EBBA DOHNA’S STORY

Oh, children of the present day!

I have nothing new to tell you, only what is old and almost forgotten. I
have legends from the nursery, where the little ones sat on low stools
about the old nurse with her white hair, or from the log-fire in the
cottage, where the laborers sat and chatted, while the steam reeked from
their wet clothes, and they drew knives from leather sheaths at their
necks to spread the butter on thick, soft bread, or from the hall where
old men sat in their rocking-chairs, and, cheered by the steaming toddy,
talked of old times.

When a child, who had listened to the old nurse, to the laborers, to
the old men, stood at the window on a winter’s evening, it saw no
clouds on the horizon without their being the pensioners; the stars
were wax-candles, which were lighted at the old house at Borg; and the
spinning-wheel which hummed in the next room was driven by old Ulrika
Dillner. For the child’s head was filled with the people of those old
days; it lived for and adored them.

But if such a child, whose whole soul was filled with stories, should be
sent through the dark attic to the store-room for flax or biscuits, then
the small feet scurried; then it came flying down the stairs, through
the passage to the kitchen. For up there in the dark it could not help
thinking of the wicked mill-owner at Fors,—of him who was in league with
the devil.

Sintram’s ashes have been resting long in Svartsjö churchyard, but no
one believes that his soul has been called to God, as it reads on his
tombstone.

While he was alive he was one of those to whose home, on long, rainy
Sunday afternoons, a heavy coach, drawn by black horses, used to come.
A gentleman richly but plainly dressed gets out of the carriage, and
helps with cards and dice to while away the long hours which with their
monotony have driven the master of the house to despair. The game is
carried on far into the night; and when the stranger departs at dawn he
always leaves behind some baleful parting-gift.

As long as Sintram was here on earth he was one of those whose coming is
made known by spirits. They are heralded by visions. Their carriages roll
into the yard, their whip cracks, their voices sound on the stairs, the
door of the entry is opened and shut. The dogs and people are awakened by
the noise, it is so loud; but there is no one who has come, it is only an
hallucination which goes before them.

Ugh, those horrible people, whom evil spirits seek out! What kind of
a big black dog was it which showed itself at Fors in Sintram’s time?
He had terrible, shining eyes, and a long tongue which dripped blood
and hung far out of his panting throat. One day, when the men-servants
had been in the kitchen and eaten their dinner, he had scratched at
the kitchen door, and all the maids had screamed with fright; but the
biggest and strongest of the men had taken a burning log from the fire,
thrown open the door, and hurled it into the dog’s gaping mouth.

Then he had fled with terrible howls, flames and smoke had burst from his
throat, sparks whirled about him, and his footprints on the path shone
like fire.

And was it not dreadful that every time Sintram came home from a journey
he had changed the animals which drew him? He left with horses, but when
he came home at night he had always black bulls before his carriage.
The people who lived near the road saw their great black horns against
the sky when he drove by, and heard the creatures’ bellowing, and were
terrified by the line of sparks which the hoofs and wheels drew out of
the dry gravel.

Yes, the little feet needed to hurry, indeed, to come across the big,
dark attic. Think if something awful, if he, whose name one may not say,
should come out of a dark corner! Who can be sure? It was not only to
wicked people that he showed himself. Had not Ulrika Dillner seen him?
Both she and Anna Stjärnhök could say that they had seen him.

* * * * *

Friends, children, you who dance, you who laugh! I beg you so earnestly
to dance carefully, laugh gently, for there can be so much unhappiness if
your thin slippers tread on sensitive hearts instead of on hard boards;
and your glad, silvery laughter can drive a soul to despair.

It was surely so; the young people’s feet had trodden too hard on old
Ulrika Dillner, and the young people’s laughter had rung too arrogantly
in her ears; for there came over her suddenly an irresistible longing
for a married woman’s titles and dignities. At last she said “yes” to
the evil Sintram’s long courtship, followed him to Fors as his wife, and
was parted from the old friends at Berga, the dear old work, and the old
cares for daily bread.

It was a match which went quickly and gayly. Sintram offered himself at
Christmas, and in February they were married. That year Anna Stjärnhök
was living in Captain Uggla’s home. She was a good substitute for old
Ulrika, and the latter could draw back without compunction, and take to
herself married honors.

Without compunction, but not without regret. It was not a pleasant place
she had come to; the big, empty rooms were filled with dreadful terrors.
As soon as it was dark she began to tremble and to be afraid. She almost
died of homesickness.

The long Sunday afternoons were the hardest of all. They never came to
an end, neither they nor the long succession of torturing thoughts which
travelled through her brain.

So it happened one day in March, when Sintram had not come home from
church to dinner, that she went into the drawing-room, on the second
floor, and placed herself at the piano. It was her last consolation.
The old piano, with a flute-player and shepherdess painted on the white
cover, was her own, come to her from her parents’ home. To it she could
tell her troubles; it understood her.

But is it not both pitiful and ridiculous? Do you know what she is
playing? Only a polka, and she who is so heart-broken!

She does not know anything else. Before her fingers stiffened round
broom and carving-knife she had learned this one polka. It sticks in her
fingers; but she does not know any other piece,—no funeral march, no
impassioned sonata, not even a wailing ballad,—only the polka.

She plays it whenever she has anything to confide to the old piano. She
plays it both when she feels like weeping and like smiling. When she was
married she played it, and when for the first time she had come to her
own home, and also now.

The old strings understand her: she is unhappy, unhappy.

A traveller passing by and hearing the polka ring could well believe
that Sintram was having a ball for neighbors and friends, it sounds so
gay. It is such a brave and glad melody. With it, in the old days, she
has played carelessness in and hunger out at Berga; when they heard it
every one must up and dance. It burst the fetters of rheumatism about the
joints, and lured pensioners of eighty years on to the floor. The whole
world would gladly dance to that polka, it sounds so gay—but old Ulrika
weeps. Sintram has sulky, morose servants about him, and savage animals.
She longs for friendly faces and smiling mouths. It is this despairing
longing which the lively polka shall interpret.

People find it hard to remember that she is Madame Sintram. Everybody
calls her Mamselle Dillner. She wants the polka tune to express her
sorrow for the vanity which tempted her to seek for married honors.

Old Ulrika plays as if she would break the strings. There is so much to
drown: the lamentations of the poor peasants, the curses of overworked
cottagers, the sneers of insolent servants, and, first and last, the
shame,—the shame of being the wife of a bad man.

To those notes Gösta Berling has led young Countess Dohna to the dance.
Marianne Sinclair and her many admirers have danced to them, and the
major’s wife at Ekeby has moved to their measure when Altringer was still
alive. She can see them, couple after couple, in their youth and beauty,
whirl by. There was a stream of gayety from them to her, from her to
them. It was her polka which made their cheeks glow, their eyes shine.
She is parted from all that now. Let the polka resound,—so many memories,
so many tender memories to drown!

She plays to deaden her anguish. Her heart is ready to burst with terror
when she sees the black dog, when she hears the servants whispering of
the black bulls. She plays the polka over and over again to deaden her
anguish.

Then she perceives that her husband has come home. She hears that he
comes into the room and sits down in the rocking-chair. She knows so well
the sound as the rockers creak on the deal floor that she does not even
look round.

All the time she is playing the rocking continues; she soon hears the
music no longer, only the rocking.

Poor old Ulrika, so tortured, so lonely, so helpless, astray in a hostile
country, without a friend to complain to, without any consoler but a
cracked piano, which answers her with a polka.

It is like loud laughter at a funeral, a drinking song in a church.

While the rocking-chair is still rocking she hears suddenly how the piano
is laughing at her sorrows, and she stops in the middle of a bar. She
rises and turns to the rocking-chair.

