In the darkness of the forests dwell unholy creatures, whose jaws are
armed with horrible, glittering teeth or sharp beaks, whose feet have
pointed claws, which long to sink themselves in a blood-filled throat,
and whose eyes shine with murderous desires.
There the wolves live, who come out at night and hunt the peasant’s
sledge until the wife must take her little child, which sits upon her
knee, and throw it to them, to save her own and her husband’s life.
There the lynx lives, which the people call “göpa,” for in the woods at
least it is dangerous to call it by its right name. He who speaks of it
during the day had best see that the doors and windows of the sheep-house
are well closed towards night, for otherwise it will come. It climbs
right up the walls, for its claws are strong as steel nails, glides in
through the smallest hole, and throws itself on the sheep. And “göpa”
hangs on their throats, and drinks their blood, and kills and tears, till
every sheep is dead. He does not cease his wild death-dance among the
terrified animals as long as any of them show a sign of life.
And in the morning the peasant finds all the sheep lying dead with torn
throats, for “göpa” leaves nothing living where he ravages.
There the great owl lives, which hoots at dusk. If one mimics him, he
comes whizzing down with outspread wings and strikes out one’s eyes, for
he is no real bird, but an evil spirit.
And there lives the most terrible of them all, the bear, who has the
strength of twelve men, and who, when he becomes a devil, can be killed
only with a silver bullet.
And if one should chance to meet him in the wood, big and high as a
wandering cliff, one must not run, nor defend one’s self; one must throw
one’s self down on the ground and pretend to be dead. Many small children
have imagined themselves lying on the ground with the bear over them.
He has rolled them over with his paw, and they have felt his hot breath
on their faces, but they have lain quiet, until he has gone away to dig
a hole to bury them in. Then they have softly raised themselves up and
stolen away, slowly at first, then in mad haste.
But think, think if the bear had not thought them really dead, but had
taken a bite, or if he had been very hungry and wanted to eat them right
up, or if he had seen them when they moved and had run after them. O God!
Terror is a witch. She sits in the dimness of the forest, sings magic
songs to people, and fills their hearts with frightful thoughts. From her
comes that deadly fear which weighs down life and darkens the beauty of
smiling landscapes. Nature is malignant, treacherous as a sleeping snake;
one can believe nothing. There lies Löfven’s lake in brilliant beauty;
but trust it not, it lures to destruction. Every year it must gather its
tribute of the drowned. There lies the wood temptingly peaceful; but
trust it not! The wood is full of unholy things, beset with evil spirits
and bloodthirsty vagrants’ souls.
Trust not the brook with its gliding waters. It is sudden sickness and
death to wade in it after sunset. Trust not the cuckoo, who sings so
gayly in the spring. In the autumn he becomes a hawk with fierce eyes and
terrible claws. Trust not the moss, nor the heather, nor the rock. Nature
is evil, full of invisible powers, who hate man. There is no spot where
you can set your foot in safety; it is wonderful that your weak race can
escape so much persecution.
Terror is a witch. Does she still sit in the darkness of the woods of
Värmland? Does she still darken the beauty of smiling places, does she
still dampen the joy of living? Great her power has been. I know it well,
who have put steel in the cradle and a red-hot coal in the bath; I know
it, who have felt her iron hand around my heart.
But no one shall think that I now am going to relate anything terrible
or dreadful. It is only an old story of the great bear in Gurlitta Cliff
which I must tell; and any one can believe it or not, as it always is
with hunting stories.
* * * * *
The great bear has its home on the beautiful mountain summit which is
called Gurlitta Cliff, and which raises itself precipitously from the
shores of the Löfven.
The roots of a fallen pine between which tufts of moss are hanging make
the walls and roof of his dwelling, branches and twigs protect it, the
snow makes it warm. He can lie there and sleep a good quiet sleep from
summer to summer.
Is he, then, a poet, a dreamer, this hairy monarch of the forest? Will
he sleep away the cold winter’s chill nights and colorless days to be
waked by purling brooks and the song of birds? Will he lie there and
dream of blushing cranberry bogs, and of ant-hills filled with brown
delicious creatures, and of the white lambs which graze on the green
slopes? Does he want, happy one! to escape the winter of life?
Outside the snow-storm rages; wolves and foxes wander about, mad with
hunger. Why shall the bear alone sleep? Let him get up and feel how the
cold bites, how heavy it is to wade in deep snow.
He has bedded himself in so well. He is like the sleeping princess in
the fairy tale; and as she was waked by love, so will he be waked by the
spring. By a ray of sunlight which penetrates through the twigs and warms
his nose, by the drops of melting snow which wet his fur, will he be
waked. Woe to him who untimely disturbs him!
He hears, suddenly, shouts, noise, and shots. He shakes the sleep out
of his joints, and pushes aside the branches to see what it is. It is
not spring, which rattles and roars outside his lair, nor the wind,
which overthrows pine-trees and casts up the driving snow, but it is the
pensioners, the pensioners from Ekeby, old acquaintances of the forest
monarch. He remembered well the night when Fuchs and Beerencreutz sat
and dozed in a Nygård peasant’s barn, where they awaited a visit from
him. They had just fallen asleep over their brandy-bottle, when he swung
himself in through the peat-roof; but they awoke, when he was trying to
lift the cow he had killed out of the stall, and fell upon him with gun
and knife. They took the cow from him and one of his eyes, but he saved
Yes, verily the pensioners and he are old acquaintances. He remembered
how they had come on him another time, when he and his queen consort had
just laid themselves down for their winter sleep in the old lair here on
Gurlitta Cliff and had young ones in the hole. He remembered well how
they came on them unawares. He got away all right, throwing to either
side everything that stood in his path; but he must limp for life from a
bullet in his thigh, and when he came back at night to the royal lair,
the snow was red with his queen consort’s blood, and the royal children
had been carried away to the plain, to grow up there and be man’s
servants and friends.
Yes, now the ground trembles; now the snow-drift which hides his lair
shakes; now he bursts out, the great bear, the pensioners’ old enemy.
Look out, Fuchs, old bear-killer; look out now, Beerencreutz; look out,
Gösta Berling, hero of a hundred adventures!
Woe to all poets, all dreamers, all heroes of romance! There stands Gösta
Berling with finger on trigger, and the bear comes straight towards him.
Why does he not shoot? What is he thinking of?
Why does he not send a bullet straight into the broad breast? He stands
in just the place to do it. The others are not placed right to shoot.
Does he think he is on parade before the forest monarch?
Gösta of course stood and dreamed of the lovely Marianne, who is lying at
Ekeby dangerously ill, from the chill of that night when she slept in the
He thinks of her, who also is a sacrifice to the curse of hatred which
overlies the earth, and he shudders at himself, who has come out to
pursue and to kill.
And there comes the great bear right towards him, blind in one eye from
the blow of a pensioner’s knife, lame in one leg from a bullet from a
pensioner’s gun, fierce and shaggy, alone, since they had killed his
wife and carried away his children. And Gösta sees him as he is,—a poor,
persecuted beast, whom he will not deprive of life, all he has left,
since people have taken from him everything else.
“Let him kill me,” thinks Gösta, “but I will not shoot.”
And while the bear breaks his way towards him, he stands quite still as
if on parade, and when the forest monarch stands directly in front of
him, he presents arms and takes a step to one side.
The bear continues on his way, knowing too well that he has no time to
waste, breaks into the wood, ploughs his way through drifts the height of
a man, rolls down the steep slopes, and escapes, while all of them, who
had stood with cocked guns and waited for Gösta’s shot, shoot off their
guns after him.
But it is of no avail; the ring is broken, and the bear gone. Fuchs
scolds, and Beerencreutz swears, but Gösta only laughs.
How could they ask that any one so happy as he should harm one of God’s
The great bear of Gurlitta Cliff got away thus with his life, and he
is waked from his winter sleep, as the peasants will find. No bear has
greater skill than he to tear apart the roofs of their low, cellar-like
cow-barns; none can better avoid a concealed ambush.
The people about the upper Löfven soon were at their wits’ end about him.
Message after message was sent down to the pensioners, that they should
come and kill the bear.
Day after day, night after night, during the whole of February, the
pensioners scour the upper Löfven to find the bear, but he always escapes
them. Has he learned cunning from the fox, and swiftness from the
wolf? If they lie in wait at one place, he is ravaging the neighboring
farmyard; if they seek him in the wood, he is pursuing the peasant, who
comes driving over the ice. He has become the boldest of marauders: he
creeps into the garret and empties the housewife’s honey-jar; he kills
the horse in the peasant’s sledge.
But gradually they begin to understand what kind of a bear he is and why
Gösta could not shoot him. Terrible to say, dreadful to believe, this
is no ordinary bear. No one can hope to kill him if he does not have a
silver bullet in his gun. A bullet of silver and bell-metal cast on a
Thursday evening at new moon in the church-tower without the priest or
the sexton or anybody knowing it would certainly kill him, but such a one
is not so easy to get.
* * * * *
There is one man at Ekeby who, more than all the rest, would grieve over
all this. It is, as one can easily guess, Anders Fuchs, the bear-killer.
He loses both his appetite and his sleep in his anger at not being able
to kill the great bear in Gurlitta Cliff. At last even he understands
that the bear can only be killed with a silver bullet.
The grim Major Anders Fuchs was not handsome. He had a heavy, clumsy
body, and a broad, red face, with hanging bags under his cheeks and
several double chins. His small black moustache sat stiff as a brush
above his thick lips, and his black hair stood out rough and thick from
his head. Moreover, he was a man of few words and a glutton. He was not
a person whom women meet with sunny smile and open arms, nor did he give
them tender glances back again. One could not believe that he ever would
see a woman whom he could tolerate, and everything which concerned love
and enthusiasm was foreign to him.
One Thursday evening, when the moon, just two fingers wide, lingers above
the horizon an hour or two after the sun has gone down, Major Fuchs
betakes himself from Ekeby without telling any one where he means to go.
He has flint and steel and a bullet-mould in his hunting-bag, and his gun
on his back, and goes up towards the church at Bro to see what luck there
may be for an honest man.
The church lies on the eastern shore of the narrow sound between the
upper and lower Löfven, and Major Fuchs must go over a bridge to get
there. He wends his way towards it, deep in his thoughts, without looking
up towards Broby hill, where the houses cut sharply against the clear
evening sky; he only looks on the ground, and wonders how he shall get
hold of the key of the church without anybody’s knowing it.
When he comes down to the bridge, he hears some one screaming so
despairingly that he has to look up.
At that time the little German, Faber, was organist at Bro. He was a
slender man, small in body and mind. And the sexton was Jan Larsson, an
energetic peasant, but poor, for the Broby clergyman had cheated him out
of his patrimony, five hundred rix-dollars.
The sexton wanted to marry the organist’s sister, the little, delicate
maiden Faber, but the organist would not let him have her, and therefore
the two were not good friends. That evening the sexton has met the
organist as he crossed the bridge and has fallen upon him. He seizes him
by the shoulder, and holding him at arm’s length out over the railing
tells him solemnly that he shall drop him into the sound if he does
not give him the little maiden. The little German will not give in; he
struggles and screams, and reiterates “No,” although far below him he
sees the black water rushing between the white banks.
“No, no,” he screams; “no, no!”
And it is uncertain if the sexton in his rage would have let him down
into the cold black water if Major Fuchs had not just then come over the
bridge. The sexton is afraid, puts Faber down on solid ground, and runs
away as fast as he can.
Little Faber falls on the major’s neck to thank him for his life, but
the major pushes him away, and says that there is nothing to thank him
for. The major has no love for Germans, ever since he had his quarters
at Putbus on the Rügen during the Pomeranian war. He had never so nearly
starved to death as in those days.
