THE PLASTER SAINTS

Svartsjö church is white both outside and in: the walls are white, the
pulpit, the seats, the galleries, the roof, the window-sashes, the
altar-cloth,—everything is white. In Svartsjö church are no decorations,
no pictures, no coats of arms. Over the altar stands only a wooden cross
with a white linen cloth. But it was not always so. Once the roof was
covered with paintings, and many colored images of stone and plaster
stood in that house of God.

Once, many years ago, an artist in Svartsjö had stood and watched the
summer sky and the path of the clouds across the sun. He had seen those
white, shining clouds, which in the morning float low on the horizon,
pile themselves up higher and higher and raise themselves to storm
the heavens. They set up sails like ships. They raised standards like
warriors. They encroached on the whole sky. They placed themselves before
the sun, those growing monsters, and took on wonderful shapes. There was
a devouring lion; it changed into a powdered lady. There was a giant
with outstretched arms; he laid himself down as a dreaming sphinx. Some
adorned their white nakedness with gold-bordered mantles; others spread
rouge over snowy cheeks. There were plains. There were forests. There
were walled castles with high towers. The white clouds were lords of the
summer sky. They filled the whole blue arch. They reached up to the sun
and hid it.

“Oh, how beautiful,” thought the gentle artist, “if the longing spirits
could climb up on those towering mountains and be carried on those
rocking ships ever higher and higher upwards!”

And all at once he understood that the white clouds were the vessels on
which the souls of the blessed were carried.

He saw them there. They stood on the gliding masses with lilies in their
hands and golden crowns on their heads. Space echoed with their song.
Angels circled down on broad, strong wings to meet them. Oh, what a host
there were! As the clouds spread out, more and more were visible. They
lay on the cloud-beds like water-lilies on a pond; they adorned them,
as lilies adorn the meadow. Cloud after cloud rolled up. And all were
filled with heavenly hosts in armor of silver, of immortal singers in
purple-bordered mantles.

That artist had afterwards painted the roof in the Svartsjö church. He
had wished to reproduce there the mounting clouds of the summer day,
which bore the blessed to the kingdom of heaven. The hand which had
guided the pencil had been strong, but also rather stiff, so that the
clouds resembled more the curling locks of a full-bottomed wig than
mountains of soft mist. And the form the holy ones had taken for the
painter’s fancy he was not able to give them again, but instead clothed
them in long, red cloaks, and stiff bishops’ mitres, or in black robes
with stiff ruffles. He had given them big heads and small bodies, and he
had provided them with handkerchiefs and prayer-books. Latin sentences
flew out of their mouths; and for them whom he meant to be the greatest,
he had constructed solid wooden chairs on the backs of the clouds, so
that they could be carried sitting comfortably to the everlasting life.

But every one knew that spirits and angels had never shown themselves
to the poor artist, and so they were not much surprised that he had not
been able to give them celestial beauty. The good master’s pious work had
seemed to many wonderfully fine, and much holy emotion had it wakened. It
would have been worthy to have been looked at by our eyes as well.

But during the pensioners’ year, Count Dohna had the whole church
whitewashed. Then the paintings on the roof were destroyed. And all the
plaster saints were also taken away.

Alas! the plaster saints!

There was a Saint Olof with crown on helm, an axe in his hand, and a
kneeling giant under his feet; on the pulpit was a Judith in a red
jacket and blue skirt, with a sword in one hand and an hour-glass in the
other,—instead of the Assyrian general’s head; there was a mysterious
Queen of Sheba in a blue jacket and red skirt, with a web-foot on one leg
and her hands full of Sibylline books; there was a gray Saint Göran lying
alone on a bench in the choir, for both horse and dragon had been broken
away; there was Saint Christopher with the flowering staff, and Saint
Erik with sceptre and axe, dressed in a flowing brocaded cloak.

These saints were always losing their sceptres or their ears or hands
and had to be mended and cleaned. The congregation wearied of it, and
longed to be rid of them. But the peasants would never have done the
saints any injury if Count Henrik Dohna had not existed. It was he who
had them taken away.

When Count Dohna had caused his marriage to be declared null and
void, instead of seeking out his wife and having it made legal, much
indignation had arisen; for every one knew that his wife had left his
house only not to be tortured to death. It seemed now as if he wanted
to win back God’s grace and men’s respect by a good work, and so he had
Svartsjö church repaired. He had the whole church whitewashed and the
paintings torn down. He and his men carried the images out in a boat and
sank them in the depths of the Löfven.

How could he dare to lay his hand on those mighty ones of the Lord?

Did the hand which struck off Holofernes’ head no longer hold a sword?
Had Sheba’s queen forgotten all secret knowledge, which wounds more
deeply than a poisoned arrow? Saint Olof, Saint Olof, old viking, Saint
Göran, old dragon-killer, the noise of your deeds is, then, dead! But
it was best that the saints did not wish to use force against their
destroyers. Since the Svartsjö peasants would not pay for paint for their
robes and gilding for their crowns, they allowed Count Dohna to carry
them out and sink them in Löfven’s bottomless depths. They would not
stand there and disfigure God’s house.

I thought of that boat with its load of saints gliding over Löfven’s
surface on a quiet summer evening in August. The man who rowed took
slow strokes, and threw timorous glances at the strange passengers which
lay in the bow and stern; but Count Dohna, who was also there, was not
afraid. He took them one by one and threw them into the water. His brow
was clear and he breathed deep. He felt like a defender of the pure
Evangelical religion. And no miracle was performed in the old saints’
honor. Silent and dejected they sank down into annihilation.

But the next Sunday morning Svartsjö church stood gleamingly white. No
images disturbed the peace of meditation. Only with the eyes of the soul
could the virtuous contemplate the glory of heaven and the faces of the
blessed.

