THE BROOM-GIRL

Under the stairs to the gallery in the Svartsjö church is a lumber-room
filled with the grave-diggers’ worn-out shovels, with broken benches,
with rejected tin labels and other rubbish.

There, where the dust lies thickest and seems to hide it from every human
eye, stands a chest, inlaid with mother-of-pearl in the most perfect
mosaic. If one scrapes the dust away, it seems to shine and glitter
like a mountain-wall in a fairy-tale. The chest is locked, and the key
is in good keeping; it may not be used. No mortal man may cast a glance
into that chest. No one knows what is in it. First, when the nineteenth
century has reached its close, may the key be placed in the lock, the
cover be lifted, and the treasures which it guarded be seen by men.

So has he who owned the chest ordained.

On the brass-plate of the cover stands an inscription: “Labor vincit
omnia.” But another inscription would be more appropriate. “Amor vincit
omnia” ought to stand there. For the chest in the rubbish room under the
gallery stairs is a testimony of the omnipotence of love.

O Eros, all-conquering god!

Thou, O Love, art indeed eternal! Old are people on the earth, but thou
hast followed them through the ages.

Where are the gods of the East, the strong heroes who carried weapons
of thunderbolts,—they who on the shores of holy rivers took offerings
of honey and milk? They are dead. Dead is Bel, the mighty warrior, and
Thot, the hawk-headed champion. The glorious ones are dead who rested on
the cloud banks of Olympus; so too the mighty who dwelt in the turreted
Valhalla. All the old gods are dead except Eros, Eros, the all-powerful!

His work is in everything you see. He supports the race. See him
everywhere! Whither can you go without finding the print of his foot?
What has your ear perceived, where the humming of his wings has not been
the key-note? He lives in the hearts of men and in the sleeping germ. See
with trembling his presence in inanimate things!

What is there which does not long and desire? What is there which escapes
his dominion? All the gods of revenge will fall, all the powers of
strength and might. Thou, O Love, art eternal!

* * * * *

Old Uncle Eberhard is sitting at his writing-desk,—a splendid piece
of furniture with a hundred drawers, with marble top and ornaments of
blackened brass. He works with eagerness and diligence, alone in the
pensioners’ wing.

Oh, Eberhard, why do you not wander about wood and field in these last
days of the departing summer like the other pensioners? No one, you know,
worships unpunished the goddess of wisdom. Your back is bent with sixty
and some years; the hair which covers your head is not your own; the
wrinkles crowd one another on your brow, which arches over hollow eyes;
and the decay of old age is drawn in the thousand lines about your empty
mouth.

Oh, Eberhard, why do you not wander about wood and field? Death parts you
just so much the sooner from your desk, because you have not let life
tempt you from it.

Uncle Eberhard draws a thick stroke under his last line. From the desk’s
innumerable drawers he drags out yellowed, closely scribbled manuscripts,
all the different parts of his great work,—that work which is to carry on
Eberhard Berggren’s name through all time. But just as he has piled up
manuscript on manuscript, and is staring at them in silent rapture, the
door opens, and in walks the young countess.

There she is, the old men’s young mistress,—she whom they wait on and
adore more than grandparents wait on and adore the first grandson. There
she is whom they had found in poverty and in sickness, and to whom they
had now given all the glory of the world, just as the king in the fairy
tale did to the beautiful beggar girl he found in the forest. It is for
her that the horn and violin now sound at Ekeby,—for her everything
moves, breathes, works on the great estate.

She is well again, although still very weak. Time goes slowly for her
alone in the big house, and, as she knows that the pensioners are away,
she wishes to see what it looks like in the pensioners’ wing, that
notorious room.

So she comes softly in and looks up at the whitewashed walls and the
yellow striped bed-curtains, but she is embarrassed when she sees that
the room is not empty.

Uncle Eberhard goes solemnly towards her, and leads her forward to the
great pile of paper.

“Look, countess,” he says; “now my work is ready. Now shall what I have
written go out into the world. Now great things are going to happen.”

“What is going to happen, Uncle Eberhard?”

“Oh, countess, it is going to strike like a thunderbolt, a bolt which
enlightens and kills. Ever since Moses dragged him out of Sinai’s
thunder-cloud and put him on the throne of grace in the innermost
sanctuary of the temple, ever since then he has sat secure, the old
Jehovah; but now men shall see what he is: Imagination, emptiness,
exhalation, the stillborn child of our own brain. He shall sink into
nothingness,” said the old man, and laid his wrinkled hand on the pile of
manuscript. “It stands here; and when people read this, they will have to
believe. They will rise up and acknowledge their own stupidity; they will
use crosses for kindling-wood, churches for storehouses, and clergymen
will plough the earth.”

“Oh, Uncle Eberhard,” says the countess, with a slight shudder, “are you
such a dreadful person? Do such dreadful things stand there?”

“Dreadful!” repeated the old man, “it is only the truth. But we are like
little boys who hide their faces in a woman’s skirt as soon as they meet
a stranger: we have accustomed ourselves to hide from the truth, from the
eternal stranger. But now he shall come and dwell among us, now he shall
be known by all.”

“By all?”

“Not only by philosophers, but by everybody; do you understand, countess,
by everybody.”

“And so Jehovah shall die?”

“He and all angels, all saints, all devils, all lies.”

“Who shall then rule the world?”

“Do you believe that any one has ruled it before? Do you believe in that
Providence which looks after sparrows and the hair of your head? No one
has ruled it, no one shall rule it.”

“But we, we people, what will we become—”

“The same which we have been—dust. That which is burned out can burn no
longer; it is dead. We about whom the fire of life flickers are only
fuel. Life’s sparks fly from one to another. We are lighted, flame up,
and die out. That is life.”

“Oh, Eberhard, is there no life of the spirit?”

“None.”

“No life beyond the grave?”

“None.”

“No good, no evil, no aim, no hope?”

“None.”

The young woman walks over to the window. She looks out at the autumn’s
yellowed leaves, at dahlias and asters which hang their heavy heads on
broken stalks. She sees the Löfven’s black waves, the autumn’s dark
storm-clouds, and for a moment she inclines towards repudiation.

“Uncle Eberhard,” she says, “how ugly and gray the world is; how
profitless everything is! I should like to lie down and die.”

