THE BROBY CLERGYMAN

Midsummer was hot then as now when I am writing. It was the most
beautiful season of the year. It was the season when Sintram, the wicked
ironmaster at Fors, fretted and grieved. He resented the sun’s triumphal
march through the hours of the day, and the overthrow of darkness. He
raged at the leafy dress which clothed the trees, and at the many-colored
carpet which covered the ground.

Everything arrayed itself in beauty. The road, gray and dusty as it was,
had its border of flowers: yellow and purple midsummer blossoms, wild
parsley, and asters.

When the glory of midsummer lay on the mountains and the sound of the
bells from the church at Bro was borne on the quivering air even as far
as Fors, when the unspeakable stillness of the Sabbath day reigned in the
land, then he rose in wrath. It seemed to him as if God and men dared to
forget that he existed, and he decided to go to church, he too. Those who
rejoiced at the summer should see him, Sintram, lover of darkness without
morning, of death without resurrection, of winter without spring.

He put on his wolfskin coat and shaggy fur gloves. He had the red horse
harnessed in a sledge, and fastened bells to the shining horse-collar.
Equipped as if it were thirty degrees below zero, he drove to church. He
believed that the grinding under the runners was from the severe cold. He
believed that the white foam on the horse’s back was hoar-frost. He felt
no heat. Cold streamed from him as warmth from the sun.

He drove over the wide plain north of the Bro church. Large, rich
villages lay near his way, and fields of grain, over which singing larks
fluttered. Never have I heard larks sing as in those fields. Often have I
wondered how he could shut his ears to those hundreds of songsters.

He had to drive by many things on the way which would have enraged him
if he had given them a glance. He would have seen two bending birches at
the door of every house, and through open windows he would have looked
into rooms whose ceilings and walls were covered with flowers and green
branches. The smallest beggar child went on the road with a bunch of
lilacs in her hand, and every peasant woman had a little nosegay stuck in
her neckerchief.

Maypoles with faded flowers and drooping wreaths stood in every yard.
Round about them the grass was trodden down, for the merry dance had
whirled there through the summer night.

Below on the Löfven crowded the floats of timber. The little white sails
were hoisted in honor of the day, although no wind filled them, and every
masthead bore a green wreath.

On the many roads which lead to Bro the congregation came walking. The
women were especially magnificent in the light summer-dresses, which had
been made ready just for that day. All were dressed in their best.

And the people could not help rejoicing at the peace of the day and the
rest from daily work, at the delicious warmth, the promising harvest, and
the wild strawberries which were beginning to redden at the edge of the
road. They noticed the stillness of the air and the song of the larks,
and said: “It is plain that this is the Lord’s day.”

Then Sintram drove up. He swore and swung his whip over the straining
horse. The sand grated horribly under the runners, the sleigh-bells’
shrill clang drowned the sound of the church bells. His brow lay in angry
wrinkles under his fur cap.

The church-goers shuddered and thought they had seen the evil one
himself. Not even to-day on the summer’s festival might they forget evil
and cold. Bitter is the lot of those who wander upon earth.

The people who stood in the shadow of the church or sat on the churchyard
wall and waited for the beginning of the service, saw him with calm
wonder when he came up to the church door. The glorious day had filled
their hearts with joy that they were walking the paths of earth and
enjoying the sweetness of existence. Now, when they saw Sintram,
forebodings of strange disaster came over them.

Sintram entered the church and sat down in his seat, throwing his gloves
on the bench, so that the rattle of the wolves’ claws which were sewed
into the skin was heard through the church. And several women who had
already taken their places on the front benches fainted when they saw the
shaggy form, and had to be carried out.

But no one dared to drive out Sintram. He disturbed the people’s
devotions, but he was too much feared for any one to venture to order him
to leave the church.

In vain the old clergyman spoke of the summer’s bright festival. Nobody
listened to him. The people only thought of evil and cold and of the
strange disaster which the wicked ironmaster announced to them.

