It was Christmas, and there was to be a ball at Borg.
At that time, and it is soon sixty years ago, a young Count Dohna lived
at Borg; he was newly married, and he had a young, beautiful countess. It
was sure to be gay at the old castle.
An invitation had come to Ekeby, but it so happened that of them all who
were there that year, Gösta Berling, whom they called “the poet,” was the
only one who wished to go.
Borg and Ekeby both lie by the Löfven, but on opposite shores. Borg is in
Svartsjö parish, Ekeby in Bro. When the lake is impassable it is a ten or
twelve miles’ journey from Ekeby to Borg.
The pauper, Gösta Berling, was fitted out for the festival by the old
men, as if he had been a king’s son, and had the honor of a kingdom to
His coat with the glittering buttons was new, his ruffles were stiff, and
his buckled shoes shining. He wore a cloak of the finest beaver, and a
cap of sable on his yellow, curling hair. They spread a bear-skin with
silver claws over his sledge, and gave him black Don Juan, the pride of
the stable, to drive.
He whistled to his white Tancred, and seized the braided reins. He
started rejoicing, surrounded by the glitter of riches and splendor,
he who shone so by his own beauty and by the playful brilliancy of his
He left early in the forenoon. It was Sunday, and he heard the organ in
the church at Bro as he drove by. He followed the lonely forest road
which led to Berga, where Captain Uggla then lived. There he meant to
stop for dinner.
Berga was no rich man’s home. Hunger knew the way to that turf-roofed
house; but he was met with jests, charmed with song and games like other
guests, and went as unwillingly as they.
The old Mamselle Ulrika Dillner, who looked after everything at Berga,
stood on the steps and wished Gösta Berling welcome. She courtesied to
him, and the false curls, which hung down over her brown face with its
thousand wrinkles, danced with joy. She led him into the dining-room, and
then she began to tell him about the family, and their changing fortunes.
Distress stood at the door, she said; it was hard times at Berga. They
would not even have had any horse-radish for dinner, with their corned
beef, if Ferdinand and the girls had not put Disa before a sledge and
driven down to Munkerud to borrow some.
The captain was off in the woods again, and would of course come home
with a tough old hare, on which one had to use more butter in cooking
it than it was worth itself. That’s what he called getting food for the
house. Still, it would do, if only he did not come with a miserable fox,
the worst beast our Lord ever made; no use, whether dead or alive.
And the captain’s wife, yes, she was not up yet. She lay abed and read
novels, just as she had always done. She was not made for work, that
No, that could be done by some one who was old and gray like Ulrika
Dillner, working night and day to keep the whole miserable affair
together. And it wasn’t always so easy; for it was the truth that for
one whole winter they had not had in that house any other meat than
bear-hams. And big wages she did not expect; so far she had never seen
any; but they would not turn her out on the roadside either, when
she couldn’t work any longer in return for her food. They treated a
house-maid like a human being in that house, and they would one of these
days give old Ulrika a good burial if they had anything to buy the coffin
“For who knows how it will be?” she bursts out, and wipes her eyes, which
are always so quick to tears. “We have debts to the wicked Sintram, and
he can take everything from us. Of course Ferdinand is engaged to the
rich Anna Stjärnhök; but she is tired,—she is tired of him. And what will
become of us, of our three cows, and our nine horses, of our gay young
ladies who want to go from one ball to another, of our dry fields where
nothing grows, of our mild Ferdinand, who will never be a real man? What
will become of the whole blessed house, where everything thrives except
But dinner-time came, and the family gathered. The good Ferdinand, the
gentle son of the house, and the lively daughters came home with the
borrowed horse-radish. The captain came, fortified by a bath in a hole
in the ice and a tramp through the woods. He threw up the window to get
more air, and shook Gösta’s hand with a strong grip. And his wife came,
dressed in silk, with wide laces hanging over her white hands, which
Gösta was allowed to kiss.
They all greeted Gösta with joy; jests flew about the circle; gayly they
“How are you all at Ekeby; how is it in that promised land?”
“Milk and honey flow there,” he answered. “We empty the mountains of iron
and fill our cellar with wine. The fields bear gold, with which we gild
life’s misery, and we cut down our woods to build bowling-alleys and
The captain’s wife sighed and smiled at his answer, and her lips murmured
“Many sins have I on my conscience,” answered Gösta, “but I have never
written a line of poetry.”
“You are nevertheless a poet, Gösta; that name you must put up with. You
have lived through more poems than all our poets have written.”
Then she spoke, tenderly as a mother, of his wasted life. “I shall live
to see you become a man,” she said. And he felt it sweet to be urged on
by this gentle woman, who was such a faithful friend, and whose romantic
heart burned with the love of great deeds.
But just as they had finished the gay meal and had enjoyed the corned
beef and horse-radish and cabbage and apple fritters and Christmas ale,
and Gösta had made them laugh and cry by telling them of the major and
his wife and the Broby clergyman, they heard sleigh-bells outside, and
immediately afterward the wicked Sintram walked in.
He beamed with satisfaction, from the top of his bald head down to his
long, flat feet. He swung his long arms, and his face was twisted. It was
easy to see that he brought bad news.
“Have you heard,” he asked,—“have you heard that the banns have been
called to-day for Anna Stjärnhök and the rich Dahlberg in the Svartsjö
church? She must have forgotten that she was engaged to Ferdinand.”
They had not heard a word of it. They were amazed and grieved.
Already they fancied the home pillaged to pay the debt to this wicked
man; the beloved horses sold, as well as the worn furniture which had
come from the home of the captain’s wife. They saw an end to the gay life
with feasts and journeyings from ball to ball. Bear-hams would again
adorn the board, and the young people must go out into the world and work
The captain’s wife caressed her son, and let him feel the comfort of a
But—there sat Gösta Berling in the midst of them, and, unconquerable,
turned over a thousand plans in his head.
“Listen,” he cried, “it is not yet time to think of grieving. It is the
minister’s wife at Svartsjö who has arranged all this. She has got a
hold on Anna, since she has been living with her at the vicarage. It is
she who has persuaded her to forsake Ferdinand and take old Dahlberg;
but they’re not married yet, and will never be either. I am on my way to
Borg, and shall meet Anna there. I shall talk to her; I shall get her
away from the clergyman’s, from her fiancé,—I shall bring her with me
here to-night. And afterwards old Dahlberg shall never get any good of
And so it was arranged. Gösta started for Borg alone, without taking any
of the gay young ladies, but with warm good wishes for his return. And
Sintram, who rejoiced that old Dahlberg should be cheated, decided to
stop at Berga to see Gösta come back with the faithless girl. In a burst
of good-will he even wrapt round him his green plaid, a present from
The captain’s wife came out on the steps with three little books, bound
in red leather, in her hand.
“Take them,” she said to Gösta, who already sat in the sledge; “take
them, if you fail! It is ‘Corinne,’ Madame de Staël’s ‘Corinne.’ I do not
want them to go by auction.”
“I shall not fail.”
“Ah, Gösta, Gösta,” she said, and passed her hand over his bared head,
“strongest and weakest of men! How long will you remember that a few poor
people’s happiness lies in your hand?”
Once more Gösta flew along the road, drawn by the black Don Juan,
followed by the white Tancred, and the joy of adventure filled his soul.
He felt like a young conqueror, the spirit was in him.
His way took him past the vicarage at Svartsjö. He turned in there and
asked if he might drive Anna Stjärnhök to the ball. And that he was
A beautiful, self-willed girl it was who sat in his sledge. Who would not
want to drive behind the black Don Juan?
The young people were silent at first, but then she began the
conversation, audaciousness itself.
“Have you heard what the minister read out in church to-day?”
“Did he say that you were the prettiest girl between the Löfven and the
“How stupid you are! but every one knows that He called the banns for me
and old Dahlberg.”
“Never would I have let you sit in my sledge nor sat here myself, if I
had known that. Never would I have wished to drive you at all.”
And the proud heiress answered:—
“I could have got there well enough without you, Gösta Berling.”
“It is a pity for you, Anna,” said Gösta, thoughtfully, “that your father
and mother are not alive. You are your own mistress, and no one can hold
you to account.”
“It is a much greater pity that you had not said that before, so that I
might have driven with some one else.”
“The minister’s wife thinks as I do, that you need some one to take your
father’s place; else she had never put you to pull in harness with such
an old nag.”
“It is not she who has decided it.”
“Ah, Heaven preserve us!—have you yourself chosen such a fine man?”
“He does not take me for my money.”
“No, the old ones, they only run after blue eyes and red cheeks; and
awfully nice they are, when they do that.”
“Oh, Gösta, are you not ashamed?”
“But remember that you are not to play with young men any longer. No more
dancing and games. Your place is in the corner of the sofa—or perhaps
you mean to play cribbage with old Dahlberg?”
They were silent, till they drove up the steep hill to Borg.
“Thanks for the drive! It will be long before I drive again with you,
“Thanks for the promise! I know many who will be sorry to-day they ever
drove you to a party.”
