertha,” cried he, with sudden vehemence; “I love you
better than I ever loved any earthly being, and if you knew how firmly
this love has clutched at the roots of my heart, you would perhaps--you
would at least not look so reproachfully at me.”

She dropped his hand, and stood for a moment silent.

“I am sorry that it should have come to this, Mr. Grim,” said she,
visibly struggling for calmness. “And I am perhaps more to blame than

“Blame,” muttered he, “why are you to blame?”

“Because I do not love you; although I sometimes feared that this might
come. But then again I persuaded myself that it could not be so.”

He took a step toward the door, laid his hand on the knob, and gazed
down before him.

“Bertha,” began he, slowly, raising his head, “you have always
disapproved of me, you have despised me in your heart, but you thought
you would be doing a good work if you succeeded in making a man of me.”

“You use strong language,” answered she, hesitatingly; “but there is
truth in what you say.”

Again there was a long pause, in which the ticking of the old parlor
clock grew louder and louder.

“Then,” he broke out at last, “tell me before we part if I can do
nothing to gain--I will not say your love--but only your regard? What
would you do if you were in my place?”

“My advice you will hardly heed, and I do not even know that it would
be well if you did. But if I were a man in your position, I should break
with my whole past, start out into the world where nobody knew me, and
where I should be dependent only upon my own strength, and there I would
conquer a place for myself, if it were only for the satisfaction of
knowing that I was really a man. Here cushions are sewed under your
arms, a hundred invisible threads bind you to a life of idleness and
vanity, everybody is ready to carry you on his hands, the road is
smoothed for you, every stone carefully moved out of your path, and you
will probably go to your grave without having ever harbored one earnest
thought, without having done one manly deed.”

Ralph stood transfixed, gazing at her with open mouth; he felt a kind of
stupid fright, as if some one had suddenly seized him by the shoulders
and shaken him violently. He tried vainly to remove his eyes from
Bertha. She held him as by a powerful spell. He saw that her face was
lighted with an altogether new beauty; he noticed the deep glow upon her
cheek, the brilliancy of her eye, the slight quiver of her lip. But he
saw all this as one sees things in a half-trance, without attempting to
account for them; the door between his soul and his senses was closed.

“I know that I have been bold in speaking to you in this way,” she said
at last, seating herself in a chair at the window. “But it was yourself
who asked me. And I have felt all the time that I should have to tell
you this before we parted.”

“And,” answered he, making a strong effort to appear calm, “if I follow
your advice, will you allow me to see you once more before you go?”

“I shall remain here another week, and shall, during that time, always
be ready to receive you.”

“Thank you. Good-bye.”


Ralph carefully avoided all the fashionable thoroughfares; he felt
degraded before himself, and he had an idea that every man could read
his humiliation in his countenance. Now he walked on quickly, striking
the sidewalk with his heels; now, again, he fell into an uneasy,
reckless saunter, according as the changing moods inspired defiance
of his sentence, or a qualified surrender. And, as he walked on, the
bitterness grew within him, and he pitilessly reviled himself for having
allowed himself to be made a fool of by “that little country goose,”
 when he was well aware that there were hundreds of women of the best
families of the land who would feel honored at receiving his attentions.
But this sort of reasoning he knew to be both weak and contemptible, and
his better self soon rose in loud rebellion.

“After all,” he muttered, “in the main thing she was right. I am a
miserable good-for-nothing, a hot-house plant, a poor stick, and if I
were a woman myself, I don’t think I should waste my affections on a man
of that calibre.”

Then he unconsciously fell to analyzing Bertha’s character, wondering
vaguely that a person who moved so timidly in social life, appearing
so diffident, from an ever-present fear of blundering against the
established forms of etiquette, could judge so quickly, and with such a
merciless certainty, whenever a moral question, a question of right
and wrong, was at issue. And, pursuing the same train of thought, he
contrasted her with himself, who moved in the highest spheres of society
as in his native element, heedless of moral scruples, and conscious of
no loftier motive for his actions than the immediate pleasure of the

As Ralph turned the corner of a street, he heard himself hailed from the
other sidewalk by a chorus of merry voices.

“Ah, my dear Baroness,” cried a young man, springing across the street
and grasping Ralph’s hand (all his student friends called him the
Baroness), “in the name of this illustrious company, allow me to salute
you. But why the deuce--what is the matter with you? If you have the
Katzenjammer, [7] soda-water is the thing. Come along,--it’s my treat!”

The students instantly thronged around Ralph, who stood distractedly
swinging his cane and smiling idiotically.

“I am not quite well,” said he; “leave me alone.”

“No, to be sure, you don’t look well,” cried a jolly youth, against
whom Bertha had frequently warned him; “but a glass of sherry will soon
restore you. It would be highly immoral to leave you in this condition
without taking care of you.”

Ralph again vainly tried to remonstrate; but the end was, that he
reluctantly followed.

He had always been a conspicuous figure in the student world; but that
night he astonished his friends by his eloquence, his reckless humor,
and his capacity for drinking. He made a speech for “Woman,” which
bristled with wit, cynicism, and sarcastic epigrams. One young man,
named Vinter, who was engaged, undertook to protest against his sweeping
condemnation, and declared that Ralph, who was a Universal favorite
among the ladies, ought to be the last to revile them.

“If,” he went on, “the Baroness should propose to six well-known
ladies here in this city whom I could mention, I would wager six
Johannisbergers, and an equal amount of champagne, that every one of
them would accept him.”

The others loudly applauded this proposal, and Ralph accepted the wager.
The letters were written on the spot, and immediately dispatched. Toward
morning, the merry carousal broke up, and Ralph was conducted in triumph
to his home.


Two days later, Ralph again knocked on Bertha’s door. He looked paler
than usual, almost haggard; his immaculate linen was a little crumpled,
and he carried no cane; his lips were tightly compressed, and his face
wore an air of desperate resolution.

“It is done,” he said, as he seated himself opposite her. “I am going.”

“Going!” cried she, startled at his unusual appearance. “How, where?”

“To America. I sail to-night. I have followed your advice, you see. I
have cut off the last bridge behind me.”

“But, Ralph,” she exclaimed, in a voice of alarm. “Something dreadful
must have happened. Tell me quick; I must know it.”

“No; nothing dreadful,” muttered he, smiling bitterly. “I have made
a little scandal, that is all. My father told me to-day to go to the
devil, if I chose, and my mother gave me five hundred dollars to help me
along on the way. If you wish to know, here is the explanation.”

And he pulled from his pocket six perfumed and carefully folded notes,
and threw them into her lap.

“Do you wish me to read them?” she asked, with growing surprise.

“Certainly. Why not?”

She hastily opened one note after the other, and read.

“But, Ralph,” she cried, springing up from her seat, while her eyes
flamed with indignation, “what does this mean? What have you done?”

“I didn’t think it needed any explanation,” replied he, with feigned
indifference. “I proposed to them all, and, you see, they all accepted
me. I received all these letters to-day. I only wished to know whether
the whole world regarded me as such a worthless scamp as you told me I

She did not answer, but sat mutely staring at him, fiercely crumpling a
rose-colored note in her hand. He began to feel uncomfortable under her
gaze, and threw himself about uneasily in his chair.

“Well,” said he, at length, rising, “I suppose there is nothing more.

“One moment, Mr. Grim,” demanded she, sternly. “Since I have already
said so much, and you have obligingly revealed to me a new side of your
character, I claim the right to correct the opinion I expressed of you
at our last meeting.”

“I am all attention.”

“I did think, Mr. Grim,” began she, breathing hard, and steadying
herself against the table at which she stood, “that you were a very
selfish man--an embodiment of selfishness, absolute and supreme, but I
did not believe that you were wicked.”

“And what convinced you that I was selfish, if I may ask?”

“What convinced me?” repeated she, in a tone of inexpressible contempt.
“When did you ever act from any generous regard for others? What good
did you ever do to anybody?”

“You might ask, with equal justice, what good I ever did to myself.”

“In a certain sense, yes; because to gratify a mere momentary wish is
hardly doing one’s self good.”

“Then I have, at all events, followed the Biblical precept, and treated
my neighbor very much as I treat myself.”

“I did think,” continued Bertha, without heeding the remark, “that you
were at bottom kind-hearted, but too hopelessly well-bred ever to commit
an act of any decided complexion, either good or bad. Now I see that
I have misjudged you, and that you are capable of outraging the most
sacred feelings of a woman’s heart in mere wantonness, or for the sake
of satisfying a base curiosity, which never could have entered the mind
of an upright and generous man.”

The hard, benumbed look in Ralph’s face thawed in the warmth of her
presence, and her words, though stern, touched a secret spring in his
heart. He made two or three vain attempts to speak, then suddenly broke
down, and cried:

“Bertha, Bertha, even if you scorn me, have patience with me, and

And he told her, in rapid, broken sentences, how his love for her had
grown from day to day, until he could no longer master it; and how, in
an unguarded moment, when his pride rose in fierce conflict against
his love, he had done this reckless deed of which he was now heartily
ashamed. The fervor of his words touched her, for she felt that they
were sincere. Large mute tears trembled in her eyelashes as she sat
gazing tenderly at him, and in the depth of her soul the wish awoke that
she might have been able to return this great and strong love of his;
for she felt that in this love lay the germ of a new, of a stronger and
better man. She noticed, with a half-regretful pleasure, his handsome
figure, his delicately shaped hands, and the noble cast of his features;
an overwhelming pity for him rose within her, and she began to reproach
herself for having spoken so harshly, and, as she now thought, so
unjustly. Perhaps he read in her eyes the unspoken wish. He seized her
hand, and his words fell with a warm and alluring cadence upon her ear.

“I shall not see you for a long time to come, Bertha,” said he, “but if,
at the end of five or six years your hand is still free, and I
return another man--a man to whom you could safely intrust your
happiness--would you then listen to what I may have to say to you? For I
promise, by all that we both hold sacred--”

“No, no,” interrupted she, hastily. “Promise nothing. It would be unjust
to--yourself, and perhaps also to me; for a sacred promise is a terrible
thing, Ralph. Let us both remain free; and, if you return and still love
me, then come, and I shall receive you and listen to you. And even if
you have outgrown your love, which is, indeed, more probable, come still
to visit me wherever I may be, and we shall meet as friends and rejoice
in the meeting.”

“You know best,” he murmured. “Let it be as you have said.”

He arose, took her face between his hands, gazed long and tenderly into
her eyes, pressed a kiss upon her forehead, and hastened away.

That night Ralph boarded the steamer for Hull, and three weeks later
landed in New York.


The first three months of Ralph’s sojourn in America were spent in vain
attempts to obtain a situation. Day after day he walked down Broadway,
calling at various places of business and night after night he returned
to his cheerless room with a faint heart and declining spirits. It was,
after all, a more serious thing than he had imagined, to cut the cable
which binds one to the land of one’s birth. There a hundred subtile
influences, the existence of which no one suspects until the moment they
are withdrawn, unite to keep one in the straight path of rectitude, or
at least of external respectability; and Ralph’s life had been all in
society; the opinion of his fellow-men had been the one force to which
he implicitly deferred, and the conscience by which he had been wont
to test his actions had been nothing but the aggregate judgment of his
friends. To such a man the isolation and the utter irresponsibility of a
life among strangers was tenfold more dangerous; and Ralph found, to his
horror, that his character contained innumerable latent possibilities
which the easygoing life in his home probably never would have revealed
to him. It often cut him to the quick, when, on entering an office in
his daily search for employment, he was met by hostile or suspicious
glances, or when, as it occasionally happened, the door was slammed in
his face, as if he were a vagabond or an impostor. Then the wolf was
often roused within him, and he felt a momentary wild desire to become
what the people here evidently believed him to be. Many a night he
sauntered irresolutely about the gambling places in obscure streets,
and the glare of light, the rude shouts and clamors in the same moment
repelled and attracted him. If he went to the devil, who would care? His
father had himself pointed out the way to him; and nobody could blame
him if he followed the advice. But then again a memory emerged from that
chamber of his soul which still he held sacred; and Bertha’s deep-blue
eyes gazed upon him with their earnest look of tender warning and

When the summer was half gone, Ralph had gained many a hard victory over
himself, and learned many a useful lesson; and at length he swallowed
his pride, divested himself of his fine clothes, and accepted a
position as assistant gardener at a villa on the Hudson. And as he stood
perspiring with a spade in his hand, and a cheap broad-brimmed straw hat
on his head, he often took a grim pleasure in picturing to himself
how his aristocratic friends at home would receive him, if he should
introduce himself to them in this new costume.

“After all, it was only my position they cared for,” he reflected,
bitterly; “without my father’s name what would I be to them?”

Then, again, there was a certain satisfaction in knowing that, for
his present situation, humble as it was, he was indebted to nobody but
himself; and the thought that Bertha’s eyes, if they could have seen him
now would have dwelt upon him with pleasure and approbation, went far to
console him for his aching back, his sunburned face, and his swollen and
blistered hands.

One day, as Ralph was raking the gravel-walks in the garden, his
employer’s daughter, a young lady of seventeen, came out and spoke to
him. His culture and refinement of manner struck her with wonder, and
she asked him to tell her his history; but then he suddenly grew very
grave, and she forbore pressing him. From that time she attached a kind
of romantic interest to him, and finally induced her father to obtain
him a situation that would be more to his taste. And, before winter
came, Ralph saw the dawn of a new future glimmering before him. He had
wrestled bravely with fate, and had once more gained a victory. He began
the career in which success and distinction awaited him, as proof-reader
on a newspaper in the city. He had fortunately been familiar with the
English language before he left home, and by the strength of his will he
conquered all difficulties. At the end of two years he became attached
to the editorial staff; new ambitious hopes, hitherto foreign to his
mind, awoke within him; and with joyous tumult of heart he saw life
opening its wide vistas before him, and he labored on manfully to repair
the losses of the past, and to prepare himself for greater usefulness in
times to come. He felt in himself a stronger and fuller manhood, as if
the great arteries of the vast universal world-life pulsed in his own
being. The drowsy, indolent existence at home appeared like a dull
remote dream from which he had awaked, and he blessed the destiny which,
by its very sternness, had mercifully saved him; he blessed her, too,
who, from the very want of love for him, had, perhaps, made him worthier
of love.

The years flew rapidly. Society had flung its doors open to him, and
what was more, he had found some warm friends, in whose houses he
could come and go at pleasure. He enjoyed keenly the privilege of daily
association with high-minded and refined women; their eager activity
of intellect stimulated him, their exquisite ethereal grace and their
delicately chiseled beauty satisfied his aesthetic cravings, and the
responsive vivacity of their nature prepared him ever new surprises.
He felt a strange fascination in the presence of these women, and the
conviction grew upon him that their type of womanhood was superior to
any he had hitherto known. And by way of refuting his own argument, he
would draw from his pocket-book the photograph of Bertha, which had
a secret compartment there all to itself, and, gazing tenderly at it,
would eagerly defend her against the disparaging reflections which the
involuntary comparison had provoked. And still, how could he help seeing
that her features, though well molded, lacked animation; that her eye,
with its deep, trustful glance, was not brilliant, and that the calm
earnestness of her face, when compared with the bright, intellectual
beauty of his present friends, appeared pale and simple, like a violet
in a bouquet of vividly colored roses? It gave him a quick pang, when,
at times, he was forced to admit this; nevertheless, it was the truth.

After six years of residence in America, Ralph had gained a very high
reputation as a journalist of rare culture and ability, and, in 1867
he was sent to the World’s Exhibition in Paris, as correspondent of the
paper on which he had during all these years been employed. What wonder,
then, that he started for Europe a few weeks before his presence was
needed in the imperial city, and that he steered his course directly
toward the fjord valley where Bertha had her home? It was she who had
bidden him Godspeed when he fled from the land of his birth, and she,
too, should receive his first greeting on his return.


The sun had fortified itself behind a citadel of flaming clouds, and the
upper forest region shone with a strange ethereal glow, while the
lower plains were wrapped in shadow; but the shadow itself had a
strong suffusion of color. The mountain peaks rose cold and blue in the

Ralph, having inquired his way of the boatman who had landed him at the
pier, walked rapidly along the beach, with a small valise in his hand,
and a light summer overcoat flung over his shoulder. Many half-thoughts
grazed his mind, and ere the first had taken shape, the second, and the
third came and chased it away. And still they all in some fashion had
reference to Bertha; for in a misty, abstract way, she filled his whole
mind; but for some indefinable reason, he was afraid to give free rein
to the sentiment which lurked in the remoter corners of his soul.