Then little Faber wants to run up to the bailiff Scharling and accuse the
sexton of an attempt at murder, but the major lets him know that it is of
no use here in the country, for it does not count for anything to kill a
Little Faber grows calmer and asks the major to come home with him to eat
a bit of sausage and to taste his home-brewed ale.
The major follows him, for he thinks that the organist must have a key
to the church-door; and so they go up the hill, where the Bro church
stands, with the vicarage, the sexton’s cottage and the organist’s house
round about it.
“You must excuse us,” says little Faber, as he and the major enter the
house. “It is not really in order to-day. We have had a little to do, my
sister and I. We have killed a cock.”
“The devil!” cries the major.
The little maid Faber has just come in with the ale in great earthen
mugs. Now, every one knows that the major did not look upon women with a
tender glance, but this little maiden he had to gaze upon with delight,
as she came in so neat in lace and cap. Her light hair lay combed so
smooth above her forehead, the home-woven dress was so pretty and so
dazzlingly clean, her little hands were so busy and eager, and her little
face so rosy and round, that he could not help thinking that if he had
seen such a little woman twenty-five years ago, he must have come forward
and offered himself.
She is so pretty and rosy and nimble, but her eyes are quite red with
weeping. It is that which suggests such tender thoughts.
While the men eat and drink, she goes in and out of the room. Once she
comes to her brother, courtesies, and says,—
“How do you wish me to place the cows in the stable?”
“Put twelve on the left and eleven on the right, then they can’t gore one
“Have you so many cows, Faber?” bursts out the major.
The fact was that the organist had only two cows, but he called one
eleven and the other twelve, that it might sound fine, when he spoke of
And then the major hears that Faber’s barn is being altered, so that the
cows are out all day and at night are put into the woodshed.
The little maiden comes again to her brother, courtesies to him, and says
that the carpenter had asked how high the barn should be made.
“Measure by the cows,” says the organist, “measure by the cows!”
Major Fuchs thinks that is such a good answer. However it comes to pass,
the major asks the organist why his sister’s eyes are so red, and learns
that she weeps because he will not let her marry the penniless sexton, in
debt and without inheritance as he is.
Major Fuchs grows more and more thoughtful. He empties tankard after
tankard, and eats sausage after sausage, without noticing it. Little
Faber is appalled at such an appetite and thirst; but the more the major
eats and drinks, the clearer and more determined his mind grows. The more
decided becomes his resolution to do something for the little maiden
He has kept his eyes fixed on the great key which hangs on a knob by the
door, and as soon as little Faber, who has had to keep up with the major
in drinking the home-brewed ale, lays his head on the table and snores,
Major Fuchs has seized the key, put on his cap, and hurried away.
A minute later he is groping his way up the tower stairs, lighted by
his little horn lantern, and comes at last to the bell-room, where the
bells open their wide throats over him. He scrapes off a little of the
bell-metal with a file, and is just going to take the bullet-mould and
melting-ladle out of his hunting-bag, when he finds that he has forgotten
what is most important of all: he has no silver with him. If there
shall be any power in the bullet, it must be cast there in the tower.
Everything is right; it is Thursday evening and a new moon, and no one
has any idea he is there, and now he cannot do anything. He sends forth
into the silence of the night an oath with such a ring in it that the
Then he hears a slight noise down in the church and thinks he hears steps
on the stairs. Yes, it is true, heavy steps are coming up the stairs.
Major Fuchs, who stands there and swears so that the bells vibrate, is a
little thoughtful at that. He wonders who it can be who is coming to help
him with the bullet-casting. The steps come nearer and nearer. Whoever it
is, is coming all the way up to the bell-room.
The major creeps far in among the beams and rafters, and puts out his
lantern. He is not exactly afraid, but the whole thing would be spoiled
if any one should see him there. He has scarcely had time to hide before
the new-comer’s head appears above the floor.
The major knows him well; it is the miserly Broby minister. He, who is
nearly mad with greed, has the habit of hiding his treasures in the
strangest places. He comes now with a roll of bank-notes which he is
going to hide in the tower-room. He does not know that any one sees him.
He lifts up a board in the floor and puts in the money and takes himself
The major is not slow; he lifts up the same board. Oh, so much money!
Package after package of bank-notes, and among them brown leather bags,
full of silver. The major takes just enough silver to make a bullet; the
rest he leaves.
When he comes down to the earth again, he has the silver bullet in
his gun. He wonders what luck has in store for him that night. It is
marvellous on Thursday nights, as every one knows. He goes up towards
the organist’s house. Fancy if the bear knew that Faber’s cows are in a
miserable shed, no better than under the bare sky.
What! surely he sees something black and big coming over the field
towards the woodshed; it must be the bear. He puts the gun to his cheek
and is just going to shoot, but then he changes his mind.
The little maid’s red eyes come before him in the darkness; he thinks
that he will help her and the sexton a little, but it is hard not to kill
the great bear himself. He said afterwards that nothing in the world had
ever been so hard, but as the little maiden was so dear and sweet, it had
to be done.
He goes up to the sexton’s house, wakes him, drags him out, half dressed
and half naked, and says that he shall shoot the bear which is creeping
about outside of Faber’s woodshed.
“If you shoot the bear, he will surely give you his sister,” he says,
“for then you will be a famous man. That is no ordinary bear, and the
best men in the country would consider it an honor to kill it.”
And he puts into his hand his own gun, loaded with a bullet of silver and
bell-metal cast in a church tower on a Thursday evening at the new moon,
and he cannot help trembling with envy that another than he shall shoot
the great forest monarch, the old bear of Gurlitta Cliff.
The sexton aims,—God help us! aims, as if he meant to hit the Great Bear,
which high up in the sky wanders about the North Star, and not a bear
wandering on the plain,—and the gun goes off with a bang which can be
heard all the way to Gurlitta Cliff.
But however he has aimed, the bear falls. So it is when one shoots with a
silver bullet. One shoots the bear through the heart, even if one aims at
People come rushing out from all the neighboring farmyards and wonder
what is going on, for never had a shot sounded so loud nor waked so many
sleeping echoes as this one, and the sexton wins much praise, for the
bear had been a real pest.
Little Faber comes out too, but now is Major Fuchs sadly disappointed.
There stands the sexton covered with glory, besides having saved Faber’s
cows, but the little organist is neither touched nor grateful. He does
not open his arms to him and greet him as brother-in-law and hero.
The major stands and frowns and stamps his foot in rage over such
smallness. He wants to explain to the covetous, narrow-minded little
fellow what a deed it is, but he begins to stammer, so that he cannot get
out a word. And he gets angry and more angry at the thought that he has
given up the glory of killing the great bear in vain.
Oh, it is quite impossible for him to comprehend that he who had done
such a deed should not be worthy to win the proudest of brides.
The sexton and some of the young men are going to skin the bear; they go
to the grindstone and sharpen the knives. Others go in and go to bed.
Major Fuchs stands alone by the dead bear.
Then he goes to the church once more, puts the key again in the lock,
climbs up the narrow stairs and the twisted ladder, wakes the sleeping
pigeons, and once more comes up to the tower-room.
Afterwards, when the bear is skinned under the major’s inspection, they
find between his jaws a package of notes of five hundred rix-dollars. It
is impossible to say how it came there, but of course it was a marvellous
bear; and as the sexton had killed him, the money is his, that is very
When it is made known, little Faber too understands what a glorious deed
the sexton has done, and he declares that he would be proud to be his
On Friday evening Major Anders Fuchs returns to Ekeby, after having been
at a feast, in honor of the lucky shot, at the sexton’s and an engagement
dinner at the organist’s. He follows the road with a heavy heart; he
feels no joy that his enemy is dead, and no pleasure in the magnificent
bear-skin which the sexton has given him.
Many perhaps will believe that he is grieving that the sweet little
maiden shall be another’s. Oh no, that causes him no sorrow. But what
goes to his very heart is that the old, one-eyed forest king is dead, and
it was not he who shot the silver bullet at him.
So he comes into the pensioners’ wing, where the pensioners are sitting
round the fire, and without a word throws the bear-skin down among them.
Let no one think that he told about that expedition; it was not until
long, long after that any one could get out of him the truth of it. Nor
did he betray the Broby clergyman’s hiding-place, who perhaps never
noticed the theft.
The pensioners examine the skin.
“It is a fine skin,” says Beerencreutz. “I would like to know why this
fellow has come out of his winter sleep, or perhaps you shot him in his
“He was shot at Bro.”
“Yes, as big as the Gurlitta bear he never was,” says Gösta, “but he has
been a fine beast.”
“If he had had one eye,” says Kevenhüller, “I would have thought that you
had killed the old one himself, he is so big; but this one has no wound
or inflammation about his eyes, so it cannot be the same.”
Fuchs swears over his stupidity, but then his face lights up so that he
is really handsome. The great bear has not been killed by another man’s
“Lord God, how good thou art!” he says, and folds his hands.
We young people often had to wonder at the old people’s tales. “Was there
a ball every day, as long as your radiant youth lasted?” we asked them.
“Was life then one long adventure?”
“Were all young women beautiful and lovely in those days, and did every
feast end by Gösta Berling carrying off one of them?”
Then the old people shook their worthy heads, and began to tell of the
whirring of the spinning-wheel and the clatter of the loom, of work in
the kitchen, of the thud of the flail and the path of the axe through
the forest; but it was not long before they harked back to the old
theme. Then sledges drove up to the door, horses speeded away through
the dark woods with the joyous young people; then the dance whirled and
the violin-strings snapped. Adventure’s wild chase roared about Löfven’s
long lake with thunder and crash. Far away could its noise be heard. The
forest tottered and fell, all the powers of destruction were let loose;
fire flamed out, floods laid waste the land, wild beasts roamed starving
about the farmyards. Under the light-footed horses’ hoofs all quiet
happiness was trampled to dust. Wherever the hunt rushed by, men’s hearts
flamed up in madness, and the women in pale terror had to flee from their
And we young ones sat wondering, silent, troubled, but blissful. “What
people!” we thought. “We shall never see their like.”
“Did the people of those days never _think_ of what they were doing?” we
“Of course they thought, children,” answered the old people.
“But not as we think,” we insisted.
But the old people did not understand what we meant.
But we thought of the strange spirit of self-consciousness which had
already taken possession of us. We thought of him, with his eyes of ice
and his long, bent fingers,—he who sits there in the soul’s darkest
corner and picks to pieces our being, just as old women pick to pieces
bits of silk and wool.
Bit by bit had the long, hard, crooked fingers picked, until our whole
self lay there like a pile of rags, and our best impulses, our most
original thoughts, everything which we had done and said, had been
examined, investigated, picked to pieces, and the icy eyes had looked on,
and the toothless mouth had laughed in derision and whispered,—
“See, it is rags, only rags.”
There was also one of the people of that time who had opened her soul to
the spirit with the icy eyes. In one of them he sat, watching the causes
of all actions, sneering at both evil and good, understanding everything,
condemning nothing, examining, seeking out, picking to pieces, paralyzing
the emotions of the heart and the power of the mind by sneering
The beautiful Marianne bore the spirit of introspection within her. She
felt his icy eyes and sneers follow every step, every word. Her life
had become a drama where she was the only spectator. She had ceased
to be a human being, she did not suffer, she was not glad, nor did
she love; she carried out the beautiful Marianne Sinclair’s rôle, and
self-consciousness sat with staring, icy eyes and busy, picking fingers,
and watched her performance.
She was divided into two halves. Pale, unsympathetic, and sneering, one
half sat and watched what the other half was doing; and the strange
spirit who picked to pieces her being never had a word of feeling or
But where had he been, the pale watcher of the source of deeds, that
night, when she had learned to know the fulness of life? Where was he
when she, the sensible Marianne, kissed Gösta Berling before a hundred
pairs of eyes, and when in a gust of passion she threw herself down in
the snow-drift to die? Then the icy eyes were blinded, then the sneer was
weakened, for passion had raged through her soul. The roar of adventure’s
wild hunt had thundered in her ears. She had been a whole person during
that one terrible night.
