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The Song Of The Blood-Red Flower
by Johannes Linnankoski
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They went inside, and he hung up his knapsack on the wall.

"Guess what I've been thinking of to-day all the way home?"

"Oh, you know I never can guess your riddles. What is it?"

"Only"—he drew her down on the seat beside him—"that you ought to have a pair of ski too. If only I can get hold of some proper wood, I'll make a pair in no time."

"No, no, 'tis not worth it. And I can't use them if you did."

"That's just why. You've got to learn. And then you'll be able to come out with me. Come out to the forest one day, and I'll show you something."

"What'll that be, I'd like to know? Only your ugly old stacks of wood."

"Why, as to that, they're none so ugly, after all. And I'll lift you up and set you on top of the highest of all.... No, that wasn't what I meant. But you ought to see.... Out there in the forest, it's a different world altogether. Roads and villages of its own—ay, and churches and priests...."

"What nonsense you do talk!" laughed the girl.

"'Tis true, though, for all that. Come out with me, and see if it's not as I say.... Come now, there's plenty of time."

"What are you thinking of? Of course we couldn't go now—nor any other time."

"Yes, we can. And now best of all."

He went across to the corner by the cupboard, took a woollen wrap that had been hung on the line to dry, and fastened it laughingly round her head.

"There—now we're ready."

The girl laughed doubtfully, took off the wrap again, and stood hesitating.

"Oh! Don't you understand yet?" He took the wrap and twisted it in his hands. "You've got to pretend. It's two weeks gone now, and your ski are all ready. We've tried them once or twice out in the meadow, and you manage first-rate, able to go anywhere. And so off we go.... Look there!"

The girl joined in the game. She moved across to the window, and looked out into the yard.

"There! I've set the ski all ready, and we put them on. Father and mother and brothers looking out to see us start. There—that's mother knocking at the window.

"'Be careful not to take her up the big hills,' says mother. 'She'll fall and hurt herself if you do!'

"And I tell her we're going up to the very top of the biggest hill we can find. And off we go.

"And you get along splendidly. Fall—not a bit of it! Off we go to the other end of the meadow, and then through the little copse out on to Hirvisuo—all as easy as play.

"Then we come to a fence—and that's rather more than you can manage. Nothing for it but I must pick you up and lift you over—and you put your arms round me so prettily...."

Here the girl broke in hastily: "No, no! I shall turn back if you go on like that!"

"No, you mustn't. It's a very high fence, this one. You can get over the others, perhaps, by yourself. We'll see.—And so we go on, and make our way up the slope of Kaltasenmaki—it's a heavy climb there. But you know the ground—you've fetched the cows home from there many a time. And it's just there the woodcutting begins.

"Now we're up at the top. It's early morning, of course, I forgot that. The sun's just up, and the snow all glittering underfoot and the frost like stars hung in the branches overhead. There! look at the trees over there on the other side. All white and clean and lovely—just like you. And stars of frost there too, sparkling like your eyes. And you think it's lovely too—never dreamed the forest was like that. And of course you haven't—for nobody can till they've seen it for themselves. There! look at that great road there lower down—that's the main track, where all the heavy timber goes—hauled up from a dozen little paths either side—a score of loads sometimes, one after another. And some of the men come singing, or whistling, some talking and calling out to the rest; 'tis a merry business carting down the timber loads to the river. And see there on the slope—a couple of empty sledges on the way back—isn't it fine?

"And of course you say it is, and it was true all I told you about the forest before. And it gets finer as we go on—you can hear the axe at work all round about, echoing over across the valley. Now we must go and say a word to the men.

"But you don't want to, but I say we must, and you can stay behind a little if you like. And so off we go down the hillside—hey, what a pace! And up the next, and there we are on the top. We can see them at work down in the valley below. It looks like a lot of ants at work, you think. And so it does. And we go across, and you've got to be careful and show how nicely you can go. The snow's all frozen, and creaks underfoot; the men look up, and the stupid ones stand staring open-mouthed. And I bid them good-day, and go up to them a little ahead, and they answer again, and some of them touch their caps, not knowing quite what to do. All of them look astonished—what's this come to see them now? And I tell them it's just a young lady from the town, come out to see a bit of the country, and I'm showing her round. They understand that all right. And then I tell them you're a foreigner, and can't speak a word of their tongue, and that's why you stay behind and won't come up. Then they're all surprised again at that, and some of them won't believe there can be folk that don't speak their language at all; but I tell them it's true all the same, and they stare again, the stupid ones gaping wider than before.

"'She's put on country clothes so as not to be noticed,' I tell them; 'and if you saw her in her fine dresses, with a real hat on her head and all—why, your eyes'd fall out of your heads, if you stare like that now.' And they laugh at that, a roar of laugh that echoes all round.

"Then I come back to you, and we go on again.

"But now you begin scolding me for playing silly tricks and telling them all those wild tales—there's neither sense nor meaning in it, you say. But then I simply ask you if you didn't see yourself what a treat it was for the men. Simple woodcutter folk—it'll be something to remember all their lives, how one day a beautiful foreign lady came out to visit them in the forest. And then you must remember to be a foreigner all day. If I have to speak to you when there's anyone else about, I say it in Swedish; you can't speak Swedish, of course, but all you have to do is just nod and smile and speak with your eyes—that's all that's needed.

"'But I won't,' you say. 'I'm not going to pretend like that.'"

Here the girl herself broke in: "No, that I certainly wouldn't either, so that's true enough."

"Oh, but you'd have to, you know, once we've started. And so we go on. There's nobody from our parts among the gangs at work there, so there's no risk of anyone knowing you really.

"And so we go on, from one gang to another. And it all goes off splendidly. But then we come to a clearing, where the men are just lighting a fire of pine knots. It's their dinner-time, and we're going to sit down and have dinner with them, say I.

"But of course you make a fuss, and say you won't, but you give in after a bit—it's easy enough. You've only to sit down, and say 'Tack, Tack' in Swedish whenever I pass you anything.

"The men are at work about the fire as we come up. And you're all excitement, and red and white by turns, just like any grand lady from foreign parts. And I tell them the same thing again, about you putting on country clothes and all that, and ask if we may sit down—and perhaps the foreign young lady might like to eat a morsel too.

"'We've naught that's fit to offer the likes of her,' say the men.

"'She can eat what other folks can, I suppose,' say I.

"Then they all tumble over one another to make a nice seat for you with twigs of pine. Then we sit down, and I'm on the outside, in case you want anything.

"Oh, it's grand. The fire flames up, and the snow melting like butter all round and under, and the men's faces all aglow. One of them's roasting a piece of meat, another fish, on a skewer, and the others bring out their frozen bread and thaw it soft and fresh as if it had just come out of the oven. And I do the same, toasting a piece of meat and thawing some bread, and put one on the other and cut up your part with my knife, to neat little bits all ready.

"And the men are all so interested they forget to eat.

"'I hope it's to your taste, my lady?' That's me talking in Swedish as I pass it. And you nod and smile, and eat just a little to try, and the moment you've tasted it you open your mouth and I know as sure as anything you're just on the point of saying right out in Finnish that it's first-rate, and you've never tasted anything so good.... So I have to put in a word myself or you'll spoil it all. 'A little more, if you please, my lady?' Like that."

But here the girl could contain herself no longer, and laughed outright.

"What are you laughing at? That's not right a bit. No, you just blush, and go on nibbling at a crust of bread, just like a tiny mouse....

"And the men nudge each other to look. Here's a fine lady sitting down to eat as natural as can be, for all there's neither plate nor fork. And it's all I can do to keep from laughing myself, and you have to bite your lips and bend down behind me.

"Then I take out our milk bottle, that's been warming by the fire.

"'How'll they manage now?' says one, and all the rest look on to see.

"'Why, we'll just have to share and share about, unless the lady's to go without,' say I. And then I make believe to whisper something in your ear.

"And you nod, and take the bottle and drink, and hand it to me after.

"''Tis as good as newly milked,' say I. And you laugh, and the men laugh too.

"Then I take a drink, and you again. I wipe the mouth of the bottle on my sleeve each time before giving it you. And the men, of course, they think that's a mighty fine way of doing things.

"'Never would have thought it,' says one of them. And they go on with their meal.

"'Do as the folks you fall in with, it seems,' says one bolder than the rest.

"'Just so,' say I, 'and that's as it should be'; and there's no saying anything against that, and so we get on finely.

"Then when the meal's over, we lie down by the fire a bit. One man takes out some leaf tobacco from his pack, and cuts it up on a tree stump—hadn't had time before. Then he passes it round, and I fill my pipe too, for all that I'm in company with a fine lady.

"And then we go on our way. But when we've got a few paces off, I turn round suddenly and say, 'Here, you, Heikki, give us a bit of a sermon for the young lady. 'Tis just the place for church.'