Onward he hastened, while his heart throbbed with the quickening tempo
of mingled expectation and fear. Now and then one of those chill gusts
of air which seem to be careering about aimlessly in the atmosphere
during early summer, would strike into his face, and recall him to a
keener self-consciousness.

Ralph concluded, from his increasing agitation, that he must be very
near Bertha’s home. He stopped and looked around him. He saw a large
maple at the roadside, some thirty steps from where he was standing,
and the girl who was sitting under it, resting her head in her hand and
gazing out over the sea, he recognized in an instant to be Bertha. He
sprang up on the road, not crossing, however, her line of vision, and
approached her noiselessly from behind.

“Bertha,” he whispered.

She gave a little joyous cry, sprang up, and made a gesture as if
to throw herself in his arms; then suddenly checked herself, blushed
crimson, and moved a step backward.

“You came so suddenly,” she murmured.

“But, Bertha,” cried he (and the full bass of his voice rang through her
very soul), “have I gone into exile and waited these many years for so
cold a welcome?”

“You have changed so much, Ralph,” she answered, with that old grave
smile which he knew so well, and stretched out both her hands toward
him. “And I have thought of you so much since you went away, and blamed
myself because I had judged you so harshly, and wondered that you could
listen to me so patiently, and never bear me any malice for what I

“If you had said a word less,” declared Ralph, seating himself at
her side on the greensward, “or if you had varnished it over with
politeness, then you would probably have failed to produce any effect
and I should not have been burdened with that heavy debt of gratitude
which I now owe you. I was a pretty thick-skinned animal in those days,
Bertha. You said the right word at the right moment; you gave me a hold
and a good piece of advice, which my own ingenuity would never have
suggested to me. I will not thank you, because, in so grave a case as
this, spoken thanks sound like a mere mockery. Whatever I am, Bertha,
and whatever I may hope to be, I owe it all to that hour.”

She listened with rapture to the manly assurance of his voice; her eyes
dwelt with unspeakable joy upon his strong, bronzed features, his full
thick blonde beard, and the vigorous proportions of his frame. Many and
many a time during his absence had she wondered how he would look if
he ever came back, and with that minute conscientiousness which, as it
were, pervaded her whole character, she had held herself responsible
before God for his fate, prayed for him, and trembled lest evil powers
should gain the ascendency over his soul.

On their way to the house they talked together of many things, but in
a guarded, cautious fashion, and without the cheerful abandonment of
former years. They both, as it were, groped their way carefully in each
other’s minds, and each vaguely felt that there was something in the
other’s thought which it was not well to touch unbidden. Bertha saw
that all her fears for him had been groundless, and his very appearance
lifted the whole weight of responsibility from her breast; and still,
did she rejoice at her deliverance from her burden? Ah, no, in this
moment she knew that that which she had foolishly cherished as the best
and noblest part of herself, had been but a selfish need of her own
heart. She feared that she had only taken that interest in him which one
feels in a thing of one’s own making; and now, when she saw that he had
risen quite above her; that he was free and strong, and could have no
more need of her, she had, instead of generous pleasure at his success,
but a painful sense of emptiness, as if something very dear had been
taken from her.

Ralph, too, was loath to analyze the impression his old love made upon
him. His feelings were of so complex a nature, he was anxious to keep
his more magnanimous impulses active, and he strove hard to convince
himself that she was still the same to him as she had been before they
had ever parted. But, alas! though the heart be warm and generous, the
eye is a merciless critic. And the man who had moved on the wide arena
of the world, whose mind had housed the large thoughts of this century,
and expanded with its invigorating breath,--was he to blame because he
had unconsciously outgrown his old provincial self, and could no more
judge by its standards?

Bertha’s father was a peasant, but he had, by his lumber trade, acquired
what in Norway was called a very handsome fortune. He received his guest
with dignified reserve, and Ralph thought he detected in his eyes a
lurking look of distrust. “I know your errand,” that look seemed to say,
“but you had better give it up at once. It will be of no use for you to

And after supper, as Ralph and Bertha sat talking confidingly with each
other at the window, he sent his daughter a quick, sharp glance, and
then, without ceremony, commanded her to go to bed. Ralph’s heart gave
a great thump within him; not because he feared the old man, but because
his words, as well as his glances, revealed to him the sad history of
these long, patient years. He doubted no longer that the love which he
had once so ardently desired was his at last; and he made a silent vow
that, come what might, he would remain faithful.

As he came down to breakfast the next morning, he found Bertha sitting
at the window, engaged in hemming what appeared to be a rough kitchen
towel. She bent eagerly over her work, and only a vivid flush upon her
cheek told him that she had noticed his coming. He took a chair, seated
himself opposite her, and bade her “good-morning.” She raised her head,
and showed him a sweet, troubled countenance, which the early sunlight
illumined with a high spiritual beauty. It reminded him forcibly of
those pale, sweet-faced saints of Fra Angelico, with whom the frail
flesh seems ever on the point of yielding to the ardent aspirations of
the spirit. And still, even in this moment he could not prevent his eyes
from observing that one side of her forefinger was rough from sewing,
and that the whiteness of her arm, which the loose sleeves displayed,
contrasted strongly with the browned and sun-burned complexion of her

After breakfast they again walked together on the beach, and Ralph,
having once formed his resolution, now talked freely of the New
World--of his sphere of activity there; of his friends and of his plans
for the future; and she listened to him with a mild, perplexed look in
her eyes, as if trying vainly to follow the flight of his thoughts. And
he wondered, with secret dismay, whether she was still the same strong,
brave-hearted girl whom he had once accounted almost bold; whether the
life in this narrow valley, amid a hundred petty and depressing cares,
had not cramped her spiritual growth, and narrowed the sphere of her
thought. Or was she still the same, and was it only he who had changed?
At last he gave utterance to his wonder, and she answered him in those
grave, earnest tones which seemed in themselves to be half a refutation
of his doubts.

“It was easy for me to give you daring advice, then, Ralph,” she said.
“Like most school-girls, I thought that life was a great and glorious
thing, and that happiness was a fruit which hung within reach of every
hand. Now I have lived for six years trying single-handed to relieve the
want and suffering of the needy people with whom I come in contact,
and their squalor and wretchedness have sickened me, and, what is still
worse, I feel that all I can do is as a drop in the ocean, and after
all, amounts to nothing. I know I am no longer the same reckless girl,
who, with the very best intention, sent you wandering through the wide
world; and I thank God that it proved to be for your good, although the
whole now appears quite incredible to me. My thoughts have moved so long
within the narrow circle of these mountains that they have lost their
youthful elasticity, and can no more rise above them.”

Ralph detected, in the midst of her despondency, a spark of her former
fire, and grew eloquent in his endeavors to persuade her that she was
unjust to herself, and that there was but a wider sphere of life needed
to develop all the latent powers of her rich nature.

At the dinner-table, her father again sat eyeing his guest with that
same cold look of distrust and suspicion. And when the meal was at
an end, he rose abruptly and called his daughter into another room.
Presently Ralph heard his angry voice resounding through the house,
interrupted now and then by a woman’s sobs, and a subdued, passionate
pleading. When Bertha again entered the room, her eyes were very
red, and he saw that she had been weeping. She threw a shawl over her
shoulders, beckoned to him with her hand, and he arose and followed her.
She led the way silently until they reached a thick copse of birch and
alder near the strand. She dropped down upon a bench between two trees,
and he took his seat at her side.

“Ralph,” began she, with a visible effort, “I hardly know what to say to
you; but there is something which I must tell you--my father wishes you
to leave us at once.”

“And YOU, Bertha?”

“Well--yes--I wish it too.”

She saw the painful shock which her words gave him, and she strove hard
to speak. Her lips trembled, her eyes became suffused with tears, which
grew and grew, but never fell; she could not utter a word.

“Well, Bertha,” answered he, with a little quiver in his voice, “if you,
too, wish me to go, I shall not tarry. Good-bye.”

He rose quickly, and, with averted face, held out his hand to her; but
as she made no motion to grasp the hand, he began distractedly to button
his coat, and moved slowly away.


He turned sharply, and, before he knew it, she lay sobbing upon his

“Ralph,” she murmured, while the tears almost choked her words, “I could
not have you leave me thus. It is hard enough--it is hard enough--”

“What is hard, beloved?”

She raised her head abruptly, and turned upon him a gaze full of hope
and doubt, and sweet perplexity.

“Ah, no, you do not love me,” she whispered, sadly.

“Why should I come to seek you, after these many years, dearest, if I
did not wish to make you my wife before God and men? Why should I--”

“Ah, yes, I know,” she interrupted him with a fresh fit of weeping, “you
are too good and honest to wish to throw me away, now when you have seen
how my soul has hungered for the sight of you these many years, how even
now I cling to you with a despairing clutch. But you cannot disguise
yourself, Ralph, and I saw from the first moment that you loved me no

“Do not be such an unreasonable child,” he remonstrated, feebly. “I do
not love you with the wild, irrational passion of former years; but I
have the tenderest regard for you, and my heart warms at the sight of
your sweet face, and I shall do all in my power to make you as happy as
any man can make you who--”

“Who does not love me,” she finished.

A sudden shudder seemed to shake her whole frame, and she drew herself
more tightly up to him.

“Ah, no,” she continued, after a while, sinking back upon her seat.
“It is a hopeless thing to compel a reluctant heart. I will accept no
sacrifice from you. You owe me nothing, for you have acted toward me
honestly and uprightly, and I shall be a stronger, or--at least--a
better woman for what you gave me--and--for what you could not give me,
even though you would.”

“But, Bertha,” exclaimed he, looking mournfully at her, “it is not true
when you say that I owe you nothing. Six years ago, when first I wooed
you, you could not return my love, and you sent me out into the world,
and even refused to accept any pledge or promise for the future.”

“And you returned,” she responded, “a man, such as my hope had pictured
you; but, while I had almost been standing still, you had outgrown me,
and outgrown your old self, and, with your old self, outgrown its love
for me, for your love was not of your new self, but of the old. Alas! it
is a sad tale, but it is true.”

She spoke gravely now, and with a steadier voice, but her eyes hung upon
his face with an eager look of expectation, as if yearning to detect
there some gleam of hope, some contradiction of the dismal truth. He
read that look aright, and it pierced him like a sharp sword. He made a
brave effort to respond to its appeal, but his features seemed hard as
stone, and he could only cry out against his destiny, and bewail his
misfortune and hers.

Toward evening, Ralph was sitting in an open boat, listening to the
measured oar-strokes of the boatmen who were rowing him out to the
nearest stopping-place of the steamer. The mountains lifted their great
placid heads up among the sun-bathed clouds, and the fjord opened its
cool depths as if to make room for their vast reflections. Ralph felt as
if he were floating in the midst of the blue infinite space, and, with
the strength which this feeling inspired, he tried to face boldly the
thought from which he had but a moment ago shrunk as from something
hopelessly sad and perplexing.

And in that hour he looked fearlessly into the gulf which separates the
New World from the Old. He had hoped to bridge it; but, alas! it cannot
be bridged.



THE steamer which as far back as 1860 passed every week on its northward
way up along the coast of Norway, was of a very sociable turn of mind.
It ran with much shrieking and needless bluster in and out the calm,
winding fjords, paid unceremonious little visits in every out-of-the-way
nook and bay, dropped now and then a black heap of coal into the
shining water, and sent thick volleys of smoke and shrill little echoes
careering aimlessly among the mountains. It seemed, on the whole, from
an aesthetic point of view, an objectionable phenomenon--a blot upon the
perfect summer day. By the inhabitants, however, of these remote regions
(with the exception of a few obstinate individuals, who had at first
looked upon it as the sure herald of dooms-day, and still were vaguely
wondering what the world was coming to,) it was regarded in a very
different light. This choleric little monster was to them a friendly
and welcome visitor, which established their connection with the outside
world, and gave them a proud consciousness of living in the very heart
of civilization. Therefore, on steamboat days they flocked en masse
down on the piers, and, with an ever-fresh sense of novelty, greeted the
approaching boat with lively cheers, with firing of muskets and waving
of handkerchiefs. The men of condition, as the judge, the sheriff, and
the parson, whose dignity forbade them to receive the steamer in person,
contented themselves with watching it through an opera-glass from their
balconies; and if a high official was known to be on board, they perhaps
displayed the national banner from their flag-poles, as a delicate
compliment to their superior.

But the Rev. Mr. Oddson, the parson of whom I have to speak, had this
day yielded to the gentle urgings of his daughters (as, indeed, he
always did), and had with them boarded the steamer to receive his
nephew, Arnfinn Vording, who was returning from the university for
his summer vacation. And now they had him between them in their pretty
white-painted parsonage boat, with the blue line along the gunwale,
beleaguering him with eager questions about friends and relatives in
the capital, chums, university sports, and a medley of other things
interesting to young ladies who have a collegian for a cousin. His uncle
was charitable enough to check his own curiosity about the nephew’s
progress in the arts and sciences, and the result of his recent
examinations, till he should have become fairly settled under his roof;
and Arnfinn, who, in spite of his natural brightness and ready humor,
was anything but a “dig,” was grateful for the respite.

The parsonage lay snugly nestled at the end of the bay, shining
contentedly through the green foliage from a multitude of small
sun-smitten windows. Its pinkish whitewash, which was peeling off from
long exposure to the weather, was in cheerful contrast to the broad
black surface of the roof, with its glazed tiles, and the starlings’
nests under the chimney-tops. The thick-leaved maples and walnut-trees
which grew in random clusters about the walls seemed loftily conscious
of standing there for purposes of protection; for, wherever their
long-fingered branches happened to graze the roof, it was always with a
touch, light, graceful, and airily caressing. The irregularly paved yard
was inclosed on two sides by the main building, and on the third by
a species of log cabin, which, in Norway, is called a brew-house; but
toward the west the view was but slightly obscured by an elevated
pigeon cot and a clump of birches, through whose sparse leaves the
fjord beneath sent its rapid jets and gleams of light, and its strange
suggestions of distance, peace and unaccountable gladness.

Arnfinn Vording’s career had presented that subtle combination of farce
and tragedy which most human lives are apt to be; and if the tragic
element had during his early years been preponderating, he was hardly
himself aware of it; for he had been too young at the death of his
parents to feel that keenness of grief which the same privation would
have given him at a later period of his life. It might have been
humiliating to confess it, but it was nevertheless true that the terror
he had once sustained on being pursued by a furious bull was much more
vivid in his memory than the vague wonder and depression which had
filled his mind at seeing his mother so suddenly stricken with age, as
she lay motionless in her white robes in the front parlor. Since then
his uncle, who was his guardian and nearest relative, had taken him into
his family, had instructed him with his own daughters, and finally sent
him to the University, leaving the little fortune which he had
inherited to accumulate for future use. Arnfinn had a painfully distinct
recollection of his early hardships in trying to acquire that soft
pronunciation of the r which is peculiar to the western fjord districts
of Norway, and which he admired so much in his cousins; for the
merry-eyed Inga, who was less scrupulous by a good deal than her older
sister, Augusta, had from the beginning persisted in interpreting their
relation of cousinship as an unbounded privilege on her part to ridicule
him for his personal peculiarities, and especially for his harsh r and
his broad eastern accent. Her ridicule was always very good-natured, to
be sure, but therefore no less annoying.

But--such is the perverseness of human nature--in spite of a series
of apparent rebuffs, interrupted now and then by fits of violent
attachment, Arnfinn had early selected this dimpled and yellow-haired
young girl, with her piquant little nose, for his favorite cousin.
It was the prospect of seeing her which, above all else, had lent,
in anticipation, an altogether new radiance to the day when he should
present himself in his home with the long-tasseled student cap on
his head, the unnecessary “pinchers” on his nose, and with the other
traditional paraphernalia of the Norwegian student. That great day had
now come; Arnfinn sat at Inga’s side playing with her white fingers,
which lay resting on his knee, and covering the depth of his feeling
with harmless banter about her “amusingly unclassical little nose.”
 He had once detected her, when a child, standing before a mirror, and
pinching this unhappy feature in the middle, in the hope of making
it “like Augusta’s;” and since then he had no longer felt so utterly
defenseless whenever his own foibles were attacked.

“But what of your friend, Arnfinn?” exclaimed Inga, as she ran up the
stairs of the pier. “He of whom you have written so much. I have been
busy all the morning making the blue guest-chamber ready for him.”

