The Bride of Torrisdell

LONG ago while yet the Saga’s dream-red haze
—' Lay o’er Norway’s dales and fjords unbroken ;
Ere with Olaf’s 1 cross men saw her steeples blaze,
Ere their mighty iron tongues had spoken ;
Then the Neck, the Hulder, elves, and fairies gay
Wooed the summer moon with airy dance and play.
But alas ! they fled,
As with flaming head
O’er the valley shone St. Olaf’s token.
Thorstein Aasen was forsooth the boldest swain
Ever church-road trod on Sabbath morning ;
As a boy he fought the savage bear full fain,
Spite of mother’s tears and father’s warning ;
Never yet was rafter for his heel too high,2
Haughtiest mien he fronted with unquailing eye ;
And the rumor’s tide
Bore his glory wide,
Still with virtues new his name adorning.
Like a ling’ring echo from the olden time.
Wondrous legends still the twilight haunted,
And o’er Brage’s goblet still heroic rhymes
In the merry Yule-tide oft were chanted,
How of Thorstein’s race had one at Necken’s3 will
Stayed the whirl and roar of many a noisy mill;
How in wild delight
At the fall of night
He would seek the river’s gloom undaunted.
Late one autumn night, as wild November storms
Whirled the withered leaves in frantic dances,
And half-moonlit clouds of huge fantastic forms
Swift to horror-dreams from rapturous trances
Plunged the restless earth, anon in sudden fear
E’en the raging storm-wind held its breath to hear : From the river’s lair
Rose a tremulous air,— Rose and fell in sweetly flowing stanzas.
But as morning came forth with frosty splendor keen
Where the birch-trees o'er the waters quiver,
Found the grooms their lord with bow and violin,
Ghastly staring down the brawling river.
To his instrument was closely pressed his ear,
As if there some charméd melody to hear ;
In his sunken sight
Shone a weird delight ;
But life’s mystery had flown forever !
From that time the secret sorcery of the tone,
Passed from sire to son by sure transmission,
Had full oft a witching web of music thrown
O’er the lonely forests of tradition ;
And full oft the son with pride and secret dole
Heard those strange vibrations in his inmost soul,
Like the muffled knell
Of a distant bell
Fraught with dark and bodeful admonition.
Where the river hurls its foam-crests to the fjord,
There lies Torrisdell in sunshine gleaming ;
Oft its valiant lord ’gainst Aasen drew his sword,
And the red cock crew4 while blood was streaming.
But his daughter Birgit, — by the holy rood
Ne’er a fairer maid on church or dance-croft stood! —
Like the glacier’s gaze
In the sun’s embrace
Shone her eye with tender brightness beaming.
And when Thorstein Aasen saw that lily maid
On her palfrey white on church-road riding,
Aye his heart beat loud, and fierce defiance bade
To ancestral feuds their hearts dividing,
And young Birgit, the fair maid of Torrisdell,
Little cared or strove that rising flame to quell;
For, ere spring new-born
Did the fields adorn,
Him she pledged her word and faith abiding.
Loud then swore her angry sire with mead aglow,
(Deadly hate was in his visage painted,)
Rather would he see his daughter’s red blood flow,
Than with shame his ancient scutcheon tainted.
In her lonesome bower then fair Birgit lay,
Wept and prayed by night and prayed and wept by day ;
O’er her features pale
Crept a death-like veil ;
With her waning hopes her heart had fainted.
But when winter came and merry Christmas-tide,
Birgit’s sire her wedding torches lighted ;
Out his varlets rode through seven valleys wide,
Far and near to bridal-feast invited.
For that lily sweet with summer’s fervor blest
Must its blossom waste on winter’s snowy breast,—
To a hoary swain,
Kalf of Nordarstien,
Torrisdell’s fair maid her troth had plighted.
Sooth a goodly feast he gave, the doughty lord ;
Through the halls shone ninety torches blazing.
Forward bent in flight, stood on the bending board —
As upon their trail the hounds were chasing —
Stag and hind ; and through the wide-flung doors
Poured the noisy throng like breakers on the shores.
But in silent gloom
With her hoary groom
Sat the bride on all that splendor gazing.
Seven days they feasted all that lusty throng
In the midnight flush of bright December:
On the seventh eve the bride with play and song
Burst in glory forth from out her chamber.
For the last time now she stood there silver-crowned ;
Strove to feign good cheer, while tears her accents drowned;
Then an awful cry
Shook the rafters high,
“Birgit Torrisdell,” it said, “remember!”
Open flew the doors : there fell a silence dread ;
In sprang Thorstein bounding to the rafter,
Round he swung a flaming torch above his head
Till a trail of blood-red sparks flew after.
“Birgit!” cried he, — “Birgit!” but about the bride
Clung the affrighted women close on every side.
“ Come, my beauteous elf,
Hast thou hid thyself?”
And he whirled the torch with frantic laughter.
Hark! — then trembling chords as on the night-wind blown
Came with fitful throbs and weird vibration ;
Quickly stayed he, shuddered, and his wild eye shone
With a restless, strange illumination;
And as eager falcon darts upon his prey,
Seized a violin and straight began to play.
Up then springs in haste
Every drowsy guest,
Smitten with the tone’s intoxication.
As the fifth stroke fell, then quaked the lofty roof,
Ouaked the tottering walls too that upbore it,
Wild and wilder danced the rout, and hurled aloof
Torches, tables, benches, all before it.
Ninth — and lo, as if the horror-laden deep
Burst its gnawing chains of long-enforcéd sleep,
Hid in midnight’s shroud
Shrieked the doom-fraught cloud,
As the wrathful storm-wind beat and tore it.
Fierce with stifled hissing came the tenth accord,
While the tempest blew its strain sonorous ;
Down the hungry heavens swooped upon the fjord,
And our world was gloom beneath and o’er us.
Off was hurled the roof; by maddening frenzy caught,
Wild with glaring eyes the guests together fought,
And like angry hosts
Of appalling ghosts
Joined the tempest’s terror-haunted chorus.
Densely and more densely rolled the waves of gloom,
Everywhere above them and around them :
Onward rushed the player and the guests of doom,
Making midnight blacker where it found them.
On and ever onward, over land and sea,
In the darksome clouds the hapless dancers flee,
Till the last sound died
In the sullen tide,
And the tempest’s roar in distance drowned them.
Centuries have faded, and the kindly earth
Hides the mouldering beams of Birgit’s bower ;
But the dooméd dancers still with frantic mirth
Breast the tempest and the midnight’s power.
And full oft the peasant from his hearthstone warm
Hears those fitful notes, that bode the coming storm,
And his mirth will die
In a pitying sigh
At the fate of Torrisdell’s fair flower.
Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen.
  1. St. Olaf was the king who finally Christianized Norway. The Pope, after his death, made him the patron saint of the country.
  2. To be able to kick the rafter is regarded as a great proof of manliness in Norway.
  3. Necken or the Neck is the spirit of the water. He is usually represented as an old man, who plays his harp or (according to others) his violin in the roaring cataracts. His music is said to consist of eleven chords, which are the very essence of all music, and all music appeals to the human heart in the same degree as it partakes of the inherent qualities of “Necken’s chords.” The legends tell of mortals who have attempted to learn these chords, and have succeeded. Some have learned two, others three, but few more than six. He who is taught to strike the eleventh chord, it is said, must give his own soul in exchange. At the ninth, lifeless objects begin to dance, and when the tenth is struck, the player is seized with such a rapture that he can never sleep, but plays on forever.
  4. “The red cock crew” is the expression used in the old Norse Sagas for a nightly attack with fire and sword.