There lived last century, in one of the high-lying inland valleys of Norway, a fiddler, who has become in some degree a legendary personage. Of the tunes and marches ascribed to him, some are said to have been inspired by the Trolls, one he heard from the devil himself, another he made to save his life, &c., &c. But the most famous of all is a Bridal March, and its story does not end with the story of his life.
Fiddler Ole Haugen was a poor cottar high among the mountains. He had a daughter, Aslaug, who had inherited his cleverness. Though she could not play his fiddle, there was music in everything she did in her talk, her singing, her walk, her dancing.
At the great farm of Tingvold, down in the valley, a young man had come home from his travels. He was the third son of the rich peasant owner, but his two elder brothers had been drowned in a flood, so the farm was to come to him. He met Aslaug at a wedding and fell in love with her. In those days it was an unheard-of thing that a well-to-do peasant of old family should court a girl of Aslaug’s class. But this young fellow had been long away, and he let his parents know that he had made enough out in the world to live upon, and that if he could not have what he wanted at home, he would let the farm go. It was prophesied that this indifference to the claims of family and property would bring its own punishment. Some said that Ole Haugen had brought it about, by means only darkly hinted at.
So much is certain, that while the conflict between the young man and his parents was going on, Haugen was in the best of spirits. When the battle was over, he said that he had already made them a Bridal March, one that would never go out of the family of Tingvold but woe to the girl, he added, whom it did not play to church as happy a bride as the cottar’s daughter, Aslaug Haugen! And here again, people talked of the influence of some mysterious evil power.
So runs the story. It is a fact that to this day the people of that mountain district have a peculiar gift of music and song, which then must have been greater still. Such a thing is not kept up without someone caring for and adding to the original treasure, and Ole Haugen was the man who did it in his time.
Tradition goes on to tell that just as Ole Haugen’s Bridal March was the merriest ever heard, so the bridal pair that it played to church, that were met by it again as they came from the altar, and that drove home with its strain in their ears, were the happiest couple that had ever been seen. And though the race of Tingvold had always been a handsome race, and after this were handsomer than ever, it is maintained that none, before or after, could equal this particular couple.
With Ole Haugen legend ends, and now history begins. Ole’s bridal march kept its place in the house of Tingvold. It was sung, and hummed, and whistled, and fiddled, in the house and in the stable, in the field and on the mountain-side. The only child born of the marriage, little Astrid, was rocked and sung to sleep with it by mother, by father, and by servants, and it was one of the first things she herself learned. There was music in the race, and this bright little one had her full share of it, and soon could hum her parent’s triumphal march, the talisman of her family, in quite a masterly way.
It was hardly to be wondered at that when she grew up, she too wished to choose her lover. Many came to woo, but at the age of twenty-three the rich and gifted girl was still single. The reason came out at last. In the house lived a quick-witted youth, whom Aslaug had taken in out of pity. He went by the name of the tramp or gipsy, though he was neither. But Aslaug was ready enough to call him so when she heard that Astrid and he were betrothed. They had pledged faith to each other in all secrecy out on the hill pastures, and had sung the bridal march together, she on the height, he answering from below.
The lad was sent away at once. No one could now show more pride of race than Aslaug, the poor cottar’s daughter. Astrid’s father called to mind what was prophesied when he broke the tradition of his family. Had it now come to a husband being taken in from the wayside? Where would it end? And the neighbors said much the same.
“The tramp,” Knut by name, soon became well known to everyone, as he took to dealing in cattle on his own account. He was the first in that part of the country to do it to any extent, and his enterprise had begun to benefit the whole district, raising prices, and bringing in capital. But he was apt to bring drinking bouts, and often fighting, in his train; and this was all that people talked of as yet; they had not begun to understand his capabilities as a business man.
Astrid was determined, and she was twenty-three, and her parents came to see that either the farm must go out of the family or Knut must come into it; through their own marriage they had lost the moral authority that might have stood them in good stead now. So Astrid had her way. One fine day the handsome, merry Knut drove with her to church. The strains of the family bridal march, her grandfather’s masterpiece, were wafted back over the great procession, and the two seemed to be sitting humming it quietly, and very happy they looked. And every one wondered how the parents looked so happy too, for they had opposed the marriage long and obstinately.
After the wedding Knut took over the farm, and the old people retired on their allowance. It was such a liberal one that people could not understand how Knut and Astrid were able to afford it; for though the farm was the largest in the district, it was not well-cultivated. But this was not all. Three times the number of workpeople were taken on, and everything was started in a new way, with an outlay unheard of in these parts. Certain ruin was foretold. But “the tramp” for his nickname had stuck to him was as merry as ever, and seemed to have infected Astrid with his humour. The quiet, gentle girl became the lively, buxom wife. Her parents were satisfied. At last people began to understand that Knut had brought to Tingvold what no one had had there before, working capital! And along with it he had brought the experience gained in trading, and a gift of handling commodities and money, and of keeping servants willing and happy.
In twelve years one would hardly have known Tingvold again. House and outbuildings were different; there were three times as many workpeople, they were three times as well off, and Knut himself, in his broadcloth coat, sat in the evenings and smoked his meerschaum pipe and drank his glass of toddy with the Captain and the Pastor and the Bailiff. To Astrid he was the cleverest and best man in the world, and she was fond of telling how in his young days he had fought and drunk just to get himself talked about, and to frighten her; “for he was so cunning!”
She followed him in everything except in leaving off peasant dress and customs; to these she always kept. Knut did not interfere with other people’s ways, so this caused no trouble between them. He lived with his “set,” and his wife saw to their entertainment, which was, however, modest enough, for he was too prudent a man to make unnecessary show or outlay of any kind. Some said that he gained more by the card-playing, and by the popularity this mode of life won for him, than all he laid out upon it, but this was probably pure malevolence.
They had several children, but the only one whose history concerns us is the eldest son, Endrid, who was to inherit the farm and carry on the honor of the house. He had all the good looks of his race, but not much in the way of brains, as is often the case with children of specially active-minded parents. His father soon observed this, and tried to make up for it by giving him a very good education. A tutor was brought into the house for the children, and when Endrid grew up he was sent to one of the agricultural training schools that were now beginning to flourish in Norway, and after that to finish off in town. He came home again a quiet young fellow, with a rather over-burdened brain and fewer town ways than his father had hoped for. But Endrid was a slow-witted youth.
The Pastor and the Captain, both with large families of daughters, had their eye on him. But if this was the reason of the increased attention they paid to Knut, they made a great mistake; the idea of a marriage between his son and a poor pastor’s or captain’s daughter, with no training to fit her for a rich farmer’s wife, was so ridiculous to him that he did not even think it necessary to warn Endrid. And indeed no warning was needed, for the lad saw as well as his father that, though there was no need for his bringing more wealth into the family through his marriage, it would be of advantage if he could again connect it with one of equal birth and position. But, as ill-luck would have it, he was but an awkward wooer. The worst of it was that he began to get the name of being a fortune-hunter; and when once a young man gets this reputation, the peasants fight shy of him. Endrid soon noticed this himself; for though he was not particularly quick, to make up for it he was very sensitive. He saw that it did not improve his position that he was dressed like a townsman, and “had learning,” as the country people said. The boy was sound at heart, and the result of the slights he met with was that by degrees he left off his town dress and town speech, and began to work on his father’s great farm as a simple labourer. His father understood he had begun to understand before the lad did and he told his wife to take no notice. So they said nothing about marriage, nor about the change in Endrid’s ways; only his father was more and more friendly to him, and consulted him in everything connected with the farm and with his other trade, and at last gave the management of the farm altogether into his hands. And of this they never needed to repent.
So the time passed till Endrid was thirty-one. He had been steadily adding to his father’s wealth and to his own experience and independence; but had never made the smallest attempt at courtship; had not looked at a girl, either in their own district or elsewhere. And now his parents were beginning to fear that he had given up thoughts of it altogether. But this was not the case.
On a neighboring farm lived in good circumstances another well-descended peasant family, that had at different times intermarried with the race of Tingvold. A girl was growing up there whom Endrid had been fond of since she was a little child; no doubt he had quietly set his heart on her, for only six months after her confirmation he spoke. She was seventeen then and he thirty-one. Randi, that was the girl’s name, did not know at first what to answer; she consulted her parents, but they said she must decide for herself. He was a good man, and from a worldly point of view she could not make a better match, but the difference in their ages was great, and she must know herself if she had the courage to undertake the new duties and cares that would come upon her as mistress of the large farm. The girl felt that her parents would rather have her say Yes than No, but she was really afraid. She went to his mother, whom she had always liked, and found to her surprise that she knew nothing. But the mother was so delighted with the idea that with all her might she urged Randi to accept him. “I’ll help you,” she said. “Father will want no allowance from the farm. He has all he needs, and he doesn’t wish his children to be longing for his death. Things will be divided at once, and the little that we keep to live on will be divided too when we are gone. So you see there will be no trouble with us.” Yes, Randi knew all along that Knut and Astrid were kind and nice. “And the boy,” said Astrid, “is good and thoughtful about everything.” Yes, Randi had felt that too; she was not afraid but that she would get on with him if she were only capable enough herself!
A few days later everything was settled. Endrid was happy, and so were his parents; for this was a much respected family that he was marrying into, and the girl was both nice-looking and clever; there was not a better match for him in the district. The parents on both sides consulted together, and settled that the wedding should be just before harvest, as there was nothing to wait for.
The neighborhood generally did not look on the engagement in the same light as the parties concerned. It was said that the pretty young girl had “sold herself.” She was so young that she hardly knew what marriage was, and the sly Knut had pushed forward his son before any other lovers had the chance. Something of this came to Randi’s ears, but Endrid was so loving to her, and in such a quiet, almost humble way, that she would not break off with him; only it made her a little cool. Both his and her parents heard what was said, but took no notice.
Perhaps just because of this talk they determined to hold the wedding in great style, and this, for the same reason, was not unacceptable to Randi. Knut’s friends, the Pastor, the Captain, and the Bailiff, with their large families, were to be among the guests, and some of them were to accompany the pair to church. On their account Knut wanted to dispense with the fiddlers it was too old-fashioned and peasant-like. But Astrid insisted that they must be played to church and home again with the Bridal March of her race. It had made her and her husband so happy; they could not but wish to hear it again on their dear children’s great festival day. There was not much sentiment about Knut; but he let his wife have her way. The bride’s parents got a hint that they might engage the fiddlers, who were asked to play the old March, the family Bridal March, that had lain quiet now for a time, because this generation had worked without song.