“Please, cousin,” answered the student, in a tone of mock entreaty,
“only an hour’s respite! If we are to talk about Strand we must make a
day of it, you know. And just now it seems so grand to be at home, and
with you, that I would rather not admit even so genial a subject as
Strand to share my selfish happiness.”

“Ah, yes, you are right. Happiness is too often selfish. But tell me
only why he didn’t come and I’ll release you.”

“He IS coming.”

“Ah! And when?”

“That I don’t know. He preferred to take the journey on foot, and he
may be here at almost any time. But, as I have told you, he is very
uncertain. If he should happen to make the acquaintance of some
interesting snipe, or crane, or plover, he may prefer its company to
ours, and then there is no counting on him any longer. He may be as
likely to turn up at the North Pole as at the Gran Parsonage.”

“How very singular. You don’t know how curious I am to see him.”

And Inga walked on in silence under the sunny birches which grew along
the road, trying vainly to picture to herself this strange phenomenon of
a man.

“I brought his book,” remarked Arnfinn, making a gigantic effort to be
generous, for he felt dim stirrings of jealousy within him. “If you care
to read it, I think it will explain him to you better than anything I
could say.”


The Oddsons were certainly a happy family though not by any means a
harmonious one. The excellent pastor, who was himself neutrally good,
orthodox, and kind-hearted, had often, in the privacy of his own
thought, wondered what hidden ancestral influences there might have
been at work in giving a man so peaceable and inoffensive as himself two
daughters of such strongly defined individuality. There was Augusta, the
elder, who was what Arnfinn called “indiscriminately reformatory,” and
had a universal desire to improve everything, from the Government down
to agricultural implements and preserve jars. As long as she was content
to expend the surplus energy, which seemed to accumulate within her
through the long eventless winters, upon the Zulu Mission, and other
legitimate objects, the pastor thought it all harmless enough; although,
to be sure, her enthusiasm for those naked and howling savages did at
times strike him as being somewhat extravagant. But when occasionally,
in her own innocent way, she put both his patience and his orthodoxy to
the test by her exceedingly puzzling questions, then he could not, in
the depth of his heart, restrain the wish that she might have been more
like other young girls, and less ardently solicitous about the fate of
her kind. Affectionate and indulgent, however, as the pastor was,
he would often, in the next moment, do penance for his unregenerate
thought, and thank God for having made her so fair to behold, so pure,
and so noble-hearted.

Toward Arnfinn, Augusta had, although of his own age, early assumed a
kind of elder-sisterly relation; she had been his comforter during all
the trials of his boyhood; had yielded him her sympathy with that eager
impulse which lay so deep in her nature, and had felt forlorn when life
had called him away to where her words of comfort could not reach him.
But when once she had hinted this to her father, he had pedantically
convinced her that her feeling was unchristian, and Inga had playfully
remarked that the hope that some one might soon find the open Polar Sea
would go far toward consoling her for her loss; for Augusta had glorious
visions at that time of the open Polar Sea. Now, the Polar Sea, and
many other things, far nearer and dearer, had been forced into uneasy
forgetfulness; and Arnfinn was once more with her, no longer a child,
and no longer appealing to her for aid and sympathy; man enough,
apparently, to have outgrown his boyish needs and still boy enough to be
ashamed of having ever had them.

It was the third Sunday after Arnfinn’s return. He and Augusta were
climbing the hillside to the “Giant’s Hood,” from whence they had a wide
view of the fjord, and could see the sun trailing its long bridge of
flame upon the water. It was Inga’s week in the kitchen, therefore her
sister was Arnfinn’s companion. As they reached the crest of the “Hood,”
 Augusta seated herself on a flat bowlder, and the young student flung
himself on a patch of greensward at her feet. The intense light of the
late sun fell upon the girl’s unconscious face, and Arnfinn lay, gazing
up into it, and wondering at its rare beauty; but he saw only the clean
cut of its features and the purity of its form, being too shallow to
recognize the strong and heroic soul which had struggled so long
for utterance in the life of which he had been a blind and unmindful

“Gracious, how beautiful you are, cousin!” he broke forth, heedlessly,
striking his leg with his slender cane; “pity you were not born a queen;
you would be equal to almost anything, even if it were to discover the
Polar Sea.”

“I thought you were looking at the sun, Arnfinn,” answered she, smiling

“And so I am, cousin,” laughed he, with an other-emphatic slap of his

“That compliment is rather stale.”

“But the opportunity was too tempting.”

“Never mind, I will excuse you from further efforts. Turn around and
notice that wonderful purple halo which is hovering over the forests
below. Isn’t it glorious?”

“No, don’t let us be solemn, pray. The sun I have seen a thousand
times before, but you I have seen very seldom of late. Somehow, since
I returned this time, you seem to keep me at a distance. You no longer
confide to me your great plans for the abolishment of war, and the
improvement of mankind generally. Why don’t you tell me whether you
have as yet succeeded in convincing the peasants that cleanliness is
a cardinal virtue, that hawthorn hedges are more picturesque than rail
fences, and that salt meat is a very indigestible article?”

“You know the fate of my reforms, from long experience,” she answered,
with the same sad, sweet smile. “I am afraid there must be some thing
radically wrong about my methods; and, moreover, I know that your
aspirations and mine are no longer the same, if they ever have been, and
I am not ungenerous enough to force you to feign an interest which you
do not feel.”

“Yes, I know you think me flippant and boyish,” retorted he, with sudden
energy, and tossing a stone down into the gulf below. “But, by the way,
my friend Strand, if he ever comes, would be just the man for you.
He has quite as many hobbies as you have, and, what is more, he has a
profound respect for hobbies in general, and is universally charitable
toward those of others.”

“Your friend is a great man,” said the girl, earnestly. “I have read his
book on `The Wading Birds of the Norwegian Highlands,’ and none but a
great man could have written it.”

“He is an odd stick, but, for all that, a capital fellow; and I have no
doubt you would get on admirably with him.”

At this moment the conversation was interrupted by the appearance of the
pastor’s man, Hans, who came to tell the “young miss” that there was
a big tramp hovering about the barns in the “out-fields,” where he
had been sleeping during the last three nights. He was a dangerous
character, Hans thought, at least judging from his looks, and it was
hardly safe for the young miss to be roaming about the fields at night
as long as he was in the neighborhood.

“Why don’t you speak to the pastor, and have him arrested?” said
Arnfinn, impatient of Hans’s long-winded recital.

“No, no, say nothing to father,” demanded Augusta, eagerly. “Why should
you arrest a poor man as long as he does nothing worse than sleep in the
barns in the out-fields?”

“As you say, miss,” retorted Hans, and departed.

The moon came up pale and mist-like over the eastern mountain ridges,
struggled for a few brief moments feebly with the sunlight, and then

“It is strange,” said Arnfinn, “how everything reminds me of Strand
to-night. What gloriously absurd apostrophes to the moon he could make!
I have not told you, cousin, of a very singular gift which he possesses.
He can attract all kinds of birds and wild animals to himself; he can
imitate their voices, and they flock around him, as if he were one of
them, without fear of harm.”

“How delightful,” cried Augusta, with sudden animation. “What a glorious
man your friend must be!”

“Because the snipes and the wild ducks like him? You seem to have
greater confidence in their judgment than in mine.”

“Of course I have--at least as long as you persist in joking. But,
jesting aside, what a wondrously beautiful life he must lead whom
Nature takes thus into her confidence; who has, as it were, an inner and
subtler sense, corresponding to each grosser and external one; who is
keen-sighted enough to read the character of every individual beast, and
has ears sensitive to the full pathos of joy or sorrow in the song of
the birds that inhabit our woodlands.”

“Whether he has any such second set of senses as you speak of, I
don’t know; but there can be no doubt that his familiarity, not to
say intimacy, with birds and beasts gives him a great advantage as a
naturalist. I suppose you know that his little book has been translated
into French, and rewarded with the gold medal of the Academy.”

“Hush! What is that?” Augusta sprang up, and held her hand to her ear.

“Some love-lorn mountain-cock playing yonder in the pine copse,”
 suggested Arnfinn, amused at his cousin’s eagerness.

“You silly boy! Don’t you know the mountain-cock never plays except at

“He would have a sorry time of it now, then, when there IS no sunrise.”

“And so he has; he does not play except in early spring.”

The noise, at first faint, now grew louder. It began with a series of
mellow, plaintive clucks that followed thickly one upon another, like
smooth pearls of sound that rolled through the throat in a continuous
current; then came a few sharp notes as of a large bird that snaps his
bill; then a long, half-melodious rumbling, intermingled with cacklings
and snaps, and at last, a sort of diminuendo movement of the same round,
pearly clucks. There was a whizzing of wing-beats in the air; two large
birds swept over their heads and struck down into the copse whence the
sound had issued.

“This is indeed a most singular thing,” said Augusta, under her breath,
and with wide-eyed wonder. “Let us go nearer, and see what it can be.”

“I am sure I can go if you can,” responded Arnfinn, not any too eagerly.
“Give me your hand, and we can climb the better.”

As they approached the pine copse, which projected like a promontory
from the line of the denser forest, the noise ceased, and only the
plaintive whistling of a mountain-hen, calling her scattered young
together, and now and then the shrill response of a snipe to the cry of
its lonely mate, fell upon the summer night, not as an interruption, but
as an outgrowth of the very silence. Augusta stole with soundless tread
through the transparent gloom which lingered under those huge black
crowns, and Arnfinn followed impatiently after. Suddenly she motioned to
him to stand still, and herself bent forward in an attitude of surprise
and eager observation. On the ground, some fifty steps from where she
was stationed, she saw a man stretched out full length, with a knapsack
under his head, and surrounded by a flock of downy, half-grown birds,
which responded with a low, anxious piping to his alluring cluck, then
scattered with sudden alarm, only to return again in the same curious,
cautious fashion as before. Now and then there was a great flapping of
wings in the trees overhead, and a heavy brown and black speckled
mountain-hen alighted close to the man’s head, stretched out her neck
toward him, cocked her head, called her scattered brood together, and
departed with slow and deliberate wing-beats.

Again there was a frightened flutter overhead, a shrill anxious whistle
rose in the air, and all was silence. Augusta had stepped on a dry
branch--it had broken under her weight--hence the sudden confusion and
flight. The unknown man had sprung up, and his eye, after a moment’s
search, had found the dark, beautiful face peering forth behind the red
fir-trunk. He did not speak or salute her; he greeted her with silent
joy, as one greets a wondrous vision which is too frail and bright for
consciousness to grasp, which is lost the very instant one is conscious
of seeing. But, while to the girl the sight, as it were, hung trembling
in the range of mere physical perception, while its suddenness held it
aloof from moral reflection, there came a great shout from behind, and
Arnfinn, whom in her surprise she had quite forgotten, came bounding
forward, grasping the stranger by the hand with much vigor,
laughing heartily, and pouring forth a confused stream of delighted
interjections, borrowed from all manner of classical and unclassical

“Strand! Strand!” he cried, when the first tumult of excitement had
subsided; “you most marvelous and incomprehensible Strand! From
what region of heaven or earth did you jump down into our prosaic
neighborhood? And what in the world possessed you to choose our barns
as the centre of your operations, and nearly put me to the necessity of
having you arrested for vagrancy? How I do regret that Cousin Augusta’s
entreaties mollified my heart toward you. Pardon me, I have not
introduced you. This is my cousin, Miss Oddson, and this is my
miraculous friend, the world-renowned author, vagrant, and naturalist,
Mr. Marcus Strand.”

Strand stepped forward, made a deep but somewhat awkward bow, and was
dimly aware that a small soft hand was extended to him, and, in the next
moment, was enclosed in his own broad and voluminous palm. He grasped it
firmly, and, in one of those profound abstractions into which he was
apt to fall when under the sway of a strong impression, pressed it with
increasing cordiality, while he endeavored to find fitting answers to
Arnfinn’s multifarious questions.

“To tell the truth, Vording,” he said, in a deep, full-ringing bass,
“I didn’t know that these were your cousin’s barns--I mean that your
uncle”--giving the unhappy hand an emphatic shake--“inhabited these

“No, thank heaven, we are not quite reduced to that,” cried Arnfinn,
gayly; “we still boast a parsonage, as you will presently discover,
and a very bright and cozy one, to boot. But, whatever you do, have the
goodness to release Augusta’s hand. Don’t you see how desperately she is
struggling, poor thing?”

Strand dropped the hand as if it had been a hot coal, blushed to the
edge of his hair, and made another profound reverence. He was a tall,
huge-limbed youth, with a frame of gigantic mold, and a large, blonde,
shaggy head, like that of some good-natured antediluvian animal, which
might feel the disadvantages of its size amid the puny beings of this
later stage of creation. There was a frank directness in his gaze, and
an unconsciousness of self, which made him very winning, and which could
not fail of its effect upon a girl who, like Augusta, was fond of the
uncommon, and hated smooth, facile and well-tailored young men, with
the labels of society and fashion upon their coats, their mustaches,
and their speech. And Strand, with his large sun-burned face, his
wild-growing beard, blue woolen shirt, top boots, and unkempt appearance
generally, was a sufficiently startling phenomenon to satisfy even so
exacting a fancy as hers; for, after reading his book about the
Wading Birds, she had made up her mind that he must have few points of
resemblance to the men who had hitherto formed part of her own small
world, although she had not until now decided just in what way he was to

“Suppose I help you carry your knapsack,” said Arnfinn, who was flitting
about like a small nimble spaniel trying to make friends with some
large, good-natured Newfoundland. “You must be very tired, having roamed
about in this Quixotic fashion!”

“No, I thank you,” responded Strand, with an incredulous laugh, glancing
alternately from Arnfinn to the knapsack, as if estimating their
proportionate weight. “I am afraid you would rue your bargain if I
accepted it.”

“I suppose you have a great many stuffed birds at home,” remarked the
girl, looking with self-forgetful admiration at the large brawny figure.

“No, I have hardly any,” answered he, seating himself on the ground,
and pulling a thick note-book from his pocket. “I prefer live creatures.
Their anatomical and physiological peculiarities have been studied
by others, and volumes have been written about them. It is their
psychological traits, ii you will allow the expression, which interest
me, and those I can only get at while they are alive.”

“How delightful!”

Some minutes later they were all on their way to the Parsonage. The sun,
in spite of its mid-summer wakefulness, was getting red-eyed and drowsy,
and the purple mists which hung in scattered fragments upon the forest
below had lost something of their deep-tinged brilliancy. But Augusta,
quite blind to the weakened light effects, looked out upon the broad
landscape in ecstasy, and, appealing to her more apathetic companions,
invited them to share her joy at the beauty of the faint-flushed summer

“You are getting quite dithyrambic, my dear,” remarked Arnfinn, with
an air of cousinly superiority, which he felt was eminently becoming to
him; and Augusta looked up with quick surprise, then smiled in an absent
way, and forgot what she had been saying. She had no suspicion but that
her enthusiasm had been all for the sunset.


In a life so outwardly barren and monotonous as Augusta’s--a life in
which the small external events were so firmly interwoven with the
subtler threads of yearnings, wants, and desires--the introduction of
so large and novel a fact as Marcus Strand would naturally produce some
perceptible result. It was that deplorable inward restlessness of hers,
she reasoned, which had hitherto made her existence seem so empty and
unsatisfactory; but now his presence filled the hours, and the newness
of his words, his manner, and his whole person afforded inexhaustible
material for thought. It was now a week since his arrival, and while
Arnfinn and Inga chatted at leisure, drew caricatures, or read aloud to
each other in some shady nook of the garden, she and Strand would roam
along the beach, filling the vast unclouded horizon with large
glowing images of the future of the human race. He always listened
in sympathetic silence while she unfolded to him her often childishly
daring schemes for the amelioration of suffering and the righting of
social wrongs; and when she had finished, and he met the earnest appeal
of her dark eye, there would often be a pause, during which each, with
a half unconscious lapse from the impersonal, would feel more keenly the
joy of this new and delicious mental companionship. And when at length
he answered, sometimes gently refuting and sometimes assenting to her
proposition, it was always with a slow, deliberate earnestness, as if
he felt but her deep sincerity, and forgot for the moment her sex, her
youth, and her inexperience. It was just this kind of fellowship for
which she had hungered so long, and her heart went out with a great
gratitude toward this strong and generous man, who was willing to
recognize her humanity, and to respond with an ever-ready frankness,
unmixed with petty suspicions and second thoughts, to the eager needs of
her half-starved nature. It is quite characteristic, too, of the type of
womanhood which Augusta represents (and with which this broad continent
of ours abounds), that, with her habitual disregard of appearances, she
would have scorned the notion that their intercourse had any ultimate
end beyond that of mutual pleasure and instruction.