But the next instant she is lying in a swoon on the floor. It was not
her husband who sat in the rocking-chair, but another,—he to whom little
children do not dare to give a name, he who would frighten them to death
if they should meet him in the deserted attic.

* * * * *

Can any one whose soul has been filled with legends ever free himself
from their dominion? The night wind howls outside, the trees whip the
pillars of the balcony with their stiff branches, the sky arches darkly
over the far-stretching hills, and I, who sit alone in the night and
write, with the lamp lighted and the curtain drawn, I, who am old and
ought to be sensible, feel the same shudder creeping up my back as when I
first heard this story, and I have to keep lifting my eyes from my work
to be certain that no one has come in and hidden himself in that further
corner; I have to look out on the balcony to see if there is not a black
head looking over the railing. This fright never leaves me when the night
is dark and solitude deep; and it becomes at last so dreadful that I must
throw aside my pen, creep down in my bed and draw the blanket up over my
eyes.

It was the great, secret wonder of my childhood that Ulrika Dillner
survived that afternoon. I should never have done so.

I hope, dear friends, that you may never see the tears of old eyes. And
that you may not have to stand helpless when a gray head leans against
your breast for support, or when old hands are clasped about yours in
a silent prayer. May you never see the old sunk in a sorrow which you
cannot comfort.

What is the grief of the young? They have strength, they have hope. But
what suffering it is when the old weep; what despair when they, who have
always been the support of your young days, sink into helpless wailing.

There sat Anna Stjärnhök and listened to old Ulrika, and she saw no way
out for her.

The old woman wept and trembled. Her eyes were wild. She talked and
talked, sometimes quite incoherently, as if she did not know where she
was. The thousand wrinkles which crossed her face were twice as deep as
usual, the false curls, which hung down over her eyes, were straightened
by her tears, and her whole long, thin body was shaken with sobs.

At last Anna had to put an end to the wailings. She had made up her mind.
She was going to take her back with her to Berga. Of course, she was
Sintram’s wife, but she could not remain at Fors. He would drive her mad
if she stayed with him. Anna Stjärnhök had decided to take old Ulrika
away.

Ah, how the poor thing rejoiced, and yet trembled at this decision! But
she never would dare to leave her husband and her home. He would perhaps
send the big black dog after her.

But Anna Stjärnhök conquered her resistance, partly by jests, partly
by threats, and in half an hour she had her beside her in the sledge.
Anna was driving herself, and old Disa was in the shafts. The road was
wretched, for it was late in March; but it did old Ulrika good to drive
once more in the well-known sledge, behind the old horse who had been a
faithful servant at Berga almost as long as she.

As she had naturally a cheerful spirit, she stopped crying by the time
they passed Arvidstorp; at Hogberg she was already laughing, and when
they passed Munkeby she was telling how it used to be in her youth, when
she lived with the countess at Svaneholm.

They drove up a steep and stony road in the lonely and deserted region
north of Munkeby. The road sought out all the hills it possibly could
find; it crept up to their tops by slow windings, rushed down them in a
steep descent, hurried across the even valley to find a new hill to climb
over.

They were just driving down Vestratorp’s hill, when old Ulrika stopped
short in what she was saying, and seized Anna by the arm. She was staring
at a big black dog at the roadside.

“Look!” she said.

The dog set off into the wood. Anna did not see much of him.

“Drive on,” said Ulrika; “drive as fast as you can! Now Sintram will hear
that I have gone.”

Anna tried to laugh at her terror, but she insisted.

“We shall soon hear his sleigh-bells, you will see. We shall hear them
before we reach the top of the next hill.”

And when Disa drew breath for a second at the top of Elof’s hill
sleigh-bells could be heard behind them.

Old Ulrika became quite mad with fright. She trembled, sobbed, and wailed
as she had done in the drawing-room at Fors. Anna tried to urge Disa
on, but she only turned her head and gave her a glance of unspeakable
surprise. Did she think that Disa had forgotten when it was time to trot
and when it was time to walk? Did she want to teach her how to drag a
sledge, to teach her who had known every stone, every bridge, every gate,
every hill for more than twenty years?

All this while the sleigh-bells were coming nearer.

“It is he, it is he! I know his bells,” wails old Ulrika.

The sound comes ever nearer. Sometimes it seems so unnaturally loud that
Anna turns to see if Sintram’s horse has not got his head in her sledge;
sometimes it dies away. They hear it now on the right, now on the left
of the road, but they see no one. It is as if the jingling of the bells
alone pursues them.

Just as it is at night, on the way home from a party, is it also now.
These bells ring out a tune; they sing, speak, answer. The woods echo
with their sound.

Anna Stjärnhök almost wishes that their pursuer would come near
enough for her to see Sintram himself and his red horse. The dreadful
sleigh-bells anger her.

“Those bells torture me,” she says.

The word is taken up by the bells. “Torture me,” they ring. “Torture me,
torture, torture, torture me,” they sing to all possible tunes.

It was not so long ago that she had driven this same way, hunted by
wolves. She had seen their white teeth, in the darkness, gleam in their
gaping mouths; she had thought that her body would soon be torn to pieces
by the wild beasts of the forest; but then she had not been afraid. She
had never lived through a more glorious night. Strong and beautiful had
the horse been which drew her, strong and beautiful was the man who had
shared the joy of the adventure with her.

Ah, this old horse, this old, helpless, trembling companion. She feels so
helpless that she longs to cry. She cannot escape from those terrible,
irritating bells.

So she stops and gets out of the sledge. There must be an end to it
all. Why should she run away as if she were afraid of that wicked,
contemptible wretch?

At last she sees a horse’s head come out of the advancing twilight, and
after the head a whole horse, a whole sledge, and in the sledge sits
Sintram himself.

She notices, however, that it is not as if they had come along the
road—this sledge, and this horse, and their driver—but more as if they
had been created just there before her eyes, and had come forward out of
the twilight as soon as they were made ready.

Anna threw the reins to Ulrika and went to meet Sintram.

He stops the horse.

“Well, well,” he says; “what a piece of luck! Dear Miss Stjärnhök, let me
move my companion over to your sledge. He is going to Berga to-night, and
I am in a hurry to get home.”

“Where is your companion?”

Sintram lifts his blanket, and shows Anna a man who is lying asleep on
the bottom of the sledge. “He is a little drunk,” he says; “but what does
that matter? He will sleep. It’s an old acquaintance, moreover; it is
Gösta Berling.”

Anna shudders.

“Well, I will tell you,” continues Sintram, “that she who forsakes the
man she loves sells him to the devil. That was the way I got into his
claws. People think they do so well, of course; to renounce is good, and
to love is evil.”

“What do you mean? What are you talking about?” asks Anna, quite
disturbed.

“I mean that you should not have let Gösta Berling go from you, Miss
Anna.”

“It was God’s will.”

“Yes, yes, that’s the way it is; to renounce is good, and to love is
evil. The good God does not like to see people happy. He sends wolves
after them. But if it was not God who did it, Miss Anna? Could it not
just as well have been I who called my little gray lambs from the Dovre
mountains to hunt the young man and the young girl? Think, if it was I
who sent the wolves, because I did not wish to lose one of my own! Think,
if it was not God who did it!”

“You must not tempt me to doubt that,” says Anna, in a weak voice, “for
then I am lost.”

“Look here,” says Sintram, and bends down over the sleeping Gösta
Berling; “look at his little finger. That little sore never heals. We
took the blood there when he signed the contract. He is mine. There is a
peculiar power in blood. He is mine, and it is only love which can free
him; but if I am allowed to keep him he will be a fine thing.”