But the earth, men’s beloved dwelling, is green, the sky is blue. The
world glows with colors. Why should the church be white? White as winter,
naked as poverty, pale as grief! It does not glitter with hoar-frost like
a wintry wood; it does not shine in pearls and lace like a white bride.
The church stands in white, cold whitewash, without an image, without a
picture.

That Sunday Count Dohna sat in a flower-trimmed arm-chair in the choir,
to be seen and to be praised by all men. He who had had the old benches
mended, destroyed the disfiguring images, had set new glass in all the
broken windows, and had the whole church whitewashed, should now be
honored. If he wished to soften the Almighty’s anger, it was right that
he had adorned His temple as well as he knew how. But why did he take
praise for it?

He, who came with implacable sternness on his conscience, ought to have
fallen on his knees and begged his brothers and sisters in the church
to implore God to suffer him to come into his sanctuary. It would have
been better for him if he had stood there like a miserable culprit than
that he should sit honored and blessed in the choir, and receive praise
because he had wished to make his peace with God.

When the service was over and the last psalm sung, no one left the
church, for the clergyman was to make a speech of thanks to the count.
But it never went so far.

For the doors were thrown open, back into the church came the old saints,
dripping with Löfven’s water, stained with green slime and brown mud.
They must have heard that here the praise of him who had destroyed them,
who had driven them out of God’s holy house and sunk them in the cold,
dissolving waves, should be sung. The old saints wanted to have their
share in the entertainment.

They do not love the waves’ monotonous ripple. They are used to psalms
and prayers. They held their peace and let it all happen, as long as
they believed that it would be to the honor of God. But it was not so.
Here sits Count Dohna in honor and glory in the choir and wishes to be
worshipped and praised in the house of God. They cannot suffer such a
thing. Therefore they have risen from their watery grave and march into
the church, easily recognizable to all. There is Saint Olof, with crown
on hat, and Saint Erik, with gold-brocaded cloak, and the gray Saint
Göran and Saint Christopher; no more; the Queen of Sheba and Judith had
not come.

But when the people have recovered a little from their amazement, an
audible whisper goes through the church,—

“The pensioners!”

Yes, of course it is the pensioners. And they go up to the count without
a word, and lift his chair to their shoulders and carry him from the
church and set him down on the slope outside.

They say nothing, and look neither to the right nor to the left. They
merely carry Count Dohna out of the house of God, and when that is done,
they go away again, the nearest way to the lake.

They used no violence, nor did they waste much time in explanations. It
was plain enough: “We the Ekeby pensioners have our own opinion. Count
Dohna is not worthy to be praised in God’s house. Therefore we carry him
out. Let him who will carry him in again.”

But he was not carried in. The clergyman’s speech of thanks was never
made. The people streamed out of the church. There was no one who did not
think the pensioners had acted rightly.

They thought of the fair young countess who had been so cruelly tortured
at Borg. They remembered her who had been so kind to the poor, who had
been so sweet to look upon that it had been a consolation for them to see
her.

It was a pity to come with wild pranks into the church; but both the
clergyman and the congregation knew that they had been about to play
a greater trick on the Omniscient. And they stood ashamed before the
misguided old madmen.

“When man is silent, the stones must speak,” they said.

But after that day Count Henrik was not happy at Borg. One dark night
in the beginning of August a closed carriage drove close up to the big
steps. All the servants stationed themselves about it, and Countess Märta
came out wrapped in shawls with a thick veil over her face. The count led
her, but she trembled and shuddered. It was with the greatest difficulty
that they could persuade her to go through the hall and down the steps.

At last she reached the carriage, the count sprang in after her, the
doors were slammed to, and the coachman started the horses off at a
gallop. The next morning, when the magpies awoke, she was gone.

The count lived from that time on far away in the South of Sweden. Borg
was sold and has changed owners many times. No one can help loving it.
But few have been happy in its possession.

God’s wayfarer, Captain Lennart, came one afternoon in August wandering
up to the Broby inn and walked into the kitchen there. He was on his way
to his home, Helgesäter, which lies a couple of miles northwest of Broby,
close to the edge of the wood.

Captain Lennart did not then know that he was to be one of God’s
wanderers on the earth. His heart was full of joy that he should see his
home again. He had suffered a hard fate; but now he was at home, and all
would be well. He did not know that he was to be one of those who may not
rest under their own roof, nor warm themselves at their own fires.

God’s wayfarer, Captain Lennart, had a cheerful spirit. As he found no
one in the kitchen, he poked about like a wild boy. He threw the cat at
the dog’s head, and laughed till it rang through the house when the two
comrades let the heat of the moment break through old friendship, and
fought with tooth and nail and fiery eyes.

The innkeeper’s wife came in, attracted by the noise. She stopped on
the threshold and looked at the man, who was laughing at the struggling
animals. She knew him well; but when she saw him last, he had been
sitting in the prison-van with handcuffs on his wrists. She remembered
it well. Five years and a half ago, during the winter fair in Karlstad,
thieves had stolen the jewels of the governor’s wife. Many rings,
bracelets, and buckles, much prized by the noble lady,—for most of them
were heirlooms and presents,—had then been lost. They had never been
found. But a rumor spread through the land that Captain Lennart at
Helgesäter was the thief.

She had never been able to understand how such a rumor had started. He
was such a good and honorable man. He lived happily with his wife, whom
he had only a few years before brought home, for he had not been able to
afford to marry before. Had he not a good income from his pay and his
estate? What could tempt such a man to steal old bracelets and rings?
And still more strange it seemed to her that such a rumor could be so
believed, so proven, that Captain Lennart was discharged from the army,
lost his order of the Sword, and was condemned to five years’ hard labor.

