Gunnar: A Norse Romance: Part I
FAR up under the snow-line, where the sun seldom rises, and, when it rises, seldom sets, is a lake. In the long summer days, grave fir-trees and barren rocks, wearing on their brows the wrinkles of centuries, reflect their rugged heads in its mirror; but it is not often that gentle spring and summer find their way hither on their wanderings round the earth, and when they do, their stay is brief. And again winter blows his icy breath over the mountains ; stiff and dead lie the waters, and the fir-trees sigh under the burden of the heavy snow.
At the northern end of the lake, the Yokul, the son of winter, lifts his mighty head above the clouds, and looks in cold contempt down upon the world below ; with his arms, the long, freezing glaciers, he embraces the landscape around him, hugging it tightly to his frosty bosom.
On the eastern side the rocks open wide enough for a little brook to escape from the mountains into the valley ; and as it runs chattering between the ferns and under the treeroots, it tells them from year to year an endless tale of the longings of the lake and of the despotic sway of the stern old Yokul. But once every year, when spring comes with merry birds and sunshine, the little brook feels itself larger and stronger, and it swells with joy, and bounds laughing over the crooked tree-roots and throws in its wantonness a kiss of good-by to its old friends, the ferns. Every spring the brook is glad ; for it knows it will join the river, it knows it will reach the ocean.
“The flood is coming,” said the old people in the valley, and they built a dam in the opening of the rocks, where the brook had flowed, and stopped it. Farther down they put up a little mill with a large water-wheel, which had years ago belonged to another mill, so that the whole now looked like a child with its grandfather’s hat and spectacles on.
“ Now we will make the brook of some use,” said they ; and every time the lake rose to the edge of the dam, they opened the flood-gate ; the water rushed down on the mill, the waterwheel turned round and round, and the mill-stones ground the grain into flour. So the brook was made of use.
But up on the mountain the snow lay deep yet, and the bear slept undisturbed in his wintry cave. Snow loaded the branches of the pines, and the ice was cold and heavy on the bosom of the lake. For spring had not yet come there ; it always came first to the old folks down in the valley. It was on its way now up the mountainside.
A mild breeze stole over the rocks and through the forest, the old fir shook her branches and rose upright. Masses of snow fell down on the rock ; they rolled and grew, as they rolled, until with a heavy thump they reached the lake. A loud crash shot through the ice from shore to shore.
A few sunbeams came straggling in through the forest, struck the fir, and glittered on the ice, where the wind had swept it bare.
“ Spring is coming,” said the old tree, doubting whether to trust her own eyes or not; for it was long since she had seen the spring. And she straightened herself once more, and shook her tough old branches again.
“Spring is coming,” she repeated, still speaking to herself; but the stiff pine, standing hard by, heard the news, and she told it to the birch, the birch to the dry bulrushes, and the bulrushes to the lake.
“ Spring is coming,” rustled the bulrushes, and they trembled with joy. The lake heard it, and its bosom heaved ; for it had longed for the spring. And the wind heard it, and whispered the message of joy, wherever it came, to the rocks, to the glaciers and to the old Yokul. “ Spring is coming,” said the wind.
And the lake wondered ; for it thought of the swallows of last spring, and of what the swallows had said. “ Far from here,” chirped the swallows, “ is the great ocean ; and there are no pine-trees there, no firs to darken the light of the sun, no cold and haughty Yokul to freeze the waters.”
“ No firs and no Yokul ?” said the lake, wondering, for it had never seen anything but the firs and the Yokul.
“And no rocks to bound the sight and hinder the motion,” added the swallows.
“And no rocks,” exclaimed the lake ; and from that time it thought of nothing but the ocean.
For two long years the lake had been thinking, until at last it thought it would like to tell somebody what it had been thinking ; the old fir looked so wise and intelligent, it felt sure that the fir would like to know something about the ocean. But then it wondered again what it had to tell the fir about the ocean, and how it should tell it, until at last spring came, and it had not yet spoken. Then the fir spoke.
“ What are you thinking about ? ” said the fir.
“ About the ocean,” answered the lake.
“ The ocean ? ” repeated the fir, in a tone of inexpressible contempt; “ what is the use of thinking about the ocean ? Why don’t you think of the mill ? ”
“ Have you ever seen the ocean ? ” asked the lake, timidly.
“Seen the ocean? No ; but I have seen the mill, and that is a great deal better.” And the fir shrugged her great shoulders, as if pitying both the ocean and those that could waste a thought oa it.
Then for a long time the lake was silent, until it felt that it could no longer hold its peace ; then it spoke. This time, it thought it would speak to the pine ; the pine was younger and might perhaps itself once have had longings for the ocean.
“ Have you ever longed for the ocean ? ” said the lake to the pine.
“ I have longed for the mill,” answered the pine harshly, and its voice sounded cold and shrill ; “ and that is what you had better long for too,” it added. The pine looked down into the clear water, and saw its own image ; it shook its stately branches and seemed greatly pleased with its own appearance.
“ But,” began the lake again, “ would you not like to see the ocean ? ”
“No,” cried the pine, “my father and my father’s father grew up, lived, and died here ; they never saw the ocean, and they were just as well off without it. What would be the use of seeing the ocean ? ”
“I do not know,” sighed the lake, and was silent; and from that time it never spoke about the ocean, but it thought the more of it, and longed for the spring and the swallows.
It was early in June. The sun rose and shone warm on the Yokul, night and day. To the lake it seldom came, only now and then a few rays would go astray in the forest, peep forth between the rugged trunks, and flash in the water ; then hope swelled in the bosom of the lake, and it knew that spring was coming.