Anna Stjärnhök struggles and struggles to shake off the fascination which
has seized her. It is all madness, madness. No one can swear away his
soul to the odious tempter. But she has no power over her thoughts; the
twilight lies so heavy over her, the woods stand so dark and silent. She
cannot escape the dreadful terror of the moment.

“You think, perhaps,” continues Sintram, “that there is not much left in
him to ruin. But don’t think that! Has he ground down the peasants, has
he deceived poor friends, has he cheated at cards? Has he, Miss Anna, has
he been a married woman’s lover?”

“I think you are the devil himself!”

“Let us exchange. You take Gösta Berling, take him and marry him. Keep
him, and give them at Berga the money. I yield him up to you, and you
know that he is mine. Think that it was not God who sent the wolves after
you the other night, and let us exchange!”

“What do you want as compensation?”

Sintram grinned.

“I—what do I want? Oh, I am satisfied with little. I only want that old
woman there in your sledge, Miss Anna.”

“Satan, tempter,” cries Anna, “leave me! Shall I betray an old friend
who relies on me? Shall I leave her to you, that you may torture her to
madness?”

“There, there, there; quietly, Miss Anna! Think what you are doing! Here
is a fine young man, and there an old, worn-out woman. One of them I
must have. Which of them will you let me keep?”

Anna Stjärnhök laughed wildly.

“Do you think that we can stand here and exchange souls as they exchange
horses at the market at Broby?”

“Just so, yes. But if you will, we shall put it on another basis. We
shall think of the honor of the Stjärnhöks.”

Thereupon he begins to call in a loud voice to his wife, who is sitting
in Anna’s sledge; and, to the girl’s unspeakable horror, she obeys the
summons instantly, gets out of the sledge, and comes, trembling and
shaking, to them.

“See, see, see!—such an obedient wife,” says Sintram. “You cannot prevent
her coming when her husband calls. Now, I shall lift Gösta out of my
sledge and leave him here,—leave him for good, Miss Anna. Whoever may
want to can pick him up.”

He bends down to lift Gösta up; but Anna leans forward, fixes him with
her eyes, and hisses like an angry animal:—

“In God’s name, go home! Do you not know who is sitting in the
rocking-chair in the drawing-room and waiting for you? Do you dare to let
him wait?”

It was for Anna almost the climax of the horrors of the day to see
how these words affect him. He drags on the reins, turns, and drives
homewards, urging the horse to a gallop with blows and wild cries down
the dreadful hill, while a long line of sparks crackle under the runners
and hoofs in the thin March snow.

Anna Stjärnhök and Ulrika Dillner stand alone in the road, but they do
not say a word. Ulrika trembles before Anna’s wild eyes, and Anna has
nothing to say to the poor old thing, for whose sake she has sacrificed
her beloved.

She would have liked to weep, to rave, to roll on the ground and strew
snow and sand on her head.

Before, she had known the sweetness of renunciation, now she knew its
bitterness. What was it to sacrifice her love compared to sacrificing
her beloved’s soul? They drove on to Berga in the same silence; but when
they arrived, and the hall-door was opened, Anna Stjärnhök fainted for
the first and only time in her life. There sat both Sintram and Gösta
Berling, and chatted quietly. The tray with toddy had been brought in;
they had been there at least an hour.

Anna Stjärnhök fainted, but old Ulrika stood calm. She had noticed that
everything was not right with him who had followed them on the road.

Afterwards the captain and his wife arranged the matter so with Sintram
that old Ulrika was allowed to stay at Berga. He agreed good-naturedly.

“He did not want to drive her mad,” he said.

* * * * *

I do not ask any one to believe these old stories. They cannot be
anything but lies and fiction. But the anguish which passes over the
heart, until it wails as the floor boards in Sintram’s room wailed under
the swaying rockers; but the questions which ring in the ears, as the
sleigh-bells rang for Anna Stjärnhök in the lonely forest,—when will they
be as lies and fiction?

Oh, that they could be!

The beautiful point on Löfven’s eastern shore, about which the bay glides
with lapping waves, the proud point where the manor of Borg lies, beware
of approaching.

Löfven never looks more glorious than from its summit.

No one can know how lovely it is, the lake of my dreams, until he has
seen from Borg’s point the morning mist glide away from its smooth
surface; until he, from the windows of the little blue cabinet, where so
many memories dwell, has seen it reflect a pink sunset.

But I still say, go not thither!

For perhaps you will be seized with a desire to remain in that old
manor’s sorrowful halls; perhaps you will make yourself the owner of
those fair lands; and if you are young, rich, and happy, you will make
your home there with a young wife.

No, it is better never to see the beautiful point, for at Borg no one can
live and be happy. No matter how rich, how happy you may be, who move in
there, those old tear-drenched floors would soon drink _your_ tears as
well, and those walls, which could give back so many moans, would also
glean _your_ sighs.

An implacable fate is on this lovely spot. It is as if misfortune were
buried there, but found no rest in its grave, and perpetually rose from
it to terrify the living. If I were lord of Borg I would search through
the ground, both in the park and under the cellar floor in the house, and
in the fertile mould out in the meadows, until I had found the witch’s
worm-eaten corpse, and then I would give her a grave in consecrated earth
in the Svartsjö churchyard. And at the burial I would not spare on the
ringer’s pay, but let the bells sound long and loud over her; and to the
clergyman and sexton I should send rich gifts, that they with redoubled
strength might with speech and song consecrate her to everlasting rest.

Or, if that did not help, some stormy night I would set fire to the
wooden walls, and let it destroy everything, so that no one more might
be tempted to live in the home of misfortune. Afterwards no one should
be allowed to approach that doomed spot; only the church-tower’s black
jackdaws should build in the great chimney, which, blackened and
dreadful, would raise itself over the deserted foundations.

Still, I should certainly mourn when I saw the flames close over the
roof, when thick smoke, reddened by the fire and flecked with sparks,
should roll out from the old manor-house. In the crackling and the
roaring I should fancy I heard the wails of homeless memories; on the
blue points of the flames I should see disturbed spirits floating. I
should think how sorrow beautifies, how misfortune adorns, and weep as if
a temple to the old gods had been condemned to destruction.

But why croak of unhappiness? As yet Borg lies and shines on its point,
shaded by its park of mighty pines, and the snow-covered fields glitter
in March’s burning sun; as yet is heard within those walls the young
Countess Elizabeth’s gay laughter.

Every Sunday she goes to church at Svartsjö, which lies near Borg, and
gathers together a few friends for dinner. The judge and his family from
Munkerud used to come, and the Ugglas from Berga, and even Sintram. If
Gösta Berling happens to be in Svartsjö, wandering over Löfven’s ice, she
invites him too. Why should she not invite Gösta Berling?

She probably does not know that the gossips are beginning to whisper that
Gösta comes very often over to the east shore to see her. Perhaps he also
comes to drink and play cards with Sintram; but no one thinks so much of
that; every one knows that his body is of steel; but it is another matter
with his heart. No one believes that he can see a pair of shining eyes,
and fair hair which curls about a white brow, without love.

The young countess is good to him. But there is nothing strange in that;
she is good to all. She takes ragged beggar children on her knee, and
when she drives by some poor old creature on the high-road she has the
coachman stop, and takes the poor wanderer up into her sledge.

Gösta used to sit in the little blue cabinet, where there is such a
glorious view over the lake, and read poetry to her. There can be no harm
in that. He does not forget that she is a countess, and he a homeless
adventurer; and it is good for him to be with some one whom he holds high
and holy. He could just as well be in love with the Queen of Sheba as
with her.

He only asks to be allowed to wait on her as a page waits on his noble
mistress: to fasten her skates, to hold her skeins, to steer her sled.
There cannot be any question of love between them; he is just the man to
find his happiness in a romantic, innocent adoration.

