THE DROUGHT

My pale friend, Death the deliverer, came in August, when the nights
were white with moonlight, to the house of Captain Uggla. But he did not
dare to go direct into that hospitable home, for they are few who love
him, and he does not wish to be greeted with weeping, rather with quiet
joy,—he who comes to set free the soul from the fetters of pain, he who
delivers the soul from the burden of the body and lets it enjoy the
beautiful life of the spheres.

Into the old grove behind the house, crept Death. In the grove, which
then was young and full of green, my pale friend hid himself by day,
but at night he stood at the edge of the wood, white and pale, with his
scythe glittering in the moonlight.

Death stood there, and the creatures of the night saw him. Evening after
evening the people at Berga heard how the fox howled to foretell his
coming. The snake crawled up the sandy path to the very house. He could
not speak, but they well understood that he came as a presage. And in the
apple-tree outside the window of the captain’s wife the owl hooted. For
everything in nature feels Death and trembles.

It happened that the judge from Munkerud, who had been at a festival at
the Bro deanery, drove by Berga at two o’clock in the night and saw a
candle burning in the window of the guest-room. He plainly saw the yellow
flame and the white candle, and, wondering, he afterwards told of the
candle which had burned in the summer night.

The gay daughters at Berga laughed and said that the judge had the gift
of second sight, for there were no candles in the house, they were
already burned up in March; and the captain swore that no one had slept
in the guest-room for days and weeks; but his wife was silent and grew
pale, for that white candle with the clear flame used to show itself when
one of her family should be set free by Death.

A short time after, Ferdinand came home from a surveying journey in the
northern forests. He came, pale and ill with an incurable disease of the
lungs, and as soon as his mother saw him, she knew that her son must die.

He must go, that good son who had never given his parents a sorrow. He
must leave earth’s pleasures and happiness, and the beautiful, beloved
bride who awaited him, and the rich estates which should have been his.

At last, when my pale friend had waited a month, he took heart and went
one night up to the house. He thought how hunger and privation had there
been met by glad faces, so why should not he too be received with joy?

That night the captain’s wife, who lay awake, heard a knocking on the
window-pane, and she sat up in bed and asked: “Who is it who knocks?”

And the old people tell that Death answered her:

“It is Death who knocks.”

Then she rose up, opened her window, and saw bats and owls fluttering in
the moonlight, but Death she did not see.

“Come,” she said half aloud, “friend and deliverer! Why have you lingered
so long? I have been waiting. I have called. Come and set my son free!”

The next day, she sat by her son’s sick-bed and spoke to him of the
blissfulness of the liberated spirit and of its glorious life.

So Ferdinand died, enchanted by bright visions, smiling at the glory to
come.

Death had never seen anything so beautiful. For of course there were some
who wept by Ferdinand Uggla’s death-bed; but the sick man himself smiled
at the man with the scythe, when he took his place on the edge of the
bed, and his mother listened to the death-rattle as if to sweet music.
She trembled lest Death should not finish his work; and when the end
came, tears fell from her eyes, but they were tears of joy which wet her
son’s stiffened face.

Never had Death been so fêted as at Ferdinand Uggla’s burial.

It was a wonderful funeral procession which passed under the lindens. In
front of the flower-decked coffin beautiful children walked and strewed
flowers. There was no mourning-dress, no crape; for his mother had wished
that he who died with joy should not be followed to the good refuge by a
gloomy funeral procession, but by a shining wedding train.

Following the coffin, went Anna Stjärnhök, the dead man’s beautiful,
glowing bride. She had set a bridal wreath on her head, hung a bridal
veil over her, and arrayed herself in a bridal dress of white, shimmering
satin. So adorned, she went to be wedded at the grave to a mouldering
bridegroom.

Behind her they came, two by two, dignified old ladies and stately
men. The ladies came in shining buckles and brooches, with strings of
milk-white pearls and bracelets of gold. Ostrich feathers nodded in
their bonnets of silk and lace, and from their shoulders floated thin
silken shawls over dresses of many-colored satin. And their husbands came
in their best array, in high-collared coats with gilded buttons, with
swelling ruffles, and in vests of stiff brocade or richly-embroidered
velvet. It was a wedding procession; the captain’s wife had wished it so.

She herself walked next after Anna Stjärnhök, led by her husband. If she
had possessed a dress of shining brocade, she would have worn it; if she
had possessed jewels and a gay bonnet, she would have worn them too to
do honor to her son on his festival day. But she only had the black silk
dress and the yellowed laces which had adorned so many feasts, and she
wore them here too.