It was early in the morning in the third week of Strand’s stay at
the Parsonage. A heavy dew had fallen during the night, and each tiny
grass-blade glistened in the sun, bending under the weight of its liquid
diamond. The birds were improvising a miniature symphony in the
birches at the end of the garden; the song-thrush warbled with a sweet
melancholy his long-drawn contralto notes; the lark, like a prima donna,
hovering conspicuously in mid air, poured forth her joyous soprano solo;
and the robin, quite unmindful of the tempo, filled out the pauses with
his thoughtless staccato chirp. Augusta, who was herself the early bird
of the pastor’s family, had paid a visit to the little bath-house
down at the brook, and was now hurrying homeward, her heavy black hair
confined in a delicate muslin hood, and her lithe form hastily wrapped
in a loose morning gown. She had paused for a moment under the birches
to listen to the song of the lark, when suddenly a low, half articulate
sound, very unlike the voice of a bird, arrested her attention; she
raised her eyes, and saw Strand sitting in the top of a tree, apparently
conversing with himself, or with some tiny thing which he held in his

“Ah, yes, you poor little sickly thing!” she heard him mutter. “Don’t
you make such an ado now. You shall soon be quite well, if you will only
mind what I tell you. Stop, stop! Take it easy. It is all for your own
good, you know. If you had only been prudent, and not stepped on your
lame leg, you might have been spared this affliction. But, after all, it
was not your fault--it was that foolish little mother of yours. She will
remember now that a skein of hemp thread is not the thing to line her
nest with. If she doesn’t, you may tell her that it was I who said so.”

Augusta stood gazing on in mute astonishment; then, suddenly remembering
her hasty toilet, she started to run; but, as chance would have it, a
dry branch, which hung rather low, caught at her hood, and her hair fell
in a black wavy stream down over her shoulders. She gave a little
cry, the tree shook violently, and Strand was at her side. She blushed
crimson over neck and face, and, in her utter bewilderment, stood like a
culprit before him, unable to move, unable to speak, and only returning
with a silent bow his cordial greeting. It seemed to her that she had
ungenerously intruded upon his privacy, watching him, while he thought
himself unobserved. And Augusta was quite unskilled in those social
accomplishments which enable young ladies to hide their inward emotions
under a show of polite indifference, for, however hard she strove,
she could not suppress a slight quivering of her lips, and her intense
self-reproach made Strand’s words fall dimly on her ears, and prevented
her from gathering the meaning of what he was saying. He held in his
hands a young bird with a yellow line along the edge of its bill (and
there was something beautifully soft and tender in the way those large
palms of his handled any living thing), and he looked pityingly at it
while he spoke.

“The mother of this little linnet,” he said, smiling, “did what
many foolish young mothers are apt to do. She took upon her the
responsibility of raising offspring without having acquired the
necessary knowledge of housekeeping. So she lined her nest with hemp,
and the consequence was, that her first-born got his legs entangled, and
was obliged to remain in the nest long after his wings had reached their
full development. I saw her feeding him about a week ago, and, as my
curiosity prompted me to look into the case, I released the little
cripple, cleansed the deep wound which the threads had cut in his flesh,
and have since been watching him during his convalescence. Now he is
quite in a fair way, but I had to apply some salve, and to cut off the
feathers about the wound, and the little fool squirmed under the pain,
and grew rebellious. Only notice this scar, if you please, Miss Oddson,
and you may imagine what the poor thing must have suffered.”

Augusta gave a start; she timidly raised her eyes, and saw Strand’s
grave gaze fixed upon her. She felt as if some intolerable spell had
come over her, and, as her agitation increased, her power of speech
seemed utterly to desert her.

“Ah, you have not been listening to me?” said Strand, in a tone of
wondering inquiry. “Pardon me for presuming to believe that my little
invalid could be as interesting to you as he is to me.”

“Mr. Strand,” stammered the girl, while the invisible tears came near
choking her voice. “Mr. Strand--I didn’t mean--really--”

She knew that if she said another word she should burst into tears. With
a violent effort, she gathered up her wrapper, which somehow had got
unbuttoned at the neck, and, with heedlessly hurrying steps, darted away
toward the house.

Strand stood looking after her, quite unmindful of his feathered
patient, which flew chirping about him in the grass. Two hours later
Arnfinn found him sitting under the birches with his hands clasped
over the top of his head, and his surgical instruments scattered on the
ground around him.

“Corpo di Baccho,” exclaimed the student, stooping to pick up the
precious tools; “have you been amputating your own head, or is it I who
am dreaming?”

“Ah,” murmured Strand, lifting a large, strange gaze upon his friend,
“is it you?”

“Who else should it be? I come to call you to breakfast.”


“I wonder what is up between Strand and Augusta?” said Arnfinn to his
cousin Inga. The questioner was lying in the grass at her feet, resting
his chin on his palms, and gazing with roguishly tender eyes up into
her fresh, blooming face; but Inga, who was reading aloud from “David
Copperfield,” and was deep in the matrimonial tribulations of that noble
hero, only said “hush,” and continued reading. Arnfinn, after a minute’s
silence, repeated his remark, whereupon his fair cousin wrenched his
cane out of his hand, and held it threateningly over his head.

“Will you be a good boy and listen?” she exclaimed, playfully
emphasizing each word with a light rap on his curly pate.

“Ouch! that hurts,” cried Arnfinn, and dodged.

“It was meant to hurt,” replied Inga, with mock severity, and returned
to “Copperfield.”

Presently the seed of a corn-flower struck the tip of her nose, and
again the cane was lifted; but Dora’s housekeeping experiences were
too absorbingly interesting, and the blue eyes could not resist their

“Cousin Inga,” said Arnfinn, and this time with as near an approach
to earnestness as he was capable of at that moment, “I do believe that
Strand is in love with Augusta.”

Inga dropped the book, and sent him what was meant to be a glance of
severe rebuke, and then said, in her own amusingly emphatic way:

“I do wish you wouldn’t joke with such things, Arnfinn.”

“Joke! Indeed I am not joking. I wish to heaven that I were. What a pity
it is that she has taken such a dislike to him!”

“Dislike! Oh, you are a profound philosopher, you are! You think that
because she avoids--”

Here Inga abruptly clapped her hand over her mouth, and, with sudden
change of voice and expression, said:

“I am as silent as the grave.”

“Yes, you are wonderfully discreet,” cried Arnfinn, laughing, while the
girl bit her under lip with an air of penitence and mortification which,
in any other bosom than a cousin’s would have aroused compassion.

“Aha! So steht’s!” he broke forth, with another burst of merriment;
then, softened by the sight of a tear that was slowly gathering beneath
her eyelashes, he checked his laughter, crept up to her side, and in a
half childishly coaxing, half caressing tone, he whispered:

“Dear little cousin, indeed I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings. You are
not angry with me, are you? And if you will only promise me not to tell,
I have something here which I should like to show you.”

He well knew that there was nothing which would sooner soothe Inga’s
wrath than confiding a secret to her; and while he was a boy, he had,
in cases of sore need, invented secrets lest his life should be made
miserable by the sense that she was displeased with him. In this
instance her anger was not strong enough to resist the anticipation of
a secret, probably relating to that little drama which had, during
the last weeks, been in progress under her very eyes. With a resolute
movement, she brushed her tears away, bent eagerly forward, and, in the
next moment, her face was all expectancy and animation.

Arnfinn pulled a thick black note-book from his breast pocket, opened it
in his lap, and read:

“August 3, 5 A. M.--My little invalid is doing finely; he seemed to
relish much a few dozen flies which I brought him in my hand. His pulse
is to-day, for the first time, normal. He is beginning to step on the
injured leg without apparent pain.

“10 A. M.--Miss Augusta’s eyes have a strange, lustrous brilliancy
whenever she speaks of subjects which seem to agitate the depths of
her being. How and why is it that an excessive amount of feeling always
finds its first expression in the eye? One kind of emotion seems to
widen the pupil, another kind to contract it. TO be noticed in future,
how particular emotions affect the eye.

“6 P. M.--I met a plover on the beach this afternoon. By imitating his
cry, I induced him to come within a few feet of me. The plover, as
his cry indicates, is a very melancholy bird. In fact I believe the
melancholy temperament to be prevailing among the wading birds, as
the phlegmatic among birds of prey. The singing birds are choleric
or sanguine. Tease a thrush, or even a lark, and you will soon be
convinced. A snipe, or plover, as far as my experience goes, seldom
shows anger; you cannot tease them. To be considered, how far the voice
of a bird may be indicative of its temperament.

“August 5, 9 P. M.--Since the unfortunate meeting yesterday morning,
when my intense pre-occupation with my linnet, which had torn its wound
open again, probably made me commit some breach of etiquette, Miss
Augusta avoids me.

“August 7--I am in a most singular state. My pulse beats 85, which is
a most unheard-of thing for me, as my pulse is naturally full and slow.
And, strangely enough, I do not feel at all unwell. On the contrary, my
physical well-being is rather heightened than otherwise. The life of a
whole week is crowded into a day, and that of a day into an hour.”

Inga, who, at several points of this narrative, had been struggling hard
to preserve her gravity, here burst into a ringing laugh.

“That is what I call scientific love-making,” said Arnfinn, looking up
from the book with an expression of subdued amusement.

“But Arnfinn,” cried the girl, while the laughter quickly died out of
her face, “does Mr. Strand know that you are reading this?”

“To be sure he does. And that is just what to my mind makes the
situation so excessively comical. He has himself no suspicion that this
book contains anything but scientific notes. He appears to prefer the
empiric method in love as in philosophy. I verily believe that he is
innocently experimenting with himself, with a view to making some great
physiological discovery.”

“And so he will, perhaps,” rejoined the girl, the mixture of gayety and
grave solicitude making her face, as her cousin thought, particularly

“Only not a physiological, but possibly a psychological one,” remarked
Arnfinn. “But listen to this. Here is something rich:

“August 9--Miss Augusta once said something about the possibility of
animals being immortal. Her eyes shone with a beautiful animation as she
spoke. I am longing to continue the subject with her. It haunts me
the whole day long. There may be more in the idea than appears to a
superficial observer.”

“Oh, how charmingly he understands how to deceive himself,” cried Inga.

“Merely a quid pro quo,” said Arnfinn.

“I know what I shall do!”

“And so do I.”

“Won’t you tell me, please?”


“Then I sha’n’t tell you either.”

And they flew apart like two thoughtless little birds (“sanguine,” as
Strand would have called them), each to ponder on some formidable plot
for the reconciliation of the estranged lovers.


During the week that ensued, the multifarious sub-currents of Strand’s
passion seemed slowly to gather themselves into one clearly defined
stream, and, after much scientific speculation, he came to the
conclusion that he loved Augusta. In a moment of extreme discouragement,
he made a clean breast of it to Arnfinn, at the same time informing him
that he had packed his knapsack, and would start on his wanderings again
the next morning. All his friend’s entreaties were in vain; he would and
must go. Strand was an exasperatingly headstrong fellow, and persuasions
never prevailed with him. He had confirmed himself in the belief that he
was very unattractive to women, and that Augusta, of all women, for
some reason which was not quite clear to him, hated and abhorred him.
Inexperienced as he was, he could see no reason why she should avoid
him, if she did not hate him. They sat talking until midnight, each
entangling himself in those passionate paradoxes and contradictions
peculiar to passionate and impulsive youth. Strand paced the floor with
large steps, pouring out his long pent-up emotion in violent tirades
of self-accusation and regret; while Arnfinn sat on the bed, trying to
soothe his excitement by assuring him that he was not such a monster as,
for the moment, he had believed himself to be, but only succeeding,
in spite of all his efforts, in pouring oil on the flames. Strand
was scientifically convinced that Nature, in accordance with some
inscrutable law of equilibrium, had found it necessary to make him
physically unattractive, perhaps to indemnify mankind for that excess of
intellectual gifts which, at the expense of the race at large, she had
bestowed upon him.

Early the next morning, as a kind of etherealized sunshine broke
through the white muslin curtains of Arnfinn’s room, and long streaks
of sun-illumined dust stole through the air toward the sleeper’s pillow,
there was a sharp rap at the door, and Strand entered. His knapsack was
strapped over his shoulders, his long staff was in his hand, and there
was an expression of conscious martyrdom in his features. Arnfinn
raised himself on his elbows, and rubbed his eyes with a desperate
determination to get awake, but only succeeded in gaining a very dim
impression of a beard, a blue woolen shirt, and a disproportionately
large shoe buckle. The figure advanced to the bed, extended a broad,
sun-burned hand, and a deep bass voice was heard to say:

“Good-bye, brother.”

Arnfinn, who was a hard sleeper, gave another rub, and, in a querulously
sleepy tone, managed to mutter:

“Why,--is it as late as that--already?”

The words of parting were more remotely repeated, the hand closed about
Arnfinn’s half-unfeeling fingers, the lock on the door gave a little
sharp click, and all was still. But the sunshine drove the dust in a
dumb, confused dance through the room.

Some four hours later, Arnfinn woke up with a vague feeling as if some
great calamity had happened; he was not sure but that he had slept a
fortnight or more. He dressed with a sleepy, reckless haste, being but
dimly conscious of the logic of the various processes of ablution which
he underwent. He hurried up to Strand’s room, but, as he had expected,
found it empty.

During all the afternoon, the reading of “David Copperfield” was
interrupted by frequent mutual condolences, and at times Inga’s hand
would steal up to her eye to brush away a treacherous tear. But then she
only read the faster, and David and Agnes were already safe in the
haven of matrimony before either she or Arnfinn was aware that they
had struggled successfully through the perilous reefs and quicksands of

Augusta excused herself from supper, Inga’s forced devices at merriment
were too transparent, Arnfinn’s table-talk was of a rambling, incoherent
sort, and he answered dreadfully malapropos, if a chance word was
addressed to him, and even the good-natured pastor began, at last, to
grumble; for the inmates of the Gran Parsonage seemed to have but one
life and one soul in common, and any individual disturbance immediately
disturbed the peace and happiness of the whole household. Now gloom
had, in some unaccountable fashion, obscured the common atmosphere. Inga
shook her small wise head, and tried to extract some little consolation
from the consciousness that she knew at least some things which Arnfinn
did not know, and which it would be very unsafe to confide to him.


Four weeks after Strand’s departure, as the summer had already assumed
that tinge of sadness which impresses one as a foreboding of coming
death, Augusta was walking along the beach, watching the flight of
the sea-birds. Her latest “aberration,” as Arnfinn called it, was an
extraordinary interest in the habits of the eider-ducks, auks, and
sea-gulls, the noisy monotony of whose existence had, but a few months
ago, appeared to her the symbol of all that was vulgar and coarse
in human and animal life. Now she had even provided herself with a
note-book, and (to use once more the language of her unbelieving cousin)
affected a half-scientific interest in their clamorous pursuits. She had
made many vain attempts to imitate their voices and to beguile them
into closer intimacy, and had found it hard at times to suppress her
indignation when they persisted in viewing her in the light of an
intruder, and in returning her amiable approaches with shy suspicion, as
if they doubted the sincerity of her intentions.

She was a little paler now, perhaps, than before, but her eyes had still
the same lustrous depth, and the same sweet serenity was still diffused
over her features, and softened, like a pervading tinge of warm color,
the grand simplicity of her presence. She sat down on a large rock,
picked up a curiously twisted shell, and seeing a plover wading in the
surf, gave a soft, low whistle, which made the bird turn round and gaze
at her with startled distrust. She repeated the call, but perhaps a
little too eagerly, and the bird spread its wings with a frightened cry,
and skimmed, half flying, half running, out over the glittering surface
of the fjord. But from the rocks close by came a long melancholy whistle
like that of a bird in distress, and the girl rose and hastened with
eager steps toward the spot. She climbed up on a stone, fringed all
around with green slimy seaweeds, in order to gain a wider view of the
beach. Then suddenly some huge figure started up between the rocks at
her feet; she gave a little scream, her foot slipped, and in the next
moment she lay--in Strand’s arms. He offered no apology, but silently
carried her over the slippery stones, and deposited her tenderly upon
the smooth white sand. There it occurred to her that his attention
was quite needless, but at the moment she was too startled to make any

“But how in the world, Mr. Strand, did you come here?” she managed at
last to stammer. “We all thought that you had gone away.”

