Gunnar: A Norse Romance: Part Iii



“ BLESS my soul ! what is it the boy has been doing ? ” cried Brita, as her eyes fell upon the drawing which Gunnar had left standing before his bed. It was the morning after St. John’s Eve, and Brita had come to wake him. Gunnar, before whose dreamy vision the variegated scenes and impressions of the night still were hovering, started up half frightened, rubbed his eyes, and asked what was the matter.

“ Why, boy, what have you been doing ? ” repeated Brita in a tone which made Gunnar believe that it was something terrible he was suspected of having done ; “ have you been trying to make a picture of little Ragnhild ? ” “No indeed, I have not,” asserted Gunnar, still with a vague impression that such an attempt would be an unpardonable boldness.

“Then, what does this mean ? ” said Brita, holding the drawing up before him. A stream of sunlight glided in through the airhole in the wall and struck the picture ; but it went farther, and struck Gunnar too. What he had not known before, he knew now. It was not the Hulder : it was Ragnhild. He felt the blood mount to his temples, dropped his eyes like a convicted culprit, and remained silent.

Days came and days went, the summer sped, and autumn drew near. The wide highland with its freshness and freedom had become as a home to Gunnar; he longed no more for the valley ; nay, sometimes he even felt a strange dread of being closed in again under the shadow of those stern, inexorable mountains, now that his sight had been widened by the distance, and his thought had gained height and strength in the play with the infinite.

Rhyme-Ola was a great help to Gunnar, for a strong friendship bound them to each other. Rhyme-Ola clung to Gunnar, who was, in fact, the stronger nature of the two. The boy soon became familiar with his friend’s peculiar ways, so they no longer disturbed him ; and the songster, to whom sympathy and affection were new experiences, felt spring spread in his soul, and with every day that passed the boy became dearer to him. He sung him sad, and he sung him gay ; for there was power and depth in Rhyme-Ola’s song: moreover, there was this peculiarity about it, that as soon as he struck the first note, the sky, the lake, and the whole landscape around seemed to fall in with it, and to assume the tone and color of the song. It was as much a part of the highland nature as the shrill cry of the loon or the hollow thunder of the avalanche in the distant ravines. Thus Gunnar grew ; and Rhyme-Ola’s song grew with him and into him, opening his ear to the unheard, his eye to the unseen, and lifting his fancy to bolder flight.

As long as the sun sent life and summer to the earth, Gunnar and his friend remained at the saeter watching the cattle. The cows were intrusted to Gunnar’s care, while the singer gave his whole attention to the sheep and the goats. In the morning they would always start in different directions, the one following the eastern shore of the lake, and the other the western. At noon they would meet at the northern end, on the rock which had been the scene of their first encounter. Then, while the sun stood high and the cattle lay in their noon-rest, Rhyme-Ola sat down and sung, and Gunnar would take his board and draw. He could never draw so well as when he heard those weird tunes ringing in his ears ; then the mind thronged with great ideas, and the hand moved as of itself. At first it was mostly Hulders he drew, but at the end of another month he gave up these attempts as vain. Then his companion also changed his song ; and now old heroic ballads gave a new turn to his mind and new subjects for his pencil. His illustrations of his old favorite story of the poor boy who married the princess gained him great praise wherever they were shown. Rhyme-Ola declared them absolutely unrivalled. Thus encouraged, he for some time devoted himself to similar subjects, and peopled his birch-bark with the loving virgins and gigantic heroes of the ballads.

The summer fled, like a delightful dream, from which you wake just in the moment when it is dearest to you, and you vainly grasp after it in its flight.

Before long Gunnar sat again in his old place on the floor at the fireside, in the long dark winter nights, giving life and shape to old Gunhild’s never-ending stories and his own recollections from the summer. Rhyme-Ola was again roaming about from one end of the valley to another, as had always been his custom ; he never had any scruples in accepting people’s hospitality, as he always gave full return for what he received, and he well knew that his songs and tales made him everywhere welcome. The next summer they again watched the Rimul cattle together ; and while the one sung the other drew, and they were happy in each other; for Gunnar’s sympathy warmed his friend’s lonely heart, and Rhyme-Ola’s song continued to Gunnar an ever-flowing source of inspiration.

Now and then the widow of Rimul would come up to the saeter to see how the maids and the cattle were doing ; and Ragnhild, her daughter, who had a great liking for the highlands and the saeter-life, always followed her on such occasions. It was the common opinion in the valley that Ingeborg Rimul still carried her head rather high, and there were those who prophesied that the time would surely come when she would learn to stoop. For the stiffest neck is the surest to be bent, said they; and if it does not bend, it will break.

Ragnhild seemed to have more of her father’s disposition, had a smile and a kind word for everybody. She was never allowed to go out among other people, and she seldom saw children of her own age. Her cousin Gudrun Henjum was her only companion ; for she was of the family. Gudrun had not seen twelve winters before Ingeborg Rimul asked her brother, Atle Henjum, if she might not just as well make Rimul her home altogether. Atle thought she might; for Gudrun and Ragnhild were very fond of each other. Thus it happened that, wherever the one came, there came the other also ; and when they rode to the saeter, they would sit in two baskets, one on each side of the horse.