The young count is silent and serious, and Gösta is playfully gay. He is
just such a companion as the young countess likes. No one who sees her
fancies that she is hiding a forbidden love. She thinks of dancing,—of
dancing and merry-making. She would like the earth to be quite flat,
without stones, without hills or seas, so that she could dance
everywhere. From the cradle to the grave she would like to dance in her
small, thin-soled, satin slippers.

But rumor is not very merciful to young women.

When the guests come to dinner at Borg, the men generally, after the
meal, go into the count’s room to sleep and smoke; the old ladies sink
down in the easy-chairs in the drawing-room, and lean their venerable
heads against the high backs; but the countess and Anna Stjärnhök go into
the blue cabinet and exchange endless confidences.

The Sunday after the one when Anna Stjärnhök took Ulrika Dillner back to
Berga they are sitting there again.

No one on earth is so unhappy as the young girl. All her gayety is
departed, and gone is the glad defiance which she showed to everything
and everybody who wished to come too near her.

Everything which had happened to her that day has sunk back into the
twilight from which it was charmed; she has only one distinct impression
left,—yes, one, which is poisoning her soul.

“If it really was not God who did it,” she used to whisper to herself.
“If it was not God, who sent the wolves?”

She asks for a sign, she longs for a miracle. She searches heaven and
earth. But she sees no finger stretched from the sky to point out her way.

As she sits now opposite the countess in the blue cabinet, her eyes fall
on a little bunch of hepaticas which the countess holds in her white
hand. Like a bolt it strikes her that she knows where the flowers have
grown, that she knows who has picked them.

She does not need to ask. Where else in the whole countryside do
hepaticas bloom in the beginning of April, except in the birch grove
which lies on the slopes of Ekeby?

She stares and stares at the little blue stars; those happy ones who
possess all hearts; those little prophets who, beautiful in themselves,
are also glorified by the splendor of all the beauty which they herald,
of all the beauty which is coming. And as she watches them a storm of
wrath rises in her soul, rumbling like the thunder, deadening like the
lightning. “By what right,” she thinks, “does Countess Dohna hold this
bunch of hepaticas, picked by the shore at Ekeby?”

They were all tempters: Sintram, the countess, everybody wanted to allure
Gösta Berling to what was evil. But she would protect him; against all
would she protect him. Even if it should cost her heart’s blood, she
would do it.

She thinks that she must see those flowers torn out of the countess’s
hand, and thrown aside, trampled, crushed, before she leaves the little
blue cabinet.

She thinks that, and she begins a struggle with the little blue stars.
Out in the drawing-room the old ladies lean their venerable heads against
the chair-backs and suspect nothing; the men smoke their pipes in calm
and quiet in the count’s room; peace is everywhere; only in the little
blue cabinet rages a terrible struggle.

Ah, how well they do who keep their hands from the sword, who understand
how to wait quietly, to lay their hearts to rest and let God direct! The
restless heart always goes astray; ill-will makes the pain worse.

But Anna Stjärnhök believes that at last she has seen a finger in the sky.

“Anna,” says the countess, “tell me a story!”

“About what?”

“Oh,” says the countess, and caresses the flowers with her white hand.
“Do not you know something about love, something about loving?”

“No, I know nothing of love.”

“How you talk! Is there not a place here which is called Ekeby,—a place
full of pensioners?”

“Yes,” says Anna, “there is a place which is called Ekeby, and there
are men there who suck the marrow of the land, who make us incapable of
serious work, who ruin growing youth, and lead astray our geniuses. Do
you want to hear of them? Do you want to hear love-stories of them?”

“Yes. I like the pensioners.”

So Anna Stjärnhök speaks,—speaks in short sentences, like an old
hymn-book, for she is nearly choking with stormy emotions. Suppressed
suffering trembles in each word, and the countess was both frightened
and interested to hear her.

“What is a pensioner’s love, what is a pensioner’s faith?—one sweetheart
to-day, another to-morrow, one in the east, another in the west. Nothing
is too high for him, nothing too low; one day a count’s daughter, the
next day a beggar girl. Nothing on earth is so capacious as his heart.
But alas, alas for her who loves a pensioner. She must seek him out
where he lies drunk at the wayside. She must silently look on while he
at the card-table plays away the home of her childhood. She must bear to
have him hang about other women. Oh, Elizabeth, if a pensioner asks an
honorable woman for a dance she ought to refuse it to him; if he gives
her a bunch of flowers she ought to throw the flowers on the ground and
trample on them; if she loves him she ought rather to die than to marry
him. There was one among the pensioners who was a dismissed priest; he
had lost his vestments for drunkenness. He was drunk in the church. He
drank up the communion wine. Have you ever heard of him?”

“No.”

“After he had been dismissed he wandered about the country as a beggar.
He drank like a madman. He would steal to get brandy.”

“What is his name?”

“He is no longer at Ekeby. The major’s wife got hold of him, gave him
clothes, and persuaded your mother-in-law, Countess Dohna, to make him
tutor to your husband, young Count Henrik.”

“A dismissed priest!”

“Oh, he was a young, powerful man, of good intelligence. There was
no harm in him, if he only did not drink. Countess Märta was not
particular. It amused her to quarrel with the neighboring clergymen.
Still, she ordered him to say nothing of his past life to her children.
For then her son would have lost respect for him, and her daughter would
not have endured him, for she was a saint.

“So he came here to Borg. He always sat just inside the door, on the very
edge of his chair, never said a word at the table, and fled out into the
park when any visitors came.

“But there in the lonely walks he used to meet young Ebba Dohna. She was
not one who loved the noisy feasts which resounded in the halls at Borg
after the countess became a widow. She was so gentle, so shy. She was
still, although she was seventeen, nothing but a tender child; but she
was very lovely, with her brown eyes, and the faint, delicate color in
her cheeks. Her thin, slender body bent forward. Her little hand would
creep into yours with a shy pressure. Her little mouth was the most
silent of mouths and the most serious. Ah, her voice, her sweet little
voice, which pronounced the words so slowly and so well, but never rang
with the freshness and warmth of youth,—its feeble tones were like a
weary musician’s last chord.

“She was not as others. Her foot trod so lightly, so softly, as if she
were a frightened fugitive. She kept her eyelids lowered in order not
to be disturbed in her contemplation of the visions of her soul. It had
turned from the earth when she was but a child.

“When she was little her grandmother used to tell her stories; and one
evening they both sat by the fire; but the stories had come to an end.
But still the little girl’s hand lay on the old woman’s dress, and she
gently stroked the silk,—that funny stuff which sounded like a little
bird. And this stroking was her prayer, for she was one of those children
who never beg in words.

“Then the old lady began to tell her of a little child in the land of
Judah; of a little child who was born to become a great King. The angels
had filled the earth with songs of praise when he was born. The kings
of the East came, guided by the star of heaven, and gave him gold and
incense; and old men and women foretold his glory. This child grew up to
greater beauty and wisdom than all other children. Already, when he was
twelve years old, his wisdom was greater than that of the chief-priests
and the scribes.

“Then the old woman told her of the most beautiful thing the earth has
ever seen: of that child’s life while he remained among men,—those wicked
men who would not acknowledge him their King.

“She told her how the child became a man, but that the glory surrounded
him still.

“Everything on the earth served him and loved him, except mankind. The
fishes let themselves be caught in his net, bread filled his baskets,
water changed itself to wine when he wished it.

“But the people gave the great King no golden crown, no shining throne.
He had no bowing courtiers about him. They let him go among them like a
beggar.

“Still, he was so good to them, the great King! He cured their
sicknesses, gave back to the blind their sight, and waked the dead.

“But,” said the grandmother, “the people would not have the great King
for their lord.