Little pleased was the haughty beauty when she entered the ball-room and
looked over the guests gathered there.
First of all she saw the little, bald Dahlberg beside the tall, slender,
golden-haired Gösta Berling. She wished she could have driven them both
out of the room.
Her fiancé came to ask her to dance, but she received him with crushing
“Are you going to dance? You never do!”
And the girls came to wish her joy.
“Don’t give yourselves the trouble, girls. You don’t suppose that any
one could be in love with old Dahlberg. But he is rich, and I am rich,
therefore we go well together.”
The old ladies went up to her, pressed her white hand, and spoke of
life’s greatest happiness.
“Congratulate the minister’s wife,” she said. “She is gladder about it
But there stood Gösta Berling, the gay cavalier, greeted with joy for his
cheerful smile and his pleasant words, which sifted gold-dust over life’s
gray web. Never before had she seen him as he was that night. He was no
outcast, no homeless jester; no, a king among men, a born king.
He and the other young men conspired against her. She should think over
how badly she had behaved when she gave herself with her lovely face and
her great fortune to an old man. And they let her sit out ten dances.
She was boiling with rage.
At the eleventh dance came a man, the most insignificant of all, a poor
thing, whom nobody would dance with, and asked her for a turn.
“There is no more bread, bring on the crusts,” she said.
They played a game of forfeits. The fair-haired girls put their heads
together and condemned her to kiss the one she loved best. And with
smiling lips they waited to see the proud beauty kiss old Dahlberg.
But she rose, stately in her anger, and said:—
“May I not just as well give a blow to the one I like the least!”
The moment after Gösta’s cheek burned under her firm hand. He flushed a
flaming red, but he conquered himself, seized her hand, held it fast a
second, and whispered:—
“Meet me in half an hour in the red drawing-room on the lower floor!”
His blue eyes flashed on her, and encompassed her with magical waves. She
felt that she must obey.
* * * * *
She met him with proud and angry words.
“How does it concern you whom I marry?”
He was not ready to speak gently to her, nor did it seem to him best to
speak yet of Ferdinand.
“I thought it was not too severe a punishment for you to sit out ten
dances. But you want to be allowed unpunished to break vows and promises.
If a better man than I had taken your sentence in his hand, he could
have made it harder.”
“What have I done to you and all the others, that I may not be in peace?
It is for my money’s sake you persecute me. I shall throw it into the
Löfven, and any one who wants it can fish it up.”
She put her hands before her eyes and wept from anger.
That moved the poet’s heart. He was ashamed of his harshness. He spoke in
“Ah, child, child, forgive me! Forgive poor Gösta Berling! Nobody cares
what such a poor wretch says or does, you know that. Nobody weeps for
his anger, one might just as well weep over a mosquito’s bite. It was
madness in me to hope that I could prevent our loveliest and richest girl
marrying that old man. And now I have only distressed you.”
He sat down on the sofa beside her. Gently he put his arm about her
waist, with caressing tenderness, to support and raise her.
She did not move away. She pressed closer to him, threw her arms round
his neck, and wept with her beautiful head on his shoulder.
O poet, strongest and weakest of men, it was not about your neck those
white arms should rest.
“If I had known that,” she whispered, “never would I have taken the old
man. I have watched you this evening; there is no one like you.”
From between pale lips Gösta forced out,—
She silenced him with a kiss.
“He is nothing; no one but you is anything. To you will I be faithful.”
“I am Gösta Berling,” he said gloomily; “you cannot marry me.”
“You are the man I love, the noblest of men. You need do nothing, be
nothing. You are born a king.”
Then the poet’s blood seethed. She was beautiful and tender in her love.
He took her in his arms.
“If you will be mine, you cannot remain at the vicarage. Let me drive you
to Ekeby to-night; there I shall know how to defend you till we can be
* * * * *
That was a wild drive through the night. Absorbed in their love, they
let Don Juan take his own pace. The noise of the runners was like the
lamentations of those they had deceived. What did they care for that? She
hung on his neck, and he leaned forward and whispered in her ear.
“Can any happiness be compared in sweetness to stolen pleasures?”
What did the banns matter? They had love. And the anger of men! Gösta
Berling believed in fate; fate had mastered them: no one can resist fate.
If the stars had been the candles which had been lighted for her wedding,
if Don Juan’s bells had been the church chimes, calling the people to
witness her marriage to old Dahlberg, still she must have fled with Gösta
Berling. So powerful is fate.
They had passed the vicarage and Munkerud. They had three miles to Berga
and three miles more to Ekeby. The road skirted the edge of the wood; on
their right lay dark hills, on their left a long, white valley.
Tancred came rushing. He ran so fast that he seemed to lie along the
ground. Howling with fright, he sprang up in the sledge and crept under
Don Juan shied and bolted.
“Wolves!” said Gösta Berling.
They saw a long, gray line running by the fence. There were at least a
dozen of them.
Anna was not afraid. The day had been richly blessed with adventure,
and the night promised to be equally so. It was life,—to speed over the
sparkling snow, defying wild beasts and men.
Gösta uttered an oath, leaned forward, and struck Don Juan a heavy blow
with the whip.
“Are you afraid?” he asked. “They mean to cut us off there, where the
Don Juan ran, racing with the wild beasts of the forest, and Tancred
howled in rage and terror. They reached the turn of the road at the same
time as the wolves, and Gösta drove back the foremost with the whip.
“Ah, Don Juan, my boy, how easily you could get away from twelve wolves,
if you did not have us to drag.”
They tied the green plaid behind them. The wolves were afraid of it, and
fell back for a while. But when they had overcome their fright, one of
them ran, panting, with hanging tongue and open mouth up to the sledge.
Then Gösta took Madame de Staël’s “Corinne” and threw it into his mouth.
Once more they had breathing-space for a time, while the brutes tore
their booty to pieces, and then again they felt the dragging as the
wolves seized the green plaid, and heard their panting breath. They knew
that they should not pass any human dwelling before Berga, but worse
than death it seemed to Gösta to see those he had deceived. But he knew
that the horse would tire, and what should become of them then?
They saw the house at Berga at the edge of the forest. Candles burned in
the windows. Gösta knew too well for whose sake.
But now the wolves drew back, fearing the neighborhood of man, and Gösta
drove past Berga. He came no further than to the place where the road
once again buried itself in the wood; there he saw a dark group before
him,—the wolves were waiting for him.
“Let us turn back to the vicarage and say that we took a little pleasure
trip in the starlight. We can’t go on.”
They turned, but in the next moment the sledge was surrounded by wolves.
Gray forms brushed by them, their white teeth glittered in gaping mouths,
and their glowing eyes shone. They howled with hunger and thirst for
blood. The glittering teeth were ready to seize the soft human flesh.
The wolves leaped up on Don Juan, and hung on the saddle-cloth. Anna sat
and wondered if they would eat them entirely up, or if there would be
something left, so that people the next morning would find their mangled
limbs on the trampled, bloody snow.
“It’s a question of our lives,” she said, and leaned down and seized
Tancred by the nape of the neck.
“Don’t,—that will not help! It is not for the dog’s sake the wolves are
Thereupon Gösta drove into the yard at Berga, but the wolves hunted him
up to the very steps. He had to beat them off with the whip.
“Anna,” he said, as they drew up, “God would not have it. Keep a
good countenance; if you are the woman I take you for, keep a good
They had heard the sleigh-bells in the house, and came out.
“He has her!” they cried, “he has her! Long live Gösta Berling!” and the
new-comers were embraced by one after another.
Few questions were asked. The night was far advanced, the travellers were
agitated by their terrible drive and needed rest. It was enough that Anna
All was well. Only “Corinne” and the green plaid, Mamselle Ulrika’s
prized gift, were destroyed.
* * * * *
The whole house slept. But Gösta rose, dressed himself, and stole out.
Unnoticed he led Don Juan out of the stable, harnessed him to the sledge,
and meant to set out. But Anna Stjärnhök came out from the house.
“I heard you go out,” she said. “So I got up, too. I am ready to go with
He went up to her and took her hand.
“Don’t you understand it yet? It cannot be. God does not wish it. Listen
now and try to understand. I was here to dinner and saw their grief over
your faithlessness. I went to Borg to bring you back to Ferdinand. But
I have always been a good-for-nothing, and will never be anything else.
I betrayed him, and kept you for myself. There is an old woman here who
believes that I shall become a man. I betrayed her. And another poor old
thing will freeze and starve here for the sake of dying among friends,
but I was ready to let the wicked Sintram take her home. You were
beautiful, and sin is sweet. It is so easy to tempt Gösta Berling. Oh,
what a miserable wretch I am! I know how they love their home, all those
in there, but I was ready just now to leave it to be pillaged. I forgot
everything for your sake, you were so sweet in your love. But now, Anna,
now since I have seen their joy, I will not keep you; no, I will not. You
could have made a man of me, but I may not keep you. Oh, my beloved! He
there above mocks at our desires. We must bow under His chastising hand.