"'H'm,' says Heikki. 'I doubt it wouldn't do.'

"''Twill please her, for sure—I'll answer for that,' say I. 'And you do it better than anything else. Antti can help with the service.'

"'Yes, yes!' cry the others. 'If she's wanting to see things out here. Sermon, Heikki!'

"Heikki climbs up on a big rock, and Antti on a tree stump, and Heikki starts off, grumbling out just like the priest at Kakela.

"'Is—any soul—from Keituri—here in—church to-day?'

"'Ay, lord and noble master, here be I,' says Antti in a deep base that goes rumbling through the woods.

"And so they go through the service, and after, Heikki begins to preach. It's the wildest nonsense, Swedish and Finnish and gipsy-talk and all sorts of odd lingo muddled up together, and he pours out the words like a river in flood. The men are in fits of laughter all the time, and you—you're near to bursting.

"'The young lady bids me thank you very much,' say I, when it's over. 'Both of you. Says she's never heard so fine a sermon all her life.'

"''Tis well said,' say the men. 'Heikki, he's a wonder to preach, that he is.'

"And so they wave their caps to us as we go off."

"Oh!" said the girl delightedly. "And is it really like that, I wonder?"

"Yes, of course. Only you mustn't say anything. We must go home now—then we can talk all about it after.

"And we go up the hill and start off down the other side.

"When we get down on the flat, you begin putting on the pace, to see if you can go as fast as I can—and it's all I can do to keep up with you. And your cheeks are red as roses, and you're so hot you take off your kerchief and fasten it round your waist like a sash. And there you are running beside me, bareheaded, and your bright hair lifting as you go. I've never seen you look so beautiful before, and I tell you so. You ought to be like that always.

"And so we come home, as happy as can be.... And here we are!"

"You can make stories!" cried the girl. "It was wonderful! Just as if we'd really been there and seen it all."

"Ah, we'll do it really one day, we must. And it'll be ever so much easier then, after you've seen it once to-day."

"No, no! I never can, I know."

"Wait and see," said he. "Now you know what a grand life it is in the forest in winter. A glorious life—though there's trouble, too, at times—danger and hurt; but who cares for that? Do you wonder that I'm always in high spirits when I come home? And when I am here, why, 'tis just like another little world, as clean and fresh as there.... Daisy—sit here, and let me look at you."

The girl sat down on his knee and rested one hand on his shoulder.

"Don't laugh at me," she said softly. "I'm not a bit clever, I know. Just nothing—to you."

"You don't know a bit what you are—but I do. And shall I tell you, just for once, what you are to me?"

The girl laughed happily. "If you'll be sure and only tell the truth!"

"The truth—of course! How could I help it? Now, listen. Once I was in a big town, where there was a picture gallery, and lots of marble statues—like the old Greeks used to make. You've read about them, haven't you?"

"Yes, I think so. But I've never seen them."

"Well, there were lots of these statues, white as snow, and looking just like life. And they were all naked, with never a rag to cover them, but for all that one could look at them, as calm and pure as on the face of God. For they were so beautiful that one could think of nothing but the sacred beauty God has given to the human form. And—can you guess what I'm going to say now?"

"How should I guess?" said the girl, looking down shyly, as if with some inkling she would not confess of what was in his mind.

"Just this—you are like that to me: a marble statue, white and cool, with a beauty that is holy in itself. And I thank God that made you so beautiful and pure."

"Now you're laughing at me again," said the girl sadly.

"'Tis solemn earnest. Listen. Ask yourself, in the time we've been together here, have we ever exchanged a single kiss, a single touch, with any thought of passion?"

"Passion?" The girl's eyes looked frankly into his.

"Yes.... It might have been, you know. I am passionate by nature, but when I look at you, it cools and dies. I am telling you the truth when I say you have been like a healing, cooling draught to one in a fever. And I believe you have changed me altogether, now and for ever after."

"I don't think I understand—not all of it. But have you really been so happy?"

"So unspeakably happy. Yes. And glad to feel myself strong and self-restrained. I have often thought that no one could ever dream what happiness and beauty can live in one little grey village. Do you know what I think? I believe that in every little grey village there is a quiet, secret happiness, that no one knows."

"Not everywhere, Olof. It is not everywhere there is anyone like you."

"But you! I don't mean to say, of course, it should be just like ours. But a happiness...."

He drew the girl to him, and their lips met in a long, gentle kiss.

"Can everyone kiss like you?" she whispered shyly, with a tender gleam in her eyes.

"Maybe. I don't know."

"No, no—there's no one in the world like you. None that can talk like you, or kiss like you. Do you know what I always think—always look at, when you kiss me?"

"No—tell me, tell me!" he cried eagerly.

"No—I don't think I can."

"Something you can't tell me, Daisy-flower? Come, don't you think it's your turn to tell me something now?"

"Well, then—only, you mustn't laugh. I know it's silly. I always—I always look at your neck. There's a big vein just there, and it beats so prettily all the time. And then I feel as if your soul were flowing through it—right into me. And it does, for I can feel it!"

"That's the loveliest thing you've ever said in all your life," said he solemnly. "We won't talk any more now, only be together...."

* * * * *

Spring was near; it was open war between the sun and the cold. The snowdrifts had begun to disappear.

Strange dreams were at work in Olof's mind.

"She loves me—warmly and truly," he told himself. "But is her love deep and strong enough for her to forget all else, and give herself up fully and freely to her lover?"

"And could you let her? Could you accept that sacrifice—from one like her?"

"No, no. I didn't mean that, of course. But if only I could be sure—could feel beyond all doubt that she would; that she was ready to give up everything for my sake...."

"And you count that the final test of love? Shame on you!"

The colour faded from the evening sky; the stars were lit ... the errant fancies died away.

* * * * *

In the brilliant sunlight they returned—the same strange dreams welling up on every side, like the waters of spring. Behind and before him, everywhere, insistently, an irresistible song.

"I must know—I must sound the uttermost depths of her love!"

"Can you not see how cruel it would be—cruel to her beyond all others?"

"But only to know! To ask as if only in jest...."

"In jest? And you would jest with such a thing as this!"

And the dreams sank down into the hurrying waters; yet still the warm clouds sailed across the sky.

* * * * *

Like a rushing flood—the old desire again.

"Can anything be cruel that is meant in love? A question only—showing in itself how deeply I love her? It is torture not to know; I must break through it—I must learn the truth!"

"..." But the other voice was lost in a rush of foaming waters.

* * * * *

He took the girl's hand in his, and spoke warmly, with beautiful words.

Her fair brow darkened under a cloud—so dark seemed any cloud there that for a moment he wished he had not spoken.

"I never thought you could doubt me," she murmured, almost in tears. "Or ask—or ask for that!"

"Oh, my love," he thought. "If you only knew! Just one word, and then I can tell you all—and we shall be doubly happy after."

So he thought, but he did not speak. And now he could think of nothing but the moment when he could tell her that it was but a question in all innocence—a trial of her love.

"It is because I love you as I do," she said, "that I could not do it. We have been so happy—but that would be something strange between us. And now that you are going away...." She stopped, and the two looked at each other sorrowfully. It was as if already something strange had crept between them, as if they had hurt each other unwittingly, and suffered at the thought.

* * * * *

Day by day their parting drew nearer, the sun was veiled in a dreary mist.

Then one day she came to him, strangely moved, and clung to him, slight and yielding as the drooping curtains of the birch, swayed by the wind. Clung to him, threw her arms warmly round his neck, and looked into his eyes with a new light in her own.

"What—what is it?" he asked, with emotion, hovering between fear and a strange delight.

"Olof—I am ... I can say it now...."

A tumult of joy rose up in him at her words. He clasped her to him in a fervent embrace, and opened his lips to tell her the secret at last. But his heart beat all too violently, a hand seemed clutching his throat, and he could not utter a word, but crushed her closer to him, and pressed his lips to hers.

Drawn two ways, he seemed, and now but one; all thought of the other vanished utterly. His breast was almost bursting with a desperate regret; he could not speak, and would not even if he could.

And then, as he felt the pressure of her embrace return his own, regret was drowned in an ecstasy of surrender.

"I love you," she whispered, "as only your mother ever could!"

Olof turned cold. It was as if a stranger had surprised them in an intimate caress.

"Olof," she murmured, with an unspeakable tenderness in her eyes. And as if some great thing had suddenly come into her mind she went on: "You have never told me about your mother.... No, don't tell me now; I know it all myself. She is tall like you, and stately, and upright still as ever. And she has just the same bright eyes, and little hollows at the temples, like you have. And she wears a dark striped apron, with a little pocket at the side, where she keeps her knitting, and takes it out now and then to work at as she goes."

"How could you know!" he cried, in pleased surprise. His fear was gone now, and he felt only a wonderful depth of happiness at hearing the girl speak so tenderly of his mother.