At last came spring, and with it the sea-winds and the swallows. And every evening, when the sun shone red and dreamy, the lake would hear the sea-wind sing its strange songs about the great ocean, and about the tempests that lifted its waves to the sky ; it would listen to the swallows, as they told their wonder-stories of the blooming lands beyond the ocean, where there were no firs, no rocks, and no Yokul, but in their stead palm-trees with broad glittering leaves and sweet fruits, beautiful gardens and sunshiny hills, looking out over the great boundless ocean.
“ And,” said the swallows, “ there is never any snow and ice there ; always light and sunshine.”
“ Always light and sunshine ?” asked the lake, wondering ; and its thoughts and its longings grew toward the great ocean and that sunshiny land beyond it.
The sun rose higher and shone on the Yokul warmer than ever before ; the Yokul sparkled and glittered in the sunshine ; it was almost merry, for it smiled at the sun’s trying to melt it.
“ It is no use trying,” said the Yokul; “ I have been standing here so long now, that it is of no use trying to change me.” But change it did, although it was too stubborn to own it ; for it sent great, swelling rivers down its sides, down into the valley, and into the lake.
And as the sun rose, the lake grew; for there was strength in the sunshine. The old fir shook her head, and shrugged her shoulders; but still the lake kept growing, growing up over her feet, until the old fir stood in the water above her knees. Then she lost her patience.
“ What in all the world are you thinking about ? ” exclaimed the old tree.
“About the ocean,” said the lake; “ O that I could see the ocean ! ”
“ Come,” whispered the sea-wind, dancing down over the mountain-side, “ come to the ocean.”
“ Come,” chirped the swallows, “come to the ocean.”
“ I am coming,” said the lake, and it rushed upon the dam; the barrier creaked and broke. The lake drew a full breath, and onward it leaped, onward over the old mill it staggered and fell ; onward through fields and meadows, through forests and plains ; onward it rushed, onward to the ocean. “ There was an old fir, the finest mast that ever struck root on this side the mountains ; but the tree was charmed, and no one dared to fell it: for it belonged to the Hukler,1 and it was from the top of that old fir that she called with her loor 2 her herds of motley cattle ; many a time she had been seen sitting there at eventide, counting her flocks, and playing her mournful loor until not a calf or a kid was missing. No man had dared to fell the tree, for it would have been that man’s death. Then there came one day a lumbermerchant from town ; he saw the mast and offered two hundred silver dollars for it. Old Lars Henjum said he might have it, if he could find the man who had the courage to fell it. Now, that thing was never made which Gunnar was afraid of, and he would like to see the woman, said he, either with tail or without it, who could scare him from doing what he had made up his mind to do. So he felled the mast, and paid with his life for his boldness. For behind the mast stood the Hulder, and it was not for nothing that the last stroke of the axe brought the huge trunk down on the lumberman’s head. Since then ill luck has ever followed the family, and ever will follow it,” said old Gunhild.
WHERE the valley is narrowest, the mountain steepest, and the river swiftest, lies Henjumhei. The cottage itself is small and frail, and smaller and frailer still it looks with that huge rock stooping over it, and the river roaring and foaming below ; it seems almost ready to fall. The river, indeed, seems to regard it as an easy prey, for every spring, when it feels lusty and strong, it draws nearer and nearer to the cottage, flings its angry foam in through the narrow window-holes, and would, perhaps, long ago have hurled the moss-grown beams down over its brawling rapids, if it had not been for the old rock, which always frowns more sternly than ever when the river draws too near the cottage. Perhaps it was the same fear of the river which induced Gunnar Thorson Henjumhei, Thor Gunnarson’s father, to plant two great beams against the eastern and western walls ; there is now but little danger of its falling, and Thor Gunnarson has lived there nearly ten years since his father, Gunnar, felled that great fir, which felled himself, so that he had to be brought home to die. Now, how old Gunnar, who was known to be the best lumberman in all the valley, could have managed to get that trunk over his neck, was a matter which no one pretended to understand, except Gunhild, his widow; and every one knew that she was a wise woman. This was what she said : —
Before his father’s death Thor Henjumhei had been the first dancer and the best fighter in all the valley. People thought him a wild fellow, and the old folks shrugged their shoulders at his bold tricks and at his absurd ideas of going to sea to visit foreign countries, or of enlisting as a soldier and fighting in unknown worlds. Why did he not, like a sensible man, marry and settle down as his father and his father’s father had done before him, and work like them for his living, instead of talking of the sea and foreign countries ? This puzzled the good old folks considerably ; but in spite of their professed dislike for Thor, they could never help talking about him ; and, in spite of all his wildness, they could not help owning that there really was something about him which made even his faults attractive. Strange it was, also, that, although Thor was only a houseman’s 3 son, many a gardman’s wife had been seen smiting graciously upon him when her fair daughter was leaning on his arm in the whirling spring-dance. But since the day he had found his father in the forest, bloody and senseless, under the Hulder’s fir, no one recognized in him the old Thor. He settled down in the little cottage by the river, married according to his mother’s wish, worked as hard and as steadily as a plough-horse, and nevermore mentioned the sea or foreign countries. Old Gunhild was happier than ever ; for although she had lost her husband (poor soul, anybody might have known that he would come to a sudden end), she had found her son. And as for Birgit, her daughter-in-law, she was the gentlest and most obedient creature that ever was, and did exactly as Gunhild bade her ; thus they lived together in peace and unity, and were not even known to have had a single quarrel, which is a most remarkable circumstance, considering that they were daughter-in-law and mother-in-law, and lived under the same roof and even in the same room. But Birgit had as firm a belief in Gunhild’s superiority of sense and judgment as she had in the old silver-clasped Bible or in Martin Luther’s Catechism, and would no more have thought of questioning the one than the other. Her husband she had never known in his wild days, and, although she had heard people tell about the gay and daring lad, who could kick the rafter in the loftiest ceiling, and on whose arm the proudest maiden was fain to rest, she somehow never could persuade herself to believe it. To her he always remained the stern, silent Thor, to whom she looked up with an almost reverential admiration, and whose very silence she considered the most unmistakable proof of superior wisdom.