But then she hears a murmur in her soul. The vigor of life and its strong
emotions cry out for the happiness of living.

“Is there nothing,” she breaks out, “which can give life beauty, since
you have taken from me God and immortality?”

“Work,” answers the old man.

But she looks out again, and a feeling of scorn for that poor wisdom
creeps over her. The unfathomable rises before her; she feels the spirit
dwelling in everything; she is sensible of the power which lies bound
in seemingly dead material, but which can develop into a thousand forms
of shifting life. Dizzily she seeks for a name for the presence of God’s
spirit in nature.

“Oh, Eberhard,” she says, “what is work? Is it a god? Has it any meaning
in itself? Name another!”

“I know no other,” answered the old man.

Then she finds the name which she is seeking,—a poor, often sullied name.

“Uncle Eberhard, why do you not speak of love?”

A smile glides over the empty mouth where the thousand wrinkles cross.

“Here,” says the philosopher, and strikes the heavy packet with his
clenched hand, “here all the gods are slain, and I have not forgotten
Eros. What is love but a longing of the flesh? In what does he stand
higher than the other requirements of the body? Make hunger a god! Make
fatigue a god! They are just as worthy. Let there be an end to such
absurdities! Let the truth live!”

The young countess sinks her head. It is not so, all that is not true;
but she cannot contest it.

“Your words have wounded my soul,” she says; “but still I do not believe
you. The gods of revenge and violence you may be able to kill, no others.”

But the old man takes her hand, lays it on the book, and swears in the
fanaticism of unbelief.

“When you have read this, you must believe.”

“May it never come before my eyes,” she says, “for if I believe that, I
cannot live.”

And she goes sadly from the philosopher. But he sits for a long time and
thinks, when she has gone.

Those old manuscripts, scribbled over with heathenish confessions, have
not yet been tested before the world. Uncle Eberhard’s name has not yet
reached the heights of fame.

His great work lies hidden in a chest in the lumber-room under the
gallery stairs in the Svartsjö church; it shall first see the light of
day at the end of the century.

But why has he done this? Was he afraid not to have proved his point? Did
he fear persecutions? You little know Uncle Eberhard.

Understand it now; he has loved the truth, not his own glory. So he has
sacrificed the latter, not the former, in order that a deeply loved child
might die in the belief in that she has most cared for.

O Love, thou art indeed eternal!

No one knows the place in the lee of the mountain where the pines grow
thickest and deep layers of moss cover the ground. How should any one
know it? No man’s foot has ever trodden it before; no man’s tongue has
given it a name. No path leads to that hidden spot. It is the most
solitary tract in the forest, and now thousands of people are looking for
it.

What an endless procession of seekers! They would fill the Bro
church,—not only Bro, but Löfviks and Svartsjö.

All who live near the road rush out and ask, “Has anything happened? Is
the enemy upon us? Where are you going? Tell us where.”

“We are searching,” they answer. “We have been searching for two days.
We shall go on to-day; but afterwards we can do no more. We are going to
look through the Björne wood and the firclad heights west of Ekeby.”

It was from Nygård, a poor district far away among the eastern mountains,
the procession had first started. The beautiful girl with the heavy,
black hair and the red cheeks had disappeared a week before. The
broom-girl, to whom Gösta Berling had wished to engage himself, had been
lost in the great forests. No one had seen her for a week.

So the people started from Nygård to search through the wood. And
everybody they met joined in the search.

Sometimes one of the new-comers asks,—

“You men from Nygård, how has it all happened? Why do you let that
beautiful girl go alone in strange paths? The forest is deep, and God has
taken away her reason.”

“No one disturbs her,” they answer; “she disturbs no one. She goes as
safely as a child. Who is safer than one God himself must care for? She
has always come back before.”

So have the searching crowd gone through the eastern woods, which shut in
Nygård from the plain. Now on the third day it passes by the Bro church
towards the woods west of Ekeby.

But wherever they go, a storm of wondering rages; constantly a man from
the crowd has to stop to answer questions: “What do you want? What are
you looking for?”

“We are looking for the blue-eyed, dark-haired girl. She has laid herself
down to die in the forest. She has been gone a week.”

“Why has she laid herself down to die in the forest? Was she hungry? Was
she unhappy?”

“She has not suffered want, but she had a misfortune last spring. She has
seen that mad priest, Gösta Berling, and loved him for many years. She
knew no better. God had taken away her wits.”

“Last spring the misfortune happened,—before that, he had never looked at
her. Then he said to her that she should be his sweetheart. It was only
in jest; he let her go again, but she could not be consoled. She kept
coming to Ekeby. She went after him wherever he went. He wearied of her.
When she was there last, they set their dogs on her. Since then no one
has seen her.”

To the rescue, to the rescue! A human life is concerned! A human being
has laid herself down to die in the wood! Perhaps she is already dead.
Perhaps, too, she is still wandering there without finding the right way.
The forest is wide, and her reason is with God.

Come everybody, men and women and children! Who can dare to stay at home?
Who knows if God does not intend to use just him? Come all of you, that
your soul may not some day wander helpless in dry places, seek rest and
find none! Come! God has taken her reason, and the forest is wide.

It is wonderful to see people unite for some great object. But it is not
hunger, nor the fear of God, nor war which has driven these out. Their
trouble is without profit, their striving without reward; they are only
going to find a fool. So many steps, so much anxiety, so many prayers it
all costs, and yet it will only be rewarded by the recovery of a poor,
misguided girl, whose reason is with God.

Those anxious searchers fill the highway. With earnest eyes they gauge
the forest; they go forward sadly, for they know that they are more
probably searching for the dead than the living.

Ah, that black thing at the foot of the cliff, it is not an ant-hill
after all, but a fallen tree. Praised be Heaven, only a fallen tree! But
they cannot see distinctly, the pines grow so thick.

It is the third day of the search; they are used to the work. They search
under the sloping rock, on which the foot can slide, under fallen trees,
where arm or leg easily could have been broken, under the thick growing
pines’ branches, trailing over soft moss, inviting to rest.

The bear’s den, the fox’s hole, the badger’s deep home, the red cranberry
slope, the silver fir, the mountain, which the forest fire laid waste a
month ago, the stone which the giant threw,—all that have they found,
but not the place under the rock where the black thing is lying. No one
has been there to see if it is an ant-hill, or a tree-trunk, or a human
being. Alas! it is indeed a human being, but no one has been there to see
her.