"'Tis only guessing. But do you know—I should so like to see her, your mother, that...."

"That...?"

"Only ... only, I should like to see her so. Then I'd put my arms round her neck and ... Olof, did your mother often kiss you?"

"No. Not often."

"But she stroked your hair, and often talked with you all alone, I know."

"Yes ... yes."

His arms loosed their hold of the girl, and almost unconsciously he thrust her a little away, staring out into the distance with a faint smile on his lips and deepest earnest in his eyes.

The girl looked at him wonderingly.

"What is it?" she asked anxiously, as if fearing to have hurt him. But he did not seem to hear, only stood looking out at nothing as before.

"Olof—what is it?" she asked again, in evident distress.

"Only—it was only my mother speaking to me all alone," he answered in a low voice.

"Oh!" The girl sighed deeply. "Now—was it just now she spoke?"

He nodded.

The girl glanced at him and hesitated. "Won't you—won't you tell me what she said?" she asked timidly.

"She told me it was wrong—a sinful wrong even to ask you...."

The girl gazed at him for a long time without speaking; the tenderness in her eyes grew to unutterable depths.

"Oh," she whispered at last, very softly, "if she only knew how I love her now—your mother! I never loved her so before." And she clasped her arms round his neck.



THE RAPIDS

The rapids at Kohiseva are well known; none so well known, nor so ill famed, in all the length of Nuoli River.

And the homestead at Moisio is a well-known place, for they are a stubborn race that hold it; for generations past the masters of Moisio have been known among their neighbours as men of substance, and hard in their dealings to boot—unswerving and pitiless as the waters of Kohiseva.

The daughter at Moisio is well known too; none carries her head so high, and a tender glance from her eyes is more than any of the young men round can boast of having won.

Kyllikki is her name—and no one ever had such a name—at least, folk say there's no such name in the calendar.

* * * * *

The lumbermen's rearguard had come to Kohiseva. They came by night, and here they were at their first day's work there now. Some were still busy floating the last of the timber down; others were clearing the banks of lumber that had driven ashore.

It was evening, and the men were on their way to their quarters in the village.

In the garden at Moisio a young girl was watering some plants newly set.

A youth came walking down the road beyond the fence. Some distance off, he caught sight of the girl, and watched her critically as he came up.

"This must be the one they spoke of," he said to himself. "The girl that's proud beyond winning!"

The girl's slender figure straightened as she rose from her stooping position, and threw back the plaited hair that had fallen forward over one shoulder; she bowed her head in demure self-consciousness.

"She's all they say, by her looks," thought the youth, and slackened his steps involuntarily as he passed.

The girl watched him covertly. "So that's the one they've all been talking about," she said to herself. "The one that's not like any of the rest."

She bent down to fill her can.

"Shall I speak to her?" the young man asked himself.

"But suppose she'll have nothing to do with you?"

"H'm. 'Twould be the first that ever took it so!" And he smiled.

The girl bent over her work again; the young man came nearer.

"I wonder if he'll have the impudence to speak to me," she thought. "'Twould be like him, from what they say. But let him try it with me...!"

"Like to like's the best way, I doubt," said the youth to himself. "If she's so proud, I'd better be the same." And he walked by resolutely, without so much as a glance at her, after all.

"Ho!" The girl spilled some of the water with a splash to one side. "So that's his way, is it?"

She cast a look of displeasure at him as he passed down the road—to go by like that without a word was almost a greater offence than if he had spoken.

* * * * *

Next evening she was there again.

And this time he stopped.

"Good evening," he said, raising his hat with rather more of pride than courtesy.

"Good evening." She flung the words at him over her shoulder, turning her head but just so much as to show the corner of an eye.

Silence.

"What lovely roses!"

The speech was pleasant enough in itself, almost a compliment. But there was a challenge in the words—as the speaker himself was aware.

"They're well enough," she answered carelessly, as if to imply that she had no more to say—he could go on if he cared to.

"I wonder, now, if you'd give me one—one of the red ones yonder—if it's not too much to ask?"

The girl drew herself up. "'Tis not our way at Moisio to give roses over the fence to strangers—though there may be those elsewhere that are willing enough."

"Though there may be those elsewhere...." The young man flushed. He understood what was in her mind—the tone of her voice was enough. He had expected something of this at their first encounter, but for all that he was startled at the fierce resolution in her opening thrust.

"'Tis not my way to beg for roses over every fence," he answered proudly. "Nor to ask a thing twice of anyone. Good-night!"

The girl looked at him, astonished. She had not expected anything like this.

He walked on a few paces, then stopped suddenly, and clearing the ditch with a leap, stood leaning against the fence.

"There's just one thing I'd like to say—if I may," he said, glancing sharply at her.

"You can say what you please, I suppose," she answered.

"Just this, then," he went on. "If any day you should find you have set too high a price upon your roses, then take the one I asked for, and wear it yourself. It could not hurt your pride, I think. It would only show that you counted me a fellow-creature at least."

"Too high at least to be given to any tramp that is bold enough to ask," said the girl, facing him squarely. "If anyone cares for them, he must venture more than that."

They looked each other straight in the eyes for a moment.

"I'll bear that in mind," said the youth, with emphasis. "Good-bye."

"Good-bye," said the girl.

He walked on, and she stood watching him.

"Not like the others—they were right in that," said she, and went on with her work.

* * * * *

That Sunday afternoon a crowd of people gathered on Kohiseva bridge. There was not room for all, and the banks were thickly lined on either side.

There were rumours of unusual doings abroad—and folk had come out to see.

"Next Sunday afternoon at four," the news had run, "a match at Kohiseva—shooting the rapids."

And folk pricked up their ears aghast—down the rapids at Kohiseva on a stick of timber; it was more than any had ever ventured yet. True, there was the man some ten years back—a foolhardy fellow from a neighbouring district—who had tried the lower reach, which was less dangerous by far, but he was dead when he came ashore.

Anyhow, it was to be done now. There were two gangs of lumbermen in the place, and, as it chanced, men of unusual daring and skill in each. A dispute had arisen between the headmen as to the merits of their respective parties, and the only way to settle it was by a match, the headman of the losing gang to stand treat all round.

All Kohiseva was afoot, and many had come in from the villages round. It was no light thing to try the rapids there.

The sight-seers on the bridge moved this way and that, eagerly discussing the event.

"'Tis a mad idea, for sure."

"Ay, they'll have been drunk the time, no doubt."

"There's no man in his sober senses would ever try it."

"But which of them is it?" asked one. "Who's going down?"

"One of them's just a mad young fool that'll do anything if you dare him."

"Ay, there's some of that sort most ways to be found. But 'tis a mad thing to do."

"None so mad, perhaps," put in another. "They say he's the cleverest of them all."

"I doubt but Kohiseva'll be one too clever for him. And the other—who's he?"

"Why, didn't you know? There he is standing over there; Olof, they say's his name."

"That one? He looks a sight too fine for a lumberman at all."

"'Tis him none the less for that."

"What's he doing in the gang, anyway? 'Tis not his business, by the look of him."

"Ay, you may say so, but there's none knows more about him than all can see. Book-learned, they say he is, and speaks foreign lingos, but Olof's all the name he goes by."

"H'm. Must be a queer sort."

"Ah, there's more than one queer sort among these gangs. But if any ever gets through the rapids, I say 'twill be him and no other."

"Wait and see," grumbled an adherent of the opposite party.

"Hey—look! there's old man Moisio pushing through to the foremen. Now, what's he want with them, I wonder?"

The foremen stood midway across the bridge. One of them, Falk, was leaning against the parapet, puffing at his tasselled pipe, and smiling. The other, Vantti he was called, a sturdy, thick-set fellow, stood with his hands in his pockets and a cigar between his teeth. Vantti came from the north-east, from Karelen, and was proud of it, as he was proud of his Karelen dialect and his enormous Karelen boots—huge, crook-toed thigh-boots that seemed to swallow him up to the waist.

Moisio came up to the two. "What's this about the rapids?" he said sternly. "If you've put up a match, as they're saying here, then I've come to say you'd better put it off before harm comes of it. Five men's lives the river's taken here in my time. And we've no wish for more."

"Easy, Moisio," says Vantti, taking the cigar from his mouth, and spitting a thin jet sideways. "No call to take it that way. 'Tis but a bit of a show we've got up to amuse the village folk."

"Call it what you please," answered Moisio. "You'll mark what I say. I'm answerable for order in this place, and if any harm comes afterwards, I'll call you to account for it. 'Tis no lawful way, to risk men's lives for a bet."

"Moisio's right," cried several among the crowd.

The two headmen consulted in a whisper.

"Ay, if that's the way of it," says Vantti at last, and offers his hand. Falk takes it, and turns to face the crowd.