Although all the guests came in their best array, there was not a dry
eye when they walked forward to the grave. Men and women wept, not so
much for the dead, as for themselves. There walked the bride; there the
bridegroom was carried; there they themselves wandered, decked out for
a feast, and yet—who is there who walks earth’s green pathways and does
not know that his lot is affliction, sorrow, unhappiness, and death. They
wept at the thought that nothing on earth could save them.

The captain’s wife did not weep; but she was the only one whose eyes were
dry.

When the prayers were read, and the grave filled in, all went away to
the carriages. Only the mother and Anna Stjärnhök lingered by the grave
to bid their dead a last good-bye. The older woman sat down on the
grave-mound, and Anna placed herself at her side.

“Anna,” said the captain’s wife, “I have said to God: ‘Let Death come
and take away my son, let him take away him I love most, and only tears
of joy shall come to my eyes; with nuptial pomp I will follow him to his
grave, and my red rose-bush, which stands outside my chamber-window,
will I move to him in the graveyard.’ And now it has come to pass my
son is dead. I have greeted Death like a friend, called him by the
tenderest names; I have wept tears of joy over my son’s dead face, and in
the autumn, when the leaves are fallen, I shall plant my red rose-bush
here. But do you know, you who sit here at my side, why I have sent such
prayers to God?”

She looked questioningly at Anna Stjärnhök; but the girl sat silent and
pale beside her. Perhaps she was struggling to silence inward voices
which already there, on the grave of the dead, began to whisper to her
that now at last she was free.

“The fault is yours,” said the captain’s wife.

The girl sank down as from a blow. She did not answer a word.

“Anna Stjärnhök, you were once proud and self-willed: you played with my
son, took him and cast him off. But what of that? He had to accept it, as
well as another. Perhaps too he and we all loved your money as much as
you. But you came back, you came with a blessing to our home; you were
gentle and mild, strong and kind, when you came again. You cherished us
with love; you made us so happy, Anna Stjärnhök; and we poor people lay
at your feet.

“And yet, and yet I have wished that you had not come. Then had I not
needed to pray to God to shorten my son’s life. At Christmas he could
have borne to lose you, but after he had learnt to know you, such as you
now are, he would not have had the strength.

“You know, Anna Stjärnhök, who to-day have put on your bridal dress to
follow my son, that if he had lived you would never have followed him in
that attire to the Bro church, for you did not love him.

“I saw that you only came out of pity, for you wanted to relieve our hard
lot. You did not love him. Do you not think that I know love, that I see
it, when it is there, and understand when it is lacking. Then I thought:
‘May God take my son’s life before he has his eyes opened!’

“Oh, if you had loved him! Oh, if you had never come to us and sweetened
our lives, when you did not love him! I knew my duty: if he had not died,
I should have been forced to tell him that you did not love him, that
you were marrying him out of pity. I must have made him set you free,
and then his life’s happiness would have been gone. That is why I prayed
to God that he might die, that I should not need to disturb the peace of
his heart. And I have rejoiced over his sunken cheeks, exulted over his
rattling breath, trembled lest Death should not complete his work.”

She stopped speaking, and waited for an answer; but Anna Stjärnhök could
not speak, she was still listening to the many voices in her soul.

Then the mother cried out in despair:—

“Oh, how happy are they who may mourn for their dead, they who may weep
streams of tears! I must stand with dry eyes by my son’s grave, I must
rejoice over his death! How unhappy I am!”

Then Anna Stjärnhök pressed her hands against her breast. She remembered
that winter night when she had sworn by her love to be these poor
people’s support and comfort, and she trembled. Had it all been in vain;
was not her sacrifice one of those which God accepts? Should it all be
turned to a curse?

But if she sacrificed everything would not God then give His blessing to
the work, and let her bring happiness, be a support, a help, to these
people?

“What is required for you to be able to mourn for your son?” she asked.

“That I shall not believe the testimony of my old eyes. If I believed
that you loved my son, then I would grieve for his death.”

The girl rose up, her eyes burning. She tore off her veil and spread it
over the grave, she tore off her wreath and laid it beside it.

“See how I love him!” she cried. “I give him my wreath and veil. I
consecrate myself to him. I will never belong to another.”

Then the captain’s wife rose too. She stood silent for a while; her
whole body was shaking, and her face twitched, but at last the tears
came,—tears of grief.