He himself had said that he had been at the market, but had left before
he heard anything of the theft. On the highway he had found an ugly old
buckle, which he had taken home and given to the children. The buckle,
however, was of gold, and belonged to the stolen things; that was the
cause of his misfortune. It had all been Sintram’s work. He had accused
him, and given the condemning testimony. It seemed as if he wanted to
get rid of Captain Lennart, for a short time after a law-suit was opened
against himself, because it had been discovered that he had sold powder
to the Norwegians during the war of 1814. People believed that he was
afraid of Captain Lennart’s testimony. As it was, he was acquitted on the
ground of not proven.

She could not stare at him enough. His hair had grown gray and his back
bent; he must have suffered. But he still had his friendly face and his
cheerful spirit. He was still the same Captain Lennart who had led her
forward to the altar, as a bride, and danced at her wedding. She felt
sure he would still stop and chat with everybody he met on the road and
throw a copper to every child; he would still say to every wrinkled old
woman that she grew younger and prettier every day; and he would still
sometimes place himself on a barrel and play the fiddle for those who
danced about the Maypole.

“Well, Mother Karin,” he began, “are you afraid to look at me?”

He had come especially to hear how it was in his home, and whether they
expected him. They must know that he had worked out his time.

The innkeeper’s wife gave him the best of news. His wife had worked like
a man. She had leased the estate from the new owner, and everything had
succeeded for her. The children were healthy, and it was a pleasure to
see them. And of course they expected him. His wife was a hard woman, who
never spoke of what she thought, but she knew that no one was allowed
to eat with Captain Lennart’s spoon or to sit in his chair while he was
away. This spring, no day had passed without her coming out to the stone
at the top of Broby hill and looking down the road. And she had put in
order new clothes for him, home-woven clothes, on which she herself had
done nearly all the work. By that one could see that he was expected,
even if she said nothing.

“They don’t believe it, then?” said Captain Lennart.

“No, captain,” answered the peasant woman. “Nobody believes it.”

Then Captain Lennart would stop no longer; then he wished to go home.

It happened that outside the door he met some dear old friends. The
pensioners at Ekeby had just come to the inn. Sintram had invited them
thither to celebrate his birthday. And the pensioners did not hesitate
a minute before shaking the convict’s hand and welcoming him home. Even
Sintram did it.

“Dear Lennart,” he said, “were you certain that God had any meaning in it
all?”

“Do you not think I know,” cried Captain Lennart, “that it was not our
Lord who saved you from the block?”

The others laughed. But Sintram was not at all angry. He was pleased when
people spoke of his compact with the devil.

Yes, then they took Captain Lennart in with them again to empty a glass
of welcome; after, he could go his way. But it went badly for him. He had
not drunk such treacherous things for five years. Perhaps he had eaten
nothing the whole day, and was exhausted by his long journey on foot. The
result was that he was quite confused after a couple of glasses.

When the pensioners had got him into a state when he no longer knew what
he was doing, they forced on him glass after glass, and they meant no
harm by it; it was with good intention towards him, who had not tasted
anything good for five years.

Otherwise he was one of the most sober of men. It is also easy to
understand that he had no intention to get drunk; he was to have gone
home to wife and children. But instead he was lying on the bench in the
bar-room, and was sleeping there.

While he lay there, temptingly unconscious, Gösta took a piece of
charcoal and a little cranberry-juice and painted him. He gave him the
face of a criminal; he thought that most suitable for one who came direct
from jail. He painted a black eye, drew a red scar across his nose,
plastered his hair down on his forehead in matted tangles, and smeared
his whole face.

They laughed at it for a while, then Gösta wished to wash it off.

“Let it be,” said Sintram, “so that he can see it when he wakes. It will
amuse him.”

So they left it as it was, and thought no more of the captain. The
feasting lasted the whole night. They broke up at daybreak. There was
more wine than sense in their heads.

The question was what they should do with Captain Lennart. “We will go
home with him,” said Sintram. “Think how glad his wife will be! It will
be a pleasure to see her joy. I am moved when I think of it. Let us go
home with him!”

They were all moved at the thought. Heavens, how glad she would be!

They shook life into Captain Lennart and lifted him into one of the
carriages which the sleepy grooms had long since driven up. And so the
whole mob drove up to Helgesäter; some of them, half-asleep, nearly fell
out of the carriage, others sang to keep awake. They looked little better
than a company of tramps, with dull eyes and swollen faces.

They arrived at last, left the horses in the back-yard and marched with
a certain solemnity up to the steps. Beerencreutz and Julius supported
Captain Lennart between them.

“Pull yourself together, Lennart,” they said to him, “you are at home.
Don’t you see that you’re at home?”

He got his eyes open and was almost sober. He was touched that they had
accompanied him home.

“Friends,” he said, and stopped to speak to them all, “have asked God,
friends, why so much evil has passed over me.”

“Shut up, Lennart, don’t preach!” cries Beerencreutz.

“Let him go on,” says Sintram. “He speaks well.”

“Have asked Him and not understood; understand now. He wanted to show me
what friends I had; friends who follow me home to see mine and my wife’s
joy. For my wife is expecting me. What are five years of misery compared
to that?”

Now hard fists pounded on the door. The pensioners had no time to hear
more.

Within there was commotion. The maids awoke and looked out. They threw on
their clothes, but did not dare to open for that crowd of men. At last
the bolt was drawn. The captain’s wife herself came out.

“What do you want?” she asked.

It was Beerencreutz who answered:—

“We are here with your husband.”

They pushed forward Captain Lennart, and she saw him reel towards her,
drunk, with a prize-fighter’s face; and behind him she saw the crowd of
drunken, reeling men.