The evening sun is shining on the other side of the wood, but the
young woman is not found. What should they do now? Should they search
through the wood once more? The wood is dangerous in the dark; there
are bottomless bogs and deep clefts. And what could they, who had found
nothing when the sun was shining, find when it was gone?

“Let us go to Ekeby!” cries one in the crowd.

“Let us go to Ekeby!” they all cry together.

“Let us ask those pensioners why they let loose the dogs on one whose
reason God had taken, why they drove a fool to despair. Our poor, hungry
children weep; our clothes are torn; the potatoes rot in the ground; our
horses are running loose; our cows get no care; we are nearly dead with
fatigue—and the fault is theirs. Let us go to Ekeby and ask about this.

“During this cursed year we have had to suffer everything. The winter
will bring us starvation. Whom does God’s hand seek? It was not the Broby
clergyman. His prayers could reach God’s ear. Who, then, if not these
pensioners? Let us go to Ekeby!

“They have ruined the estate, they have driven the major’s wife to beg on
the highway. It is their fault that we have no work. The famine is their
doing. Let us go to Ekeby!”

So the dark, embittered men crowd down to Ekeby; hungry women with
weeping children in their arms follow them; and last come the cripples
and the old men. And the bitterness spreads like an ever-increasing storm
from the old men to the women, from the women to the strong men at the
head of the train.

It is the autumn-flood which is coming. Pensioners, do you remember the
spring-flood?

A cottager who is ploughing in a pasture at the edge of the wood hears
the people’s mad cries. He throws himself on one of his horses and
gallops down to Ekeby.

“Disaster is coming!” he cries; “the bears are coming, the wolves are
coming, the goblins are coming to take Ekeby!”

He rides about the whole estate, wild with terror.

“All the devils in the forest are let loose!” he cries. “They are coming
to take Ekeby! Save yourselves who can! The devils are coming to burn the
house and to kill the pensioners!”

And behind him can be heard the din and cries of the rushing horde. Does
it know what it wants, that storming stream of bitterness? Does it want
fire, or murder, or plunder?

They are not human beings; they are wild beasts. Death to Ekeby, death to
the pensioners!

Here brandy flows in streams. Here gold lies piled in the vaults. Here
the storehouses are filled with grain and meat. Why should the honest
starve, and the guilty have plenty?

But now your time is out, the measure is overflowing, pensioners. In the
wood lies one who condemns you; we are her deputies.

The pensioners stand in the big building and see the people coming. They
know already why they are denounced. For once they are innocent. If
that poor girl has lain down to die in the wood, it is not because they
have set the dogs on her,—that they have never done,—but because Gösta
Berling, a week ago, was married to Countess Elizabeth.

But what good is it to speak to that mob? They are tired, they are
hungry; revenge drives them on, plunder tempts them. They rush down with
wild cries, and before them rides the cottager, whom fear has driven mad.

The pensioners have hidden the young countess in their innermost room.
Löwenborg and Eberhard are to sit there and guard her; the others go
out to meet the people. They are standing on the steps before the main
building, unarmed, smiling, as the first of the noisy crowd reach the
house.

And the people stop before that little group of quiet men. They had
wanted to throw them down on the ground and trample them under their
iron-shod heels, as the people at the Lund iron-works used to do with the
manager and overseer fifty years ago; but they had expected closed doors,
raised weapons; they had expected resistance and fighting.

“Dear friends,” say the pensioners; “dear friends, you are tired and
hungry; let us give you a little food and first a glass of Ekeby’s own
home-brewed brandy.”

The people will not listen; they scream and threaten. But the pensioners
are not discouraged.

“Only wait,” they say; “only wait a second. See, Ekeby stands open. The
cellar doors are open; the store-rooms are open; the dairy is open. Your
women are dropping with fatigue; the children are crying. Let us get them
food first! Then you can kill us. We will not run away. The attic is full
of apples. Let us go after apples for the children!”

* * * * *

An hour later the feasting is in full swing at Ekeby. The biggest feast
the big house has ever seen is celebrated there that autumn night under
the shining full moon.

Woodpiles have been lighted; the whole estate flames with bonfires. The
people sit about in groups, enjoying warmth and rest, while all the good
things of the earth are scattered over them.

Resolute men have gone to the farmyard and taken what was needed. Calves
and sheep have been killed, and even one or two oxen. The animals have
been cut up and roasted in a trice. Those starving hundreds are devouring
the food. Animal after animal is led out and slaughtered. It looks as if
the whole barn would be emptied in one night.

They had just baked that day. Since the young Countess Elizabeth had
come, there had once more been industry in-doors. It seemed as if the
young woman never for an instant remembered that she was Gösta Berling’s
wife. Neither he nor she acted as if it were so; but on the other hand
she made herself the mistress of Ekeby. As a good and capable woman
always must do, she tried with burning zeal to remedy the waste and
the shiftlessness which reigned in the house. And she was obeyed. The
servants felt a certain pleasure in again having a mistress over them.

But what did it matter that she had filled the rafters with bread, that
she had made cheeses and churned and brewed during the month of September?

Out to the people with everything there is, so that they may not burn
down Ekeby and kill the pensioners! Out with bread, butter, cheese! Out
with the beer-barrels, out with the hams from the store-house, out with
the brandy-kegs, out with the apples!

How can all the riches of Ekeby suffice to diminish the people’s anger?
If we get them away before any dark deed is done, we may be glad.

It is all done for the sake of her who is now mistress at Ekeby. The
pensioners are brave men; they would have defended themselves if they had
followed their own will. They would rather have driven away the marauders
with a few sharp shots, but for her, who is gentle and mild and begs for
the people.

As the night advances, the crowds become gentler. The warmth and the rest
and the food and the brandy assuage their terrible madness. They begin to
jest and laugh.

As it draws towards midnight, it looks as if they were preparing to
leave. The pensioners stop bringing food and wine, drawing corks and
pouring ale. They draw a sigh of relief, in the feeling that the danger
is over.

But just then a light is seen in one of the windows of the big house. All
who see it utter a cry. It is a young woman who is carrying the light.

It had only been for a second. The vision disappeared; but the people
think they have recognized the woman.

“She had thick black hair and red cheeks!” they cry. “She is here! They
have hidden her here!”