"Listen," he says aloud. "Vantti, here, and I, we take you to witness that we've called off our bet here and now. So there's none can blame us afterwards. If the two men who've entered for the match will cry off too, there's an end of it. If not, 'tis their own affair."

All eyes were turned towards the two competitors, who stood facing each other, with their friends around.

One of them, a young man in a bright red coat, lifts his head boldly. "I'm not afraid of drowning, and not going to drown," he cries.

"You draw back, then," says Moisio to Olof. "He'll not care to make the trip alone. No man's gone down the rapids here and lived—'tis madness to try."

Olof scans the water with a critical eye, the crowd waiting expectantly the while.

"I'll not deny it," says he at last. "Don't think I'm paying no heed to what you say. But I've a reason of my own for doing something more than most would venture—and I'll not draw back." He spoke loudly and clearly; all on the bridge could hear his words.

Moisio said no more, but drew back a little.

"Well, who's to go first?" said Falk.

"Let me," says Redjacket.

"As you please," said Olof.

Moisio turned to the headmen again. "You'll have some men on the farther bank," he said, "in case of accidents."

"Not on my account," puts in Redjacket scornfully. "But if the other man here wants fishing up...."

"Have them there if you like," says Olof. "'Twill do no harm."

The men take up their poles; those on the bridge look expectantly down the river.

Kohiseva Rapids are a lordly sight in spring, when the river is full. The strong arch of the bridge spans its powerful neck, and just below, the rapids begin, rushing down the first straight reach with a slight fall here and there. Then curving to the right, and breaking in foam against the rocky wall of Akeanlinna—a mighty fortress of stone rising straight up in midstream, with a clump of bushes like a helmet plume on its top. The river then divides, the left arm racing in spate down to the mill, the right turning off through a channel blasted out of the rock for the passage of timber going down. A wild piece of water this; the foam dances furiously in the narrow cut, but it ends as swiftly as the joy of life; over a ledge of rock the waves are flung a couple of fathoms down into the whirlpool called Eva's Pool. Here they check and subside, the channel widens out below, and the water passes on at a slower pace through the easier rapids below.

That is Kohiseva. The rock of Akeanlinna would be left untroubled were it not for the lumbermen and their work. In the floating season, the channel between it and the left bank is filled with timber, gathering like a great bridge, against which new arrivals fling themselves in fury, till they are drawn down through the cut.

The task which the rival champions have set themselves to-day is to make their way down the upper rapids as far as Akeanlinna, and there spring off—if they can—at the block—for there is no getting down through the cut on a timber baulk, and none could go over the ledge to Eva's Pool and live.

The men have taken up their places on the bank, and the two competitors are preparing to start.

"Wouldn't it be as well to send a couple of baulks down first, for whirlpools and hidden rocks?" suggests Olof.

"Ho, yes!" cries his rival. "And get a surveyor to mark it all out neatly on a chart—a fine idea!"

Redjacket's party burst out laughing at this, and all looked at Olof.

He flushes slightly, but says nothing, only bites his lip and turns away to study the river once more.

Redjacket looks at him sneeringly, and, pole in hand, steps out on to the boom, a little way above the bridge. Then, springing over to the raft, he chooses his craft for the voyage—a buoyant pine stem, short and thick, and stripped of its bark.

The young man smiles, with a curious expression, as he looks on.

"Did you see?" whispers one on the bridge to his neighbour. "Mark my words, he knows what he's about."

"Look out ahead!" Redjacket slips his tree trunk under the boom, and steps out on to it. Then with a touch of his foot he sends it round and round—spinning it, and sending up the water on either side.

"Ay, he's a smart lad," say the onlookers on the bridge.

Redjacket stops his manoeuvres now, gives a bold glance towards the bridge, then, with a shrill whistle, fixes the point of his pole in the wood; and, stepping back a little, with his hands on his hips, begins, mockingly, to "say his prayers."

"There! Ever see such a lad?" Redjacket's partisans look round proudly at the rest.

"Look at him—look!"

"Have done with that!" cries a stern voice from the crowd. "'Tis no time for mockery."

"What's it to you whether I choose to sing or pray?" cries Redjacket, with an oath. But he stops his show of praying, all the same, and picks up his pole again. He is nearing the bridge now.

Already the angry water swirls over the stem and laps his boots, but he stands fast.

The speed increases, the log itself disappears in a flurry of foam—those on the bridge hold their breath.

Then it comes up again. The current thrusts against its hinder end, and the buoyant wood answers to it like the tail of a fish, slipping sideways round; the steersman sways, but with a swing of his pole recovers his balance, and stands steady as before.

A sigh of relief from the watchers.

"Tra la la la!" sings Redjacket, undismayed. And he takes a couple of dance-steps on his log.

"He's no greenhorn, anyhow," the crowd agree. And some of them glance at Olof—to see how he takes their praise of his rival.

But Olof does not seem to heed; he is watching the water with a certain impatience—no more.

Just then Redjacket's log strikes a sunken rock, and is thrust backward. A swift movement—the log comes down with a splash into the foam; the man bends over, straightens his body, and stands upright as before, then strikes an attitude, and sails on past the obstacle.

"Well done—well done!"

"'Twas a marvel he cleared it."

The log goes on its way, the man standing easily as ever.

Then once more it collides. The fore end lifts—an oath is heard—next second the red jacket shows in a whirl of water. Then it disappears.

A movement of anxiety on the bridge—the watchers on the bank spring to their feet.

He is up again, swimming athwart the stream. A few powerful strokes, and he reaches the dead water close inshore.

Cursing aloud, he sits down and pours the water from his boots. One of the men posted at Akeanlinna brings him his pole—but his hat is gone. He hurries up along the bank.

"Enough—give over now!" cry those on the bridge.

"Go and tell your mother!" he answers furiously.

"Maybe he'd like to have that chart now, after all," says one, with a sly glance.

He pulls off his red coat. "Seeing I've lost my hat, I can do without a jacket." A blue shirt shows up on the raft; he picks out a fresh log, thrusts it angrily under the boom, and comes floating down towards the bridge.

"Now you can stare till you think you'll know me again."

Not a sound from those on the bridge.

The log shoots down, the man stands erect, and passes proudly under the gaze of all. He plies his pole to the right, and the log swerves a little to the opposite side—the first obstacle is safely passed, though it almost cost him his footing again.

"Aha! He's on his guard this time! Maybe he'll do it, after all!"

"Well, he said you'd know him again!" Redjacket's party are recovering confidence.

The log hurries on, the man balancing carefully with his pole.

Nearing the second rock now—the figure crouches down and steps a little back. A sudden shock, a crash—his pole has broken, and the blue shirt disappears in the rapids.

"Look! Right down there! He'll never get ashore this time." The onlookers crowd together, straining to see.

The blue shirt comes into view for a moment.

"He'll never do it—'tis right out in midstream."

"Hi—look out there on the bank!"

"He'll be smashed to pieces on the Malli Rock."

"No, no! he's too far out."

The blue shirt is carried past the threatening rock, but making straight for the big raft below. A clenched hand is raised to bid the men there stand aside—he will manage alone. But they take no heed. One thrusts a pole between the swimmer's legs as he nears the raft, another grasps him by the neck, and they haul him up—a heavy pull, with the water striving all the time to suck him under. Inch by inch the blue shirt rises above the edge.

He limps ashore, supported by a man on either side. One knee is bleeding.

"'Tis more than man can do!" he cries in a broken voice, shaking his fist toward the bridge.

* * * * *

There is a low murmur of voices on the bridge, an anxious whispering. Olof picks up his pole. Close behind him a young girl plucks at the sleeve of an elderly man, and seems to be urging him, entreating....

Moisio turns to Olof. "Once more I ask of you—let it be enough. You have seen how your companion fared. Do not try it again."

"I must," answered Olof in a voice cold and hard as steel, with a ring of confidence that impressed those who heard.

He goes off to the raft, picks out a log and tries its buoyancy with care. A long pine stem, with the bark off, and floating deep in the water.

"Ah—he's choosing a horse of another sort!"

"Tis another sort of rider, too, by his looks."

Olof was nearing the bridge now—calmly, without a word, watching the course of the river all the time. Reaching the bridge, he raised his eyes for a moment, and met the glance of a girl looking down. A faint smile, and the slightest inclination of the head, no more.

"Good luck to you!" cried several of the onlookers; a certain sympathy was evident among the crowd.

Now he glides under the bridge, on towards the perilous stage of the journey—all watch with eager eyes.

The strange craft cleaves the waves, sending up spray on either hand—but the heavy log, floating deep, hardly moves; the steersman keeps his footing steadily as on firm ground.

"That's the way! Ah, he knows the sort of craft to choose for the work!"

The log hurries on, the lithe figure bends a little, balancing with the pole.

"Turn off—turn off! He's making straight for the rock!"

He stands poised, with muscles tense, his pole in readiness, his eyes fixed on the whirl about the sunken rock, his knees slightly bent.