She took a step back; he followed with outstretched arms. “You left me as
a thief,” she cried, “and come home as a vagabond.” Whereupon she turned
to go in.

He did not understand. He wished to follow her, but she struck him a blow
on the breast.

“Do you think that I will receive such a man as you as master in my house
and over my children?”

The door slammed and the key turned in the lock.

Captain Lennart threw himself against the door and began to shake it.

The pensioners could not help it, they began to laugh. He had been so
sure of his wife, and now she would have nothing to do with him. It was
absurd, they thought.

When Captain Lennart heard them laughing, he rushed after them and
wished to beat them. They ran away and leaped into their carriages, he
after them; but in his eagerness he stumbled over a stone and fell. He
got up again, but pursued them no farther. A thought struck him in his
confusion. In this world nothing happens without God’s will, nothing.

“Where wilt thou lead me?” he said. “I am a feather, driven by thy
breath. I am thy plaything. Whither wilt thou send me? Why dost thou shut
the doors of my home to me?”

He turned away from his home, believing that it was God’s will.

When the sun rose he stood at the top of Broby hill and looked out over
the valley. Ah, little did the poor people in the valley know that their
rescuer was near. No mothers as yet lifted their children on their arms
that they might see him as he came. The cottages were not clean and in
order, with the black hearth hidden by fragrant juniper. As yet the men
did not work with eager industry in the fields that his eyes might be
gladdened by the sight of cared-for crops and well-dug ditches.

Alas, where he stood his sorrowful eyes saw the ravages of the drought,
how the crops were burned up, and how the people scarcely seemed to
trouble themselves to prepare the earth for the coming year. He looked up
at the blue mountains, and the sharp morning sun showed him the blackened
stretches where the forest-fires had passed. He understood by many small
signs, by the tumble-down fences, by the small amount of wood which
had been carted home and sawed, that the people were not looking after
their affairs, that want had come, and that they sought consolation in
indifference and brandy.

Captain Lennart stood there on Broby hill and began to think that God
perhaps needed him. He was not called home by his wife.

The pensioners could not at all understand what their fault had been;
Sintram held his tongue. His wife was much blamed through all the
neighborhood, because she had been too proud to receive such a good
husband. People said that any one who tried to talk to her of him was
instantly interrupted. She could not bear to hear his name spoken.
Captain Lennart did nothing to give her other thoughts.

It was a day later.

An old peasant is lying on his death-bed. He has taken the sacrament, and
his strength is gone; he must die.

Restless as one who is to set off on a long journey, he has his bed moved
from the kitchen to the bedroom and from the bedroom back to the kitchen.
By that they understand, more than by the heavy rattling and the failing
eyes, that his time has come.

Round about him stand his wife, his children, and servants. He has been
fortunate, rich, esteemed. He is not forsaken on his death-bed. The old
man speaks of himself as if he stood in the presence of God, and with
sighs and confirming words those about him bear witness that he speaks
the truth.

“I have been an industrious worker and a kind master,” he says. “I
have loved my wife like my right hand. I have not let my children grow
up without discipline and care. I have not drunk. I have not moved my
boundary line. I have not hurried my horse up the hills. I have not let
the cows starve in winter. I have not let the sheep be tortured by their
wool in summer.”

And round about him the weeping servants repeat like an echo: “He has
been a kind master. He has not hurried the horse up the hills, nor let
the sheep sweat in their wool in summer.”

But through the door unnoticed a poor man has come in to ask for a little
food. He also hears the words of the dying man from where he stands
silent by the door.

And the sick man resumes: “I have opened up the forest, I have drained
the meadows. I drove the plough in straight furrows. I built three times
as big a barn for three times as big a harvest as in my father’s time.
Of shining money I had three silver goblets made; my father only made
one. God shall give me a good place in his heaven.”

“Our Lord will receive our master well,” say the servants.

The man by the door hears the words, and terror fills him who for five
long years has been God’s plaything.

He goes up to the sick man and takes his hand.

“Friend, friend,” he says, and his voice trembles, “have you considered
who the Lord is before whose face you soon must appear? He is a great
God, a terrible God. The earth is his pasture. The storm his horse. Wide
heavens shake under the weight of his foot. And you stand before him and
say: ‘I have ploughed straight furrows, I have sowed rye, I have chopped
wood.’ Will you praise yourself to him and compare yourself to him? You
do not know how mighty the Lord is to whose kingdom you are going.

“Do not come before your God with big words!” continues the wayfarer.
“The mighty on the earth are like threshed-out straw in his barn.
His day’s work is to make suns. He has dug out oceans and raised up
mountains. Bend before him! Lie low in the dust before your Lord, your
God! Catch like a child at the hem of his garment and beg for protection!
Humble yourself before your Creator!”

The sick man’s eyes stand wide-open, his hands are clasped, but his face
lights up and the rattling ceases.

“Soul, soul,” cries the man, “as surely as you now in your last hour
humble yourself before your God, will he take you like a child on his arm
and carry you into the glory of his heaven.”

The old man gives a last sigh, and all is over. Captain Lennart bends his
head and prays. Every one in the room prays with heavy sighs.

When they look up the old peasant lies in quiet peace. His eyes seem
still to shine with the reflection of glorious visions, his mouth smiles,
his face is beautiful. He has seen God.

“He has seen God,” says the son, and closes the dead man’s eyes.

“He saw heaven opening,” sob the children and servants.

The old wife lays her shaking hand on Captain Lennart’s.

“You helped him over the worst, captain.”

* * * * *

It was that hour which drove Captain Lennart out among the people. Else
he would have gone home and let his wife see his real face, but from that
time he believed that God needed him. He became God’s wayfarer, who came
with help to the poor. Distress was great, and there was much suffering
which good sense and kindness could help better than gold and power.