Oh, you god of self-mockery, when Marianne with infinite difficulty
succeeded in lifting her stiffened arms and putting them about Gösta’s
neck, you too, like old Beerencreutz, had to turn away your eyes from the
earth and look at the stars.
That night you had no power. You were dead while she sang her love-song,
dead while she hurried down to Sjö after the major, dead when she saw the
flames redden the sky over the tops of the trees.
For they had come, the mighty storm-birds, the griffins of demoniac
passions. With wings of fire and claws of steel they had come swooping
down over you, you icy-eyed spirit; they had struck their claws into your
neck and flung you far into the unknown. You have been dead and crushed.
But now they had rushed on,—they whose course no sage can predict, no
observer can follow; and out of the depths of the unknown had the strange
spirit of self-consciousness again raised itself and had once again taken
possession of Marianne’s soul.
During the whole of February Marianne lay ill at Ekeby. When she sought
out the major at Sjö she had been infected with small-pox. The terrible
illness had taken a great hold on her, who had been so chilled and
exhausted. Death had come very near to her, but at the end of the month
she had recovered. She was still very weak and much disfigured. She would
never again be called the beautiful Marianne.
This, however, was as yet only known to Marianne and her nurse. The
pensioners themselves did not know it. The sick-room where small-pox
raged was not open to any one.
But when is the introspective power greater than during the long hours
of convalescence? Then the fiend sits and stares and stares with his icy
eyes, and picks and picks with his bony, hard fingers. And if one looks
carefully, behind him sits a still paler creature, who stares and sneers,
and behind him another and still another, sneering at one another and at
the whole world.
And while Marianne lay and looked at herself with all these staring icy
eyes, all natural feelings died within her.
She lay there and played she was ill; she lay there and played she was
unhappy, in love, longing for revenge.
She was it all, and still it was only a play. Everything became a play
and unreality under those icy eyes, which watched her while they were
watched by a pair behind them, which were watched by other pairs in
All the energy of life had died within her. She had found strength for
glowing hate and tender love for one single night, not more.
She did not even know if she loved Gösta Berling. She longed to see him
to know if he could take her out of herself.
While under the dominion of her illness, she had had only one clear
thought: she had worried lest her illness should be known. She did not
wish to see her parents; she wished no reconciliation with her father,
and she knew that he would repent if he should know how ill she was.
Therefore she ordered that her parents and every one else should only
know that the troublesome irritation of the eyes, which she always had
when she visited her native country, forced her to sit in a darkened
room. She forbade her nurse to say how ill she was; she forbade the
pensioners to go after the doctor at Karlstad. She had of course
small-pox, but only very lightly; in the medicine-chest at Ekeby there
were remedies enough to save her life.
She never thought of death; she only lay and waited for health, to be
able to go to the clergyman with Gösta and have the banns published.
But now the sickness and the fever were gone. She was once more cold and
sensible. It seemed to her as if she alone was sensible in this world
of fools. She neither hated nor loved. She understood her father; she
understood them all. He who understands does not hate.
She had heard that Melchior Sinclair meant to have an auction at Björne
and make way with all his wealth, that she might inherit nothing after
him. People said that he would make the devastation as thorough as
possible; first he would sell the furniture and utensils, then the
cattle and implements, and then the house itself with all its lands, and
would put the money in a bag and sink it to the bottom of the Löfven.
Dissipation, confusion, and devastation should be her inheritance.
Marianne smiled approvingly when she heard it: such was his character,
and so he must act.
It seemed strange to her that she had sung that great hymn to love. She
had dreamed of love in a cottage, as others have done. Now it seemed odd
to her that she had ever had a dream.
She sighed for naturalness. She was tired of this continual play. She
never had a strong emotion. She only grieved for her beauty, but she
shuddered at the compassion of strangers.
Oh, one second of forgetfulness of herself! One gesture, one word, one
act which was not calculated!
One day, when the rooms had been disinfected and she lay dressed on a
sofa, she had Gösta Berling called. They answered her that he had gone to
the auction at Björne.
* * * * *
At Björne there was in truth a big auction. It was an old, rich home.
People had come long distances to be present at the sale.
Melchior Sinclair had flung all the property in the house together in
the great drawing-room. There lay thousands of articles, collected in
piles, which reached from floor to ceiling.
He had himself gone about the house like an angel of destruction on the
day of judgment, and dragged together what he wanted to sell. Everything
in the kitchen,—the black pots, the wooden chairs, the pewter dishes, the
copper kettles, all were left in peace, for among them there was nothing
which recalled Marianne; but they were the only things which escaped his
He burst into Marianne’s room, turning everything out. Her doll-house
stood there, and her book-case, the little chair he had had made for her,
her trinkets and clothes, her sofa and bed, everything must go.
And then he went from room to room. He tore down everything he found
unpleasant, and carried great loads down to the auction-room. He panted
under the weight of sofas and marble slabs; but he went on. He had thrown
open the sideboards and taken out the magnificent family silver. Away
with it! Marianne had touched it. He filled his arms with snow-white
damask and with shining linen sheets with hem-stitching as wide as one’s
hand,—honest home-made work, the fruit of many years of labor,—and flung
them down together on the piles. Away with them! Marianne was not worthy
to own them. He stormed through the rooms with piles of china, not caring
if he broke the plates by the dozen, and he seized the hand-painted cups
on which the family arms were burned. Away with them! Let any one who
will use them! He staggered under mountains of bedding from the attic:
bolsters and pillows so soft that one sunk down in them as in a wave.
Away with them! Marianne had slept on them.
He cast fierce glances on the old, well-known furniture. Was there a
chair where she had not sat, or a sofa which she had not used, or a
picture which she had not looked at, a candlestick which had not lighted
her, a mirror which had not reflected her features? Gloomily he shook his
fist at this world of memories. He would have liked to have rushed on
them with swinging club and to have crushed everything to small bits and
But it seemed to him a more famous revenge to sell them all at auction.
They should go to strangers! Away to be soiled in the cottagers’ huts, to
be in the care of indifferent strangers. Did he not know them, the dented
pieces of auction furniture in the peasants’ houses, fallen into dishonor
like his beautiful daughter? Away with them! May they stand with torn-out
stuffing and worn-off gilding, with cracked legs and stained leaves, and
long for their former home! Away with them to the ends of the earth, so
that no eye can find them, no hand gather them together!
When the auction began, he had filled half the hall with an incredible
confusion of piled-up articles.
Right across the room he had placed a long counter. Behind it stood the
auctioneer and put up the things; there the clerks sat and kept the
record, and there Melchior Sinclair had a keg of brandy standing. In the
other half of the room, in the hall, and in the yard were the buyers.
There were many people, and much noise and gayety. The bids followed
close on one another, and the auction was lively. But by the keg of
brandy, with all his possessions in endless confusion behind him, sat
Melchior Sinclair, half drunk and half mad. His hair stood up in rough
tufts above his red face; his eyes were rolling, fierce, and bloodshot.
He shouted and laughed, as if he had been in the best of moods; and every
one who had made a good bid he called up to him and offered a dram.
Among those who saw him there was Gösta Berling, who had stolen in with
the crowd of buyers, but who avoided coming under Melchior Sinclair’s
eyes. He became thoughtful at the sight, and his heart stood still, as at
a presentiment of a misfortune.
He wondered much where Marianne’s mother could be during all this. And he
went out, against his will, but driven by fate, to find Madame Gustava
He had to go through many doors before he found her. Her husband had
short patience and little fondness for wailing and women’s complaints. He
had wearied of seeing her tears flow over the fate which had befallen her
household treasures. He was furious that she could weep over table and
bed linen, when, what was worse, his beautiful daughter was lost; and so
he had hunted her, with clenched fists, before him, through the house,
out into the kitchen, and all the way to the pantry.
She could not go any farther, and he had rejoiced at seeing her there,
cowering behind the step-ladder, awaiting heavy blows, perhaps death. He
let her stay there, but he locked the door and stuffed the key in his
pocket. She could sit there as long as the auction lasted. She did not
need to starve, and his ears had rest from her laments.
There she still sat, imprisoned in her own pantry, when Gösta came
through the corridor between the kitchen and the dining-room. He saw her
face at a little window high up in the wall. She had climbed up on the
step-ladder, and stood staring out of her prison.
“What are you doing up there?” asked Gösta.
“He has shut me in,” she whispered.
“Yes. I thought he was going to kill me. But listen, Gösta, take the key
of the dining-room door, and go into the kitchen and unlock the pantry
door with it, so that I can come out. That key fits here.”
Gösta obeyed, and in a couple of minutes the little woman stood in the
kitchen, which was quite deserted.
“You should have let one of the maids open the door with the dining-room
key,” said Gösta.
“Do you think I want to teach them that trick? Then I should never have
any peace in the pantry. And, besides, I took this chance to put the
upper shelves in order. They needed it, indeed. I cannot understand how I
could have let so much rubbish collect there.”
“You have so much to attend to,” said Gösta.
“Yes, that you may believe. If I were not everywhere, neither the loom
nor the spinning-wheel would be going right. And if—”
Here she stopped and wiped away a tear from the corner of her eye.
“God help me, how I do talk!” she said; “they say that I won’t have
anything more to look after. He is selling everything we have.”
“Yes, it is a wretched business,” said Gösta.
“You know that big mirror in the drawing-room, Gösta. It was such a
beauty, for the glass was whole in it, without a flaw, and there was no
blemish at all on the gilding. I got it from my mother, and now he wants
to sell it.”
“He is mad.”
“You may well say so. He is not much better. He won’t stop until we shall
have to go and beg on the highway, we as well as the major’s wife.”
“It will never be so bad as that,” answered Gösta.
“Yes, Gösta. When the major’s wife went away from Ekeby, she foretold
misfortune for us, and now it is coming. She would never have allowed
him to sell Björne. And think, his own china, the old Canton cups from
his own home, are to be sold. The major’s wife would never have let it
“But what is the matter with him?” asked Gösta.
“Oh, it is only because Marianne has not come back again. He has waited
and waited. He has gone up and down the avenue the whole day and waited
for her. He is longing himself mad, but I do not dare to say anything.”
“Marianne believes that he is angry with her.”
“She does not believe that. She knows him well enough; but she is proud
and will not take the first step. They are stiff and hard, both of them,
and I have to stand between them.”
“You must know that Marianne is going to marry me?”
“Alas, Gösta, she will never do that. She says that only to make him
angry. She is too spoiled to marry a poor man, and too proud, too.
Go home and tell her that if she does not come home soon, all her
inheritance will have gone to destruction. Oh, he will throw everything
away, I know, without getting anything for it.”
Gösta was really angry with her. There she sat on a big kitchen table,
and had no thought for anything but her mirrors and her china.
“You ought to be ashamed!” he burst out. “You throw your daughter out
into a snow-drift, and then you think that it is only temper that she
does not come back. And you think that she is no better than to forsake
him whom she cares for, lest she should lose her inheritance.”
“Dear Gösta, don’t be angry, you too. I don’t know what I am saying. I
tried my best to open the door for Marianne, but he took me and dragged
me away. They all say here that I don’t understand anything. I shall not
grudge you Marianne, Gösta, if you can make her happy. It is not so easy
to make a woman happy, Gösta.”
Gösta looked at her. How could he too have raised his voice in anger
against such a person as she,—terrified and cowed, but with such a good
“You do not ask how Marianne is,” he said gently.
She burst into tears.
“Will you not be angry with me if I ask you?” she said. “I have longed to
ask you the whole time. Think that I know no more of her than that she
is living. Not one greeting have I had from her the whole time, not once
when I sent clothes to her, and so I thought that you and she did not
want to have me know anything about her.”