When it was over, they saw him walk out on to the slope of the hill where
the Bro church stands. He looked down on the Broby Sound and followed it
with his eyes past the deanery and the three points of the west shore out
into the Löfven. And they saw how he clenched his fist and shook it over
the sound and its green banks. Then his glance turned further south over
the lower Löfven to the misty shores which seemed to shut in the lake,
and northward it flew miles beyond Gurlitta Cliff up to Björnidet, where
the lake began. He looked to the west and east, where the long mountains
border the valley, and he clenched his fist again. And every one felt
that if he had held a bundle of thunderbolts in his right hand, he would
have hurled them in wild joy out over the peaceful country and spread
sorrow and death as far as he could. For now he had so accustomed his
heart to evil that he knew no pleasure except in suffering. By degrees
he had taught himself to love everything ugly and wretched. He was more
insane than the most violent madman, but that no one understood.

Strange stories went about the land after that day. It was said that when
the sexton came to shut up the church, the bit of the key broke, because
a tightly folded paper had been stuck in the keyhole. He gave it to the
dean. It was, as was to be expected, a letter meant for a being in the
other world.

People whispered of what had stood there. The dean had burnt the paper,
but the sexton had looked on while the devil’s trash burned. The letters
had shone bright red on a black ground. He could not help reading. He
read, people said, that Sintram wished to lay the country waste as far
as the Bro church tower was visible. He wished to see the forest grow
up about the church. He wished to see bear and fox living in men’s
dwellings. The fields should lie uncultivated, and neither dog nor cock
should be heard in the neighborhood. He wished to serve his master by
causing every man’s ruin. That was what he promised.

And the people looked to the future in silent despair, for they knew that
his power was great, that he hated everything living, that he wished to
see the wilderness spread through the valley, and that he would gladly
take pestilence or famine or war into his service to drive away every one
who loved good, joy-bringing work.

When nothing could make Gösta Berling glad, after he had helped the young
countess to escape, the pensioners decided to seek help of the good
Madame Musica, who is a powerful fairy and consoles many who are unhappy.

So one evening in July they had the doors of the big drawing-room at
Ekeby opened and the shutters taken down. The sun and air were let in,
the late evening’s big, red sun, the cool, mild, steaming air.

The striped covers were taken off the furniture, the piano was opened,
and the net about the Venetian chandelier taken away. The golden griffins
under the white-marble table-tops again reflected the light. The white
goddesses danced above the mirror. The variegated flowers on the silk
damask glistened in the evening glow. Roses were picked and brought in.
The whole room was filled with their fragrance. There were wonderful
roses with unknown names, which had been brought to Ekeby from foreign
lands. There were yellow ones in whose veins the blood shone red as in a
human being’s, and cream-white roses with curled edges, and pink roses
with broad petals, which on their outside edge were as colorless as
water, and dark red with black shadows. They carried in all Altringer’s
roses which had come from far distant lands to rejoice the eyes of lovely
women.

The music and music-stands were brought in, and the brass instruments and
bows and violins of all sizes; for good Madame Musica shall now reign at
Ekeby and try to console Gösta Berling.

Madame Musica has chosen the Oxford Symphony of Hayden, and has had the
pensioners practise it. Julius conducts, and each of the others attends
to his own instrument. All the pensioners can play—they would not
otherwise be pensioners.

When everything is ready Gösta is sent for. He is still weak and
low-spirited, but he rejoices in the beautiful room and in the music he
soon shall hear. For every one knows that for him who suffers and is in
pain good Madame Musica is the best company. She is gay and playful like
a child. She is fiery and captivating like a young woman. She is good and
wise like the old who have lived a good life.

And then the pensioners began to play, so gently, so murmuringly soft.

It goes well, it goes brilliantly well. From the dead notes they charm
Madame Musica herself. Spread out your magic cloak, dear Madame Musica,
and take Gösta Berling to the land of gladness, where he used to live.

Alas that it is Gösta Berling who sits there pale and depressed, and whom
the old men must amuse as if he were a child. There will be no more joy
now in Värmland.

I know why the old people loved him. I know how long a winter evening can
be, and how gloom can creep over the spirit in those lonely farm-houses.
I understand how it felt when he came.

Ah, fancy a Sunday afternoon, when work is laid aside and the thoughts
are dull! Fancy an obstinate north wind, whipping cold into the room,—a
cold which no fire can relieve! Fancy the single tallow-candle, which has
to be continually snuffed! Fancy the monotonous sound of psalms from the
kitchen!