“Oh, pensioners, have you her here? Have you got our child, whose reason
God has taken, here at Ekeby? What are you doing with her? You let us
grieve for her a whole week, search for three whole days. Away with wine
and food! Shame to us, that we accepted anything from your hands! First,
out with her! Then we shall know what we have to do to you.”

The people are quick; quicker still are the pensioners. They rush in and
bar the door. But how could they resist such a mass? Door after door is
broken down. The pensioners are thrown one side; they are unarmed. They
are wedged in the crowd, so that they cannot move. The people will come
in to find the broom-girl.

In the innermost room they find her. No one has time to see whether she
is light or dark. They lift her up and carry her out. She must not be
afraid, they say. They are here to save her.

But they who now stream from the building are met by another procession.

In the most lonely spot in the forest the body of a woman, who had fallen
over a high cliff and died in the fall, no longer rests. A child had
found her. Searchers who had remained in the wood had lifted her on their
shoulders. Here they come.

In death she is more beautiful than in life. Lovely she lies, with her
long, black hair. Fair is the form since the eternal peace rests upon it.

Lifted high on the men’s shoulders, she is carried through the crowd.
With bent heads all do homage to the majesty of death.

“She has not been dead long,” the men whisper. “She must have wandered
in the woods till to-day. We think that she wanted to escape from us who
were looking for her, and so fell over the cliff.”

But if this is the broom-girl, who is the one who has been carried out of
Ekeby?

The procession from the wood meets the procession from the house.
Bonfires are burning all over the yard. The people can see both the women
and recognize them. The other is the young countess at Borg.

“Oh! what is the meaning of this? Is this a new crime? Why is the young
countess here at Ekeby? Why have they told us that she was far away or
dead? In the name of justice, ought we not to throw ourselves on the
pensioners and trample them to dust under iron-shod heels?”

Then a ringing voice is heard. Gösta Berling has climbed up on the
balustrade and is speaking. “Listen to me, you monsters, you devils! Do
you think there are no guns and powder at Ekeby, you madmen? Do you think
that I have not wanted to shoot you like mad dogs, if she had not begged
for you? Oh, if I had known that you would have touched her, not one of
you should have been left alive!

“Why are you raging here to-night and threatening us with murder and
fire? What have I to do with your crazy girls? Do I know where they run?
I have been too kind to that one; that is the matter. I ought to have set
the dogs on her,—it would have been better for us both,—but I did not.
Nor have I ever promised to marry her; that I have never done. Remember
that!

“But now I tell you that you must let her whom you have dragged out of
the house go. Let her go, I say; and may the hands who have touched her
burn in everlasting fire! Do you not understand that she is as much above
you as heaven is above the earth? She is as delicate as you are coarse;
as good as you are bad.

“Now I will tell you who she is. First, she is an angel from
heaven,—secondly, she has been married to the count at Borg. But her
mother-in-law tortured her night and day; she had to stand at the lake
and wash clothes like an ordinary maid; she was beaten and tormented as
none of your women have ever been. Yes, she was almost ready to throw
herself into the river, as we all know, because they were torturing the
life out of her. I wonder which one of you was there then to save her
life. Not one of you was there; but we pensioners, we did it.

“And when she afterwards gave birth to a child off in a farm-house, and
the count sent her the message: ‘We were married in a foreign land; we
did not follow law and order. You are not my wife; I am not your husband.
I care nothing for your child!’—yes, when that was so, and she did not
want the child to stand fatherless in the church register, then you would
have been proud enough if she had said to one of you: ‘Come and marry me!
I must have a father for the child!’ But she chose none of you. She took
Gösta Berling, the penniless priest, who may never speak the word of God.
Yes, I tell you, peasants, that I have never done anything harder; for I
was so unworthy of her that I did not dare to look her in the eyes, nor
did I dare say no, for she was in despair.

“And now you may believe what evil you like of us pensioners; but to her
we have done what good we could. And it is thanks to her that you have
not all been killed to-night. But now I tell you: let her go, and go
yourselves, or I think the earth will open and swallow you up. And as you
go, pray God to forgive you for having frightened and grieved one who is
so good and innocent. And now be off! We have had enough of you!”

Long before he had finished speaking, those who had carried out the
countess had put her down on one of the stone steps; and now a big
peasant came thoughtfully up to her and stretched out his great hand.

“Thank you, and good-night,” he said. “We wish you no harm, countess.”

After him came another and shook her hand. “Thanks, and good-night. You
must not be angry with us!”

Gösta sprang down and placed himself beside her. Then they took his hand
too.

So they came forward slowly, one after another, to bid them good-night
before they went. They were once more subdued; again were they human
beings, as they were when they left their homes that morning, before
hunger and revenge had made them wild beasts.

They looked in the countess’s face, and Gösta saw that the innocence and
gentleness they saw there brought tears into the eyes of many. There was
in them all a silent adoration of the noblest they had ever seen.

They could not all shake her hand. There were so many, and the young
woman was tired and weak. But they all came and looked at her, and could
take Gösta’s hand,—his arm could stand a shaking.

Gösta stood as if in a dream. That evening a new love sprang up in his
heart.

“Oh, my people,” he thought, “oh, my people, how I love you!” He felt how
he loved all that crowd who were disappearing into the darkness with the
dead girl at the head of the procession, with their coarse clothes and
evil-smelling shoes; those who lived in the gray huts at the edge of the
wood; those who could not write and often not read; those who had never
known the fulness and richness of life, only the struggle for their daily
bread.

He loved them with a painful, burning tenderness which forced the tears
from his eyes. He did not know what he wanted to do for them, but he
loved them, each and all, with their faults, their vices and their
weaknesses. Oh, Lord God, if the day could come when he too should be
loved by them!

He awoke from his dream; his wife laid her hand on his arm. The people
were gone. They were alone on the steps.

“Oh, Gösta, Gösta, how could you!”

She put her hands before her face and wept.

“It is true what I said,” he cried. “I have never promised the broom-girl
to marry her. ‘Come here next Friday, and you shall see something funny!’
was all I ever said to her. It is not my fault that she cared for me.”

“Oh, it was not that; but how could you say to the people that I was
good and pure? Gösta, Gösta! Do you not know that I loved you when I had
no right to do it? I was ashamed, Gösta! I was ready to die of shame!”