Brita had of course told the widow about Gunnar’s picture, and once, when Ingeborg was at the saeter, she asked him to show it to her. She was much pleased with the likeness, praised the artist, and offered to buy the drawing ; but Gunnar refused to sell it. A few weeks afterwards, however, when Ragnhild expressed her admiration for his art, he gave it to her. Then Ragnhild wished to see his other productions ; he brought them and explained them to her and Gudrun, and they both took great delight in listening to him ; for he told them, in his own simple and glowing language, of all the strange thoughts, hopes, and dreams which had prompted the ideas to these pictures. Also Rhyme-Ola’s tales of trolds and fairies did he draw to them in words and lines equally descriptive ; and for many weeks to come the girls talked of nothing, when they were alone, but Gunnar and his wonderful stories. Before long they also found themselves looking forward with eagerness to their saeter visits ; and Gunnar, who took no less delight in telling than they did in listening, could not help counting the days from one meeting to another.

“ I do wish Lars could tell such fine stories as Gunnar does,” exclaimed Gudrun one evening as they were returning from the saeter.

“ So do I,” said Ragnhild, “ but I rather wish Gunnar could come to Rimul as often as Lars. Lars can never talk about anything but horses and fighting.”

Now it was told for certain in the parish, that Atle Henjum and Ingeborg Rimul had made an agreement to have their children joined in marriage, when the time came, and they were old enough to think of such things. For Henjum and Rimul were only separated by the river, and if, as the parents had agreed, both estates were united under Lars Henjum, Atle’s oldest son, he would be the mightiest man in all that province, and the power and influence of the family would be secured for many coming generations. Who had made Lars acquainted with this arrangement it is difficult to tell ; for his father had never been heard to speak of it, except, perhaps, to his sister ; but small pots may have long ears, as the saying is, and when all the parish knew of it, it would have been remarkable if it had not reached Lars’s ears too. Few people liked Lars, for he took early to bragging, and he often showed that he knew too well whose son he was.

The next winter Gunnar was again hard at work on his pictures, and although Henjumhei was far away from the church-road, it soon was rumored that Thor Henjumhei’s son had taken to the occupation of gentlefolks, and wanted to become a painter. And the good people shook their heads ; “ for such things,” said they, “are neither right nor proper for a houseman’s son to do, as long as he is neither sick nor misshapen, and his father has to work for him as steadily as a plough-horse. But there is unrest in the blood,” added they ; “ Thor made a poor start himself, and Gunnar, his father, paid dearly enough for his folly.” On Sundays, after service, the parishioners always congregate in the churchyard to greet kinsmen and friends, and discuss parish news ; and it was certain enough that Gunnar Henjumhei’s name fared ill on such occasions. At last the parish talk reached Gunhild’s ear, and she made up her mind to consult her son about the matter ; for she soon found out that Gunnar himself was very little concerned about it.

“It is well enough,” said Gunhild, “ to turn up your nose and say you don’t care. But to people like us, who have to live by the work others please to give us, it is simply a question of living or starving.”

But Gunnar never listened in that ear.

One night the boy had gone over to Rimul with some of his latest sketches and compositions, and had probably been invited to stay to supper. In the cottage Thor and his mother were sitting alone at their meal.

“ I wonder where the boy is to-night,” remarked Gunhild.

“ Most likely at Rimul, with those pictures of his,” said Thor.

A long pause.

“A handsome lad he is,” commenced the grandmother.

“ Handsome enough ; well - built frame ; doubt if there is much inside of it.”

“ Bless you, son ! don’t you talk so unreasonably. A wonderful child he is and ever was, and a fine man he will make too. I could only wish that he sometimes would bear in mind that he is a houseman’s son, and heed a little what people think and say about him.”

A bitter smile passed over Thor’s face, but he made no answer.

“Then I thought, Thor,” continued his mother, “that Gunnar is old enough to be of some use to you now.”

“ So he is.”

“The saying is, that his name fares ill on the tongues of the church-folk, because he sees his father working so hard, without offering to help him, and sticks so close to that picturing. That will never lead to anything, and moreover hardly becomes a houseman’s son.”

“ Maybe you are right, mother.”

“So I am, son ; and it would be according to my wish if you asked the boy to-morrow to go out with you timber-felling, as would be right and proper for one of his birth.”

The next morning Gunnar was asked to follow his father to the woods. He went, although much against his wish, as he was just at that time designing a grand historical composition which he was very anxious to take hold of. Henceforward he went lumbering in the winter, and herding the Rimul cattle in the summer, until he was old enough to prepare for confirmation ; 1 for every boy and girl in the valley had to be confirmed, and the last six months before confirmation, they had to go to the parsonage to be instructed by the kind old pastor. Lars Henjum also prepared for confirmation that same winter, and so it happened that he and Gunnar often met at the parsonage.