Captain Lennart came one day to the poor peasants who lived in the
neighborhood of Gurlitta Cliff. Among them there was great want; there
were no more potatoes, and the rye could not be sown, as they had no seed.

Then Captain Lennart took a little boat and rowed across the lake to Fors
and asked Sintram to give them rye and potatoes. Sintram received him
well: he took him to the big, well-stocked grain-houses and down into the
cellar, where the potatoes of last year’s crop were, and let him fill all
the bags and sacks he had with him.

But when Sintram saw the little boat, he thought that it was too small
for such a load. He had the sacks carried to one of his big boats, and
his servant, big Mons, row it across the lake. Captain Lennart had only
his empty boat to attend to.

He came however after Mons, for the latter was a master of rowing and a
giant in strength. Captain Lennart sits and dreams, while he rows across
the beautiful lake, and thinks of the little seed-corns’ wonderful fate.
They were to be thrown out on the black earth among stones and stubble,
but they would sprout and take root in the wilderness. He thinks how the
soft, light-green shoots will cover the earth, and how, finally, when
the ears are filled with soft, sweet kernels, the scythe will pass, and
the straws fall, and the flail thunder over them, and the mill crush the
kernels to meal, and the meal be baked into bread,—ah, how much hunger
will be satisfied by the grain in the boat in front of him!

Sintram’s servant landed at the pier of the Gurlitta people, and many
hungry men came down to the boat.

Then the man said, as his master had ordered:—

“The master sends you malt and grain, peasants. He has heard that you
have no brandy.”

Then the people became as mad. They rushed down to the boat and ran
out into the water to seize on bags and sacks, but that had never been
Captain Lennart’s meaning. He had now come, and he was furious when he
saw what they were doing. He wanted to have the potatoes for food, and
the rye for seed; he had never asked for malt.

He called to the people to leave the sacks alone, but they did not obey.

“May the rye turn to sand in your mouths, and the potatoes to stone in
your throats!” he cried, for he was very angry because they had taken the
grain.

It looked as if Captain Lennart had worked a miracle. Two women, who were
fighting for a bag, tore a hole in it and found only sand; the men who
lifted up the potato-sacks, felt how heavy they were, as if filled with
stones.

It was all sand and stones, only sand and stones. The people stood in
silent terror of God’s miracle-worker who had come to them. Captain
Lennart was himself for a moment seized with astonishment. Only Mons
laughed.

“Go home, fellow,” said Captain Lennart, “before the peasants understand
that there has never been anything but sand in these sacks; otherwise I
am afraid they will sink your boat.”

“I am not afraid,” said the man.

“Go,” said Captain Lennart, with such an imperious voice that he went.

Then Captain Lennart let the people know that Sintram had fooled them,
but they would not believe anything but that a miracle had happened. The
story of it spread soon, and as the people’s love of the supernatural
is great, it was generally believed that Captain Lennart could work
wonders. He won great power among the peasants, and they called him God’s
wayfarer.

It was a beautiful evening in August. The Löfven lay like a mirror, haze
veiled the mountains, it was the cool of the evening.

There came Beerencreutz, the colonel with the white moustaches, short,
strong as a wrestler, and with a pack of cards in his coat pocket, to
the shore of the lake, and sat down in a flat-bottomed boat. With him
were Major Anders Fuchs, his old brother-at-arms, and little Ruster,
the flute-player, who had been drummer in the Värmland _chasseurs_, and
during many years had followed the colonel as his friend and servant.

On the other shore of the lake lies the churchyard, the neglected
churchyard, of the Svartsjö parish, sparsely set with crooked, rattling
iron crosses, full of hillocks like an unploughed meadow, overgrown with
sedges and striped grasses, which had been sowed there as a reminder that
no man’s life is like another’s, but changes like the leaf of the grass.
There are no gravel walks there, no shading trees except the big linden
on the forgotten grave of some old priest. A stone wall, rough and high,
encloses the miserable field. Miserable and desolate is the churchyard,
ugly as the face of a miser, which has withered at the laments of those
whose happiness he has stolen. And yet they who rest there are blessed,
they who have been sunk into consecrated earth to the sound of psalms
and prayers. Acquilon, the gambler, he who died last year at Ekeby,
had had to be buried outside the wall. That man, who once had been so
proud and courtly, the brave warrior, the bold hunter, the gambler who
held fortune in his hand, he had ended by squandering his children’s
inheritance, all that he had gained himself, all that his wife had saved.
Wife and children he had forsaken many years before, to lead the life of
a pensioner at Ekeby. One evening in the past summer he had played away
the farm which gave them their means of subsistence. Rather than to pay
his debt he had shot himself. But the suicide’s body was buried outside
the moss-grown wall of the miserable churchyard.

Since he died the pensioners had only been twelve; since he died no one
had come to take the place of the thirteenth,—no one but the devil, who
on Christmas Eve had crept out of the furnace.

The pensioners had found his fate more bitter than that of his
predecessors. Of course they knew that one of them must die each year.
What harm was there in that? Pensioners may not be old. Can their dim
eyes no longer distinguish the cards, can their trembling hands no longer
lift the glass, what is life for them, and what are they for life? But
to lie like a dog by the churchyard wall, where the protecting sods may
not rest in peace, but are trodden by grazing sheep, wounded by spade
and plough, where the wanderer goes by without slackening his pace, and
where the children play without subduing their laughter and jests,—to
rest there, where the stone wall prevents the sound from coming when the
angel of the day of doom wakes with his trumpet the dead within,—oh, to
lie there!