Gösta could bear it no longer. He was wild, he was out of his
head,—sometimes God had to send his wolves after him to force him to
obedience,—but this old woman’s tears, this old woman’s laments were
harder for him to bear than the howling of the wolves. He let her know
“Marianne has been ill the whole time,” he said. “She has had small-pox.
She was to get up to-day and lie on the sofa. I have not seen her since
the first night.”
Madame Gustava leaped with one bound to the ground. She left Gösta
standing there, and rushed away without another word to her husband.
The people in the auction-room saw her come up to him and eagerly whisper
something in his ear. They saw how his face grew still more flushed, and
his hand, which rested on the cock, turned it round so that the brandy
streamed over the floor.
It seemed to all as if Madame Gustava had come with such important news
that the auction must end immediately. The auctioneer’s hammer no longer
fell, the clerks’ pens stopped, there were no new bids.
Melchior Sinclair roused himself from his thoughts.
“Well,” he cried, “what is the matter?”
And the auction was in full swing once more.
Gösta still sat in the kitchen, and Madame Gustava came weeping out to
“It’s no use,” she said. “I thought he would stop when he heard that
Marianne had been ill; but he is letting them go on. He would like to,
but now he is ashamed.”
Gösta shrugged his shoulders and bade her farewell.
In the hall he met Sintram.
“This is a funny show,” exclaimed Sintram, and rubbed his hands. “You are
a master, Gösta. Lord, what you have brought to pass!”
“It will be funnier in a little while,” whispered Gösta. “The Broby
clergyman is here with a sledge full of money. They say that he wants
to buy the whole of Björne and pay in cash. Then I would like to see
Melchior Sinclair, Sintram.”
Sintram drew his head down between his shoulders and laughed internally
a long time. And then he made his way into the auction-room and up to
“If you want a drink, Sintram, you must make a bid first.”
Sintram came close up to him.
“You are in luck to-day as always,” he said. “A fellow has come to
the house with a sledge full of money. He is going to buy Björne and
everything both inside and out. He has told a lot of people to bid for
him. He does not want to show himself yet for a while.”
“You might say who he is; then I suppose I must give you a drink for your
Sintram took the dram and moved a couple of steps backwards, before he
“They say it is the Broby clergyman, Melchior.”
Melchior Sinclair had many better friends than the Broby clergyman. It
had been a life-long feud between them. There were legends of how he
had lain in wait on dark nights on the roads where the minister should
pass, and how he had given him many an honest drubbing, the old fawning
oppressor of the peasants.
It was well for Sintram that he had drawn back a step or two, but he did
not entirely escape the big man’s anger. He got a brandy glass between
his eyes and the whole brandy keg on his feet. But then followed a scene
which for a long time rejoiced his heart.
“Does the Broby clergyman want my house?” roared Melchior Sinclair. “Do
you stand there and bid on my things for the Broby clergyman? Oh, you
ought to be ashamed! You ought to know better!”
He seized a candlestick, and an inkstand, and slung them into the crowd
All the bitterness of his poor heart at last found expression. Roaring
like a wild beast, he clenched his fist at those standing about, and
slung at them whatever missile he could lay his hand on. Brandy glasses
and bottles flew across the room. He did not know what he was doing in
“It’s the end of the auction,” he cried. “Out with you! Never while I
live shall the Broby clergyman have Björne. Out! I will teach you to bid
for the Broby clergyman!”
He rushed on the auctioneer and the clerks. They hurried away. In the
confusion they overturned the desk, and Sinclair with unspeakable fury
burst into the crowd of peaceful people.
There was a flight and wildest confusion. A couple of hundred people were
crowding towards the door, fleeing before a single man. And he stood,
roaring his “Out with you!” He sent curses after them, and now and again
he swept about him with a chair, which he brandished like a club.
He pursued them out into the hall, but no farther. When the last stranger
had left the house, he went back into the drawing-room and bolted the
door after him. Then he dragged together a mattress and a couple of
pillows, laid himself down on them, went to sleep in the midst of all the
havoc, and never woke till the next day.
When Gösta got home, he heard that Marianne wished to speak to him. That
was just what he wanted. He had been wondering how he could get a word
When he came into the dim room where she lay, he had to stand a moment at
the door. He could not see where she was.
“Stay where you are, Gösta,” Marianne said to him. “It may be dangerous
to come near me.”
But Gösta had come up the stairs in two bounds, trembling with eagerness
and longing. What did he care for the contagion? He wished to have the
bliss of seeing her.
For she was so beautiful, his beloved! No one had such soft hair, such an
open, radiant brow. Her whole face was a symphony of exquisite lines.
He thought of her eyebrows, sharply and clearly drawn like the
honey-markings on a lily, and of the bold curve of her nose, and of her
lips, as softly turned as rolling waves, and of her cheek’s long oval and
her chin’s perfect shape.
And he thought of the rosy hue of her skin, of the magical effect of her
coal-black eyebrows with her light hair, and of her blue irises swimming
in clear white, and of the light in her eyes.
She was beautiful, his beloved! He thought of the warm heart which
she hid under a proud exterior. She had strength for devotion and
self-sacrifice concealed under that fine skin and her proud words. It was
bliss to see her.
He had rushed up the stairs in two bounds, and she thought that he would
stop at the door. He stormed through the room and fell on his knees at
the head of her bed.
But he meant to see her, to kiss her, and to bid her farewell.
He loved her. He would certainly never cease to love her, but his heart
was used to being trampled on. Oh, where should he find her, that rose
without support or roots, which he could take and call his own? He
might not keep even her whom he had found disowned and half dead at the
When should his love raise its voice in a song so loud and clear that he
should hear no dissonance through it? When should his palace of happiness
be built on a ground for which no other heart longed restlessly and with
He thought how he would bid her farewell.
“There is great sorrow in your home,” he would say. “My heart is torn
at the thought of it. You must go home and give your father his reason
again. Your mother lives in continual danger of death. You must go home,
These were the words he had on his lips, but they were never spoken.
He fell on his knees at the head of her bed, and he took her face between
his hands and kissed her; but then he could not speak. His heart began to
beat so fiercely, as if it would burst his breast.
Small-pox had passed over that lovely face. Her skin had become coarse
and scarred. Never again should the red blood glow in her cheeks, or the
fine blue veins show on her temples. Her eyebrows had fallen out, and the
shining white of her eyes had changed to yellow.
Everything was laid waste. The bold lines had become coarse and heavy.
They were not few who mourned over Marianne Sinclair’s lost beauty. In
the whole of Värmland, people lamented the change in her bright color,
her sparkling eyes, and blond hair. There beauty was prized as nowhere
else. The joyous people grieved, as if the country had lost a precious
stone from the crown of its honor, as if their life had received a blot
on its glory.
But the first man who saw her after she had lost her beauty did not
indulge in sorrow.
Unutterable emotion filled his soul. The more he looked at her, the
warmer it grew within him. Love grew and grew, like a river in the
spring. In waves of fire it welled up in his heart, it filled his whole
being, it rose to his eyes as tears; it sighed on his lips, trembled in
his hands, in his whole body.
Oh, to love her, to protect her, to keep her from all harm!
To be her slave, her guide!
Love is strong when it has gone through the baptismal fire of pain. He
could not speak to Marianne of parting and renunciation. He could not
leave her—he owed her his life. He could commit the unpardonable sin for
He could not speak a coherent word, he only wept and kissed, until at
last the old nurse thought it was time to lead him out.
When he had gone, Marianne lay and thought of him and his emotion. “It is
good to be so loved,” she thought.
Yes, it was good to be loved, but how was it with herself? What did she
feel? Oh, nothing, less than nothing!
Was it dead, her love, or where had it taken flight? Where had it hidden
itself, her heart’s child?
Did it still live? Had it crept into her heart’s darkest corner and sat
there freezing under the icy eyes, frightened by the pale sneer, half
suffocated under the bony fingers?
“Ah, my love,” she sighed, “child of my heart! Are you alive, or are you
dead, dead as my beauty?”
* * * * *
The next day Melchior Sinclair went in early to his wife.
“See to it that there is order in the house again, Gustava!” he said. “I
am going to bring Marianne home.”
“Yes, dear Melchior, here there will of course be order,” she answered.
Thereupon there was peace between them.
An hour afterwards he was on his way to Ekeby.
It was impossible to find a more noble and kindly old gentleman than
Melchior Sinclair, as he sat in the open sledge in his best fur cloak and
his best rug. His hair lay smooth on his head, but his face was pale and
his eyes were sunken in their sockets.
There was no limit to the brilliancy of the clear sky on that February
day. The snow sparkled like a young girl’s eyes when she hears the music
of the first waltz. The birches stretched the fine lace-work of their
reddish-brown twigs against the sky, and on some of them hung a fringe of
There was a splendor and a festive glow in the day. The horses prancing
threw up their forelegs, and the coachman cracked his whip in sheer
pleasure of living.
After a short drive the sledge drew up before the great steps at Ekeby.
The footman came out.
“Where are your masters?” asked Melchior.
“They are hunting the great bear in Gurlitta Cliff.”
“All of them?”
“All of them, sir. Those who do not go for the sake of the bear go for
the sake of the luncheon.”
Melchior laughed so that it echoed through the silent yard. He gave the
man a crown for his answer.
“Go say to my daughter that I am here to take her home. She need not be
afraid of the cold. I have the big sledge and a wolfskin cloak to wrap
“Will you not come in, sir?”
“Thank you! I sit very well where I am.”
The man disappeared, and Melchior began his waiting.
He was in such a genial mood that day that nothing could irritate him. He
had expected to have to wait a little for Marianne; perhaps she was not
even up. He would have to amuse himself by looking about him for a while.
From the cornice hung a long icicle, with which the sun had terrible
trouble. It began at the upper end, melted a drop, and wanted to have
it run down along the icicle and fall to the earth. But before it had
gone half the way, it had frozen again. And the sun made continual new
attempts, which always failed. But at last a regular freebooter of a
ray hung itself on the icicle’s point, a little one, which shone and
sparkled; and however it was, it accomplished its object,—a drop fell
tinkling to the ground.
Melchior looked on and laughed. “You were not such a fool,” he said to
the ray of sunlight.
The yard was quiet and deserted. Not a sound was heard in the big house.
But he was not impatient. He knew that women needed plenty of time to
make themselves ready.
He sat and looked at the dove-cote. The birds had a grating before the
door. They were shut in, as long as the winter lasted, lest hawks should
exterminate them. Time after time a pigeon came and stuck out its white
head through the meshes.
“She is waiting for the spring,” said Melchior Sinclair, “but she must
have patience for a while.”
The pigeon came so regularly that he took out his watch and followed her,
with it in his hand. Exactly every third minute she stuck out her head.
“No, my little friend,” he said, “do you think spring will be ready in
three minutes? You must learn to wait.”
And he had to wait himself; but he had plenty of time.
The horses first pawed impatiently in the snow, but then they grew sleepy
from standing and blinking in the sun. They laid their heads together and
The coachman sat straight on his box, with whip and reins in his hand and
his face turned directly towards the sun, and slept, slept so that he
But Melchior did not sleep. He had never felt less like sleeping. He had
seldom passed pleasanter hours than during this glad waiting. Marianne
had been ill. She had not been able to come before, but now she would
come. Oh, of course she would. And everything would be well again.
She must understand that he was not angry with her. He had come himself
with two horses and the big sledge.
It is nothing to have to wait when one is sure of one’s self, and when
there is so much to distract one’s mind.
There comes the great watch-dog. He creeps forward on the tips of his
toes, keeps his eyes on the ground, and wags his tail gently, as if he
meant to set out on the most indifferent errand. All at once he begins to
burrow eagerly in the snow. The old rascal must have hidden there some
stolen goods. But just as he lifts his head to see if he can eat it now
undisturbed, he is quite out of countenance to see two magpies right in
front of him.
“You old thief!” say the magpies, and look like conscience itself. “We
are police officers. Give up your stolen goods!”