It was a large, airy hall in which the “confirmation youth” met. The window-panes were very small and numerous, and had leaden sashes ; the walls were of roughly-hewn lumber; and in a corner stood a huge mangle or rollingpress for smoothing linen. On one side of the hall sat all the boys on benches, one behind another; on the opposite side the young girls ; and the pastor at a little table in the middle of the floor. Right before him lay a large, open Bible with massive silver clasps, a yellow silk handkerchief, and a pair of horn spectacles, which he frequently rubbed, and sometimes put on his nose. The pastor had thin gray hair and a large, smooth, benevolent face, always with a pleasant smile on it. He had the faculty of making sermons out of everything; his texts he chose from everywhere, and often far away from Luther’s Catechism and Pontoppidan’s Explanations. His object was, not to teach theory and doctrine, but, as he said himself, to bring religion down to the axe and the plough ; and in this he certainly was eminently successful. In his youth he had visited foreign countries, and evidently once had cherished hopes of a grander lot than a country parsonage. Not that disappointment had imbittered him ; on the contrary, these glowing dreams of his youth had imparted a warmer flush to many dreary years to come ; and even now, when he was old and gray, this warm, youthful nature would often break through the official crust and shed a certain strong, poetic glow over all his thoughts and actions. It was from this man that Gunnar’s artistic nature received its strongest and most decisive impulse. He had not been many times at the parsonage before the pastor’s attention was attracted to him ; for he made good answers, and his questions betokened a thoughtful and original mind. Then some one of the girls had told one of the pastor’s daughters that the “ Henjumhei boy,” as he was commonly called, was such a wonder for making pictures ; and when, on request, he brought with him some of his sketches, the pastor praised them and asked his permission to take them in and show them to his family. The result of this was an invitation to dinner at the parsonage, which Gunnar, of course, was only too happy to accept. The pastor and the young ladies treated him with the greatest kindness, and gave him every possible encouragement to go on in the study of his art. In the evening they showed him a great many curious books, which he had never seen before, and beautiful engravings of foreign cities and countries, where there were flowers and sunshine all the year round. Gunnar was dumb with astonishment at all the wonderful things he heard and saw, and did not even remember that it was time to go home, until the old clock surprised him by striking midnight. When he bade them all good night, they gave him several books to take home, and paper to draw on.

This first visit to the parsonage was a great event in Gunnar’s life ; for, from that time, his longing took a fresh start, and it grew and grew, until it outgrew every thought and emotion of his soul. He was seventeen years now, tall and slender, and fair to look at. His features were not strongly marked, but of a delicate and almost maidenly cut; the expression was clear and open. His eyes were of the deepest blue, and had a kind of inward gaze, which, especially when he smiled, impressed you as a happy consciousness of some beautiful vision within. Had he known the privilege, claimed by artists, of wearing the hair long, he might have been accused of affectation ; but as artists and their fashions were equally foreign to him, the peculiar cut of his hair, in violation of all parish laws, might be owing to an overruling sense of harmony in lines and proportions ; for the light, wavy contour of the hair certainly formed a favorable frame for his fair and youthful features.

Spring was again near, and the day came for his confirmation. It was a clear, blessed spring Sunday, — a day on which you might feel that it is sabbath, even if you did not know it. And to the young people, who were standing that morning at the little country church waiting for their pastor, it was sabbath in a peculiar sense. First came the deacon, and read the paper giving the order * in which they were to stand in the aisle during the catechising. Gunnar’s name was called first, Lars Henjum’s second. Gunnar had long been an object of envy among the other boys, on account of the attention paid to him by “gentlefolks”; but that the pastor should have ventured such a breach on the traditions of the parish as to put a houseman’s son highest in the aisle on a confirmation Sunday, was more than any one had expected. And, of course, no one was more zealous in denouncing Gunnar than Lars Henjum ; for, as he said, he was the man who had been cheated. Thus it was with unholy feelings that Lars approached the altar.

By and by the congregation assembled ; all the men took their seats on the right side, the women on the left. The youth were ranged in two long rows, from the altar down to the door, the boys standing beside the men’s pews, and the girls opposite. All were dressed in the national costume of the valley : the boys in short, wool - colored jackets, scarlet, silverbuttoned vests, and light, tight-fitting breeches fastened at the knees with shining silver buckles ; while the girls, with their rich blond hair, their bright scarlet bodices, their snow-white linen sleeves and bosoms clasped with large silver brooches, their short, black skirts with edges interwoven with green and red stripes, formed with their transitions and combinations of color the most charming picture that ever delighted a genre-painter’s eye. In their hands they held their hymn-books and carefully-folded white handkerchiefs.

Every child looks forward with many hopes and plans to the day of confirmation, for it is the distinct steppingstone from childhood to youth ; beyond lie the dreams of womanhood and the rights of manhood. In this chiefly rests the solemnity of the rite.