If dead things love, if earth and water distinguish friends from enemies,
I should like to possess their love. I should like the green earth not
to feel my step as a heavy burden. I should like her to forgive that she
for my sake is wounded by plough and harrow, and willingly to open for my
dead body. And I should like the waves, whose shining mirror is broken by
my oars, to have the same patience with me as a mother has with an eager
child when it climbs up on her knee, careless of the uncrumpled silk of
her dress.

The spirit of life still dwells in dead things. Have you not seen it?
When strife and hate fill the earth, dead things must suffer too. Then
the waves are wild and ravenous; then the fields are niggardly as a
miser. But woe to him for whose sake the woods sigh and the mountains
weep.

Memorable was the year when the pensioners were in power. If one could
tell of everything which happened that year to the people by Löfven’s
shores a world would be surprised. For then old love wakened, then new
was kindled. Old hate blazed up, and long cherished revenge seized its
prey.

From Ekeby this restless infection went forth; it spread first through
the manors and estates, and drove men to ruin and to crime. It ran from
village to village, from cottage to cottage. Everywhere hearts became
wild, and brains confused. Never did the dance whirl so merrily at the
cross-roads; never was the beer-barrel so quickly emptied; never was so
much grain turned into brandy. Never were there so many balls; never
was the way shorter from the angry word to the knife-thrust. But the
uneasiness was not only among men. It spread through all living things.
Never had wolf and bear ravaged so fiercely; never had fox and owl howled
so terribly, and plundered so boldly; never did the sheep go so often
astray in the wood; never did so much sickness rage among the cattle.

He who will see how everything hangs together must leave the towns and
live in a lonely hut at the edge of the forest; then he will learn to
notice nature’s every sign and to understand how the dead things depend
on the living. He will see that when there is restlessness on the earth,
the peace of the dead things is disturbed. The people know it. It is in
such times that the wood-nymph puts out the charcoal-kiln, the sea-nymph
breaks the boat to pieces, the river-sprite sends illness, the goblin
starves the cow. And it was so that year. Never had the spring freshets
done so much damage. The mill and smithy at Ekeby were not the only
offerings. Never had the lightning laid waste so much already before
midsummer—after midsummer came the drought.

As long as the long days lasted, no rain came. From the middle of June
till the beginning of September, the country was bathed in continual
sunshine.

The rain refused to fall, the earth to nourish, the winds to blow.
Sunshine only streamed down on the earth. The grass was not yet high and
could not grow; the rye was without nourishment, just when it should
have collected food in its ears; the wheat, from which most of the bread
was baked, never came up more than a few inches; the late sowed turnips
never sprouted; not even the potatoes could draw sustenance from that
petrified earth.

At such times they begin to be frightened far away in the forest huts,
and from the mountains the terror comes down to the calmer people on the
plain.

“There is some one whom God’s hand is seeking!” say the people.

And each one beats his breast and says: “Is it I? Is it from horror of me
that the rain holds back? Is it in wrath against me that the stern earth
dries up and hardens?—and the perpetual sunshine,—is it to heap coals of
fire on my head? Or if it is not I, who is it whom God’s hand is seeking?”

It was a Sunday in August. The service was over. The people wandered in
groups along the sunny roads. On all sides they saw burned woods and
ruined crops. There had been many forest fires; and what they had spared,
insects had taken.

The gloomy people did not lack for subjects of conversation. There were
many who could tell how hard it had been in the years of famine of
eighteen hundred and eight and nine, and in the cold winter of eighteen
hundred and twelve, when the sparrows froze to death. They knew how to
make bread out of bark, and how the cows could be taught to eat moss.

There was one woman who had tried a new kind of bread of cranberries and
corn-meal. She had a sample with her, and let the people taste it. She
was proud of her invention.

But over them all floated the same question. It stared from every eye,
was whispered by every lip: “Who is it, O Lord, whom Thy hand seeks?”

A man in the gloomy crowd which had gone westward, and struggled up Broby
hill, stopped a minute before the path which led up to the house of the
mean Broby clergyman. He picked up a dry stick from the ground and threw
it upon the path.

“Dry as that stick have the prayers been which he has given our Lord,”
said the man.

He who walked next to him also stopped. He took up a dry branch and threw
it where the stick had fallen.

“That is the proper offering to that priest,” he said.

The third in the crowd followed the others’ example.