Well, and then bells come ringing, eager feet stamp off the snow in the
hall, and Gösta Berling comes into the room. He laughs and jokes. He is
life, he is warmth. He opens the piano, and he plays so that they are
surprised at the old strings. He can sing all songs, play any tune. He
makes all the inmates of the house happy. He was never cold, he was never
tired. The mourner forgot his sorrows when he saw him. Ah, what a good
heart he had! How compassionate he was to the weak and poor! And what a
genius he was! Yes, you ought to have heard the old people talk of him.

But now, just as they were playing, he burst into tears. He thinks life
is so sad. He rests his head in his hands and weeps. The pensioners
are dismayed. These are not mild, healing tears, such as Madame Musica
generally calls forth. He is sobbing like one in despair. At their wits’
end they put their instruments away.

And the good Madame Musica, who loves Gösta Berling, she too almost loses
courage; but then she remembers that she has still a mighty champion
among the pensioners.

It is the gentle Löwenborg, he who had lost his fiancée in the muddy
river, and who is more Gösta Berling’s slave than any of the others. He
steals away to the piano.

In the pensioners’ wing Löwenborg has a great wooden table, on which
he has painted a keyboard and set up a music-stand. There he can sit
for hours at a time and let his fingers fly over the black and white
keys. There he practises both scales and studies, and there he plays his
Beethoven. He never plays anything but Beethoven.

But the old man never ventures on any other instrument than the wooden
table. For the piano he has a respectful awe. It tempts him, but it
frightens him even more. The clashing instrument, on which so many polkas
have been drummed, is a sacred thing to him. He has never dared to touch
it. Think of that wonderful thing with its many strings, which could give
life to the great master’s works! He only needs to put his ear to it, to
hear andantes and scherzos murmuring there. But he has never played on
such a thing. He will never be rich enough to buy one of his own, and
on this he has never dared to play. The major’s wife was not so willing
either to open it for him.

He has heard how polkas and waltzes have been played on it. But in such
profane music the noble instrument could only clash and complain. No, if
Beethoven should come, then it would let its true, clear sound be heard.

Now he thinks that the moment is come for him and Beethoven. He will take
courage and touch the holy thing, and let his young lord and master be
gladdened by the sleeping harmonies.

He sits down and begins to play. He is uncertain and nervous, but he
gropes through a couple of bars, tries to bring out the right ring,
frowns, tries again, and puts his hands before his face and begins to
weep.

Yes, it is a bitter thing. The sacred thing is not sacred. There are
no clear, pure tones hidden and dreaming in it; there are no mighty
thunders, no rushing hurricanes. None of the endless harmonies direct
from heaven had remained there. It is an old, worn-out piano, and nothing
more.

But then Madame Musica gives the colonel a hint. He takes Ruster with him
and they go to the pensioners’ wing and get Löwenborg’s table, where the
keys are painted.

“See here, Löwenborg,” says Beerencreutz, when they come back, “here is
your piano. Play for Gösta!”

Then Löwenborg stops crying and sits down to play Beethoven for his
sorrowful young friend. Now he would certainly be glad again.

In the old man’s head sound the most heavenly tones. He cannot think but
that Gösta hears how beautifully he is playing. He meets with no more
difficulties. He plays his runs and trills with the greatest ease. He
would have liked that the master himself could have heard him.

The longer he plays, the more he is carried away. He hears every note
with unearthly clearness. He sits there glowing with enthusiasm and
emotion, hearing the most wonderful tones, certain that Gösta must hear
them too and be comforted.

Gösta sat and looked at him. At first he was angry at this foolery, but
gradually he became of milder mood. He was irresistible, the old man, as
he sat and enjoyed his Beethoven.

And Gösta began to think how this man too, who now was so gentle and so
careless, had been sunk in suffering, how he too had lost her whom he
loved. And now he sat beamingly happy at his wooden table. Nothing more
was needed to add to his bliss.

He felt humbled. “What, Gösta,” he said to himself, “can you no longer
bear and suffer? You who have been hardened by poverty all your life,
you who have heard every tree in the forest, every tuft in the meadow
preach of resignation and patience, you who have been brought up in a
land where the winter is severe and the summer short,—have you forgotten
how to endure?”