“I hardly know myself,” said Strand, in a beseeching undertone, quite
different from his usual confident bass. “I only know that--that I was
very wretched, and that I had to come back.”

Then there was a pause, which to both seemed quite interminable, and, in
order to fill it out in some way, Strand began to move his head and arms
uneasily, and at length seated himself at Augusta’s side. The blood was
beating with feverish vehemence in her temples, and for the first time
in her life she felt something akin to pity for this large, strong man,
whose strength and cheerful self-reliance had hitherto seemed to
raise him above the need of a woman’s aid and sympathy. Now the very
shabbiness of his appearance, and the look of appealing misery in his
features, opened in her bosom the gate through which compassion could
enter, and, with that generous self-forgetfulness which was the chief
factor of her character, she leaned over toward him, and said:

“You must have been very sick, Mr. Strand. Why did you not come to us
and allow us to take care of you, instead of roaming about here in this
stony wilderness?”

“Yes; I have been sick,” cried Strand, with sudden vehemence, seizing
her hand; “but it is a sickness of which I shall never, never be

And with that world-old eloquence which is yet ever new, he poured forth
his passionate confession in her ear, and she listened, hungrily at
first, then with serene, wide-eyed happiness. He told her how, driven by
his inward restlessness, he had wandered about in the mountains, until
one evening at a saeter, he had heard a peasant lad singing a song, in
which this stanza occurred:

     “A woman’s frown, a woman’s smile,
          Nor hate nor fondness prove;
       For maidens smile on him they hate,
          And fly from him they love.”

Then it had occurred to him for the first time in his life that a
woman’s behavior need not be the logical indicator of her deepest
feelings, and, enriched with this joyful discovery, inspired with new
hope, he had returned, but had not dared at once to seek the Parsonage,
until he could invent some plausible reason for his return; but his
imagination was very poor, and he had found none, except that he loved
the pastor’s beautiful daughter.

The evening wore on. The broad mountain-guarded valley, flooded now to
the brim with a soft misty light, spread out about them, and filled
them with a delicious sense of security. The fjord lifted its grave gaze
toward the sky, and deepened responsively with a bright, ever-receding
immensity. The young girl felt this blessed peace gently stealing over
her; doubt and struggle were all past, and the sun shone ever serene and
unobscured upon the widening expanses of the future. And in his breast,
too, that mood reigned in which life looks boundless and radiant, human
woes small or impossible, and one’s own self large and all-conquering.
In that hour they remodeled this old and obstinate world of ours, never
doubting that, if each united his faith and strength with the other’s,
they could together lift its burden.

That night was the happiest and most memorable night in the history of
the Gran Parsonage. The pastor walked up and down on the floor,
rubbing his hands in quiet contentment. Inga, to whom an engagement was
essentially a solemn affair, sat in a corner and gazed at her sister and
Strand with tearful radiance. Arnfinn gave vent to his joy by bestowing
embraces promiscuously upon whomsoever chanced to come in his way.

This story, however, has a brief but not unimportant sequel. It was not
many weeks after this happy evening that Arnfinn and the maiden with the
“amusingly unclassical nose” presented themselves in the pastor’s study
and asked for his paternal and unofficial blessing. But the pastor, I
am told, grew very wroth, and demanded that his nephew should first
take his second and third degrees, attaching, besides, some very odious
stipulations regarding average in study and college standing, before
there could be any talk about engagement or matrimony. So, at present,
Arnfinn is still studying, and the fair-haired Inga is still waiting.


HE was born in the houseman’s lodge; she in the great mansion. He did
not know who his father was; she was the daughter of Grim of Skogli, and
she was the only daughter he had. They were carried to baptism on
the same day, and he was called Truls, because they had to call him
something; she received the name of Borghild, because that had been the
name of every eldest born daughter in the family for thirty generations.
They both cried when the pastor poured the water on their heads; his
mother hushed him, blushed, and looked timidly around her; but the woman
who carried Borghild lifted her high up in her arms so that everybody
could see her, and the pastor smiled benignly, and the parishioners said
that they had never seen so beautiful a child. That was the way in which
they began life--he as a child of sin, she as the daughter of a mighty

They grew up together. She had round cheeks and merry eyes, and her lips
were redder than the red rose. He was of slender growth, his face was
thin and pale, and his eyes had a strange, benumbed gaze, as if they
were puzzling themselves with some sad, life-long riddle which they
never hoped to solve. On the strand where they played the billows came
and went, and they murmured faintly with a sound of infinite remoteness.
Borghild laughed aloud, clapped her hands and threw stones out into
the water, while he sat pale and silent, and saw the great white-winged
sea-birds sailing through the blue ocean of the sky.

“How would you like to live down there in the deep green water?” she
asked him one day, as they sat watching the eider-ducks which swam and
dived, and stood on their heads among the sea-weeds.

“I should like it very well,” he answered, “if you would follow me.”

“No, I won’t follow you,” she cried. “It is cold and wet down in the
water. And I should spoil the ribbons on my new bodice. But when I grow
up and get big and can braid my hair, then I shall row with the young
lads to the church yonder on the headland, and there the old pastor will
marry me, and I shall wear the big silver crown which my mother wore
when she was married.”

“And may I go with you?” asked he, timidly.

“Yes, you may steer my boat and be my helmsman, or--you may be my
bridegroom, if you would like that better.”

“Yes, I think I should rather be your bridegroom,” and he gave her a
long, strange look which almost frightened her.

The years slipped by, and before Borghild knew it, she had grown into
womanhood. The down on Truls’s cheeks became rougher, and he, too, began
to suspect that he was no longer a boy. When the sun was late and the
breeze murmured in the great, dark-crowned pines, they often met by
chance, at the well, on the strand, or on the saeter-green. And the
oftener they met the more they found to talk about; to be sure, it was
she who did the talking, and he looked at her with his large wondering
eyes and listened. She told him of the lamb which had tumbled down
over a steep precipice and still was unhurt, of the baby who pulled
the pastor’s hair last Sunday during the baptismal ceremony, or of the
lumberman, Lars, who drank the kerosene his wife gave him for brandy,
and never knew the difference. But, when the milkmaids passed by, she
would suddenly forget what she had been saying, and then they sat gazing
at each other in silence. Once she told him of the lads who danced with
her at the party at Houg; and she thought she noticed a deeper color on
his face, and that he clinched both his fists and--thrust them into
his pockets. That set her thinking, and the more she thought, the more
curious she grew. He played the violin well; suppose she should ask him
to come and fiddle at the party her father was to give at the end of the
harvest. She resolved to do it, and he, not knowing what moved her,
gave his promise eagerly. It struck her, afterward, that she had done
a wicked thing, but, like most girls, she had not the heart to wrestle
with an uncomfortable thought; she shook it off and began to hum a
snatch of an old song.

     “O’er the billows the fleet-footed storm-wind rode,
       The billows blue are the merman’s abode,
       So strangely that harp was sounding.”

The memory of old times came back to her, the memory of the morning long
years ago, when they sat together on the strand, and he said; “I think I
would rather be your bridegroom, Borghild.” The memory was sweet but it
was bitter too; and the bitterness rose and filled her heart. She threw
her head back proudly, and laughed a strange, hollow laugh. “A bastard’s
bride, ha, ha! A fine tale were that for the parish gossips.” A yellow
butterfly lighted on her arm, and with a fierce frown on her face she
caught it between her fingers. Then she looked pityingly on the dead
wings, as they lay in her hand, and murmured between her teeth: “Poor
thing! Why did you come in my way, unbidden?”

The harvest was rich, and the harvest party was to keep pace with the
harvest. The broad Skogli mansion was festively lighted (for it was
already late in September); the tall, straight tallow candles, stuck in
many-armed candlesticks, shone dimly through a sort of misty halo, and
only suffused the dusk with a faint glimmering of light. And every
time a guest entered, the flames of the candles flickered and twisted
themselves with the wind, struggling to keep erect. And Borghild’s
courage, too, rose and fell with the flickering motion of a flame which
wrestles with the wind. Whenever the latch clicked she lifted her eyes
and looked for Truls, and one moment she wished that she might never
see his face again, and in the next she sent an eager glance toward
the door. Presently he came, threw his fiddle on a bench, and with a
reckless air walked up to her and held out his hand. She hesitated to
return his greeting, but when she saw the deep lines of suffering in
his face, her heart went forward with a great tenderness toward him,
a tenderness such as one feels for a child who is sick, and suffers
without hope of healing. She laid her hand in his, and there it lay for
a while listlessly; for neither dared trust the joy which the sight of
the other enkindled. But when she tried to draw her hand away, he caught
it quickly, and with a sudden fervor of voice he said:

“The sight of you, Borghild, stills the hunger which is raging in my
soul. Beware that you do not play with a life, Borghild, even though it
be a worthless one.”

There was something so hopelessly sad in his words, that they stung her
to the quick. They laid bare a hidden deep in her heart, and she shrank
back st the sight of her own vileness. How could she repair the injury
she had done him? How could she heal the wound she had inflicted? A
number of guests came up to greet her and among them Syvert Stein, a
bold-looking young man, who, during that summer, had led her frequently
in the dance. He had a square face, strong features, and a huge crop of
towy hair. His race was far-famed for wit and daring.

“Tardy is your welcome, Borghild of Skogli,” quoth he. “But what a faint
heart does not give a bold hand can grasp, and what I am not offered I
take unbidden.”

So saying, he flung his arm about her waist, lifted her from the floor
and put her down in the middle of the room. Truls stood and gazed at
them with large, bewildered eyes. He tried hard to despise the braggart,
but ended with envying him.

“Ha, fiddler, strike up a tune that shall ring through marrow and bone,”
 shouted Syvert Stein, who struck the floor with his heels and moved his
body to the measure of a spring-dance.

Truls still followed them with his eyes; suddenly he leaped up, and
a wild thought burned in his breast. But with an effort he checked
himself, grasped his violin, and struck a wailing chord of lament. Then
he laid his ear close to the instrument, as if he were listening to
some living voice hidden there within, ran warily with the bow over the
strings, and warbled, and caroled, and sang with maddening glee, and
still with a shivering undercurrent of woe. And the dusk which slept
upon the black rafters was quickened and shook with the weird sound;
every pulse in the wide hall beat more rapidly, and every eye kindled
with a bolder fire. Pressently{sic} a Strong male voice sang out to the
measure of the violin:

     “Come, fairest maid, tread the dance with me;
                    O heigh ho!”

     And a clear, tremulous treble answered:

     “So gladly tread I the dance with thee;
                    O heigh ho!”

Truls knew the voices only too well; it was Syvert Stein and Borghild
who were singing a stave. [8]

     Syvert--Like brier-roses thy red cheeks blush,
     Borghild--And thine are rough like the thorny bush;
                    Both--An’ a heigho!

     Syvert--So fresh and green is the sunny lea;
                    O heigh ho!
     Borghild--The fiddle twangeth so merrily;
                    O heigh ho!
     Syvert--So lightly goeth the lusty reel,
     Borghild--And round we whirl like a spinning-wheel;
                    Both--An’ a heigho!

     Syvert--Thine eyes are bright like the sunny fjord;
                    O heigh ho!
     Borghild--And thine do flash like a Viking’s sword;
                    O heigh ho!
     Syvert--So lightly trippeth thy foot along,
     Borghild--The air is teeming with joyful song;
                    Both--An’ a heigh ho!

     Syvert--Then fairest maid, while the woods are green,
                    O heigh ho!
     Borghild--And thrushes sing the fresh leaves between;
                    O heigh ho!
     Syvert--Come, let us dance in the gladsome day,
     Borghild--Dance hate, and sorrow, and care away;
                    Both--An’ a heigh ho!

The stave was at an end. The hot and flushed dancers straggled over the
floor by twos and threes, and the big beer-horns were passed from hand
to hand. Truls sat in his corner hugging his violin tightly to
his bosom, only to do something, for he was vaguely afraid of
himself--afraid of the thoughts that might rise--afraid of the deed they
might prompt. He ran his fingers over his forehead, but he hardly
felt the touch of his own hand. It was as if something was dead within
him--as if a string had snapped in his breast, and left it benumbed and

Presently he looked up and saw Borghild standing before him; she held
her arms akimbo, her eyes shone with a strange light, and her features
wore an air of recklessness mingled with pity.

“Ah, Borghild, is it you?” said he, in a hoarse voice. “What do you want
with me? I thought you had done with me now.”

“You are a very unwitty fellow,” answered she, with a forced laugh. “The
branch that does not bend must break.”

She turned quickly on her heel and was lost in the crowd. He sat long
pondering on her words, but their meaning remained hidden to him. The
branch that does not bend must break. Was he the branch, and must he
bend or break? By-and-by he put his hands on his knees, rose with a
slow, uncertain motion, and stalked heavily toward the door. The fresh
night air would do him good. The thought breathes more briskly in God’s
free nature, under the broad canopy of heaven. The white mist rose from
the fields, and made the valley below appear like a white sea whose
nearness you feel, even though you do not see it. And out of the mist
the dark pines stretched their warning hands against the sky, and the
moon was swimming, large and placid, between silvery islands of cloud.
Truls began to beat his arms against his sides, and felt the warm blood
spreading from his heart and thawing the numbness of his limbs. Not
caring whither he went, he struck the path leading upward to the
mountains. He took to humming an old air which happened to come into his
head, only to try if there was life enough left in him to sing. It was
the ballad of Young Kirsten and the Merman:

 “The billows fall and the billows swell,
   In the night so lone,
   In the billows blue doth the merman dwell,
   And strangely that harp was sounding.”

He walked on briskly for a while, and, looking back upon the pain he had
endured but a moment ago, he found it quite foolish and irrational. An
absurd merriment took possession of him; but all the while he did
not know where his foot stepped; his head swam, and his pulse beat
feverishly. About midway between the forest and the mansion, where the
field sloped more steeply, grew a clump of birch-trees, whose slender
stems glimmered ghostly white in the moonlight. Something drove Truls to
leave the beaten road, and, obeying the impulse, he steered toward the
birches. A strange sound fell upon his ear, like the moan of one in
distress. It did not startle him; indeed, he was in a mood when nothing
could have caused him wonder. If the sky had suddenly tumbled down upon
him, with moon and all, he would have taken it as a matter of course.
Peering for a moment through the mist, he discerned the outline of a
human figure. With three great strides he reached the birch-tree; at
his feet sat Borghild rocking herself to and fro and weeping piteously.
Without a word he seated himself at her side and tried to catch a
glimpse of her face; but she hid it from him and went on sobbing. Still
there could be no doubt that it was Borghild--one hour ago so merry,
reckless, and defiant, now cowering at his feet and weeping like a
broken-hearted child.

“Borghild,” he said, at last, putting his arm gently about her waist,
“you and I, I think, played together when we were children.”

“So we did, Truls,” answered she, struggling with her tears.

“And as we grew up, we spent many a pleasant hour with each other.”

“Many a pleasant hour.”

She raised her head, and he drew her more closely to him.

“But since then I have done you a great wrong,” began she, after a

“Nothing done that cannot yet be undone,” he took heart to answer.

It was long before her thoughts took shape, and, when at length they
did, she dared not give them utterance. Nevertheless, she was all the
time conscious of one strong desire, from which her conscience shrank as
from a crime; and she wrestled ineffectually with her weakness until her
weakness prevailed.

“I am glad you came,” she faltered. “I knew you would come. There was
something I wished to say to you.”

“And what was it, Borghild?”

“I wanted to ask you to forgive me--”

“Forgive you--”

He sprang up as if something had stung him.

“And why not?” she pleaded, piteously.

“Ah, girl, you know not what you ask,” cried he, with a sternness which
startled her. “If I had more than one life to waste--but you caress with
one hand and stab with the other. Fare thee well, Borghild, for here our
paths separate.”

He turned his back upon her and began to descend the slope.

“For God’s sake, stay, Truls,” implored she, and stretched her arms
appealingly toward him; “tell me, oh, tell me all.”

With a leap he was again at her side, stooped down over her, and, in a
hoarse, passionate whisper, spoke the secret of his life in her ear. She
gazed for a moment steadily into his face, then, in a few hurried words,
she pledged him her love, her faith, her all. And in the stillness of
that summer night they planned together their flight to a greater and
freer land, where no world-old prejudice frowned upon the union of two
kindred souls. They would wait in patience and silence until spring;
then come the fresh winds from the ocean, and, with them, the birds of
passage which awake the longings in the Norsemen’s breasts, and the
American vessels which give courage to many a sinking spirit, strength
to the wearied arm, hope to the hopeless heart.