“‘They sent their soldiers against him, and took him prisoner; they
dressed him, by way of mockery, in crown and sceptre, and in a silken
cloak, and made him go out to the place of execution, bearing a heavy
cross. Oh, my child, the good King loved the high mountains. At night he
used to climb them to talk with those who dwelt in heaven, and he liked
by day to sit on the mountain-side and talk to the listening people.
But now they led him up on a mountain to crucify him. They drove nails
through his hands and feet, and hung the good King on a cross, as if he
had been a robber or a malefactor.

“‘And the people mocked at him. Only his mother and his friends wept,
that he should die before he had been a King.

“‘Oh, how the dead things mourned his death!

“‘The sun lost its light, and the mountains trembled; the curtain in the
temple was rent asunder, and the graves opened, that the dead might rise
up and show their grief.’

“The little one lay with her head on her grandmother’s knee, and sobbed
as if her heart would break.

“‘Do not weep, little one; the good King rose from his grave and went up
to his Father in heaven.’

“‘Grandmother,’ sobbed the poor little thing, ‘did he ever get any
kingdom?’

“‘He sits on God’s right hand in heaven.’

“But that did not comfort her. She wept helplessly and unrestrainedly, as
only a child can weep.

“‘Why were they so cruel to him? Why were they allowed to be so cruel to
him?’

“Her grandmother was almost frightened at her overwhelming sorrow.

“‘Say, grandmother, say that you have not told it right! Say that it did
not end so! Say that they were not so cruel to the good King! Say that he
got a kingdom on earth!’

“She threw her arms around the old woman and beseeched her with streaming
tears.

“‘Child, child,’ said her grandmother, to console her. ‘There are some
who believe that he will come again. Then he will put the earth under
his power and direct it. The beautiful earth will be a glorious kingdom.
It shall last a thousand years. Then the fierce animals will be gentle;
little children will play by the viper’s nest, and bears and cows will
eat together. No one shall injure or destroy the other; the lance shall
be bent into scythes, and the sword forged into ploughs. And everything
shall be play and happiness, for the good will possess the earth.’

“Then the little one’s face brightened behind her tears.

“‘Will the good King then get a throne, grandmother?’

“‘A throne of gold.’

“‘And servants, and courtiers, and a golden crown?’

“‘Yes.’

“‘Will he come soon, grandmother?’

“‘No one knows when he will come.’

“‘May I sit on a stool at his feet?’

“‘You may.’

“‘Grandmother, I am so happy,’ says the little one.

“Evening after evening, through many winters, they both sat by the fire
and talked of the good King and his kingdom. The little one dreamed of
the kingdom which should last a thousand years, both by night and by day.
She never wearied of adorning it with everything beautiful which she
could think of.

“Ebba Dohna never dared to speak of it to any one; but from that evening
she only lived for the Lord’s kingdom, and to await his coming.

“When the evening sun crimsoned the western sky, she wondered if he would
ever appear there, glowing with a mild splendor, followed by a host of
millions of angels, and march by her, allowing her to touch the hem of
his garment.

“She often thought, too, of those pious women who had hung a veil over
their heads, and never lifted their eyes from the ground, but shut
themselves in in the gray cloister’s calm, in the darkness of little
cells, to always contemplate the glowing visions which appear from the
night of the soul.

“Such had she grown up; such she was when she and the new tutor met in
the lonely paths of the park.

“I will not speak more harshly of him than I must. I will believe that
he loved that child, who soon chose him for companion in her lonely
wanderings. I think that his soul got back its wings when he walked by
the side of that quiet girl, who had never confided in any other. I think
that he felt himself a child again, good, gentle, virtuous.

“But if he really loved her, why did he not remember that he could not
give her a worse gift than his love? He, one of the world’s outcasts,
what did he want, what did he think of when he walked at the side of
the count’s daughter? What did the dismissed clergyman think when she
confided to him her gentle dreams? What did he want, who had been a
drunkard, and would be again when he got the chance, at the side of her
who dreamed of a bridegroom in heaven? Why did he not fly far, far away
from her? Would it not have been better for him to wander begging and
stealing about the land than to walk under the silent pines and again be
good, gentle, virtuous, when it could not change the life he had led, nor
make it right that Ebba Dohna should love him?

“Do not think that he looked like a drunkard, with livid cheeks and red
eyes. He was always a splendid man, handsome and unbroken in soul and
body. He had the bearing of a king and a body of steel, which was not
hurt by the wildest life.”

“Is he still living?” asks the countess.

“Oh, no, he must be dead now. All that happened so long ago.”

There is something in Anna Stjärnhök which begins to tremble at what she
is doing. She begins to think that she will never tell the countess who
the man is of whom she speaks; that she will let her believe that he is
dead.

“At that time he was still young;” and she begins her story again. “The
joy of living was kindled in him. He had the gift of eloquence, and a
fiery, impulsive heart.

“One evening he spoke to Ebba Dohna of love. She did not answer; she
only told him what her grandmother had told her that winter evening, and
described to him the land of her dreams. Then she exacted a promise from
him. She made him swear that he would be a proclaimer of the word of
God; one of those who would prepare the way for the Lord, so that his
coming might be hastened.

“What could he do? He was a dismissed clergyman, and no way was so closed
to him as that on which she wanted him to enter. But he did not dare to
tell her the truth. He did not have the heart to grieve that gentle child
whom he loved. He promised everything she wished.

“After that few words were needed. It went without saying that some day
she should be his wife. It was not a love of kisses and caresses. He
hardly dared come near her. She was as sensitive as a fragile flower.
But her brown eyes were sometimes raised from the ground to seek his. On
moonlit evenings, when they sat on the veranda, she would creep close to
him, and then he would kiss her hair without her noticing it.

“But you understand that his sin was in his forgetting both the past
and the future. That he was poor and humble he could forget; but he
ought always to have remembered that a day must come when in her soul
love would rise against love, earth against heaven, when she would be
obliged to choose between him and the glorious Lord of the kingdom of the
thousand years. And she was not one who could endure such a struggle.

“A summer went by, an autumn, a winter. When the spring came, and the
ice melted, Ebba Dohna fell ill. It was thawing in the valleys; there
were streams down all the hills, the ice was unsafe, the roads almost
impassable both for sledge and cart.

“Countess Dohna wanted to get a doctor from Karlstad; there was none
nearer. But she commanded in vain. She could not, either with prayers or
threats, induce a servant to go. She threw herself on her knees before
the coachman, but he refused. She went into hysterics of grief over her
daughter—she was always immoderate, in sorrow as in joy, Countess Märta.

“Ebba Dohna lay ill with pneumonia, and her life was in danger; but no
doctor could be got.

“Then the tutor drove to Karlstad. To take that journey in the condition
the roads were in was to play with his life; but he did it. It took him
over bending ice and break-neck freshets. Sometimes he had to cut steps
for the horse in the ice, sometimes drag him out of the deep clay in the
road. It was said that the doctor refused to go with him, and that he,
with pistol in hand, forced him to set out.

“When he came back the countess was ready to throw herself at his feet.
‘Take everything!’ she said. ‘Say what you want, what you desire,—my
daughter, my lands, my money!’

“‘Your daughter,’ answered the tutor.”

Anna Stjärnhök suddenly stops.

“Well, what then, what then?” asks Countess Elizabeth.

“That can be enough for now,” answers Anna, for she is one of those
unhappy people who live in the anguish of doubt. She has felt it a whole
week. She does not know what she wants. What one moment seems right to
her the next is wrong. Now she wishes that she had never begun this story.

“I begin to think that you want to deceive me, Anna. Do you not
understand that I _must_ hear the end of this story?”

“There is not much more to tell.—The hour of strife was come for Ebba
Dohna. Love raised itself against love, earth against heaven.