And she was shaken by sobs.

He stood and looked at her.

“Oh, my friend, my beloved!” he said quietly. “How happy you are, who are
so good! How happy to have such a beautiful soul!”

In the year 1770, in Germany, the afterwards learned and accomplished
Kevenhüller was born. He was the son of a count, and could have lived in
lofty palaces and ridden at the Emperor’s side if he had so wished; but
he had not.

He could have liked to fasten windmill sails on the castle’s highest
tower, turn the hall into a locksmith’s workshop, and the boudoir into
a watch-maker’s. He would have liked to fill the castle with whirling
wheels and working levers. But when he could not do it he left all
the pomp and apprenticed himself to a watch-maker. There he learned
everything there was to learn about cogwheels, springs, and pendulums.
He learned to make sun-dials and star-dials, clocks with singing
canary-birds and horn-blowing shepherds, chimes which filled a whole
church-tower with their wonderful machinery, and watch-works so small
that they could be set in a locket.

When he had got his patent of mastership, he bound his knapsack on his
back, took his stick in his hand, and wandered from place to place to
study everything that went with rollers and wheels. Kevenhüller was no
ordinary watch-maker; he wished to be a great inventor and to improve the
world.

When he had so wandered through many lands, he turned his steps towards
Värmland, to there study mill-wheels and mining. One beautiful summer
morning it so happened that he was crossing the market-place of Karlstad.
But that same beautiful summer morning it had pleased the wood-nymph to
extend her walk as far as the town. The noble lady came also across the
market-place from the opposite direction, and so met Kevenhüller.

That was a meeting for a watch-maker’s apprentice. She had shining, green
eyes, and a mass of light hair, which almost reached the ground, and she
was dressed in green, changeable silk. She was the most beautiful woman
Kevenhüller had ever seen.

He stood as if he had lost his wits, and stared at her as she came
towards him.

She came direct from the deepest thicket of the wood, where the ferns are
as high as trees, where the giant firs shut out the sun, so that it can
only fall in golden drops on the yellow moss.

I should like to have been in Kevenhüller’s place, to see her as she came
with ferns and pine-needles tangled in her yellow hair and a little black
snake about her neck.

How the people must have stared at her! Horses bolted, frightened by her
long, floating hair. The street boys ran after her. The men dropped their
meat-axes to gape at her.

She herself went calm and majestic, only smiling a little at the
excitement, so that Kevenhüller saw her small, pointed teeth shine
between her red lips.

She had hung a cloak over her shoulders so that none should see who she
was; but as ill-luck would have it, she had forgotten to cover her tail.
It dragged along the paving stones.

Kevenhüller saw the tail; he was sorry that a noble lady should make
herself the laughing-stock of the town; so he bowed and said courteously:—

“Would it not please your Grace to lift your train?”

The wood-nymph was touched, not only by his kindness, but by his
politeness. She stopped before him and looked at him, so that he thought
that shining sparks passed from her eyes into his brain. “Kevenhüller,”
she said, “hereafter you shall be able with your two hands to execute
whatever work you will, but only one of each kind.”

She said it and she could keep her word. For who does not know that the
wood-nymph has the power to give genius and wonderful powers to those who
win her favor?

Kevenhüller remained in Karlstad and hired a workshop there. He hammered
and worked night and day. In a week he had made a wonder. It was a
carriage, which went by itself. It went up hill and down hill, went fast
or slow, could be steered and turned, be stopped and started, as one
wished.

Kevenhüller became famous. He was so proud of his carriage that he
journeyed up to Stockholm to show it to the king. He did not need to wait
for post-horses nor to scold ostlers. He proudly rode in his own carriage
and was there in a few hours.

He rode right up to the palace, and the king came out with his court
ladies and gentlemen and looked at him. They could not praise him enough.

The king then said: “You might give me that carriage, Kevenhüller.” And
although he answered no, the king persisted and wished to have the
carriage.

Then Kevenhüller saw that in the king’s train stood a court lady with
light hair and a green dress. He recognized her, and he understood that
it was she who had advised the king to ask him for his carriage. He was
in despair. He could not bear that another should have his carriage, nor
did he dare to say no to the king. Therefore he drove it with such speed
against the palace wall that it was broken into a thousand pieces.

When he came home to Karlstad he tried to make another carriage. But he
could not. Then he was dismayed at the gift the wood-nymph had given him.
He had left the life of ease at his father’s castle to be a benefactor to
many, not to make wonders which only one could use. What good was it to
him to be a great master, yes, the greatest of all masters, if he could
not duplicate his marvels so that they were of use to thousands.

And he so longed for quiet, sensible work that he became a stone-cutter
and mason. It was then he built the great stone tower down by the west
bridge, and he meant to build walls and portals and courtyards, ramparts
and turrets, so that a veritable castle should stand by the Klar River.

And there he should realize his childhood’s dream. Everything which had
to do with industry and handicraft should have a place in the castle
halls. White millers and blacksmiths, watchmakers with green shades
before their strained eyes, dyers with dark hands, weavers, turners,
filers,—all should have their work-shops in his castle.

And everything went well. Of the stones he himself had hewn he had with
his own hand built the tower. He had fastened windmill sails on it,—for
the tower was to be a mill,—and now he wanted to begin on the smithy.

But one day he stood and watched how the light, strong wings turned
before the wind. Then his old longing came over him.

He shut himself in in his workshop, tasted no food, took no rest, and
worked unceasingly. At the end of a week he had made a new marvel.

One day he climbed up on the roof of his tower and began to fasten wings
to his shoulders.

Two street boys saw him, and they gave a cry which was heard through the
whole town. They started off; panting, they ran up the streets and down
the streets, knocking on all the doors, and screaming as they ran:—

“Kevenhüller is going to fly! Kevenhüller is going to fly!”

He stood calmly on the tower-roof and fastened on his wings, and in the
meantime crowds of people came running through the narrow streets of
old Karlstad. Soon the bridge was black with them. The market-place was
packed, and the banks of the river swarmed with people.

Kevenhüller at last got his wings on and set out. He gave a couple of
flaps with them, and then he was out in the air. He lay and floated high
above the earth.