But alas! On the wedding day the rain poured hard. The players had to wrap up their fiddles as soon as they had played the bridal party away from the farm, and they did not take them out again till they came within sound of the church-bells. Then a boy had to stand up at the back of the cart and hold an umbrella over them, and below it they sat huddled together and sawed away. The March did not sound like itself in such weather, naturally enough, nor was it a very merry-looking bridal procession that followed. The bridegroom sat with the high bridegroom’s hat between his legs and a sou’-wester on his head; he had on a great fur coat, and he held an umbrella over the bride, who, with one shawl on the top of another, to protect the bridal crown and the rest of her finery, looked more like a wet hayrick than a human being. On they came, carriage after carriage, the men dripping, the women hidden away under their wrappings. It looked like a sort of bewitched procession, in which one could not recognize a single face; for there was not a face to be seen, nothing but huddled-up heaps of wool or fur. A laugh broke out among the specially large crowd gathered at the church on account of the great wedding. At first it was stifled, but it grew louder with each carriage that drove up. At the large house where the procession was to alight and the dresses were to be arranged a little for going into church, a hay-cart had been drawn out of the way, into the corner formed by the porch. Mounted on it stood a pedlar, a joking fellow, Aslak by name. Just as the bride was lifted down he called: “Devil take me if Ole Haugen’s Bridal March is any good to-day!”
He said no more, but that was plenty. The crowd laughed, and though many of them tried not to let it be seen that they were laughing, it was clearly felt what all were thinking and trying to hide.
When they took off the bride’s shawls they saw that she was as white as a sheet. She began to cry, tried to laugh, cried again and then all at once the feeling came over her that she could not go into the church. Amidst great excitement she was laid on a bed in a quiet room, for such a violent fit of crying had seized her that they were much alarmed. Her good parents stood beside the bed, and when she begged them to let her go back, they said that she might do just as she liked. Then her eyes fell on Endrid. Any one so utterly miserable and helpless she had never seen before; and beside him stood his mother, silent and motionless, with the tears running down her face and her eyes fixed on Randi’s. Then Randi raised herself on her elbow and looked straight in front of her for a little, still sobbing after the fit of crying. “No, no,!” she said, “I’m going to church.” Once more she lay back and cried for a little, and then she got up. She said that she would have no more music, so the fiddlers were dismissed and the story did not lose in their telling when they got among the crowd.
It was a mournful bridal procession that now moved on towards the church. The rain allowed of the bride and bridegroom hiding their faces from the curiosity of the onlookers till they got inside; but they felt that they were running the gauntlet, and they felt too that their own friends were annoyed at being laughed at as part of such a foolish procession.
The grave of the famous fiddler, Ole Haugen, lay close by the church-door. Without saying much about it, the family had always tended it, and a new head-board had been put up when the old one had rotted away below. The upper part of it was in the shape of a wheel, as Ole himself had desired. The grave was in a sunny spot, and was thickly overgrown with wild flowers. Every churchgoer that had ever stood by it had heard from someone or other how a botanist in government pay, making a collection of the plants and flowers of the valley and the mountains round about, had found flowers on that grave that did not grow anywhere else in the neighbourhood. And the peasants, who as a rule cared little about what they called “weeds,” took pride in these particular ones a pride mixed with curiosity and even awe. Some of the flowers were remarkably beautiful. But as the bridal pair passed the grave, Endrid, who was holding Randi’s hand, felt that she shivered; immediately she began to cry again, walked crying into the church, and was led crying to her place. No bride within the memory of man had made such an entrance into that church.
She felt as she sat there that all this was helping to confirm the report that she had been sold. The thought of the shame she was bringing on her parents made her turn cold, and for a little she was able to stop crying. But at the altar she was moved again by some word of the priest’s, and immediately the thought of all she had gone through that day came over her; and for the moment she had the feeling that never, no, never again, could she look people in the face, and least of all her own father and mother.
Things got no better as the day went on. She was not able to sit with the guests at the dinner-table; in the evening she was half coaxed, half forced to appear at supper, but she spoiled every one’s pleasure, and had to be taken away to bed. The wedding festivities, that were to have gone on for several days, ended that evening. It was given out that the bride was ill.
Though neither those who said this nor those who heard it believed it, it was only too true. She was really ill, and she did not soon recover. One consequence of this was that their first child was sickly. The parents were not the less devoted to it from understanding that they themselves were to a certain extent the cause of its suffering. They never left that child. They never went to church, for they had got shy of people. For two years God gave them the joy of the child, and then He took it from them.
The first thought that struck them after this blow was that they had been too fond of their child. That was why they had lost it. So, when another came, it seemed as if neither of them dared to show their love for it. But this little one, though it too was sickly at first, grew stronger, and was so sweet and bright that they could not restrain their feelings. A new, pure happiness had come to them; they could almost forget all that had happened. When this child was two years old, God took it too.
Some people seem to be chosen out by sorrow. They are the very people that seem to us to need it least, but at the same time they are those that are best fitted to bear trials and yet to keep their faith. These two had early sought God together; after this they lived as it were in His presence. The life at Tingvold had long been a quiet one; now the house was like a church before the priest comes in. The work went on perfectly steadily, but at intervals during the day Endrid and Randi worshipped together, communing with those “on the other side.” It made no change in their habits that Randi, soon after their last loss, had a little daughter. The children that were dead were boys, and this made them not care so much for a girl. Besides they did not know if they were to be allowed to keep her. But the health and happiness that the mother had enjoyed up to the time of the death of the last little boy, had benefited this child, who soon showed herself to be a bright little girl, with her mother’s pretty face. The two lonely people again felt the temptation to be hopeful and happy in their child; but the fateful two years were not over, and they dared not. As the time drew near, they felt as if they had only been allowed a respite.
Knut and Astrid kept a good deal to themselves. The way in which the young people had taken things did not allow of much sympathy or consolation being offered them. Besides, Knut was too lively and worldly-minded to sit long in a house of mourning or to be always coming in upon a prayer meeting. He moved to a small farm that he had bought and let, but now took back into his own hands. There he arranged everything so comfortably and nicely for his dear Astrid, that people whose intention it was to go to Tingvold, rather stayed and laughed with him than went on to cry with his children.
One day when Astrid was in her daughter-in-law’s house, she noticed how little Mildrid went about quite alone; it seemed as if her mother hardly dared to touch her. When the father came in, she saw the same mournful sort of reserve towards his own, only child. She concealed her thoughts, but when she got home to her own dear Knut, she told him how things stood at Tingvold, and added: “Our place is there now. Little Mildrid needs someone that dares to love her; pretty, sweet little child that she is!” Knut was infected by her eagerness, and the two old people packed up and went home.
Mildrid was now much with her grandparents, and they taught her parents to love her. When she was five years old her mother had another daughter, who was called Beret; and after this Mildrid lived almost altogether with the old people. The anxious parents began once more to feel as if there might yet be pleasure for them in life, and a change in the popular feeling towards them helped them.
After the loss of the second child, though there were often the traces of tears on their faces, no one had ever seen them weep their grief was silent. There was no changing of servants at Tingvold, that was one result of the peaceful, God-fearing life there; nothing but praise of master and mistress was ever heard. They themselves knew this, and it gave them a feeling of comfort and security. Relations and friends began to visit them again; and went on doing so, even though the Tingvold people made no return.
But they had not been at church since their wedding-day! They partook of the Communion at home, and held worship there. But when the second girl was born, they were so desirous to be her godparents themselves that they made up their minds to venture. They stood together at their children’s graves; they passed Ole Haugen’s without word or movement; the whole congregation showed them respect. But they continued to keep themselves very much to themselves, and a pious peace rested over their house.
One day in her grandmother’s house little Mildrid was heard singing the Bridal March. Old Astrid stopped her work in a fright, and asked her where in the world she had learned that. The child answered: “From you, grandmother.” Knut, who was sitting in the house, laughed heartily, for he knew that Astrid had a habit of humming it when she sat at work. But they both said to little Mildrid that she must never sing it when her parents were within hearing. Like a child, she asked “Why?” But to this question she got no answer. One evening she heard the new herd-boy singing it as he was cutting wood. She told her grandmother, who had heard it too. All grandmother said was: “He’ll not grow old here!” and sure enough he had to go next day. No reason was given; he got his wages and was sent about his business. Mildrid was so excited about this, that grandmother had to try to tell her the story of the Bridal March. The little eight year old girl understood it well enough, and what she did not understand then became clear to her later. It had an influence on her child-life, and especially on her conduct towards her parents, that nothing else had or could have had.
She had always noticed that they liked quietness. It was no hardship to her to please them in this; they were so gentle, and talked so much and so sweetly to her of the children’s great Friend in heaven, that it cast a sort of charm over the whole house. The story of the Bridal March affected her deeply, and gave her an understanding of all that they had gone through. She carefully avoided recalling to them any painful memories, and showed them the tenderest affection, sharing with them their love of God, their truthfulness, their quietness, their industry. And she taught Beret to do the same.
In their grandfather’s house the life that had to be suppressed at home got leave to expand. Here there was singing and dancing and play and story-telling. So the sisters’ young days passed between devotion to their melancholy parents in the quiet house, and the glad life they were allowed to take part in at their grandfather’s. The families lived in perfect understanding. It was the parents who told them to go to the old people and enjoy themselves, and the old people who told them to go back again, “and be sure to be good girls.”
When a girl between the age of twelve and sixteen takes a sister between seven and eleven into her full confidence, the confidence is rewarded by great devotion. But the little one is apt to become too old for her years. This happened with Beret, while Mildrid only gained by being forbearing and kind and sympathetic–and she made her parents and grandparents happy.
There is no more to tell till Mildrid was in her fifteenth year; then old Knut died, suddenly and easily. There seemed almost no time between the day when he sat joking in the chimney-corner and the day when he lay in his coffin.
After this, grandmother’s greatest pleasure was to have Mildrid sitting on a stool at her feet, as she had done ever since she was a little child, and to tell her stories about Knut, or else to get her to hum the Bridal March. As Astrid sat listening to it, she saw Knut’s handsome dark head as she used to see it in her young days; she followed him out to the mountain-side, where he blew the March on his herd-boy’s horn, she drove to church by his side all his brightness and cleverness lived again for her!
But in Mildrid’s soul a new feeling began to stir. Whilst she sat and sang for grandmother, she asked herself: “Will it ever be played for me?” The thought grew upon her, the March spoke to her of such radiant happiness. She saw a bride’s crown glittering in its sunshine, and a long, bright future beyond that. Sixteen and she asked herself: “Shall I, shall I ever have someone sitting beside me, with the Bridal March shining in his eyes? Only think, if father and mother were one day to drive with me in such a procession, with the people greeting us on every side, on to the house where mother was jeered at that day, past Ole Haugen’s flower-covered grave, up to the altar, in a glory of happiness! Think what it would be if I could give father and mother that consolation!” And the child’s heart swelled, imagining all this to herself, swelled with pride and with devotion to those dear parents who had suffered so much.
These were the first thoughts that she did not confide to Beret. Soon there were more. Beret, who was now eleven, noticed that she was left more to herself, but did not understand that she was being gradually shut out from Mildrid’s confidence, till she saw another taken into her place. This was Inga, from the neighbouring farm, a girl of eighteen, their own cousin, newly betrothed. When Mildrid and Inga walked about in the fields, whispering and laughing, with their arms round each other, as girls love to go, poor Beret would throw herself down and cry with jealousy.