During that winter Truls and Borghild seldom saw each other. The parish
was filled with rumors, and after the Christmas holiday it was told for
certain that the proud maiden of Skogli had been promised in marriage to
Syvert Stein. It was the general belief that the families had made the
match, and that Borghild, at least, had hardly had any voice in the
matter. Another report was that she had flatly refused to listen to any
proposal from that quarter, and that, when she found that resistance was
vain, she had cried three days and three nights, and refused to take any
food. When this rumor reached the pastor’s ear, he pronounced it an
idle tale; “for,” said he, “Borghild has always been a proper and
well-behaved maiden, and she knows that she must honor father and
mother, that it may be well with her, and she live long upon the land.”

But Borghild sat alone in her gable window and looked longingly toward
the ocean. The glaciers glittered, the rivers swelled, the buds of the
forest burst, and great white sails began to glimmer on the far western

If Truls, the Nameless, as scoffers were wont to call him, had been a
greater personage in the valley, it would, no doubt, have shocked the
gossips to know that one fine morning he sold his cow, his gun and his
dog, and wrapped sixty silver dollars in a leathern bag, which he sewed
fast to the girdle he wore about his waist. That same night some one was
heard playing wildly up in the birch copse above the Skogli mansion; now
it sounded like a wail of distress, then like a fierce, defiant laugh,
and now again the music seemed to hush itself into a heart-broken,
sorrowful moan, and the people crossed themselves, and whispered: “Our
Father;” but Borghild sat at her gable window and listened long to the
weird strain. The midnight came, but she stirred not. With the hour
of midnight the music ceased. From the windows of hall and kitchen the
light streamed out into the damp air, and the darkness stood like a wall
on either side; within, maids and lads were busy brewing, baking, and
washing, for in a week there was to be a wedding on the farm.

The week went and the wedding came. Truls had not closed his eyes all
that night, and before daybreak he sauntered down along the beach and
gazed out upon the calm fjord, where the white-winged sea-birds whirled
in great airy surges around the bare crags. Far up above the noisy
throng an ospray sailed on the blue expanse of the sky, and quick as
thought swooped down upon a halibut which had ventured to take a peep
at the rising sun. The huge fish struggled for a moment at the water’s
edge, then, with a powerful stroke of its tail, which sent the spray
hissing through the air, dived below the surface. The bird of prey gave
a loud scream, flapped fiercely with its broad wings, and for several
minutes a thickening cloud of applauding ducks and seagulls and
showers of spray hid the combat from the observer’s eye. When the birds
scattered, the ospray had vanished, and the waters again glittered
calmly in the morning sun. Truls stood long, vacantly staring out upon
the scene of the conflict, and many strange thoughts whirled through his

“Halloo, fiddler!” cried a couple of lads who had come to clear the
wedding boats, “you are early on foot to-day. Here is a scoop. Come on
and help us bail the boats.”

Truls took the scoop, and looked at it as if he had never seen such a
thing before; he moved about heavily, hardly knowing what he did, but
conscious all the while of his own great misery. His limbs seemed half
frozen, and a dull pain gathered about his head and in his breast--in
fact, everywhere and nowhere.

About ten o’clock the bridal procession descended the slope to the
fjord. Syvert Stein, the bridegroom, trod the earth with a firm, springy
step, and spoke many a cheery word to the bride, who walked, silent and
with downcast eyes, at his side. She wore the ancestral bridal crown on
her head, and the little silver disks around its edge tinkled and shook
as she walked. They hailed her with firing of guns and loud hurrahs
as she stepped into the boat; still she did not raise her eyes, but
remained silent. A small cannon, also an heir-loom in the family, was
placed amidships, and Truls, with his violin, took his seat in the prow.
A large solitary cloud, gold-rimmed but with thunder in its breast,
sailed across the sky and threw its shadow over the bridal boat as it
was pushed out from the shore, and the shadow fell upon the bride’s
countenance too; and when she lifted it, the mother of the bridegroom,
who sat opposite her, shrank back, for the countenance looked hard, as
if carved in stone--in the eyes a mute, hopeless appeal; on the lips a
frozen prayer. The shadow of thunder upon a life that was opening--it
was an ill omen, and its gloom sank into the hearts of the wedding
guests. They spoke in undertones and threw pitying glances at the bride.
Then at length Syvert Stein lost his patience.

“In sooth,” cried he, springing up from his seat, “where is to-day the
cheer that is wont to abide in the Norseman’s breast? Methinks I see but
sullen airs and ill-boding glances. Ha, fiddler, now move your strings
lustily! None of your funeral airs, my lad, but a merry tune that shall
sing through marrow and bone, and make the heart leap in the bosom.”

Truls heard the words, and in a slow, mechanical way he took the violin
out of its case and raised it to his chin. Syvert in the mean while put
a huge silver beer-jug to his mouth, and, pledging his guests, emptied
it even to the dregs. But the bride’s cheek was pale; and it was so
still in the boat that every man could hear his own breathing.

“Ha, to-day is Syvert Stein’s wedding-day!” shouted the bridegroom,
growing hot with wrath. “Let us try if the iron voice of the cannon can
wake my guests from their slumber.”

He struck a match and put it to the touch-hole of the cannon; a long
boom rolled away over the surface of the waters and startled the echoes
of the distant glaciers. A faint hurrah sounded from the nearest craft,
but there came no response from the bridal boat. Syvert pulled the
powder-horn from his pocket, laughed a wild laugh, and poured the whole
contents of the horn into the mouth of the cannon.

“Now may the devil care for his own,” roared he, and sprang up upon the
row-bench. Then there came a low murmuring strain as of wavelets that
ripple against a sandy shore. Borghild lifted her eyes, and they met
those of the fiddler.

“Ah, I think I should rather be your bridegroom,” whispered she, and a
ray of life stole into her stony visage.

And she saw herself as a little rosy-cheeked girl sitting at his side
on the beach fifteen years ago. But the music gathered strength from
her glance, and onward it rushed through the noisy years of boyhood,
shouting with wanton voice in the lonely glen, lowing with the cattle
on the mountain pastures, and leaping like the trout at eventide in the
brawling rapids; but through it all there ran a warm strain of boyish
loyalty and strong devotion, and it thawed her frozen heart; for she
knew that it was all for her and for her only. And it seemed such a
beautiful thing, this long faithful life, which through sorrow and joy,
through sunshine and gloom, for better for worse, had clung so fast to
her. The wedding guests raised their heads, and a murmur of applause ran
over the waters.

“Bravo!” cried the bridegroom. “Now at last the tongues are loosed.”

Truls’s gaze dwelt with tender sadness on the bride. Then came from the
strings some airy quivering chords, faintly flushed like the petals of
the rose, and fragrant like lilies of the valley; and they swelled with
a strong, awakening life, and rose with a stormy fullness until they
seemed on the point of bursting, when again they hushed themselves and
sank into a low, disconsolate whisper. Once more the tones stretched
out their arms imploringly, and again they wrestled despairingly with
themselves, fled with a stern voice of warning, returned once more,
wept, shuddered, and were silent.

“Beware that thou dost not play with a life!” sighed the bride, “even
though it be a worthless one.”

The wedding guests clapped their hands and shouted wildly against the
sky. The bride’s countenance burned with a strange feverish glow. The
fiddler arose in the prow of the boat, his eyes flamed, he struck the
strings madly, and the air trembled with melodious rapture. The voice
of that music no living tongue can interpret. But the bride fathomed its
meaning; her bosom labored vehemently, her lips quivered for an instant
convulsively, and she burst into tears. A dark suspicion shot through
the bridegroom’s mind. He stared intently upon the weeping Borghild then
turned his gaze to the fiddler, who, still regarding her, stood playing,
with a half-frenzied look and motion.

“You cursed wretch!” shrieked Syvert, and made a leap over two benches
to where Truls was standing. It came so unexpectedly that Truls had
no time to prepare for defense; so he merely stretched out the hand in
which he held the violin to ward off the blow which he saw was coming;
but Syvert tore the instrument from his grasp and dashed it against
the cannon, and, as it happened, just against the touch-hole. With a
tremendous crash something black darted through the air and a white
smoke brooded over the bridal boat. The bridegroom stood pale and
stunned. At his feet lay Borghild--lay for a moment still, as if
lifeless, then rose on her elbows, and a dark red current broke from her
breast. The smoke scattered. No one saw how it was done; but a moment
later Truls, the Nameless, lay kneeling at Borghild’s side.

“It WAS a worthless life, beloved,” whispered he, tenderly. “Now it is
at an end.”

And he lifted her up in his arms as one lifts a beloved child, pressed
a kiss on her pale lips, and leaped into the water. Like lead they fell
into the sea. A throng of white bubbles whirled up to the surface. A
loud wail rose from the bridal fleet, and before the day was at an end
it filled the valley; but the wail did not recall Truls, the Nameless,
or Borghild his bride.

What life denied them, would to God that death may yield them!



IT was right up under the steel mountain wall where the farm of Kvaerk
lay. How any man of common sense could have hit upon the idea of
building a house there, where none but the goat and the hawk had easy
access, had been, and I am afraid would ever be, a matter of wonder to
the parish people. However, it was not Lage Kvaerk who had built
the house, so he could hardly be made responsible for its situation.
Moreover, to move from a place where one’s life has once struck deep
root, even if it be in the chinks and crevices of stones and rocks, is
about the same as to destroy it. An old tree grows but poorly in a new
soil. So Lage Kvaerk thought, and so he said, too, whenever his wife
Elsie spoke of her sunny home at the river.

Gloomy as Lage usually was, he had his brighter moments, and people
noticed that these were most likely to occur when Aasa, his daughter,
was near. Lage was probably also the only being whom Aasa’s presence
could cheer; on other people it seemed to have the very opposite effect;
for Aasa was--according to the testimony of those who knew her--the most
peculiar creature that ever was born. But perhaps no one did know her;
if her father was right, no one really did--at least no one but himself.

Aasa was all to her father; she was his past and she was his future, his
hope and his life; and withal it must be admitted that those who judged
her without knowing her had at least in one respect as just an opinion
of her as he; for there was no denying that she was strange, very
strange. She spoke when she ought to be silent, and was silent when it
was proper to speak; wept when she ought to laugh, and laughed when it
was proper to weep; but her laughter as well as her tears, her speech
like her silence, seemed to have their source from within her own soul,
to be occasioned, as it were, by something which no one else could see
or hear. It made little difference where she was; if the tears came, she
yielded to them as if they were something she had long desired in vain.
Few could weep like her, and “weep like Aasa Kvaerk,” was soon also
added to the stock of parish proverbs. And then her laugh! Tears may
be inopportune enough, when they come out of time, but laughter is far
worse; and when poor Aasa once burst out into a ringing laughter in
church, and that while the minister was pronouncing the benediction, it
was only with the greatest difficulty that her father could prevent
the indignant congregation from seizing her and carrying her before the
sheriff for violation of the church-peace. Had she been poor and homely,
then of course nothing could have saved her; but she happened to be both
rich and beautiful, and to wealth and beauty much is pardoned. Aasa’s
beauty, however, was also of a very unusual kind; not the tame sweetness
so common in her sex, but something of the beauty of the falcon, when it
swoops down upon the unwatchful sparrow or soars round the lonely
crags; something of the mystic depth of the dark tarn, when with bodeful
trembling you gaze down into it, and see its weird traditions rise from
its depth and hover over the pine-tops in the morning fog. Yet, Aasa was
not dark; her hair was as fair and yellow as a wheat-field in August,
her forehead high and clear, and her mouth and chin as if cut with a
chisel; only her eyes were perhaps somewhat deeper than is common in the
North, and the longer you looked at them the deeper they grew, just like
the tarn, which, if you stare long enough into it, you will find is as
deep as the heavens above, that is, whose depth only faith and fancy can
fathom. But however long you looked at Aasa, you could never be quite
sure that she looked at you; she seemed but to half notice whatever went
on around her; the look of her eye was always more than half inward,
and when it shone the brightest, it might well happen that she could not
have told you how many years she had lived, or the name her father gave
her in baptism.

Now Aasa was eighteen years old, and could knit, weave, and spin, and it
was full time that wooers should come. “But that is the consequence of
living in such an out-of-the-way place,” said her mother; “who will risk
his limbs to climb that neck-breaking rock? and the round-about way over
the forest is rather too long for a wooer.” Besides handling the loom
and the spinning-wheel, Aasa had also learned to churn and make cheese
to perfection, and whenever Elsie grieved at her strange behavior she
always in the end consoled herself with the reflection that after all
Aasa would make the man who should get her an excellent housewife.

The farm of Kvaerk was indeed most singularly situated. About a hundred
feet from the house the rough wall of the mountain rose steep and
threatening; and the most remarkable part of it was that the rock itself
caved inward and formed a lofty arch overhead, which looked like a huge
door leading into the mountain. Some short distance below, the slope of
the fields ended in an abrupt precipice; far underneath lay the other
farm-houses of the valley, scattered like small red or gray dots, and
the river wound onward like a white silver stripe in the shelter of the
dusky forest. There was a path down along the rock, which a goat or a
brisk lad might be induced to climb, if the prize of the experiment were
great enough to justify the hazard. The common road to Kvaerk made a
large circuit around the forest, and reached the valley far up at its
northern end.

It was difficult to get anything to grow at Kvaerk. In the spring all
the valley lay bare and green, before the snow had begun to think of
melting up there; and the night-frost would be sure to make a visit
there, while the fields along the river lay silently drinking the summer
dew. On such occasions the whole family at Kvaerk would have to stay
up during all the night and walk back and forth on either side of the
wheat-fields, carrying a long rope between them and dragging it slowly
over the heads of the rye, to prevent the frost from settling; for as
long as the ears could be kept in motion, they could not freeze. But
what did thrive at Kvaerk in spite of both snow and night-frost was
legends, and they throve perhaps the better for the very sterility of
its material soil. Aasa of course had heard them all and knew them
by heart; they had been her friends from childhood, and her only
companions. All the servants, however, also knew them and many others
besides, and if they were asked how the mansion of Kvaerk happened to be
built like an eagle’s nest on the brink of a precipice, they would tell
you the following:

Saint Olaf, Norway’s holy king, in the time of his youth had sailed as
a Viking over the wide ocean, and in foreign lands had learned the
doctrine of Christ the White. When he came home to claim the throne of
his hereditary kingdom, he brought with him tapers and black priests,
and commanded the people to overthrow the altars of Odin and Thor and
to believe alone in Christ the White. If any still dared to slaughter
a horse to the old gods, he cut off their ears, burned their farms,
and drove them houseless from the smoking ruins. Here in the valley old
Thor, or, as they called him, Asathor, had always helped us to vengeance
and victory, and gentle Frey for many years had given us fair and
fertile summers. Therefore the peasants paid little heed to King Olaf’s
god, and continued to bring their offerings to Odin and Asathor. This
reached the king’s ear, and he summoned his bishop and five black
priests, and set out to visit our valley. Having arrived here, he called
the peasants together, stood up on the Ting-stone, told them of the
great things that the White Christ had done, and bade them choose
between him and the old gods. Some were scared, and received baptism
from the king’s priests; others bit their lips and were silent; others
again stood forth and told Saint Olaf that Odin and Asathor had always
served them well, and that they were not going to give them up for
Christ the White, whom they had never seen and of whom they knew
nothing. The next night the red cock crew [9] over ten farms in the
valley, and it happened to be theirs who had spoken against King Olaf’s
god. Then the peasants flocked to the Ting-stone and received the
baptism of Christ the White. Some few, who had mighty kinsmen in the
North, fled and spread the evil tidings. Only one neither fled nor
was baptized, and that one was Lage Ulfson Kvaerk, the ancestor of
the present Lage. He slew his best steed before Asathor’s altar, and
promised to give him whatever he should ask, even to his own life, if he
would save him from the vengeance of the king. Asathor heard his prayer.
As the sun set, a storm sprung up with thick darkness and gloom, the
earth shook, Asathor drove his chariot over the heavens with deafening
thunder and swung his hammer right and left, and the crackling lightning
flew through the air like a hail-storm of fire. Then the peasants
trembled, for they knew that Asathor was wroth. Only the king sat calm
and fearless with his bishop and priests, quaffing the nut-brown mead.
The tempest raged until morn. When the sun rose, Saint Olaf called his
hundred swains, sprang into the saddle and rode down toward the river.
Few men who saw the angry fire in his eye, and the frown on his royal
brow, doubted whither he was bound. But having reached the ford, a
wondrous sight met his eye. Where on the day before the highway had
wound itself up the slope toward Lage Kvaerk’s mansion, lay now a wild
ravine; the rock was shattered into a thousand pieces, and a deep gorge,
as if made by a single stroke of a huge hammer, separated the king from
his enemy. Then Saint Olaf made the sign of the cross, and mumbled the
name of Christ the White; but his hundred swains made the sign of the
hammer under their cloaks, and thought, Still is Asathor alive.