He drew in the air with long breaths; it was strong and pure. His breast
expanded, and the old knights’ blood began to seethe in him. He tumbled
like a pigeon, he hovered like a hawk, his flight was as swift as the
swallow’s, as sure as the falcon’s. If he had only been able to make
such a pair of wings for every one of them! If he had only been able to
give them all the power to raise themselves in this pure air! He could
not enjoy it alone. Ah, that wood-nymph,—if he could only meet her!

Then he saw, with eyes which were almost blinded by the dazzling
sunlight, how some one came flying towards him. Great wings like his own,
and between the wings floated a human body. He saw floating yellow hair,
billowy green silk, wild shining eyes. It was she, it was she!

Kevenhüller did not stop to consider. With furious speed he threw himself
upon her to kiss her or to strike her,—he was not sure which,—but at any
rate to force her to remove the curse from his existence. He did not
look where he was going; he saw only the flying hair and the wild eyes.
He came close up to her and stretched out his arms to seize her. But his
wings caught in hers, and hers were the stronger. His wings were torn
and destroyed; he himself was swung round and hurled down, he knew not
whither.

When he returned to consciousness he lay on the roof of his own tower,
with the broken flying-machine by his side. He had flown right against
his own mill; the sails had caught him, whirled him round a couple of
times, and then thrown him down on the tower roof.

So that was the end.

Kevenhüller was again a desperate man. He could not bear the thought of
honest work, and he did not dare to use his magic power. If he should
make another wonder and should then destroy it, his heart would break
with sorrow. And if he did not destroy it, he would certainly go mad at
the thought that he could not do good to others with it.

He looked up his knapsack and stick, let the mill stand as it was, and
decided to go out and search for the wood-nymph.

In the course of his journeyings he came to Ekeby, a few years before the
major’s wife was driven out. There he was well received, and there he
remained. The memories of his childhood came back to him, and he allowed
them to call him count. His hair grew gray and his brain slept. He was so
old that he could no longer believe in the feats of his youth. He was not
the man who could work wonders. It was not he who had made the automatic
carriage and the flying-machine. Oh, no,—tales, tales!

But then it happened that the major’s wife was driven from Ekeby, and
the pensioners were masters of the great estate. Then a life began there
which had never been worse. A storm passed over the land; men warred on
earth, and souls in heaven. Wolves came from Dovre with witches on their
backs, and the wood-nymph came to Ekeby.

The pensioners did not recognize her. They thought that she was a poor
and distressed woman whom a cruel mother-in-law had hunted to despair.
So they gave her shelter, revered her like a queen, and loved her like a
child.

Kevenhüller alone saw who she was. At first he was dazzled like the
others. But one day she wore a dress of green, shimmering silk, and when
she had that on, Kevenhüller recognized her.

There she sat on silken cushions, and all the old men made themselves
ridiculous to serve her. One was cook and another footman; one reader,
one court-musician, one shoemaker; they all had their occupations.

They said she was ill, the odious witch; but Kevenhüller knew what that
illness meant. She was laughing at them all.

He warned the pensioners against her. “Look at her small, pointed teeth,”
he said, “and her wild, shining eyes. She is the wood-nymph,—all evil is
about in these terrible times. I tell you she is the wood-nymph, come
hither for our ruin. I have seen her before.”

But when Kevenhüller saw the wood-nymph and had recognized her, the
desire for work came over him. It began to burn and seethe in his brain;
his fingers ached with longing to bend themselves about hammer and
file; he could hold out no longer. With a bitter heart he put on his
working-blouse and shut himself in in an old smithy, which was to be his
workshop.

A cry went out from Ekeby over the whole of Värmland:—

“Kevenhüller has begun to work!”

A new wonder was to see the light. What should it be? Will he teach us to
walk on the water, or to raise a ladder to the stars?

One night, the first or second of October, he had the wonder ready. He
came out of the workshop and had it in his hand. It was a wheel which
turned incessantly; as it turned, the spokes glowed like fire, and it
gave out warmth and light. Kevenhüller had made a sun. When he came out
of the workshop with it, the night grew so light that the sparrows began
to chirp and the clouds to burn as if at dawn.

There should never again be darkness or cold on earth. His head whirled
when he thought of it. The sun would continue to rise and set, but when
it disappeared, thousands and thousands of his fire-wheels should flame
through the land, and the air would quiver with warmth, as on the hottest
summer-day. Harvests should ripen in midwinter; wild strawberries should
cover the hillsides the whole year round; the ice should never bind the
water.

His fire-wheel should create a new world. It should be furs to the poor
and a sun to the miners. It should give power to the mills, life to
nature, a new, rich, and happy existence to mankind. But at the same time
he knew that it was all a dream and that the wood-nymph would never let
him duplicate his wheel. And in his anger and longing for revenge, he
thought that he would kill her, and then he no longer knew what he was
doing.

He went to the main building, and in the hall under the stairs he put
down his fire-wheel. It was his intention to set fire to the house and
burn up the witch in it.

Then he went back to his workshop and sat there silently listening.

There was shouting and crying outside. Now they could see that a great
deed was done.

Yes, run, scream, ring the alarm! But she is burning in there, the
wood-nymph whom you laid on silken cushions.

May she writhe in torment, may she flee before the flames from room to
room! Ah, how the green silk will blaze, and how the flames will play in
her torrents of hair! Courage, flames! courage! Catch her, set fire to
her! Witches burn! Fear not her magic, flames! Let her burn! There is
one who for her sake must burn his whole life through.

Bells rang, wagons came rattling, pumps were brought out, water was
carried up from the lake, people came running from all the neighboring
villages. There were cries and wailings and commands; that was the roof,
which had fallen in; there was the terrible crackling and roaring of a
fire. But nothing disturbed Kevenhüller. He sat on the chopping-block and
rubbed his hands.

Then he heard a crash, as if the heavens had fallen, and he started up in
triumph. “Now it is done!” he cried. “Now she cannot escape; now she is
crushed by the beams or burned up by the flames. Now it is done.”

And he thought of the honor and glory of Ekeby which had had to be
sacrificed to get her out of the world,—the magnificent halls, where
so much happiness had dwelt, the tables which had groaned under dainty
dishes, the precious old furniture, silver and china, which could never
be replaced—

And then he sprang up with a cry. His fire-wheel, his sun, the model on
which everything depended, had he not put it under the stairs to cause
the fire?