Tell me that you from this day will take up your burden! All of them rely
upon you. Say that you will stay with them and be their prop and help!
If you love me, if you will lighten my deep sorrow, promise me this! My
beloved, is your heart so great that you can conquer yourself, and smile
in doing it?”
She accepted the renunciation in a sort of ecstasy.
“I shall do as you wish,—sacrifice myself and smile.”
“And not hate my poor friends?”
She smiled sadly.
“As long as I love you, I shall love them.”
“Now for the first time I know what you are. It is hard to leave you.”
“Farewell, Gösta! Go, and God be with you! My love shall not tempt you to
She turned to go in. He followed her.
“Will you soon forget me?”
“Go, Gösta! We are only human.”
He threw himself down in the sledge, but then she came back again.
“Do you not think of the wolves?”
“Just of them I am thinking, but they have done their work. From me they
have nothing more to get this night.”
Once more he stretched his arms towards her, but Don Juan became
impatient and set off. He did not take the reins. He sat backwards and
looked after her. Then he leaned against the seat and wept despairingly.
“I have possessed happiness and driven her from me; I myself drove her
from me. Why did I not keep her?”
Ah, Gösta Berling, strongest and weakest of men!
War-horse! war-horse! Old friend, who now stand tethered in the pasture,
do you remember your youth?
Do you remember the day of the battle? You sprang forward, as if you had
been borne on wings, your mane fluttered about you like waving flames, on
your black haunches shone drops of blood and frothy foam. In harness of
gold you bounded forward; the ground thundered under you. You trembled
with joy. Ah, how beautiful you were!
It is the gray hour of twilight in the pensioners’ wing. In the big room
the pensioners’ red-painted chests stand against the walls, and their
holiday clothes hang on hooks in the corner. The firelight plays on the
whitewashed walls and on the yellow-striped curtains which conceal the
beds. The pensioners’ wing is not a kingly dwelling,—no seraglio with
cushioned divans and soft pillows.
But there Lilliecrona’s violin is heard. He is playing the cachucha in
the dusk of the evening. And he plays it over and over again.
Cut the strings, break his bow! Why does he play that cursed dance? Why
does he play it, when Örneclou, the ensign, is lying sick with the pains
of gout, so severe that he cannot move in his bed? No; snatch the violin
away and throw it against the wall if he will not stop.
La cachucha, is it for us, master? Shall it be danced over the shaking
floor of the pensioners’ wing, between the narrow walls, black with smoke
and greasy with dirt, under that low ceiling? Woe to you, to play so.
La cachucha, is it for us,—for us pensioners? Without the snow-storm
howls. Do you think to teach the snow-flakes to dance in time? Are you
playing for the light-footed children of the storm?
Maiden forms, which tremble with the throbbing of hot blood, small sooty
hands, which have thrown aside the pot to seize the castanets, bare feet
under tucked-up skirts, courts paved with marble slabs, crouching gypsies
with bagpipe and tambourine, Moorish arcades, moonlight, and black
eyes,—have you these, master? If not, let the violin rest.
The pensioners are drying their wet clothes by the fire. Shall they swing
in high boots with iron-shod heels and inch-thick soles? Through snow
yards deep they have waded the whole day to reach the bear’s lair. Do you
think they will dance in wet, reeking homespun clothes, with shaggy bruin
as a partner?
An evening sky glittering with stars, red roses in dark hair, troublous
tenderness in the air, untutored grace in their movements, love rising
from the ground, raining from the sky, floating in the air,—have you all
that, master? If not, why do you force us to long for such things?
Most cruel of men, are you summoning the tethered war-horse to the
combat? Rutger von Örneclou is lying in his bed, a prisoner to the gout.
Spare him the pain of tender memories, master! He too has worn sombrero
and bright-colored hair-net; he too has owned velvet jacket and belted
poniard. Spare old Örneclou, master!
But Lilliecrona plays the cachucha, always the cachucha, and Örneclou
is tortured like the lover when he sees the swallow fly away to his
beloved’s distant dwelling, like the hart when he is driven by the
hurrying chase past the cooling spring.
Lilliecrona takes the violin for a second from his chin.
“Ensign, do you remember Rosalie von Berger?”
Örneclou swears a solemn oath.
“She was light as a candle-flame. She sparkled and danced like the
diamond in the end of the fiddle-bow. You must remember her in the
theatre at Karlstad. We saw her when we were young; do you remember?”
And the ensign remembered. She was small and ardent. She was like a
sparkling flame. She could dance la cachucha. She taught all the young
men in Karlstad to dance cachucha and to play the castanets. At the
governor’s ball a _pas de deux_ was danced by the ensign and Mlle. von
Berger, dressed as Spaniards.
And he had danced as one dances under fig-trees and magnolias, like a
Spaniard,—a real Spaniard.
No one in the whole of Värmland could dance cachucha like him. No one
could dance it so that it was worth speaking of it, but he.
What a cavalier Värmland lost when the gout stiffened his legs and great
lumps grew out on his joints! What a cavalier he had been, so slender,
so handsome, so courtly! “The handsome Örneclou” he was called by those
young girls, who were ready to come to blows over a dance with him.
Then Lilliecrona begins the cachucha again, always the cachucha, and
Örneclou is taken back to old times.
There he stands, and there she stands, Rosalie von Berger. Just now they
were alone in the dressing-room. She was a Spaniard, he too. He was
allowed to kiss her, but carefully, for she was afraid of his blackened
moustache. Now they dance. Ah, as one dances under fig-trees and
magnolias! She draws away, he follows; he is bold, she proud; he wounded,
she conciliatory. When he at the end falls on his knees and receives her
in his outstretched arms, a sigh goes through the ball-room, a sigh of
He had been like a Spaniard, a real Spaniard.
Just at that stroke had he bent so, stretched his arms so, and put out
his foot to glide forward. What grace! He might have been hewn in marble.
He does not know how it happened, but he has got his foot over the edge
of the bed, he stands upright, he bends, he raises his arms, snaps his
fingers, and wishes to glide forward over the floor in the same way as
long ago, when he wore so tight patent leather shoes the stocking feet
had to be cut away.
“Bravo, Örneclou! Bravo, Lilliecrona, play life into him!”
His foot gives way; he cannot rise on his toe. He kicks a couple of times
with one leg; he can do no more, he falls back on the bed.
Handsome señor, you have grown old.
Perhaps the señorita has too.
It is only under the plane-trees of Granada that the cachucha is danced
by eternally young gitanas. Eternally young, because, like the roses,
each spring brings new ones.
So now the time has come to cut the strings.
No, play on, Lilliecrona, play the cachucha, always the cachucha!
Teach us that, although we have got slow bodies and stiff joints, in our
feelings we are always the same, always Spaniards.
Say that you love the trumpet-blast, which decoys you into a gallop, even
if you also cut your foot to the bone on the steel-link of the tether.
Ah, women of the olden times!
To speak of you is to speak of the kingdom of heaven; you were all
beauties, ever bright, ever young, ever lovely and gentle as a mother’s
eyes when she looks down on her child. Soft as young squirrels you hung
on your husband’s neck. Your voice never trembled with anger, no frowns
ruffled your brow, your white hand was never harsh and hard. You, sweet
saints, like adored images stood in the temple of home. Incense and
prayers were offered you, through you love worked its wonders, and round
your temples poetry wreathed its gold, gleaming glory.
Ah, women of the past, this is the story of how one of you gave Gösta
Berling her love.
Two weeks after the ball at Borg there was one at Ekeby.
What a feast it was! Old men and women become young again, smile and
rejoice, only in speaking of it.
The pensioners were masters at Ekeby at that time. The major’s wife went
about the country with beggar’s wallet and crutch, and the major lived at
Sjö. He could not even be present at the ball, for at Sjö small-pox had
broken out, and he was afraid to spread the infection.
What pleasures those twelve hours contained, from the pop of the first
cork at the dinner-table to the last wail of the violins, long after
They have sunk into the background of time, those crowned hours, made
magical by the most fiery wines, by the most delicate food, by the most
inspiring music, by the wittiest of theatricals, by the most beautiful
tableaux. They have sunk away, dizzy with the dizziest dance. Where are
to be found such polished floors, such courtly knights, such lovely women?
Ah, women of the olden days, you knew well how to adorn a ball. Streams
of fire, of genius, and youthful vigor thrilled each and all who
approached you. It was worth wasting one’s gold on wax-candles to light
up your loveliness, on wine to instil gayety into your hearts; it was
worth dancing soles to dust and rubbing stiff arms which had drawn the
fiddle-bow, for your sakes.
Ah, women of the olden days, it was you who owned the key to the door of
The halls of Ekeby are crowded with the loveliest of your lovely throng.