Ah Gösta, a man must bear all that life offers with a brave heart and
smiling lip, or he is no man. Regret as much as you like if you have lost
what you hold dearest, let remorse tear at your vitals, but show yourself
a man. Let your glance shine with gladness, and meet your friends with
cheerful words!

Life is hard, nature is hard. But they both give courage and cheerfulness
as compensations for their hardness, or no one could hold out.

Courage and cheerfulness! It is as if they were the first duties of life.
You have never failed in them before, and shall not now.

Are you worse than Löwenborg, who sits there at his wooden piano, than
all the other pensioners? You know well enough that none of them have
escaped suffering!

And then Gösta looks at them. Oh, such a performance! They all are
sitting there so seriously and listening to this music which nobody hears.

Suddenly Löwenborg is waked from his dreams by a merry laugh. He lifts
his hands from the keys and listens as if in rapture. It is Gösta
Berling’s old laugh, his good, kind, infectious laugh. It is the sweetest
music the old man has heard in all his life.

“Did I not say that Beethoven would help you, Gösta,” he cries. “Now you
are yourself again.”

So did the good Madame Musica cure Gösta Berling’s hypochondria.

Eros, all-powerful god, you know well that it often seems as if a man
should have freed himself from your might. All the tender feelings which
unite mankind seem dead in his heart. Madness stretches its claws after
the unhappy one, but then you come in all your power, and like the great
saint’s staff the dried-up heart bursts into bloom.

No one is so mean as the Broby clergyman, no one more divided by malice
and uncharitableness from his fellow-men. His rooms are unheated in the
winter, he sits on an unpainted wooden seat, he dresses in rags, lives on
dry bread, and is furious if a beggar enters his door. He lets the horse
starve in the stable and sells the hay, his cows nibble the dry grass at
the roadside and the moss on the wall. The bleating of the hungry sheep
can be heard far along the highway. The peasants throw him presents of
food which their dogs will not eat, of clothes which their poor disdain.
His hand is stretched out to beg, his back bent to thank. He begs of the
rich, lends to the poor. If he sees a piece of money his heart aches with
longing till he gets it into his pocket. Unhappy is he who has not his
affairs in order on the day of payment!

He was married late in life, but it had been better if he had never
been. Exhausted and overworked, his wife died. His daughter serves with
strangers. He is old, but age grants him no relief in his struggling.
The madness of avarice never leaves him.

But one fine day in the beginning of August a heavy coach, drawn by four
horses, drives up Broby hill. A delicate old lady comes driving in great
state, with coachman and footman and lady’s-maid. She comes to meet the
Broby clergyman. She had loved him in the days of her youth.

He had been tutor at her father’s house, and they had loved one another,
although her proud family had separated them. And now she is journeying
up Broby hill to see him before she dies. All that is left to her in life
is to see once again the beloved of her youth.

She sits in the great carriage and dreams. She is not driving up Broby
hill to a poor little pastorage. She is on her way to the cool leafy
arbor down in the park, where her lover is waiting. She sees him; he is
young, he can kiss, he can love. Now, when she knows that she soon shall
meet him his image rises before her with singular clearness. He is so
handsome, so handsome! He can adore, he can burn, he fills her whole
being with rapture.

Now she is sallow, withered, and old. Perhaps he will not recognize her
with her sixty years, but she has not come to be seen, but to see, to see
the beloved of her youth, who has gone through life untouched by time,
who is ever young, beautiful, glowing.

She has come from so far away that she has not heard a word of the Broby
clergyman.

The coach clatters up the hill, and at the summit the pastorage is
visible.

“For the love of God,” whines a beggar at the wayside, “a copper for a
poor man!”

The noble lady gives him a piece of silver and asks where the Broby
pastorage is.

“The pastorage is in front of you,” he says, “but the clergyman is not at
home, there is no one at the pastorage.”

The little lady seems to fade away. The cool arbor vanishes, her lover is
not there. How could she expect, after forty years, to find him there?

What had the gracious lady to do at the vicarage?

She had come to meet the minister. She had known him in the old days.

Forty years and four hundred miles have separated them. And for each ten
miles she has come nearer she has left behind her a year with its burden
of sorrows and memories, so that when she now comes to the vicarage she
is a girl of twenty again, without a care or a regret.