That same night Lage Ulfson Kvaerk slew a black ram, and thanked Asathor
for his deliverance; and the Saga tells that while he was sprinkling
the blood on the altar, the thundering god himself appeared to him,
and wilder he looked than the fiercest wild Turk. Rams, said he, were
every-day fare; they could redeem no promise. Brynhild, his daughter,
was the reward Asathor demanded. Lage prayed and besought him to ask
for something else. He would gladly give him one of his sons; for he had
three sons, but only one daughter. Asathor was immovable; but so long
Lage continued to beg, that at last he consented to come back in a
year, when Lage perchance would be better reconciled to the thought of
Brynhild’s loss.

In the mean time King Olaf built a church to Christ the White on the
headland at the river, where it stands until this day. Every evening,
when the huge bell rumbled between the mountains, the parishioners
thought they heard heavy, half-choked sighs over in the rocks at Kvaerk;
and on Sunday mornings, when the clear-voiced chimes called them to
high-mass, a suppressed moan would mingle with the sound of the bells,
and die away with the last echo. Lage Ulfson was not the man to be
afraid; yet the church-bells many a time drove the blood from his
cheeks; for he also heard the moan from the mountain.

The year went, and Asathor returned. If he had not told his name,
however, Lage would not have recognized him. That a year could work so
great a change in a god, he would hardly have believed, if his own eyes
had not testified to it. Asathor’s cheeks were pale and bloodless, the
lustre of his eye more than half quenched, and his gray hair hung in
disorder down over his forehead.

“Methinks thou lookest rather poorly to-day,” said Lage.

“It is only those cursed church-bells,” answered the god; “they leave me
no rest day or night.”

“Aha,” thought Lage, “if the king’s bells are mightier than thou, then
there is still hope of safety for my daughter.”

“Where is Brynhild, thy daughter?” asked Asathor.

“I know not where she is,” answered the father; and straightway he
turned his eyes toward the golden cross that shone over the valley from
Saint Olaf’s steeple, and he called aloud on the White Christ’s name.
Then the god gave a fearful roar, fell on the ground, writhed and foamed
and vanished into the mountain. In the next moment Lage heard a hoarse
voice crying from within, “I shall return, Lage Ulfson, when thou shalt
least expect me!”

Lage Ulfson then set to work clearing a way through the forest; and when
that was done, he called all his household together, and told them of
the power of Christ the White. Not long after he took his sons and his
daughter, and hastened with them southward, until he found King Olaf.
And, so the Saga relates, they all fell down on their knees before him,
prayed for his forgiveness, and received baptism from the king’s own

So ends the Saga of Lage Ulfson Kvaerk.


Aasa Kvaerk loved her father well, but especially in the winter. Then,
while she sat turning her spinning-wheel in the light of the crackling
logs, his silent presence always had a wonderfully soothing and calming
effect upon her. She never laughed then, and seldom wept; when she felt
his eyes resting on her, her thoughts, her senses, and her whole being
seemed by degrees to be lured from their hiding-place and concentrate on
him; and from him they ventured again, first timidly, then more boldly,
to grasp the objects around him. At such times Aasa could talk and
jest almost like other girls, and her mother, to whom “other girls”
 represented the ideal of womanly perfection, would send significant
glances, full of hope and encouragement, over to Lage, and he would
quietly nod in return, as if to say that he entirely agreed with her.
Then Elsie had bright visions of wooers and thrifty housewives, and even
Lage dreamed of seeing the ancient honor of the family re-established.
All depended on Aasa. She was the last of the mighty race. But when
summer came, the bright visions fled; and the spring winds, which to
others bring life and joy, to Kvaerk brought nothing but sorrow. No
sooner had the mountain brooks begun to swell, than Aasa began to laugh
and to weep; and when the first birches budded up in the glens, she
could no longer be kept at home. Prayers and threats were equally
useless. From early dawn until evening she would roam about in forests
and fields, and when late at night she stole into the room and slipped
away into some corner, Lage drew a deep sigh and thought of the old

Aasa was nineteen years old before she had a single wooer. But when she
was least expecting it, the wooer came to her.

It was late one summer night; the young maiden was sitting on the brink
of the ravine, pondering on the old legend and peering down into the
deep below. It was not the first time she had found her way hither,
where but seldom a human foot had dared to tread. To her every alder and
bramble-bush, that clothed the naked wall of the rock, were as familiar
as were the knots and veins in the ceiling of the chamber where from
her childhood she had slept; and as she sat there on the brink of the
precipice, the late summer sun threw its red lustre upon her and upon
the fogs that came drifting up from the deep. With her eyes she followed
the drifting masses of fog, and wondered, as they rose higher and
higher, when they would reach her; in her fancy she saw herself dancing
over the wide expanse of heaven, clad in the sun-gilded evening fogs;
and Saint Olaf, the great and holy king, came riding to meet her,
mounted on a flaming steed made of the glory of a thousand sunsets; then
Saint Olaf took her hand and lifted her up, and she sat with him on the
flaming steed: but the fog lingered in the deep below, and as it rose
it spread like a thin, half-invisible gauze over the forests and the
fields, and at last vanished into the infinite space. But hark! a huge
stone rolls down over the mountain-side, then another, and another; the
noise grows, the birches down there in the gorge tremble and shake.
Aasa leaned out over the brink of the ravine, and, as far as she could
distinguish anything from her dizzying height, thought she saw something
gray creeping slowly up the neck-breaking mountain path; she watched
it for a while, but as it seemed to advance no farther she again took
refuge in her reveries. An hour might have passed, or perhaps more, when
suddenly she heard a noise only a few feet distant, and, again stooping
out over the brink, saw the figure of a man struggling desperately to
climb the last great ledge of the rock. With both his hands he clung to
a little birch-tree which stretched its slender arms down over the black
wall, but with every moment that passed seemed less likely to accomplish
the feat. The girl for a while stood watching him with unfeigned
curiosity, then, suddenly reminding herself that the situation to him
must be a dangerous one, seized hold of a tree that grew near the brink,
and leaned out over the rock to give him her assistance. He eagerly
grasped her extended hand, and with a vigorous pull she flung him up
on the grassy level, where he remained lying for a minute or two,
apparently utterly unable to account for his sudden ascent, and gazing
around him with a half-frightened, half-bewildered look. Aasa, to whom
his appearance was no less strange than his demeanor, unluckily hit
upon the idea that perhaps her rather violent treatment had momentarily
stunned him, and when, as answer to her sympathizing question if he was
hurt, the stranger abruptly rose to his feet and towered up before her
to the formidable height of six feet four or five, she could no longer
master her mirth, but burst out into a most vehement fit of laughter.
He stood calm and silent, and looked at her with a timid but strangely
bitter smile. He was so very different from any man she had ever seen
before; therefore she laughed, not necessarily because he amused her,
but because his whole person was a surprise to her; and there he stood,
tall and gaunt and timid, and said not a word, only gazed and gazed. His
dress was not the national costume of the valley, neither was it like
anything that Aasa had ever known. On his head he wore a cap that hung
all on one side, and was decorated with a long, heavy silk tassel. A
threadbare coat, which seemed to be made expressly not to fit him, hung
loosely on his sloping shoulders, and a pair of gray pantaloons, which
were narrow where they ought to have been wide, and wide where it was
their duty to be narrow, extended their service to a little more than
the upper half of the limb, and, by a kind of compromise with the tops
of the boots, managed to protect also the lower half. His features were
delicate, and would have been called handsome had they belonged to a
proportionately delicate body; in his eyes hovered a dreamy vagueness
which seemed to come and vanish, and to flit from one feature to
another, suggesting the idea of remoteness, and a feeling of hopeless
strangeness to the world and all its concerns.

“Do I inconvenience you, madam?” were the first words he uttered, as
Aasa in her usual abrupt manner stayed her laughter, turned her back on
him, and hastily started for the house.

“Inconvenience?” said she, surprised, and again slowly turned on her
heel; “no, not that I know.”

“Then tell me if there are people living here in the neighborhood, or if
the light deceived me, which I saw from the other side of the river.”

“Follow me,” answered Aasa, and she naïvely reached him her hand; “my
father’s name is Lage Ulfson Kvaerk; he lives in the large house you see
straight before you, there on the hill; and my mother lives there too.”

And hand in hand they walked together, where a path had been made
between two adjoining rye-fields; his serious smile seemed to grow
milder and happier, the longer he lingered at her side, and her eye
caught a ray of more human intelligence, as it rested on him.

“What do you do up here in the long winter?” asked he, after a pause.

“We sing,” answered she, as it were at random, because the word came
into her mind; “and what do you do, where you come from?”

“I gather song.”

“Have you ever heard the forest sing?” asked she, curiously.

“That is why I came here.”

And again they walked on in silence.

It was near midnight when they entered the large hall at Kvaerk. Aasa
went before, still leading the young man by the hand. In the twilight
which filled the house, the space between the black, smoky rafters
opened a vague vista into the region of the fabulous, and every object
in the room loomed forth from the dusk with exaggerated form and
dimensions. The room appeared at first to be but the haunt of the
spirits of the past; no human voice, no human footstep, was heard; and
the stranger instinctively pressed the hand he held more tightly; for he
was not sure but that he was standing on the boundary of dream-land,
and some elfin maiden had reached him her hand to lure him into her
mountain, where he should live with her forever. But the illusion was of
brief duration; for Aasa’s thoughts had taken a widely different course;
it was but seldom she had found herself under the necessity of making a
decision; and now it evidently devolved upon her to find the stranger
a place of rest for the night; so instead of an elf-maid’s kiss and a
silver palace, he soon found himself huddled into a dark little alcove
in the wall, where he was told to go to sleep, while Aasa wandered over
to the empty cow-stables, and threw herself down in the hay by the side
of two sleeping milkmaids.


There was not a little astonishment manifested among the servant-maids
at Kvaerk the next morning, when the huge, gaunt figure of a man was
seen to launch forth from Aasa’s alcove, and the strangest of all was,
that Aasa herself appeared to be as much astonished as the rest. And
there they stood, all gazing at the bewildered traveler, who indeed was
no less startled than they, and as utterly unable to account for his
own sudden apparition. After a long pause, he summoned all his courage,
fixed his eyes intently on the group of the girls, and with a few rapid
steps advanced toward Aasa, whom he seized by the hand and asked, “Are
you not my maiden of yester-eve?”

She met his gaze firmly, and laid her hand on her forehead as if to
clear her thoughts; as the memory of the night flashed through her mind,
a bright smile lit up her features, and she answered, “You are the man
who gathers song. Forgive me, I was not sure but it was all a dream; for
I dream so much.”

Then one of the maids ran out to call Lage Ulfson, who had gone to the
stables to harness the horses; and he came and greeted the unknown man,
and thanked him for last meeting, as is the wont of Norse peasants,
although they had never seen each other until that morning. But when the
stranger had eaten two meals in Lage’s house, Lage asked him his name
and his father’s occupation; for old Norwegian hospitality forbids the
host to learn the guest’s name before he has slept and eaten under his
roof. It was that same afternoon, when they sat together smoking their
pipes under the huge old pine in the yard,--it was then Lage inquired
about the young man’s name and family; and the young man said that his
name was Trond Vigfusson, that he had graduated at the University of
Christiania, and that his father had been a lieutenant in the army; but
both he and Trond’s mother had died, when Trond was only a few years
old. Lage then told his guest Vigfusson something about his family, but
of the legend of Asathor and Saint Olaf he spoke not a word. And while
they were sitting there talking together, Aasa came and sat down at
Vigfusson’s feet; her long golden hair flowed in a waving stream down
over her back and shoulders, there was a fresh, healthful glow on her
cheeks, and her blue, fathomless eyes had a strangely joyous, almost
triumphant expression. The father’s gaze dwelt fondly upon her, and
the collegian was but conscious of one thought: that she was wondrously
beautiful. And still so great was his natural timidity and awkwardness
in the presence of women, that it was only with the greatest difficulty
he could master his first impulse to find some excuse for leaving her.
She, however, was aware of no such restraint.

“You said you came to gather song,” she said; “where do you find it? for
I too should like to find some new melody for my old thoughts; I have
searched so long.”

“I find my songs on the lips of the people,” answered he, “and I write
them down as the maidens or the old men sing them.”

She did not seem quite to comprehend that. “Do you hear maidens sing
them?” asked she, astonished. “Do you mean the troll-virgins and the

“By troll-virgins and elf-maidens, or what the legends call so, I
understand the hidden and still audible voices of nature, of the dark
pine forests, the legend-haunted glades, and the silent tarns; and this
was what I referred to when I answered your question if I had ever heard
the forest sing.”

“Oh, oh!” cried she, delighted, and clapped her hands like a child;
but in another moment she as suddenly grew serious again, and sat
steadfastly gazing into his eye, as if she were trying to look into his
very soul and there to find something kindred to her own lonely heart. A
minute ago her presence had embarrassed him; now, strange to say, he met
her eye, and smiled happily as he met it.

“Do you mean to say that you make your living by writing songs?” asked

“The trouble is,” answered Vigfusson, “that I make no living at all; but
I have invested a large capital, which is to yield its interest in the
future. There is a treasure of song hidden in every nook and corner of
our mountains and forests, and in our nation’s heart. I am one of the
miners who have come to dig it out before time and oblivion shall
have buried every trace of it, and there shall not be even the
will-o’-the-wisp of a legend to hover over the spot, and keep alive the
sad fact of our loss and our blamable negligence.”

Here the young man paused; his eyes gleamed, his pale cheeks flushed,
and there was a warmth and an enthusiasm in his words which alarmed
Lage, while on Aasa it worked like the most potent charm of the ancient
mystic runes; she hardly comprehended more than half of the speaker’s
meaning, but his fire and eloquence were on this account none the less

“If that is your object,” remarked Lage, “I think you have hit upon the
right place in coming here. You will be able to pick up many an odd bit
of a story from the servants and others hereabouts, and you are welcome
to stay here with us as long as you choose.”

Lage could not but attribute to Vigfusson the merit of having kept Aasa
at home a whole day, and that in the month of midsummer. And while he
sat there listening to their conversation, while he contemplated the
delight that beamed from his daughter’s countenance and, as he thought,
the really intelligent expression of her eyes, could he conceal from
himself the paternal hopes that swelled his heart? She was all that was
left him, the life or the death of his mighty race. And here was one who
was likely to understand her, and to whom she seemed willing to yield
all the affection of her warm but wayward heart. Thus ran Lage Ulfson’s
reflections; and at night he had a little consultation with Elsie, his
wife, who, it is needless to add, was no less sanguine than he.

“And then Aasa will make an excellent housewife, you know,” observed
Elsie. “I will speak to the girl about it to-morrow.”

“No, for Heaven’s sake, Elsie!” exclaimed Lage, “don’t you know your
daughter better than that? Promise me, Elsie, that you will not say a
single word; it would be a cruel thing, Elsie, to mention anything to
her. She is not like other girls, you know.”

“Very well, Lage, I shall not say a single word. Alas, you are right,
she is not like other girls.” And Elsie again sighed at her husband’s
sad ignorance of a woman’s nature, and at the still sadder fact of her
daughter’s inferiority to the accepted standard of womanhood.