There is the young Countess Dohna, sparklingly gay and eager for game and
dance, as befits her twenty years; there are the lovely daughters of the
judge of Munkerud, and the lively young ladies from Berga; there is Anna
Stjärnhök, a thousand times more beautiful than ever before, with that
gentle dreaminess which had come over her ever since the night she had
been hunted by wolves; there are many more, who are not yet forgotten but
soon will be; and there is the beautiful Marianne Sinclair.
She, the famed queen of beauty, who had shone at royal courts, who had
travelled the land over and received homage everywhere, she who lighted
the spark of love wherever she showed herself,—she had deigned to come to
the pensioners’ ball.
At that time Värmland’s glory was at its height, borne up by many proud
names. Much had the beautiful land’s happy children to be proud of, but
when they named their glories they never neglected to speak of Marianne
The tales of her conquests filled the land.
They spoke of the coronets which had floated over her head, of the
millions which had been laid at her feet, of the warriors’ swords and
poets’ wreaths whose splendor had tempted her.
And she possessed not only beauty. She was witty and learned. The
cleverest men of the day were glad to talk with her. She was not an
author herself, but many of her ideas, which she had put into the souls
of her poet-friends, lived again in song.
In Värmland, in the land of the bear, she seldom stayed. Her life was
spent in perpetual journeyings. Her father, the rich Melchior Sinclair,
remained at home at Björne and let Marianne go to her noble friends in
the large towns or at the great country-seats. He had his pleasure in
telling of all the money she wasted, and both the old people lived happy
in the splendor of Marianne’s glowing existence.
Her life was a life of pleasures and homage. The air about her was
love—love her light and lamp, love her daily bread.
She, too, had often loved, often, often; but never had that fire lasted
long enough to forge the chains which bind for life.
“I wait for him, the irresistible,” she used to say of love. “Hitherto he
has not climbed over several ramparts, nor swum through several trenches.
He has come tamely, without wildness in his eye and madness in his heart.
I wait for the conqueror, who shall take me out of myself. I will feel
love so strong within me that I must tremble before him; now I know only
the love at which my good sense laughs.”
Her presence gave fire to talk, life to the wine. Her glowing spirit
set the fiddle-bows going, and the dance floated in sweeter giddiness
than before over the floor which she had touched with her feet. She was
radiant in the tableaux, she gave genius to the comedy, her lovely lips—
Ah, hush, it was not her fault, she never meant to do it! It was the
balcony, it was the moonlight, the lace veil, the knightly dress, the
song, which were to blame. The poor young creatures were innocent.
All that which led to so much unhappiness was with the best intentions.
Master Julius, who could do anything, had arranged a tableau especially
that Marianne might shine in full glory.
In the theatre, which was set up in the great drawing-room at Ekeby,
sat the hundred guests and looked at the picture, Spain’s yellow moon
wandering through a dark night sky. A Don Juan came stealing along
Sevilla’s street and stopped under an ivy-clad balcony. He was disguised
as a monk, but one could see an embroidered cuff under the sleeve, and a
gleaming sword-point under the mantle’s hem.
He raised his voice in song:—
“I kiss the lips of no fair maid,
Nor wet mine with the foaming wine
Within the beaker’s gold.
A cheek upon whose rose-leaf shade
Mine eyes have lit a glow divine,
A look which shyly seeketh mine,—
These leave me still and cold.
“Ah, come not in thy beauty’s glow,
Señora, through yon terrace-door;
I fear when thou art nigh!
Cope and stole my shoulders know,
The Virgin only I adore,
And water-jugs hold comfort’s store;
For ease to them I fly.”
As he finished, Marianne came out on the balcony, dressed in black
velvet and lace veil. She leaned over the balustrade and sang slowly and
“Why tarry thus, thou holy man
Beneath my window late or long?
Dost pray for my soul’s weal?”
Then suddenly, warmly and eagerly:—
“Ah, flee, begone while yet you can!
Your gleaming sword sticks forth so long.
And plainly, spite your holy song,
The spurs clank on your heel.”
At these words the monk cast off his disguise, and Gösta Berling stood
under the balcony in a knight’s dress of silk and gold. He heeded not
the beauty’s warning, but climbed up one of the balcony supports, swung
himself over the balustrade, and, just as Master Julius had arranged it,
fell on his knees at the lovely Marianne’s feet.
Graciously she smiled on him, and gave him her hand to kiss, and while
the two young people gazed at one another, absorbed in their love, the
And before her knelt Gösta Berling, with a face tender as a poet’s and
bold as a soldier’s, with deep eyes, which glowed with wit and genius,
which implored and constrained. Supple and full of strength was he, fiery
While the curtain went up and down, the two stood always in the same
position. Gösta’s eyes held the lovely Marianne fast; they implored; they
Then the applause ceased; the curtain hung quiet; no one saw them.
Then the beautiful Marianne bent down and kissed Gösta Berling. She did
not know why,—she had to. He stretched up his arms about her head and
held her fast. She kissed him again and again.
But it was the balcony, it was the moonlight, it was the lace veil, the
knightly dress, the song, the applause, which were to blame. They had not
wished it. She had not thrust aside the crowns which had hovered over her
head, and spurned the millions which lay at her feet, out of love for
Gösta Berling; nor had he already forgotten Anna Stjärnhök. No; they were
blameless; neither of them had wished it.
It was the gentle Löwenborg,—he with the fear in his eye and the smile
on his lips,—who that day was curtain-raiser. Distracted by the memory
of many sorrows, he noticed little of the things of this world, and had
never learned to look after them rightly. When he now saw that Gösta and
Marianne had taken a new position, he thought that it also belonged to
the tableau, and so he began to drag on the curtain string.
The two on the balcony observed nothing until a thunder of applause
Marianne started back and wished to flee, but Gösta held her fast,
“Stand still; they think it belongs to the tableau.”
He felt how her body shook with shuddering, and how the fire of her
kisses died out on her lips.
“Do not be afraid,” he whispered; “lovely lips have a right to kiss.”
They had to stand while the curtain went up and went down, and each time
the hundreds of eyes saw them, hundreds of hands thundered out a stormy
For it was beautiful to see two fair young people represent love’s
happiness. No one could think that those kisses were anything but stage
delusion. No one guessed that the señora shook with embarrassment and the
knight with uneasiness. No one could think that it did not all belong to
At last Marianne and Gösta stood behind the scenes.
She pushed her hair back from her forehead.
“I don’t understand myself,” she said.
“Fie! for shame, Miss Marianne,” said he, grimacing, and stretched out
his hands. “To kiss Gösta Berling; shame on you!”
Marianne had to laugh.
“Everyone knows that Gösta Berling is irresistible. My fault is no
greater than others’.”
And they agreed to put a good face on it, so that no one should suspect
“Can I be sure that the truth will never come out, _Herr_ Gösta?” she
asked, before they went out among the guests.
“That you can. Gentlemen can hold their tongues. I promise you that.”
She dropped her eyes. A strange smile curved her lips.
“If the truth should come out, what would people think of me, Herr Gösta?”
“They would not think anything. They would know that it meant nothing.
They would think that we entered into our parts and were going on with
Yet another question, with lowered lids and with the same forced smile,—
“But you yourself? What do you think about it, Herr Gösta?”
“I think that you are in love with me,” he jested.
“Think no such thing,” she smiled, “for then I must run you through with
my stiletto to show you that you are wrong.”
“Women’s kisses are precious,” said Gösta. “Does it cost one’s life to be
kissed by Marianne Sinclair?”
A glance flashed on him from Marianne’s eyes, so sharp that it felt like
“I could wish to see you dead, Gösta Berling! dead! dead!”
These words revived the old longing in the poet’s blood.
“Ah,” he said, “would that those words were more than words!—that they
were arrows which came whistling from some dark ambush; that they were
daggers or poison, and had the power to destroy this wretched body and
set my soul free!”
She was calm and smiling now.
“Childishness!” she said, and took his arm to join the guests.
They kept their costumes, and their triumphs were renewed when they
showed themselves in front of the scenes. Every one complimented them. No
one suspected anything.
The ball began again, but Gösta escaped from the ball-room.
His heart ached from Marianne’s glance, as if it had been wounded by
sharp steel. He understood too well the meaning of her words.
It was a disgrace to love him; it was a disgrace to be loved by him, a
shame worse than death.
He would never dance again. He wished never to see them again, those
He knew it too well. Those beautiful eyes, those red cheeks burned not
for him. Not for him floated those light feet, nor rung that low laugh.
Yes, dance with him, flirt with him, that they could do, but not one of
them would be his in earnest.
The poet went into the smoking-room to the old men, and sat down by one
of the card-tables. He happened to throw himself down by the same table
where the powerful master of Björne sat and played “baccarat” holding the
bank with a great pile of silver in front of him.
The play was already high. Gösta gave it an even greater impulse. Green
bank-notes appeared, and always the pile of money grew in front of the
powerful Melchior Sinclair.
But before Gösta also gathered both coins and notes, and soon he was the
only one who held out in the struggle against the great land-owner at
Björne. Soon the great pile of money changed over from Melchior Sinclair
to Gösta Berling.