When the hymns were sung and the catechising at an end, the venerable pastor addressed his simple, earnest words to the young,exhortingthem to remain everfaithful to their baptismal vow, which they were this day to repeat in the presence of the congregation. His words came from the heart, and to the heart they went. The girls wept, and many a boy struggled hard to keep back the unwelcome tears. After the sermon they all knelt at the altar, and while the pastor laid his bands upon their heads, they made their vow to forsake the flesh, the world, and the Devil. Then, when all were gone, the pastor called Gunnar into his study, where he talked long and earnestly with him about his future. There was, said he, an academy of art in the capital ; and if it was the wish of both Gunnar and his father that he should cultivate his talent in this direction, he would be glad to do anything in his power to promote his interests. From his university days he knew many wealthy and influential people in the capital who would probably be willing to render him assistance. Gunnar thanked the pastor for his good advice, said he would consider his proposition, and before many weeks bring him back an answer. But weeks came and went, and the more he thought, the more he wavered ; for there was something that kept him back.

The next year, Ragnhild and Gudrun were confirmed.



THE winter is pathless in the distant valleys of Norway, and it would be hard to live there if it were not for the skees. Therefore ministers, judges, and other officers of the government, do all in their power to encourage the use of skees, and often hold races, at which the best runner is rewarded with a fine bear-rifle or some other valuable prize. The judge of our valley was himself a good sportsman, and liked to see the young lads quick on their feet and firm on their legs. This winter (it was the second after Gunnar’s confirmation) he had appointed a skee-race to take place on the steep hill near his house, and had invited all the young men in the parish to contend. The rifle he was to give himself, and it was of a new and very superior kind. In the evening there was to be a dance in the large court-hall, and the lad who took the prize was to have the right of choice among all the maidens, gardman’s or houseman’s daughter, and to open the dance.

The judge had a fine and large estate, the next east of Henjum ; his fields gently sloped from the buildings down toward the fjord, but behind the mansion they took a sudden rise toward the mountains. The slope was steep and rough, and frequently broken by wood-piles and fences ; and the track in which the skee-runners were to test their skill was intentionally laid over the roughest part of the slope and over every possible obstacle ; for a fence or a wood-pile made what is called “a good jump.”

It was about five o’clock in the afternoon. The bright moonshine made the snow-covered ground sparkle as if sprinkled with numberless stars, and the restless aurora spread its glimmering blades of light like an immense heaven-reaching fan. Now it circled the heavens from the east to the western glaciers, now it folded itself up into one single, luminous, quivering blade, and now again it suddenly swept along the horizon, so that you seemed to feel the cold, fresh waft of the air in your face. The peasants say that the aurora has to fan the moon and the stars to make them blaze higher, as at this Season they must serve in place of the sun. Here the extremes of nature meet; never was light brighter than here, neither has that place been found where darkness is blacker. But this evening it was all light; the frost was hard as flint and clear as crystal. From twenty to thirty young lads, with their staves and skees on their shoulders, were gathered at the foot of the hill, and about double the number of young girls were standing in little groups as spectators.

The umpires of the race were the judge and his neighbor, Atle Henjum. The runners were numbered, first the gardmen’s sons, beginning with Lars Henjum, then the housemen’s sons. The prize should belong to him who could go over the track the greatest number of times without falling ; grace in running and independence of the staff were also to be taken into consideration. “All ready, boys!” cried the judge ; and the racers buttoned their jackets up to the neck, pulled their fur-brimmed caps down over their ears, and climbed up through the deep snow to the crest of the hllt. Having reached it, they looked quite small from the place where the spectators were standing ; for the hillside was nearly four hundred feet high, and so steep that its white surface, when seen from a distance, appeared very nearly like a perpendicular wall. The forest stood tall and grave in the moonshine, with its dark outline on both sides marking the skeetrack ; there were, at proper intervals, four high “jumps,” in which it would take more than ordinarily strong legs to keep their footing. When all preparations were finished, the judge pulled out his watch and note-book, tied his red silk handkerchief to the end of his cane, and waved it thrice. Then something dark was seen gliding down over the glittering field of snow ; the nearer it came, the swifter it ran ; now it touched the ground, now again it seemed to shoot through the air, like an arrow sent forth from a well-stretched bow-string. In the twinkling of an eye it was past and nearly out of sight down in the valley. “ That was Gunnar,” whispered Ragnhild in Gudrun’s ear (for, of course, they were both there). “ No one can run the track like him.” “No, it was Lars,” replied Gudrun ; “ he is number one on the list.”

“Hurrah! Well done!” cried the judge, turning to Atle Henjum. “ Heaven be praised, we have men in the valley yet! Truly, I half feared that the lad might not be found who could keep his footing in my neckbreaking track.”

“ The old Viking blood is not quite extinct yet,” remarked Atle, with dignity ; for it was Lars who had opened the contest. Now one after another tried ; but some fell in the first, some in the second jump,2 and single skees and broken staves shooting down the track told the spectators of the failures. Some, discouraged by the ill-luck of the most renowned runners in the parish, gave up without trying. At last there was but one left, and that was Gunnar Henjumhei. All stood waiting for him with breathless interest, for upon him depended the issue of the race. Something like a drifting cloud was seen far up between the snowhooded pine-trees. As it came nearer the shape of a man could be distinguished in the drift.