“Oh, be quiet with your noise! I am the steward—”
“Just the right one,” they sneer.
The dog throws himself on them, and they fly away with slow flaps. The
dog rushes after them, jumps, and barks. But while he is chasing one, the
other is already back. She flies down into the hole, tears at the piece
of meat, but cannot lift it. The dog snatches away the meat, holds it
between his paws, and bites in it. The magpies place themselves close in
front of him, and make disagreeable remarks. He glares fiercely at them,
while he eats, and when they get too impertinent, he jumps up and drives
The sun began to sink down towards the western hills. Melchior looked at
his watch. It is three o’clock. And his wife, who had had dinner ready at
At the same moment the footman came out and announced that Miss Marianne
wished to speak to him.
Melchior laid the wolfskin cloak over his arm and went beaming up the
When Marianne heard his heavy tread on the stairs, she did not even then
know if she should go home with him or not. She only knew that she must
put an end to this long waiting.
She had hoped that the pensioners would come home; but they did not come.
So she had to do something to put an end to it all. She could bear it no
She had thought that he in a burst of anger would have driven away after
he had waited five minutes, or that he would break the door in or try to
set the house on fire.
But there he sat calm and smiling, and only waited. She cherished neither
hatred nor love for him. But there was a voice in her which seemed to
warn her against putting herself in his power again, and moreover she
wished to keep her promise to Gösta.
If he had slept, if he had spoken, if he had been restless, if he had
shown any sign of doubt, if he had had the carriage driven into the
shade! But he was only patience and certainty.
Certain, so infectiously certain, that she would come if he only waited!
Her head ached. Every nerve quivered. She could get no rest as long as
she knew that he sat there. It was as if his will dragged her bound down
So she thought she would at least talk with him.
Before he came, she had all the curtains drawn up, and she placed herself
so that her face came in the full light.
For it was her intention to put him to a sort of test; but Melchior
Sinclair was a wonderful man that day.
When he saw her, he did not make a sign, nor did he exclaim. It was as
if he had not seen any change in her. She knew how highly he prized her
beauty. But he showed no sorrow. He controlled himself not to wound her.
That touched her. She began to understand why her mother had loved him
He showed no hesitation. He came with neither reproaches nor excuses.
“I will wrap the wolfskin about you, Marianne; it is not cold. It has
been on my knees the whole time.”
To make sure, he went up to the fire and warmed it.
Then he helped her to raise herself from the sofa, wrapped the cloak
about her, put a shawl over her head, drew it down under her arms, and
knotted it behind her back.
She let him do it. She was helpless. It was good to have everything
arranged, it was good not to have to decide anything, especially good for
one who was so picked to pieces as she, for one who did not possess one
thought or one feeling which was her own.
Melchior lifted her up, carried her down to the sleigh, closed the top,
tucked the furs in about her, and drove away from Ekeby.
She shut her eyes and sighed, partly from pleasure, partly from regret.
She was leaving life, the real life; but it did not make so much
difference to her,—she who could not live but only act.
* * * * *
A few days later her mother arranged that she should meet Gösta. She sent
for him while her husband was off on his long walk to see after his
timber, and took him in to Marianne.
Gösta came in; but he neither bowed nor spoke. He stood at the door and
looked on the ground like an obstinate boy.
“But, Gösta!” cried Marianne. She sat in her arm-chair and looked at him
“Yes, that is my name.”
“Come here, come to me, Gösta!”
He went slowly forward to her, but did not raise his eyes.
“Come nearer! Kneel down here!”
“Lord God, what is the use of all that?” he cried; but he obeyed.
“Gösta, I want to tell you that I think it was best that I came home.”
“Let us hope that they will not throw you out in the snow-drift again.”
“Oh, Gösta, do you not care for me any longer? Do you think that I am too
He drew her head down and kissed her, but he looked as cold as ever.
She was almost amused. If he was pleased to be jealous of her parents,
what then? It would pass. It amused her to try and win him back. She did
not know why she wished to keep him, but she did. She thought that it was
he who had succeeded for once in freeing her from herself. He was the
only one who would be able to do it again.
And now she began to speak, eager to win him back. She said that it had
not been her meaning to desert him for good, but for a time they must for
appearance’s sake break off their connection. He must have seen, himself,
that her father was on the verge of going mad, that her mother was in
continual danger of her life. He must understand that she had been forced
to come home.
Then his anger burst out in words. She need not give herself so much
trouble. He would be her plaything no longer. She had given him up when
she had gone home, and he could not love her any more. When he came home
the day before yesterday from his hunting-trip and found her gone without
a message, without a word, his blood ran cold in his veins, he had nearly
died of grief. He could not love any one who had given him such pain. She
had, besides, never loved him. She was a coquette, who wanted to have
some one to kiss her and caress her when she was here in the country,
that was all.
Did he think that she was in the habit of allowing young men to caress
Oh yes, he was sure of it. Women were not so saintly as they seemed.
Selfishness and coquetry from beginning to end! No, if she could know
how he had felt when he came home from the hunt. It was as though he had
waded in ice-water. He should never get over that pain. It would follow
him through the whole of his life. He would never be the same person
She tried to explain to him how it had all happened. She tried to
convince him that she was still faithful. Well, it did not matter, for
now he did not love her any more. He had seen through her. She was
selfish. She did not love him. She had gone without leaving him a message.
He came continually back to that. She really enjoyed the performance. She
could not be angry, she understood his wrath so well. She did not fear
any real break between them. But at last she became uneasy. Had there
really been such a change in him that he could no longer care for her?
“Gösta,” she said, “was I selfish when I went to Sjö after the major; I
knew that they had small-pox there. Nor is it pleasant to go out in satin
slippers in the cold and snow.”
“Love lives on love, and not on services and deeds,” said Gösta.
“You wish, then, that we shall be as strangers from now on, Gösta?”
“That is what I wish.”
“You are very changeable, Gösta Berling.”
“People often charge me with it.”
He was cold, impossible to warm, and she was still colder.
Self-consciousness sat and sneered at her attempt to act love.
“Gösta,” she said, making a last effort, “I have never intentionally
wronged you, even if it may seem so. I beg of you, forgive me!”
“I cannot forgive you.”
She knew that if she had possessed a real feeling she could have won him
back. And she tried to play the impassioned. The icy eyes sneered at her,
but she tried nevertheless. She did not want to lose him.
“Do not go, Gösta! Do not go in anger! Think how ugly I have become! No
one will ever love me again.”
“Nor I, either,” he said. “You must accustom yourself to see your heart
trampled upon as well as another.”
“Gösta, I have never loved any one but you. Forgive me. Do not forsake
me! You are the only one who can save me from myself.”
He thrust her from him.
“You do not speak the truth,” he said with icy calmness. “I do not know
what you want of me, but I see that you are lying. Why do you want to
keep me? You are so rich that you will never lack suitors.”
And so he went.
And not until he had closed the door, did regret and pain in all their
strength take possession of Marianne’s heart.
It was love, her heart’s own child, who came out of the corner where the
cold eyes had banished him. He came, he for whom she had so longed when
it was too late.
When Marianne could with real certainty say to herself that Gösta Berling
had forsaken her, she felt a purely physical pain so terrible that she
almost fainted. She pressed her hands against her heart, and sat for
hours in the same place, struggling with a tearless grief.
And it was she herself who was suffering, not a stranger, nor an actress.
It was she herself. Why had her father come and separated them? Her love
had never been dead. It was only that in her weak condition after her
illness she could not appreciate his power.
O God, O God, that she had lost him! O God, that she had waked so late!
Ah, he was the only one, he was her heart’s conqueror! From him she could
bear anything. Hardness and angry words from him bent her only to humble
love. If he had beaten her, she would have crept like a dog to him and
kissed his hand.
She did not know what she would do to get relief from this dull pain.
She seized pen and paper and wrote with terrible eagerness. First she
wrote of her love and regret. Then she begged, if not for his love, only
for his pity. It was a kind of poem she wrote.
When she had finished she thought that if he should see it he must
believe that she had loved him. Well, why should she not send what she
had written to him? She would send it the next day, and she was sure that
it would bring him back to her.
The next day she spent in agony and in struggling with herself. What she
had written seemed to her paltry and so stupid. It had neither rhyme nor
metre. It was only prose. He would only laugh at such verses.
Her pride was roused too. If he no longer cared for her, it was such a
terrible humiliation to beg for his love.
Sometimes her good sense told her that she ought to be glad to escape
from the connection with Gösta, and all the deplorable circumstances
which it had brought with it.
Her heart’s pain was still so terrible that her emotions finally
conquered. Three days after she had become conscious of her love, she
enclosed the verses and wrote Gösta Berling’s name on the cover. But they
were never sent. Before she could find a suitable messenger she heard
such things of Gösta Berling that she understood it was too late to win
But it was the sorrow of her life that she had not sent the verses in
time, while she could have won him.
All her pain fastened itself on that point: “If I only had not waited so
long, if I had not waited so many days!”
The happiness of life, or at any rate the reality of life, would have
been won to her through those written words. She was sure they would have
brought him back to her.
Grief, however, did her the same service as love. It made her a whole
being, potent to devote herself to good as well as evil. Passionate
feelings filled her soul, unrestrained by self-consciousness’s icy chill.
And she was, in spite of her plainness, much loved.
But they say that she never forgot Gösta Berling. She mourned for him as
one mourns for a wasted life.
And her poor verses, which at one time were much read, are forgotten long
ago. I beg of you to read them and to think of them. Who knows what power
they might have had, if they had been sent? They are impassioned enough
to bear witness of a real feeling. Perhaps they could have brought him
back to her.
They are touching enough, tender enough in their awkward formlessness. No
one can wish them different. No one can want to see them imprisoned in
the chains of rhyme and metre, and yet it is so sad to think that it was
perhaps just this imperfection which prevented her from sending them in
I beg you to read them and to love them. It is a person in great trouble
who has written them.
“Child, thou hast loved once, but nevermore
Shalt thou taste of the joys of love!
A passionate storm has raged through thy soul
Rejoice thou hast gone to thy rest!
No more in wild joy shall thou soar up on high
Rejoice, thou hast gone to thy rest!
No more shalt thou sink in abysses of pain,
“Child, thou hast loved once, but nevermore
Shall your soul burn and scorch in the flames.
Thou wert as a field of brown, sun-dried grass
Flaming with fire for a moment’s space;
From the whirling smoke-clouds the fiery sparks
Drove the birds of heaven with piercing cries.
Let them return! Thou burnest no more!—
Wilt burn nevermore.
“Child, thou hast loved, but now nevermore
Shalt thou hear love’s murmuring voice.
Thy young heart’s strength, like a weary child
That sits still and tired on the hard school-bench,
Yearns for freedom and pleasure.
But no man calleth it more like a forgotten song;
No one sings it more,—nevermore.
“Child, the end has now come!
And with it gone love and love’s joy.
He whom thou lovedst as if he had taught thee
With wings to hover through space,
He whom thou lovedst as if he had given thee
Safety and home when the village was flooded,
Is gone, who alone understood
The key to the door of thy heart.
“I ask but one thing of thee, O my beloved:
‘Lay not upon me the load of thy hate!’
That weakest of all things, the poor human heart,
How can it live with the pang and the thought
That it gave pain to another?
“O my beloved, if thou wilt kill me,
Use neither dagger nor poison nor rope!
Say only you wish me to vanish
From the green earth and the kingdom of life,
And I shall sink to my grave.
“From thee came life of life; thou gavest me love,
And now thou recallest thy gift, I know it too well.
But do not give me thy hate!
I still have love of living! Oh, remember that;
But under a load of hate I have but to die.”
The young countess sleeps till ten o’clock in the morning, and wants
fresh bread on the breakfast-table every day. The young countess
embroiders, and reads poetry. She knows nothing of weaving and cooking.
The young countess is spoiled.