“Countess Märta told her of the wonderful journey which the young man had
made for her sake, and she said to her that she, as a reward, had given
him her hand.

“Ebba was so much better that she lay dressed on a sofa. She was weak and
pale, and even more silent than usual.

“When she heard those words she lifted her brown eyes reproachfully to
her mother, and said to her:—

“‘Mamma, have you given me to a dismissed priest, to one who has
forfeited his right to serve God, to a man who has been a thief, a
beggar?’

“‘But, child, who has told you that? I thought you knew nothing of it.’

“‘I heard your guests speaking of him the day I was taken ill.’

“‘But, child, remember that he has saved your life!’

“‘I remember that he has deceived me. He should have told me who he was.’

“‘He says that you love him.’

“‘I have done so. I cannot love one who has deceived me.’

“‘How has he deceived you?’

“‘You would not understand, mamma.’

“She did not wish to speak to her mother of the kingdom of her dreams,
which her beloved should have helped her to realize.

“‘Ebba,’ said the countess, ‘if you love him you shall not ask what he
has been, but marry him. The husband of a Countess Dohna will be rich
enough, powerful enough, to excuse all the follies of his youth.’

“‘I care nothing for his youthful follies, mamma; it is because he can
never be what I want him to be that I cannot marry him.’

“‘Ebba, remember that I have given him my promise!’

“The girl became as pale as death.

“‘Mamma, I tell you that if you marry me to him you part me from God.’

“‘I have decided to act for your happiness,’ says the countess. ‘I am
certain that you will be happy with this man. You have already succeeded
in making a saint of him. I have decided to overlook the claims of birth
and to forget that he is poor and despised, in order to give you a chance
to raise him. I feel that I am doing right. You know that I scorn all old
prejudices.’

“The young girl lay quiet on her sofa for a while after the countess
had left her. She was fighting her battle. Earth raised itself against
heaven, love against love; but her childhood’s love won the victory. As
she lay there on the sofa, she saw the western sky glow in a magnificent
sunset. She thought that it was a greeting from the good King; and as she
could not be faithful to him if she lived, she decided to die. There was
nothing else for her to do, since her mother wished her to belong to one
who never could be the good King’s servant.

“She went over to the window, opened it, and let the twilight’s cold,
damp air chill her poor, weak body.

“It was easily done. The illness was certain to begin again, and it did.

“No one but I knows that she sought death, Elizabeth. I found her at the
window. I heard her delirium. She liked to have me at her side those last
days.

“It was I who saw her die; who saw how she one evening stretched out her
arms towards the glowing west, and died, smiling, as if she had seen some
one advance from the sunset’s glory to meet her. It was also I who had to
take her last greeting to the man she loved. I was to ask him to forgive
her, that she could not be his wife. The good King would not permit it.

“But I have never dared to say to that man that he was her murderer.
I have not dared to lay the weight of such pain on his shoulders. And
yet he, who won her love by lies, was he not her murderer? Was he not,
Elizabeth?”

Countess Dohna long ago had stopped caressing the blue flowers. Now she
rises, and the bouquet falls to the floor.

“Anna, you are deceiving me. You say that the story is old, and that the
man has been dead a long time. But I know that it is scarcely five years
since Ebba Dohna died, and you say that you yourself were there through
it all. You are not old. Tell me who the man is!”

Anna Stjärnhök begins to laugh.

“You wanted a love-story. Now you have had one which has cost you both
tears and pain.”

“Do you mean that you have lied?”

“Nothing but romance and lies, the whole thing!”

“You are too bad, Anna.”

“Maybe. I am not so happy, either.—But the ladies are awake, and the men
are coming into the drawing-room. Let us join them!”

On the threshold she is stopped by Gösta Berling, who is looking for the
young ladies.

“You must have patience with me,” he says, laughing. “I shall only
torment you for ten minutes; but you must hear my verses.”

He tells them that in the night he had had a dream more vivid than ever
before; he had dreamt that he had written verse. He, whom the world
called “poet,” although he had always been undeserving of the title, had
got up in the middle of the night, and, half asleep, half awake, had
begun to write. It was a whole poem, which he had found the next morning
on his writing-table. He could never have believed it of himself. Now the
ladies should hear it.

And he reads:—

“The moon rose, and with her came the sweetest hour of the day.
From the clear, pale-blue, lofty vault
She flooded the leafy veranda with her light.
On the broad steps we were sitting, both old and young,
Silent at first to let the emotions sing
The heart’s old song in that tender hour.

“From the mignonette rose a sweet perfume,
And from dark thickets shadows crept over the dewy grass.
Oh, who can be safe from emotion
When the night’s shadows play, when the mignonette sheds its heavy
perfume?

“The last faded petal dropped from the rose,
Although the offering was not sought by the wind.
So—we thought—will we give up our life,
Vanish into space like a sound,
Like autumn’s yellowed leaf go without a moan.
Death is the reward of life; may we meet it quietly,
Just as a rose lets its last faded petal fall.

“On its fluttering wing a bat flew by us,
Flew and was seen, wherever the moon shone;
Then the question arose in our oppressed hearts,—

“The question which none can answer,
The question, heavy as sorrow, old as pain:
‘Oh, whither go we, what paths shall we wander
When we no longer walk on earth’s green pastures?’
Is there no one to show our spirits the way?
Easier were it to show a way to the bat who fluttered by us.

“She laid her head on my shoulder, her soft hair,
She, who loved me, and whispered softly:
‘Think not that souls fly to far-distant places;
When I am dead, think not that I am far away.
Into my beloved’s soul my homeless spirit will creep
And I will come and live in thee.’

“Oh what anguish! With sorrow my heart will break.
Was she to die, die soon? Was this night to be her last?
Did I press my last kiss on my beloved’s waving hair?

“Years have gone by since then. I still sit many times
In the old place, when the night is dark and silent.
But I tremble when the moon shines on the leafy veranda,
For her who alone knows how often I kissed my darling there,
For her who blended her quivering light with my tears,
Which fell on my darling’s hair.
Alas, for memory’s pain! Oh, ’tis the grief of my poor, sinful soul
That it should be her home! What punishment may he not await
Who has bound to himself a soul so pure, so innocent.”

“Gösta,” says Anna, jestingly, while her throat contracts with pain,
“people say of you that you have lived through more poems than others
have written, who have not done anything else all their lives; but do
you know, you will do best to compose poems your own way. That was night
work.”

“You are not kind.”

“To come and read such a thing, on death and suffering—you ought to be
ashamed!”

Gösta is not listening to her. His eyes are fixed on the young countess.
She sits quite stiff, motionless as a statue. He thinks she is going to
faint.

But with infinite difficulty her lips form one word.

“Go!” she says.

“Who shall go? Shall _I_ go?”

“The priest shall go,” she stammers out.

“Elizabeth, be silent!”

“The drunken priest shall leave my house!”

“Anna, Anna,” Gösta asks, “what does she mean?”

“You had better go, Gösta.”

“Why shall I go? What does all this mean?”

“Anna,” says Countess Elizabeth, “tell him, tell him!”

“No, countess, tell him yourself!”

The countess sets her teeth, and masters her emotion.

“Herr Berling,” she says, and goes up to him, “you have a wonderful power
of making people forget who you are. I did not know it till to-day. I
have just heard the story of Ebba Dohna’s death, and that it was the
discovery that she loved one who was unworthy which killed her. Your
poem has made me understand that you are that man. I cannot understand
how any one with your antecedents can show himself in the presence of an
honorable woman. I cannot understand it, Herr Berling. Do I speak plainly
enough?”