Nearly a year had Birgit been at Henjumhei, and Christmas came round again. It was on Christmas eve that Gunnar Thorson was born ; for of course the boy was christened Gunnar, after his grandfather. Thor came home late from the woods that night. Gunhild was standing in the door, looking for him.
“ It is cold to-night, mother,” said he, pulling off his bear-skin mittens, and putting his axe up in its old place under the roof.
“ You may well say so, son,” said Gunhild.
Thor fixed an inquiring look on his mother’s face. She read the look, and answered it before he had time to ask.
“ A boy,” said she, “ a beautiful child.”
“ A boy,” repeated Thor, and his stern features brightened as he spoke. He took off his cap before he went in that night. Gunhild followed.
“Wonderful child, indeed,” said she, “ born on a Christmas eve.” Then she went out again, took a large knife, polished it until it shone like silver, and stuck it with the point in the door.
“ Now, thank God,” muttered she to herself, “ the child is safe and no hillpeople4 will dare to change it.”
Days came and days went, and a month had passed. The child grew, and the mother failed ; and every night when Thor came home from his work he looked more and more troubled. Gunhild saw it.
“ When spring has crossed the mountains, she will get well,” said she.
But spring came ; the sun shone bright and warm on the Yokul and the western glaciers ; the icy peaks reflected its light into the narrow valley, and the Yokul sparkled like a crystal palace.
“ Now spring is coming,” said Gunhild.
It was early in June, and spring’s first flower came just in time to adorn Birgit’s coffin. All the neighbors were at the funeral ; and no man, who saw the dense crowd in the churchyard, would have supposed that this was the funeral of a houseman’s wife. When the ceremony was over, the pastor came up to shake hands with Thor and Gunhild.
“ A hard loss, Thor,” said the pastor.
“ A hard loss, father,” said Thor.
“ Unexpected ? ”
“Unexpected. Mother thought spring would make her well.” His lip quivered, and he turned abruptly round.
“ And spring did make her well, Thor,” said the pastor warmly, grasping Thor’s hand and giving it a hearty parting shake.
If the cottage of Henjumhei had ever seen such wild deeds as it did while that boy was growing up, it surely must have been very long ago. For there was no spot from the chimney-top to the cellar to which he did not scramble. “ And it certainly is a wonder,” said his grandmother, “ that he does not break his neck, and tear the house down ten times a day.” The cottage contained only one room, with an open hearth in a corner, and two beds, one above the other, both built between the wall and two posts reaching from the floor to the roof. There was no ceiling, but long smoky beams crossing the cottage. A few feet above these were nailed a dozen boards or more, crosswise from one rafter in the roof to another on the opposite side. This is called Hemsedal, or the bed where strangers sleep. There the beggar and the wanderer may always find a sack of straw and a bed of pine branches whereon to rest their weary limbs. These beams were Gunnar’s special delight. He was not many years old, before he could get up there by climbing the door ; each beam had its own name from stories which his grandmother had told him, and he sat there and talked to them or hours together. On the one nearest the hearth was an old saddle which had been hanging there from immemorial times ; its name was “ Fox,” and on it he rode every day over mountains, seas, and forests to free the beautiful princess, who was guarded by the Trold with three heads.
In the winter, as soon as the short daylight faded, he would spend hours in Hemsedal ; and to his grandmother’s inquiry about what he was doing there, he would always answer that he was looking at the dark. Although Gunhild never liked to have the boy sit up there, and often was herself frightened at the strange things he said, she never dared bid him come down ; for her superstition peopled the cottage as well as all nature round her with elves and fairy spirits, whom she would not for any price offend. They might, indeed, some time in the boy’s life, prove a potent protection to him.
There was only one thing which Gunnar liked better than riding Fox and looking at the dark, and that was to listen to grandmother’s stories ; for grandmother could tell the most wonderful stories. Thor was very fond of his son, but it was not his way to show his fondness, and still less to speak of it ; but, though nothing was said, it was always understood that he wished to have the boy near him in the evening when the day’s work was done. Then he would light his old clay-pipe, and take his seat on one side of the hearth ; on the low hearth-stone itself his mother would sit, and little Gunnar on the floor between them. It was on such evenings, while Thor was busily smoking and carving some wooden box or spoon, and grandmother knitting away on her stocking, that she would tell her stories about Necken,5 who had loved in vain, and plays his sad tunes in the silent midsummer night ; much she knew also of the Hulder, whose beauty is greater than mortal eye ever beheld. But the finest story of all was the one about the poor boy who walked thousands of miles, through endless forests and over huge mountains, to kill the Trold, and free the beautiful princess. Gunnar never could weary of that story, and grandmother had to tell it over and over again.