But the young countess is gay, and lets her joyousness shine on all and
everything. One is so glad to forgive her the long morning sleep and the
fresh bread, for she squanders kindness on the poor and is friendly to
The young countess’s father is a Swedish nobleman, who has lived in
Italy all his life, retained there by the loveliness of the land and by
one of that lovely land’s beautiful daughters. When Count Henrik Dohna
travelled in Italy he had been received in this nobleman’s house, made
the acquaintance of his daughters, married one of them, and brought her
with him to Sweden.
She, who had always spoken Swedish and had been brought up to love
everything Swedish, is happy in the land of the bear. She whirls so
merrily in the long dance of pleasure, on Löfven’s shores, that one could
well believe she had always lived there. Little she understands what it
means to be a countess. There is no state, no stiffness, no condescending
dignity in that young, joyous creature.
It was the old men who liked the young countess best. It was wonderful,
what a success she had with old men. When they had seen her at a ball,
one could be sure that all of them, the judge at Munkerud and the
clergyman at Bro and Melchior Sinclair and the captain at Berga, would
tell their wives in the greatest confidence that if they had met the
young countess thirty or forty years ago—
“Yes, then she was not born,” say the old ladies.
And the next time they meet, they joke with the young countess, because
she wins the old men’s hearts from them.
The old ladies look at her with a certain anxiety. They remember so well
Countess Märta. She had been just as joyous and good and beloved when
she first came to Borg. And she had become a vain and pleasure-seeking
coquette, who never could think of anything but her amusements. “If she
only had a husband who could keep her at work!” say the old ladies.
“If she only could learn to weave!” For weaving was a consolation for
everything; it swallowed up all other interests, and had been the saving
of many a woman.
The young countess wants to be a good housekeeper. She knows nothing
better than as a happy wife to live in a comfortable home, and she often
comes at balls, and sits down beside the old people.
“Henrik wants me to learn to be a capable housekeeper,” she says, “just
as his mother is. Teach me how to weave!”
Then the old people heave a sigh: first, over Count Henrik, who can think
that his mother was a good housekeeper; and then over the difficulty of
initiating this young, ignorant creature in such a complicated thing.
It was enough to speak to her of heddles, and harnesses, and warps, and
woofs, to make her head spin.
No one who sees the young countess can help wondering why she married
stupid Count Henrik. It is a pity for him who is stupid, wherever he
may be. And it is the greatest pity for him who is stupid and lives in
There are already many stories of Count Henrik’s stupidity, and he is
only a little over twenty years old. They tell how he entertained Anna
Stjärnhök on a sleighing party a few years ago.
“You are very pretty, Anna,” he said.
“How you talk, Henrik!”
“You are the prettiest girl in the whole of Värmland.”
“That I certainly am not.”
“The prettiest in this sleighing party at any rate.”
“Alas, Henrik, I am not that either.”
“Well, you are the prettiest in this sledge, that you can’t deny.”
No, that she could not.
For Count Henrik is no beauty. He is as ugly as he is stupid. They say
of him that that head on the top of his thin neck has descended in the
family for a couple of hundred years. That is why the brain is so worn
out in the last heir.
“It is perfectly plain that he has no head of his own,” they say. “He
has borrowed his father’s. He does not dare to bend it; he is afraid of
losing it,—he is already yellow and wrinkled. The head has been in use
with both his father and grandfather. Why should the hair otherwise be so
thin and the lips so bloodless and the chin so pointed?”
He always has scoffers about him, who encourage him to say stupid things,
which they save up, circulate, and add to.
It is lucky for him that he does not notice it. He is solemn and
dignified in everything he does. He moves formally, he holds himself
straight, he never turns his head without turning his whole body.
He had been at Munkerud on a visit to the judge a few years ago. He had
come riding with high hat, yellow breeches, and polished boots, and
had sat stiff and proud in the saddle. When he arrived everything went
well, but when he was to ride away again it so happened that one of the
low-hanging branches of a birch-tree knocked off his hat. He got off,
put on his hat, and rode again under the same branch. His hat was again
knocked off; this was repeated four times.
The judge at last went out to him and said: “If you should ride on one
side of the branch the next time?”
The fifth time he got safely by.
But still the young countess cared for him in spite of his old-man’s
head. She of course did not know that he was crowned with such a halo
of stupidity in his own country, when she saw him in Rome. There,
there had been something of the glory of youth about him, and they had
come together under such romantic circumstances. You ought to hear the
countess tell how Count Henrik had to carry her off. The priests and the
cardinals had been wild with rage that she wished to give up her mother’s
religion and become a Protestant. The whole people had been in uproar.
Her father’s palace was besieged. Henrik was pursued by bandits. Her
mother and sisters implored her to give up the marriage. But her father
was furious that that Italian rabble should prevent him from giving his
daughter to whomsoever he might wish. He commanded Count Henrik to carry
her off. And so, as it was impossible for them to be married at home
without its being discovered, Henrik and she stole out by side streets
and all sorts of dark alleys to the Swedish consulate. And when she had
abjured the Catholic faith and become a Protestant, they were immediately
married and sent north in a swift travelling-carriage. “There was no time
for banns, you see. It was quite impossible,” the young countess used to
say. “And of course it was gloomy to be married at a consulate, and not
in one of the beautiful churches, but if we had not Henrik would have had
to do without me. Every one is so impetuous down there, both papa and
mamma and the cardinals and the priests, all are so impetuous. That was
why everything had to be done so secretly, and if the people had seen us
steal out of the house, they would certainly have killed us both—only to
save my soul; Henrik was of course already lost.”
The young countess loves her husband, ever since they have come home to
Borg and live a quieter life. She loves in him the glory of the old name
and the famous ancestors. She likes to see how her presence softens the
stiffness of his manner, and to hear how his voice grows tender when he
speaks to her. And besides, he cares for her and spoils her, and she is
married to him. The young countess cannot imagine that a married woman
should not care for her husband.
In a certain way he corresponds to her ideal of manliness. He is honest
and loves the truth. He had never broken his word. She considers him a
On the 18th of March Bailiff Scharling celebrates his birthday, and many
then drive up Broby Hill. People from the east and the west, known and
unknown, invited and uninvited, come to the bailiff’s on that day. All
are welcome, all find plenty of food and drink, and in the ball-room
there is room for dancers from seven parishes.
The young countess is coming too, as she always does where there is to be
dancing and merry-making.
But she is not happy as she comes. It is as if she has a presentiment
that it is now her turn to be dragged-in in adventure’s wild chase.
On the way she sat and watched the sinking sun. It set in a cloudless sky
and left no gold edges on the light clouds. A pale, gray, twilight, swept
by cold squalls, settled down over the country.
The young countess saw how day and night struggled, and how fear seized
all living things at the mighty contest. The horses quickened their pace
with the last load to come under shelter. The woodcutters hurried home
from the woods, the maids from the farmyard. Wild creatures howled at the
edge of the wood. The day, beloved of man, was conquered.
The light grew dim, the colors faded. She only saw chillness and
ugliness. What she had hoped, what she had loved, what she had done,
seemed to her to be also wrapped in the twilight’s gray light. It was the
hour of weariness, of depression, of impotence for her as for all nature.
She thought that her own heart, which now in its playful gladness clothed
existence with purple and gold, she thought that this heart perhaps
sometime would lose its power to light up her world.
“Oh, impotence, my own heart’s impotence!” she said to herself. “Goddess
of the stifling, gray twilight. You will one day be mistress of my soul.
Then I shall see life ugly and gray, as it perhaps is, then my hair will
grow white, my back be bent, my brain be paralyzed.”
At the same moment the sledge turned in at the bailiff’s gate, and as the
young countess looked up, her eyes fell on a grated window in the wing,
and on a fierce, staring face behind.
That face belonged to the major’s wife at Ekeby, and the young woman knew
that her pleasure for the evening was now spoiled.
One can be glad when one does not see sorrow, only hears it spoken of.
But it is harder to keep a joyous heart when one stands face to face with
black, fierce, staring trouble.
The countess knows of course that Bailiff Scharling had put the major’s
wife in prison, and that she shall be tried for the assault she made on
Ekeby the night of the great ball. But she never thought that she should
be kept in custody there at the bailiff’s house, so near the ball-room
that one could look into her room, so near that she must hear the dance
music and the noise of merry-making. And the thought takes away all her
The young countess dances both waltz and quadrille. She takes part in
both minuet and contra-dance; but after each dance she steals to the
window in the wing. There is a light there and she can see how the
major’s wife walks up and down in her room. She never seems to rest, but
walks and walks.
The countess takes no pleasure in the dance. She only thinks of the
major’s wife going backwards and forwards in her prison like a caged wild
beast. She wonders how all the others can dance. She is sure there are
many there who are as much moved as she to know that the major’s wife is
so near, and still there is no one who shows it.
But every time she has looked out her feet grow heavier in the dance, and
the laugh sticks in her throat.
The bailiff’s wife notices her as she wipes the moisture from the
window-pane to see out, and comes to her.
“Such misery! Oh, it is such suffering!” she whispers to the countess.
“I think it is almost impossible to dance to-night,” whispers the
countess back again.
“It is not with my consent that we dance here, while she is sitting shut
up there,” answers Madame Scharling. “She has been in Karlstad since she
was arrested. But there is soon to be a trial now, and that is why she
was brought here to-day. We could not put her in that miserable cell in
the courthouse, so she was allowed to stay in the weaving-room in the
wing. She should have had my drawing-room, countess, if all these people
had not come to-day. You hardly know her, but she has been like a mother
and queen to us all. What will she think of us, who are dancing here,
while she is in such great trouble. It is as well that most of them do
not know that she is sitting there.”
“She ought never to have been arrested,” says the young countess, sternly.
“No, that is a true word, countess, but there was nothing else to do, if
there should not be a worse misfortune. No one blamed her for setting
fire to her own hay-stack and driving out the pensioners, but the major
was scouring the country for her. God knows what he would have done if
she had not been put in prison. Scharling has given much offence because
he arrested the major’s wife, countess. Even in Karlstad they were much
displeased with him, because he did not shut his eyes to everything which
happened at Ekeby; but he did what he thought was best.”
“But now I suppose she will be sentenced?” says the countess.
“Oh, no, countess, she will not be sentenced. She will be acquitted, but
all that she has to bear these days is being too much for her. She is
going mad. You can understand, such a proud woman, how can she bear to be
treated like a criminal! I think that it would have been best if she had
been allowed to go free. She might have been able to escape by herself.”
“Let her go,” says the countess.
“Any one can do that but the bailiff and his wife,” whispers Madame
Scharling. “We have to guard her. Especially to-night, when so many of
her friends are here, two men sit on guard outside her door, and it is
locked and barred so that no one can come in. But if any one got her out,
countess, we should be so glad, both Scharling and I.”
“Can I not go to her?” says the young countess. Madame Scharling seizes
her eagerly by the wrist and leads her out with her. In the hall they
throw a couple of shawls about them, and hurry across the yard.
“It is not certain that she will even speak to us,” says the bailiff’s
wife. “But she will see that we have not forgotten her.”
They come into the first room in the wing, where the two men sit and
guard the barred door, and go in without being stopped to the major’s
wife. She was in a large room crowded with looms and other implements. It
was used mostly for a weaving-room, but it had bars in the window and a
strong lock on the door, so that it could be used, in case of need, for a
The major’s wife continues to walk without paying any attention to them.
She is on a long wandering these days. She cannot remember anything
except that she is going the hundred and twenty miles to her mother, who
is up in the Älfdal woods, and is waiting for her. She never has time to
rest She must go. A never-resting haste is on her. Her mother is over
ninety years old. She would soon be dead.
She has measured off the floor by yards, and she is now adding up the
yards to furlongs and the furlongs to half-miles and miles.