The time came on for Mildrid to be confirmed; she made acquaintance with other young people of her own age, and some of them began to come up to Tingvold on Sundays. Mildrid saw them either out of doors or in her grandmother’s room. Tingvold had always been a forbidden, and consequently mysteriously attractive place to the young people. But even now, only those with a certain quietness and seriousness of disposition went there, for it could not be denied that there was something subdued about Mildrid, that did not attract every one.
At this particular time there was a great deal of music and singing among the youth of the district. For some reason or other there are such periods, and these periods have their leaders. One of the leaders now was, curiously enough, again of the race of Haugen.
Amongst a people where once on a time, even though it were hundreds of years ago, almost every man and woman sought and found expression for their intensest feelings and experiences in song, and were able themselves to make the verses that gave them relief amongst such a people the art can never quite die out. Here and there, even though it does not make itself heard, it must exist, ready on occasion to be awakened to new life. But in this district songs had been made and sung from time immemorial. It was by no mere chance that Ole Haugen was born here, and here became what he was. Now it was his grandson in whom the gift had reappeared.
Ole’s son had been so much younger than the daughter who had married into the Tingvold family, that the latter, already a married woman, had stood godmother to her little brother. After a life full of changes, this son, as an old man, had come into possession of his father’s home and little bit of land far up on the mountain-side; and, strangely enough, not till then did he marry. He had several children, among them a boy called Hans, who seemed to have inherited his grandfather’s gifts not exactly in the way of fiddle-playing, though he did play but he sang the old songs beautifully and made new ones himself. People’s appreciation of his songs was not a little added to by the fact that so few knew himself; there were not many that had even seen him. His old father had been a hunter, and while the boys were quite small, the old man took them out to the hillside and taught them to load and aim a gun. They always remembered how pleased he was when they were able to earn enough with their shooting to pay for their own powder and shot. He did not live long after this, and soon after his death their mother died too, and the children were left to take care of themselves, which they managed to do. The boys hunted and the girls looked after the little hill farm. People turned to look at them when they once in a way showed themselves in the valley; they were so seldom there. It was a long, bad road down. In winter they occasionally came to sell or send off the produce of their hunting; in summer they were busy with the strangers. Their little holding was the highest lying in the district, and it became famed for having that pure mountain air which cures people suffering from their lungs or nerves, better than any yet discovered medicine; every year they had as many summer visitors, from town, and even from abroad, as they could accommodate. They added several rooms to their house, and still it was always full. So these brothers and sisters, from being poor, very poor, came to be quite well-to-do. Intercourse with so many strangers had made them a little different from the other country people they even knew something of foreign languages. Hans was now twenty-seven. Some years before he had bought up his brothers’ and sisters’ shares, so that the whole place belonged to him.
Not one of the family had ever set foot in the house of their relations at Tingvold. Endrid and Randi Tingvold, though they had doubtless never put the feeling into words, could just as little bear to hear the name of Haugen as to hear the Bridal March. These children’s poor father had been made to feel this, and in consequence, Hans had forbidden his brothers and sisters ever to go to the house. But the girls at Tingvold, who loved music, longed to make acquaintance with Hans, and when they and their girl friends were together, they talked more about the family at Haugen than about anything else. Hans’s songs and tunes were sung and danced to, and they were forever planning how they could manage to meet the young farmer of Haugen.
After this happy time of young companionship came Mildrid’s confirmation. Just before it there was a quiet pause, and after it came another. Mildrid, now about seventeen, spent the autumn almost alone with her parents. In spring, or rather summer, she was, like all the other girls after their confirmation, to go to the soeter in charge of cattle. She was delighted at the thought of this, especially as her friend Inga was to be at the next soeter.
At last her longing for the time to come grew so strong that she had no peace at home, and Beret, who was to accompany her, grew restless too. When they got settled in the soeter Beret was quite absorbed in the new, strange life, but Mildrid was still restless. She had her busy times with the cattle and the milk, but there were long idle hours that she did not know how to dispose of. Some days she spent them with Inga, listening to her stories of her lover, but often she had no inclination to go there. She was glad when Inga came to her, and affectionate, as if she wanted to make up for her faithlessness. She seldom talked to Beret, and often when Beret talked to her, answered nothing but Yes or No. When Inga came, Beret took herself off, and when Mildrid went to see Inga, Beret went crying away after the cows, and had the herd-boys for company. Mildrid felt that there was something wrong in all this, but with the best will she could not set it right.
She was sitting one day near the soeter, herding the goats and sheep, because one of the herd-boys had played truant and she had to do his work. It was a warm midday; she was sitting in the shade of a hillock overgrown with birch and underwood; she had thrown off her jacket and taken her knitting in her hand, and was expecting Inga. Something rustled behind her. “There she comes,” thought Mildrid, and looked up.
But there was more noise than Inga was likely to make, and such a breaking and cracking among the bushes. Mildrid turned pale, got up, and saw something hairy and a pair of eyes below it must be a bear’s head! She wanted to scream, but no voice would come; she wanted to run, but could not stir. The thing raised itself up it was a tall, broad-shouldered man with a fur cap, a gun in his hand. He stopped short among the bushes and looked at her sharply for a second or two, then took a step forward, a jump, and stood in the field beside her. Something moved at her feet, and she gave a little cry; it was his dog that she had not seen before.
“Oh, dear!” she said; “I thought it was a bear breaking through the bushes, and I got such a fright!” And she tried to laugh.
“Well, it might almost have been that,” said he, speaking in a very quiet voice; “Kvas and I were on the track of a bear; but now we have lost it; and if I have a ‘Vardoeger,’ it is certainly a bear.”
He smiled. She looked at him. Who can he be? Tall, broad-shouldered, wiry; his eyes restless, so that she could not see them rightly; besides, she was standing quite close to him, just where he had suddenly appeared before her with his dog and his gun.
She felt the inclination to say, “Go away!” but instead she drew back a few steps, and asked: “Who are you?” She was really frightened.
“Hans Haugen,” answered the man rather absently; for he was paying attention to the dog, which seemed to have found the track of the bear again. He was just going to add, “Good-bye!” but when he looked at her she was blushing; cheeks, neck, and bosom crimson.
“What’s the matter?” said he, astonished.
She did not know what to do or where to go, whether to run away or to sit down.
“Who are you?” asked Hans in his turn.
Once again she turned crimson, for to tell him her name was to tell him everything.
“Who are you?” he repeated, as if it were the most natural question in the world, and deserved an answer.
And she could not refuse the answer, though she felt ashamed of herself, and ashamed of her parents, who had neglected their own kindred. The name had to be said. “Mildrid Tingvold,” she whispered, and burst into tears.
It was true enough; the Tingvold people had given him little reason to care for them. Of his own free will he would scarcely have spoken to one of them. But he had never foreseen anything like this, and he looked at the girl in amazement. He seemed to remember some story of her mother having cried like that in church on her wedding-day. “Perhaps it’s in the family,” he thought, and turned to go. “Forgive me for having frightened you,” he said, and took his way up the hillside after his dog.
By the time she ventured to look up he had just reached the top of the ridge, and there he turned to look at her. It was only for an instant, for at that moment the dog barked on the other side. Hans gave a start, held his gun in readiness, and hurried on. Mildrid was still gazing at the place where he had stood, when a shot startled her. Could that be the bear? Could it have been so near her?
Off she went, climbing where he had just climbed, till she stood where he had stood, shading her eyes with her hand, and sure enough, there he was, half hidden by a bush, on his knees beside a huge bear! Before she knew what she was doing, she was down beside him. He gave her a smile of welcome, and explained to her, in his low voice, how it had happened that they had lost the track and the dog had not scented the animal till they were almost upon it. By this time she had forgotten her tears and her bashfulness, and he had drawn his knife to skin the bear on the spot. The flesh was of no value at this time; he meant to bury the carcass and take only the skin. So she held, and he skinned; then she ran down to the soeter for an axe and a spade; and although she still felt afraid of the bear, and it had a bad smell, she kept on helping him till all was finished. By this time it was long past twelve o’clock, and he invited himself to dinner at the soeter. He washed himself and the skin, no small piece of work, and then came in and sat beside her while she finished preparing the food.
He chatted about one thing and another, easily and pleasantly, in the low voice that seems to become natural to people who are much alone. Mildrid gave the shortest answers possible, and when it came to sitting opposite him at the table, she could neither speak nor eat, and there was often silence between them. When she had finished he turned round his chair and filled and lit his pipe. He too was quieter now, and presently he got up. “I must be going,” he said, holding out his hand, “it’s a long way home from here.” Then added, in a still lower voice: “Do you sit every day where you were to-day?” He held her hand for a moment, expecting an answer; but she dared not look up, much less speak. Then she felt him press her hand quickly. “Good-bye, then, and thank you!” he said in a louder tone, and before she could collect herself, she saw him, with the bearskin over his shoulder, the gun in his hand, and the dog at his side, striding away over the heather. There was a dip in the hills just there, and she saw him clear against the sky; his light, firm step taking him quickly away. She watched till he was out of sight, then came outside and sat down, still looking in the same direction.
Not till now was she aware that her heart was beating so violently that she had to press her hands over it. In a minute or two she lay down on the grass, leaning her head on her arm, and began to go carefully over every event of the day. She saw him start up among the bushes and stand before her, strong and active, looking restlessly round. She felt over again the bewilderment and the fright, and her tears of shame. She saw him against the sun, on the height; she heard the shot, and was again on her knees before him, helping him with the skinning of the bear. She heard once more every word that he said, in that low voice that sounded so friendly, and that touched her heart as she thought of it; she listened to it as he sat beside the hearth while she was cooking, and then at table with her. She felt that she had no longer dared to look into his face, so that at last she had made him feel awkward too; for he had grown silent. Then she heard him speak once again, as he took her hand; and she felt his clasp felt it still, through her whole body. She saw him go away over the heather away, away!
Would he ever come back? Impossible, after the way she had behaved. How strong, and brave, and self-reliant was everything she had seen of him, and how stupid and miserable all that he had seen of her, from her first scream of fright when the dog touched her, to her blush of shame and her tears; from the clumsy help she gave him, to her slowness in preparing the food. And to think that when he looked at her she was not able to speak; not even to say No, when he asked her if she sat under the hill every day for she didn’t sit there every day! Might not her silence then have seemed like an invitation to him to come and see? Might not her whole miserable helplessness have been misunderstood in the same way? What shame she felt now! She was hot all over with it, and she buried her burning face deeper and deeper in the grass. Then she called up the whole picture once more; all his excellences and her shortcomings; and again the shame of it all overwhelmed her.
She was still lying there when the sound of the bells told her that the cattle were coming home; then she jumped up and began to work. Beret saw as soon as she came that something had happened. Mildrid asked such stupid questions and gave such absurd answers, and altogether behaved in such an extraordinary way, that she several times just stopped and stared at her. When it came to supper-time, and Mildrid, instead of taking her place at the table, went and sat down outside, saying that she had just had dinner, Beret was as intensely on the alert as a dog who scents game at hand. She took her supper and went to bed. The sisters slept in the same bed, and, as Mildrid did not come, Beret got up softly once or twice to look if her sister were still sitting out there, and if she were alone. Yes, she was there, and alone.