One night Gunhild had just told of the boy and the princess for the third time. The fire on the hearth threw its red lustre upon the group. There was no candle or lamp in the room, only a drowsy stick of fir flickered from a crevice in the wall. Gunnar sat staring into the dying embers.
“ What are you staring at, boy ? ” said his father.
“ O father, I see the Trold, and the boy, and the princess, and all of them, right there in the fire,” cried Gunnar eagerly.
“You had better go to bed,” said Thor.
Now Gunnar would have liked to hear something more about the poor boy, but he durst not disobey ; so he reluctantly climbed up to his grandmother’s bed, undressed, and went to sleep. But that night he dreamed that the cottage was an enchanted palace, that his grandmother was an enchanted princess, and his father the three-headed Trold who kept the charm. The next morning he cautiously suggested the idea to his grandmother, whom he frightened so thoroughly that she promised herself never in her life to tell the child any Trold story again. And she never did. But the story had made too deep an impression upon the boy’s mind ever to be forgotten. He tried repeatedly to learn more from his grandmother about the later fate of the poor boy and the princess ; but the grandmother always lost her temper whenever he approached that subject, and stubbornly refused to satisfy his thirst for knowledge. Then he determined to make explorations at his own risk ; for he knew it would be of no use asking his father. There must surely be more than one beautiful princess in the world, thought he, and more than one Trold, too; and he knew a boy who would not be afraid to meet any number of Trolds, for the sake of one beautiful princess.
Few people ever came to Henjumhei, for it was very much out of the way, being far from the church-road, and the river was too swift to be crossed so far up. Farther down the current was not so strong, and there a skilful boatman could row across without danger. Now and then a beggar would find his way up to the cottage, and, as these visits brought many bits of pleasant gossip and parish news, and, moreover, formed Gunhild’s only connection with the world outside, through the long dark winter, they were always gratefully accepted, and the visitor never went away unrewarded. Of course Thor never knew of what was going on in the valley, and every girl in the parish might have married, and every other man emigrated, for all he cared. He had enough to do with his own affairs, he said, and so had his neighbor with his. This was a point of constant disagreement between Gunhild and her son ; for she was naturally of a social disposition, and led this lonely life more from necessity than from choice. As for Gunnar, he knew nothing about the people in the valley, and consequently felt no interest in them ; but still he enjoyed the visits of the beggars as much as his grandmother ; he always looked upon them with a kind of reverential awe, and would not have been in the least surprised if he had seen their rags suddenly turn into gold and purple. The boy had lived so long in a world of his own imagination, and had had so very little to do with the world of reality, that he was not able to distinguish the one from the other.
THE GARDMAN FOLKS.
ABOUT a mile down the river, where the valley opens widely toward the fjord and the sunshine, lies Henjum, the largest estate within hundreds of miles. Atle Larsson Henjum is the first man in the whole parish, and even the pastor himself pays him his regular visits after the Christmas and Easter offerings. In church he always takes the foremost seat, nearest the pulpit, and the pastor seldom commences his sermon before Atle is in his seat. On offering-days he is always the first man at the altar. Atle Henjum is only a peasant, but he is proud of being a peasant. “ My father and my father’s father, and again his father, as far back as Saga records, were peasants,” he would say, “ so I do not see why I should wish to be anything else. ” Atle always likes to speak of his father and his father’s father, and he is sure never to think of doing anything which they have not done before him. It is because his father always bad occupied the foremost seat in church that he feels bound to do it; as for himself, it makes no difference to him where he sits. Everybody who could remember Lars Atleson, Atle’s father, said that never had a son followed more closely in father’s footsteps than Atle did. As far back in time as memory goes, Atle’s ancestors had lived on Henjum, and their names had been alternately Lars Atleson and Atle Larsson ; consequently, when Atle’s son was born, he would probably rather have drowned him than given him any other name than Lars.
Henjum holds as commanding a position over the rest of the valley as its lord over his fellow-parishioners. The fresh-painted, red, two-story building, with its tall chimneys and slated roof, looks very stately indeed on the gently sloping hillside, with the dark pine forest behind it and the light green meadows below.
Atle Henjum owned a good deal more land than he could take care of himself; more than half of his estate he leased to his housemen, in lots large enough to hold a cottage and feed one or two cows. These housemen, of which Thor Henjumhei was one, paid the lease of their land by working a certain number of weeks on the “ gard,” as they called the estate to which they and their lots belonged.
Atle himself was thus called the gardman, and his family the gardman folks.
Atle’s father and father’s father had been hard workers, and so was Atle himself; and the houseman who expected to remain long in his service must follow his example ; next, he must have no will of his own, but do exactly as he was told, without saying one word for or against. To this last rule, however, there was one exception ; Thor Henjumhei was a man of as few words as his master, but of all the housemen he was the only one who was allowed to speak his opinion, or, more, who was requested to do so. There was a singular kind of friendship between the two, founded on mutual respect. Atle knew well that Thor was as stiff and at bottom as proud as himself, and Thor had the same conviction with regard to Atle. Seldom was any new land broken, a fallow field sown, or a lumber bargain settled, before Thor’s opinion was heard.
Atle Henjum had two children. Lars, the boy, was by two years the older ; he was of just the same age as Thor’s son, Gunnar. The daughter’s name was Gudrun.