Her way seems heavy and long, but she dares not rest. She wades through
deep drifts. She hears the forests murmur over her as she goes. She rests
in Finn huts and in the charcoal-burner’s log cabin. Sometimes, when
there is nobody for many miles, she has to break branches for a bed and
rest under the roots of a fallen pine.
And at last she has reached her journey’s end, the hundred and twenty
miles are over, the wood opens out, and the red house stands in a
snow-covered yard. The Klar River rushes foaming by in a succession of
little waterfalls, and by that well-known sound she hears that she is at
home. And her mother, who must have seen her coming begging, just as she
had wished, comes to meet her.
When the major’s wife has got so far she always looks up, glances about
her, sees the closed door, and knows where she is.
Then she wonders if she is going mad, and sits down to think and to
rest. But after a time she sets out again, calculates the yards and the
furlongs, the half-miles and the miles, rests for a short time in Finn
huts, and sleeps neither night nor day until she has again accomplished
the hundred and twenty miles.
During all the time she has been in prison she has almost never slept.
And the two women who had come to see her looked at her with anguish.
The young countess will ever afterwards remember her, as she walked
there. She sees her often in her dreams, and wakes with eyes full of
tears and a moan on her lips.
The old woman is so pitifully changed, her hair is so thin, and loose
ends stick out from the narrow braid. Her face is relaxed and sunken, her
dress is disordered and ragged. But with it all she has so much still of
her lofty bearing that she inspires not only sympathy, but also respect.
But what the countess remembered most distinctly were her eyes, sunken,
turned inward, not yet deprived of all the light of reason, but almost
ready to be extinguished, and with a spark of wildness lurking in their
depths, so that one had to shudder and fear to have the old woman in the
next moment upon one, with teeth ready to bite, fingers to tear.
They have been there quite a while when the major’s wife suddenly stops
before the young woman and looks at her with a stern glance. The countess
takes a step backwards and seizes Madame Scharling’s arm.
The features of the major’s wife have life and expression, her eyes look
out into the world with full intelligence.
“Oh, no; oh, no,” she says and smiles; “as yet it is not so bad, my dear
She asks them to sit down, and sits down herself. She has an air of
old-time stateliness, known since days of feasting at Ekeby and at the
royal balls at the governor’s house at Karlstad. They forget the rags and
the prison and only see the proudest and richest woman in Värmland.
“My dear countess,” she says, “what possessed you to leave the dance to
visit a lonely old woman? You must be very good.”
Countess Elizabeth cannot answer. Her voice is choking with emotion.
Madame Scharling answers for her, that she had not been able to dance for
thinking of the major’s wife.
“Dear Madame Scharling,” answers the major’s wife, “has it gone so far
with me that I disturb the young people in their pleasure? You must not
weep for me, my dear young countess,” she continued. “I am a wicked old
woman, who deserves all I get. You do not think it right to strike one’s
The major’s wife interrupts her and strokes the curly, light hair back
from her forehead.
“Child, child,” she says, “how could you marry that stupid Henrik Dohna?”
“But I love him.”
“I see how it is, I see how it is,” says the major’s wife. “A kind child
and nothing more; weeps with those in sorrow, and laughs with those who
are glad. And obliged to say ‘yes’ to the first man who says, ‘I love
you.’ Yes, of course. Go back now and dance, my dear young countess.
Dance and be happy! There is nothing bad in you.”
“But I want to do something for you.”
“Child,” says the major’s wife, solemnly, “an old woman lived at Ekeby
who held the winds of heaven prisoners. Now she is caught and the winds
are free. Is it strange that a storm goes over the land?
“I, who am old, have seen it before, countess. I know it. I know that the
storm of the thundering God is coming. Sometimes it rushes over great
kingdoms, sometimes over small out-of-the-way communities. God’s storm
forgets no one. It comes over the great as well as the small. It is grand
to see God’s storm coming.
“Anguish shall spread itself over the land. The small birds’ nests shall
fall from the branches. The hawk’s nest in the pine-tree’s top shall be
shaken down to the earth with a great noise, and even the eagle’s nest in
the mountain cleft shall the wind drag out with its dragon tongue.
“We thought that all was well with us; but it was not so. God’s storm
is needed. I understand that, and I do not complain. I only wish that I
might go to my mother.”
She suddenly sinks back.
“Go now, young woman,” she says. “I have no more time. I must go. Go now,
and look out for them who ride on the storm-cloud!”
Thereupon she renews her wandering. Her features relax, her glance turns
inward. The countess and Madame Scharling have to leave her.
As soon as they are back again among the dancers the young countess goes
straight to Gösta Berling.
“I can greet you from the major’s wife,” she says. “She is waiting for
you to get her out of prison.”
“Then she must go on waiting, countess.”
“Oh, help her, Herr Berling!”
Gösta stares gloomily before him. “No,” he says, “why should I help her?
What thanks do I owe her? Everything she has done for me has been to my
“But Herr Berling—”
“If she had not existed,” he says angrily, “I would now be sleeping up
there in the forest. Is it my duty to risk my life for her, because she
has made me a pensioner at Ekeby? Do you think much credit goes with that
The young countess turns away from him without answering. She is angry.
She goes back to her place thinking bitter thoughts of the pensioners.
They have come to-night with horns and fiddles, and mean to let the bows
scrape the strings until the horse-hair is worn through, without thinking
that the merry tunes ring in the prisoner’s miserable room. They come
here to dance until their shoes fall to pieces, and do not remember that
their old benefactress can see their shadows whirling by the misty
window-panes. Alas, how gray and ugly the world was! Alas, what a shadow
trouble and hardness had cast over the young countess’s soul!
After a while Gösta comes to ask her to dance.
She refuses shortly.
“Will you not dance with me, countess?” he asks, and grows very red.
“Neither with you nor with any other of the Ekeby pensioners,” she says.
“We are not worthy of such an honor.”
“It is no honor, Herr Berling. But it gives me no pleasure to dance with
those who forget the precepts of gratitude.”
Gösta has already turned on his heel.
This scene is heard and seen by many. All think the countess is right.
The pensioners’ ingratitude and heartlessness had waked general
But in these days Gösta Berling is more dangerous than a wild beast in
the forest. Ever since he came home from the hunt and found Marianne
gone, his heart has been like an aching wound. He longs to do some one a
bloody wrong and to spread sorrow and pain far around.
If she wishes it so, he says to himself, it shall be as she wishes. But
she shall not save her own skin. The young countess likes abductions. She
shall get her fill. He has nothing against adventure. For eight days he
has mourned for a woman’s sake. It is long enough. He calls Beerencreutz
the colonel, and Christian Bergh the great captain, and the slow Cousin
Christopher, who never hesitates at any mad adventure, and consults with
them how he shall avenge the pensioners’ injured honor.
It is the end of the party. A long line of sledges drive up into the
yard. The men are putting on their fur cloaks. The ladies look for their
wraps in the dreadful confusion of the dressing-room.
The young countess has been in great haste to leave this hateful ball.
She is ready first of all the ladies. She stands smiling in the middle of
the room and looks at the confusion, when the door is thrown open, and
Gösta Berling shows himself on the threshold.
No man has a right to enter this room. The old ladies stand there with
their thin hair no longer adorned with becoming caps; and the young ones
have turned up their skirts under their cloaks, that the stiff ruffles
may not be crushed on the way home.
But without paying any attention to the warning cries, Gösta Berling
rushes up to the countess and seizes her.
He lifts her in his arms and rushes from the room out into the hall and
then on to the steps with her.
The astonished women’s screams could not check him. When they hurry
after, they only see how he throws himself into a sledge with the
countess in his arms.
They hear the driver crack his whip and see the horse set off. They know
the driver: it is Beerencreutz. They know the horse: it is Don Juan. And
in deep distress over the countess’s fate they call their husbands.
And these waste no time in questions, but hasten to their sledges. And
with the count at their head they chase after the ravisher.
But he lies in the sledge, holding the young countess fast. He has
forgotten all grief, and mad with adventure’s intoxicating joy, he sings
at the top of his voice a song of love and roses.
Close to him he presses her; but she makes no attempt to escape. Her face
lies, white and stiffened, against his breast.
Ah, what shall a man do when he has a pale, helpless face so near his
own, when he sees the fair hair which usually shades the white, gleaming
forehead, pushed to one side, and when the eyelids have closed heavily
over the gray eyes’ roguish glance?
What shall a man do when red lips grow pale beneath his eyes?
Kiss, of course, kiss the fading lips, the closed eyes, the white
But then the young woman awakes. She throws herself back. She is like a
bent spring. And he has to struggle with her with his whole strength to
keep her from throwing herself from the sledge, until finally he forces
her, subdued and trembling, down in the corner of the sledge.
“See,” says Gösta quite calmly to Beerencreutz, “the countess is the
third whom Don Juan and I have carried off this winter. But the others
hung about my neck with kisses, and she will neither be kissed by me nor
dance with me. Can you understand these women, Beerencreutz?”
But when Gösta drove away from the house, when the women screamed and the
men swore, when the sleigh-bells rang and the whips cracked, and there
was nothing but cries and confusion, the men who guarded the major’s wife
“What is going on?” they thought. “Why are they screaming?”
Suddenly the door is thrown open, and a voice calls to them.
“She is gone. He is driving away with her.”
They rush out, running like mad, without waiting to see if it was the
major’s wife or who it was who was gone. Luck was with them, and they
came up with a hurrying sledge, and they drove both far and fast, before
they discovered whom they were pursuing.
But Berg and Cousin Christopher went quietly to the door, burst the lock,
and opened it for the major’s wife.
“You are free,” they said.
She came out. They stood straight as ramrods on either side of the door
and did not look at her.
“You have a horse and sledge outside.”
She went out, placed herself in the sledge, and drove away. No one
followed her. No one knew whither she went.
Down Broby hill Don Juan speeds towards the Löfven’s ice-covered surface.
The proud courser flies on. Strong, ice-cold breezes whistle by their
cheeks. The bells jingle. The stars and the moon are shining. The snow
lies blue-white and glitters from its own brightness.
Gösta feels poetical thoughts wake in him.
“Beerencreutz,” he says, “this is life. Just as Don Juan hurries away
with this young woman, so time hurries away with man. You are necessity,
who steers the journey. I am desire, who fetters the will, and she is
dragged helpless, always deeper and deeper down.”
“Don’t talk!” cries Beerencreutz. “They are coming after us.”
And with a whistling cut of the whip he urges Don Juan to still wilder
“Once it was wolves, now it is spoils,” cries Gösta. “Don Juan, my boy,
fancy that you are a young elk. Rush through the brushwood, wade through
the swamps, leap from the mountain top down into the clear lake, swim
across it with bravely lifted head, and vanish, vanish in the thick
pine-woods’ rescuing darkness! Spring, Don Juan! Spring like a young elk!”
Joy fills his wild heart at the mad race. The cries of the pursuers are
to him a song of victory. Joy fills his wild heart when he feels the
countess’s body shake with fright, when he hears her teeth chatter.
Suddenly he loosens the grip of iron with which he has held her. He
stands up in the sledge and waves his cap.
“I am Gösta Berling,” he cries, “lord of ten thousand kisses and thirteen
thousand love-letters! Hurra for Gösta Berling! Take him who can!”
And in the next minute he whispers in the countess’s ear:—
“Is not the pace good? Is not the course kingly? Beyond Löfven lies Lake
Väner. Beyond Väner lies the sea, everywhere endless stretches of clear
blue-black ice, and beyond all a glowing world. Rolling thunders in
the freezing ice, shrill cries behind us, shooting stars above us, and
jingling bells before us! Forward! Always forward! Have you a mind to try
the journey, young, beautiful lady?”
He had let her go. She pushes him roughly away. The next instant finds
him on his knees at her feet.
“I am a wretch, a wretch. You ought not to have angered me, countess. You
stood there so proud and fair, and never thought that a pensioner’s hand
could reach you. Heaven and earth love you. You ought not to add to the
burden of those whom heaven and earth scorn.”