“He has been like the drought; sticks and straw are all that he has let
us keep.”

The fourth said: “We give him back what he has given us.”

And the fifth: “For a perpetual disgrace I throw this to him. May he dry
up and wither away like this branch!”

“Dry food to the dry priest,” said the sixth.

The people who came after see what they are doing and hear what they say.
Now they get the answer to their long questioning.

“Give him what belongs to him! He has brought the drought on us.”

And each one stops, each one says his word and throws his branch before
he goes on.

In the corner by the path there soon lies a pile of sticks and straw,—a
pile of shame for the Broby clergyman.

That was their only revenge. No one lifted his hand against the
clergyman or said an angry word to him. Desperate hearts cast off part
of their burden by throwing a dry branch on the pile. They did not
revenge themselves. They only pointed out the guilty one to the God of
retribution.

“If we have not worshipped you rightly, it is that man’s fault. Be
pitiful, Lord, and let him alone suffer! We mark him with shame and
dishonor. We are not with him.”

It soon became the custom for every one who passed the vicarage to throw
a dry branch on the pile of shame.

The old miser soon noticed the pile by the roadside. He had it carried
away,—some said that he heated his stove with it. The next day a new pile
had collected on the same spot, and as soon as he had that taken away a
new one was begun.

The dry branches lay there and said: “Shame, shame to the Broby
clergyman!”

Soon the people’s meaning became clear to him. He understood that they
pointed to him as the origin of their misfortune. It was in wrath at
him God let the earth languish. He tried to laugh at them and their
branches; but when it had gone on a week, he laughed no more. Oh, what
childishness! How can those dry sticks injure him? He understood that
the hate of years sought an opportunity of expressing itself. What of
that?—he was not used to love.

For all this he did not become more gentle. He had perhaps wished to
improve after the old lady had visited him; now he could not. He would
not be forced to it.

But gradually the pile grew too strong for him. He thought of it
continually, and the feeling which every one cherished took root also in
him. He watched the pile, counted the branches which had been added each
day. The thought of it encroached upon all other thoughts. The pile was
destroying him.

Every day he felt more and more the people were right. He grew thin
and very old in a couple of weeks. He suffered from remorse and
indisposition. But it was as if everything depended on that pile. It was
as if his remorse would grow silent, and the weight of years be lifted
off him, if only the pile would stop growing.

Finally he sat there the whole day and watched; but the people were
without mercy. At night there were always new branches thrown on.

* * * * *

One day Gösta Berling passed along the road. The Broby clergyman sat at
the roadside, old and haggard. He sat and picked out the dry sticks and
laid them together in rows and piles, playing with them as if he were a
child again. Gösta was grieved at his misery.

“What are you doing, pastor?” he says, and leaps out of the carriage.

“Oh, I am sitting here and picking. I am not doing anything.”

“You had better go home, and not sit here in the dust.”

“It is best that I sit here.”

Then Gösta Berling sits down beside him.

“It is not so easy to be a priest,” he says after a while.

“It is all very well down here where there are people,” answers the
clergyman. “It is worse up there.”

Gösta understands what he means. He knows those parishes in Northern
Värmland where sometimes there is not even a house for the clergyman,
where there are not more than a couple of people in ten miles of country,
where the clergyman is the only educated man. The Broby minister had been
in such a parish for over twenty years.

“That is where we are sent when we are young,” says Gösta. “It is
impossible to hold out with such a life; and so one is ruined forever.
There are many who have gone under up there.”

“Yes,” says the Broby clergyman; “a man is destroyed by loneliness.”

“A man comes,” says Gösta, “eager and ardent, exhorts and admonishes, and
thinks that all will be well, that the people will soon turn to better
ways.”

“Yes, yes.”

“But soon he sees that words do not help. Poverty stands in the way.
Poverty prevents all improvement.”

“Poverty,” repeats the clergyman,—“poverty has ruined my life.”

“The young minister comes up there,” continues Gösta, “poor as all the
others. He says to the drunkard: Stop drinking!”

“Then the drunkard answers,” interrupts the clergyman: “Give me something
which is better than brandy! Brandy is furs in winter, coolness in
summer. Brandy is a warm house and a soft bed. Give me those, and I will
drink no more.”

“And then,” resumes Gösta, “the minister says to the thief: You shall
not steal; and to the cruel husband: You shall not beat your wife; and
to the superstitious: You shall believe in God and not in devils and
goblins. But the thief answers: Give me bread; and the cruel husband
says: Make us rich, and we will not quarrel; and the superstitious say:
Teach us better. But who can help them without money?”