The Henjum estate stretched straight to the river, on either side of which was a boat-house, one belonging to Henjum, and the other to Rimul. Rimul was a large and fine estate, though not quite as large as Henjum ; the house was only one story, and did not look half as stately as the big Henjum building; but it had such a friendly and cheerful look about it, that nobody could help wishing to step in, when he chanced to pass by. Ingeborg Rimul herself was the stateliest woman you might see ; indeed, she was not Atle Henjum’s sister for nothing. Atle had never had more than this one sister, and while she was at home he had always been proud of her stately growth and fair appearance. Of course Ingeborg had a suitor for every finger, while she was a maiden; but when anybody asked her why none of the young lads found favor with her (and there were many mothers of promising sons who put that question to her), she always answered that she was in no hurry. Then one day a young man from the city came to visit the parsonage. He had studied for the ministry at the University of Christiania, wore a long silk tassel in his cap, and spectacles on his nose. His name was Mr. Vogt. He had not been long in the valley before he discovered in church a girl with long golden hair and a pair of eyes which interested him exceedingly. Ingeborg received many invitations from the parsonage in those days, even so many that Atle began to suspect mischief, and forbade her going there altogether. Ingeborg of course dared not disobey her brother. She never went to the parsonage again while Mr. Vogt was there. But somebody thought he had seen a long silk tassel and a pair of bright blue eyes down on the shore late one dreamy summer evening; and another, who thought he had seen more, was not sure but it was fair Ingeborg’s golden head he had recognized resting on Mr. Vogt’s bosom one moonlight night, under the great birch-tree by the river. Whether true or not, sure it was that all the valley was talking about it; but strange to say, the last to hear it and the last to believe it Was Atle Henjum. In fact, it made him so angry, when somebody congratulated him on his new brother-in-law, that no one from that day dared mention Vogt’s name in his presence. But Atle also had his eyes opened before long. For one day Mr. Vogt came marching up the hills to Henjum, and asked to see Atle. What passed between them no one ever knew: all that was known is that Mr. Vogt left the parsonage that very night, and went back to the city ; that Ingeborg, against her custom, did not appear either at church or anywhere else for several weeks, and that the next time she did appear, people thought she looked a little paler, and carried her head somewhat higher than usual. Before the year passed she was married to Sigurd Rimul, who was several years younger than herself. Atle made the wedding, and a grand wedding it was ; it lasted from Wednesday till Monday; there was drinking and dancing, and both pastor and judge were invited. Never had a bride on this side of the mountains brought such a dowry ; there was wool and linen and silver enough to cover the road from the church to the bridal-house ; so she had every reason to feel happy, and, if she did not, it was not her fault, for she tried hard. Since that time Mr. Vogt was never seen, and seldom heard of in the valley. The parson told somebody who asked for him, that he had married a wealthy man’s daughter, and was settled as pastor of a large parish near the city.
It was now about seven or eight winters since Ingeborg’s wedding ; if she had not known sorrows before, as indeed she had, her married life did not begin with too bright a prospect. Sigurd was a good husband ; so everybody said, and no one was readier to praise him than his wife. People said, however, that Ingeborg still had everything her own way, and that Sigurd had “ to dance to his wife’s pipe.” But if anybody had dared hint such thing in Sigurd’s presence, there is no knowing what he might have done ; for kind and gentle as he was, the saying was, that he had one tender point, and when any one touched that he was wilder than a bear. Sigurd was proud of his wife ; he thought her the most beautiful and most perfect woman who ever lived ; and he would not have been afraid to strike the king himself, if he had gainsaid him on that point. Still, there were those in the parish who were of a different opinion; for rejected suitors are not apt to make very warm friends afterwards, and their mothers and sisters still less so. To Ingeborg it mattered little what people said ; she carried her head as high after her wedding as she had done in her maiden days, and shook hands with the parishioners on Sundays after service as friendly as ever. Then something happened which made a change in her life.
Erick Skogstod had been one of Ingeborg’s warmest admirers. She had refused him twice, but still he did not despair. He was present at her wedding, and had been drunk even on the second day. The sixth winter after, he invited Sigurd and Ingeborg to his own wedding. They both rode to church with the bridal party, but Ingeborg excused herself from coming in the evening ; she could not leave her baby, she said ; so Sigurd went alone. The second night more than half of the guests were drunk, and even the bridegroom himself had clearly looked “a little too deep into the glass.” Sigurd was displeased. He left the hot, noisy hall, where the din was almost deafening, and went out into the yard to cool himself. The moon shone bright, and there was a clear frost. He had meant to steal away unnoticed, when the bridegroom and three or four guests met him in the yard and stopped him. “Where is your wife ? ” asked Erick.
“ She is at home.”
“Why didn’t she come ? Perhaps she thought herself too good to come to Erick Skogstod’s wedding.”
“ She could not leave her baby,” replied Sigurd calmly, taking no notice of the latter remark.
“ Could not leave her baby, hey ? ” cried Erick ; “ if she cannot leave her baby, then you may tell her from Erick Skogstod not to send her baby to a wedding alone another time.”And seizing Sigurd with both hands by the coat-collar, he thrust his face close up to his and burst into a wild laughter.
“ What do you mean ? ” said Sigurd, releasing himself from Erick’s grasp.
“ I mean that you are a baby, and that you had better go home and put on one of your wife’s petticoats, and not come here and mingle with men.” Erick was very much amused at his own taunts, and turned round to his attendants, laughing. They all laughed and looked scornfully at Sigurd. His arm trembled; he struggled hard to keep calm.
“ You are afraid now, Sigurd Rimul,” cried the bridegroom, again seizing him by the collar.