A shock—and he springs deftly in air as the heavy log is thrust backward under him—taking his footing again as firmly as before.

"Bravo, bravo! Finely done!"

On again. A few quick, powerful strokes with the pole—and the rock that had been his rival's undoing is safely passed.

"He'll do it! He's the man!" The onlookers were all excitement now.

The speed increases, the lithe figure swaying to either side. A thrust from the left—he springs light-footed to meet it.

Once more his body is bent, his pole held firmly, knees crouching deep—those on the bridge crane their necks to watch.

The next shock comes with a crash that is plainly heard by those upstream; again he springs as the log thrusts back, and comes down neatly as before. A few paces forward to get his balance, then back a step or two like a tight-rope walker.

"That's the way, lad!"

"He knows how to dance!"

"Look out for Malli Rock!"

"Ay, if he can clear that!"

Malli Rock stands ready to meet the attack; the rapids are tearing past on either side.

The log comes down, making full towards the smooth, sloping face of the rock.

Olof swerves a little to the right, and leaps off, coming down in a whirl of spray. The rock has done its part, and sent the end of the log high out of the water; Olof lands on it and goes on again, the log scraping the face of the rock as it passes.

"Sticks like a leech, he does! He's done it now!"

A cheer from the crowd.

Straight down in midstream now. A little ahead the river bends—he is nearing the block at Akeanlinna.

"Now for the last lap!"

"Ay—and the worst of all!"

Two—three short paces back—the log brings up full against the block.

A leap and a crash, a run almost to the fore end of the log before he can check his pace. The log is flung out again into the current, and shivers as if paralysed by the blow. Then the water carries it down again.

The men at their posts stare helplessly—one of them gives a cry, and the onlookers shudder. "Heavens—he's missed it now!"

More shouting, and men running up and down the banks; others standing as if rooted to the spot.

Olof glances at the mass of timber by the rock. A swing of the pole, a sudden deft turn, and hurrying to the other end of the log, he begins poling hard across the stream.

"He's making for the other bank!"

"He'll never do it—and there's no one there to help!"

"Oh—look! He'll be carried over the edge!"

Hard fighting now. Olof is striving to reach the farther bank, the current is drawing the end of the log nearer and nearer the falls—already the water is seething over it.

Two furious strokes, a swift step, and another, and, lifting his pole, he flies through the air—toward the shore. The pole strikes something, as all on the bridge can hear—then he is lost to sight.

A rush of men downstream, crying and shouting....

Then, a moment later, a waving of hats from the men at Akeanlinna, and a cheer is passed from group to group upstream. Some stop, others race on—he is saved—but how?

Then a tall figure appears standing on the shore, waving his hand triumphantly. A mighty cheer from all the onlookers and a waving of hats and kerchiefs. "There he is!"

Olof walks up with easy steps, but the blood is streaming down his face. The first to meet him is a girl, her face pale, her body trembling with emotion. She is standing by herself—the others are still far off.

Olof stops and hesitates—shall he go to meet her, or turn off? The girl casts down her eyes. He draws nearer—she looks up, and gives him one deep, warm glance, and looks down again—her cheeks flushed.

Olof's face lights up, and he lifts his hat as he passes. Then the crowd surges round him with shouts of applause.

"Bravo! Well done! Here's the man that's beaten Kohiseva! Who's the best man now?"

Vantti steps forward and lays a hand on his shoulder. "Well done, lad! 'Tis plain to see you're not born to be drowned." And the sturdy fellow laughs till his great boots shake.

"You've made a name for yourself to-day," says Falk.

"'Olof' was a bit short, maybe...."

"Aha-a-a!"

"So now they'll call you Kohiseva—and a good name too!"

"'Tis as good as another," said Olof, with a laugh. "And longer, anyway."

"And now we'll go down to the mill and see about drinks all round. Twice round, it ought to be—'twas worth it!"

* * * * *

When Olof came home that evening, a girl sat anxiously waiting at Moisio.

A bright rose was stuck between the palings of the fence beside the road. Olof sprang across the ditch—the girl drew her head back behind the curtain.

He fastened the rose in his coat. With a grateful glance he searched the garden, up towards the house, but no one was to be seen.

In the safe shelter of her room a girl sat bowed over the table with her face hidden in her arms, crying softly.



THE SONG OF THE BLOOD-RED FLOWER

"Why are you so sad this evening, Olof?" asked the girl.

"Sad?" he repeated, almost to himself, staring absently before him. "Yes—I wish I knew."

"But how—when it is yourself—don't you know?"

"No—that's the strange thing about it. I don't know."

There was a pause.

"I won't ask you if you don't like it," she said, after a while. "But if I were sad, and had a friend, I should want to."

"And make your friend sad too—by telling things no friend could understand?"

"Perhaps a friend might try."

But Olof seemed not to have heard. He leaned back, and his glance wandered vaguely.

"Life is very strange," he said dreamily. "Isn't it strange to have cared very much for a thing—and then one day to feel it as nothing at all?"

She looked inquiringly at him.

"My own life, for instance. Up to now, it has been a beautiful story, but now...."

"Now...?"

"Now, I can't see what it is—or if it is anything at all. Going from place to place, from river to river—from one adventure to another...."

Again there was a pause.

"But why do you live so?" she asked timidly. "I have so often wondered."

"I wonder myself sometimes why I must live so—or if I must—but it goes on all the same."

"Must...? But your home ... your father and mother, are they still alive? You have never spoken of them."

"Yes, they are still alive."

"And couldn't you live with them?"

"No," he said coldly. "They could not make me stay."

"But aren't you fond of them?" she asked in surprise.

He was silent a moment. "Yes," he said at last, "I am fond of them—as I am fond of many other things. But there is nothing that can hold me for long."

Something within him was striving for utterance—something he had long restrained.

"And now," he went on, almost violently, "I want...." He stopped.

"You want...?"

"It is something to do with you, Kyllikki," he said earnestly, as if in warning.

"Tell me. You need not be afraid," said the girl in a low voice.

"I want to say good-bye to you—and not as friends," he said passionately.

"Not—not as friends?"

"That is what I said. We met first—you know how it was—it was no friendly meeting. And best if we could leave each other that way too."

"But why...?"

"Because—shall I tell you?"

"I want you to."

He looked her sharply and coldly in the eyes. "Because you have not been what I hoped you would. Ay, and thought you would. I was proud and happy when I knew I had won your friendship. But I thought I had won more than that—something warmer and deeper—a thing complete."

She was silent for a moment.

"Warm and deep—a thing complete?" she repeated. "Did you give that yourself?"

"No! But I could have done. I wished to—but you made it impossible. We have known each other now for a week—and what has come of it? I have scarcely dared to take your hand."

"But what more could you...?"

"What more? Have you for my own—possess you. All or nothing!"

The girl seemed struggling with some inward feeling.

"May I ask you something?" she asked softly.

"Go on!"

"Have me for your own, you said." She hesitated, but went on resolutely: "Does that mean—have me for your own to-day, and go away to-morrow—and then, perhaps, think of me at times as one among a host of others you have 'possessed'?"

He shot a glance at her, almost of hatred, but said no word.

"Perhaps," went on the girl calmly, "perhaps you too have not been what I hoped and thought. If you had...."

"What then?" he asked quickly, as if in challenge.

"Then you would not—speak as you are doing now," she answered evasively. "And perhaps what makes you angry now is only this—that you can never have more than you are able to take yourself."

He looked at her in wonder.

"And perhaps"—her voice was scarcely audible now—"perhaps you cannot take more than you are able to keep?"

She looked down in confusion, hardly knowing what she had said, only that she had been forced to say it.

He sat watching her for a while thoughtfully, as if he had heard something new and unexpected, and was pondering over it.

"You must have known yourself that I could never keep—or keep to—anyone," he said at last.

"I know that," she answered; "you don't want to."

It was as if a fine, sharp thorn had pierced him to the heart, and left its point there. The two sat looking at each other without a word.

"And if I would...." He grasped her hand earnestly. "Do you think I might dare?"

The girl turned pale, and did not speak.

"Answer me," he said insistently.

"Surely each must know that for himself," she answered at last, speaking with difficulty.

"Kyllikki, Kyllikki, if you only knew!" he cried sorrowfully, and took her hands in his. Then a sudden coldness came over him once more.

"And if I were to dare," he said, "there is one other besides you and me."

"Are you afraid of him?" she asked sharply.

"No. But if he turned me from his door in scorn...."

"If the thought of that counts for so much," she said, with emphasis, "then it were better not to ask. For, after—whom would you love more, do you think; yourself, or the one you think you love?"

He winced under her glance.

"If it were for your sake I feared?" he asked, with some feeling.

"No need of that—as long as I know you are sure in your own mind. And if you were sure—you need have no fear for me."