“It is true, true every word,” cried the clergyman. “They believed in
God, but more in the devil, and most in the mountain goblin. The crops
were all turned into the still. There seemed to be no end to the misery.
In most of the gray cottages there was want. Hidden sorrow made the
women’s tongues bitter. Discomfort drove their husbands to drink. They
could not look after their fields or their cattle. They made a fool of
their minister. What could a man do with them? They did not understand
what I said to them from the pulpit. They did not believe what I wanted
to teach them. And no one to consult, no one who could help me to keep up
my courage.”

“There are those who have stood out,” says Gösta. “God’s grace has been
so great to some that they have not returned from such a life broken men.
They have had strength; they have borne the loneliness, the poverty,
the hopelessness. They have done what little good they could and have
not despaired. Such men have always been and still are. I greet them as
heroes. I will honor them as long as I live. I was not able to stand out.”

“I could not,” added the clergyman.

“The minister up there thinks,” says Gösta, musingly, “that he will be
a rich man, an exceedingly rich man. No one who is poor can struggle
against evil. And so he begins to hoard.”

“If he had not hoarded he would have drunk,” answers the old man; “he
sees so much misery.”

“Or he would become dull and lazy, and lose all strength. It is dangerous
for him who is not born there to come thither.”

“He has to harden himself to hoard. He pretends at first; then it becomes
a habit.”

“He has to be hard both to himself and to others,” continues Gösta; “it
is hard to amass. He must endure hate and scorn; he must go cold and
hungry and harden his heart: it almost seems as if he had forgotten why
he began to hoard.”

The Broby clergyman looked startled at him. He wondered if Gösta sat
there and made a fool of him. But Gösta was only eager and earnest. It
was as if he was speaking of his own life.

“It was so with me,” says the old man quietly.

“But God watches over him,” interrupts Gösta. “He wakes in him the
thoughts of his youth when he has amassed enough. He gives the minister a
sign when His people need him.”

“But if the minister does not obey the sign, Gösta Berling?”

“He cannot withstand it,” says Gösta, and smiles. “He is so moved by the
thought of the warm cottages which he will help the poor to build.”

The clergyman looks down on the little heaps he had raised from the
sticks of the pile of shame. The longer he talks with Gösta, the more
he is convinced that the latter is right. He had always had the thought
of doing good some day, when he had enough,—of course he had had that
thought.

“Why does he never build the cottages?” he asks shyly.

“He is ashamed. Many would think that he did what he always had meant to
do through fear of the people.”

“He cannot bear to be forced, is that it?”

“He can however do much good secretly. Much help is needed this year. He
can find some one who will dispense his gifts. I understand what it all
means,” cries Gösta, and his eyes shone. “Thousands shall get bread this
year from one whom they load with curses.”

“It shall be so, Gösta.”

A feeling of transport came over the two who had so failed in the
vocation they had chosen. The desire of their youthful days to serve God
and man filled them. They gloated over the good deeds they would do.
Gösta would help the minister.

“We will get bread to begin with,” says the clergyman.

“We will get teachers. We will have a surveyor come, and divide up the
land. Then the people shall learn how to till their fields and tend their
cattle.”

“We will build roads and open new districts.”

“We will make locks at the falls at Berg, so that there will be an open
way between Löfven and Väner.”

“All the riches of the forest will be of double blessing when the way to
the sea is opened.”

“Your head shall be weighed down by blessings,” cries Gösta.

The clergyman looks up. They read in one another’s eyes the same burning
enthusiasm.

But at the same moment the eyes of both fall on the pile of shame.

“Gösta,” says the old man, “all that needs a young man’s strength, but I
am dying. You see what is killing me.”

“Get rid of it!”

“How, Gösta Berling?”

Gösta moves close up to him and looks sharply into his eyes. “Pray to God
for rain,” he says. “You are going to preach next Sunday. Pray for rain.”

The old clergyman sinks down in terror.

“If you are in earnest, if you are not he who has brought the drought to
the land, if you had meant to serve the Most High with your hardness,
pray God for rain. That shall be the token; by that we shall know if God
wishes what we wish.”

When Gösta drove down Broby hill, he was astonished at himself and at
the enthusiasm which had taken hold of him. But it could be a beautiful
life—yes, but not for him. Up there they would have none of his services.