Beerencreutz rows his boat over the Löfven. He passes in the evening
over the lake of my dreams, about whose shores I have seen gods wander,
and from whose depths my magic palace rises. He rows by Lagön’s lagoons,
where the pines stand right up from the water, growing on low, circular
shoals, and where the ruin of the tumble-down Viking castle still remains
on the steep summit of the island; he rows under the pine grove on Borg’s
point, where one old tree still hangs on thick roots over the cleft,
where a mighty bear had been caught and where old mounds and graves bear
witness of the age of the place.

He rows to the other side of the point, gets out below the churchyard,
and then walks over mowed fields, which belong to the count at Borg, to
Acquilon’s grave.

Arrived there, he bends down and pats the turf, as one lightly caresses
the blanket under which a sick friend is lying. Then he takes out a pack
of cards and sits down beside the grave.

“He is so lonely outside here, Johan Fredrik. He must long sometimes for
a game.”

“It is a sin and a shame that such a man shall lie here,” says the great
bear-hunter, Anders Fuchs, and sits down at his side.

But little Ruster, the flute-player, speaks with broken voice, while the
tears run from his small red eyes.

“Next to you, colonel, next to you he was the finest man I have ever
known.”

These three worthy men sit round the grave and deal the cards seriously
and with zeal.

I look out over the world, I see many graves. There rest the mighty ones
of the earth, weighed down by marble. Funeral marches thunder over them.
Standards are sunk over those graves. I see the graves of those who have
been much loved. Flowers, wet with tears, caressed with kisses, rest
lightly on their green sods. I see forgotten graves, arrogant graves,
lying resting-places, and others which say nothing, but never before did
I see the right-bower and the joker with the bells in his cap offered as
entertainment to a grave’s occupant.

“Johan Fredrik has won,” says the colonel, proudly. “Did I not know it? I
taught him to play. Yes, now we are dead, we three, and he alone alive.”

Thereupon he gathers together the cards, rises, and goes, followed by the
others, back to Ekeby.

May the dead man have known and felt that not every one has forgotten him
or his forsaken grave.

Strange homage wild hearts bring to them they love; but he who lies
outside the wall, he whose dead body was not allowed to rest in
consecrated ground, he ought to be glad that not every one has rejected
him.

Friends, children of men, when I die I shall surely rest in the middle of
the churchyard, in the tomb of my ancestors. I shall not have robbed my
family of their means of subsistence, nor lifted my hand against my own
life, but certainly I have not won such a love, surely will no one do as
much for me as the pensioners did for that culprit. It is certain that
no one will come in the evening, when the sun sets and it is lonely and
dreary in the gardens of the dead, to place between my bony fingers the
many-colored cards.

Not even will any one come, which would please me more,—for cards tempt
me little,—with fiddle and bow to the grave, that my spirit, which
wanders about the mouldering dust, may rock in the flow of melody like a
swan on glittering waves.

Marianne Sinclair sat one quiet afternoon at the end of August in her
room and arranged her old letters and other papers.

Round about her was disorder. Great leather trunks and iron bound boxes
had been dragged into the room. Her clothes covered the chairs and
sofas. From attics and wardrobes and from the stained chests of drawers
everything had been taken out, glistening silk and linen, jewels spread
out to be polished, shawls and furs to be selected and inspected.

Marianne was making herself ready for a long journey. She was not certain
if she should ever return to her home. She was at a turning-point in her
life and therefore burned a mass of old letters and diaries. She did not
wish to be weighed down with records of the past.

As she sits there, she finds a bundle of old verses. They were copies of
old ballads, which her mother used to sing to her when she was little.
She untied the string which held them together, and began to read.

She smiled sadly when she had read for a while; the old songs spoke
strange wisdom.

Have no faith in happiness, have no faith in the appearance of happiness,
have no faith in roses.

“Trust not laughter,” they said. “See, the lovely maiden Valborg drives
in a golden coach, and her lips smile, but she is as sorrowful as if
hoofs and wheels were passing over her life’s happiness.”

“Trust not the dance,” they said. “Many a foot whirls lightly over
polished floor, while the heart is heavy as lead.”

“Trust not the jest,” they said. “Many a one goes to the feast with
jesting lips, while she longs to die for pain.”

In what shall one believe? In tears and sorrow!

He who is sorrowful can force himself to smile, but he who is glad cannot
weep.

But joy is only sorrow disguised. There is nothing real on earth but
sorrow.

She went to the window and looked out into the garden, where her parents
were walking. They went up and down the broad paths and talked of
everything which met their eyes, of the grass and the birds.

“See,” said Marianne, “there goes a heart which sighs with sorrow,
because it has never been so happy before.”

And she thought suddenly that perhaps everything really depended on the
person himself, that sorrow and joy depended upon the different ways of
looking at things. She asked herself if it were joy or sorrow which had
passed over her that year. She hardly knew herself.

She had lived through a bitter time. Her soul had been sick. She had been
bowed down to the earth by her deep humiliation. For when she returned to
her home she had said to herself, “I will remember no evil of my father.”
But her heart did not agree. “He has caused me such mortal pain,” it
said; “he has parted me from him I loved; he made me desperate when he
struck my mother. I wish him no harm, but I am afraid of him.” And then
she noticed how she had to force herself to sit still when her father
sat down beside her; she longed to flee from him. She tried to control
herself; she talked with him as usual and was almost always with him. She
could conquer herself, but she suffered beyond endurance. She ended by
detesting everything about him: his coarse loud voice, his heavy tread,
his big hands. She wished him no harm, but she could no longer be near
him without a feeling of fear and repulsion. Her repressed heart revenged
itself. “You would not let me love,” it said, “but I am nevertheless your
master; you shall end by hating.”

Accustomed as she was to observe everything which stirred within her,
she saw too well how this repulsion became stronger, how it grew each
day. At the same time she seemed to be tied forever to her home. She knew
that it would be best for her to go away among people, but she could not
bring herself to it since her illness. It would never be any better. She
would only be more and more tortured, and some day her self-control would
give way, and she would burst out before her father and show him the
bitterness of her heart, and then there would be strife and unhappiness.