Eleven o’clock, and then twelve, and then one, and still Mildrid sat and Beret waked. She pretended to be asleep when Mildrid came at last, and Mildrid moved softly, so softly; but her sister heard her sobbing, and when she had got into bed she heard her say her usual evening prayer so sadly, heard her whisper: “O God, help me, help me!” It made Beret so unhappy that she could not get to sleep even now. She felt her sister restlessly changing from one position to another; she saw her at last giving it up, throwing aside the covering, and lying open-eyed, with her hands below her head, staring into vacancy. She saw and heard no more, for at last she fell asleep.
When she awoke next morning Mildrid’s place was empty. Beret jumped up; the sun was high in the sky; the cattle were away long ago. She found her breakfast set ready, took it hurriedly, and went out and saw Mildrid at work, but looking ill. Beret said that she was going to hurry after the cattle. Mildrid said nothing in answer, but gave her a glance as though of thanks. The younger girl stood a minute thinking, and then went off.
Mildrid looked round; yes, she was alone. She hastily put away the dishes, leaving everything else as it was. Then she washed herself and changed her dress, took her knitting, and set off up the hill.
She had not the new strength of the new day, for she had hardly slept or eaten anything for twenty-four hours. She walked in a dream, and knew nothing clearly till she was at the place where she had sat yesterday.
Hardly had she seated herself when she thought: “If he were to come and find me here, he would believe” She started up mechanically. There was his dog on the hillside. It stood still and looked at her, then rushed down to her, wagging its tail. Her heart stopped beating. There he stood, with his gun gleaming in the sun, just as he had stood yesterday. To-day he had come another way. He smiled to her, ran down, and stood before her. She had given a little scream and sunk down on the grass again. It was more than she could do to stand up; she let her knitting drop, and put her hands up to her face. He did not say a word. He lay down on the grass in front of her, and looked up at her, the dog at his side with its eyes fixed on him. She felt that though she was turning her head away, he could see her hot blush, her eyes, her whole face. She heard him breathing quickly; she thought she felt his breath on her hand. She did not want him to speak, and yet his silence was dreadful. She knew that he must understand why she was sitting there; and greater shame than this no one had ever felt. But it was not right of him, either, to have come, and still worse of him to be lying there.
Then she felt him take one of her hands and hold it tight, then the other, so that she had to turn a little that way; he drew her gently, but strongly and firmly towards him with eye and hand, till she was at his side, her head fallen on his shoulder. She felt him stroke her hair with one hand, but she dared not look up. Presently she broke into passionate weeping at the thought of her shameful behaviour.
“Yes, you may cry,” said he, “but I will laugh; what has happened to us two is matter both for laughter and for tears.”
His voice shook. And now he bent over her and whispered that the farther away he went from her yesterday the nearer he seemed to be to her. The feeling overmastered him so, that when he reached his little shooting cabin, where he had a German officer with him this summer, recruiting after the war, he left the guest to take care of himself, and wandered farther up the mountain. He spent the night on the heights, sometimes sitting, sometimes wandering about. He went home to breakfast, but away again immediately. He was twenty-eight now, no longer a boy, and he felt that either this girl must be his or it would go badly with him. He wandered to the place where they had met yesterday; he did not expect that she would be there again; but when he saw her, he felt that he must make the venture; and when he came to see that she was feeling just as he was “Why, then” and he raised her head gently. And she had stopped crying, and his eyes shone so that she had to look into them, and then she turned red and put her head down again.
He went on talking in his low, half-whispering voice. The sun shone through the tree-tops, the birches trembled in the breeze, the birds mingled their song with the sound of a little stream rippling over its stony bed.
How long the two sat there together, neither of them knew. At last the dog startled them. He had made several excursions, and each time had come back and lain down beside them again; but now he ran barking down the hill. They both jumped up and stood for a minute listening. But nothing appeared. Then they looked at each other again, and Hans lifted her up in his arms. She had not been lifted like this since she was a child, and there was something about it that made her feel helpless. When he looked up beaming into her face, she bent and put her arms round his neck he was now her strength, her future, her happiness, her life itself she resisted no longer.
Nothing was said. He held her tight; she clung to him. He carried her to the place where she had sat at first, and sat down there with her on his knee. She did not unloose her arms; she only bent her head close down to his so as to hide her face from him. He was just going to force her to let him look into it, when someone right in front of them called in a voice of astonishment: “Mildrid!”
It was Inga, who had come up after the dog. Mildrid sprang to her feet, looked at her friend for an instant, then went up to her, put one arm round her neck, and laid her head on her shoulder. Inga put her arm round Mildrid’s waist. “Who is he?” she whispered, and Mildrid felt her tremble, but said nothing. Inga knew who he was knew him quite well but could not believe her own eyes. Then Hans came slowly forward, “I thought you knew me,” he said quietly; “I am Hans Haugen.” When she heard his voice, Mildrid lifted her head. How good and true he looked as he stood there! He held out his hand; she went forward and took it, and looked at her friend with a flush of mingled shame and joy.
Then Hans took his gun and said good-bye, whispering to Mildrid: “You may be sure I’ll come soon again!”
The girls walked with him as far as the soeter, and watched him, as Mildrid had done yesterday, striding away over the heather in the sunlight. They stood as long as they could see him; Mildrid, who was leaning on Inga, would not let her go; Inga felt that she did not want her to move or speak. From time to time one or the other whispered: “He’s looking back!” When he was out of sight Mildrid turned round to Inga and said: “Don’t ask me anything. I can’t tell you about it!” She held her tight for a second, and then they walked towards the soeter-house. Mildrid remembered now how she had left all her work undone. Inga helped her with it. They spoke very little, and only about the work. Just once Mildrid stopped, and whispered: “Isn’t he handsome?”
She set out some dinner, but could eat little herself, though she felt the need both of food and sleep. Inga left as soon as she could, for she saw that Mildrid would rather be alone. Then Mildrid lay down on her bed. She was lying, half asleep already, thinking over the events of the morning, and trying to remember the nicest things that Hans had said, when it suddenly occurred to her to ask herself what she had answered. Then it flashed upon her that during their whole meeting she had not spoken, not said a single word!
She sat up in bed and said to herself: “He could not have gone far till this must have struck him too and what can he have thought? He must take me for a creature without a will, going about in a dream. How can he go on caring for me? Yesterday it was not till he had gone away from me that he found out he cared for me at all what will he find out to-day?” she asked herself with a shiver of dread. She got up, went out, and sat down where she had sat so long yesterday.
All her life Mildrid had been accustomed to take herself to account for her behaviour; circumstances had obliged her to walk carefully. Now, thinking over what had happened these last two days, it struck her forcibly that she had behaved without tact, without thought, almost without modesty. She had never read or heard about anything happening like this; she looked at it from the peasant’s point of view, and none take these matters more strictly than they. It is seemly to control one’s feelings it is honourable to be slow to show them. She, who had done this all her life, and consequently been respected by everyone, had in one day given herself to a man she had never seen before! Why, he himself must be the first to despise her! It showed how bad things were, that she dared not tell what had happened, not even to Inga!
With the first sound of the cow-bells in the distance came Beret, to find her sister sitting on the bench in front of the soeter-house, looking half dead. Beret stood in front of her till she was forced to raise her head and look at her. Mildrid’s eyes were red with crying, and her whole expression was one of suffering. But it changed to surprise when she saw Beret’s face, which was scarlet with excitement.
“Whatever is the matter with you?” she exclaimed.
“Nothing!” answered Beret, standing staring fixedly at Mildrid, who at last looked away, and got up to go and attend to the cows.
The sisters did not meet again till supper, when they sat opposite to each other. Mildrid was not able to eat more then a few mouthfuls. She sat and looked absently at the others, oftenest at Beret, who ate on steadily, gulping down her food like a hungry dog.
“Have you had nothing to eat to-day?” asked Mildrid.
“No!” answered Beret, and ate on. Presently Mildrid spoke again: “Have you not been with the herds then?”
“No!” answered her sister and both of the boys. Before them Mildrid would not ask more, and afterwards her own morbid reflections took possession of her again, and along with them the feeling that she was no fit person to be in charge of Beret. This was one more added to the reproaches she made to herself all that long summer evening and far into the night.
There she sat, on the bench by the door, till the blood-red clouds changed gradually to cold grey, no peace and no desire for sleep coming to her. The poor child had never before been in real distress. Oh, how she prayed! She stopped and she began again; she repeated prayers that she had learned, and she made up petitions of her own. At last, utterly exhausted, she went to bed.
There she tried once more to collect her thoughts for a final struggle with the terrible question, Should she give him up or not? But she had no strength left; she could only say over and over again: “Help me, O God! help me!” She went on like this for a long time, sometimes saying it in to herself, sometimes out loud. All at once she got such a fright that she gave a loud scream. Beret was kneeling up in bed looking at her; her sparkling eyes, hot face, and short breathing showing a terrible state of excitement.
“Who is he?” she whispered, almost threateningly. Mildrid, crushed by her self-torture, and worn out in soul and body, could not answer; she began to cry.
“Who is he?” repeated the other, closer to her face; “you needn’t try to hide it any longer; I was watching you to-day the whole time!”
Mildrid held up her arms as if to defend herself, but Beret beat them back, looked straight into her eyes, and again repeated, “Who is he, I say?”
“Beret, Beret!” moaned Mildrid; “have I ever been anything but kind to you since you were a little child. Why are you so cruel to me now that I am in trouble?”
Then Beret, moved by her tears, let go her arms; but her short hard breathing still betrayed her excitement. “Is it Hans Haugen?” she whispered.
There was a moment of breathless suspense, and then Mildrid whispered back: “Yes” and began to cry again.
Beret drew down her arms once more; she wanted to see her face. “Why did you not tell me about it, Mildrid?” she asked, with the same fierce eagerness.
“Beret, I didn’t know it myself. I never saw him till yesterday. And as soon as I saw him I loved him, and let him see it, and that is what is making me so unhappy, so unhappy that I feel as if I must die of it!”
“You never saw him before yesterday?” screamed Beret, so astonished that she could hardly believe it.
“Never in my life!” replied Mildrid. “Isn’t it shameful, Beret?”
But Beret threw her arms round her sister’s neck, and kissed her over and over again.
“Dear, sweet Mildrid, I’m so glad!” she whispered, now radiant with joy. “I’m so glad, so glad!” and she kissed her once more. “And you’ll see how I can keep a secret, Mildrid!” She hugged her to her breast, but sat up again, and said sorrowfully: “And you thought I couldn’t do it; O Mildrid! not even when it was about you!”
And now it was Beret’s turn to cry. “Why have you put me away? Why have you taken Inga instead of me? You’ve made me so dreadfully unhappy, Mildrid! O Mildrid, you don’t know how I love you!” and she clung to her. Then Mildrid kissed her, and told her that she had done it without thinking what she was doing, but that now she would never again put her aside, and would tell her everything, because she was so good and true and faithful.