The beggar stands and looks at her, sees her change under his eyes from
twenty to sixty, and from sixty back again to twenty.

“The minister is coming home this afternoon,” he says. The gracious lady
would do best to drive down to the Broby inn and come again later. In the
afternoon, the beggar can answer for it, the minister will be at home.

A moment after, the heavy coach with the little faded lady rolls down the
hill to the inn, but the beggar stands trembling and looks after her. He
feels that he ought to fall on his knees and kiss the wheel tracks.

Elegant, newly shaven, and washed, in shoes with shining buckles, with
silk stockings, with ruffles and frills, the Broby clergyman stands at
noon that same day before the dean’s wife at Bro.

“A fine lady,” he says, “a count’s daughter. Do you think that I,
poor man, can ask her to come into my house? My floors are black, my
drawing-room without furniture, the dining-room ceiling is green with
mildew and damp. Help me! Remember that she is a noble count’s daughter!”

“Say that you have gone away!”

“My dear lady, she has come four hundred miles to see me, poor man. She
does not know how it is. I have not a bed to offer her. I have not a bed
for her servants!”

“Well, let her go again.”

“Dear heart! Do you not understand what I mean? I would rather give
everything I possess, everything that I have gathered together by
industry and striving, than that she should go without my having received
her under my roof. She was twenty when I saw her last, and it is now
forty years ago! Help me, that I may see her in my house! Here is money,
if money can help, but here more than money is needed.”

Oh, Eros, women love you. They would rather go a hundred steps for you
than one for other gods.

In the deanery at Bro the rooms are emptied, the kitchen is emptied, the
larder is emptied. Wagons are piled up and driven to the vicarage. When
the dean comes home from the communion service, he will find empty rooms,
look in through the kitchen door to ask after his dinner and find no one
there. No dinner, no wife, no maids! What was to be done?

Eros has so wished it.

A little later in the afternoon the heavy coach comes clattering up Broby
hill. And the little lady sits and wonders if any new mischance shall
happen, if it is really true that she is now going to meet her life’s
only joy.

Then the coach swings into the vicarage, there comes some one, there he
comes. He lifts her out of the carriage, he takes her on his arm, strong
as ever, she is clasped in an embrace as warm as of old, forty years ago.
She looks into his eyes; which glow as they did when they had only seen
five and twenty summers.

A storm of emotion comes over her—warmer than ever. She remembers that he
once carried her up the steps to the terrace. She, who believed that her
love had lived all these years, had forgotten what it was to be clasped
in strong arms, to look into young, glowing eyes.

She does not see that he is old. She only sees his eyes.

She does not see the black floors, the mildewed ceilings, she only sees
his glowing eyes. The Broby clergyman is a stately man, a handsome man in
that hour. He grows handsome when he looks at her.

She hears his voice, his dear, strong voice; caressingly it sounds. He
only speaks so to her. Why did he need furniture from the deanery for his
empty rooms; why food, why servants? The old lady would never have missed
anything. She hears his voice and sees his eyes.

Never, never before has she been so happy.

She knows that he has been married, but she does not remember it. How
could she remember such a thing? She is twenty, he twenty-five. Shall he
become the mean Broby clergyman, that smiling youth? The wailing of the
poor, the curses of the defrauded, the scornful gibes, the caricatures,
the sneers, all that as yet does not exist for him. His heart burns only
with a pure and innocent love. Never shall that proud youth love gold so
that he will creep after it in the dirt, beg it from the wayfarer, suffer
humiliation, suffer disgrace, suffer cold, suffer hunger to get it. Shall
he starve his child, torture his wife, for that same miserable gold? It
is impossible. Such he can never be. He is a good man like all others. He
is not a monster.

The beloved of his youth does not walk by the side of a despised wretch,
unworthy of the profession he has dared to undertake!

Oh, Eros, not that evening! That evening he is not the Broby clergyman,
nor the next day either, nor the day after.

The day after that she goes.

What a dream, what a beautiful dream! For these three days not a cloud!

She journeyed smiling home to her castle and her memories. She never
heard his name again, she never asked after him. She wanted to dream that
dream as long as she lived.

The Broby clergyman sat in his lonely home and wept. She had made him
young. Must he now be old again? Should the evil spirit return and he be
despicable, contemptible, as he had been?

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