So had the spring and early summer passed. In July she had become engaged
to Baron Adrian, in order to have her own home.

One fine forenoon Baron Adrian had galloped up to the house, riding a
magnificent horse. His hussar jacket had shone in the sun, his spurs and
sword and belt had glittered and flashed, to say nothing of his own fresh
face and smiling eyes.

Melchior Sinclair had stood on the steps and welcomed him when he came.
Marianne had sat at the window and sewed. She had seen him come, and now
heard every word he said to her father.

“Good-day, Sir Sunshine!” cried Melchior. “How fine you are! You are not
out to woo?”

“Yes, yes, uncle, that is just what I am,” he answered, and laughed.

“Is there no shame in you, boy? What have you to maintain a wife with?”

“Nothing, uncle. Had I anything, I would never get married.”

“Do you say that, do you say that, Sir Sunshine? But that fine
jacket,—you have had money enough to get you that?”

“On credit, uncle.”

“And the horse you are riding, that is worth a lot of money, I can tell
you. Where did you get that?”

“The horse is not mine, uncle.”

This was more than Melchior could withstand.

“God be with you, boy,” he said. “You do indeed need a wife who has
something. If you can win Marianne, take her.”

So everything had been made clear between them before Baron Adrian had
even dismounted. But Melchior Sinclair knew very well what he was about,
for Baron Adrian was a fine fellow.

Then the suitor had come in to Marianne and immediately burst out with
his errand.

“Oh, Marianne, dear Marianne. I have already spoken to uncle. I would
like so much to have you for my wife. Say that you will, Marianne.”

She had got at the truth. The old baron, his father, had let himself be
cheated into buying some used-up mines again. The old baron had been
buying mines all his life, and never had anything been found in them.
His mother was anxious, he himself was in debt, and now he was proposing
to her in order to thereby save the home of his ancestors and his hussar
jacket.

His home was Hedeby; it lay on the other side of the lake, almost
opposite Björne. She knew him well; they were of the same age and
playmates.

“You might marry me, Marianne. I lead such a wretched life. I have to
ride on borrowed horses and cannot pay my tailor’s bills. It can’t go on.
I shall have to resign, and then I shall shoot myself.”

“But, Adrian, what kind of a marriage would it be? We are not in the
least in love with one another.”

“Oh, as for love, I care nothing for all that nonsense,” he had then
explained. “I like to ride a good horse and to hunt, but I am no
pensioner, I am a worker. If I only could get some money, so that I could
take charge of the estate at home and give my mother some peace in her
old age, I should be happy. I should both plough and sow, for I like
work.”

Then he had looked at her with his honest eyes, and she knew that he
spoke the truth and that he was a man to depend upon. She engaged herself
to him, chiefly to get away from her home, but also because she had
always liked him.

But never would she forget that month which followed the August evening
when her engagement was announced,—all that time of madness.

Baron Adrian became each day sadder and more silent. He came very often
to Björne, sometimes several times a day, but she could not help noticing
how depressed he was. With others he could still jest, but with her he
was impossible, silent and bored. She understood what was the matter: it
was not so easy as he had believed to marry an ugly woman. No one knew
better than she how ugly she was. She had shown him that she did not
want any caresses or love-making, but he was nevertheless tortured by
the thought of her as his wife, and it seemed worse to him day by day.
Why did he care? Why did he not break it off? She had given hints which
were plain enough. She could do nothing. Her father had told her that her
reputation would not bear any more ventures in being engaged. Then she
had despised them both, and any way seemed good enough to get away from
them. But only a couple of days after the great engagement feast a sudden
and wonderful change had come.

* * * * *

In the path in front of the steps at Björne lay a big stone, which caused
much trouble and vexation. Carriages rolled over it, horses and people
tripped on it, the maids who came with heavy milk cans ran against it and
spilled the milk; but the stone remained, because it had already lain
there so many years. It had been there in the time of Sinclair’s parents,
long before any one had thought of building at Björne. He did not see why
he should take it up.

But one day at the end of August, two maids, who were carrying a heavy
tub, tripped over the stone; they fell, hurt themselves badly, and the
feeling against the stone grew strong.

It was early in the morning. Melchior was out on his morning walk, but as
the workmen were about the house between eight and nine, Madame Gustava
had several of them come and dig up the big stone.

They came with iron levers and spades, dug and strained, and at last got
the old disturber of the peace up out of his hole. Then they carried him
away to the back yard. It was work for six men.

The stone was hardly taken up before Melchior came home. You can believe
that he was angry. It was no longer the same place, he thought. Who had
dared to move the stone? Madame Gustava had given the order. Those women
had no heart in their bodies. Did not his wife know that he loved that
stone?

And then he went direct to the stone, lifted it, and carried it across
the yard to the place where it had lain, and there he flung it down. And
it was a stone which six men could scarcely lift. That deed was mightily
admired through the whole of Värmland.

While he carried the stone across the yard, Marianne had stood at the
dining-room window and looked at him. He was her master, that terrible
man with his boundless strength,—an unreasonable, capricious master, who
thought of nothing but his own pleasure.

They were in the midst of breakfast, and she had a carving-knife in her
hand. Involuntarily she lifted the knife.

Madame Gustava seized her by the wrist.

“Marianne!”

“What is the matter, mother?”

“Oh, Marianne, you looked so strange! I was frightened.”