Kevenhüller looked down on himself, paralyzed with dismay.

“Am I going mad?” he said. “How could I do such a thing?”

At the same moment the door of the workshop opened and the wood-nymph
walked in.

She stood on the threshold, smiling and fair. Her green dress had neither
hole nor stain, no smoke darkened her yellow hair. She was just as he
had seen her in the market-place at Karlstad in his young days; her tail
hung between her feet, and she had all the wildness and fragrance of the
wood about her.

“Ekeby is burning,” she said, and laughed.

Kevenhüller had the sledge-hammer lifted and meant to throw it at her
head, but then he saw that she had his fire-wheel in her hand.

“See what I have saved for you,” she said.

Kevenhüller threw himself on his knees before her.

“You have broken my carriage, you have rent my wings, and you have ruined
my life. Have grace, have pity on me!”

She climbed up on the bench and sat there, just as young and mischievous
as when he saw her first.

“I see that you know who I am,” she said.

“I know you, I have always known you,” said the unfortunate man; “you
are genius. But set me free! Take back your gift! Let me be an ordinary
person! Why do you persecute me? Why do you destroy me?”

“Madman,” said the wood-nymph, “I have never wished you any harm. I gave
you a great reward; but I can also take it from you if you wish. But
consider well. You will repent it.”

“No, no!” he cried; “take from me the power of working wonders!”

“First, you must destroy this,” she said, and threw the fire-wheel on the
ground in front of him.

He did not hesitate. He swung the sledge-hammer over the shining sun;
sparks flew about the room, splinters and flames danced about him, and
then his last wonder lay in fragments.

“Yes, so I take my gift from you,” said the wood-nymph. As she stood in
the door and the glare from the fire streamed over her, he looked at her
for the last time. More beautiful than ever before, she seemed to him,
and no longer malicious, only stern and proud.

“Madman,” she said, “did I ever forbid you to let others copy your works?
I only wished to protect the man of genius from a mechanic’s labor.”

Whereupon she went. Kevenhüller was insane for a couple of days. Then he
was as usual again.

But in his madness he had burned down Ekeby. No one was hurt. Still, it
was a great sorrow to the pensioners that the hospitable home, where they
had enjoyed so many good things, should suffer such injury in their time.

On the first Friday in October the big Broby Fair begins, and lasts
one week. It is the festival of the autumn. There is slaughtering and
baking in every house; the new winter clothes are then worn for the first
time; the brandy rations are doubled; work rests. There is feasting on
all the estates. The servants and laborers draw their pay and hold long
conferences over what they shall buy at the Fair. People from a distance
come in small companies with knapsacks on their backs and staffs in
their hands. Many are driving their cattle before them to the market.
Small, obstinate young bulls and goats stand still and plant their
forefeet, causing much vexation to their owners and much amusement to the
by-standers. The guest-rooms at the manors are filled with guests, bits
of news are exchanged, and the prices of cattle discussed.

And on the first Fair day what crowds swarm up Broby hill and over the
wide market-place! Booths are set up, where the tradespeople spread out
their wares. Rope-dancers, organ-grinders, and blind violin-players are
everywhere, as well as fortune-tellers, sellers of sweetmeats and of
brandy. Beyond the rows of booths, vegetables and fruit are offered for
sale by the gardeners from the big estates. Wide stretches are taken up
by ruddy copper-kettles. It is plain, however, by the movement in the
Fair, that there is want in Svartsjö and Bro and Löfvik and the other
provinces about the Löfven: trade is poor at the booths. There is most
bustle in the cattle-market, for many have to sell both cow and horse to
be able to live through the winter.

It is a gay scene. If one only has money for a glass or two, one can keep
up one’s courage. And it is not only the brandy which is the cause of the
merriment; when the people from the lonely wood-huts come down to the
market-place with its seething masses, and hear the din of the screaming,
laughing crowd, they become as if delirious with excitement.

Everybody who does not have to stay at home to look after the house and
cattle has come to this Broby Fair. There are the pensioners from Ekeby
and the peasants from Nygård, horse-dealers from Norway, Finns from the
Northern forests, vagrants from the highways.

Sometimes the roaring sea gathers in a whirlpool, which turns about a
middle point. No one knows what is at the centre, until a couple of
policemen break a way through the crowd to put an end to a fight or to
lift up an overturned cart.

Towards noon the great fight began. The peasants had got it into their
heads that the tradespeople were using too short yardsticks, and it began
with quarrelling and disturbance about the booths; then it turned to
violence.

Every one knows that for many of those who for days had not seen
anything but want and suffering, it was a pleasure to strike, it made no
difference whom or what. And as soon as they see that a fight is going
on they come rushing from all sides. The pensioners mean to break through
to make peace after their fashion, and the tradesmen run to help one
another.

Big Mons from Fors is the most eager in the game. He is drunk, and he is
angry; he has thrown down a tradesman and has begun to beat him, but at
his calls for help his comrades hurry to him and try to make Mons let him
go. Then Mons sweeps the rolls of cloth from one of the counters, and
seizes the top, which is a yard broad and five yards long and made of
thick planks, and begins to brandish it as a weapon.

He is a terrible man, big Mons. It was he who kicked out a wall in the
Filipstad-jail, he who could lift a boat out of the water and carry it on
his shoulders. When he begins to strike about him with the heavy counter,
every one flies before him. But he follows, striking right and left. For
him it is no longer a question of friends or enemies: he only wants some
one to hit, since he has got a weapon.

The people scatter in terror. Men and women scream and run. But how can
the women escape when many of them have their children by the hand?
Booths and carts stand in their way; oxen and cows, maddened by the
noise, prevent their escape.

In a corner between the booths a group of women are wedged, and towards
them the giant rages. Does he not see a tradesman in the midst of the
crowd? He raises the plank and lets it fall. In pale, shuddering terror
the women receive the attack, sinking under the deadly blow.

But as the board falls whistling down over them, its force is broken
against a man’s upstretched arms. One man has not sunk down, but raised
himself above the crowd, one man has voluntarily taken the blow to save
the many. The women and children are uninjured. One man has broken the
force of the blow, but he lies now unconscious on the ground.

Big Mons does not lift up his board. He has met the man’s eye, just as
the counter struck his head, and it has paralyzed him. He lets himself be
bound and taken away without resistance.