“ O Ragnhild, you squeeze me so dreadfully,” cried Gudrun in a subdued voice ; but Ragnhild heard nothing. “ Ragnhild, please, Ragnhild, I can hardly breathe.” A chill gust of wind swept by, and blew the cold snow into their faces. Ragnhild drew a long breath. A mighty hurrah rang from mountain to mountain. The judge shook his head : he did not know who had deserved the prize. Gunnar came marching up the hillside, all covered with snow, and looking like a wandering snow-image ; his skees he had flung over his shoulders. All the young people flocked round him with cheers and greetings. He was very hot and flushed, and his eyes looked eagerly around, as if seeking something ; they met Ragnhild’s triumphant smile, which sufficiently assured him that she was happy with him in his victory. But there were other eyes also that were watching Ragnhild ; and, suddenly, struck with Lars’s dark, ill-boding glance, she blushed and quickly turned away.

“ Would you object to another race, boys?” asked the judge, addressing the two combatants.

“ No ! ” cried they both in the same breath. “Gunnar will have to run first,” added Lars ; “ my skee-band is broken, so I shall have to go and cut a new one.” Gunnar declared himself willing to run first, and again climbed the hill.

“It is fearfully hot here,” whispered Ragnhild to her cousin ; “ come, let us walk up along the track.”

“ Hot, Ragnhild ? ” And Gudrun looked extremely puzzled.

“Yes, come.” Near the last great jump Ragnhild stopped, and leaned against a mighty fir, whose long, drooping branches, with their sparkling, frost-silvered needles, formed a kind of cage around them. Gudrun sat down in the snow, and looked up along the track. “ There he is ! ” whispered she, eagerly. The girls were just stepping forward from behind the tree, when Ragnhild discovered the shape of a man on the other side, and in the same moment saw a large pine-branch gliding across the track a few rods above the jumps. There was no time to think. “ O Lars!” shrieked she, and with an almost supernatural power she hurled the branch over against the man. Again a snow-cloud blustered, and swept by. The man gazed aghast before him, and, as if struck by lightning, fell backwards to the ground,— for it was Lars. There he lay for a long while ; but when the girls were out of sight, he lifted his head warily, cast a furtive glance over to the great fir, and, rising to his feet, sneaked down towards the crowd. Another hurrah struck his ear; he hesitated for a moment, then turned slowly round and walked back into the woods.

That night there was searching and asking for Lars far and wide ; but Lars was not to be found ; and when the judge grew tired of waiting, the prize was awarded to Gunnar.

When the umpires and the young lads and maidens had betaken themselves to the dancing-hall, and the alehorns were already passing round, there were still two remaining in the forest. The one was sitting in the snow, with her fair young face buried in her hands; the moonshine fell full upon her golden stream of hair; it was Ragnhild, and Gudrun’s tearful eyes looked lovingly and pityingly on her.

“ O Ragnhild, Ragnhild ! ” sobbed Gudrun, no longer able to master her emotion, “ why did you never tell me ? And I, who never thought it possible ! If you could only have trusted in me, Ragnhild ; for I do love you so much.” And Gudrun knelt in the snow, threw her arms round her neck, and wept with her. Thus they sat, weeping their sorrow away, while the moon looked down on them in wonder.

“ O dear, how foolish I am! ” sighed Gudrun, as she rose, and shook the snow from her skirts. “ Come, Ragnhild, let us go : it is too cold for you to be sitting here.” The other wiped the tears from her eyes, and they both set out for the court-hall, where the dance was soon to begin. “ Do you think anybody will notice that I have cried?” asked Ragnhild, rubbing her cheeks and eyes with her apron, anxious to efface the marks of the treacherous tears.

“ O, no, dear ! ” said Gudrun, taking a handful of snow and applying it to her eyes, which, however, did not produce the desired effect. Slowly they walked down the steep hill towards the court-hall, whence they could already hear the alluring strain of the violins. They had both too much to think of, therefore the walk was a silent one. Only now and then Gudrun would draw her arm still more tightly round Ragnhild’s waist, and Ragnhild would answer with a warm, speaking look.

“ Ragnhild, halloo ! ” The girls stopped and looked doubtingly at each other, as if each one expected the other to answer ; for they well knew that the voice was Gunnar’s.

“ Gudrun, halloo ! ” came the shout again, and stronger than before; it struck the border of the forest, rebounded again, and came sailing down toward them. “Shall I answer ? ” whispered Gudrun.

“ Yes — O no, don’t.” But the counter-order either came late or was not heard ; Gudrun had already answered.

“ Halloo ! ” cried she, and a wanton echo played with her voice, tossed it against the mountain-side, and caught it again. Another call ; and in the light of the moon they saw Gunnar’s tall figure coming up the hill on his skees. With a long staff he pushed himself forward. Soon he was at their side. “ Well met, girls ! ” cried he, gayly, as he jumped off his skees and extended one hand to each of them. “ I was half afraid that Lars had already dragged you home, since I could not find you anywhere.”

Here, suddenly struck with the grave expression of their countenances, and perhaps also discovering the marks of recent tears, he paused, and looked wonderingly at them. Ragnhild had a feeling that she ought to speak, but somehow or other both voice and words failed her. Then she raised her eyes and met his wondering gaze. “ Ragnhild,” said he, warmly, walking right up to her, “ what has happened ? ”

“ I am very glad you slid so well today, Gunnar,” said she, evading the question.