“Gösta, my boy,” cried the land-owner, laughing, when he had played away
everything he had in his pocket-book and purse, “what shall we do now?
I am bankrupt, and I never play with borrowed money. I promised my wife
He discovered a way. He played away his watch and his beaver coat, and
was just going to stake his horse and sledge when Sintram checked him.
“Stake something to win on,” he advised him. “Stake something to turn the
“What the devil have I got?”
“Play your reddest heart’s blood, brother Melchior. Stake your daughter!”
“You would never venture that,” said Gösta, laughing. “That prize I would
never get under my roof.”
Melchior could not help laughing also. He could not endure that
Marianne’s name should be mentioned at the card-tables, but this was so
insanely ridiculous that he could not be angry. To play away Marianne to
Gösta, yes, that he certainly could venture.
“That is to say,” he explained, “that if you can win her consent, Gösta,
I will stake my blessing to the marriage on this card.”
Gösta staked all his winnings and the play began. He won, and Sinclair
stopped playing. He could not fight against such bad luck; he saw that.
The night slipped by; it was past midnight. The lovely women’s cheeks
began to grow pale; curls hung straight, ruffles were crumpled. The old
ladies rose up from the sofa-corners and said that as they had been
there twelve hours, it was about time for them to be thinking of home.
And the beautiful ball should be over, but then Lilliecrona himself
seized the fiddle and struck up the last polka. The horses stood at the
door; the old ladies were dressed in their cloaks and shawls; the old men
wound their plaids about them and buckled their galoshes.
But the young people could not tear themselves from the dance. They
danced in their out-door wraps, and a mad dance it was. As soon as a girl
stopped dancing with one partner, another came and dragged her away with
And even the sorrowful Gösta was dragged into the whirl. He hoped to
dance away grief and humiliation; he wished to have the love of life in
his blood again; he longed to be gay, he as well as the others. And he
danced till the walls went round, and he no longer knew what he was doing.
Who was it he had got hold of in the crowd? She was light and supple, and
he felt that streams of fire went from one to the other. Ah, Marianne!
While Gösta danced with Marianne, Sintram sat in his sledge before the
door, and beside him stood Melchior Sinclair.
The great land-owner was impatient at being forced to wait for Marianne.
He stamped in the snow with his great snow-boots and beat with his arms,
for it was bitter cold.
“Perhaps you ought not to have played Marianne away to Gösta,” said
“What do you mean?”
Sintram arranged his reins and lifted his whip, before he answered:—
“It did not belong to the tableau, that kissing.”
The powerful land-owner raised his arm for a death-blow, but Sintram was
already gone. He drove away, whipping the horse to a wild gallop without
daring to look back, for Melchior Sinclair had a heavy hand and short
He went now into the dancing-room to look for his daughter, and saw how
Gösta and Marianne were dancing.
Wild and giddy was that last polka.
Some of the couples were pale, others glowing red, dust lay like smoke
over the hall, the wax-candles gleamed, burned down to the sockets, and
in the midst of all the ghostly ruin, they flew on, Gösta and Marianne,
royal in their tireless strength, no blemish on their beauty, happy in
the glorious motion.
Melchior Sinclair watched them for a while; but then he went and left
Marianne to dance. He slammed the door, tramped down the stairs, and
placed himself in the sledge, where his wife already waited, and drove
When Marianne stopped dancing and asked after her parents, they were gone.
When she was certain of this she showed no surprise. She dressed herself
quietly and went out in the yard. The ladies in the dressing-room thought
that she drove in her own sledge.
She hurried in her thin satin shoes along the road without telling any
one of her distress.
In the darkness no one recognized her, as she went by the edge of the
road; no one could think that this late wanderer, who was driven up into
the high drifts by the passing sledges, was the beautiful Marianne.
When she could go in the middle of the road she began to run. She ran as
long as she was able, then walked for a while, then ran again. A hideous,
torturing fear drove her on.
From Ekeby to Björne it cannot be farther than at most two miles.
Marianne was soon at home, but she thought almost that she had come the
wrong way. When she reached the house all the doors were closed, all the
lights out; she wondered if her parents had not come home.
She went forward and twice knocked loudly on the front door. She seized
the door-handle and shook it till the noise resounded through the whole
house. No one came and opened, but when she let the iron go, which she
had grasped with her bare hands, the fast-frozen skin was torn from them.
Melchior Sinclair had driven home in order to shut his door on his only
He was drunk with much drinking, wild with rage. He hated his daughter,
because she liked Gösta Berling. He had shut the servants into the
kitchen, and his wife in the bedroom. With solemn oaths he told them that
the one who let Marianne in, he would beat to a jelly. And they knew that
he would keep his word.
No one had ever seen him so angry. Such a grief had never come to him
before. Had his daughter come into his presence, he would perhaps have
Golden ornaments, silken dresses had he given her, wit and learning had
been instilled in her. She had been his pride, his glory. He had been
as proud of her as if she had worn a crown. Oh, his queen, his goddess,
his honored, beautiful, proud Marianne! Had he ever denied her anything?
Had he not always considered himself too common to be her father? Oh,
Ought he not to hate her, when she is in love with Gösta Berling and
kisses him? Should he not cast her out, shut his door against her, when
she will disgrace her greatness by loving such a man? Let her stay at
Ekeby, let her run to the neighbors for shelter, let her sleep in the
snow-drifts; it’s all the same, she has already been dragged in the dirt,
the lovely Marianne. The bloom is gone. The lustre of her life is gone.
He lies there in his bed, and hears how she beats on the door. What does
that matter to him? He is asleep. Outside stands one who will marry a
dismissed priest; he has no home for such a one. If he had loved her
less, if he had been less proud of her, he could have let her come in.
Yes, his blessing he could not refuse them. He had played it away. But to
open the door for her, that he would not do. Ah, Marianne!
The beautiful young woman still stood outside the door of her home. One
minute she shook the lock in powerless rage, the next she fell on her
knees, clasped her mangled hands, and begged for forgiveness.
But no one heard her, no one answered, no one opened to her.
Oh! was it not terrible? I am filled with horror as I tell of it. She
came from a ball whose queen she had been! She had been proud, rich,
happy; and in one minute she was cast into such an endless misery. Shut
out from her home, exposed to the cold,—not scorned, not beaten, not
cursed, but shut out with cold, immovable lovelessness.
Think of the cold, starlit night, which spread its arch above her, the
great wide night with the empty, desolate snow-fields, with the silent
woods. Everything slept, everything was sunk in painless sleep; only one
living point in all that sleeping whiteness. All sorrow and pain and
horror, which otherwise had been spread over the world, crept forward
towards that one lonely point. O God, to suffer alone in the midst of
this sleeping, ice-bound world!
For the first time in her life she met with unmercifulness and hardness.
Her mother would not take the trouble to leave her bed to save her. The
old servants, who had guided her first steps, heard her and did not move
a finger for her sake. For what crime was she punished?
Where should she find compassion, if not at this door? If she had been a
murderess, she would still have knocked on it, knowing that they would
forgive her. If she had sunk to being the most miserable of creatures,
come wasted and in rags, she would still confidently have gone up to that
door, and expected a loving welcome. That door was the entrance to her
home; behind it she could only meet with love.
Had not her father tried her enough? Would they not soon open to her?
“Father, father!” she called. “Let me come in! I freeze, I tremble. It is
terrible out here!”
“Mother, mother! You who have gone so many steps to serve me, you who
have watched so many nights over me, why do you sleep now? Mother,
mother, wake just this one night, and I will never give you pain again!”
She calls, and falls into breathless silence to listen for an answer. But
no one heard her, no one obeyed her, no one answered.
Then she wrings her hands in despair, but there are no tears in her eyes.
The long, dark house with its closed doors and darkened windows lay awful
and motionless in the night. What would become of her, who was homeless?
Branded and dishonored was she, as long as she encumbered the earth. And
her father himself pressed the red-hot iron deeper into her shoulders.
“Father,” she called once more, “what will become of me? People will
believe the worst of me.”
She wept and suffered; her body was stiff with cold.
Alas, that such misery can reach one, who but lately stood so high! It
is so easy to be plunged into the deepest suffering! Should we not fear
life? Who sails in a safe craft? Round about us swell sorrows like a
heaving ocean; see how the hungry waves lick the ship’s sides, see how
they rage up over her. Ah, no safe anchorage, no solid ground, no steady
ship, as far as the eye can see; only an unknown sky over an ocean of
But hush! At last, at last! A light step comes through the hall.
“Is it mother?” asked Marianne.
“Yes, my child.”
“May I come in now?”
“Father will not let you come in.”
“I have run in the snow-drifts in my thin shoes all the way from Ekeby.
I have stood here an hour and knocked and called. I am freezing to death
out here. Why did you drive away and leave me?”
“My child, my child, why did you kiss Gösta Berling?”
“But father must have seen that I do not like him for that. It was in
fun. Does he think that I will marry Gösta?”