But the report flies about the Fair that big Mons has killed Captain
Lennart. They say that he who had been the people’s friend died to save
the women and defenceless children.

And a silence falls on the great square, where life had lately roared at
fever pitch: trade ceases, the fighting stops, the people leave their
dinners.

Their friend is dead. The silent throngs stream towards the place where
he has fallen. He lies stretched out on the ground quite unconscious; no
wound is visible, but his skull seems to be flattened.

Some of the men lift him carefully up on to the counter which the giant
has let fall. They think they perceive that he still lives.

“Where shall we carry him?” they ask one another.

“Home,” answers a harsh voice in the crowd.

Yes, good men, carry him home! Lift him up on your shoulders and carry
him home! He has been God’s plaything, he has been driven like a feather
before his breath. Carry him home!

That wounded head has rested on the hard barrack-bed in the prison, on
sheaves of straw in the barn. Let it now come home and rest on a soft
pillow! He has suffered undeserved shame and torment, he has been hunted
from his own door. He has been a wandering fugitive, following the paths
of God where he could find them; but his promised land was that home
whose gates God had closed to him. Perhaps his house stands open for one
who has died to save women and children.

Now he does not come as a malefactor, escorted by reeling
boon-companions; he is followed by a sorrowing people, in whose cottages
he has lived while he helped their sufferings. Carry him home!

And so they do. Six men lift the board on which he lies on their
shoulders and carry him away from the fair-grounds. Wherever they pass,
the people move to one side and stand quiet; the men uncover their heads,
the women courtesy as they do in church when God’s name is spoken. Many
weep and dry their eyes; others begin to tell what a man he had been,—so
kind, so gay, so full of counsel and so religious. It is wonderful to
see, too, how, as soon as one of his bearers gives out, another quietly
comes and puts his shoulder under the board.

So Captain Lennart comes by the place where the pensioners are standing.

“I must go and see that he comes home safely,” says Beerencreutz, and
leaves his place at the roadside to follow the procession to Helgesäter.
Many follow his example.

The fair-grounds are deserted. Everybody has to follow to see that
Captain Lennart comes home.

When the procession reaches Helgesäter, the house is silent and deserted.
Again the colonel’s fist beats on the closed door. All the servants are
at the Fair; the captain’s wife is alone at home. It is she again who
opens the door.

And she asks, as she asked once before,—

“What do you want?”

Whereupon the colonel answers, as he answered once before,—

“We are here with your husband.”

She looks at him, where he stands stiff and calm as usual. She looks at
the bearers behind him, who are weeping, and at all that mass of people.
She stands there on the steps and looks into hundreds of weeping eyes,
who stare sadly up at her. Last she looks at her husband, who lies
stretched out on the bier, and she presses her hand to her heart. “That
is his right face,” she murmurs.

Without asking more, she bends down, draws back a bolt, opens the
hall-doors wide, and then goes before the others into the bedroom.

The colonel helps her to drag out the big bed and shake up the pillows,
and so Captain Lennart is once more laid on soft down and white linen.

“Is he alive?” she asks.

“Yes,” answers the colonel.

“Is there any hope?”

“No. Nothing can be done.”

There was silence for a while; then a sudden thought comes over her.

“Are they weeping for his sake, all those people?”

“Yes.”

“What has he done?”

“The last thing he did was to let big Mons kill him to save women and
children from death.”

Again she sits silent for a while and thinks.

“What kind of a face did he have, colonel, when he came home two months
ago?”

The colonel started. Now he understands; now at last he understands.

“Gösta had painted him.”

“So it was on account of one of your pranks that I shut him out from his
home? How will you answer for that, colonel?”

Beerencreutz shrugged his broad shoulders.

“I have much to answer for.”

“But I think that this must be the worst thing you have done.”

“Nor have I ever gone a heavier way than that to-day up to Helgesäter.
Moreover, there are two others who are guilty in this matter.”

“Who?”

“Sintram is one, you yourself are the other. You are a hard woman. I know
that many have tried to speak to you of your husband.”

“It is true,” she answers.

Then she begs him to tell her all about that evening at Broby.

He tells her all he can remember, and she listens silently. Captain
Lennart lies still unconscious on the bed. The room is full of weeping
people; no one thinks of shutting out that mourning crowd. All the doors
stand open, the stairs and the halls are filled with silent, grieving
people; far out in the yard they stand in close masses.

When the colonel has finished, she raises her voice and says,—

“If there are any pensioners here, I ask them to go. It is hard for me to
see them when I am sitting by my husband’s death-bed.”

Without another word the colonel rises and goes out. So do Gösta Berling
and several of the other pensioners who had followed Captain Lennart. The
people move aside for the little group of humiliated men.

When they are gone the captain’s wife says: “Will some of them who have
seen my husband during this time tell me where he has lived, and what he
has done?” Then they begin to give testimony of Captain Lennart to his
wife, who has misjudged him and sternly hardened her heart against him.

It lasted a long time before they all were done. All through the twilight
and the evening they stand and speak; one after another steps forward and
tells of him to his wife, who would not hear his name mentioned.

Some tell how he found them on a sick-bed and cured them. There are wild
brawlers whom he has tamed. There are mourners whom he has cheered,
drunkards whom he had led to sobriety. Every one who had been in
unbearable distress had sent a message to God’s wayfarer, and he had
helped them, or at least he had waked hope and faith.

Out in the yard the crowd stands and waits. They know what is going on
inside: that which is said aloud by the death-bed is whispered from man
to man outside. He who has something to say pushes gently forward. “Here
is one who can bear witness,” they say, and let him pass. And they step
forward out of the darkness, give their testimony, and disappear again
into the darkness.

“What does she say now?” those standing outside ask when some one comes
out. “What does she say?”

“She shines like a queen. She smiles like a bride. She has moved his
arm-chair up to the bed and laid on it the clothes which she herself had
woven for him.”

But then a silence falls on the people. No one says it, all know it at
the same time: “He is dying.”

Captain Lennart opens his eyes and sees everything.

He sees his home, the people, his wife, his children, the clothes; and
he smiles. But he has only waked to die. He draws a rattling breath and
gives up the ghost.

Then the stories cease, but a voice takes up a death-hymn. All join in,
and, borne on hundreds of strong voices, the song rises on high.

It is earth’s farewell greeting to the departing soul.

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