The sisters lay for a little with their arms round each other; then Beret sat up again; she wanted to look into her sister’s face in the light of the summer night that was gradually taking a tinge of red from the coming dawn. Then she burst out with: “Mildrid, how handsome he is! How did he come? How did you see him first? What did he say? Do tell me about it!”
And Mildrid now poured out to her sister all that a few hours ago it had seemed to her she could never tell to anybody. She was sometimes interrupted by Beret’s throwing her arms round her and hugging her, but she went on again with all the more pleasure. It seemed to her like a strange legend of the woods. They laughed and they cried. Sleep had gone from them both. The sun found them still entranced by this wonderful tale Mildrid lying down or resting on one elbow and talking, Beret kneeling beside her, her mouth half open, her eyes sparkling, from time to time giving a little cry of delight.
They got up together and did their work together, and when they had finished, and for the sake of appearances taken a little breakfast, they prepared for the meeting with Hans. He was sure to come soon! They dressed themselves out in their best, and went up to Mildrid’s place on the hill. Beret showed where she had lain hidden yesterday. The dog had found her out, she said, and paid her several visits. The weather was fine to-day too, though there were some clouds in the sky. The girls found plenty to say to each other, till it was about the time when Hans might be expected. Beret ran once or twice up to the top of the hill, to see if he were in sight, but there was no sign of him. Then they began to grow impatient, and at last Mildrid got so excited that Beret was frightened. She tried to soothe her by reminding her that Hans was not his own master; that he had left the German gentleman two whole days to fish and shoot alone, and prepare food for himself; and that he would hardly dare to leave him a third. And Mildrid acknowledged that this might be so.
“What do you think father and mother will say to all this?” asked Beret, just to divert Mildrid’s thoughts. She repented the moment the words were uttered. Mildrid turned pale and stared at Beret, who stared back at her. Beret wondered if her sister had never thought of this till now, and said so. Yes; she had thought of it, but as of something very far off. The fear of what Hans Haugen might think of her, the shame of her own weakness and stupidity, had so occupied her mind that they had left no room for anything else. But now things suddenly changed round, and she could think of nothing but her parents.
Beret again tried to comfort her. Whenever father and mother saw Hans, they would feel that Mildrid was right they would never make her unhappy who had given them their greatest happiness. Grandmother would help her. No one could say a word against Hans Haugen, and he would never give her up! Mildrid heard all this, but did not take it in, for she was thinking of something else, and to get time to think it out rightly, she asked Beret to go and prepare the dinner. And Beret walked slowly away, looking back several times.
Mildrid wanted to be left alone a little to make up her mind whether she should go at once and tell her parents. It seemed a terrible matter to her in her excited, exhausted state. She felt now that it would be a sin if she saw Hans again without their knowledge. She had done very wrong in engaging herself to him without having their consent; but she had been in a manner surprised into that; it had come about almost without her will. Her duty now, though, was clearly to go and tell them.
She rose to her feet, with a new light in her eyes. She would do what was right. Before Hans stood there again, her parents should know all. “That’s it!” she said, aloud, as if someone were there, and then hurried down to the soeter to tell Beret. But Beret was nowhere to be seen. “Beret! Beret!” shouted Mildrid, but only the echoes gave answer. Excited Mildrid was already, but now she got frightened too. Beret’s great eyes, as she asked: “What do you think father and mother will say to this?” seemed to grow ever greater and more threatening. Surely she could never have gone off to tell them? Yet it would be just like her hasty way to think she would settle the thing at once, and bring comfort to her sister. To be sure that was it! And if Beret reached home before her, father and mother would get a wrong idea of everything!
Off Mildrid went, down the road that led to the valley. She walked unconsciously faster and faster, carried away by ever-increasing excitement; till her head began to turn and her breathing to get oppressed. She had to sit down for a rest. Sitting did not seem to help her, so she stretched herself out, resting her head on her arm, and lay there, feeling forsaken, helpless, almost betrayed by affection it was true but still betrayed.
In a few moments she was asleep! For two days and nights she had hardly slept or eaten; and she had no idea of the effect this had had on her mind and body the child who till now had eaten and slept so regularly and peacefully in her quiet home. How was it possible that she could understand anything at all of what had happened to her? All that she had been able to give to her affectionate but melancholy parents out of her heart’s rich store of love, was a kind of watchful care; in her grandmother’s brighter home longings for something more had often come over her, but there was nothing even there to satisfy them. So now when love’s full spring burst upon her, she stood amidst its rain of blossoms frightened and ashamed.
Tormented by her innocent conscience, the poor tired child had run a race with herself till she fell now she slept, caressed by the pure mountain breeze.
Beret had not gone home, but away to fetch Hans Haugen. She had far to go, and most of the way was unknown to her. It went first by the edge of a wood, and then higher over bare flats, not quite safe from wild animals, which she knew had been seen there lately. But she went on, for Hans really must come. If he did not, she was sure things would go badly with Mildrid; she seemed so changed to-day.
In spite of her anxiety about Mildrid, Beret’s heart was light, and she stepped merrily on, her thoughts running all the time on this wonderful adventure. She could think of no one better or grander than Hans Haugen, and none but the very best was good enough for Mildrid. There was nothing whatever to be surprised at in Mildrid’s giving herself up to him at once; just as little as in his at once falling in love with her. If father and mother could not be brought to understand this, they must just be left to do as they chose, and the two must fight their own battle as her great-grandparents had done, and her grandparents too and she began to sing the old Bridal March. Its joyful tones sounded far over the bare heights and seemed to die away among the clouds.
When she got right on the top of the hill she was crossing, she stood and shouted “Hurrah!” From here she could see only the last strip of cultivated land on the farther side of their valley; and on this side the upper margin of the forest, above it stretches of heather, and where she stood, nothing but boulders and flat rocks. She flew from stone to stone in the light air. She knew that Hans’s hut lay in the direction of the snow mountain whose top stood out above all the others, and presently she thought that she must be getting near it. To get a better look around she climbed up on to an enormous stone, and from the top of it she saw a mountain lake just below. Whether it was a rock or a hut she saw by the water’s edge she could not be sure; one minute it looked like a hut, the next like a big stone. But she knew that his cabin lay by a mountain lake. Yes, that must be it, for there came a boat rowing round the point. Two men were in the boat–they must be Hans and the German officer. Down she jumped and off again. But what had looked so near was really far off, and she ran and ran, excited by the thought of meeting Hans Haugen.
Hans sat quietly in his boat with the German, ignorant of all the disturbance he had caused. He had never known what it was to be frightened; nor had he ever till now known the feeling of being in love. As soon as he did feel it, it was intolerable to him until he had settled the matter. Now it was settled, and he was sitting there setting words to the Bridal March!
He was not much of a poet, but he made out something about their ride to church, and the refrain of every verse told of their meeting in the wood. He whistled and fished and felt very happy; and the German fished away quietly and left him in peace.
A halloo sounded from the shore, and both he and the bearded German looked up and saw a girl waving. They exchanged a few words and rowed ashore. Hans jumped out and tied up the boat, and they lifted out the guns, coats, fish, and fishing tackle; the German went away towards the cabin, but Hans with his load came up to Beret, who was standing on a stone a little way off.
“Who are you?” he asked gently.
“Beret, Mildrid’s sister,” she answered, blushing, and he blushed too. But the next moment he turned pale.
“Is there anything the matter?”
“No! Just that you must come. She can’t bear to be left alone just now.”
He stood a minute and looked at her, then turned and went towards the hut. The German was standing outside, hanging up his fishing tackle; Hans hung up his, and they spoke together, and then went in. Ever since Beret’s halloo, two dogs, shut up in the cabin, had been barking with all their might. When the men opened the door they burst out, but were at once sternly called back. It was some time before Hans came out again. He had changed his clothes, and had his gun and dog with him. The German gentleman came to the door, and they shook hands as if saying good-bye for a considerable time. Hans came up quickly to Beret.
“Can you walk fast?” he asked.
“Of course I can.”
And off they went, she running, the dog far ahead.
Beret’s message had entirely changed the current of Hans’s thoughts. It had never occurred to him before that Mildrid might not have the same happy, sure feeling about their engagement that he had. But now he saw how natural it was that she should be uneasy about her parents; and how natural, too, that she should feel alarmed by the hurried rush in which everything had come about. He understood it so well now that he was perfectly astonished at himself for not having thought of it before and on he strode.
Even on him the suddenness of the meeting with Mildrid, and the violence of their feelings, had at first made a strange impression; what must she, a child, knowing nothing but the quiet reserve of her parents’ house, have felt, thus launched suddenly on the stormy sea of passion! And on he strode.
While he was marching along, lost in these reflections, Beret was trotting at his side, always, when she could, with her face turned towards his. Now and then he had caught a glimpse of her big eyes and flaming cheeks; but his thoughts were like a veil over his sight; he saw her indistinctly, and then suddenly not at all. He turned round; she was a good way behind, toiling after him as hard as she could. She had been too proud to say that she could not keep up with him any longer. He stood and waited till she made up to him, breathless, with tears in her eyes. “Ah! I’m walking too fast,” and he held out his hand. She was panting so that she could not answer. “Let us sit down a little,” he said, drawing her to him; “come!” and he made her sit close to him. If possible she got redder than before, and did not look at him; and she drew breath so painfully that it seemed as if she were almost choking. “I’m so thirsty!” was the first thing she managed to say. They rose and he looked round, but there was no stream near. “We must wait till we get a little farther on,” he said; “and anyhow it wouldn’t be good for you to drink just now.”
So they sat down again, she on a stone in front of him.
“I ran the whole way,” she said, as if to excuse herself and presently added, “and I have had no dinner,” and after another pause “and I didn’t sleep last night.”
Instead of expressing any sympathy with her, he asked sharply: “Then I suppose Mildrid did not sleep last night either? And she has not eaten, I saw that myself, not for” he thought a little “not for ever so long.”
He rose. “Can you go on now?”
“I think so.”
He took her hand, and they set off again at a tremendous pace. Soon he saw that she could not keep it up, so he took off his coat, gave it to her to hold, and lifted her up and carried her. She did not want him to do it, but he just went easily off with her, and Beret held on by his neckerchief, for she dared not touch him. Soon she said that she had got her breath and could run quite well again, so he put her down, took his coat and hung it over his gun and off they went! When they came to a stream they stopped and rested a little before she took a drink. As she got up he gave her a friendly smile, and said: “You’re a good little one.”
Evening was coming on when they reached the soeter. They looked in vain for Mildrid, both there and at her place on the hillside. Their calls died away in the distance, and when Hans noticed the dog standing snuffing at something they felt quite alarmed. They ran to look it was her little shawl. At once Hans set the dog to seek the owner of the shawl. He sprang off, and they after him, across the hill and down on the other side, towards Tingvold. Could she have gone home? Beret told of her own thoughtless question and its consequences, and Hans said he saw it all. Beret began to cry.
“Shall we go after her or not?” said Hans.
“Yes, yes!” urged Beret, half distracted. But first they would have to go to the next soeter, and ask their neighbours to send someone to attend to the cows for them. While they were still talking about this, and at the same time following the dog, they saw him stop and look back, wagging his tail. They ran to him, and there lay Mildrid!