“Go to the gardener’s house, Marianne, and beg that you pass the night
there. Your father is drunk. He will not listen to reason. He has kept me
a prisoner up there. I crept out when I thought he was asleep. He will
kill me, if you come in.”
“Mother, mother, shall I go to strangers when I have a home? Are you as
hard as father? How can you allow me to be shut out? I will lay myself in
the drift out here, if you do not let me in.”
Then Marianne’s mother laid her hand on the lock to open the door, but at
the same moment a heavy step was heard on the stair, and a harsh voice
Marianne listened: her mother hurried away, the harsh voice cursed her
Marianne heard something terrible,—she could hear every sound in the
She heard the thud of a blow, a blow with a stick or a box on the ear;
then she heard a faint noise, and then again a blow.
He struck her mother, the terrible brutal Melchior Sinclair struck his
And in pale horror Marianne threw herself down on the threshold and
writhed in anguish. Now she wept, and her tears froze to ice on the
threshold of her home.
Grace! pity! Open, open, that she might bend her own back under the
blows! Oh, that he could strike her mother, strike her, because she did
not wish to see her daughter the next day lying dead in the snow-drift,
because she had wished to comfort her child!
Great humiliation had come to Marianne that night. She had fancied
herself a queen, and she lay there little better than a whipped slave.
But she rose up in cold rage. Once more she struck the door with her
bloody hand and called:—
“Hear what I say to you,—you, who beat my mother. You shall weep for
this, Melchior Sinclair, weep!”
Then she went and laid herself to rest in the snow-drift. She threw off
her cloak and lay in her black velvet dress, easily distinguishable
against the white snow. She lay and thought how her father would come out
the next day on his early morning tour of inspection and find her there.
She only hoped that he himself might find her.
* * * * *
O Death, pale friend, is it as true as it is consoling, that I never can
escape meeting you? Even to me, the lowliest of earth’s workers, will
you come, to loosen the torn leather shoes from my feet, to take the
spade and the barrow from my hand, to take the working-dress from my
body. With gentle force you lay me out on a lace-trimmed bed; you adorn
me with draped linen sheets. My feet need no more shoes, my hands are
clad in snow-white gloves, which no more work shall soil. Consecrated by
thee to the sweetness of rest, I shall sleep a sleep of a thousand years.
Oh deliverer! The lowliest of earth’s laborers am I, and I dream with a
thrill of pleasure of the hour when I shall be received into your kingdom.
Pale friend, on me you can easily try your strength, but I tell you
that the fight was harder against those women of the olden days. Life’s
strength was mighty in their slender bodies, no cold could cool their
hot blood. You had laid Marianne on your bed, O Death, and you sat
by her side, as an old nurse sits by the cradle to lull the child to
sleep. You faithful old nurse, who know what is good for the children
of men, how angry you must be when playmates come, who with noise and
romping wake your sleeping child. How vexed you must have been when the
pensioners lifted the lovely Marianne out of the bed, when a man laid her
against his breast, and warm tears fell from his eyes on to her face.
* * * * *
At Ekeby all lights were out, and all the guests had gone. The pensioners
stood alone in the bachelors’ wing, about the last half-emptied punch
Then Gösta rung on the edge of the bowl and made a speech for you, women
of the olden days. To speak of you, he said, was to speak of the kingdom
of heaven: you were all beauties, ever bright, ever young, ever lovely
and gentle as a mother’s eyes when she looks down on her child. Soft
as young squirrels you hung on your husband’s neck, your voice never
trembled with anger, no frowns ruffled your brow, your white hands were
never harsh and hard. Sweet saints, you were adored images in the temple
of home. Men lay at your feet, offering you incense and prayers. Through
you love worked its wonders, and round your temples poetry wreathed its
gold, gleaming glory.
And the pensioners sprang up, wild with wine, wild with his words, with
their blood raging. Old Eberhard and the lazy Christopher drew back
from the sport. In the wildest haste the pensioners harnessed horses to
sledges and hurried out in the cold night to pay homage to those who
never could be honored enough, to sing a serenade to each and all of
them who possessed the rosy cheeks and bright eyes which had just lighted
up Ekeby halls.
But the pensioners did not go far on their happy way, for when they came
to Björne, they found Marianne lying in the snow-drift, just by the door
of her home.
They trembled and raged to see her there. It was like finding a
worshipped saint lying mangled and stripped outside the church-door.
Gösta shook his clenched hand at the dark house. “You children of hate,”
he cried, “you hail-storms, you ravagers of God’s pleasure-house!”
Beerencreutz lighted his horn lantern and let it shine down on the livid
face. Then the pensioners saw Marianne’s mangled hands, and the tears
which had frozen to ice on her eyelashes, and they wailed like women, for
she was not merely a saintly image, but a beautiful woman, who had been a
joy to their old hearts.
Gösta Berling threw himself on his knees beside her.
“She is lying here, my bride,” he said. “She gave me the betrothal kiss a
few hours ago, and her father has promised me his blessing. She lies and
waits for me to come and share her white bed.”
And Gösta lifted up the lifeless form in his strong arms.
“Home to Ekeby with her!” he cried. “Now she is mine. In the snow-drift
I have found her; no one shall take her from me. We will not wake them
in there. What has she to do behind those doors, against which she has
beaten her hand into blood?”
He was allowed to do as he wished. He laid Marianne in the foremost
sledge and sat down at her side. Beerencreutz sat behind and took the
“Take snow and rub her, Gösta!” he commanded.
The cold had paralyzed her limbs, nothing more. The wildly agitated heart
still beat. She had not even lost consciousness; she knew all about the
pensioners, and how they had found her, but she could not move. So she
lay stiff and stark in the sledge, while Gösta Berling rubbed her with
snow and alternately wept and kissed, and she felt an infinite longing to
be able only to lift a hand, that she might give a caress in return.
She remembered everything. She lay there stiff and motionless and thought
more clearly than ever before. Was she in love with Gösta Berling? Yes,
she was. Was it merely a whim of the moment? No, it had been for many
years. She compared herself with him and the other people in Värmland.
They were all just like children. They followed whatever impulse came
to them. They only lived the outer life, had never looked deep into
their souls. But she had become what one grows to be by living in the
world; she could never really lose herself in anything. If she loved,
yes, whatever she did, one half of her stood and looked on with a cold
scorn. She had longed for a passion which should carry her away in wild
heedlessness, and now it had come. When she kissed Gösta Berling on the
balcony, for the first time she had forgotten herself.
And now the passion came over her again, her heart throbbed so that she
heard it beat. Should she not soon be mistress of her limbs? She felt a
wild joy that she had been thrust out from her home. Now she could be
Gösta’s without hesitation. How stupid she had been, to have subdued her
love so many years. Ah, it is so sweet to yield to love. But shall she
never, never be free from these icy chains? She has been ice within and
fire on the surface; now it is the opposite, a soul of fire in a body of
Then Gösta feels how two arms gently are raised about his neck in a weak,
He could only just feel them, but Marianne thought that she gave
expression to the suppressed passion in her by a suffocating embrace.
But when Beerencreutz saw it he let the horse go as it would along the
familiar road. He raised his eyes and looked obstinately and unceasingly
at the Pleiades.
If it should happen to you that you are sitting or lying and reading this
at night, as I am writing it during the silent hours, then do not draw a
sigh of relief here and think that the good pensioners were allowed to
have an undisturbed sleep, after they had come back with Marianne and
made her a good bed in the best guest-room beyond the big drawing-room.
They went to bed, and went to sleep, but it was not their lot to sleep in
peace and quiet till noon, as you and I, dear reader, might have done,
if we had been awake till four in the morning and our limbs ached with
It must not be forgotten that the old major’s wife went about the country
with beggar’s wallet and stick, and that it never was her way, when she
had anything to do, to think of a poor tired sinner’s convenience. And
now she would do it even less, as she had decided to drive the pensioners
that very night from Ekeby.
Gone was the day when she sat in splendor and magnificence at Ekeby and
sowed happiness over the earth, as God sows stars over the skies. And
while she wandered homeless about the land, the authority and honor of
the great estate was left in the pensioners’ hands to be guarded by
them, as the wind guards ashes, as the spring sun guards the snow-drift.
It sometimes happened that the pensioners drove out, six or eight of
them, in a long sledge drawn by four horses, with chiming bells and
braided reins. If they met the major’s wife, as she went as a beggar,
they did not turn away their heads.
Clenched fists were stretched against her. By a violent swing of the
sledge, she was forced up into the drifts by the roadside, and Major
Fuchs, the bear-killer, always took pains to spit three times to take
away the evil effect of meeting the old woman.
They had no pity on her. She was as odious as a witch to them as she went
along the road. If any mishap had befallen her, they would no more have
grieved than he who shoots off his gun on Easter Eve, loaded with brass
hooks, grieves that he has hit a witch flying by.
It was to secure their salvation that these unhappy pensioners persecuted
the major’s wife. People have often been cruel and tortured one another
with the greatest hardness, when they have trembled for their souls.