* * * * *

In the Broby church the sermon was over and the usual prayers read. The
minister was just going to step down from the pulpit, but he hesitated,
finally he fell on his knees and prayed for rain.

He prayed as a desperate man prays, with few words, without coherency.

“If it is my sin which has called down Thy wrath, let me alone suffer! If
there is any pity in Thee, Thou God of mercy, let it rain! Take the shame
from me! Let it rain in answer to my prayer! Let the rain fall on the
fields of the poor! Give Thy people bread!”

The day was hot; the sultriness was intolerable. The congregation sat as
if in a torpor; but at these broken words, this hoarse despair, every one
had awakened.

“If there is a way of expiation for me, give rain—”

He stopped speaking. The doors stood open. There came a violent gust of
wind. It rushed along the ground, whirled into the church, in a cloud
of dust, full of sticks and straw. The clergyman could not continue; he
staggered down from the pulpit.

The people trembled. Could that be an answer?

But the gust was only the forerunner of the thunderstorm. It came rushing
with an unheard-of violence. When the psalm was sung, and the clergyman
stood by the altar, the lightning was already flashing, and the thunder
crashing, drowning the sound of his voice. As the sexton struck up the
final march, the first drops were already pattering against the green
window-panes, and the people hurried out to see the rain. But they were
not content with that: some wept, others laughed, while they let the
torrents stream over them. Ah, how great had been their need! How unhappy
they had been! But God is good! God let it rain. What joy, what joy!

The Broby clergyman was the only one who did not come out into the rain.
He lay on his knees before the altar and did not rise. The joy had been
too violent for him. He died of happiness.

The child was born in a peasant’s house east of the Klar river. The
child’s mother had come seeking employment one day in early June.

She had been unfortunate, she had said to the master and mistress, and
her mother had been so hard to her that she had had to run away from
home. She called herself Elizabeth Karlsdotter; but she would not say
from whence she came, for then perhaps they would tell her parents that
she was there, and if they should find her, she would be tortured to
death, she knew it. She asked for no pay, only food and a roof over her
head. She could work, weave or spin, and take care of the cows,—whatever
they wanted. If they wished, she could also pay for herself.

She had been clever enough to come to the farm-house bare-foot, with her
shoes under her arm; she had coarse hands; she spoke the country dialect;
and she wore a peasant woman’s clothes. She was believed.

The master thought she looked sickly, and did not count much on her
fitness for work. But somewhere the poor thing must be. And so she was
allowed to stop.

There was something about her which made every one on the farm kind to
her. She had come to a good place. The people were serious and reticent.
Her mistress liked her; when she discovered that she could weave, they
borrowed a loom from the vicarage, and the child’s mother worked at it
the whole summer.

It never occurred to any one that she needed to be spared; she had to
work like a peasant girl the whole time. She liked too to have much
work. She was not unhappy. Life among the peasants pleased her, although
she lacked all her accustomed conveniences. But everything was taken so
simply and quietly there. Every one’s thoughts were on his or her work;
the days passed so uniform and monotonous that one mistook the day and
thought it was the middle of the week when Sunday came.

One day at the end of August there had been haste with the oat crop, and
the child’s mother had gone out with the others to bind the sheaves. She
had strained herself, and the child had been born, but too soon. She had
expected it in October.

Now the farmer’s wife stood with the child in the living room to warm it
by the fire, for the poor little thing was shivering in the August heat.
The child’s mother lay in a room beyond and listened to what they said
of the little one. She could imagine how the men and maids came up and
looked at him.

“Such a poor little thing,” they all said, and then followed always,
without fail:—

“Poor little thing, with no father!”

They did not complain of the child’s crying: they thought a child needed
to cry; and, when everything was considered, the child was strong for its
age; had it but a father, all would have been well.

The mother lay and listened and wondered. The matter suddenly seemed to
her incredibly important. How would he get through life, the poor little
thing?

She had made her plans before. She would remain at the farm-house the
first year. Then she would hire a room and earn her bread at the loom.
She meant to earn enough to feed and clothe the child. Her husband could
continue to believe that she was unworthy. She had thought that the child
perhaps would be a better man if she alone brought it up, than if a
stupid and conceited father should guide it.

But now, since the child was born, she could not see the matter in the
same way. Now she thought that she had been selfish. “The child must have
a father,” she said to herself.