“You do, Countess. I will only say one word in my defence. I was
convinced, I thought the whole time that you knew everything about me. I
have never tried to hide anything; but it is not so pleasant to cry out
one’s life’s bitterest sorrow on the highways.”

He goes.

And in the same instant Countess Dohna sets her little foot on the bunch
of blue stars.

“You have now done what I wished,” says Anna Stjärnhök sternly to the
countess; “but it is also the end of our friendship. You need not think
that I can forgive your having been cruel to him. You have turned him
away, scorned, and wounded him, and I—I will follow him into captivity;
to the scaffold if need be. I will watch over him, protect him. You have
done what I wished, but I shall never forgive you.”

“But, Anna, Anna!”

“Because I told you all that do you think that I did it with a glad
spirit? Have I not sat here and bit by bit torn my heart out of my
breast?”

“Why did you do it?”

“Why? Because I did not wish—that he should be a married woman’s lover.”

There is a buzzing over my head. It must be a bumblebee. And such a
perfume! As true as I live, it is sweet marjoram and lavender and
hawthorn and lilacs and Easter lilies. It is glorious to feel it on a
gray autumn evening in the midst of the town. I only have to think of
that little blessed corner of the earth to have it immediately begin to
hum and smell fragrant about me, and I am transported to a little square
rose-garden, filled with flowers and protected by a privet hedge. In the
corners are lilac arbors with small wooden benches, and round about the
flower-beds, which are in the shapes of hearts and stars, wind narrow
paths strewed with white sea-sand. On three sides of the rose-garden
stands the forest, silent and dark.

On the fourth side lies a little gray cottage.

The rose-garden of which I am thinking was owned sixty years ago by an
old Madame Moreus in Svartsjö, who made her living by knitting blankets
for the peasants and cooking their feasts.

Old Madame Moreus was in her day the possessor of many things. She had
three lively and industrious daughters and a little cottage by the
roadside. She had a store of pennies at the bottom of a chest, stiff silk
shawls, straight-backed chairs, and could turn her hand to everything,
which is useful for one who must earn her bread. But the best that she
had was the rose-garden, which gave her joy as long as the summer lasted.

In Madame Moreus’ little cottage there was a boarder, a little dry old
maid, about forty years of age, who lived in a gable-room in the attic.
Mamselle Marie, as she was always called, had her own ideas on many
things, as one always does who sits much alone and lets her thoughts
dwell on what her eyes have seen.

Mamselle Marie thought that love was the root and origin of all evil in
this sorrowful world.

Every evening, before she fell asleep, she used to clasp her hands and
say her evening prayers. After she had said “Our Father” and “The Lord
bless us” she always ended by praying that God would preserve her from
love.

“It causes only misery,” she said. “I am old and ugly and poor. No, may I
never be in love!”

She sat day after day in her attic room in Madame Moreus’ little cottage,
and knitted curtains and table-covers. All these she afterwards sold to
the peasants and the gentry. She had almost knitted together a little
cottage of her own.

For a little cottage on the side of the hill opposite Svartsjö church was
what she wanted to have. But love she would never hear of.

When on summer evenings she heard the violin sounded from the cross
roads, where the fiddler sat on the stile, and the young people swung in
the polka till the dust whirled, she went a long way round through the
wood to avoid hearing and seeing.

The day after Christmas, when the peasant brides came, five or six of
them, to be dressed by Madame Moreus and her daughters, when they were
adorned with wreaths of myrtle, and high crowns of silk, and glass beads,
with gorgeous silk sashes and bunches of artificial roses, and skirts
edged with garlands of taffeta flowers, she stayed up in her room to
avoid seeing how they were being decked out in Love’s honor.

But she knew Love’s misdeeds, and of them she could tell. She wondered
that he dared to show himself on earth, that he was not frightened away
by the moans of the forsaken, by the curses of those of whom he had made
criminals, by the lamentations of those whom he had thrown into hateful
chains. She wondered that his wings could bear him so easily and lightly,
that he did not, weighed down by pain and shame, sink into nameless
depths.

No, of course she had been young, she like others, but she had never
loved. She had never let herself be tempted by dancing and caresses. Her
mother’s guitar hung dusty and unstrung in the attic; she never struck it
to sentimental love-ditties.

Her mother’s rose bushes stood in her window. She gave them scarcely any
water. She did not love flowers, those children of love. Spiders played
among the branches, and the buds never opened.

There came a time when the Svartsjö congregation had an organ put into
their church. It was the summer before the year when the pensioners
reigned. A young organ-builder came there. He too became a boarder at
Madame Moreus’.

That the young organ-builder was a master of his profession may be a
matter of doubt. But he was a gay young blade, with sunshine in his eyes.
He had a friendly word for every one, for rich and poor, for old and
young.

When he came home from his work in the evening, he held Madame Moreus’
skeins, and worked at the side of young girls in the rose-garden. Then he
declaimed “Axel” and sang “Frithiof.” He picked up Mamselle Marie’s ball
of thread as often as she dropped it, and put her clock to rights.

He never left any ball until he had danced with everybody, from the
oldest woman to the youngest girl, and if an adversity befell him, he
sat himself down by the side of the first woman he met and made her his
_confidante_. He was such a man as women create in their dreams! It
could not be said of him that he spoke of love to any one. But when he
had lived a few weeks in Madame Moreus’ gable-room, all the girls were
in love with him, and poor Mamselle Marie knew that she had prayed her
prayers in vain.

That was a time of sorrow and a time of joy. In the evening a pale
dreamer often sat in the lilac arbor, and up in Mamselle Marie’s little
room the newly strung guitar twanged to old love-songs, which she had
learned from her mother.

The young organ-builder was just as careless and gay as ever, and doled
out smiles and services to all these languishing women, who quarrelled
over him when he was away at his work. And at last the day came when he
had to leave.

The carriage stood before the door. His bag had been tied on behind, and
the young man said farewell. He kissed Madame Moreus’ hand and took the
weeping girls in his arms and kissed them on the cheek. He wept himself
at being obliged to go, for he had had a pleasant summer in the little
gray cottage. At the last he looked around for Mamselle Marie.

She came down the narrow attic-stairs in her best array. The guitar
hung about her neck on a broad, green-silk ribbon, and in her hand she
held a bunch of damask roses, for this year her mother’s rose-bushes had
blossomed. She stood before the young man, struck the guitar and sang:—

“Thou goest far from us. Ah! welcome again!
Hear the voice of my friendship, which greets thee.
Be happy: forget not a true, loving friend
Who in Värmland’s forests awaits thee!”

Thereupon she put the flowers in his buttonhole and kissed him square on
the mouth. Yes, and then she vanished up the attic stairs again, the old
apparition.

Love had revenged himself on her and made her a spectacle for all men.
But she never again complained of him. She never laid away the guitar,
and never forgot to water her mother’s rose-bushes.

She had learned to cherish Love with all his pain, his tears, his longing.

“Better to be sorrowful with him than happy without him,” she said.

* * * * *

The time passed. The major’s wife at Ekeby was driven out, the pensioners
came to power, and it so happened, as has been described, that Gösta
Berling one Sunday evening read a poem aloud to the countess at Borg, and
afterwards was forbidden by her to show himself in her house.

It is said that when Gösta shut the hall-door after him he saw several
sledges driving up to Borg. He cast a glance on the little lady who sat
in the first sledge. Gloomy as the hour was for him, it became still
more gloomy at the sight. He hurried away not to be recognized, but
forebodings of disaster filled his soul. Had the conversation in there
conjured up this woman? One misfortune always brings another.

But the servants hurried out, the shawls and furs were thrown on one
side. Who had come? Who was the little lady who stood up in the sledge?
Ah, it is really she herself, Märta Dohna, the far-famed countess!