“ Are you, truly ? ”

“ Yes,” softly. How happy that word made him ! Another pause ; for that assurance was sweet to rest on. “ The track was steep,” remarked she after a while.

“ So it was.”

“ I wonder you did not fall.”

“Fall! O Ragnhild, I could slide down the steepest mountain-side, if only you would stand by and look at me.” Something drove the blood to her cheek; he saw it and his courage grew ; there came new fervor and manly reliance into his own voice. “ I don’t know why, Ragnhild, but whenever your eyes rest on me, I feel myself so strong,— so strong.”

They were near the court-yard; the noise of the fiddles and the merriment within rose above his voice. Three men on skees came out from the yard and approached them. “ Hurrah, boys ! here we have the prize-racer,” cried one of them. “ Ah, fair Ragnhild of Rimul ! You are racing for a high prize there, Gunnar Henjumhei.” “ Doubt if you will win in that race, Gunnar Houseman’s son,” shouted another. “The track is steep from Henjumhei to Rimul,” said the third ; “ the river flows swift between.”

The three men had passed. It was long before any one spoke. “ How cold it is ! ” said Gudrun, and shivered ; and they all shivered. A stealthy frost had crept between them. It froze Gunnar’s courage, it froze Ragnhild’s life-hope. A houseman’s son ! On this day of his victory, so young and so strong, and still only a houseman’s son ! They were at the door of the court-hall. He looked for Ragnhild, but she was gone. She also had left him. Well, he was nothing but a houseman’s son, and she the richest heiress in the valley. She herself knew that too, of course. The river flows deep between Henjumhei and Rimul. The music from within came over him, wild and exciting ; and suddenly seized by the wildness of the tones, he threw his head back, sprang forward, and bounded into the hall. The crowd made way for him as he came ; up he leaped again, grazed with his heel a beam in the ceiling,3 and came firmly down on his feet in the centre of the dancing throng. The people rushed aside and formed a close ring around him. The men gave vent to their feeling in loud shouts of approbation, and the girls looked on in breathless admiration.

“ A leap worthy of a Norseman ! ” said one of the old men, when the noise had subsided.

“ O yes,” cried Gunnar, with a defiant laugh, “worthy of a Norseman, worthy of even a — houseman’s son! Ha, ha, ha ! strike up a tune, and that a right lusty one.” The music struck up, he swung about on his heel, caught the girl who stood nearest him round the waist, and whirled away with her, while her hair flew round her. Suddenly he stopped and gazed right into her face, and who should it be but Ragnhild. She begged and tried to release herself from his arm, but he lifted her from the floor, made another leap, and danced away, so that the floor shook under them.

“Gunnar, Gunnar,” whispered she, “ please, Gunnar, let me go.” He heard nothing. “ Gunnar,” begged she again, now already half surrendering, “ only think, what would mother say if she were here ? ” But now she also began to feel the spell of the dance. The walls, the roof, and the people began to circle round her in a strange,bewildering dance ; in one moment the music seemed to be winging its way to her from an unfathomable depth in an inconceivable, measureless distance, and in the next it was roaring and booming in her ears with the rush and din of an infinite cataract of tone. Unconsciously her feet moved to its measure, her heart beat to it, and she forgot her scruples, her fear, and everything but him in the bliss of the dance. For those Hulder-like tones of the Hardanger violin never fail to strike a responsive chord in the heart of a Norse woman. Gunnar knew how to tread the springing dance, and no one would deny him the rank of the first dancer in the valley. Those who had been on the floor when he began had retired to give place to him. Some climbed upon the tables and benches along the walls, in order to see better. And that was a dance worth seeing. So at least the old men thought, for louder grew their shouts, at every daring leap; and so the girls thought too, for there was hardly one of them who did not wish herself in the happy Ragnhild’s place.

After the music had ceased, it was some time before Ragnhild fully recovered her senses ; she still clung fast to Gunnar’s arm, the floor seemed to be heaving and sinking under her, and the space was filled with a vague, distant hum. “ Come, let us go out,” said he, “the fresh night air will do you good.” The night was clear as the day, the moon and the stars glittered over the wide fields of snow, and the aurora borealis flashed in endless variations. A cold rush of air struck against them, and with every breath he inhaled new strength and courage. Still the whirling bliss of the dance throbbed in his veins, and he felt as if lifted above himself. And Ragnhild it was who walked there at his side, — Ragnhild herself, fairer than thought or dream could paint her. It was Ragnhild’s hand he held so close in his. And was it not she who had been the hope, the life, and the soul of these many aimless years? When he spoke, how he spoke he knew not, but speak he did.

“ Ragnhild,” said, he, warmly, “you know,— that — Ragnhild,you know I always liked you very much.” She let her eyes fall, blushed, but made no answer. “ Ragnhild, you know that I always — always — loved you. Do you not, Ragnhild?”

“ Yes, Gunnar, I do know it.”

“Then, Ragnhild, tell me only that you love me too. There is nothing, no, I am sure there can be nothing in all the world, which I could not do, if I only knew that you loved me. Then, all those pictures which I feel within me would come out into light: for they all came from you. Ragnhild, say that you love me.”