She was lying with her head on her arm, her face half buried in the heather. They stepped up gently; the dog licked her hands and cheek, and she stretched herself and changed her position, but slept on. “Let her sleep!” whispered Hans; “and you go and put in the cows. I hear the bells.” As Beret was running off he went after her. “Bring some food with you when you come back,” he whispered. Then he sat down a little way from Mildrid, made the dog lie down beside him, and sat and held him to keep him from barking.
It was a cloudy evening. The near heights and the mountain-tops were grey; it was very quiet; there was not even a bird to be seen. He sat or lay, with his hand on the dog. He had soon settled what to arrange with Mildrid when she awoke. There was no cloud in their future; he lay quietly looking up into the sky. He knew that their meeting was a miracle. God Himself had told him that they were to go through life together.
He fell to working away at the Bridal March again, and the words that came to him now expressed the quiet happiness of the hour.
It was about eight o’clock when Beret came back, bringing food with her. Mildrid was still sleeping. Beret set down what she was carrying, looked at them both for a minute, and then went and sat down a little way from them. Nearly an hour passed, Beret getting up from time to time to keep herself from falling asleep. Soon after nine Mildrid awoke. She turned several times, at last opened her eyes, saw where she was lying, sat up, and noticed the others. She was still bewildered with sleep, so that she did not take in rightly where she was or what she saw, till Hans rose and came smiling towards her. Then she held out her hands to him.
He sat down beside her:
“You’ve had a sleep now, Mildrid?”
“Yes, I’ve slept now.”
“And you’re hungry?”
“Yes, I’m hungry” and Beret came forward with the food. She looked at it and then at them. “Have I slept long?” she asked.
“Well, it’s almost nine o’clock; look at the sun!”
Not till now did she begin to remember everything.
“Have you sat here long?”
“No, not very long but you must eat!” She began to do so. “You were on your way down to the valley?” asked Hans gently, with his head nearer hers. She blushed and whispered, “Yes.”
“To-morrow, when you’ve really had a good sleep and rest, we’ll go down together.”
Her eyes looked into his, first in surprise, then as if she were thanking him, but she said nothing.
After this she seemed to revive; she asked Beret where she had been, and Beret told that she had gone to fetch Hans, and he told all the rest. Mildrid ate and listened, and yielded gradually once again to the old fascination. She laughed when Hans told her how the dog had found her, and had licked her face without wakening her. He was at this moment greedily watching every bite she took, and she began to share with him.
As soon as she had finished, they went slowly towards the soeter and Beret was soon in bed. The two sat on the bench outside the door. Small rain was beginning to fall, but the broad eaves kept them from feeling it. The mist closed round the soeter, and shut them in in a sort of magic circle. It was neither day nor night, but dark rather than light. Each softly spoken word brought more confidence into their talk. Now for the first time they were really speaking to each other. He asked her so humbly to forgive him for not having remembered that she must feel differently from him, and that she had parents who must be consulted. She confessed her fear, and then she told him that he was the first real, strong, self-reliant man she had ever known, and that this, and other things she had heard about him, had she would not go on.
But in their trembling happiness everything spoke, to the slightest breath they drew. That wonderful intercourse began of soul with soul, which in most cases precedes and prepares for the first embrace, but with these two came after it. The first timid questions came through the darkness, the first timid answers found their way back. The words fell softly, like spirit sounds on the night air.
At last Mildrid took courage to ask hesitatingly if her behavior had not sometimes struck him as very strange. He assured her that he had never thought it so, never once. Had he not noticed that she had not said one word all the time they were together yesterday? No, he had not noticed that. Had he not wondered at her going off down to her parents? No, he had thought it only right of her. Had he not thought (for a long time she would not say this, but at last the words came, in a whisper, with her face turned away), had he not thought that she had let things go too quickly? No, he had only thought how beautifully everything had happened. But what had he thought of the way she had cried at their first meeting? Well, at the time it had puzzled him, but now he understood it, quite well–and he was glad she was like that.
All these answers made her so happy that she felt she wanted to be alone. And as if he had guessed this, he got up quietly and said that now she must go to bed. She rose. He nodded and went off slowly towards the shed where he was to sleep; she hurried in, undressed, and when she had got into bed she folded her hands and thanked God. Oh, how she thanked Him! Thanked Him for Hans’s love, and patience, and kindness she had not words enough! Thanked Him for all, all, everything even for the suffering of the last two days for had it not made the joy all the greater? Thanked Him for their having been alone up there at this time, and prayed Him to be with her to-morrow when she went down to her parents, then turned her thoughts again to Hans, and gave thanks for him once more, oh, how gratefully!
When she came out of the soeter-house in the morning, Beret was still sleeping. Hans was standing in the yard. He had been punishing the dog for rousing a ptarmigan, and it was now lying fawning on him. When he saw Mildrid he let the dog out of disgrace; it jumped up on him and her, barked and caressed them, and was like a living expression of their own bright morning happiness. Hans helped Mildrid and the boys with the morning work. By the time they had done it all and were ready to sit down to breakfast, Beret was up and ready too. Every time Hans looked at her she turned red, and when Mildrid after breakfast stood playing with his watch chain while she spoke to him, Beret hurried out, and was hardly to be found when it was time for the two to go.
“Mildrid,” said Hans, coming close to her and walking slowly, when they had got on a little way, “I have been thinking about something that I didn’t say to you yesterday.” His voice sounded so serious that she looked up into his face. He went on slowly, without looking at her; “I want to ask you if God granting that we get each other if you will go home with me after the wedding and live at Haugen.”
She turned red, and presently answered evasively:
“What will father and mother say to that?”
He walked on without answering for a minute, and then said:
“I did not think that mattered so much, if we two were agreed about it.”
This was the first time he had said a thing that hurt her. She made no reply. He seemed to be waiting for one, and when none came, added gently:
“I wanted us two to be alone together, to get accustomed to each other.”
Now she began to understand him better, but she could not answer. He walked on as before, not looking at her, and now quite silent. She felt uneasy, stole a glance at him, and saw that he had turned quite pale.
“Hans!” she cried, and stood still without being conscious of doing it. Hans stopped too, looked quickly at her, and then down at his gun, which he was resting on the ground and turning in his hand.
“Can you not go with me to my home?” His voice was very low, but all at once he looked her straight in the face.
“Yes, I can!” she answered quickly. Her eyes looked calmly into his, but a faint blush came over her cheeks. He changed his gun into his left hand, and held out the right to her.
“Thank you!” he whispered, holding hers in a firm clasp; Then they went on.
She was brooding over one thought all the time, and at last could not keep it in: “You don’t know my father and mother.”
He went on a little before he answered: “No, but when you come and live at Haugen, I’ll have time then to get to know them.”
“They are so good!” added Mildrid.
“So I have heard from everyone.” He said this decidedly, but coldly.
Before she had time to think or say anything more, he began to tell about his home, his brothers and sisters, and their industry, affectionateness, and cheerfulness; about the poverty they had raised themselves from; about the tourists who came and all the work they gave; about the house, and especially about the new one he would now build for her and himself. She was to be the mistress of the whole place but they would help her in everything; they would all try to make her life happy, he not least. As he talked they walked on faster; he spoke warmly, came closer to her, and at last they walked hand in hand.
It could not be denied that his love for his home and his family made a strong impression on her, and there was a great attraction in the newness of it all; but behind this feeling lay one of wrong-doing towards her parents, her dear, kind parents. So she began again: “Hans! mother is getting old now, and father is older; they have had a great deal of trouble they need help; they’ve worked so hard, and” she either would not or could not say more.
He walked slower and looked at her, smiling. “Mildrid, you mean that they have settled to give you the farm?”
She blushed, but did not answer.
“Well, then we’ll let that alone till the time comes. When they want us to take their places, it’s for them to ask us to do it.” He said this very gently and tenderly, but she felt what it meant. Thoughtful of others, as she always was, and accustomed to consider their feelings before her own, she yielded in this too. But very soon they came to where they could see Tingvold in the valley below them. She looked down at it, and then at him, as if it could speak for itself.
The big sunny fields on the hill slope, with the wood encircling and sheltering them, the house and farm buildings a little in the shadow, but big and fine it all looked so beautiful. The valley, with its rushing, winding river, stretched away down beyond, with farm after farm in the bottom and on its slopes on both sides but none, not one to equal Tingvold none so fertile or so pleasant to the eye, none so snugly sheltered, and yet commanding the whole valley. When she saw that Hans was struck by the sight, she reddened with joy.
“Yes,” he said, in answer to her unspoken question “yes, it is true; Tingvold is a fine place; it would be hard to find its equal.”
He smiled and bent down to her. “But I care more for you, Mildrid, than for Tingvold; and perhaps you care more for me than for Tingvold?”
When he took it this way she could say no more. He looked so happy too; he sat down, and she beside him.
“Now I’m going to sing something for you,” he whispered.
She felt glad. “I’ve never heard you sing,” she said.
“No, I know you have not; and though people talk about my singing, you must not think it’s anything very great. There’s only this about it, that it comes upon me sometimes, and then I must sing.”
He sat thinking for a good while, and then he sang her the song that he had made for their own wedding to the tune of her race’s Bridal March. Quite softly he sang it, but with such exultation as she had never heard in any voice before. She looked down on her home, the house she was to drive away from on that day; followed the road with her eyes down to the bridge across the river, and along on the other side right up to the church, which lay on a height, among birch-trees, with a group of houses near it. It was not a very clear day, but the subdued light over the landscape was in sympathy with the subdued picture in her mind. How many hundred times had she not driven that road in fancy, only she never knew with whom! The words and the tune entranced her; the peculiar warm, soft voice seemed to touch the very depths of her being; her eyes were full, but she was not crying; nor was she laughing. She was sitting with her hand on his, now looking at him, now over the valley, when she saw smoke beginning to rise from the chimney of her home; the fire was being lit for making the dinner. This was an omen; she turned to Hans and pointed. He had finished his song now, and they sat still and looked.
Very soon they were on their way down through the birch wood, and Hans was having trouble with the dog, to make him keep quiet. Mildrid’s heart began to throb. Hans arranged with her that he would stay behind, but near the house; it was better that she should go in first alone. He carried her over one or two marshy places, and he felt that her hands were cold. “Don’t think of what you’re to say,” he whispered; “just wait and see how things come.” She gave no sound in answer, nor did she look at him.
They came out of the wood the last part had been big dark fir-trees, among which they had walked slowly, he quietly telling her about her great-grandfather’s wooing of his father’s sister, Aslaug; an old, strange story, which she only half heard, but which all the same helped her came out of the wood into the open fields and meadows; and he became quiet too. Now she turned to him, and her look expressed such a great dread of what was before her that it made him feel wretched. He found no words of encouragement; the matter concerned him too nearly. They walked on a little farther, side by side, some bushes between them and the house concealing them from its inhabitants. When they got so near that he thought she must now go on alone, he whistled softly to the dog, and she took this as the sign that they must part. She stopped and looked utterly unhappy and forlorn; he whispered to her: “I’ll be praying for you here, Mildrid and I’ll come when you need me.” She gave him a kind of distracted look of thanks; she was really unable either to think or to see clearly. Then she walked on.