She was the gayest and most foolish of women. Joy had lifted her on
high on his throne and made her his queen. Games and laughter were her
subjects. Music and dancing and adventure had been her share when the
lottery of life was drawn.

She was not far now from her fiftieth year, but she was one of the wise,
who do not count the years. “He whose foot is not ready to dance, or
mouth to laugh,” she said, “he is old. He knows the terrible weight of
years, not I.”

Pleasure had no undisturbed throne in the days of her youth, but change
and uncertainty only increased the delight of his glad presence. His
Majesty of the butterfly wings one day had afternoon tea in the court
ladies’ rooms at the palace in Stockholm, and danced the next in Paris.
He visited Napoleon’s camps, he went on board Nelson’s fleet in the blue
Mediterranean, he looked in on a congress at Vienna, he risked his life
at Brussels at a ball the night before a famous battle.

And wherever Pleasure was, there too was Märta Dohna, his chosen queen.
Dancing, playing, jesting, Countess Märta hurried the whole world round.
What had she not seen, what had she not lived through? She had danced
over thrones, played écarté on the fate of princes, caused devastating
wars by her jests! Gayety and folly had filled her life and would always
do so. Her body was not too old for dancing, nor her heart for love. When
did she weary of masquerades and comedies, of merry stories and plaintive
ballads?

When Pleasure sometimes could find no home out in the struggling world,
she used to drive up to the old manor by Löfven’s shores,—just as she
had come there when the princes and their court had become too gloomy
for her in the time of the Holy Alliance. It was then she had thought
best to make Gösta Berling her son’s tutor. She always enjoyed it there.
Never had Pleasure a pleasanter kingdom. There song was to be found and
card-playing, men who loved adventure, and gay, lovely women. She did not
lack for dances and balls, nor boating-parties over moonlit seas, nor
sledging through dark forests, nor appalling adventures and love’s sorrow
and pain.

But after her daughter’s death she had ceased to come to Borg. She
had not been there for five years. Now she had come to see how her
daughter-in-law bore the life up among the pine forests, the bears, and
the snow-drifts. She thought it her duty to come and see if the stupid
Henrik had not bored her to death with his tediousness. She meant to be
the gentle angel of domestic peace. Sunshine and happiness were packed in
her forty leather trunks, Gayety was her waiting-maid, Jest her coachman,
Play her companion.

And when she ran up the steps she was met with open arms. Her old rooms
on the lower floor were in order for her. Her man-servant, her lady
companion, and maid, her forty leather trunks, her thirty hat-boxes,
her bags and shawls and furs, everything was brought by degrees into
the house. There was bustle and noise everywhere. There was a slamming
of doors and a running on the stairs. It was plain enough that Countess
Märta had come.

* * * * *

It was a spring evening, a really beautiful spring evening, although it
was only April and the ice had not broken up. Mamselle Marie had opened
her window. She sat in her room, played on the guitar, and sang.

She was so engrossed in her guitar and her memories that she did not hear
that a carriage came driving up the road and stopped at the cottage. In
the carriage Countess Märta sat, and it amused her to see Mamselle Marie,
who sat at the window with her guitar on her lap, and with eyes turned
towards heaven sang old forgotten love-songs.

At last the countess got out of the carriage and went into the cottage,
where the girls were sitting at their work. She was never haughty; the
wind of revolution had whistled over her and blown fresh air into her
lungs.

It was not her fault that she was a countess, she used to say; but she
wanted at all events to live the life she liked best. She enjoyed herself
just as much at peasant weddings as at court balls. She acted for her
maids when there was no other spectator to be had, and she brought joy
with her in all the places where she showed herself, with her beautiful
little face and her overflowing love of life.

She ordered a blanket of Madame Moreus and praised the girls. She looked
about the rose-garden and told of her adventures on the journey. She
always was having adventures. And at the last she ventured up the attic
stairs, which were dreadfully steep and narrow, and sought out Mamselle
Marie in her gable-room.

She bought curtains of her. She could not live without having knitted
curtains for all her windows, and on every table should she have Mamselle
Marie’s table-covers.

She borrowed her guitar and sang to her of pleasure and love. And she
told her stories, so that Mamselle Marie found herself transported out
into the gay, rushing world. And the countess’s laughter made such music
that the frozen birds in the rose-garden began to sing when they heard
it, and her face, which was hardly pretty now,—for her complexion was
ruined by paint, and there was such an expression of sensuality about
the mouth,—seemed to Mamselle Marie so lovely that she wondered how the
little mirror could let it vanish when it had once caught it on its
shining surface.

When she left, she kissed Mamselle Marie and asked her to come to Borg.

Mamselle Marie’s heart was as empty as the swallow’s-nest at Christmas.
She was free, but she sighed for chains like a slave freed in his old age.

Now there began again for Mamselle Marie a time of joy and a time of
sorrow; but it did not last long,—only one short week.

The countess sent for her continually to come to Borg. She played her
comedy for her and told about all her lovers, and Mamselle Marie laughed
as she had never laughed before. They became the best of friends.
The countess soon knew all about the young organ-builder and about
the parting. And in the twilight she made Mamselle Marie sit on the
window-seat in the little blue cabinet. Then she hung the guitar ribbon
round her neck and got her to sing love-songs. And the countess sat and
watched how the old maid’s dry, thin figure and little plain head were
outlined against the red evening sky, and she said that the poor old
Mamselle was like a languishing maiden of the Middle Ages. All the songs
were of tender shepherds and cruel shepherdesses, and Mamselle Marie’s
voice was the thinnest voice in the world, and it is easy to understand
how the countess was amused at such a comedy.

There was a party at Borg, as was natural, when the count’s mother had
come home. And it was gay as always. There were not so many there, only
the members of the parish being invited.

The dining-room was on the lower floor, and after supper it so happened
that the guests did not go upstairs again, but sat in Countess Märta’s
room, which lay beyond. The countess got hold of Mamselle Marie’s guitar
and began to sing for the company. She was a merry person, Countess
Märta, and she could mimic any one. She now had the idea to mimic
Mamselle Marie. She turned up her eyes to heaven and sang in a thin,
shrill, child’s voice.

“Oh no, oh no, countess!” begged Mamselle Marie.

But the countess was enjoying herself, and no one could help laughing,
although they all thought that it was hard on Mamselle Marie.

The countess took a handful of dried rose-leaves out of a pot-pourri
jar, went with tragic gestures up to Mamselle Marie, and sang with deep
emotion:—

“Thou goest far from us. Ah! welcome again!
Hear the voice of my friendship, which greets thee.
Be happy: forget not a true, loving friend
Who in Värmland’s forests awaits thee!”

Then she strewed the rose-leaves over her head. Everybody laughed; but
Mamselle Marie was wild with rage. She looked as if she could have torn
out the countess’s eyes.

“You are a bad woman, Märta Dohna,” she said. “No decent woman ought to
speak to you.”

Countess Märta lost her temper too.

“Out with you, mamselle!” she said. “I have had enough of your folly.”

“Yes, I shall go,” said Mamselle Marie; “but first I will be paid for my
covers and curtains which you have put up here.”

“The old rags!” cried the countess. “Do you want to be paid for such
rags? Take them away with you! I never want to see them again! Take them
away immediately!”

Thereupon the countess threw the table-covers at her and tore down the
curtains, for she was beside herself.

The next day the young countess begged her mother-in-law to make her
peace with Mamselle Marie; but the countess would not. She was tired of
her.

Countess Elizabeth then bought of Mamselle Marie the whole set of
curtains and put them up in the upper floor. Whereupon Mamselle Marie
felt herself redressed.

Countess Märta made fun of her daughter-in-law for her love of knitted
curtains. She too could conceal her anger—preserve it fresh and new for
years. She was a richly gifted person.

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