“ Gunnar, you have been dear to me — ever — ever—since I can remember,” whispered she, hardly audibly, and struggling with her tears. There lay a world of light before him.

Not far from the court-hall, down toward the fjord, stood two huge firtrees. They both had tall, naked trunks, and thick, bushy heads, and they looked so much alike that people called them the twin firs. It was the saying, also, that lovers often met there. Between the trees was nailed a rough piece of plank to sit on. Here they stopped and sat down. He laid his arm round her waist, and drew her close up to him ; she leaned her head on his breast. Then he turned his eyes upward to the dark crowns of the trees, and seemed lost in a stream of thought. The moonlight only shimmered through, for the foliage was very thick. Neither spoke ; they felt no need of words. Silence is the truest language of bliss. And she, also, looked up into the heavy, moon-fretted mass overhead, wondering what his thoughts might be.

“ What a queer shape that tree has ! ” exclaimed she ; “ it looks like a huge Trold with three heads.”

Then a light flashed upon him, and in a moment his whole past life lay before him, from the days of the saddle “ Fox,” and his grandmother’s stories, to this night. “ O Ragnhild,” said he, looking longingly into her dewy eyes, “at last I have found my beautiful princess!" And that thought made him suddenly so glad that before he knew it he kissed her. For a moment she looked startled, almost frightened ; but as her eyes again rested in his her face brightened into a happy, trustful smile. Now their thoughts and their words wandered to the past and to the future.

It was a happy, happy hour.

Gudrun had hardly been a minute off the floor, from the time she came inside the door. Thus it was some time before she was aware of Ragnhild’s absence. But when there came a pause in the dance, and the time had arrived for the stev, she searched all over the house for her cousin, but without success. Soon she discovered that Gunnar also was gone ; for everybody was asking for him He was wanted to open the stev, as he had a fine voice, and a good head for rhyming. Then, seized with fearful apprehensions, she rushed out of the hall, and down the road, toward the fjord. She would probably have taken no notice of the twin firs, if Ragnhild had not seen her and called her.

“ Why, Ragnhild,” cried Gudrun, breathless with fear and running, “ how you have frightened me ! I could not imagine what had become of you. Every body is asking for you. They want Gunnar to open the stev.”

They all hurried back to the hall. Gudrun might wel1 wish to askquestions, but she dared not ; for she felt the truth, but was afraid of it. They could not help seeing, when they entered the hall, that many curious glances were directed toward them. But this rather roused in both a spirit of defiance. Therefore, when Gunnar was requested to begin the stev, he chose Ragnhild for his partner, and she accepted. True, he was a houseman’s son, but he was not afraid. There was a giggling and a whispering all round, as hand in hand they stepped out on the floor. Young and old, lads and maidens, thronged eagerly about them. Had she not been so happy, perhaps she would not have been so fair. But, as she stood there, in the warm flush of the torch-light, with her rich, blond hair waving down over her shoulders, and with that veiled brightness in her eyes, her beauty sprang upon you like a sudden wonder, and her presence was inspiration. And Gunnar saw her; she loved Him: what cared he for all the world beside ? Proudly he raised his head and sang :

Gunnar. There standeth a birch in the lightsome lea,

Ragnhild. In the lightsome lea ;

Gunnar. So fair she stands in the sunlight free, Ragnhild. In the sunlight free;

Both. So fair she stands in the sunlight free.

Ragnhild. High up on the mountain there standeth

Gunnar. There standeth a pine ;

Ragnhild. So stanchly grown and so tall and


Gunnar. So tall and fine ;

Both. So stanchly grown and so tall and fine.

Gunnar. A maiden I know as fair as the day,

Ragnhild. As fair as the day ;

Gunnar. She shines like the birch in the sun-

light’s play,

Ragnhild. In the sunlight’s play ;

Both. She shines like the birch in the sun-

light’s play.

Ragnhild. I know a lad in the spring’s glad light,

In the spring’s glad light;

Ragnhild. Far-seen as the pine on the mountain-


Gunnar. On the mountain-height ;

Both. Far-seen as the pine on the mountainheight.

Gunnar. So bright and blue are the starry skies,

Ragnhild. The starry skies ;

Gunnar. But brighter and bluer that maiden’s eyes,

Ragnhild. That maiden’s eyes ;

Both. But brighter and bluer that maiden’s eyes.

Ragnhild. And his have a depth like the fjord, I know,

Gunnar. The fjord, I know ;

Ragnhild. Wherein the heavens their beauty show,

Gunnar. Their beauty show ;

Both. Wherein the heavens their beauty show.

Gunnar. The birds each morn seek the forestglade,

Ragnhild. The forest-glade;

Gunnar. So flock my thoughts to that lily maid,

Ragnhild. That lily maid;

Both. So flock my thoughts to that lily maid.

Ragnhild. The moss it clingeth so fast to the stone,

Gunnar. So fast to the stone;

Ragnhild. So clingeth my soul to him alone,

Gunnar. To him alone ;

Both. So clingeth my soul to him alone.