Marianne looked at her. She was a little, dry woman, gray and wrinkled
already at fifty. She loved like a dog, without remembering knocks and
blows. She was generally good-humored, and yet she made a melancholy
impression. She was like a storm-whipped tree by the sea; she had never
had quiet to grow. She had learned to use mean shifts, to lie when
needed, and often made herself out more stupid than she was to escape
taunts. In everything she was the tool of her husband.

“Would you grieve much if father died?” asked Marianne.

“Marianne, you are angry with your father. You are always angry with him.
Why cannot everything be forgotten, since you have got a new fiancé?”

“Oh, mother, it is not my fault. Can I help shuddering at him? Do you not
see what he is? Why should I care for him? He is violent, he is uncouth,
he has tortured you till you are prematurely old. Why is he our master?
He behaves like a madman. Why shall I honor and respect him? He is not
good, he is not charitable. I know that he is strong. He is capable of
beating us to death at any moment. He can turn us out of the house when
he will. Is that why I should love him?”

But then Madame Gustava had been as never before. She had found strength
and courage and had spoken weighty words.

“You must take care, Marianne. It almost seems to me as if your father
was right when he shut you out last winter. You shall see that you will
be punished for this. You must teach yourself to bear without hating,
Marianne, to suffer without revenge.”

“Oh, mother, I am so unhappy.”

Immediately after, they heard in the hall the sound of a heavy fall.

They never knew if Melchior Sinclair had stood on the steps and through
the open dining-room door had heard Marianne’s words, or if it was only
over-exertion which had been the cause of the stroke. When they came out
he lay unconscious. They never dared to ask him the cause. He himself
never made any sign that he had heard anything. Marianne never dared to
think the thought out that she had involuntarily revenged herself. But
the sight of her father lying on the very steps where she had learnt to
hate him took all bitterness from her heart.

He soon returned to consciousness, and when he had kept quiet a few days,
he was like himself—and yet not at all like.

Marianne saw her parents walking together in the garden. It was always so
now. He never went out alone, grumbled at guests and at everything which
separated him from his wife. Old age had come upon him. He could not
bring himself to write a letter; his wife had to do it. He never decided
anything by himself, but asked her about everything and let it be as she
decided. And he was always gentle and kind. He noticed the change which
had come over him, and how happy his wife was. “She is well off now,” he
said one day to Marianne, and pointed to Madame Gustava.

“Oh, dear Melchior,” she cried, “you know very well that I would rather
have you strong again.”

And she really meant it. It was her joy to speak of him as he was in the
days of his strength. She told how he held his own in riot and revel as
well as any of the Ekeby pensioners, how he had done good business and
earned much money, just when she thought that he in his madness would
lose house and lands. But Marianne knew that she was happy in spite of
all her complaints. To be everything to her husband was enough for her.
They both looked old, prematurely broken. Marianne thought that she
could see their future life. He would get gradually weaker and weaker;
other strokes would make him more helpless, and she would watch over him
until death parted them. But the end might be far distant. Madame Gustava
could enjoy her happiness in peace still for a time. It must be so,
Marianne thought. Life owed her some compensation.

For her too it was better. No fretting despair forced her to marry to get
another master. Her wounded heart had found peace. She had to acknowledge
that she was a truer, richer, nobler person than before; what could she
wish undone of what had happened? Was it true that all suffering was
good? Could everything be turned to happiness? She had begun to consider
everything good which could help to develop her to a higher degree of
humanity. The old songs were not right. Sorrow was not the only lasting
thing. She would now go out into the world and look about for some place
where she was needed. If her father had been in his old mood, he would
never have allowed her to break her engagement. Now Madame Gustava had
arranged the matter. Marianne had even been allowed to give Baron Adrian
the money he needed.

She could think of him too with pleasure, she would be free from him.
With his bravery and love of life he had always reminded her of Gösta;
now she should see him glad again. He would again be that sunny knight
who had come in his glory to her father’s house. She would get him lands
where he could plough and dig as much as his heart desired, and she would
see him lead a beautiful bride to the altar.

With such thoughts she sits down and writes to give him back his
freedom. She writes gentle, persuasive words, sense wrapped up in jests,
and yet so that he must understand how seriously she means it.

While she writes she hears hoof-beats on the road.

“My dear Sir Sunshine,” she thinks, “it is the last time.”

Baron Adrian immediately after comes into her room.

“What, Adrian, are you coming in here?” and she looks dismayed at all her
packing.

He is shy and embarrassed and stammers out an excuse.

“I was just writing to you,” she says. “Look, you might as well read it
now.”

He takes the letter and she sits and watches him while he reads. She
longs to see his face light up with joy.

But he has not read far before he grows fiery red, throws the letter on
the floor, stamps on it, and swears terrible oaths.

Marianne trembles slightly. She is no novice in the study of love; still
she has not before understood this inexperienced boy, this great child.

“Adrian, dear Adrian,” she says, “what kind of a comedy have you played
with me? Come and tell me the truth.”

He came and almost suffocated her with caresses. Poor boy, so he had
cared and longed.

After a while she looked out. There walked Madame Gustava and talked with
her husband of flowers and birds, and here she sat and chatted of love.
“Life has let us both feel its serious side,” she thought, and smiled
sadly. “It wants to comfort us; we have each got her big child to play
with.”

However, it was good to be loved. It was sweet to hear him whisper of the
magical power which she possessed, of how he had been ashamed of what he
had said at their first conversation. He had not then known what charm
she had. Oh, no man could be near her without loving her, but she had
frightened him; he had felt so strangely subdued.

It was not happiness, nor unhappiness, but she would try to live with
this man.

She began to understand herself, and thought of the words of the old
songs about the turtle-dove. It never drinks clear water, but first
muddies it with its foot so that it may better suit its sorrowful spirit.
So too should she never go to the spring of life and drink pure, unmixed
happiness. Troubled with sorrow, life pleased her best.

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