If he had not been such a pitiful little thing, if he had been able to
eat and sleep like other children, if his head had not always sunk down
on one shoulder, and if he had not so nearly died when the attack of
cramp came, it would not have been so important.

It was not so easy to decide, but decide she must immediately. The child
was three days old, and the peasants in Värmland seldom wait longer to
have the child baptized. Under what name should the baby be entered in
the church-register, and what would the clergyman want to know about the
child’s mother?

It was an injustice to the child to let him be entered as fatherless. If
he should be a weak and sickly man, how could she take the responsibility
of depriving him of the advantages of birth and riches?

The child’s mother had noticed that there is generally great joy and
excitement when a child comes into the world. Now it seemed to her that
it must be hard for this baby to live, whom every one pitied. She wanted
to see him sleeping on silk and lace, as it behoves a count’s son. She
wanted to see him encompassed with joy and pride.

The child’s mother began to think that she had done its father too great
an injustice. Had she the right to keep him for herself? That she could
not have. Such a precious little thing, whose worth it is not in the
power of man to calculate, should she take that for her own? That would
not be honest.

But she did not wish to go back to her husband. She feared that it would
be her death. But the child was in greater danger than she. He might die
any minute, and he was not baptized.

That which had driven her from her home, the grievous sin which had dwelt
in her heart, was gone. She had now no love for any other than the child.

It was not too heavy a duty to try to get him his right place in life.

The child’s mother had the farmer and his wife called and told them
everything. The husband journeyed to Borg to tell Count Dohna that his
countess was alive, and that there was a child.

The peasant came home late in the evening; he had not met the count, for
he had gone away, but he had been to the minister at Svartsjö, and talked
with him of the matter.

Then the countess heard that her marriage had been declared invalid, and
that she no longer had a husband.

The minister wrote a friendly letter to her, and offered her a home in
his house.

A letter from her own father to Count Henrik, which must have reached
Borg a few days after her flight, was also sent to her. It was just that
letter in which the old man had begged the count to hasten to make his
marriage legal, which had indicated to the count the easiest way to be
rid of his wife.

It is easy to imagine that the child’s mother was seized with anger more
than sorrow, when she heard the peasant’s story.

She lay awake the whole night. The child must have a father, she thought
over and over again.

The next morning the peasant had to drive to Ekeby for her, and go for
Gösta Berling.

Gösta asked the silent man many questions, but could find out nothing.
Yes, the countess had been in his house the whole summer. She had been
well and had worked. Now a child was born. The child was weak; but the
mother would soon be strong again.

Gösta asked if the countess knew that the marriage had been annulled.

Yes, she knew it now. She had heard it yesterday.

And as long as the drive lasted Gösta had alternately fever and chills.

What did she want of him? Why did she send for him?

He thought of the life that summer on Löfven’s shores. They had let the
days go by with jests and laughter and pleasure parties, while she had
worked and suffered.

He had never thought of the possibility of ever seeing her again. Ah, if
he had dared to hope! He would have then come into her presence a better
man. What had he now to look back on but the usual follies!

About eight o’clock in the evening he arrived, and was immediately taken
to the child’s mother. It was dark in the room. He could scarcely see her
where she lay. The farmer and his wife came in also.

Now you must know that she whose white face shone in the dimness was
always the noblest and the purest he knew, the most beautiful soul which
had ever arrayed itself in earthly dust. When he once again felt the
bliss of being near her, he longed to throw himself on his knees and
thank her for having again appeared to him; but he was so overpowered by
emotion that he could neither speak nor act.

“Dear Countess Elizabeth!” he only cried.

“Good-evening, Gösta.”

She gave him her hand, which seemed once more to have become soft and
transparent. She lay silent, while he struggled with his emotion.

The child’s mother was not shaken by any violently raging feelings when
she saw Gösta. It surprised her only that he seemed to consider her of
chief importance, when he ought to understand that it now only concerned
the child.

“Gösta,” she said gently, “you must help me now, as you once promised.
You know that my husband has abandoned me, so that my child has no
father.”

“Yes, countess; but that can certainly be changed. Now that there is a
child, the count can be forced to make the marriage legal. You may be
certain that I shall help you!”

The countess smiled. “Do you think that I will force myself upon Count
Dohna?”

The blood surged up to Gösta’s head. What did she wish then? What did she
want of him?

“Come here, Gösta,” she said, and again stretched out her hand. “You
must not be angry with me for what I am going to say; but I thought that
you who are—who are—”

“A dismissed priest, a drunkard, a pensioner, Ebba Dohna’s murderer; I
know the whole list—”

“Are you already angry, Gösta?”