Gunnar. Each brook sings its song, but forever the same,

Ragnhild. Forever the same :

Gunnar. Forever my heart beats that maiden’s name,

Ragnhild. That maiden’s name;

Both. Forever my heart beats that maiden’s name.

Ragnhild. The plover hath an only tone,

Gunnar. An only tone;

Ragnhild. My life hath its love, and its love alone,

Gunnar. Its love alone :

Both. My life hath its love, and its love alone.

Gunnar. The rivers all to the fjord they go,

Ragnhild. To the fjord they go ;

Gunnar. So may our lives then together flow,

Ragnhild. Together flow;

Both. O, may our lives then together flow !

Here Gunnar stopped, made a leap toward Ragnhild, caught her round the waist, and again danced off with her, while a storm of voices joined in the last refrain, and loud shouts of admiration followed them. For this was a stev that was gnod for something; long time it was since so fine a stev had been heard on this side the mountains. Soon the dance became general, and lasted till after midnight. Then the sleigh-bells and the stamping of hoofs from without reminded the merry guests that night was waning. There stood the well-known swanshaped sleigh from Henjum, and the man on the box was Atle himself. Ragnhild and Gudrun were hurried into it, the whip cracked, and the sleigh shot down over the star-illumined fields of snow.

The splendor of the night was almost dazzling as Gunnar came out from the crowded hall and again stood under the open sky. A host of struggling thoughts and sensations thronged upon him. He was happy, oh, so happy ! at least, he tried to persuade himself that he was, but, strange to say, he did not fully succeed. Was it not toward this day his yearnings had pointed, and about which his hopes had been clustering from year to year, ever since he had been old enough to know what yearning was ? Was it not this day which had been beckoning him from afar, and had shed light upon his way like a star, and had he not followed its guidance as faithfully and as trustingly as those wise men of old ? “ Folly and nonsense,” muttered he, “the night breeds nightly thoughts !” With an effort he again brought Ragnhild’s image before his mind, jumped upon his skees, and darted down over the glittering snow. It bore him toward the fjord. A sharp, chill wind swept up the hillside, and rushed against him. “ Houseman’s son,” cried the wind. Onward he hastened. “ Houseman’s son,” howled the wind after him. Soon he reached the fjord, hurried on up toward the river-mouth, and, coming to the Henjum boat-house, stopped, and walked out to the end of the pier, which stretched from the headland some twenty to thirty feet out into the water. The fjord lay sombre and restless before him. There was evidently a storm raging in the ocean, for the tide was unusually high, and the sky was darkening from the west eastward. The mountain peaks stood there, stern and lofty as ever, with their heads wrapped in hoods of cloud. Gunnar sat down at the outer edge of the pier, with his feet hanging listlessly over the water, which, in slow and monotonous plashing, beat against the timbers. Far out in the distance he could hear the breakers roar among the rocky reefs ; first, the long, booming roll, then the slowly waning moan, and the great hush, in which the billows pause to listen to themselves. It is the heavy, deep-drawn breath of the ocean. It was cold, but Gunnar hardly felt it.

He again stopped into his skees and followed the narrow road, as it wound its way from the fjord up along the river. Down near the mouth, between Henjum and Rimul,the riverwas frozen,and could be crossed on the ice. Up at Henjumhei it was too swift to freeze. It was near daylight when he reached the cottage. How small and poor it looked ! Never had he seen it so before ; — very different from Rimul. And how dark and narrow it was, all around it ! At Rimul they had always sunshine. Truly, the track is steep from Henjumhei to Rimul ; the river runs deep between.

H. H. Boyesen.

  1. Every person in Norway is by law required to be baptized and confirmed in the Lutheran Church. Before confirmation the candidate has to undergo a public examination in Bible history and the doctrines of the Church.
  2. It is regarded as a great honor to stand highest in the aisle on confirmation Sunday, it is customary to have the candidates arranged according to scholarship, but more than proper regard is generally paid to the social position of the parents.
  3. Skees, or skier, are a peculiar kind of snow-shoes, generally from six to ten feet long, but only a few inches broad. They are made of tough pine-wood, and are smoothly polished on the under side to make them glide the more easily over the surface of the snow. In the middle there are bands to put the feet in, and the front end is strongly bent upward. This enables the skee, when in motion, to slide over hillocks, logs, and other obstacles, instead of thrusting against them. The skee only goes in straight lines ; still, the runner can, even when moving with the utmost speed, change his course at pleasure, by means of a long staff, which he carries for this purpose. Skees are especially convenient for sliding down hill, but are also for walking in deep snow far superior to the common American snow-shoes.
  4. A fence, wood-pile, or any other elevation of the ground is made into a jump by filling up the space on its upper side with snow, so the skee may slide over it. On the lower side a good deal of the snow is generally taken away. Thus the skee runner, coming in full speed down the hill, shoots into the air ; and it takes a good deal of skill and practice Under such circumstances to come down on the feet without allowing the skees to lose their balance.
  5. Among the peasantry in Norway, it is considered a test of great strength and manliness to kick the beam in a ceiling and come down without falling. Boys commence very early practising, and often acquire great skill in this particular branch of gymnastics. He is regarded as a weakling who cannot kick his own height.