When the pensioners late at night reeled from the drinking-tables to the
window to see if the night was calm and clear, they often noticed a dark
shadow, which glided over the grass, and knew that the major’s wife had
come to see her beloved home; then the bachelors’ wing rang with the
pensioners’ scornful laughter, and gibes flew from the open windows down
Verily, lovelessness and arrogance began to take possession of the
penniless adventurers’ hearts. Sintram had planted hate. Their souls
could not have been in greater danger if the major’s wife had remained
at Ekeby. More die in flight than in battle.
The major’s wife cherished no great anger against the pensioners.
If she had had the power, she would have whipped them like naughty boys
and then granted them her grace and favor again.
But now she feared for her beloved lands, which were in the pensioners’
hands to be guarded by them, as wolves guard the sheep, as crows guard
the spring grain.
There are many who have suffered the same sorrow. She is not the only one
who has seen ruin come to a beloved home and well-kept fields fall into
decay. They have seen their childhood’s home look at them like a wounded
animal. Many feel like culprits when they see the trees there wither
away, and the paths covered with tufts of grass. They wish to throw
themselves on their knees in those fields, which once boasted of rich
harvests, and beg them not to blame them for the disgrace which befalls
them. And they turn away from the poor old horses; they have not courage
to meet their glance. And they dare not stand by the gate and see the
cattle come home from pasture. There is no spot on earth so sad to visit
as an old home in ruin.
When I think what that proud Ekeby must have suffered under the
pensioners’ rule, I wish that the plan of the major’s wife had been
fulfilled, and that Ekeby had been taken from them.
It was not her thought to take back her dominion again.
She had only one object,—to rid her home of these madmen, these locusts,
these wild brigands, in whose path no grass grew.
While she went begging about the land and lived on alms, she continually
thought of her mother; and the thought bit deep into her heart, that
there could be no bettering for her till her mother lifted the curse from
No one had ever mentioned the old woman’s death, so she must be still
living up there by the iron-works in the forest. Ninety years old, she
still lived in unceasing labor, watching over her milk-pans in the
summer, her charcoal-kilns in the winter, working till death, longing for
the day when she would have completed her life’s duties.
And the major’s wife thought that her mother had lived so long in order
to be able to lift the curse from her life. That mother could not die who
had called down such misery on her child.
So the major’s wife wanted to go to the old woman, that they might both
get rest. She wished to struggle up through the dark woods by the long
river to the home of her childhood.
Till then she could not rest. There were many who offered her a warm home
and all the comforts of a faithful friendship, but she would not stop
anywhere. Grim and fierce, she went from house to house, for she was
weighed down by the curse.
She was going to struggle up to her mother, but first she wanted to
provide for her beloved home. She would not go and leave it in the hands
of light-minded spendthrifts, of worthless drunkards, of good-for-nothing
dispersers of God’s gifts.
Should she go to find on her return her inheritance gone to waste, her
hammers silent, her horses starving, her servants scattered? Ah, no, once
more she will rise in her might and drive out the pensioners.
She well understood that her husband saw with joy how her inheritance
was squandered. But she knew him enough to understand, also, that if she
drove away his devouring locusts, he would be too lazy to get new ones.
Were the pensioners removed, then her old bailiff and overseer could
carry on the work at Ekeby in the old grooves.
And so, many nights her dark shadow had glided along the black lanes. She
had stolen in and out of the cottagers’ houses, she had whispered with
the miller and the mill-hands in the lower floor of the great mill, she
had conferred with the smith in the dark coal-house.
And they had all sworn to help her. The honor of the great estate should
no longer be left in the hands of careless pensioners, to be guarded as
the wind guards the ashes, as the wolf guards the flock of sheep.
And this night, when the merry gentlemen had danced, played, and drunk
until they had sunk down on their beds in a dead sleep, this very night
they must go. She has let them have their good time. She has sat in the
smithy and awaited the end of the ball. She has waited still longer,
until the pensioners should return from their nocturnal drive. She has
sat in silent waiting, until the message was brought her that the last
light was out in the bachelors’ wing and that the great house slept. Then
she rose and went out.
The major’s wife ordered that all the workmen on the estate should be
gathered together up by the bachelors’ wing; she herself went to the
house. There she went to the main building, knocked, and was let in. The
young daughter of the minister at Broby, whom she had trained to be a
capable maid-servant, was there to meet her.
“You are so welcome, madame,” said the maid, and kissed her hand.
“Put out the light!” said the major’s wife. “Do you think I cannot find
my way without a candle?”
And then she began a wandering through the silent house. She went from
the cellar to the attic, and said farewell. With stealthy step they went
from room to room.
The major’s wife was filled with old memories. The maid neither sighed
nor sobbed, but tear after tear flowed unchecked from her eyes, while she
followed her mistress. The major’s wife had her open the linen-closet
and silver-chest, and passed her hand over the fine damask table-cloths
and the magnificent silver service. She felt caressingly the mighty pile
of pillows in the store-closet. She touched all the implements, the
looms, the spinning-wheels, and winding-bobbins. She thrust her hand into
the spice-box, and felt the rows of tallow candles which hung from the
“The candles are dry,” she said. “They can be taken down and put away.”
She was down in the cellar, carefully lifted the beer-casks, and groped
over the rows of wine bottles.
She went into the pantry and kitchen; she felt everything, examined
everything. She stretched out her hand and said farewell to everything in
Last she went through the rooms. She found the long broad sofas in their
places; she laid her hand on the cool slabs of the marble tables, and on
the mirrors with their frames of gilded dancing nymphs.
“This is a rich house,” she said. “A noble man was he who gave me all
this for my own.”
In the great drawing-room, where the dance had lately whirled, the
stiff-backed arm-chairs already stood in prim order against the walls.
She went over to the piano, and very gently struck a chord.
“Joy and gladness were no strangers here in my time, either,” she said.
She went also to the guest-room beyond. It was pitch-dark. The major’s
wife groped with her hands and came against the maid’s face.
“Are you weeping?” she said, for she felt her hands were wet with tears.
Then the young girl burst out sobbing.
“Madame,” she cried, “madame, they will destroy everything. Why do you
leave us and let the pensioners ruin your house?”
The major’s wife drew back the curtain and pointed out into the yard.
“Is it I who have taught you to weep and lament?” she cried. “Look out!
the place is full of people; to-morrow there will not be one pensioner
left at Ekeby.”
“Are you coming back?” asked the maid.
“My time has not yet come,” said the major’s wife. “The highway is my
home, and the hay-stack my bed. But you shall watch over Ekeby for me,
child, while I am away.”
And they went on. Neither of them knew or thought that Marianne slept
in that very room. But she did not sleep. She was wide awake, heard
everything, and understood it all. She had lain there in bed and sung a
hymn to Love.
“You conqueror, who have taken me out of myself,” she said, “I lay in
fathomless misery and you have changed it to a paradise. My hands stuck
fast to the iron latch of the closed door and were torn and wounded; on
the threshold of my home my tears lie frozen to pearls of ice. Anger
froze my heart when I heard the blows on my mother’s back. In the cold
snow-drift I hoped to sleep away my anger, but you came. O Love, child
of fire, to one who was frozen by much cold you came. When I compare
my sufferings to the glory won by them, they seem to me as nothing. I
am free of all ties. I have no father nor mother, no home. People will
believe all evil of me and turn away from me. It has pleased you to do
this, O Love, for why should I stand higher than my beloved? Hand in hand
we will wander out into the world. Gösta Berling’s bride is penniless;
he found her in a snow-drift. We shall not live in lofty halls, but in a
cottage at the edge of the wood. I shall help him to watch the kiln, I
shall help him to set snares for partridges and hares, I shall cook his
food and mend his clothes. Oh, my beloved, how I shall long and mourn,
while I sit there alone by the edge of the wood and wait for you! But
not for the days of riches, only for you; only you shall I look for and
miss,—your footstep on the forest path, your joyous song, as you come
with your axe on your shoulder. Oh, my beloved, my beloved! As long as my
life lasts, I could sit and wait for you.”
So she lay and sang hymns to the heart-conquering god, and never once had
closed her eyes in sleep when the major’s wife came in.
When she had gone, Marianne got up and dressed herself. Once more must
she put on the black velvet dress and the thin satin slippers. She
wrapped a blanket about her like a shawl, and hurried out once again into
the terrible night.
Calm, starlit, and bitingly cold the February night lay over the earth;
it was as if it would never end. And the darkness and the cold of that
long night lasted on the earth long, long after the sun had risen, long
after the snow-drifts through which Marianne wandered had been changed to
Marianne hurried away from Ekeby to get help. She could not let those men
who had rescued her from the snow-drift and opened their hearts and home
to her be hunted away. She went down to Sjö to Major Samzelius. It would
be an hour before she could be back.
When the major’s wife had said farewell to her home, she went out into
the yard, where her people were waiting, and the struggle began.