Trond Vigfusson must have made a rich harvest of legends at Kvaerk, at
least judging by the time he stayed there; for days and weeks passed,
and he had yet said nothing of going. Not that anybody wished him to
go; no, on the contrary, the longer he stayed the more indispensable he
seemed to all; and Lage Ulfson could hardly think without a shudder of
the possibility of his ever having to leave them. For Aasa, his only
child, was like another being in the presence of this stranger; all that
weird, forest-like intensity, that wild, half supernatural tinge in her
character which in a measure excluded her from the blissful feeling of
fellowship with other men, and made her the strange, lonely creature
she was,--all this seemed to vanish as dew in the morning sun when
Vigfusson’s eyes rested upon her; and with every day that passed, her
human and womanly nature gained a stronger hold upon her. She followed
him like his shadow on all his wanderings, and when they sat down
together by the wayside, she would sing, in a clear, soft voice, an
ancient lay or ballad, and he would catch her words on his paper, and
smile at the happy prospect of perpetuating what otherwise would
have been lost. Aasa’s love, whether conscious or not, was to him an
everlasting source of strength, was a revelation of himself to himself,
and a clearing and widening power which brought ever more and more of
the universe within the scope of his vision. So they lived on from
day to day and from week to week, and, as old Lage remarked, never had
Kvaerk been the scene of so much happiness. Not a single time during
Vigfusson’s stay had Aasa fled to the forest, not a meal had she missed,
and at the hours for family devotion she had taken her seat at the big
table with the rest and apparently listened with as much attention and
interest. Indeed, all this time Aasa seemed purposely to avoid the dark
haunts of the woods, and, whenever she could, chose the open highway;
not even Vigfusson’s entreaties could induce her to tread the tempting
paths that led into the forest’s gloom.

“And why not, Aasa?” he would say; “summer is ten times summer there
when the drowsy noonday spreads its trembling maze of shadows between
those huge, venerable trunks. You can feel the summer creeping into your
very heart and soul, there!”

“Oh, Vigfusson,” she would answer, shaking her head mournfully, “for a
hundred paths that lead in, there is only one that leads out again, and
sometimes even that one is nowhere to be found.”

He understood her not, but fearing to ask, he remained silent.

His words and his eyes always drew her nearer and nearer to him; and the
forest and its strange voices seemed a dark, opposing influence, which
strove to take possession of her heart and to wrest her away from him
forever; she helplessly clung to him; every thought and emotion of
her soul clustered about him, and every hope of life and happiness was
staked on him.

One evening Vigfusson and old Lage Ulfson had been walking about the
fields to look at the crop, both smoking their evening pipes. But as
they came down toward the brink whence the path leads between the two
adjoining rye-fields, they heard a sweet, sad voice crooning some old
ditty down between the birch-trees at the precipice; they stopped to
listen, and soon recognized Aasa’s yellow hair over the tops the
rye; the shadow as of a painful emotion flitted over the father’s
countenance, and he turned his back on his guest and started to go; then
again paused, and said, imploringly, “Try to get her home if you can,
friend Vigfusson.”

Vigfusson nodded, and Lage went; the song had ceased for a moment, now
it began again:

  “Ye twittering birdlings, in forest and glen
    I have heard you so gladly before;
    But a bold knight hath come to woo me,
    I dare listen to you no more.
  For it is so dark, so dark in the forest.

   “And the knight who hath come a-wooing to me,
    He calls me his love and his own;
    Why then should I stray through the darksome woods,
    Or dream in the glades alone?
  For it is so dark, so dark in the forest.”

Her voice fell to a low unintelligible murmur; then it rose, and the
last verses came, clear, soft, and low, drifting on the evening breeze:

   “Yon beckoning world, that shimmering lay
     O’er the woods where the old pines grow,
     That gleamed through the moods of the summer day
     When the breezes were murmuring low
  (And it is so dark, so dark in the forest);

   “Oh let me no more in the sunshine hear
     Its quivering noonday call;
     The bold knight’s love is the sun of my heart--
     Is my life, and my all in all.
  But it is so dark, so dark in the forest.”

The young man felt the blood rushing to his face--his heart beat
violently. There was a keen sense of guilt in the blush on his cheek, a
loud accusation in the throbbing pulse and the swelling heart-beat. Had
he not stood there behind the maiden’s back and cunningly peered into
her soul’s holy of holies? True, he loved Aasa; at least he thought he
did, and the conviction was growing stronger with every day that passed.
And now he had no doubt that he had gained her heart. It was not so much
the words of the ballad which had betrayed the secret; he hardly knew
what it was, but somehow the truth had flashed upon him, and he could no
longer doubt.

Vigfusson sat down on the moss-grown rock and pondered. How long he
sat there he did not know, but when he rose and looked around, Aasa
was gone. Then remembering her father’s request to bring her home, he
hastened up the hill-side toward the mansion, and searched for her in
all directions. It was near midnight when he returned to Kvaerk, where
Aasa sat in her high gable window, still humming the weird melody of the
old ballad.

By what reasoning Vigfusson arrived at his final conclusion is difficult
to tell. If he had acted according to his first and perhaps most
generous impulse, the matter would soon have been decided; but he was
all the time possessed of a vague fear of acting dishonorably, and it
was probably this very fear which made him do what, to the minds of
those whose friendship and hospitality he had accepted, had something
of the appearance he wished so carefully to avoid. Aasa was rich; he had
nothing; it was a reason for delay, but hardly a conclusive one. They
did not know him; he must go out in the world and prove himself worthy
of her. He would come back when he should have compelled the world to
respect him; for as yet he had done nothing. In fact, his arguments were
good and honorable enough, and there would have been no fault to find
with him, had the object of his love been as capable of reasoning as he
was himself. But Aasa, poor thing, could do nothing by halves; a nature
like hers brooks no delay; to her love was life or it was death.

The next morning he appeared at breakfast with his knapsack on his back,
and otherwise equipped for his journey. It was of no use that Elsie
cried and begged him to stay, that Lage joined his prayers to hers, and
that Aasa stood staring at him with a bewildered gaze. Vigfusson
shook hands with them all, thanked them for their kindness to him,
and promised to return; he held Aasa’s hand long in his, but when he
released it, it dropped helplessly at her side.


Far up in the glen, about a mile from Kvaerk, ran a little brook; that
is, it was little in summer and winter, but in the spring, while the
snow was melting up in the mountains, it overflowed the nearest land
and turned the whole glen into a broad and shallow river. It was easy to
cross, however; a light foot might jump from stone to stone, and be over
in a minute. Not the hind herself could be lighter on her foot than Aasa
was; and even in the spring-flood it was her wont to cross and recross
the brook, and to sit dreaming on a large stone against which the water
broke incessantly, rushing in white torrents over its edges.

Here she sat one fair summer day--the day after Vigfusson’s departure.
It was noon, and the sun stood high over the forest. The water murmured
and murmured, babbled and whispered, until at length there came a sudden
unceasing tone into its murmur, then another, and it sounded like a
faint whispering song of small airy beings. And as she tried to listen,
to fix the air in her mind, it all ceased again, and she heard but
the monotonous murmuring of the brook. Everything seemed so empty and
worthless, as if that faint melody had been the world of the moment. But
there it was again; it sung and sung, and the birch overhead took up the
melody and rustled it with its leaves, and the grasshopper over in the
grass caught it and whirred it with her wings. The water, the trees, the
air, were full of it. What a strange melody!

Aasa well knew that every brook and river has its Neck, besides hosts
of little water-sprites. She had heard also that in the moonlight at
midsummer, one might chance to see them rocking in bright little
shells, playing among the pebbles, or dancing on the large leaves of the
water-lily. And that they could sing also, she doubted not; it was their
voices she heard through the murmuring of the brook. Aasa eagerly bent
forward and gazed down into the water: the faint song grew louder,
paused suddenly, and sprang into life again; and its sound was so sweet,
so wonderfully alluring! Down there in the water, where a stubborn
pebble kept chafing a precipitous little side current, clear tiny
pearl-drops would leap up from the stream, and float half-wonderingly
downward from rapid to rapid, until they lost themselves in the whirl
of some stronger current. Thus sat Aasa and gazed and gazed, and in one
moment she seemed to see what in the next moment she saw not. Then a
sudden great hush stole through the forest, and in the hush she could
hear the silence calling her name. It was so long since she had been in
the forest, it seemed ages and ages ago. She hardly knew herself; the
light seemed to be shining into her eyes as with a will and purpose,
perhaps to obliterate something, some old dream or memory, or to impart
some new power--the power of seeing the unseen. And this very thought,
this fear of some possible loss, brought the fading memory back, and she
pressed her hands against her throbbing temples as if to bind and chain
it there forever; and it was he to whom her thought returned. She heard
his voice, saw him beckoning to her to follow him, and she rose to obey,
but her limbs were as petrified, and the stone on which she was sitting
held her with the power of a hundred strong arms. The sunshine smote
upon her eyelids, and his name was blotted out from her life; there was
nothing but emptiness all around her. Gradually the forest drew nearer
and nearer, the water bubbled and rippled, and the huge, bare-stemmed
pines stretched their long gnarled arms toward her. The birches waved
their heads with a wistful nod, and the profile of the rock grew into a
face with a long, hooked nose, and a mouth half open as if to speak.
And the word that trembled on his lips was, “Come.” She felt no fear nor
reluctance, but rose to obey. Then and not until then she saw an old man
standing at her side; his face was the face of the rock, his white beard
flowed to his girdle, and his mouth was half open, but no word came from
his lips. There was something in the wistful look of his eye which she
knew so well, which she had seen so often, although she could not
tell when or where. The old man extended his hand; Aasa took it, and
fearlessly or rather spontaneously followed. They approached the steep,
rocky wall; as they drew near, a wild, fierce laugh rang through the
forest. The features of the old man were twisted as it were into a grin;
so also were the features of the rock; but the laugh blew like a mighty
blast through the forest.

Aasa clung to the old man’s hand and followed him--she knew not whither.

At home in the large sitting-room at Kvaerk sat Lage, brooding over the
wreck of his hopes and his happiness. Aasa had gone to the woods again
the very first day after Vigfusson’s departure. What would be the end of
all this? It was already late in the evening, and she had not returned.
The father cast anxious glances toward the door, every time he heard the
latch moving. At last, when it was near midnight, he roused all his
men from their sleep, and commanded them to follow him. Soon the dusky
forests resounded far and near with the blast of horns, the report of
guns, and the calling and shouting of men. The affrighted stag crossed
and recrossed the path of the hunters, but not a rifle was leveled at
its head. Toward morning--it was before the sun had yet risen--Lage,
weary and stunned, stood leaning up against a huge fir. Then suddenly a
fierce, wild laugh rang through the forest. Lage shuddered, raised his
hand slowly and pressed it hard against his forehead, vainly struggling
to clear his thoughts. The men clung fearfully together; a few of the
more courageous ones drew their knives and made the sign of the cross
with them in the air. Again the same mad laugh shook the air, and swept
over the crowns of the pine-trees. Then Lage lifted his eyes toward
heaven and wrung his hands: for the awful truth stood before him. He
remained a long while leaning against that old fir as in a dead stupor;
and no one dared to arouse him. A suppressed murmur reached the men’s
ears. “But deliver us from evil” were the last words they heard.

When Lage and his servants came home to Kvaerk with the mournful tidings
of Aasa’s disappearance, no one knew what to do or say. There could be
no doubt that Aasa was “mountain-taken,” as they call it; for there were
Trolds and dwarfs in all the rocks and forests round about, and they
would hardly let slip the chance of alluring so fair a maiden as Aasa
was into their castles in the mountains. Elsie, her mother, knew a good
deal about the Trolds, their tricks, and their way of living, and
when she had wept her fill, she fell to thinking of the possibility of
regaining her daughter from their power. If Aasa had not yet tasted of
food or drink in the mountain, she was still out of danger; and if the
pastor would allow the church-bell to be brought up into the forest and
rung near the rock where the laugh had been heard, the Trolds could be
compelled to give her back. No sooner had this been suggested to Lage,
than the command was given to muster the whole force of men and horses,
and before evening on the same day the sturdy swains of Kvaerk were seen
climbing the tower of the venerable church, whence soon the huge old
bell descended, to the astonishment of the throng of curious women and
children who had flocked together to see the extraordinary sight. It was
laid upon four large wagons, which had been joined together with ropes
and planks, and drawn away by twelve strong horses. Long after the
strange caravan had vanished in the twilight, the children stood gazing
up into the empty bell-tower.

It was near midnight, when Lage stood at the steep, rocky wall in the
forest; the men were laboring to hoist the church-bell up to a staunch
cross-beam between two mighty fir-trees, and in the weird light of their
torches, the wild surroundings looked wilder and more fantastic. Anon,
the muffled noise and bustle of the work being at an end, the laborers
withdrew, and a strange, feverish silence seemed to brood over the
forest. Lage took a step forward, and seized the bell-rope; the clear,
conquering toll of the metal rung solemnly through the silence, and from
the rocks, the earth, and the tree-tops, rose a fierce chorus of howls,
groans, and screams. All night the ringing continued; the old trees
swayed to and fro, creaked, and groaned, the roots loosened their holds
in the fissures of the rock, and the bushy crowns bowed low under their
unwonted burden.

It was well-nigh morn, but the dense fog still brooded over the woods,
and it was dark as night. Lage was sitting on the ground, his head
leaning on both his elbows; at his side lay the flickering torch, and
the huge bell hung dumb overhead. In the dark he felt a hand touch
his shoulder; had it happened only a few hours before, he would have
shuddered; now the physical sensation hardly communicated itself to his
mind, or, if it did, had no power to rouse him from his dead, hopeless
apathy. Suddenly--could he trust his own ears?--the church-bell gave a
slow, solemn, quivering stroke, and the fogs rolled in thick masses to
the east and to the west, as if blown by the breath of the sound. Lage
seized his torch, sprang to his feet, and saw--Vigfusson. He stretched
his arm with the blazing torch closer to the young man’s face, stared
at him with large eyes, and his lip quivered; but he could not utter a

“Vigfusson?” faltered he at last.

“It is I;” and the second stroke followed, stronger and more solemn than
the first. The same fierce, angry voices chorused forth from every
nook of the rock and the woods. Then came the third--the noise grew;
fourth--and it sounded like a hoarse, angry hiss; when the twelfth
stroke fell, silence reigned again in the forest. Vigfusson dropped the
bell-rope, and with a loud voice called Lage Kvaerk and his men. He
lit a torch, held it aloft over his head, and peered through the dusky
night. The men spread through the highlands to search for the lost
maiden; Lage followed close in Vigfusson’s footsteps. They had not
walked far when they heard the babbling of the brook only a few feet
away. Thither they directed their steps. On a large stone in the middle
of the stream the youth thought he saw something white, like a large
kerchief. Quick as thought he was at its side, bowed down with his
torch, and--fell backward. It was Aasa, his beloved, cold and dead;
but as the father stooped over his dead child the same mad laugh echoed
wildly throughout the wide woods, but madder and louder than ever
before, and from the rocky wall came a fierce, broken voice:

“I came at last.”

When, after an hour of vain search, the men returned to the place whence
they had started, they saw a faint light flickering between the birches
not fifty feet away; they formed a firm column, and with fearful hearts
drew nearer. There lay Lage Kvaerk, their master, still bending down
over his child’s pale features, and staring into her sunken eyes as if
he could not believe that she were really dead. And at his side stood
Vigfusson, pale and aghast, with the burning torch in his hand. The
footsteps of the men awakened the father, but when he turned his face on
them they shuddered and started back. Then Lage rose, lifted the maiden
from the stone, and silently laid her in Vigfusson’s arms; her rich
yellow hair flowed down over his shoulder. The youth let his torch
fall into the waters, and with a sharp, serpent-like hiss its flame
was quenched. He crossed the brook; the men followed, and the dark
pine-trees closed over the last descendant of Lage Ulfson’s mighty race.


[1] “I am a Dane. I speak Danish.”

[2] Examen artium is the entrance examination to the Norwegian
University, and philosophicum the first degree. The ranks given at these
are Laudabilis prae ceteris (in student’s parlance, prae), laudabilis or
laud, haud illaudabilis, or haud, etc.

[3] Free translation of a Swedish serenade, the name of whose author I
have forgotten. H. H. B.

[4] Translation, from “Exotics. By J. F. C. & C. L.”

[5] In the country districts of Norway Saturday evening is regarded as
“the wooer’s eve.”

[6] The saeter is a place in the mountains where the Norwegian peasants
spend their summers pasturing their cattle. Every large farm has its own
saeter, consisting of one or more chalets, hedged in by a fence of stone
or planks.

[7] Katzenjammer is the sensation a man has the morning after a

[8] A stave is an improvised responsive song. It is an ancient
pastime in Norway, and is kept up until this day, especially among
the peasantry. The students, also, at their social gatherings, throw
improvised rhymes to each other across the table, and the rest of the
company repeat the refrain.

[9] “The red cock crew” is the expression used in the old Norwegian
Fagas for incendiary fire.

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