“ Never shall you see the day when Sigurd Rimul is afraid.” A heavy blow sent Erick headlong to the ground ; for a moment he lay silent and moved not a finger ; then with a fearful yell he bounded to his feet, lifted his huge fist, and rushed furiously against his opponent; but Sigurd was prepared, and warded off the blow with his arm. Erick foamed with rage ; he felt for his knife, but fortunately it was gone, or that night must have been a bloody one. Then with both arms he caught his guest round the waist, and tried to throw him. The other struggled to free himself ; but before he succeeded, Erick had tripped him, and his head struck heavily against the frozen ground, with Erick’s large body upon it. Erick rose and looked at Sigurd : Sigurd did not rise.
It was about midnight. Ingeborg was sitting up with her sick child; she heard a noise in the hall, laid the child on the bed, and opened the door. Four men came into the room, bearing something between them. They laid her husband upon the bed. “Almighty God, what have you done with him ?” she shrieked.
“He quarrelled with Erick Skogstod and got the worst of it,” said one of the men.
Sigurd was never himself again. The doctor said that he had received a severe shock of the brain. He was like a child, and hardly knew anybody. A year after he died, and before long the oldest child followed him.
Four winters had passed since Ingeborg buried her husband ; still she was the same stately woman to look at, and people saw little change in her. Now she lived as a rich widow on a large estate, and again people began to whisper of suitors and wooing. But they soon ceased, for the widow of Rimul was not backward in showing the lads in the valley that she had not changed her mind since her maiden days.
Ragnhild Rimul, Ingeborg’s daughter, was fairer than spring. If Ingeborg’s hair had been fair and golden, her daughter’s was fairer still ; if Ingeborg’s eyes had been deep and blue, Ragnhild’s were deeper and bluer. The young birch is light and slender ; and when by chance it grows alone in the dark, heavy pine forest, it looks lighter and more slender. Ragnhild was a birch in the pine forest. Spring and sunshine were always about her.
The sitting-room at Rimul was large and light. The windows looked east and south, and the floor was always strewn with fresh juniper-needles. In the corner between the windows was a little book-shelf with a heavy silverclasped Bible, a few hymn-books, and a “ house-postille,” or a book of daily devotions. Under the book-shelf was what Ragnhild called her corner, where she had her little chair, and kept her shells, pieces of broken china, and other precious things. There was no stove in the room, but an open hearth, before which stood a large arm-chair, which in former times had belonged to Sigurd’s father and grandfather, and had been standing there ever since. The room had a ceiling of unpainted planks, and the timber walls still retained the pleasant color of fresh-hewn pine beams. A door led from the sitting-room into the chamber where Ingeborg and her daughter slept. In another building across the yard were the barns, the stables, and the servanthall. The maids slept in the cow-stable which almost rivalled the dwellinghouse in comfort and neatness. Behind the buildings the land rose more abruptly toward the mountains, but the slope was overgrown with thick-leaved groves, whose light foliage gradually shaded into the dark pine forest above. The fields of Rimul reached from the mansion down to where the river joined the fjord.
Sunshine had always been scarce there in the valley ; Rimul, however, had the advantage of all oter places, for the sun always came first there and lingered longest. Thus it had sun both within and without.
LAYS AND LEGENDS.
OLD Gunhild had been a good singer in her time ; indeed, she had quite a fine voice even now, perhaps a little husky at times and rather low for a woman. But Thor and Gunnar, at least, both thought it wonderfully melodious, and there is no doubt but it was remarkably well adapted to the wild and doleful lays it was her wont to sing.
One winter night the fire burnt cheerfully on the hearth, and they were all gathered round it as usual ; Thor smoking, and working at his spoons and boxes, Gunnar eagerly listening to his grandmother’s stories.
“Sing, now, grandmother,” demanded the boy, as a marvellous Troldstory had just been finished.
“ Very well. What do you want ? ” For grandmother was always ready to sing.
“ Something about the Hulder.”And she sang of a young man who lay down in the woods to sleep, but could not sleep for the strange voices he heard from flower and river and mountain ; then over them all stole the sad, joyful yearning tones of the Hulder’s loor; and anon he beheld a beautiful maiden in scarlet boddice and golden hair, who fled before him night and day through the forest, till he heard the sound of the Sabbath-bell. He whispered the name of Christ: —
Vanish as mist in the morning air.
“ With the last toll of the Sabbath-bell
Gone was the maiden and broken the spell.
In the darksome woods,
The treacherous Hulder is playing there
In the darksome woods.”
After running through some wild mournful notes, Gunhild’s voice gradually sank into a low, inarticulate murmur. Thor’s box was no nearer done than when the song commenced, and his pipe had gone out. Gunnar’s eyes rested dreamily in the fire. For a while they all sat in silence. Gunhild was the first to speak.
“ What are you staring at, child?” said she.
Gunnar did not hear.
“ What are you looking for in the fire, child ?” repeated the grandmother a little louder. Gunnar seemed to wake up as from some beautiful dream, which he tried to keep, but could not.
“ Why, grandmother, what did you do that for ? ” said he, slowly and reluctantly turning his eyes from the flickering flames.
“ Do what, child ?” asked his grandmother, half frightened at the strange look in his eyes.
“ You scared her away,” said he gloomily.
“ Scared whom away ? ”
“The Hulder with scarlet bodice and golden hair.”
“ Bless you, child ! Whatever you do, don’t look at me in that way. Come, let the Hulder alone, and let us talk about something else.”
“ Another story ? ”
“As you please, another story.”