He looked at her in surprise and admiration.

"You are a strange girl, Kyllikki," he said at last. "I am only just beginning to understand you. You are not as I hoped you would be—but you are something more. I know what it must have cost you to say so much. I shall not forget."

Again the trouble rose within him. "You, I understand," he said wearily. "Yes. But myself—"

"You will find that out as well, some day," she said tenderly.

"If only there was time now...." He sat for a moment in thought.

"We are leaving to-morrow afternoon. If I have got things clear in my own mind by then, I will come and see you before we go. But it will be at the last minute. For if it comes to what I think it will, then I must not stay a moment longer."

The girl nodded. Both rose to their feet.

"Kyllikki," he said, with emotion, taking her hands, "it may be this is the last time I see you alone. Do not think hardly of me because I am what I am."

"You could not be otherwise," she answered warmly. "I understand."

"I shall be grateful to you for that always. And perhaps...." His voice broke. "Good-bye, Kyllikki!"

* * * * *

It was Sunday afternoon. The lumbermen were getting ready to leave. The young folk of the village, and some of the elders, had come down to the creek at Kohiseva to see them start.

The water was almost clear of timber already, the boom was being dragged slowly down the dead water by a few of the men. Some went ahead, getting odd logs out of the way, others strolled idly about on the shore, exchanging greetings with the villagers.

A little way down the bank a log is stranded with one end thrust far inshore. Close by it lies a pole.

"That's Olof's," says one of the men. "He's not come down yet—busy up at the village, it seems."

A girl in the group of lookers-on felt her heart beat suddenly.

"H'm—left it to ride down on, I suppose. Wants to take another turn down the rapids before he goes."

"Ay, that's it. Likes that way better than going on a raft like ordinary folk. That's him coming down, isn't it?"

Olof came racing down like the wind.

A girl in the group turned pale. She could see from his manner what had passed. Something terrible it must have been to bring him down in a fury like that.

He came nearer. His face was deadly pale, his lips compressed, and his eyes flashed, though he looked out over the water all the time.

He raised his hat as he passed the group, but without a glance at anyone.

"What's happened now?" The question was in all eyes, but no one spoke.

Olof grasped his pole, thrust off the log, and sprang out on it. He took a few powerful strokes, and turned, casting his eyes over the group on the shore. He was looking for one amongst them—and found her.

"Good-bye!" he cried, waving his hat.

"Good-bye—good-bye! Come again some day to Kohiseva!"

The men waved their hats, the girls fluttered kerchiefs in farewell.

Olof was still facing toward the shore, paddling slowly out across the creek.

Those on shore would have sent him a friendly word, but no one spoke—all were looking at a girl whose face was strangely pale.

Paler than ever it seemed as the man stopped rowing, and fixed his eyes on the group.

"Ay, cast your coins in a beggar's hat, And he'll bless your charity. I was good enough for the girl I loved, But her kin were prouder than she!"

There was a depth of bitterness in the words—the listeners started involuntarily.

"What's taken him all at once? Never heard him sing that way before!"

"Sh! Listen!"

The singer glanced down at the water, took a few strokes out, and went on:

"My home is where the rapids roar, Below the river's brink. All the rivers of all the world— Who cares if he swim or sink?"

The listeners glanced at one another—the meaning of the song was growing clear.

"'Twas no spring day that gave me life With sunlit skies and clear, But a leafless gloom that sent me forth To wander many a year.

My mother wept in her garden lone, Or ever I was born; Looked at a blood-red flower and wept For that her heart was torn."

He was midway across now, paddling slowly, bending a little forward. Those on the shore stood still, waiting.

"And that same flower grew red in my way, And I wished it for my own. I won but little joy of its bloom That was in sorrow grown.

But little joy when my father rose And drove me from his door, And my mother wept as I went to seek What sorrow was yet in store."

A girl was crying softly. The rest stood silent.

"O blood-red flower, O flame-red flower, That ever you grew so red! Ask of my love if she knows you now, When all her tears are shed!"

With a wave of his hand the singer turned, and made his way swiftly across the river.

Those on the shore waved in return, and stood watching and waving long, but he did not look back.



WATER-SPRITE AND WATER-WITCH

Slowly the river flowed; the waves plashed, and the reeds swayed lightly.

Green pine woods on one shore: the other was field and meadow, with a road running through a little distance from the bank.

A girl came walking down the road, casting an anxious glance now and again towards the river.

She stopped. A boom lay out in the river, lumbermen's poles were strewn about on the farther bank. And something more—a man lay under the trees at the edge of the wood, resting his head on one hand.

The girl looked at him thoughtfully. The man did not move. Still in doubt, she took a step forward, and then drew back again. At last, she turned off from the road, and walked resolutely down along a watercourse straight towards the river.

Mingled emotion stirred in the young man's breast—joy at the meeting, and wounded pride and bitterness. He felt an impulse to hurry across, run to the girl and take her in his arms, forgetting all else. But there was that between them cold and clear as the dividing water.

The girl reached the bank, and stood looking out over the water in silence.

The young man could contain himself no longer. "You have come!" he cried.

"How could I help it?" she said in a low voice—the words hardly carried to the opposite bank.

"And I could not help thinking of you."

The river looked at the pair. "If only I were frozen over!"

* * * * *

"Couldn't you—couldn't you come across—just for a moment?" asked the girl timidly.

"Just what I was going to do. But we can't stay there on the bank—the men will be coming down directly."

He thought for a moment.

"Will you come over here if I come to fetch you? Then we can go up in the woods where no one can see. Come over on the raft."

"Yes, I could do that!"

He took up his pole and set the raft loose—a couple of tree trunks, no more, fastened together with withies—and rowed hurriedly across to the opposite bank.

"Like a dear sister she comes," he thought to himself, as he helped her on to the raft. The girl held his hands and looked deep into his eyes, but without speaking.

"Sit there on the crosspiece—you can't stand up when it begins to move."

She sat down obediently, and he rowed across.

"I never thought you could be such a friend," he said, as they stepped ashore.

"Friend?" said the girl, with a tender, grateful glance—grateful that he had found the very word for the feeling that had brought her thither, and which had cost her so much already.

* * * * *

The sun was setting. A youth and a girl walked down from the woods towards the river bank, talking together.

Then suddenly they awoke from their dreams, and looked at each other in dismay. The river was a waste of water only, the banks deserted, the raft gone—neither of them had thought of how they were to get back.

"What are we to do?" The mute question was in the eyes of both.

"You can't get back along this bank?" said the young man at last.

"All through Vaha-Kohiseva village and over the bridge—no. And I ought to bring the calves home, too."

"There's no boat anywhere near?"

"No."

A gleam of resolution shone in the young man's eyes.

"Can you swim?" he asked suddenly, turning towards her.

"Swim?" she repeated in surprise. Then her face lit up as she grasped his meaning. "Yes, indeed!"

"And would you swim across with me if I carry your clothes?"

She trembled slightly—it was a daring plan, yet there was a certain secret fascination in the thought.

"With you? Yes!" she cried.

"Good. You can undress here. Then roll up all your clothes in your blouse, and tie it round with the sleeves. I'll go a little way off and get ready. We'll manage all right, you see."

And he strode off with rapid steps.

But the girl flushed, and looked anxiously around, as if she had promised more than she could fulfil. She glanced along the shore—Olof was sitting a little distance away, with his back to her, already undressing.

"How childish I am!" she thought. And stepping briskly down to the water's edge, she began hastily taking off her clothes.

* * * * *

A splash in the water—Olof was almost lost to sight in the reeds. He took off his boots and hung them by one lace round his neck, then he fixed his bundle of clothes above, and tied it with the remaining lace.

"Ready?" he called over his shoulder, glancing down the stream.

Hurriedly the girl rolled her garments up in the blouse. Her white body shivered—in womanly embarrassment at her position, and with an ecstatic delight. Then with a splash the white figure dipped beneath the water, swam up, and hid in the reeds.

Olof swam upstream, his eyes fixed on the heap of clothing, and a faint smile on his lips. He took the bundle, tied his belt round it, and fastened it above his own. The double load stood up high above his head.

"They'll be all right now—if I don't make a mess of it," he assured her.

With long, slow strokes he made for the opposite shore. The girl stood motionless in the reeds, watching him as he swam.

"How strong and bold he is!" she thought. "And the wonderful things he does! What does he care for the river?—water between us is nothing to him. He makes everything do his will. How could one be afraid with him?"

"Her clothes!" thought Olof. "And I am carrying them."

He reached the bank, untied the girl's bundle, and set it carefully ashore. Then swimming a little farther down, he flung his own things up on land.

"Haven't you started yet?" he called across to the girl—though he had been hoping all the time that she had not.

"No—I was just going to," she replied. "I—I forgot. It was such fun watching you."

"I'll come and meet you, if you like. It'll be safer perhaps...."