He draws her hands to him and lifts them to his face.
“If you only knew,” he says, “what it means to be an outcast. One does
not stop to think what one does. No, one does not.”
At the same moment he notices that she has nothing on her hands. He draws
a pair of great fur gloves from his pocket and puts them on her.
And he has become all at once quite quiet. He places himself in the
sledge, as far from the young countess as possible.
“You need not be afraid,” he says. “Do you not see where we are driving?
You must understand that we do not dare to do you any harm.”
She, who has been almost out of her mind with fright, sees that they have
driven across the lake and that Don Juan is struggling up the steep hill
They stop the horse before the steps of the castle, and let the young
countess get out of the sledge at the door of her own home.
When she is surrounded by attentive servants, she regains her courage and
presence of mind.
“Take care of the horse, Andersson!” she says to the coachman. “These
gentlemen who have driven me home will be kind enough to come in for a
while. The count will soon be here.”
“As you wish, countess,” says Gösta, and instantly gets out of the
sledge. Beerencreutz throws the reins to the groom without a moment’s
hesitation. And the young countess goes before them and ushers them into
the hall with ill-concealed malicious joy.
The countess had expected that the pensioners would hesitate at the
proposition to await her husband.
They did not know perhaps what a stern and upright man he was. They were
not afraid of the inquiry he should make of them, who had seized her by
force and compelled her to drive with them. She longed to hear him forbid
them ever again to set their foot in her house.
She wished to see him call in the servants to point out the pensioners to
them as men who thereafter never should be admitted within the doors of
Borg. She wished to hear him express his scorn not only of what they had
done to her, but also of their conduct toward the old major’s wife, their
He, who showed her only tenderness and consideration, would rise in just
wrath against her persecutors. Love would give fire to his speech. He,
who guarded and looked after her as a creature of finer stuff than any
other, would not bear that rough men had fallen upon her like birds of
prey upon a sparrow. She glowed with thirst of revenge.
Beerencreutz, however, walked undaunted into the dining-room, and up to
the fire, which was always lighted when the countess came home from a
Gösta remained in the darkness by the door and silently watched the
countess, while the servant removed her outer wraps. As he sat and looked
at the young woman, he rejoiced as he had not done for many years. He saw
so clearly it was like a revelation, although he did not understand how
he had discovered it, that she had in her one of the most beautiful of
As yet it lay bound and sleeping; but it would some day show itself. He
rejoiced at having discovered all the purity and gentleness and innocence
which was hidden in her. He was almost ready to laugh at her, because she
looked so angry and stood with flushed cheeks and frowning brows.
“You do not know how gentle and good you are,” he thought.
The side of her being which was turned towards the outside world would
never do her inner personality justice, he thought. But Gösta Berling
from that hour must be her servant, as one must serve everything
beautiful and godlike. Yes, there was nothing to be sorry for that he
had just been so violent with her. If she had not been so afraid, if she
had not thrust him from her so angrily, if he had not felt how her whole
being was shaken by his roughness, he would never have known what a fine
and noble soul dwelt within her.
He had not thought it before. She had only cared for pleasure-seeking and
amusement. And she had married that stupid Count Henrik.
Yes, now he would be her slave till death; dog and slave as Captain Bergh
used to say, and nothing more.
He sat by the door, Gösta Berling, and held with clasped hands a sort
of service. Since the day when he for the first time felt the flame of
inspiration burn in him, he had not known such a holiness in his soul. He
did not move, even when Count Dohna came in with a crowd of people, who
swore and lamented over the pensioners’ mad performance.
He let Beerencreutz receive the storm. With indolent calm, tried by many
adventures, the latter stood by the fireplace. He had put one foot up on
the fender, rested his elbow on his knee, and his chin on his hand, and
looked at the excited company.
“What is the meaning of all this?” roared the little count at him.
“The meaning is,” he said, “that as long as there are women on earth,
there will be fools to dance after their piping.”
The young count’s face grew red.
“I ask what that means!” he repeated.
“I ask that too,” sneered Beerencreutz. “I ask what it means when Henrik
Dohna’s countess will not dance with Gösta Berling.”
The count turned questioning to his wife.
“I could not, Henrik,” she cried. “I could not dance with him or any of
them. I thought of the major’s wife, whom they allowed to languish in
The little count straightened his stiff body and stretched up his
“We pensioners,” said Beerencreutz, “permit no one to insult us. She
who will not dance with us must drive with us. No harm has come to the
countess, and there can be an end of the matter.”
“No,” said the count. “It cannot be the end. It is I who am responsible
for my wife’s acts. Now I ask why Gösta Berling did not turn to me to get
satisfaction when my wife had insulted him.”
“I ask that,” repeated the count.
“One does not ask leave of the fox to take his skin from him,” said
The count laid his hand on his narrow chest.
“I am known to be a just man,” he cried. “I can pass sentence on my
servants. Why should I not be able to pass sentence on my wife? The
pensioners have no right to judge her. The punishment they have given
her, I wipe out. It has never been, do you understand, gentlemen. It has
The count screamed out the words in a high falsetto. Beerencreutz
cast a swift glance about the assembly. There was not one of those
present—Sintram and Daniel Bendix and Dahlberg and all the others who had
followed in—who did not stand and smile at the way he outwitted stupid
The young countess did not understand at first. What was it which should
not be considered? Her anguish, the pensioner’s hard grip on her tender
body, the wild song, the wild words, the wild kisses, did they not exist?
Had that evening never been, over which the goddess of the gray twilight
“Silence!” he said. And he drew himself up to chide her. “Woe to you,
that you, who are a woman, have wished to set yourself up as a judge of
men,” he says. “Woe to you, that you, who are my wife, dare to insult
one whose hand I gladly press. What is it to you if the pensioners have
put the major’s wife in prison? Were they not right? You can never know
how angry a man is to the bottom of his soul when he hears of a woman’s
infidelity. Do you also mean to go that evil way, that you take such a
She wailed like a child, and stretched out her arms to ward off the angry
words. She had never before heard such hard words addressed to her. She
was so helpless among these hard men, and now her only defender turned
against her. Never again would her heart have power to light up the world.
“But, Henrik, it is you who ought to protect me.”
Gösta Berling was observant now, when it was too late. He did not know
what to do. He wished her so well. But he did not dare to thrust himself
between man and wife.
“Where is Gösta Berling?” asked the count.
“Here,” said Gösta. And he made a pitiable attempt to make a jest of the
matter. “You were making a speech, I think, count, and I fell asleep.
What do you say to letting us go home and letting you all go to bed?”
“Gösta Berling, since my countess has refused to dance with you, I
command her to kiss your hand and to ask you for forgiveness.”
“My dear Count Henrik,” says Gösta, smiling, “it is not a fit hand for
a young woman to kiss. Yesterday it was red with blood from killing an
elk, to-day black with soot from a fight with a charcoal-burner. You have
given a noble and high-minded sentence. That is satisfaction enough.
The count placed himself in his way.
“Do not go,” he said. “My wife must obey me. I wish that my countess
shall know whither it leads to be self-willed.”
Gösta stood helpless. The countess was quite white; but she did not move.
“Go,” said the count.
“Henrik, I cannot.”
“You can,” said the count, harshly. “You can. But I know what you want.
You will force me to fight with this man, because your whim is not to
like him. Well, if you will not make him amends, I shall do so. You
women love to have a man killed for your sake. You have done wrong, but
will not atone for it. Therefore I must do it. I shall fight the duel,
countess. In a few hours I shall be a bloody corpse.”
She gave him a long look. And she saw him as he was,—stupid, cowardly,
puffed up with pride and vanity, the most pitiful of men.
“Be calm,” she said. And she became as cold as ice. “I will do it.”
But now Gösta Berling became quite beside himself.
“You shall not, countess! No, you shall not! You are only a child, a
poor, innocent child, and you would kiss my hand. You have such a white,
beautiful soul. I will never again come near you. Oh, never again! I
bring death and destruction to everything good and blameless. You shall
not touch me. I shudder for you like fire for water. You shall not!”
He put his hands behind his back.
“It is all the same to me, Herr Berling. Nothing makes any difference to
me any more. I ask you for forgiveness. I ask you to let me kiss your
Gösta kept his hands behind his back. He approached the door.
“If you do not accept the amends my wife offers, I must fight with you,
Gösta Berling, and moreover must impose upon her another, severer,
The countess shrugged her shoulders. “He is mad from cowardice,” she
whispered. “Let me do it! It does not matter if I am humbled. It is after
all what you wanted the whole time.”
“Did I want that? Do you think I wanted that? Well, if I have no hands to
kiss, you must see that I did not want it,” he cried.
He ran to the fire and stretched out his hands into it. The flames
closed over them, the skin shrivelled up, the nails crackled. But in the
same second Beerencreutz seized him by the neck and threw him across the
floor. He tripped against a chair and sat down. He sat and almost blushed
for such a foolish performance. Would she think that he only did it by
way of boast? To do such a thing in the crowded room must seem like a
foolish vaunt. There had not been a vestige of danger.
Before he could raise himself, the countess was kneeling beside him. She
seized his red, sooty hands and looked at them.
“I will kiss them, kiss them,” she cried, “as soon as they are not too
painful and sore!” And the tears streamed from her eyes as she saw the
blisters rising under the scorched skin.
For he had been like a revelation to her of an unknown glory. That such
things could happen here on earth, that they could be done for her! What
a man this was, ready for everything, mighty in good as in evil, a man of
great deeds, of strong words, of splendid actions! A hero, a hero, made
of different stuff from others! Slave of a whim, of the desire of the
moment, wild and terrible, but possessor of a tremendous power, fearless
She had been so depressed the whole evening she had not seen anything but
pain and cruelty and cowardice. Now everything was forgotten. The young
countess was glad once more to be alive. The goddess of the twilight was
conquered. The young countess saw light and color brighten the world.
* * * * *
It was the same night in the pensioners’ wing.
There they scolded and swore at Gösta Berling. The old men wanted to
sleep; but it was impossible. He let them get no rest. It was in vain
that they drew the bed-curtains and put out the light. He only talked.
He let them know what an angel the young countess was, and how he adored
her. He would serve her, worship her. He was glad that every one had
forsaken him. He could devote his life to her service. She despised him
of course. But he would be satisfied to lie at her feet like a dog.
Had they ever noticed an island out in the Löfven? Had they seen it
from the south side, where the rugged cliff rises precipitously from
the water? Had they seen it from the north, where it sinks down to the
sea in a gentle slope, and where the narrow shoals, covered with great
pines wind out into the water, and make the most wonderful little lakes?
There on the steep cliff, where the ruins of an old viking fortress still
remain, he would build a palace for the young countess, a palace of
marble. Broad steps, at which boats decked with flags should land, should
be hewn in the cliff down to the sea. There should be glowing halls and
lofty towers with gilded pinnacles. It should be a suitable dwelling for
the young countess. That old wooden house at Borg was not worthy for her
When he had gone on so for a while, first one snore and then another
began to sound behind the yellow-striped curtains. But most of them swore
and bewailed themselves over him and his foolishness.
“Friends,” he then says solemnly, “I see the green earth covered with the
works of man or with the ruins of men’s work. The pyramids weigh down
the earth, the tower of Babel has bored through the sky, the beautiful
temples and the gray castles have fallen into ruins. But of all which
hands have built, what is it which has not fallen, nor shall fall? Ah,
friends, throw away the trowel and the mortar! Spread your mason’s aprons
over your heads and lay you down to build bright palaces of dreams!
What has the soul to do with temples of stone and clay? Learn to build
everlasting palaces of dreams and visions!”
Thereupon he went laughing to bed.
When, shortly after, the countess heard that the major’s wife had been
set free, she gave a dinner for the pensioners.
And then began hers and Gösta Berling’s long friendship.