But Gunhild knew very little about other things than Necks, Hulders, and fairies, and before long she was deep in another legend of the same nature. This was what she told : —
“ He who is sorrowful knows Necken, and Necken knows him best who is sorrowful. When the heart is light, the ear is dull ; but when the eye is dimmed by the hidden tear, then the soul is in the ear, and it can hear voices in the forest and sea which are dumb to the light-hearted. I remember the day when old Gunnar first told me that I was fair, and said his heart and his cottage would always have a place for me. I was gay and happy then ; my heart danced in my bosom, and my feet beat the time on the ground. I went to the old cataract. It cared little for my joy; it looked cold and dreary.
“ Two years from that day the churchbells tolled over my first-born. My heart was heavy, and my eye so hot that it burned the tear before it could reach the eyelid. Again I sat on Necken’s stone at the cataract, and from the waters arose strange music, sad but sweet and healing, like the mild shower after the scorching heat. Then the tears started and I wept, and the music wept too ; we wept together, and neither of us knew who stopped first. Since then I have always loved the old cataract ; for now I know that it was true, as the legend says, that Necken plays his harp there amid the roar of the waters. And Necken knows sorrow; he loved, but he loved in vain.
“ Love is like fire, cnild ; love is like fire. Wounds of fire are hard to heal ; harder still are those of love. Necken loved a mortal maiden ; fair was she like the morning, but fickle as the sea-wind. It was a midsummer morning he saw her last, and midsummer night she had promised to wed him. Midsummer night came, but she came not. It is said to be years and years ago ; but still the midsummer night has never missed him, as he raises his head above the water, looking for his bride, when the midnight hour strikes. Strangely, then, do the mournful chords tremble through the forests in the lonely night ; for he calls his bride. If they ever reached her ear, no one knows ; but that lad or that maiden, who comes to the cataract at the midnight hour, will hear the luring music, and he who loves in truth and loves in sorrow will never go away uncomforted. Many a fair maiden has spoken there the desire of her heart, and has been heard ; many a rejected wooer came there with a heart throbbing with love and heavy with sorrow ; he has called for help and help he has found, if he was worthy thereof. For Necken knows the heart of man ; he rewards him who is worthy of reward, and punishes him who deserves punishment. Many a lad woos a maiden, but loves her gold. Such also have sought the cataract at the midnight hour ; they have never since been seen, for they never returned. An invisible arm has hurled them down into the whirling pools, and their cries have been heard from afar, as they were seized by the seething rapids.
“ Long ago, when my forehead was smooth like the fjord in the summer morning, when my cheek was as fresh as the early dawn, and my hair like a wheat-field in September, then I knew a lad whom no one will forget who had ever seen him; and that lad was Saemund of Fagerlien. Never eagle, however high its flight, was safe from his arrow; never bear made his den too deep for him to find it; never a beam was built beyond the reach of his heel.
“ Saemund’s father was a houseman ; had no farm for his son, no silver spoons or costly linen. But if you wanted to see sport, you ought to have gone to the dance, when Saemund was there. Never that girl lived, gardman’s or houseman’s daughter, who did not feel her heart leap in her bosom, when he offered to lead her in the lusty spring-dance. He never challenged a man to fight but too late that man repented who offered him a challenge.
“ The sun shone on many fair maidens in those days ; but strength is failing now, and beauty is fading, and the maidens nowadays are not like those who lived before them. But even then no lad who had cast his eyes on Margit of Elgerfold would wish to look at another maiden. For when she was present, all others faded, like a cluster of pines when a white birch sprouts in the midst of them. Thorkild of Elgerfold was at that time surely the proudest, and, likely enough, also among the richest in the parish. He had no other child than Margit, and there was no lad in the valley he thought good enough for her.
I have often heard old and truthful people say, that there were more wooers in one week at Elgerfold in those days than all the other maidens of the valley saw all the year round. Old Thorkild, Margit’s father, did not fancy that wooing-business ; but Margit had always been used to have her own way; so it was just as well to say nothing about it.
“ Then came winter, and with winter came gay feasts, weddings, and merry dancing-parties. Of course Margit was there, and as for Saemund, no wedding or party was complete without him ; they might as well have failed to ask the bridegroom. But people would say, that during that winter he led Margit of Elgerfold in the dance perhaps a little oftener than was agreeable to old Thorkild, her father. He was only a houseman’s son, you know, and she was a rich man’s daughter. And if you did not try to shut your eyes, you could not help noticing that Margit’s sparkling eyes never shone as brightly as when Saemund asked her to dance, and the smile on her lips never was sweeter and happier than when she rested on his arm.
“ When winter was over, Margit went to the saeter6 with the cattle ; the saeter-road was quite fashionable that summer; probably it was more frequented than even the highway. And a gay time they had up there ; for there was hardly a lad, gardman’s or houseman’s son, who did not visit the saeter of Elgerfold, and especially on Saturday eves, when scores of young men would chance to meet on the saeter green. The girls from the neighboring saeters would be sent for, and the night would be sure to end with a whirling spring-dance. But one was missed in the number of Margit’s visitors, and that happened to be he who would have been most welcome. Saemund had shouldered his gun and spent the long summer days hunting. He had never been at the saeter of Elgerfold ; and as there were no parties at that season, he and Margit hardly ever saw each other.