As soon as she came out from the bushes she saw right into the big room of the main building right through it for it had windows at both ends, one looking up towards the wood and one down the valley. Hans had seated himself behind the nearest bush, with the dog at his side, and he too could see everything in the room; at this moment there was no one in it. Mildrid looked back once when she came to the barn, and he nodded to her. Then she went round the end of the barn, into the yard.
Everything stood in its old, accustomed order, and it was very quiet. Some hens were walking on the barn-steps. The wooden framework for the stacks had been brought out and set up against the storehouse wall since she was there last; that was the only change she saw. She turned to the right to go first into grandmother’s house, her fear tempting her to take this little respite before meeting her parents; when, just between the two houses, at the wood-block, she came on her father, fitting a handle to an axe. He was in his knitted jersey with the braces over it, bareheaded, his thin long hair blowing in the breeze that was beginning to come up from the valley. He looked well, and almost cheerful at his work, and she took courage at the sight. He did not notice her, she had come so quietly and cautiously over the flagstones.
“Good morning!” she said in a low voice.
He looked at her in surprise for a moment.
“Is that you, Mildrid? Is there anything the matter?” he added hastily, examining her face.
“No,” she said, and blushed a little. But he kept his eyes on hers, and she did not dare to look up.
Then he put down the axe, saying:
“Let us go in to mother!”
On the way he asked one or two questions about things up at the soeter, and got satisfactory answers.
“Now Hans sees us going in,” thought Mildrid, as they passed a gap between the barn and some of the smaller outhouses.
When they got into the living-room, her father went to the door leading into the kitchen, opened it, and called:
“Come here, mother! Mildrid has come down.”
“Why, Mildrid, has anything gone wrong?” was answered from the kitchen.
“No,” replied Mildrid from behind her father, and then coming to the door herself, she went into the kitchen and stood beside her mother, who was sitting by the hearth paring potatoes and putting them in the pot.
Her mother now looked as inquiringly at her as her father had done, with the same effect. Then Randi set away the potato dish, went to the outer door and spoke to someone there, came back again, took off her kitchen apron and washed her hands, and they went together into the room.
Mildrid knew her parents, and knew that these preparations meant that they expected something unusual. She had had little courage before, but now it grew less. Her father took his raised seat close to the farthest away window, the one that looked down the valley. Her mother sat on the same bench, but nearer the kitchen. Mildrid seated herself on the opposite one, in front of the table. Hans could see her there; and he could see her father, right in the face, but her mother he could hardly see.
Her mother asked, as her father had done before, about things at the soeter; got the same information and a little more; for she asked more particularly. It was evident that both sides were making this subject last as long as possible, but it was soon exhausted. In the pause that came, both parents looked at Mildrid. She avoided the look, and asked what news there was of the neighbors. This subject was also drawn out as long as possible, but it came to an end too. The same silence, the same expectant eyes turned on the daughter. There was nothing left for her to ask about, and she began to rub her hand back and forwards on the bench.
“Have you been in at grandmother’s?” asked her mother, who was beginning to get frightened.
No, she had not been there. This meant then that their daughter had something particular to say to them, and it could not with any seemliness be put off longer.
“There is something that I must tell you,” she got out at last, with changing colour and downcast eyes.
Her father and mother exchanged troubled looks. Mildrid raised her head and looked at them with great imploring eyes.
“What is it, my child?” asked her mother anxiously.
“I am betrothed,” said Mildrid; hung her head again, and burst into tears.
No more stunning blow could have fallen on the quiet circle. The parents sat looking at each other, pale and silent. The steady, gentle Mildrid, for whose careful ways and whose obedience they had so often thanked God, had, without asking their advice, without their knowledge, taken life’s most important step, a step that was also decisive for their past and future. Mildrid felt each thought along with them, and fear stopped her crying.
Her father asked gently and slowly: “To whom, my child?”
After a silence came the whispered answer: “To Hans Haugen.”
No name or event connected with Haugen had been mentioned in that room for more than twenty years. In her parents’ opinion nothing but evil had come to Tingvold from there. Mildrid again knew their thoughts: she sat motionless, awaiting her sentence.
Her father spoke again mildly and slowly: “We don’t know the man, neither I nor your mother and we didn’t know that you knew him.”
“And I didn’t know him either,” said Mildrid.
The astonished parents looked at each other. “How did it happen then?” It was her mother who asked this.
“That is what I don’t know myself,” said Mildrid.
“But, my child, surely you’re mistress of your own actions?”
Mildrid did not answer.
“We thought,” added her father gently, “that we could be quite sure of you.”
Mildrid did not answer.
“But how did it happen?” repeated her mother more impatiently; “you must know that!”
“No, I don’t know it I only know that I could not help it no, I couldn’t!” She was sitting holding on to the bench with both hands.
“God forgive and help you! Whatever came over you?”
Mildrid gave no answer.
Her father calmed their rising excitement by saying in a gentle, friendly voice: “Why did you not speak to one of us, my child?”
And her mother controlled herself, and said quietly: “You know how much we think of our children, we who have lived such a lonely life; and yes, we may say it, especially of you, Mildrid; for you have been so much to us.”
Mildrid felt as if she did not know where she was.
“Yes, we did not think you would desert us like this.”
It was her father who spoke last. Though the words came gently, they did not hurt the less.
“I will not desert you!” she stammered.
“You must not say that,” he answered, more gravely than before, “for you have done it already.”
Mildrid felt that this was true, and at the same time that it was not true, but she could not put her feeling into words.
Her mother went on: “Of what good has it all been, the love that we have shown our children, and the fear of God that we have taught them? In the first temptation” for her daughter’s sake she could say no more.
But Mildrid could bear it no longer. She threw her arms over the table, laid her head on them, her face towards her father, and sobbed.
Neither father nor mother was capable of adding by another reproachful word to the remorse she seemed to feel. So there was silence.
It might have lasted long but Hans Haugen saw from where he sat that she was in need of help. His hunter’s eye had caught every look, seen the movement of their lips, seen her silent struggle; now he saw her throw herself on the table, and he jumped up, and soon his light foot was heard in the passage. He knocked; they all looked up, but no one said, “Come in!” Mildrid half rose, blushing through her tears; the door opened, and Hans with his gun and dog stood there, pale but quite composed. He turned and shut the door, while the dog, wagging its tail, went up to Mildrid. Hans had been too preoccupied to notice that it had followed him in.
“Good morning!” said he. Mildrid fell back on her seat, drew a long breath, and looked at him with relief in her eyes; her fear, her bad conscience all gone! She was right, yes; she was right let come now whatever it pleased God to send!
No one had answered Hans’s greeting, nor had he been asked to come forward.
“I am Hans Haugen,” he said quietly; lowered his gun and stood holding it. After the parents had exchanged looks once or twice, he went on, but with a struggle: “I came down with Mildrid, for if she has done wrong, it was my fault.”
Something had to be said. The mother looked at the father, and at last he said that all this had happened without their knowing anything of it, and that Mildrid could give them no explanation of how it had come about. Hans answered that neither could he. “I am not a boy,” he said, “for I am twenty-eight; but yet it came this way, that I, who never cared for any one before, could think of nothing else in the world from the time I saw her. If she had said No well, I can’t tell but I shouldn’t have been good for much after that.”
The quiet, straightforward way he said this made a good impression. Mildrid trembled; for she felt that this gave things a different look. Hans had his cap on, for in their district it was not the custom for a passer-by to take off his hat when he came in; but now he took it off unconsciously, hung it on the barrel of his gun, and crossed his hands over it. There was something about his whole appearance and behavior that claimed consideration.
“Mildrid is so young,” said her mother; “none of us had thought of anything like this beginning with her already.”
“That is true enough, but to make up I am so much older,” he answered; “and the housekeeping at home, in my house, is no great affair; it will not task her too hard and I have plenty of help.”
The parents looked at each other, at Mildrid, at him. “Do you mean her to go home with you?” the father asked incredulously, almost ironically.
“Yes,” said Hans; “it is not the farm that I am coming after.” He reddened, and so did Mildrid.
If the farm had sunk into the ground the parents could not have been more astonished than they were at hearing it thus despised, and Mildrid’s silence showed that she agreed with Hans. There was something in this resolution of the young people, unintentional on their part, that, as it were, took away from the parents the right of decision; they felt themselves humbled.
“And it was you who said that you would not forsake us,” said her mother in quiet reproach, that went to Mildrid’s heart. But Hans came to her assistance:
“Every child that marries has to leave its parents.”
He smiled, and added in a friendly way: “But it’s not a long journey to Haugen from here just a little over four miles.”
Words are idle things at a time like this; thoughts take their own way in spite of them. The parents felt themselves deserted, almost deceived by the young ones. They knew that there was no fault to be found with the way of living at Haugen; the tourists had given the place a good name; from time to time it had been noticed in the newspapers; but Haugen was Haugen, and that their dearest child should wish to carry their race back to Haugen was more than they could bear! In such circumstances most people would likely have been angry, but what these two desired was to get quietly away from what pained them. They exchanged a look of understanding, and the father said mildly:
“This is too much for us all at once; we can’t well give our answer yet.”
“No,” continued the mother; “we were not expecting such great news nor to get it like this.”
Hans stood quiet for a minute before he said:
“It is true enough that Mildrid should first have asked her parents’ leave. But remember that neither of us knew what was happening till it was too late. For that is really the truth. Then we could do no more than come at once, both of us, and that we have done. You must not be too hard on us.”
This left really nothing more to be said about their behaviour, and Hans’s quiet manner made his words sound all the more trustworthy. Altogether Endrid felt that he was not holding his own against him, and the little confidence he had in himself made him the more desirous to get away.
“We do not know you,” he said, and looked at his wife. “We must be allowed to think it over.”
“Yes, that will certainly be best,” went on Randi; “we ought to know something about the man we are to give our child to.”
Mildrid felt the offence there was in these words, but looked imploringly at Hans.
“That is true,” answered Hans, beginning to turn his gun under the one hand; “although I don’t believe there are many men in the district much better known than I am. But perhaps some one has spoken ill of me?” He looked up to them.
Mildrid sat there feeling ashamed on her parents’ account, and they themselves felt that they had perhaps awakened a false suspicion, and this they had no desire to do. So both said at once:
“No, we have heard nothing bad of you.”
And the mother hastened to add that it was really the case that they hardly knew anything about him, for they had so seldom asked about the Haugen people. She meant no harm at all by saying this, and not till the words had passed her lips, did she notice that she had expressed herself unfortunately, and she could see that both her husband and Mildrid felt the same. It was a little time before the answer came:
“If the family of Tingvold have never asked after the Haugen people, the fault is not ours; we have been poor people till these last years.”