"Ye—es," said the girl.

She felt no shame now, though he was looking straight at her. He was filled with the strange delight that comes with any stepping over the bounds of everyday life into a world of fairyland, where all is pure, and nothing is forbidden, where the sense of being two that go their own ways unseen is like a purging, fusing flame.

Olof swam rapidly across.

"You look like a water-witch there in the reeds," he cried delightedly, checking his stroke.

"And you're the water-sprite," she answered, with a joyous smile, as she struck out.

"Bravo, water-witch, you're swimming splendidly!" he cried. They were swimming side by side now, straight across the river.

The water rippled lightly about them; now and again the girl's white shoulder lifted above the surface, her long hair trailed behind over the water, that shone like gold in the sunset light.

"Wonderful!" he cried. "I've never seen anything so lovely."

"Nor I!" said the girl.

"Nor we!" laughed the trees behind them.

"Nor we!" nodded the bushes on the bank in front.

"It is like swimming in the river of forgetfulness," he went on. "All the past disappears, all that was bitter and evil is washed away, and we are but two parts of the same beautiful being that surrounds us."

"Yes, it is like that," said the girl, with feeling.

Slowly they came to land.

"It was very narrow, after all," said Olof regretfully, as he turned from her and went down to fetch his clothes. He dressed as quickly as he could, and hurried up to her again.

"Let me wring the water from your hair," he begged. She smiled permission. The water fell like drops of silver from his hands.

"Must you go now?" asked Olof sadly. "Let me go with you as far as the road at least."

Once more he looked regretfully at the river—as if to fix the recollection in his mind.

They walked up to the road without speaking, and stopped.

"It's ever so hard for me to say good-bye to you," he said, grasping her hands.

"Harder still for me," she answered in a low voice.

"Shall I ever forget you—you, and this evening?"

Her eyelids quivered, and she bowed her head.

"Kyllikki!" he cried desperately. "Would you hide your eyes from me?—Kyllikki...." There was hope and doubt in his eyes; he loosed his hold of her hands, and clasped his own as if questioningly about her waist.

The girl was trembling. She laid her hands on his shoulders, and then slowly twined her arms about his neck.

A tumult of delight came over him. He pressed her to him fervently, lifting her off her feet—her arms drew closer round him.

He saw the look in her eyes change—giddiness seized him, and he set her down.

"May I...?" he asked, with his eyes.

Her eyes consented—and their lips met....

When at last he let her go, the girl's face was changed almost beyond recognition. On her under lip showed a tiny drop of blood.

A cry of dismay rose up in him, but remained unuttered. A strange intoxication overpowered him—the red drop there was the seal of a friendship deeper and more mysterious than all else—in a wild kiss he drank the blood from her lip. He felt himself on the point of swooning—and wished the world would end there, in that moment.

He could not speak—he did not know whether to stay or go. A darkness seemed to close about him, and he staggered off like a drunken man, without looking back.



THE CAMP-FIRE AT NEITOKALLIO

A league of swift-flowing river, almost straight, with gently sloping meadows, forest-crowned, on either hand.

A grand, impressive sight at all seasons. In autumn, the swollen waters pour down as from a cornucopia; in winter, folk from the town come driving over the frozen flood, racing one against another; in spring, the river overflows its banks, spreading silt on the meadows as in the land of the Nile; and in summer, the haymakers are lulled by the song of the grasshoppers and the scent of the hay to dream of paradise, where the children of men even now may enter in for some few days in every year.

A league of river, a league of meadow land—but at one spot two great rocks stand out as if on guard.

One rises from the very verge, the water lapping its foot as it stands dreaming and gazing over to its fellow of the farther side. Neitokallio is its name.

The other is more cold and proud. It stands drawn back a little way from the bank, with head uplifted as in challenge, looking out through the treetops across the plain. And this is Valimaki.

At the foot of Valimaki a camp-fire was burning. It was midnight. A group of lumbermen were gathered round the fire, some lying stretched out with knapsacks under their heads, some leaning one against another. Blue clouds of smoke curled up from their pipes.

The red fire glowed and glowed, flaring up now and again into bright flame, tinging the fir stems on the slope as if with blood, and throwing weird reflections out on to the dark waters of the river. The men sat in silence over their pipes.

"Look!" said one at last, nodding up towards the head of the rock. "Looks almost as if she was sitting there still, looking down into the river."

Several nodded assent.

"Maybe there is someone sitting there."

"Nay, 'tis only a bit of a bush or something. But 'tis the very same spot where she sat, that's true."

"What's the story?" asks one—a newcomer, on his first trip to Nuolijoki. "Some fairy tale or other?"

"Fairy tale?" one of the elders breaks in. "You're a stranger, young man, that's plain to see. 'Tis a true story enough, and not so long since it all happened neither."

"Fourteen years," says Antti, knocking the ashes from his pipe. "I remember it all as plain as yesterday. Ay, there's queer things happen in life."

"Did you see it yourself, then?"

"Ay, I did that—and not likely to forget it. 'Twas on that rock I saw her first time, and a young lad with her."

Some of the men sat up and began filling their pipes afresh.

"Her betrothed, maybe?"

"Ay—or something like it. I didn't know at the time. I was clearing stray logs here on the shore, and saw them sitting up there together, looking at the water. I sat down too for a bit, and lit a pipe, and thinking to myself; well, water's water, and water it'll be for all their looking. Anyhow, I doubt they must look at something, just to pass the time."

"Well, and what then? What happened?"

"Nay, they did but sit there a bit and then went away. But next day again, I was working there same as before, and there's my young miss a-sitting there in the very spot—only nobody with her this time."

Olof had been lying on his back, hands under his head, looking up into the darkness. All at once he sat up, and stared at the speaker.

"'Twas a queer girl, thinks I, and lights my pipe. Walking all those miles out from the town to sit on a rock—as if there wasn't rocks enough elsewhere. Anyway, 'twas no business of mine. And after that she was there every day—just about midday, always the same time, and always sitting just there in one place."

"But what was she doing there?"

"Doing? Nay, she wasn't doing anything. Just sitting there, and staring like."

"'Twas Antti she was staring at—that'll be it," laughed one. "You must have been a fine young fellow those days, Antti!"

"You keep your tongue between your teeth, young fellow; 'tis no laughing matter I'm telling you."

The men looked at one another, and nodded. A faint breath of wind sighed through the trees on the slope, a pair of twin stems creaked one against the other with a melancholy sound. The men puffed at their pipes.

"Well, there she sits, and never song nor word to hear. Lord knows what she'd be thinking of all the time. Then one day I came down to the river, and was going over to Metsamantila for some butter. Just passing by the rock I was, and there she is all of a sudden, coming towards me, and all dressed in black from top to toe."

"Ho!"

"I was all taken aback, you can think. She'd a black veil over her face, and all. But a sweet, pretty thing to see, ay, that she was—like a blessed angel. I pulled off my cap, and she looks up at me and nods. And it gave me such a queer sort of feeling, I just turned round and stood staring after her."

"Was it just a young girl?"

"Young? Ay, no more than twenty, at most. Well, I stood there watching her till she's out of sight among the trees. And then it all seemed clear enough. 'Twas her father or mother was dead, no doubt, and that's why she came out here all alone, for comfort, like. Anyway, I was going on. Then, just past the rock there's a man calls out, 'She's gone!'

"I was near falling backwards at that. I called out to see what was the matter, and ran down to the shore.

"'Thrown herself down!' cries out the other man, and goes racing off down to the water.

"We both ran all we could, but there was nothing to see. We waited a bit, but she didn't come up. So I went off to the village, and the other man to the town.

"They got her up after—at the first haul. She'd gone down like a stone to the bottom, just at the spot. But there was no getting her to life again, try all we could. Just as beautiful to look at she was, for all she was dead. Ay, a lovely thing, a lovely thing. We'd had to undo her clothes a bit, trying to bring her round, and her skin—'twas like white silk. Seemed almost a sin to touch her with our rough hands and all...."

* * * * *

No one spoke for a while.

"And was it just for sorrow, like?" asked one at last.

"Ay, sorrow enough. But 'twas neither father nor mother she was sorrowing for."

"Ah!... 'Twas a lover, then? Maybe she'd got into trouble."

"Nay, 'twas none of that sort. Just set on him—the young lad she'd been sitting there with at first—and he'd left her, that was all."

The men sat in silence. Olof's heart was beating so that he almost feared the rest must hear it. His eyelids quivered, and his brow was furrowed deep as he sat staring into the fire.

"'Tis that way sometimes with fine folk when they're in love," murmured one.

"'Tis a woman's way altogether," put in another, with an attempt at gaiety, as if to dispel the feeling of gloom. "Their heart's like a flimsy fairing—little watch looks all right, but just shake it a bit, and 'tis all to pieces."