“ People were busy talking at that time, as people always are. Why did Margit, said they, before summer was over, dismiss every one of her suitors, even the sons of the mightiest men in the parish ? Of course, because she had taken it into her foolish head, that she wanted somebody who did not want her, and the only one who did not seem to want her was Saemund of Fagerlien. Now parish talk is not altogether to be trusted, but neither is it altogether to be disbelieved ; for there always is some truth at the bottom, and the end showed that this was not gathered altogether from the air 7 either, as the saying is. Margit had gold, and she had beauty ; but for all that she was but a weak woman, and what woman’s heart could resist those bottomless eyes of Saemund’s ? Surely, Margit had soon found that she could not. So she thought the matter over, until at last she discovered that there was hardly one thought in her soul which was not already his. But what should she do ? ‘ Here at home he will
never come to see me,’ said she to herself, ‘for he knows father would not like it. I had better go to the saeter, and have the boys come to visit me there ; then, when all the rest go, he will hardly be the only one to stay away.' But summer came and went, and saeter-time was nearly gone. Yet he had not come. ‘ This will not do,’ thought Margit ; ‘ perhaps he imagines I intend to marry some one of the gardmans’ lads, since they come here so often.’ And she dismissed them all. Now he must surely come. But autumn came, and the fall storms, the messengers of winter, swept through the valley and stripped the forest of its beauty. Yet he had not come. It was cold on the saeter then, and thick clouds in the east foreboded snow. Then old Thorkild himself went to the saeter, and wanted to know why his daughter had not come home with the cattle long ago. It certainly was madness to stay in the mountains now, so late in the season, when the hoar frost covered the fields and the pasture was nearly frozen. Perhaps the hoar frost had touched Margit’s cheeks too, for the spring-like roses were fading fast, and the paleness of winter was taking their place. ‘She has caught a bad cold,’ said her hither ; ‘ she stayed too late in the mountains.’
“People seldom saw Saemund that summer. All they knew was that he was in the highlands hunting. Now and then he would appear in the valley at the office of the judge with two or three bear-skins, and receive his premiums. Nobody could understand why he did not go to the Elgerfold saeter, like all the other lads ; for there was no doubt he would be welcome. But Saemund himself well knew why he stayed away. If he had not felt that Margit of Elgerfold was dearer to him than he even liked to own to himself, he might perhaps have seen her oftener. It is only a foolish fancy, thought he, at first; when summer comes it will pass away, but summer came, and Saemund found that his foolish fancy was getting the better of him. He did not know what to make of himself. How could he, a low-born houseman’s son, have the boldness to love the fairest and richest heiress in all the valley ? How could he ever expect to marry her ? The thought was enough to drive him mad.
“Winter came, and Margit was waiting still. Winter went; Saemund had not yet come. Spring dawned, the forest was budding, and midsummer drew near.
“ 'There is no other way,’ thought Margit, as she sat in her garret-window and saw the silence of the midsummer night stealing over the fjord, the river, and the distant forests. Even the roaring of the cataract sounded half smothered and faint. ‘ There is no other way,’ repeated she. ‘ I will try, and if I am wrong—well, if I am wrong, then may God be merciful to me.’ She went to the door of her father’s room and listened ; he slept. She wavered no longer. The cataract was not far away ; soon she was there. The doleful cry of an owl was the first sound to break the silence ; she stopped and shuddered, for the owl is a prophet of evil. Then an anxious hush stole through the forest, and in another moment the silence was breathless ; Margit listened ; she heard but the beating of her own heart, then something like a strange whispering hum below, overhead, and all around her. She felt that it was the midnight hour coming. It seemed to her that she was moving, but she knew not whither her feet carried her. When her sight cleared, she found herself at the edge of the cataract. There she knelt down.
“' Necken,’ prayed she, 'hear me, oh hear me! Margit’s heart is full of sorrow, and none but thou canst help her. Long has she loved Saemund, long has she waited, but he would not come.’ ‘ Margit, he has come,’ whispered a well-known voice in her ear, and Margit sank in Saemund’s arms. Long had she waited, at last he had come ; and as their hearts and their lips met, they heard and they felt the sounds of wonderful harmony. It was the tones of Necken’s harp. Both had sought and both had found him.
Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen.
- The Hulder is a kind of personification of the forest ; she is described as a maiden of wonderful beauty, and only in this respect different from her mortal sisters, that she has a long cow’s-tail attached to her beautiful frame. This is the grief of her life. She is always longing for the society of mortals, often ensnares young men by her beauty, but again and again the tail interferes by betraying her real nature. She is the protecting genius of the cattle.↩
- The Loor is a straight birch-bark horn, widening toward one end. It is from three to six feet long, and is used for calling the cattle home at evening.↩
- In the rural districts of Norway there is sharp distinction between a “ gardman,” or a man who owns his land, and a “ houseman,” who pays the rent of his house and an adjoining piece of land large enough to feed a cow or two, by working a certain number of weeks or months a year for the gardman.↩
- * The hill-people are a kind of ugly pygmies with big heads and small bodies. They often steal newborn infants and place their own in the plundered cradle. Such changelings have large glassy eyes with a blank stare, and eat immensely, but never grow very large, and can never learn to speak.↩
- As the Hulder is the spirit of the forest, so Necken is the spirit of the water. He lives in the wildest cataracts, where he plays his violin, or, according to others, a harp, and he who listens closely may hear his wonderful music above the roaring of the water.↩
- Saeter is a place in the mountains where the Norwegian peasants spend their summers, pasturing their cattle. in the interior districts the whole family generally goes to the saeter, while in the lower valleys they send only their daughters and one or more maid-servants.↩
- A common expression in Norway for something that seems to have originated without any apparent cause or foundation.↩