She placed them round about the high, narrow house, the upper story
of which was the pensioners’ far-famed home,—the great room with the
whitewashed walls, the red-painted chests, and the great folding-table,
where playing-cards swim in the spilled brandy, where the broad beds are
hidden by yellow striped curtains where the pensioners sleep.
And in the stable before full mangers the pensioners’ horses sleep and
dream of the journeys of their youth. It is sweet to dream when they know
that they never again shall leave the filled cribs, the warm stalls of
In a musty old carriage-house, where all the broken-down coaches and
worn-out sledges were stored, was a wonderful collection of old vehicles.
Many are the pensioners who have lived and died at Ekeby. Their names
are forgotten on the earth, and they have no longer a place in men’s
hearts; but the major’s wife has kept the vehicles in which they came to
Ekeby, she has collected them all in the old carriage-house.
And there they stand and sleep, and dust falls thick, thick over them.
But now in this February night the major’s wife has the door opened to
the carriage-house, and with lanterns and torches she seeks out the
vehicles which belong to Ekeby’s present pensioners,—Beerencreutz’s old
gig, and Örneclou’s coach, painted with coat of arms, and the narrow
cutter which had brought Cousin Christopher.
She does not care if the vehicles are for summer or winter, she only sees
that each one gets his own.
And in the stable they are now awake, all the pensioners’ old horses, who
had so lately been dreaming before full mangers. The dream shall be true.
You shall again try the steep hills, and the musty hay in the sheds of
wayside inns, and drunken horse-dealers’ sharp whips, and the mad races
on ice so slippery that you tremble only to walk on it.
The old beasts mouth and snort when the bit is put into their toothless
jaws; the old vehicles creak and crack. Pitiful infirmity, which should
have been allowed to sleep in peace till the end of the world, was now
dragged out before all eyes; stiff joints, halting forelegs, spavin, and
broken-wind are shown up.
The stable grooms succeed, however, in getting the horses harnessed; then
they go and ask the major’s wife in what Gösta Berling shall be put, for,
as every one knows, he came to Ekeby in the coal-sledge of the major’s
“Put Don Juan in our best sledge,” she says, “and spread over it the
bear-skin with the silver claws!” And when the grooms grumble, she
continues: “There is not a horse in my stable which I would not give to
be rid of that man, remember that!”
Well, now the vehicles are waked and the horses too, but the pensioners
still sleep. It is now their time to be brought out in the winter night;
but it is a more perilous deed to seize them in their beds than to lead
out stiff-legged horses and shaky old carriages. They are bold, strong
men, tried in a hundred adventures; they are ready to defend themselves
till death; it is no easy thing to take them against their will from out
their beds and down to the carriages which shall carry them away.
The major’s wife has them set fire to a hay-stack, which stands so near
the house that the flames must shine in to where the pensioners are
“The hay-stack is mine, all Ekeby is mine,” she says.
And when the stack is in flames, she cries: “Wake them now!”
But the pensioners sleep behind well-closed doors. The whole mass of
people begin to cry out that terrible “Fire, fire!” but the pensioners
The master-smith’s heavy sledge-hammer thunders against the door, but the
A hard snowball breaks the window-pane and flies into the room,
rebounding against the bed-curtains, but the pensioners sleep.
They dream that a lovely girl throws a handkerchief at them, they dream
of applause from behind fallen curtains, they dream of gay laughter and
the deafening noise of midnight feasts.
The noise of cannon at their cars, an ocean of ice-cold water were needed
to awake them.
They have bowed, danced, played, acted, and sung. They are heavy with
wine, exhausted, and sleep a sleep as deep as death’s.
This blessed sleep almost saves them.
The people begin to think that this quiet conceals a danger. What if
it means that the pensioners are already out to get help? What if it
means that they stand awake, with finger on the trigger, on guard behind
windows or door, ready to fall upon the first who enters?
These men are crafty, ready to fight; they must mean something by their
silence. Who can think it of them, that they would let themselves be
surprised in their lairs like bears?
The people bawl their “Fire, fire!” time after time, but nothing avails.
Then when all are trembling, the major’s wife herself takes an axe and
bursts open the outer door.
Then she rushes alone up the stairs, throws open the door to the
bachelors’ wing, and calls into the room: “Fire!”
Hers is a voice which finds a better echo in the pensioners’ ears than
the people’s outcry. Accustomed to obey that voice, twelve men at the
same moment spring from their beds, see the flames, throw on their
clothes, and rush down the stairs out into the yard.
But at the door stands the great master-smith and two stout mill-hands,
and deep disgrace then befalls the pensioners. Each, as he comes down, is
seized, thrown to the ground, and his feet bound; thereupon he is carried
without ceremony to the vehicle prepared for him.
None escaped; they were all caught. Beerencreutz, the grim colonel, was
bound and carried away; also Christian Bergh, the mighty captain, and
Eberhard, the philosopher.
Even the invincible, the terrible Gösta Berling was caught. The major’s
wife had succeeded.
She was still greater than the pensioners.
They are pitiful to see, as they sit with bound limbs in the mouldy old
vehicles. There are hanging heads and angry glances, and the yard rings
with oaths and wild bursts of powerless rage.
The major’s wife goes from one to the other.
“You shall swear,” she says, “never to come back to Ekeby.”
“You shall swear,” she says, “otherwise I will throw you into the
bachelors’ wing, bound as you are, and you shall burn up in there, for
to-night I am going to burn down the bachelors’ wing.”
“You dare not do that.”
“Dare not! Is not Ekeby mine? Ah, you villain! Do you think I do not
remember how you spit at me on the highway? Did I not long to set fire
here just now and let you all burn up? Did you lift a finger to defend me
when I was driven from my home? No, swear now!”
And she stands there so terrible, although she pretends perhaps to be
more angry than she is, and so many men armed with axes stand about her,
that they are obliged to swear, that no worse misfortune may happen.
The major’s wife has their clothes and boxes brought down and has their
hand-fetters loosened; then the reins are laid in their hands.
But much time has been consumed, and Marianne has reached Sjö.
The major was no late-riser; he was dressed when she came. She met him in
the yard; he had been out with his bears’ breakfast.
He did not say anything when he heard her story. He only went in to the
bears, put muzzles on them, led them out, and hurried away to Ekeby.
Marianne followed him at a distance. She was dropping with fatigue, but
then she saw a bright light of fire in the sky and was frightened nearly
What a night it was! A man beats his wife and leaves his child to freeze
to death outside his door. Did a woman now mean to burn up her enemies;
did the old major mean to let loose the bears on his own people?
She conquered her weariness, hurried past the major, and ran madly up to
She had a good start. When she reached the yard, she made her way through
the crowd. When she stood in the middle of the ring, face to face with
the major’s wife, she cried as loud as she could,—
“The major, the major is coming with the bears!”
There was consternation among the people; all eyes turned to the major’s
“You have gone for him,” she said to Marianne.
“Run!” cried the latter, more earnestly. “Away, for God’s sake! I do not
know what the major is thinking of, but he has the bears with him.”
All stood still and looked at the major’s wife.
“I thank you for your help, children,” she said quietly to the people.
“Everything which has happened to-night has been so arranged that no one
of you can be prosecuted by the law or get into trouble for it. Go home
now! I do not want to see any of my people murder or be murdered. Go now!”
Still the people waited.
The major’s wife turned to Marianne.
“I know that you are in love,” she said. “You act in love’s madness. May
the day never come when you must look on powerless at the ruin of your
home! May you always be mistress over your tongue and your hand when
anger fills the soul!”
“Dear children, come now, come!” she continued, turning to the people.
“May God protect Ekeby! I must go to my mother. Oh, Marianne, when you
have got back your senses, when Ekeby is ravaged, and the land sighs in
want, think on what you have done this night, and look after the people!”
Thereupon she went, followed by her people.
When the major reached the yard, he found there no living thing but
Marianne and a long line of horses with sledges and carriages,—a long
dismal line, where the horses were not worse than the vehicles, nor the
vehicles worse than their owners. Ill-used in the struggle of life were
Marianne went forward and freed them.
She noticed how they bit their lips and looked away. They were ashamed as
never before. A great disgrace had befallen them.
“I was not better off when I lay on my knees on the steps at Björne a
couple of hours ago,” said Marianne.
And so, dear reader, what happened afterwards that night—how the old
vehicles were put into the carriage-house, the horses in the stable, and
the pensioners in their house—I shall not try to relate. The dawn began
to appear over the eastern hills, and the day came clear and calm. How
much quieter the bright, sunny days are than the dark nights, under whose
protecting wings beasts of prey hunt and owls hoot!
I will only say that when the pensioners had gone in again and had found
a few drops in the last punch-bowl to fill their glasses, a sudden
ecstasy came over them.
“A toast for the major’s wife!” they cried.
Ah, she is a matchless woman! What better could they wish for than to
serve her, to worship her?
Was it not sad that the devil had got her in his power, and that all her
endeavors were to send poor gentlemen’s souls to hell?