"Maybe 'tis so with fine folk and ladies and such, but peasant girls are not so foolish. More like a grandfather's clock, say. Anything goes wrong, you've only to give it a shake, let it stop for an hour or so, and shake it again, and scold it a bit—and it's as right as ever. Go any way you like."

The men laughed—it was a relief to turn to something lighter.

"Ay, you're right there," put in a stout fellow with a loud voice. "'Twas so with my old woman once when she was young. Got set on a bit of a greenhorn chap, all soft as butter, and took it badly. But I saw 'twas no good for her nor anyone, and heaved him out of the way and took her myself. And well I did, for she's never troubled a thought about him since."

A shout of laughter went up from the men. They had recovered their spirits now.

"Ay, you may laugh," said an elderly man. "But 'tis not every man that troubles if what he thinks best is best for a woman herself." He paused a moment, and sat cleaning his pipe with a straw. "There's girls of our own sort that can't be handled that way to any good—and there's both men and girls that don't take things so lightly."

There was an earnest ring in his voice, a note almost of pain, and the men ceased to smile. Olof turned in surprise, and looked at the speaker—some of the others were making signs behind the old man's back.

"I know one man at least," he went on, "that loved a girl when he was young, and couldn't marry her. He didn't go off and kill himself—but it marked him, none the less, for all he was only a peasant himself. Sold his place, he did, and drank away the money, and wandered about the rest of his life to this day—and never forgotten her."

The old man was silent.

"Ay, 'tis plain to see she's in his mind now that he's old and grey," said one who had pointed to the speaker before.

The old man bowed his head, and pulled his cap down over his eyes; but they could see a quiver in his face, and the brass-bound pipe-stem trembled in his hand.

The men exchanged glances; none seemed wishful to speak.

"Ay, 'tis no light thing to play with," said one at last. "And each knows best what he's learned for himself."

Again a sighing of the trees on the hillside, and a mournful sound from the straining stems. The coming dawn threw a grey light on the rocky face of Neitokallio; far over the meadows a bird was calling.

"Getting light—'tis time we were about," said Olof, rising to his feet.

The men stared at him in wonder; his voice was strange and hard as that of the old man who had spoken before.

"Up with you—come!" said Olof, with sudden impatience. And, turning abruptly, he strode down to the shore.

The men stared after him, then, rising, covered their fire, and followed down to the river.



HAWTHORN

No! I must live while I am young; breathe freely while I can! But you, Hawthorn—do you know what life is?"

"Yes," the girl answered fervently; "it is love!"

"It is something else besides. Youth and spring and courage—and fate, that brings the children of men together."

"Yes...? I wonder why I never thought of that myself."

"What does it matter what we think? We drift along, knowing nothing of one another, like the errant winds or the stars in the skies. We pass by hundreds, without so much as a glance, until fate as in a lightning flash brings us face to face with the one appointed. And then—in a moment we know that we belong to each other, we are drawn together by magnetic force—for good or ill."

"I have felt the same—and I feel it more keenly now than ever," answered the girl, nestling trustingly close to him. "Each minute in your arms is worth more than all the rest of my life before."

"And you are to me as the sap of the trees in spring, that thrills me with ecstasy and makes me forget all else. And I will feel it so!—drown my sad autumn and my joyless winter in the delight of spring. And I bless the fate that led you to me—there is none like you!"

"None?" the girl repeated happily, and yet in doubt. "Oh, if only I could be as you think."

"You are so! Every drop of blood in you is love and fire. The lightest touch of your shoe against my foot is more than the warmest embrace from any other—your breath is like a secret caress; you bring a scent of hawthorn with you everywhere that lifts me almost to madness."

"Do not talk like that, Olof. I am nothing—it is you that are all. Tell me—are all lovers as happy as we?"

"No."

"Why not? Is it because they—they can't love as we do?"

"They dare not! They fear to be happy. Oh, how blind the world is! Wandering sadly with prayer, book and catechism in hand, when love and spring are waiting for all who will. And those who have grown old, when their blood is as lead in their veins, and they can but gaze with beggars' eyes on their own youth—they would have us too slaves of the prayer book and catechism like themselves."

"Is it really so...?"

"Yes, it is true. Only while we are young, only while the flood of youth runs free and bright in our veins can we be happy. And they are the greatest who dare to demand their share of life in full, to plunge unafraid into the waters, letting the waves break on their temples and life's salt flood wash their cheeks."

"And have I dared all this, Olof? Tell me, have I not?"

"Yes, you have. And it is just that which makes you lovely and bewitching as you are. It is a glorious thing to give oneself lip entirely to another, without question, without thought of return or reckoning—only to bathe body and soul in the deep wells of life!"

"Yes, yes.... And, do you know, Olof...?" The girl spoke earnestly, with a quiver in her voice.

"What? Tell me?"

But she could say no more, and, bursting into tears, hid her burning cheek against his breast, her body shaking with sobs.

"What—child, you are crying? What is it?"

"I don't know...." The girl was sobbing still. "Only that I can't—can't give you all I would."

"But you have given me more than I ever dared to hope for!"

"Not so much as I gladly would! Why do you not ask more of me? Tell me to die with you, and I am ready—I could die by fire with you. Or take my life now, here, this moment...."

The fire of her increasing passion seemed to have sent out a spark that glowed and burned in his soul.

"How can you speak so?" he asked, almost in dread. "It is madness, child."

"Madness—yes. But if you knew how I love you.... Say but one word and I will leave home—father and mother and all—and follow you like a beggar girl from place to place."

"And never care what people said?"

"Care? Why should I care for them? What do they know of love?"

"Little Hawthorn...." Olof bent her head back and looked straight into her eyes. "Was that a nice thing to say, now?"

The girl bowed her head. "No—but I wanted to do something, to make some sacrifice for your sake."

She was silent for a moment, then her eyes brightened once more. "Olof, now I know! I'll cut off one of the prettiest locks of my hair and you shall keep it for remembrance—that's what people do, isn't it? And you must keep it always—and think of me sometimes, even when you love someone else."

"Oh, my love! I don't know whether to laugh or cry when you say such things. But it is only now, in the gloom of the spring night. By daylight you will think differently."

"No, never! Not even in the grave!"

"And then—it's so childish. Must you have a keepsake from me too, to help you to remember?"

"No, of course not."

"Then why should I need one?"

"No, no—it's childish of me, of course. Forgive me, Olof—and don't be sorry any more. I ask nothing but to go on loving you."

"And I you—without thought or question."

"Yes. And I shall remember all my life how happy you have made me; I shall keep the memory of it all as a secret treasure till I die, and bless you...."

She rose up suddenly on her elbow.

"Olof—tell me something. Did you ever hear of anyone dying of happiness?"

"No—I have never heard of it. Why?"

"But when they are really, really happy...?"

"I don't think anyone could, even then."

"But they can die of sorrow sometimes, I've heard. And then if one really wants to...."

"Hawthorn!" He clasped her in a wild embrace. "There is no one like you in all the world. If that were possible, I would ask nothing else."

"Would you—would you really care to ... with me?"

"Yes, yes ... to swoon in the scent of you and die ... to feel the strands of your hair twined round my throat, and die.... Well for me if I could, perhaps—and for others...."



SISTER MAYA

Sadness pervaded his soul, and he spoke to the evening gloom that stole in through the window and hovered about his pale face like a watcher.

"I too should have had a sister—sister Maya," he said dreamily.

"You had one—and the best that one could wish for," said the evening gloom.

"I don't remember—I was too young to know.... But mother always spoke so nicely of her ... the time I was ill, for instance."

"So your mother spoke of that. Yes, yes, she would...."

"It was when I was a child. I was very ill—on the point of death, she said. And mother and all the others were crying, and comforting themselves with the thought that little Olof would be an angel soon, and wear a crown. And sister Maya said then I should sit by her bedside with wings outspread, warding off evil dreams."

"Well if it had been so," said the evening gloom.

"But the girl, my sister, burst into tears, and cried that I should not be an angel, but a big man, bigger than father—ever so big and strong. And she threw her arms round my neck and said no one should ever come and take away Olof—no!"

"Ay," nodded the gloom, "so it was—yes."

"And my sister tried her own way to make me well again—fondling me and blinking her eyes and stroking me under the chin. And I began laughing, for all that I was ill. And she was all overjoyed at that, and more certain than ever that I was to get well again and grow a big strong man. And I laughed again, and life began laughing too—and after that, I gradually got well."

"Ay, 'twas so. And your sister, she looked after you and nursed you all by herself—no one else was allowed to touch you; yes, that was your sister Maya!"

"Then Maya was taken ill herself. And weak as she was, she would have me near her all the time, and made me sit by her bedside. And I only laughed at it all—I did not understand that my only sister was at death's door. Ay, sometimes I pinched her thin cheek, or pulled her hair, or flicked her ear in play...."

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