“I would rather that you did not say anything more.”

But the child’s mother continued:—

“There are many, Gösta, who would have liked to be your wife out of love;
but it is not so with me. If I loved you I should not dare to speak as I
am speaking now. For myself I would never ask such a thing, Gösta; but
do you see, I can do it for the sake of the child. You must understand
what I mean to beg of you. Of course it is a great degradation for you,
since I am an unmarried woman who has a child. I did not think that you
would be willing to do it because you are worse than others; although,
yes, I did think of that too. But first I thought that you could be
willing, because you are kind, Gösta, because you are a hero and can
sacrifice yourself. But it is perhaps too much to ask. Perhaps such a
thing would be impossible for a man. If you despise me too much, if it is
too loathsome for you to give your name to another man’s child, say so!
I shall not be angry. I understand that it is too much to ask; but the
child is sick, Gösta. It is cruel at his baptism not to be able to give
the name of his mother’s husband.”

He, hearing her, experienced the same feeling as when that spring day he
had put her on land and left her to her fate. Now he had to help her to
ruin her life, her whole future life. He who loved her had to do it.

“I will do everything you wish, countess,” he said.

The next day he spoke to the dean at Bro, for there the banns were to be
called.

The good old dean was much moved by his story, and promised to take all
the responsibility of giving her away.

“Yes,” he said, “you must help her, Gösta, otherwise she might become
insane. She thinks that she has injured the child by depriving it of its
position in life. She has a most sensitive conscience, that woman.”

“But I know that I shall make her unhappy,” cried Gösta.

“That you must not do, Gösta. You must be a sensible man now, with wife
and child to care for.”

The dean had to journey down to Svartsjö and speak to both the minister
there and the judge. The end of it all was that the next Sunday, the
first of September, the banns were called in Svartsjö between Gösta
Berling and Elizabeth von Thurn.

Then the child’s mother was carried with the greatest care to Ekeby, and
there the child was baptized.

The dean talked to her, and told her that she could still recall her
decision to marry such a man as Gösta Berling. She ought to first write
to her father.

“I cannot repent,” she said; “think if my child should die before it had
a father.”

When the banns had been thrice asked, the child’s mother had been well
and up several days. In the afternoon the dean came to Ekeby and married
her to Gösta Berling. But no one thought of it as a wedding. No guests
were invited. They only gave the child a father, nothing more.

The child’s mother shone with a quiet joy, as if she had attained a great
end in life. The bridegroom was in despair. He thought how she had thrown
away her life by a marriage with him. He saw with dismay how he scarcely
existed for her. All her thoughts were with her child.

A few days after the father and mother were mourning. The child had died.

Many thought that the child’s mother did not mourn so violently nor so
deeply as they had expected; she had a look of triumph. It was as if she
rejoiced that she had thrown away her life for the sake of the child.
When he joined the angels, he would still remember that a mother on earth
had loved him.

* * * * *

All this happened quietly and unnoticed. When the banns were published
for Gösta Berling and Elizabeth von Thurn in the Svartsjö church, most
of the congregation did not even know who the bride was. The clergyman
and the gentry who knew the story said little about it. It was as if they
were afraid that some one who had lost faith in the power of conscience
should wrongly interpret the young woman’s action. They were so afraid,
so afraid lest some one should come and say: “See now, she could not
conquer her love for Gösta; she has married him under a plausible
pretext.” Ah, the old people were always so careful of that young woman!
Never could they bear to hear anything evil of her. They would scarcely
acknowledge that she had sinned. They would not agree that any fault
stained that soul which was so afraid of evil.

Another great event happened just then, which also caused Gösta’s
marriage to be little discussed.

Major Samzelius had met with an accident. He had become more and more
strange and misanthropic. His chief intercourse was with animals, and he
had collected a small menagerie at Sjö.

He was dangerous too; for he always carried a loaded gun, and shot it off
time after time without paying much attention to his aim. One day he was
bitten by a tame bear which he had shot without intending it. The wounded
animal threw itself on him, and succeeded in giving him a terrible bite
in the arm. The beast broke away and took refuge in the forest.

The major was put to bed and died of the wound, but not till just before
Christmas. Had his wife known that he lay ill, she could have resumed her
sway over Ekeby. But the pensioners knew that she would not come before
their year was out.

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