In these few words lay a reproach that was felt by all three to be deserved, and that thoroughly. But never till now had it occurred to either husband or wife that they had been in this case neglecting a duty; never till now had they reflected that their poor relations at Haugen should not have been made to suffer for misfortunes of which they had been in no way the cause. They stole an awkward glance at each other, and sat still, feeling real shame. Hans had spoken quietly, though Randi’s words must have been very irritating to him. This made both the old people feel that he was a fine fellow, and that they had two wrongs to make good again. Thus it came about that Endrid said:
“Let us take time and think things over; can’t you stay here and have dinner with us? Then we can talk a little.”
And Randi added: “Come away here and sit down.”
Both of them rose.
Hans set away the gun with his cap on it, and went forward to the bench on which Mildrid was sitting, whereupon she at once got up, she did not know why. Her mother said she had things to see to in the kitchen, and went out. Her father was preparing to go too; but Mildrid did not wish to be alone with Hans as long as her parents withheld their consent, so she went towards the other door, and they presently saw her crossing the yard to her grandmother’s house. As Endrid could not leave Hans alone, he turned and sat down again.
The two men talked together about indifferent matters first it was about the hunting, about the Haugen brothers’ arrangements in the little summer huts they had high up on the mountains, about the profits they made by this sort of thing, &c. &c. From this they came to Haugen itself, and the tourists, and the farm management; and from all he heard Endrid got the impression of there being prosperity there now, and plenty of life. Randi came backwards and forwards, making preparations for the dinner, and often listened to what was being said; and it was easy to see that the two old people, at first so shy of Hans, became by degrees a little surer of him; for the questions began to be more personal.
They did not fail to observe his good manners at the dinner-table. He sat with his back to the wall, opposite Mildrid and her mother; the father sat at the end of the table on his high seat. The farm people had dined earlier, in the kitchen, where indeed all in the house generally took their meals together. They were making the difference to-day because they were unwilling that Hans should be seen. Mildrid felt at table that her mother looked at her whenever Hans smiled. He had one of those serious faces that grow very pleasant when they smile. One or two such things Mildrid added together in her mind, and brought them to the sum she wanted to arrive at. Only she did not feel herself so sure, but that the strain in the room was too great for her, and she was glad enough to escape from it by going after dinner again to her grandmother’s.
The men took a walk about the farm, but they neither went where the people were working, nor where grandmother could see them. Afterwards they came and sat in the room again, and now mother had finished her work and could sit with them. By degrees the conversation naturally became more confidential, and in course of time (but this was not till towards evening) Randi ventured to ask Hans how it had all come about between him and Mildrid; Mildrid herself had been able to give no account of it. Possibly it was principally out of feminine curiosity that the mother asked, but the question was a very welcome one to Hans.
He described everything minutely, and with such evident happiness, that the old people were almost at once carried away by his story. And when he came to yesterday to the forced march Beret had made in search of him because Mildrid was plunged in anguish of mind on her parents’ account and then came to Mildrid herself, and told of her ever-increasing remorse because her parents knew nothing; told of her flight down to them, and how, worn-out in soul and body, she had had to sit down and rest and had fallen asleep, alone and unhappy then the old people felt that they recognized their child again. And the mother especially began to feel that she had perhaps been too hard with her.
While the young man was telling about Mildrid, he was telling too, without being aware of it, about himself; for his love to Mildrid showed clearly in every word, and made her parents glad. He felt this himself at last, and was glad too and the old couple, unaccustomed to such quiet self-reliance and strength, felt real happiness. This went on increasing, till the mother at last, without thinking, said smilingly:
“I suppose you’ve arranged everything right up to the wedding, you two before asking either of us?”
The father laughed too, and Hans answered, just as it occurred to him at the moment, by softly singing a single line of the Wedding March,
“Play away! Speed us on! We’re in haste, I and you!”
And laughed; but was modest enough at once to turn to something else. He happened accidentally to look at Randi, and saw that she was quite pale. He felt in an instant that he had made a mistake in recalling that tune to her. Endrid looked apprehensively at his wife, whose emotion grew till it became so strong that she could not stay in the room; she got up and went out.
“I know I have done something wrong,” said Hans anxiously.
Endrid made no reply. Hans, feeling very unhappy, got up to go after Randi and excuse himself, but sat down again, declaring that he had meant no harm at all.
“No, you could hardly be expected to understand rightly about that,” said Endrid.
“Can’t you go after her and put it right again!”
He had already such confidence in this man that he dared ask him anything.
But Endrid said: “No; rather leave her alone just now; I know her.”
Hans, who a few minutes before had felt himself at the very goal of his desires, now felt himself cast into the depths of despair, and would not be cheered up, though Endrid strove patiently to do it. The dog helped by coming forward to them; for Endrid went on asking questions about him, and afterwards told with real pleasure about a dog he himself had had, and had taken much interest in, as is generally the way with people leading a lonely life.
Randi had gone out and sat down on the doorstep. The thought of her daughter’s marriage and the sound of the Bridal March together had stirred up old memories too painfully. She had not, like her daughter, given herself willingly to a man she loved! The shame of her wedding-day had been deserved; and that shame, and the trouble, and the loss of their children all the suffering and struggle of years came over her again.
And so all her Bible-reading and all her praying had been of no avail! She sat there in the most violent agitation! Her grief that she could thus be overcome caused her in despair to begin the bitterest self-accusation. Again she felt the scorn of the crowd at her foolish bridal procession; again she loathed herself for her own weakness that she could not stop her crying then, nor her thinking of it now that with her want of self-control she had cast undeserved suspicion on her parents, destroyed her own health and through this caused the death of the children she bore, and lastly that with all this she had embittered the life of a loving husband, and feigned a piety that was not real, as her present behavior clearly showed!
How dreadful that she still felt it in this way that she had got no farther!
Then it burst upon her both her crying in church and the consuming bitterness that had spoiled the early years of her married life had been wounded vanity. It was wounded vanity that was weeping now; and that might at any moment separate her from God, her happiness in this world and the world to come!
So worthless, so worthless did she feel herself that she dared not look up to God; for oh! how great were her shortcomings towards Him! But why, she began to wonder, why had she succumbed just now at the moment when her daughter, in all true-heartedness and overflowing happiness, had given herself to the man she loved? Why at this moment arouse all the ugly memories and thoughts that lay dormant in her mind? Was she envious of Mildrid; envious of her own daughter? No, that she knew she was not and she began to recover herself.
What a grand thought it was that her daughter was perhaps going to atone for her fault! Could children do that? Yes, as surely as they themselves were a work of ours, they could but we must help too, with repentance, with gratitude! And before Randi knew what was happening, she could pray again, bowing in deep humility and contrition before the Lord, who had once more shown her what she was without Him. She prayed for grace as one that prays for life; for she felt that it was life that was coming to her again! Now her account was blotted out; it was just the last settling of it that had unnerved her.
She rose and looked up through streaming tears; she knew that things had come right now; there was One who had lifted the burden of pain from her!
Had she not had the same feeling often before? No, never a feeling like this not till now was the victory won. And she went forward knowing that she had gained the mastery over herself. Something was broken that till now had bound her she felt with every movement that she was free both in soul and body. And if, after God, she had her daughter to thank for this, that daughter should in return be helped to enjoy her own happiness to the full.
By this time she was in the passage of grandmother’s house; but no one in the house recognized her step. She took hold of the latch and opened the door like a different person. “Mildrid, come here!” she said; and Mildrid and her grandmother looked at each other, for that was not mother. Mildrid ran to her. What could be happening? Her mother took her by the arm, shut the door behind her, so that they were alone, then threw her arms round her neck, and wept and wept, embracing her with a vehemence and happiness which Mildrid, uplifted by her love, could return right heartily.
“God for ever bless and recompense you!” whispered the mother.
The two sitting in the other house saw them coming across the yard, hand in hand, walking so fast that they felt sure something had happened. The door opened and both came forward. But instead of giving her to Hans, or saying anything to him or Endrid, the mother just put her arms once more round her daughter, and repeated with a fresh burst of emotion: “God for ever bless and reward you!”
Soon they were all sitting in grandmother’s room. The old woman was very happy. She knew quite well who Hans Haugen was the young people had often spoken about him; and she at once understood that this union wiped out, as it were, much that was painful in the life of her son and his wife. Besides, Hans’s good looks rejoiced the cheery old woman’s heart. They all stayed with her, and the day ended with father, after a psalm, reading from a prayer-book a portion beginning: “The Lord has been in our house!”
I shall only tell of two days in their life after this, and in each of these days only of a few minutes.
The first is the young people’s wedding-day. Inga, Mildrid’s cousin, herself a married woman now, had come to deck out the bride. This was done in the store-house. The old chest which held the family’s bridal silver ornaments crown, girdle, stomacher, brooches, rings was drawn from its place. Grandmother had the key of it, and came to open it, Beret acting as her assistant. Mildrid had put on her wedding-dress and all the ornaments that belonged to herself, before this grandeur (well polished by Beret and grandmother the week before) came to light, glittering and heavy. One after another each ornament was tried. Beret held the mirror in front of the bride. Grandmother told how many of her family had worn these silver things on their wedding-day, the happiest of them all her own mother, Aslaug Haugen.
Presently they heard the Bridal March played outside; they all stopped, listened, and then hurried to the door to see what it meant. The first person they saw was Endrid, the bride’s father. He had seen Hans Haugen with his brothers and sisters coming driving up the road to the farm. It was not often that any idea out of the common came to Endrid, but on this occasion it did occur to him that these guests ought to be received with the March of their race. He called out the fiddlers and started them; he was standing beside them himself, and some others had joined him, when Hans and his good brothers and sisters, in two carriages, drove into the yard. It was easily seen that this reception touched them.
An hour later the March of course struck up again. This was when the bride and bridegroom, and after them the bride’s parents, came out, with the players going before them, to get into the carriages. At some great moments in our lives all the omens are propitious; to-day the bridal party drove away from Tingvold in glorious spring weather. The crowd at the church was so great that no one remembered having seen the like of it, on any occasion. And in this gathering each person knew the story of the family, and its connection with the Bridal March which was sounding exultantly in the sunshine over the heads of bride and bridegroom.
And because they were all thinking of the one thing, the pastor took a text for his address that allowed him to explain how our children are our life’s crown, bearing clear witness to our honor, our development, our work.
On the way back from the altar Hans stopped just outside the church-door; he said something; the bride, in her superhuman happiness, did not hear it; but she felt what it was. He wished her to look at Ole Haugen’s grave, how richly clad in flowers it lay to-day. She looked, and they passed out almost touching his headstone; the parents following them.
The other incident in their life that must be recalled is the visit of Endrid and Randi as grandparents. Hans had carried out his determination that they were to live at Haugen, although he had to promise that he would take Tingvold when the old people either could or would no longer manage it, and when the old grandmother was dead. But in their whole visit there is only one single thing that concerns us here, and that is that Randi, after a kind reception and good entertainment, when she was sitting with her daughter’s child on her knee, began rocking it and crooning something and what she crooned was the Bridal March. Her daughter clasped her hands in wonder and delight, but controlled herself at once and kept silence; Hans offered Endrid more to drink, which he declined; but this was on both sides only an excuse for exchanging a look.
Written by Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson