III.—The Palace of Subterranean Fire
When Princess Carathis heard of the dissolute conduct of her son she sent for Morakanabad.
"Let me expire in flames," she cried.
Having said this, she whirled herself round in a magical way, striking poor Morakanabad in such a way as caused him to recoil. Then she ordered her great camel, Aboufaki, to be brought, and, attended by her two hideous and one-eyed negresses, Nerkes and Cafour, set out to surprise the lovers. She burst in upon them, foaming with indignation, and said to Vathek: "Free thyself from the arms of this paltry doxy; drown her in the water before me, and instantly follow my guidance." But Vathek replied civilly, but decisively, that he was taking Nouronihar with him; and the princess, having heard her declare that she would follow him beyond the Kaf in the land of the Afrits, was appeased, and pronounced Nouronihar a girl of both courage and science.
With a view, however, of preventing any further trouble arising from Gulchenrouz, of whose affection for his cousin Vathek had informed her, she sought to capture the boy, intending to sacrifice him to the giaour. But as he was fleeing from her he fell into the arms of a genius, the same good old genius who, happening on the cruel giaour at the instant of his growling in the horrible chasm, had rescued the fifty little victims which the impiety of Vathek had devoted to his maw. The genius placed Gulchenrouz in a nest higher than the clouds, and there kept him ever young.
Nor was this the only hope of the princess's that was doomed to be frustrated. She learnt from her astrolabes and instruments of magic that Motavakel, availing himself of the disgust which was now inveterate against his brother, had incited commotions among the populace, made himself master of the palace, and actually invested the great tower. So she reluctantly abandoned the idea of accompanying Vathek to Istakar, and returned to Samarah; while he, attended by Nouronihar, resumed his march and quickly reached the valley of Rocnabad. Here the poor Santons, filled with holy energy, having bustled to light up wax torches in their oratories and to expand the Koran on their ebony desks, went forth to meet the caliph with baskets of honeycomb, dates, and melons. Vathek gave them but a surly reception. "Fancy not," said he, "that you can detain me; your presents I condescend to accept, but beg you will let me be quiet, for I am not overfond of resisting temptation. Yet, as it is not decent for personages so reverend to return on foot, and as you have not the appearance of expert riders, my eunuchs shall tie you on your asses, with the precaution that your backs be not turned towards me, for they understand etiquette."
Even this outrage could not persuade Vathek's good genius to desert him, and he made one final effort to save the caliph from the fate awaiting him. Disguised as a shepherd, and pouring forth from his flute such melodies as softened even the heart of Vathek, he confronted him in his path, and warned him so solemnly against pursuing his journey that when night fell almost every one of his attendants had deserted him. But Vathek, in his obduracy, went on, and at length arrived at the mountain which contains the vast ruins of Istakar and the entrance to the realm of Eblis.
Nouronihar and he, having ascended the steps of a vast staircase of black marble, reached the terrace, which was flagged with squares of marble and resembled a smooth expanse of water. There, by the moonlight, they read an inscription which proclaimed that, despite the fact that Vathek had violated the conditions of the parchment, he and Nouronihar would be allowed to enter the palace of subterranean fire.
Scarcely had these words been read when the mountain trembled, and the rock yawned and disclosed within it a staircase of polished marble, down which they descended. At the bottom they found their way impeded by a huge portal of ebony, which, opening at the giaour's command, revealed to them a place which, though roofed with a vaulted ceiling, was so spacious and lofty that at first they took it for an immeasurable plain. In the midst of this immense hall a vast multitude was incessantly passing, who severally kept their right hands on their hearts, without once regarding anything about them. They had all the livid paleness of death; their eyes, deep-sunk in their sockets, resembled those phosphoric meteors that glimmer by night in places of interment. Some stalked slowly along, absorbed in profound reverie; some, shrieking with agony, ran furiously about like tigers wounded with poisonous arrows; whilst others, grinding their teeth in rage, foamed along, more frantic than the wildest maniacs. They all avoided each other, and, though surrounded by a multitude that no one could number, each wandered at random, unheedful of the rest, as if alone on a desert no foot had trodden.
Vathek and Nouronihar, frozen with terror at a sight so baleful, demanded of the giaour what these appearances might mean, and why these ambulating spectres never withdrew their hands from their hearts.
"Perplex not yourselves," replied he, bluntly, "with so much at once; you will soon be acquainted with all. Let us haste and present you to Eblis."
They continued their way through the multitude, and after some time entered a vast tabernacle carpeted with the skins of leopards and filled with an infinity of elders with streaming beards and Afrits in complete armour, all of whom had prostrated themselves before the ascent of a lofty eminence, on the top of which, upon a globe of fire, sat the formidable Eblis. He received Vathek's and Nouronihar's homage, and invited them to enjoy whatever the palace afforded—the treasures of the pre-Adamite sultans and their bickering sabres and those talismans which compel the Dives to open the subterranean expanses of the mountain of Kaf.
The giaour then conducted them to a hall of great extent, covered with a lofty dome, round which appeared fifty portals of bronze, secured with as many fastenings of iron. A funereal gloom prevailed over the whole scene. Here, upon two beds of incorruptible cedar, lay recumbent the fleshless forms of pre-Adamite kings, who had been monarchs of the whole earth; they still possessed enough of life to be conscious of their deplorable condition; their eyes retained a melancholy motion; they regarded each other with looks of the deepest dejection, each holding his right hand motionless on his heart. Soliman Ben Daoud, the most eminent of them, told Vathek the story of his great state, of his worship of fire and the hosts of the sky, and of heaven's vengeance upon him. "I am in torments, ineffable torments!" said he. "An unrelenting fire preys upon my heart." Having uttered this exclamation, Soliman raised his hands towards heaven in token of supplication, and the caliph discerned through his bosom, which was as transparent as crystal, his heart enveloped in flames. At a sight so full of horror, Nouronihar fell back like one petrified into the arms of Vathek, who cried out with a convulsive sob: "O Mohammed! remains there no more mercy?"
"None, none!" replied the malicious Dive. "Know, miserable prince, thou art now in the abode of vengeance and despair! A few days are allotted thee as respite, and then thy heart also shall be kindled like those of the other worshippers of Eblis."
This, indeed, was the dreadful fate of Vathek and Nouronihar, a fate indeed to which the Princess Carathis was also most righteously condemned; for Vathek, knowing that the principles by which his mother had perverted his youth had been the cause of his perdition, summoned her to the palace of subterranean fire and enrolled her among the votaries of Eblis. Carathis entered the dome of Soliman, and she too marched in triumph through the vapour of perfumes.
* * * * *
Oroonoko: the Royal Slave
In her introduction to "Oroonoko," Mrs. Aphra Behn states that her strange and romantic tale is founded on facts, of many of which she was an eye-witness. This is true. She was born at Wye, England, July 10, 1640, the daughter, it is said, of a barber. As a child, she went out to Dutch Guiana, then an English colony named after the Surinam River, returning to England about 1658. After the death of her husband, in 1666, she was dispatched as a spy to Antwerp by Charles II., and it was she who first warned that monarch of the Dutch Government's intention to send a fleet up the Thames. She died on April 16, 1689, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. It was while in Dutch Guiana that she met Oroonoko, in the circumstances described in the story. No doubt she has idealised her hero somewhat, but she does not seem to have exaggerated the extraordinary adventures of the young African chief. In the licentious age of the Restoration, when she had become famous—or, rather, notorious—as a writer of unseemly plays, she astonished the town, and achieved real fame by relating the story of Oroonoko's life. There are few plots of either plays or novels so striking as that of "Oroonoko." It is the first of those romances of the outlands, which, from the days of Defoe to the days of Mr. Rudyard Kipling, have been one of the glories of English literature.
I.—The Stolen Bride
I do not pretend to entertain the reader with a feigned hero, whose adventures I can manage according to my fancy. Of many of the events here set down, I was an eye-witness, and what I did not see myself, I learnt from the mouth of Oroonoko. When I made his acquaintance I was living in that part of our South American colony called Surinam, which we lately ceded to the Dutch—a great mistake, I think, for the land was fertile, and the natives were friendly, and many Englishmen had set up sugar plantations, which they worked by means of negroes. Most of these slaves came from that part of Africa known as Coromantien. The Coromantiens, being very warlike, were continually fighting other nations, and they always had many captives ready to be sold as slaves to our planters.
The king of Coromantien was a hundred years of age. All his sons had fallen in battle, and only one of them had left behind him an heir. Oroonoko, as the young prince was called, was a very intelligent and handsome negro, and as his grandfather engaged a Frenchman of wit and learning to teach him, he received an education better than that of many European princes. This I can speak of from my own knowledge, as I have often conversed with him. He had a great admiration for the ancient Romans; and in everything but the colour of his skin he reminded me of those heroes of antiquity.
His nose was finely curved, and his lips, too, were well shaped, instead of being thick as those of most Africans are. As the king of Coromantien, by reason of his great age, was unable to bear arms, he entrusted his chief headman with the duty of training Oroonoko in the arts of war. For two years, the young prince was away fighting with a powerful inland nation; the chief headman was killed in a fierce battle, and Oroonoko succeeded him in the command of the army. He was then only seventeen years of age, but he quickly brought the long war to a successful conclusion, and returned home with a multitude of captives. The greater part of these he gave to his grandfather, and the rest he took to Imoinda, the daughter and only child of the chief headman, as trophies of her father's victories.
Imoinda was a marvellously beautiful girl; her features, like those of Oroonoko, were regular and noble, and more European than African. It was a case of love at first sight on both sides, and the young prince presented the lovely maiden with a hundred and fifty slaves, and returned home in a fever of passion. It was necessary for him to obtain his grandfather's consent to his marriage, but for some days he was so perplexed by the flood of strange, new feelings surging in his young heart that he remained silent and moody.
His followers, however, were loud in their praises of Imoinda. They extolled her ravishing charms even in the presence of the old king, so that nothing else was talked of but Imoinda. Oroonoko's love rapidly became too strong for him to control, and one night he went secretly to the house of his beloved, and wooed her with such fervency of soul that even she was astonished by it. It was the savage custom of his country for a king to have a hundred wives, as his grandfather had; but Oroonoko was an enlightened and chivalrous man.
"Never, Imoinda," he cried, "shall you have a rival. You are the only woman I shall love, the only woman I shall marry. Come, my darling, and let us try and raise our people up by our example."
Imoinda was naturally overjoyed to become the wife of so noble and cultivated a prince, and she waited the next morning in a state of delicious excitement for Oroonoko to return and claim her as his bride. But, to her dismay and horror, four headmen with their servants came at daybreak to her house with a royal veil. This is a rudely embroidered cloth which the king of Coromantien sends to any lady whom he has a mind to make his wife. After she is covered with it, the maid is secured for the king's otan, or harem, and it is death to disobey the royal summons.
Trembling and almost fainting, Imoinda was compelled to suffer herself to be covered and led away to the old king. His imagination had been excited by the wild way in which the followers of his grandson had praised the beauty of the maiden, and, carried away by unnatural jealousy, he had resolved, in a fit of madness, to possess her at all costs. In spite of all he had heard, he was amazed by her loveliness. Rising up from his throne, he came towards her with outstretched arms.
"I am already married," she cried, bursting into tears and throwing herself at his feet. "Do not dishonour me! Let me return to my own house."
"Who has dared to marry the daughter of my chief headman without my consent?" said the old king, his eyes rolling in anger. "Whoever he is, he shall die at once."
Imoinda began to fear for Oroonoko, and tried to undo the effect of her words.
"He—he is not exactly my husband yet," she stammered. "But, oh, I love him! I love him! And I have promised to marry him."
"That's nothing," said the king, his eyes now lighting up with pleasure. "You must be my wife."
In the afternoon, Oroonoko, who had gone in search of Imoinda, returned. Having heard that she had received the royal veil, he came in so violent a rage that his men had great trouble to save him from killing himself.
"What can I do?" he cried desperately. "Even if I slew my grandfather, I could not now make Imoinda my wife."
II.—A White Man's Treachery
By the custom of the country, it would have been so great a crime to marry a woman whom Us grandfather had taken that Oroonoko's people would probably have risen up against him. But one of his men pointed out that, as Imoinda was his lawful wife by solemn contract, he was really the injured man, and might, if he would, take her back—the breach of the law being on his grandfather's side. Thereupon, the young prince resolved to recover her, and in the night he entered the otan, or royal harem, by a secret passage, and made his way to the apartment of Imoinda. Had he found the old king there, he no doubt would have killed him; but, happily, the lovely maid was alone, and quietly sleeping in her bed. He softly awakened her, and she trembled with joy and fear at his boldness. But they had not been long together when a sudden noise was heard and a band of armed men with spears burst into the room.
"Back!" shouted the young prince, lifting up his battle-axe. "Back, all of you! Do you not know Oroonoko?"
"Yes," said one of the men. "The king has sent us to take you, dead or alive."
But when Oroonoko attacked them, they allowed him to fight his way out of the otan, but tore the maid from his arms and took her to the king. The old man was blind with rage, and, seizing a spear, he staggered to his feet, determined to kill her by his own hand. But Imoinda was in no mood to die. She knew that her lover had fled to his camp, and intended to return at the head of a large army and rescue her by main force. If she could only calm the anger of the old king for a few days, all would be well. So, with the guile of a woman, she flung herself at the king's feet, protesting in a flood of tears, that Oroonoko had broken into her room and taken her by force.
"Very well," said the old king, with a cruel look in his eyes, "I will forgive you. Having received the royal veil, you cannot marry my grandson. On the other hand, since he has entered your room, you cannot remain any longer in the otan. You must be sent out of the country."
And early the next morning some of his servants were commanded to dress her so that she could not be recognised, and then she was carried down to the shore and sold to the captain of a slave ship.
The king did not dare to tell his grandson that he had sold Imoinda as a slave, for the Coromantiens justly reckon slavery as something worse than death; so he sent a messenger to say that she was dead. At first, Oroonoko was minded to attack his grandfather, but better feelings prevailed; and he led his army against a hostile nation, resolved to perish on the battlefield. So desperate was his courage that he defeated his far more numerous foes, and took a great multitude of them captives. Many of these he sold to the captain of a slave-ship, then lying off Coromantien. When the bargain was concluded, the captain invited the prince and all his attendants to a banquet on board his ship, and so plied them with wine that, being unaccustomed to drink of this sort, they were overcome by it.
When Oroonoko recovered his senses, he found himself chained up in a dark room, and all his men were groaning in fetters around him. The cunning slave-dealer had got out of paying for his cargo of slaves, and increased their number by carrying off the young prince and his companions. This was how I came to meet Oroonoko. The unscrupulous slave-dealer brought him to Surinam, and sold him and seventeen of his followers to our overseer, a young Cornishman named Trefry.
Trefry, a man of great wit and fine learning, was attracted by the noble bearing of Oroonoko, and treated him more as a friend than as a servant. And when, to his great astonishment, he found that the young prince was his equal in scholarship, and could converse with him in English, French, and Spanish, he asked him how it was he had become a slave. Oroonoko then related the story of the slave-dealer's treachery, and Trefry was so moved by it that he promised to find the means to free him from slavery and enable him to return to Coromantien.
When Oroonoko arrived at our plantation, all our negroes left off work and came to see him. When they saw that he was really the great prince of Coromantien, who had conquered them in battle and sold them into slavery, they cast themselves at his feet, crying out in their own language: "Live, O king! Long live, O king!" They kissed his feet and paid him divine homage—for such is the nature of this people, that instead of bearing him any grudge for selling them into captivity, they were filled with awe and veneration for him.
Mr. Trefry was glad to find Oroonoko's statement of his royal rank confirmed by the adoration of all the slaves.
"There's one girl," he said, "who did not come to greet you. I am sure you will be delighted to find you have so beautiful a subject. If it is possible for anyone to console you for the loss of Imoinda, she will do so. To tell the truth, I've been in love with her myself, but I found that I could not win her."
"I do not want to see her," said Oroonoko. "If I go back to Coromantien, I will not take any woman with me. I vowed to Imoinda that I would never have any wife but her, and, though she is dead, I shall keep my vow."
The next morning Trefry took Oroonoko for a walk, and by design brought him to the house of the beautiful slave.
"Clemene," he said, "did you not hear that one of the princes of your people arrived in Surinam yesterday? However you may fly from all white men, you surely ought to pay some respect to him."
Oroonoko started when a girl came out, with her head bowed down as if she had resolved never to raise her eyes again to the face of a man.
"Imoinda! Imoinda!" Oroonoko cried after a moment's silence. "Imoinda!"
It was she. She looked up at the sound of his voice, and then tottered and fell down in a swoon, and Oroonoko caught her in his arms. By degrees she came to herself; and it is needless to tell with what transport, what ecstasies of joy, the lovers beheld each other. Mr. Trefry was infinitely pleased by this happy conclusion of the prince's misadventures; and, leaving the lovers to themselves, he came to Parham House, and gave me an account of all that had happened. In the afternoon, to the great joy of all the negroes, Oroonoko and Imoinda were married. I was invited to the wedding, and I assured Oroonoko that he and his wife would be set free as soon as the lord-governor of the colony returned to Surinam.
III.—The Taint of Slavery
Unhappily, the lord-governor was delayed for some months in the islands, and Oroonoko became impatient. After the trick played upon him by the captain of the slave-ship, he had become exceedingly suspicious of the honesty and good faith of white men. He was afraid that the overseer would keep him and his wife until their child was born, and make a slave of it. At last, he grew so moody and sullen that many persons feared that he would incite the negroes to a mutiny. In order to soothe the prince, I invited him and Imoinda to stay at my house, where I entertained them to the best of my ability.
"Surely," I said to him, "you do not suspect that we will break our word with you? Only wait patiently, my friend, till the lord-governor arrives, and you will be permitted to return to your own kingdom."
"You do not understand," Oroonoko replied. "I am angry with myself for remaining so long a slave. What! Do you white people think that I, the king of Coromantien, can be treated like the captives that I have taken in war and sold to you? Had it not been for Imoinda, I would long since have been free or dead."
Unfortunately, both for me and Oroonoko, my father, who had been appointed lieutenant-general of the West Indies and Guiana, died at sea on his way to Surinam, and the new lord-governor was long in arriving. In the meantime, a child was born to Imoinda, and all the negroes, to the number of 300, came together to celebrate the event. Oroonoko, beside himself with anger, because his child had been born into slavery, made a harangue to the assembled multitude.
"Why should we be slaves to these white men?" he cried. "Have they conquered us nobly in battle? Are we become their captives by the chance of war? No! We have been bought and sold, like monkeys or cattle, to a set of cowards and rogues who have been driven out of their own country by reason of their villainy! Shall we let vile creatures such as these flog us and bruise us as they please?"
"No, no!" shouted the negroes. "Be our king, Oroonoko, and make us a free nation!"
Thereupon he commanded them to seize what arms they could, and tie up everything they wanted in their hammocks, and sling these over their shoulders, and march out, with their wives and children. The next morning, when the overseers went to call their slaves up to work, they found they had fled. By noon, 600 militiamen set out in search of the fugitives. The negroes were forced to travel slowly by reason of their women and children; and at the end of two days the militiamen, led by the new lord-governor, caught them up and surrounded them. In the battle that ensued, several Englishmen were killed and a great many wounded; but as they outnumbered the negroes, and were much better armed, they defeated them. Even then Oroonoko would not surrender. But the lord-governor parleyed with him, and promised that he would give him and his wife and child a free passage to Coromantien in the first ship that touched on the coast.
On this, Oroonoko surrendered. But, to his horror and surprise, he was taken back to Surinam, and tied to a stake at the whipping-place, and lashed until the very flesh was torn from his bones. His captors then bound him in chains, and cast him into a prison. From this, however, he was at last rescued by Mr. Trefry. But the shame and the torture had unhinged his fine mind. He led Imoinda and his child into a forest, and asked his wife whether she would prefer to remain the slave of the white devils, or die at once by his hand. Imoinda begged him rather to kill her, and Oroonoko did so. But, instead of putting an end to himself, the prince determined to die fighting. He turned back from the forest, fiercely resolved to search out the lord-governor, and slay him; but, falling into the hands of the militiamen, he was killed in a very horrible manner.
I can only say that this negro was the noblest and gentlest man I ever met. It needs more genius than I possess to praise him as he deserves; yet I hope the reputation of my pen is considerable enough to make his name survive to all ages, with that of the beautiful, brave, and constant Imoinda.
* * * * *
CYRANO DE BERGERAC
A Voyage to the Moon
Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac has recently acquired a new lease of fame as the hero of Edmond Rostand's romantic comedy. Probably he is better known in France as a fighter than as a wit and a poet. Born about 1620, he entered the Regiment of the Guards in his nineteenth year, and quickly became renowned for his bravery. He was an indefatigable duellist; when he was about twenty years old, he found a hundred men assembled to insult one of his friends, and he attacked them, killed two, mortally wounded seven, and dispersed all the rest. He died at Paris in 1655, struck by a huge beam falling into the street. As an author he was strangely underrated by his fellow-countrymen. Moliere was the only man who really appreciated him. For some centuries his works have been more esteemed in England than in France. Many English writers, from Dean Swift to Samuel Butler, the author of "Erewhon," have been inspired by his "Voyage to the Moon," the English equivalent of the original title being, "Comic History of the States and Empires of the Moon and the Sun." This entertaining satire is as fresh as it was on the day it was written: flying machines and gramophones, for instance, are curiously modern. His inimitable inventiveness makes him the most delightful of French writers between Montaigne and Moliere.
I.—Arrival on the Moon
After many experiments I constructed a flying machine, and, sitting on top of it, I boldly launched myself in the air from the crest of a mountain. I had scarcely risen more than half a mile when something went wrong with my machine, and it shot back to the earth. But, to my astonishment and joy, instead of descending with it, I continued to rise through the calm, moonlight air. For three-quarters of an hour I mounted higher and higher. Then suddenly all the weight of my body seemed to fall upon my head. I was no longer rising quietly from the Earth, but tumbling headlong on to the Moon. At last I crashed through a tree, and, breaking my fall among its leafy, yielding boughs, I landed gently on the grass below.
I found myself in the midst of a wild and beautiful forest, so full of the sweet music of singing-birds that it seemed as if every leaf on every tree had the tongue and figure of a nightingale. The ground was covered with unknown, lovely flowers, with a magical scent. As soon as I smelt it I became twenty years younger. My thin grey hairs changed into thick, brown, wavy tresses; my wrinkled face grew fresh and rosy; and my blood flowed through my veins with the speed and vigour of youth.
I was surprised to find no trace of human habitation in the forest. But in wandering about I came upon two strong, great animals, about twelve cubits long. One of them came towards me, and the other fled into the forest. But it quickly returned with seven hundred other beasts. As they approached me, I perceived that they were creatures with a human shape, who, however, went on all-fours like some gigantic kind of monkey. They shouted with admiration when they saw me; and one of them took me up by the neck and flung me on his back, and galloped with me into a great town.
When I saw the splendid buildings of the city I recognised my mistake. The four-footed creatures were really enormous men. Seeing that I went on two legs, they would not believe that I was a man like themselves. They thought I was an animal without any reasoning power, and they resolved to send me to their queen, who was fond of collecting strange and curious monsters.
All this, of course, I did not understand at the time. It took me some months to learn their language. These men of the Moon have two dialects; one for the nobility, the other for the common people. The language of the nobility is a kind of music; it is certainly a very pleasant means of expression. They are able to communicate their thoughts by lutes and other musical instruments quite as well as by the voice.
When twenty or thirty of them meet together to discuss some matter, they carry on the debate by the most harmonious concert it is possible to imagine.
The common people, however, talk by agitating different parts of their bodies. Certain movements constitute an entire speech. By shaking a finger, a hand, or an arm, for instance, they can say more than we can in a thousand words. Other motions, such as a wrinkle on the forehead, a shiver along a muscle, serve to design words. As they use all their body in speaking in this fashion, they have to go naked in order to make themselves clearly understood. When they are engaged in an exciting conversation they seem to be creatures shaken by some wild fever.
Instead of sending me at once to the Queen of the Moon, the man who had captured me earned a considerable amount of money by taking me every afternoon to the houses of the rich people. There I was compelled to jump and make grimaces, and stand in ridiculous attitudes in order to amuse the crowds of guests who had been invited to see the antics of the new animal.
But one day, as my master was pulling the rope around my neck to make me rise up and divert the company, a man came and asked me in Greek who I was. Full of joy at meeting someone with whom I could talk, I related to him the story of my voyage from the Earth.
"I cannot understand," I said, "how it was I rose up to the Moon when my machine broke down and fell to the Earth."
"That is easily explained," he said. "You had got within the circle of lunar influence, in which the Moon exerts a sort of sucking action on the fat of the body. The same thing often happens to me. Like you, I am a stranger on the Moon. I was born on the Sun, but, being of a roving disposition, I like to explore one planet after another. I have travelled a good deal in Europe, and conversed with several persons whose names you no doubt know. I remember that I was once famous in ancient Greece as the Demon of Socrates."
"Then you are a spirit?" I exclaimed.
"A kind of spirit," he replied. "I was one of the large company of the Men of the Sun who used to inhabit the Earth under the names of oracles, nymphs, woodland elves, and fairies. But we abandoned our world in the reign of the Emperor Augustus; your people then became so gross and stupid that we could no longer delight in their society. Since then I have stayed on the Moon. I find its inhabitants more enlightened than the inhabitants of the Earth."
"I don't!" I exclaimed. "Look how they treat me, as if I were a wild beast! I am sure that if one of their men of science voyaged to the Earth, he would be better received than I am here."
"I doubt it," said the Man of the Sun. "Your men of science would have him killed, stuffed, and put in a glass case in a museum."
II.—The Garb of Shame
At this point our conversation was broken off by my keeper. He saw that the company was tired of my talk, which seemed to them mere grunting. So he pulled my rope, and made me dance and caper until the spectators ached with laughter.
Happily, the next morning the Man of the Sun opened my cage and put me on his back and carried me away.
"I have spoken to the King of the Moon," he said; "and he has commanded that you should be taken to his court and examined by his learned doctors."
As my companion went on four feet, he was able to travel as fast as a racehorse, and we soon arrived at another town, where we put up at an inn for dinner. I followed him into a magnificently furnished hall, and a servant asked me what I would begin with.
"Some soup," I replied.
I had scarcely pronounced the words when I smelt a very succulent broth. I rose up to look for the source of this agreeable smell; but my companion stopped me.
"What do you want to walk away for?" said he. "Stay and finish your soup."
"But where is the soup?" I said.
"Ah," he replied. "This is the first meal you have had on the Moon. You see, the people here only live on the smell of food. The fine, lunar art of cookery consists in collecting the exhalations that come from cooked meat, and bottling them up. Then, at meal-time, the various jars are uncorked, one after the other, until the appetites of the diners are satisfied."
"It is, no doubt, an exquisite way of eating," I said; "but I am afraid I shall starve on it."
"Oh, no, you will not," said he. "You will soon find that a man can nourish himself as well by his nose as by his mouth."
And so it was. After smelling for a quarter of an hour a variety of rich, appetising vapours, I rose up quite satisfied.
In the afternoon I was taken to the palace of the king, and examined by the greatest men of science on the Moon. In spite of all that my friend had said on my behalf, I was adjudged to be a mere animal, and again shut up in a cage. The king, queen, and courtiers spent a considerable time every day watching me, and with the help of the Man of the Sun I soon learned to speak a little of their, music-language. This caused a great deal of surprise. Several persons began to think that I was really a man who had been dwarfed and weakened from want of nourishment.
But the learned doctors again examined me, and decided that, as I did not walk on four legs, I must be a new kind of featherless parrot. Thereupon I was given a pole to perch on, instead of a nice warm bed to lie in; and every day the queen's fowler used to come and whistle tunes for me to learn. In the meantime, however, I improved my knowledge of the language, and at last I spoke so well and intelligibly that all the courtiers said that the learned doctors had been mistaken. One of the queen's maids of honour not only thought that I was a man, but fell in love with me. She often used to steal to my cage, and listen to my stories of the customs and amusements of our world. She was so interested that she begged me to take her with me if ever I found a way of returning to the Earth.
In my examination by the learned doctors I had stated that their world was but a Moon, and that the Moon from which I had come was really a world. It was this which had made them angry against me. But my friend, the Man of the Sun, at last prevailed upon the king to let me out of the cage on my retracting my wicked heresy. I was clad in splendid robes, and placed on a magnificent chariot to which four great noblemen were harnessed, and led to the centre of the city, where I had to make the following statement:
"People, I declare to you that this Moon is not a Moon but a world; and that the world I come from is not a world but a Moon. For this is what the Royal Council believe that you ought to believe."
The Man of the Sun then helped me to descend from the chariot, and took me quickly into a house, and stripped me of my gorgeous robes. "Why do you do that?" I asked. "This is the most splendid dress I have ever seen on the Moon."
"It is a garb of shame," said my companion. "You have this day undergone the lowest degradation that can be imposed on a man. You committed an awful crime in saying that the Moon was not a Moon. It is a great wonder you were not condemned to die of old age."
"Die of old age?" I said.
"Yes," replied my companion. "Usually, when a Man of the Moon comes to that time of life in which he feels that he is losing his strength of mind and body, he invites all his friends to a banquet. After explaining what little hope he has of adding anything to the fine actions of his life, he asks for permission to depart. If he has led a bad life, he is ordered to live; but if he has been a good man, his dearest friend kisses him, and plunges a dagger in his heart."
As he was talking, the son of the man in whose house we were staying entered the room. My companion quickly rose on his four feet, and made the young man a profound bow. I asked him why he did this. He told me that on the Moon parents obey their children, and old men are compelled to show to young men the greatest respect.
"They are of opinion," said my companion, "that a strong and active young man is more capable of governing a family than a dull, infirm sexagenarian. I know that on your Earth old men are supposed to be wise and prudent. But, as a matter of fact, their wisdom and prudence consists merely of a timid frame of mind and a disinclination to take any risks."
The father then entered the room, and his son said to him in an angry voice:
"Why have you not got our house ready to sail away? You know the walls of the city have gone some hours ago. Bring me at once your image!"
The man brought a great wooden image of himself, and his son whipped it furiously for a quarter of an hour.
"And now," said the young man at last, "go and hoist the sails at once!"
III.—Marvels of the Moon
There are two kinds of towns on the Moon: travelling towns and sedentary towns. In the travelling towns, each house is built of very light wood, and placed on a platform, beneath the four corners of which great wheels are fixed. When the time arrives for a voyage to the seaside or the forest, for a change of air, the townspeople hoist vast sails on the roofs of their dwellings, and sail away altogether towards the new site.
In the sedentary towns, on the other hand, the houses are made with great strong screws running from the cellars to the roofs, which enable them to be raised or lowered at discretion. The depth of the cellar is equal to the height of every house; in winter, the whole structure is lowered below the surface of the ground; in spring, it is lifted up again by means of the screw.
As, owing to the father's neglect, the house in which we were staying could not set sail until the next day, my companion and I accepted an invitation to stay the night there. Our host then sent for a doctor, who prescribed what foods I should smell, and what kind of bed I should lie in.
"But I am not sick!" I said to the Man of the Sun.
"If you were," he replied, "the doctor would not have been sent for. On the Moon, doctors are not paid to cure men, but to keep them in good health. They are officers of the state, and, once a day, they call at every house, and instruct the inmates how to preserve their natural vigour."
"I wish," I. said, "you could get him to order me a dozen roasted larks instead of the mere smell of them. I should like to taste some solid food just for a change."
He spoke to the doctor, and at a sign from him, our host took a gun and led me into his garden.
"Are those the kind of birds you mean?" he said, pointing to a great swarm of larks singing high up in the sky.
I replied that they were, and he shot at them, and thirty larks tumbled over at our feet, not merely dead, but plucked, seasoned, and roasted.
"You see," said my host, "we mix with our gunpowder and shot a certain composition which cooks as well as kills."
I picked up one of the birds and ate it. In sober truth, I have never tasted on Earth anything so deliciously roasted.
When I had finished my repast, I was conducted to a little room, the floor of which was strewn with fine orange blossoms about three feet deep. The Men of the Moon always sleep on these thick, soft heaps of fragrant flowers, which are chosen for them every day by their doctors. Four servants came and undressed me, and gently rubbed my limbs and my body, and in a few moments I was fast asleep.
Early next morning I was awakened by the Man of the Sun, who said to me:
"I know you are anxious to return to your Earth and relate the story of all the strange and wonderful things you have seen on the Moon. If you care to while away an hour or two over this book, I will prepare for your return voyage."
The book which he put into my hand was an extraordinary object. It was a kind of machine, full of delicate springs, and it looked like a new kind of clock. In order to read it, you had to use, not your eyes, but your ears. For on touching one of the springs, it began to speak like a man. It was a history of the Sun, and I was still listening to it when my companion arrived.
"I am now ready," he said. "On what part of the Earth would you like to land?"
"In Italy," I replied. "That will save me the cost and trouble of travelling to Rome—a city I have always longed to see."
Taking me in his arms, the Man of the Sun rose swiftly up from the Moon and carried me across the intervening space, and dropped me rather roughly on a hill near Rome. When I turned to expostulate with him, I found that he had disappeared.
* * * * *
Bjoernstjerne Bjoernson, one of the greatest Scandinavian writers, was born at Kvikne, in the wild region of the Dovre Mountains, Norway, Dec. 8, 1832. His father was the village pastor. Six years later the family removed to Naesset, on the west coast of Norway. From the grammar school at Molde young Bjoernson went to the University of Christiania, and it was then that he began to write verses and newspaper articles. At Upsala, in 1856, he understood that he had a definite call to literature, and at Copenhagen the following year he wrote his first masterpiece "Synnove Solbakken." This was followed, in 1858, by "Arne," a story which not only brought him into the front rank of contemporary writers, but also marked a new era in Norwegian literature. From that time there has been a succession of novels, short stories, and plays (Bjoernson on two occasions has been the director of a theatre) from his pen. A drama, "The King," produced in 1877, had an after effect of immense political importance. It was undoubtedly an attack on the ruler of Norway and Sweden, and every Norwegian who wished his country to become an independent nation welcomed Bjoernson as the leader of this new movement—with what success there is now no need to relate, since it has become a matter of history. Bjoernson died April 25, 1910.
I.—The Little Song-Maker
It was up at Kampen that Arne was born. His mother was Margit, the only child at the little farm among the crags. When she was eighteen, she stopped too long at a dance one evening; her friends had gone off without her, so Margit thought the way home would be just as long whether she waited till the end of the dance or not.
Thus it came about that Margit remained sitting there till Nils Skraedder, the fiddler, suddenly laid aside his instrument, as was his wont when he had had more than enough to drink, left the dancers to hum their own tune, took hold of the prettiest girl he could find, and, letting his feet keep as good time to the dance as music to a song, jerked off with the heel of his boot the hat of the tallest man in the room. "Ho!" laughed he.
As Margit walked home that night, the moon was making wondrous sport over the snow. When she got to the loft where she slept, she could not help looking out at it again.
Next time there was a dance in the parish, Margit was present. She did not care much to dance that evening, but sat listening to the music. But when the playing ceased the fiddler rose and went straight across to Margit Kampen. She was scarcely aware of anything, but that she was dancing with Nils Skraedder!
Before long the weather grew warmer, and there was no more dancing that spring.
One Sunday, when the summer was getting on, Margit went to church with her mother. When they were at home again her mother threw both her arms around her. "Hide nothing from me, my child!" she cried.
Winter came again, but Margit danced no more. Nils Skraedder went on playing, drank more than formerly, and wound up each party by dancing with the prettiest girl there. It was said for certain that he could have whichever he wished of the farmers' daughters, and that Birgit, the daughter of Boeen, was sick for love of him.
Just about this time a child of the cotter's daughter at Kampen was brought to be christened. It was given the name of Arne, and its father was said to be Nils Skraedder.
The evening of that day saw Nils at a great wedding party. He would not play, but drank all he could, and was dancing the whole time. But when he asked Birgit Boeen for a dance, she refused him. He turned and took hold of the first good-looking girl near. She, too, held back, and answered a request he whispered in her ear with the words: "The dance might go further than I should like."
At that Nils drew back, and danced the "Halling" alone. Then he went into the barn, laid himself down, and wept.
Margit sat at home with her little boy. She heard about Nils going from dance to dance, and it was not very long before Arne learnt that Nils Skraedder was his father, and the kind of man he was.
It was when Arne was about six years old that two Americans, visiting the place when a bridal party was going on, were so much struck by the way Nils danced the "Halling" that they proposed to take him as their servant, at whatever wages he wanted. They would call for him on their way back in about a week's time. Nils was the hero of the evening.
The dance was resumed. Nils looked round at the girls, and went over to Birgit Boeen. He held out his hand, and she put out hers. Then, turning away with a laugh, he put his arm around the girl next to her, and danced off with boisterous glee.
Birgit coloured, and a tall, quiet-looking man took her hand, and danced away. Nils noticed it, and presently danced so hard against them that both Birgit and her partner fell to the ground.
The quiet-looking man got up, went straight to Nils, took him by the arm, and knocked him down with a blow over the eyes. Nils fell heavily, tried to rise, and found that he couldn't—his back was badly hurt.
Meantime, at Kampen, no sooner had the grandmother succeeded in paying off the last instalment of debt on the farm than she was stricken with mortal sickness and died.
A fortnight after the funeral six men brought in a litter, and on the litter lay Nils with his black hair and pale face.
In the springtime, a year after he had been brought to Kampen, Nils and Margit were married. The fiddler's health was ruined, but he was able to help in the fields, and look after things. Then, one Sunday afternoon, when Nils and Arne were out together they saw a wedding procession, fourteen carriages in all. Nils stood for a long time motionless after the bride and bridegroom had passed, and for the rest of the day he was sullen and angry. He went out before supper, and returned at midnight, drunk.
From that day Nils was constantly going into town and coming home drunk. He reproached Margit for his wretched life; he cursed her, he struck her, and beat her. Then would come fits of wild remorse.
As Arne grew up, Nils took him to dances, and the boy learnt to sing all sorts of songs. His mother taught him to read, and when he was fifteen he longed to travel and to write songs.
At home, things got worse. As Nils grew feebler he became more drunken and violent, and often Arne would stay at home to amuse him in order that Margit might have an hour's peace. Arne began to loathe his father; but he kept this feeling to himself, as he did his love for his mother.
His one friend was Kristen, the eldest son of a sea-captain. With Kristen, Arne could talk of books and travel. But there came a day when Kristen went away to be a sailor, and Arne was left alone.
Life was very heavy for him. He made up songs and put his grief into them. But for his mother, Arne would have left Kampen—he stood between her and Nils.
One night, about this time, Nils came back late from a wedding-feast. Margit had gone to bed, and Arne was reading. The boy helped his father upstairs, and Nils began quoting texts from the Bible and cursing his own downfall, shedding drunken tears. Presently he made his way to the bed, and put his fingers on Margit's throat.
In vain the boy and his mother called on Nils to desist; the drunkard took no notice. Arne rushed to a corner of the room and picked up an axe; at the same moment Nils fell down, and, after a piercing shriek, lay quite still.
All that night they watched by the dead. A feeling of relief came upon them both.
"He fell of himself," Arne said simply, for at first his mother was terrified by the sight of the axe.
"Remember, Arne, it's for your sake I've borne it all," Margit said, weeping. "You must never leave me."
"Never, never," he answered fervently.
II.—The Call of the Mountains
Arne grew up reserved and shy; he went on tending the cattle and making songs. He was now in his twentieth year. The pastor lent him books to read, the only thing he cared for.
Many a time he would have liked to read aloud to his mother, but he could not bring himself to do it. One of the songs he made at this time began:
The parish is all restless, but there's peace in grove and wood. No beadle here impounds you, to suit his crabbed mood; No strife profanes our little church, tho' there it rages high, But then we have no little church, and that, perhaps, is why!
The folks round about got to hear of his songs, and would have been glad to talk to him; but Arne was shy of people and disliked them, chiefly because he thought they disliked him.
He gave up tending the cattle, and stayed at home, looking after the farm. He was near his mother all day now, and she would give him dainty meals. In his heart was a song with the refrain "Over the mountains high!" Somehow, Arne could never finish this song.
There was a field labourer named Upland Knut, at whose side Arne often worked. This man had neither parents nor friends, and when Arne said to him, "Have you no one at all, then, to love you?" he answered, "Ah, no! I have no one."
Arne thought of his own mother, and his heart was full of love to her. What if he were to lose her because he had not sufficiently prized her, he thought; and he rushed home, to find his mother sleeping gently like a child.
Mother and son were much together in those days, and once they agreed to go to a wedding at a neighbouring farm.
For the first time in his life Arne drank too much, and all next day he lay in the barn. He was full of self-reproach, and it seemed to him that cowardice was his besetting sin.
Cowardice had been his failing as a boy. It had prevented him taking his mother's part against his father, from leaving home, from mixing with people. Cowardice had made him drunk, and, but for his fear and timidity, his verses would be better.
After searching everywhere for him, Margit eventually found him in the barn. He tried to soothe her, and vowed that he would join his life more closely to his mother's in future. What moved him was that his loving, patient mother said that she had done a grievous wrong against him, and implored his forgiveness.
"Of course, I forgive you," he said.
"God bless you, my dear, dear Arne."
From that day, Arne was not only happier at home, but he began to look at other people more kindly, more with his mother's gentle eyes. But he still went about alone, and a strange longing often possessed his soul.
One summer evening Arne had gone out to sit by the Black Lake, a piece of water very dark and deep. He sat behind some bushes and looked out over the water, and at the hills opposite, and at the homesteads in the valley.
Presently he heard voices close beside him. A young girl, he made out, was grumbling because she had got to leave the parsonage, where she had been staying with Mathilde, the parson's daughter, and it was her father who was taking her home. A third voice, sharp and strident, was heard.
"Hurry up, now, Baard; push off the boat, or we sha'n't be home to-night."
The rattle of cart-wheels followed, and Baard fetched a box out of the cart, and carried it down to the boat.
Then Mathilde, the parson's daughter, came running up calling, "Eli! Eli!"
The two girls wept in each other's arms.
"You must take this," said Mathilde, giving her friend a bird-cage. "Mother wants you to. Yes, you must take Narrifas, and then you'll often think of me."
"Eli! Come, come, Eli!" came the summons from the boat.
A moment after, and Arne saw the boat out in the water, Eli standing up in the stern, holding the bird-cage and waving her hand to Mathilde. His eyes followed the boat, and he watched it draw near to the land. He could see the three forms mirrored in the water, and continued gazing until they had left the boat and gone indoors at the biggest house on the opposite side of the lake.
Mathilde had sat for some time by the landing stage, but she had left now, and Arne was alone when Eli came out again for a last look across the water. Arne could see her image in the lake. "Perhaps she sees me now," he thought. Then, when the sun had set, he got up and went home, feeling that all things were at peace.
Arne's fancies for some time now were of dreams of love and fair maidens. Old ballads and romances mirrored them for him, as the water had mirrored the young girl.
A two-fold longing—the yearning to have someone to love, and a desire to do something great—sprang up together in his soul, and melted into one. Again he began to work at the song, "Over the mountains high," altering it, and thinking each time, "One day it will carry me off." But he never forgot his mother in his thoughts of travel, and decided that he would send for her as soon as he had got a footing abroad.
There was in the parish a merry old fellow of the name of Ejnar Aasen. He was well off, and, in spite of a lameness that made him use a crutch, was fond of organising parties of children to go nutting. All the young people called him "godfather."
Aasen liked Arne, and invited him to join in the next nutting party, and though Arne blushed, and made excuses, he decided to go. He found himself the only young man among many girls. They were not the maidens of whom he had made songs, nor yet was he afraid of them. They were more full of life than anything he had seen, and they could make merry over anything. All of them laughed at Arne, as they caught at the branches, because he was serious, so that he could not help laughing himself.
After a while they all sat on a large knoll, old Aasen in the middle, and told stories. And then they were anxious to tell their dreams, but this could be done only to one person, and Arne was trusted to hear the dreams. The last of the girls to tell her dreams was called Eli, and she was the girl he had seen in the boat.
Arne had to say which was the best dream, and as he said he wanted time to think, they left him sitting on the knoll and trooped off with godfather. Arne sat for some time, and the old yearnings to travel came back, and drove him to his song, "Over the mountains high." Now, at last, he had got the words; and taking paper out of his pocket, he wrote the song through to the end. When he had finished he rose, and left the paper on the knoll; and later, when he found he had forgotten it, he went back. But the paper was gone.
One of the girls, who had returned to seek him, had found—not Arne, but his song.
Whenever Arne mentioned his friend Kristen, and wondered why he never heard from him, his mother left the room, and seemed unhappy for days afterwards. He noticed, too, that she would get specially nice meals for him at such times.
He had never been so gentle since his father's death as he was that winter. On Sundays he would read a sermon to his mother, and go to church with her; but she knew this was only to win her consent to his going abroad in the spring. Upland Knut, who had always been alone, now came to live at Kampen. Arne had become very skilful with axe and saw, and that winter he was often busy at the parsonage as well as Kampen.
One day a messenger came from Boeen to ask him if he would go over there for some carpentry work. He answered "Yes," without thinking about the matter. As soon as the man had gone, his mother told him that it was Baard Boeen who had injured his father; but Arne decided to go all the same.
It was a fine homestead, and Baard and Arne soon became on friendly terms. He had many talks, too, with Eli, and at times would sing his own songs to her, and afterwards feel ashamed.
Then Eli fell ill, and Birgit blamed Baard because Mathilde had gone away from the parsonage on a visit to town without bidding good-bye to Eli. It seemed to Baard that whatever he did was wrong.
"You either keep silent too much, or you talk too much," said his wife.
During Eli's illness Baard would often sit and talk with Arne, and one day he told him how he had been driven to attack Nils, and then how he had courted and won Birgit.
"She was very melancholy at first," said Baard, "and I had nothing to say; and then she got into bustling, domineering ways, and I had nothing to say to that. But one day of real happiness I've not had the twenty years we've been married."
When Eli was getting better, her mother came down one evening and asked Arne, in her daughter's name, to go up and sing to her. Eli had heard him singing. Arne was confused, but gave in and went upstairs.
The room was in darkness, and he had not seen Eli since the day she had fallen ill, and he had helped to carry her to her room. Arne sat down in a chair at the foot of the bed. When people talk in the dark they are generally more truthful than when they see one another's faces.
Eli made Arne sing to her, first a hymn, and then a song of his own. For some time there was silence between them, and then Eli said, "I wonder, Arne, that you, who have so much that is beautiful within, should want to go away. You must not go away."
"There are times when I seem not to want to so much," he answered.
Presently Arne could hear her weeping, and he felt that he must move—either forward or back.
"Yes." Both voices were at a whisper.
"Give me your hand."
She made no answer. He listened, quickly, closely, stretched out his own hand, and grasped a warm little hand that lay bare.
There was a step on the stairs; they let go of one another, and Birgit entered with a light. "You've been sitting too long in the dark," she said, putting the candle on the table. But neither Eli nor Arne could bear the light; she turned to the pillow, and he shaded his face with his hands.
"Ah, yes; it's a bit dazzling at first," said the mother, "but the feeling soon passes away."
Next day Arne heard that Eli was better and going to come down for a time after dinner. He at once put his tools together, and bade farewell to the farm. And when Eli came downstairs he was gone.
IV.—After Many Years
It was springtime when Margit went up to the parsonage. There was something heavy on her heart. Letters had come from Kristen for Arne, and she had been afraid to give them to her son lest he should go away and join his friend. Kristen had even sent money, and this Margit had given to Arne, pretending it had been left him by his grandmother. All this Margit poured out to the old pastor, and also her fears that Arne would go travelling.
"Ah!" he said, smiling, "if only there was some little lassie who could get hold of him. Eli Boeen, eh? And if he could manage so that they could meet sometimes at the parsonage."
Margit looked up anxiously.
"Well, we'll see what we can do," he went on; "for, to tell you the truth, my wife and daughter have long been of the same mind."
Then came the summer, and one day, when the heavens were clear, Arne walked out and threw himself down on the grass. He meant to go to the parsonage and borrow a newspaper. He had not been to Boeen since that night in the sick-room, and now he glanced towards the house, and then turned away his eyes. Presently he heard someone singing his song, the song he had lost the very day he made it.
Fain would I know what the world may be Over the mountains high. Mine eyes can nought but the white snow see, And up the steep sides the dark fir-tree, That climbs as if yearning to know. Say, tree, dost thou venture to go?
There were eight verses, and Arne stood listening till the last word had died away. He must see who it was, and presently above him he caught sight of Eli.
The sunlight was falling straight on her, and it seemed to Arne, as he looked at her, that he had never seen or dreamt of anything more beautiful in his life. He watched her get up, without letting himself be seen, and presently she was gone. Arne no longer wanted to go to the parsonage, but he went and sat where she had sat, and his breast was full of gentle feelings.
Eli often went to the parsonage, and one Sunday evening Margit found her there, and persuaded the girl to walk back to Kampen with her. Eli entered the house only when she heard that Arne was not at home. It was the first time she had visited the homestead. Margit took her all over the house, and showed her Arne's room, and opened a little chest full of silk kerchiefs and ribbons.
"He bought something each time he's been to the town," Margit remarked.
Eli would have given anything to go away, but she dared not speak.
In a special compartment in the chest she had seen a buckle, a pair of gold rings, and a hymn-book bound with silver clasps, and wrought on the clasps was:
"Eli Baardsdatter Boeen."
The mother put back the things, closed the box, and clasped the girl to her heart; for Eli was weeping.
When they were downstairs again, they heard a man's step in the passage, and Arne entered, and saw Eli.
"You here?" he said, and blushed a fiery red. Then he put his arms around her, and she leant her head on his breast. He whispered something in her ear, and for a long while they stood in silence, her arms around his neck.
As they walked home together in the fair summer evening, they could utter but few words in their strange, new Happiness. Nature interpreted their hearts to one another, and on his way back from that first summer-night's walk, Arne made many new songs.
It was harvest time when the marriage of Eli with Arne was celebrated. The Black Water was full of boats taking people to Boeen.
All the doors were open at the house. Eli was in her room with Mathilde and the pastor's wife. Arne was downstairs looking out from the window.
Presently Baard and Birgit, both dressed, for church, met on the stairs, and went up together to a garret where they were alone. Baard had something to say, but it was hard to say it.
"Birgit," he began, "you've been thinking, as I've been, I daresay. He stood between us two, I know, and it's gone on a long time. To-day a son of his has come into our house, and to him we've given our only daughter.... Birgit, can't we, too, join our hearts to-day?"
His voice trembled, but no answer came.
They heard Eli outside, calling gently: "Aren't you coming, mother?"
"Yes, I'm coming now, dear!" said Birgit, in a choking voice. She walked across the room to Baard, took his hand in hers, and broke into violent sobs. The two hands clung tight and it was hand in hand they opened the door and went downstairs. And when the bridal train streamed down to the landing stage, and Arne gave his hand to Eli, Baard, against all custom, took Birgit's hand in his own and followed them calmly, happily, smilingly.
In the boat his eyes rested on the bridal pair and on his wife. "Ah!" he said to himself, "no one would have thought such a thing possible twenty years ago."
* * * * *
In God's Way
"In God's Way" belongs to the second group of Bjoernson's novels, of which the first group is represented by early peasant tales like "Arne." In this later category the stories are of a more or less didactic nature. Although "In God's Way" lacks something of the freshness and beauty that distinguished "Arne," it is, nevertheless a powerful and vivid picture of Norwegian religious life; and it is, of all Bjoernson's books, the one by which he is most widely known outside his native country. In this story Bjoernson has been influenced by the social dramas of his compatriot, Ibsen; but it may be questioned whether he has not brought to his task a higher inspiration and a stronger faith in humanity than the famous dramatist possessed. Published in 1889, the main theme of "In God's Way" was undoubtedly suggested by the religious excitement which then prevailed in Norway.
I.—A Strange Home-coming
Pastor Tuft was walking up and down his study, composing his Sunday sermon. He was a handsome man, with a long, fair face, and dreamy eyes; his wife, Josephine, in the days when she thought she was in love with him, used to call him Melanchthon—that was not many years ago, and he still resembled in appearance the poet of the Reformation. But his features had now lost their fine serenity, and he was glad when his bitter and troubled thoughts on the doctrine of justification—a subject he had chosen for its bearing on his brother-in-law's conduct—were interrupted by his wife. Josephine burst into his study in a state of fierce excitement.
"They will be here in a moment," she said. "The steamer has arrived. Oh, that woman, that woman! She has ruined my brother's life!"
"If he wanted to settle again in Norway with her," said the pastor, "couldn't he have chosen some spot where the story of their misconduct was not known? But to come to the very town! Everybody will remember!"
"Yes," said Josephine; "it is only six years since Edward ran off to America with Soeren Kule's wife. Surely, he will not expect you, a minister, to receive the woman, especially as Kule is still living."
While she was talking, Tuft stared out of the window. A tall man in light clothes was coming to the house—a tall man, with a clear-cut, sunburnt face, and a lean, curved nose that gave him the air of a bird of prey. By his side was a lady with sweet, delicate features, dressed in a tartan travelling costume. There was a knock at the door. Josephine went down very slowly, and opened it. "Edward!"
There was a glow in her eyes as she welcomed her brother, and his eyes also lighted up. He was about to cross the threshold, when he noticed that she completely disregarded his companion. In the meantime, Tuft had come to the door; he, too, made no advances. There was always something of the keen, wild look of an eagle about Edward Kallem; it became still more striking as he glared at his sister and brother-in-law.
"Are you waiting," he said, "for me to introduce my wife? Well, here she is—Ragni Kallem."
So the pair had married in America! If Tuft and Josephine had not been so eager to impute every sort of misconduct to runaways, they would have foreseen this natural event. Tuft tried to find something to say, but failed, and glanced at Josephine. But she did not look as if she were willing to help him.
For the fact that Edward and Ragni were now married increased rather than diminished Josephine's bitterness. Although she would not admit it to herself, her religious objections were a mere pretence. She was jealous, jealous with the strange jealousy of a sister who wanted to be all in all to her brilliant brother, and hated that another woman should be more to him than she was. All her life had been centred on him. She had married Ole Tuft, a poor peasant's son, because he was the bosom friend of Edward. Her marriage, she thought, would connect them still more closely. She wanted to live by his side, watching him rise into fame as the greatest doctor in Norway. For young Kallem's masters had predicted that he would prove to be a man of genius.
Possessing considerable wealth, he had taken up the study of medicine, not as a means of livelihood, but as a matter of love and duty. Then, six years ago, he had run off with old Soeren Kule's young wife, and Josephine's dream had come to an end, leaving her life little more than a dull, empty round of routine housework.
This was why she now gazed with hard, cold eyes at Ragni. Edward Kallem saw her look of wild hatred, and, taking his weeping wife gently by the arm, he turned away, and led her from the house into the road.
Josephine went upstairs, and gazed from the study window at the retreating figures. Her husband followed her, with a curious look in his eyes. Neither of them spoke. In their hearts was raging a storm of passion wilder than the anger which possessed Kallem, and the sorrow which bowed down Ragni.
Josephine left the room without looking-at her husband. He gazed after her still with the same curious look in his eyes. Then, pulling himself together, he went on writing his sermon. "What makes God so merciful to sinners?" he wrote. "His infinite love? Yes, justification is certainly an act of mercy, but it is also an act of judgment. The claims of the law must be first fulfilled. A sinner must believe in order to be saved."
The point in this was that Edward Kallem was a freethinker. There could be no forgiveness for him. At the bottom of his heart, Tuft was glad that there had been no reconciliation. Ever since he had married the wealthy and beautiful sister of his bosom friend, he had been jealous of Josephine's passionate attachment to her brother. Her brother had remained her hero, and the peasant she had married and enriched was little more than her servant.
While, with these bitter thoughts in his head, Tuft was composing his sermon Josephine was writing a dastardly letter. It was to Soeren Kule. Edward and Ragni had returned, married. There was an empty house near the one they had bought. Would Soeren Kule come and live in it? So the letter ran. The next day, Sunday, Josephine went to church in a very Christianlike frame of mind. She felt she had done her duty, and avenged herself in doing it.
II.—The Poison of Tongues
At first things did not go as Josephine expected. With the exception of his sister and brother-in-law, everybody welcomed Edward Kallem and his wife back to his native town. At the house of Pastor Meek, the oldest and most influential of the clergy, Ragni was introduced to a middle- aged lady, who startled her by saying:
"I am Soeren Kule's sister. I want to tell you that, in your position, I should have acted just as you did."
This, indeed, was the general verdict. No one who knew Soeren Kule blamed Ragni. An old rake, blind and half-paralysed as the immediate result of ill-living, he had worried his first wife, Ragni's sister, into the grave, and then taken advantage of the young girl's innocence to marry her. The man was a mass of corruption, and his second marriage was one of those strangely cruel crimes which go unpunished in the present state of society. Kallem, who was then lodging in the same house as Kule, was maddened by it. Being a doctor, he foresaw clearly the fate of the pure, lovely, girlish victim of Kule's brutal passion, and in rescuing her from it he had displayed, in the opinion of his friends, the chivalry of soul of a modern knight-errant.
Pastor Meek was a liberal-minded and courageous old man; he showed his sympathy with the Kallems, and his trust in them, in a practical manner.
"My grandson, Karl," he said to Kallem, "is at school here. I wish you would let him come, now and then, to your house. He is only nineteen years old, but he promises to be a first-rate composer. Your wife plays the piano beautifully. They ought to get on well together."
Kallem was so pleased with this mark of approval that he went the next morning to the young musician's lodgings, and invited him to come and live with him. Karl Meek was a lanky, awkward hobbledehoy, with a tousled head of hair and long red hands, which were always covered with chilblains. Ragni asked him to play a simple duet, but he made so many mistakes in playing that she got up from the piano. He was upset, and ran away from the house. Kallem spent an afternoon looking for him, and brought him back with his hair cut, his nails trimmed, and his clothes brushed.
"Can't you see?" said Kallem to his wife. "The lad's shy and afraid of you. Do, my dear, make him feel quite at home."
Ragni was a sweet and gentle woman, and though she did not like Karl much at first, she took him in hand, and, little by little, obtained a great influence over the wild creature. As his fine poetic nature gradually revealed itself, she began to mother him. They were often seen walking out together, and as soon as the snow was firm, they used to go and meet Kallem, and drive home with him, each standing on one of the runners of his sledge. One afternoon, after they had been skating together on the frozen bay, they were returning, without Kallem, when a carriage barred their way. At the sound of Ragni's voice, the man inside said:
"There she goes! Who is it with her? Another man? Ah, I thought that's what would happen!"
Ragni shuddered. It was Soeren Kule. The paralysed old rake turned his blind face upon her, as though he could see her, and had caught her doing wrong. The carriage stopped by the next house to the Kallems. Before Kule could get out, Ragni had run indoors. Shortly afterwards her husband arrived. She saw that he, too, had met Kule, and he saw that she had gone into the bedroom to hide herself. She buried her head in his arms; it seemed to her that the air was now full of evil spirits.
And so it was. Edward Kallem did not know it, as he was now too busy to go out anywhere. He was spending a great deal of his wealth in fitting out a private hospital for the study and treatment of the diseases that he specialised in. But Karl Meek soon became aware of malign influences working around him, and around the two persons for whom he would willingly, nay, happily, have laid down his life. He met an old friend in the street, who said to him:
"How do you stand in regard to Mrs. Kallem?"
Karl did not take in his meaning, and began to praise Ragni enthusiastically.
"Yes, I know all about that," his friend interrupted. "But, to make a clean breast of it, are you her lover?"
"How dare you, how dare you!" cried Karl.
His friend quietly said that he only wanted to warn Karl; the report had certainly got about.
"You've been a great deal together, you know," said his friend; "that has given the scandal-mongers something to go on."
Both Edward and Ragni saw that something had happened to Karl when he returned. He was in a black mood; he did not speak; his blue eyes were, by turns, strangely savage and strangely sorrowful. He had to go home at once, he said. He could not tell them now what the matter was, but he would write to them, as soon as he could pluck up the courage to do so. He packed his luggage, and Kallem went to see him off.
A few days afterwards, Ragni received a letter from Karl. He was going to Berlin, he said, to take up the study of music seriously. And then, for four pages, he talked about his prospects. But there was another page, a loose one, on which was written in red ink: "Read this when you are alone."
"I have decided, Ragni," Karl wrote, "that it would be wisest to tell you why I left so suddenly. Someone has started a dreadful slander against us. If I do not now tell you, you will hear it from the lips of some enemy. Ah, God! that I should have brought this upon you! Love you? Of course I love you. How could I help doing so, after all your kindness to me? And as for Edward, I worship the ground he treads on. He is the noblest man I have ever met. But do not show him this letter. Spare him the evil news as long as possible. Now that I have gone away, it may all blow over."
Kallem did not get home from the hospital that night until eight o'clock. When he came home his wife was lying in bed with a headache. She did not get up the next morning. She was in bed several days. When at last she got up, her husband noticed that she had grown very thin; her face had a tired, delicate expression; there were dark rings around her sweet eyes, and she was troubled with a cough.
III.—The Fell Work of Slander
Ragni now did not stir outside her own door. She longed for fresh air, but she would not go out into the town for fear of the cruel, curious eyes of the scandal-mongers. Soeren Kule haunted her. His house overlooked her garden, and she got the strange fancy into her head that he was always sitting at the window blindly listening for her. So she never even went for a walk in the park-like grounds which Kallem had purchased wholly for her pleasure.
The poison of scandal had done its work. Her husband, unfortunately, never suspected that she was really ill; he had a deep longing for a child of his marriage, and, misled by too eager a hope, he misinterpreted the strange alteration in his wife's health.
But one evening, when she coughed, some blood came up. Kallem saw it, and the hideous truth came upon him in a blinding flash. It was the terrible disease which he had spent the greater part of his fortune in fighting against. Tuberculosis! But how was it that it had come so suddenly, and ravaged her dear, sweet, tender body so furiously? She was in a galloping consumption, and the end was not far off ... a few weeks ... a few days, perhaps.
"Darling," he said, coming to her bedside one day, "isn't there some secret you would like to confide in me—some secret that has been hurting and distressing you? Tell me, dearest, for I shall have no peace until I know it."
"I will tell you," she said. "I have just been thinking about it. You will find some papers in my writing-table—they are all for you. Read them, dear, when——" she broke off abruptly—"by and by. You will understand that it was for your sake I kept it secret."
He went downstairs, and in the writing-table he found Karl's letter. Horror, indignation, and helplessness overcame him. Why had he not known of this in time? He would have gone to every soul in the town, and told them that they lied.
"Ay," he said, "I will tell them so yet. They have murdered her—cowardly murdered her! Ah, God, I have spent my life and my fortune in my endeavours to benefit them, and there's not one of them—not one—honest enough to tell me to defend my wife's good name!"
What drove him almost to madness was that there was none he could go to and take by the throat, exclaiming: "You have done this! You are answerable to me for this!" Still, there was one who stood apart from the others—Josephine. Josephine had not invented the slander; that was not her way. But she would believe what was invented when it concerned anyone she disliked. And how she disliked Ragni! Yes, it was Josephine and her hypocrite of a husband who had laid his darling open to this sort of attack. Very well! Everything else was gone—his joy of life, his interest in science, and his love of mankind. But he still had something to live for—vengeance!
As he was sitting one evening by the bedside of his wife the door opened, and Karl Meek came into the room. "Is she dead?" said the boy. Ragni heard the question. She looked up, and tried to smile. Her eyes rested for a moment on Karl, and then remained on her husband. A moment after she was dead.
Josephine was surprised to hear that Karl Meek was the only person whom her brother allowed to follow the coffin of his dead wife. Did that mean that Edward did not suspect him? Or, more likely, that he had forgiven him? Ah, if one could be as good as that!
"God's way with sinners," said Tuft, "may seem cruel, but it is really kind and merciful. The death of that woman will work for Edward's good: Of course, he feels it keenly now, but he will get over it. It is a blessing in disguise."
As soon as Tuft uttered these words he felt the sheer brutality of them. By a strange irony of fate, his own child had fallen ill about the time that Ragni took to her bed, and the minister and his wife were now talking over the couch of their suffering little boy. Something was wrong with his chest, and Josephine would have liked to call in her clever brother in place of the ordinary family doctor, but she would not humble herself to beg his help. Perhaps it was the shock of her husband's words that aroused her, but that night the springs of her nature were strangely opened. She came downstairs in her nightdress to Tuft's bed, and awoke him. Her eyes were fixed in a blank stare.
"I can't sleep, Ole," she whispered. "I want to warn you. That woman— Edward's wife—is trying to take away our boy. We have been too hard on her—too hard. Now she will make us pay for it."
"You are not yourself, Josephine," said Tuft, rising up, and dressing himself hastily. "I will fetch the doctor."
"No, no!" she cried. "Ask Edward to come."
Tuft did not dare do this himself, but he got his doctor to approach Kallem, who made an appointment to examine the child early next morning. Josephine shrieked when she saw him. Under the stress of mental suffering, the flesh on his face had wasted to the bone; he was the image of death. Without speaking to either of the parents he went to the child, tapped its chest lightly here and there, and then said something to the doctor and went out.
"He has gone to get his instruments," the doctor whispered. "The case is extremely serious. An operation must be performed at once."
Josephine did not speak, neither did Tuft. They had been watching Kallem's face as he bent over their boy, and in it they seemed to read the sentence of death. They had called him in too late.
They were mistaken. Edward Kallem came hurrying back with a staff of trained assistants. Tuft and Josephine were locked outside their child's room. An hour afterwards the door was opened. The boy's life was saved. This they learnt from their own doctor, but Kallem himself departed without even speaking to them.
That night, over the body of the sleeping child, Ole Tuft at last dealt sternly and truly with himself. Three times, in the course of the day, had he gone to Kallem's house to thank him for saving his boy's life. But Kallem had refused to see him. At the third refusal Tuft understood. If ever he entered his brother-in-law's house he would enter it a changed man. He was now vowing that he would begin this new life by uniting Edward and Josephine. It was his jealousy, he admitted to himself, which had been the root of all the mischief.
Edward had been his hero, too, in his younger days, and it was this common worship of a nobler and more gifted nature which had brought him and Josephine together. Why had he not let it remain the base of their intercourse? Their marriage would then have been a happy one, and his own life would have been filled with larger thoughts and more generous feelings.
While Pastor Tuft was meditating, his wife was acting. She too, had been refused admittance to her brother's house. So she was writing to him. For whatever wrong they might have done, she said, they wished to make amends. They had been intolerant, she allowed, and they were sorry for it. But surely they were worthy to be accused? Would he not, then, tell them plainly what they had done to make him so angry?
Some days afterwards, Josephine received a large envelope addressed to her by her brother. But she was surprised, on opening it, to find that it was full of papers in two strange handwritings. They were letters to Kallem, from Ragni and Karl Meek. Josephine trembled as she looked at them. She began by chance with Meek's letters. Ragni innocent? Good God! was she innocent? Yes! Now she understood why Edward had driven away on the day of the funeral with only Karl Meek by his side; but she could not understand how he had survived it.
The servant knocked at her bedroom door, saying that supper was ready.
"No, no!" she managed to exclaim, as she writhed in shame and sorrow. She must go at once to her brother if she had to go to him on her knees. But no! Here were Ragni's letters. She felt as if her brother were standing over her, and forcing her to read them. Some of them were early love-letters. There had been no misconduct. Her chivalrous brother and the sweet, gentle woman whom he had rescued from a horrible fate had lived apart from one another in America until the day of their marriage.
Josephine slipped from the chair down upon her knees, weeping and sobbing. "Forgive me! Forgive me!" she whispered, pressing Ragni's letters in her hands.
Then she forced herself to silence, so that no one might discover her crouching there in the shame of her crime. She had murdered her brother's wife—not by words, but by her silence! Yes, she was a murderess! Well, let Edward deal with her as he thought fit!
She ran wildly out of the house into the dark, rainy street, past her husband's church, past the white wall of Soeren Kule's dwelling. Her brother was standing in the open door, surrounded by trunks and boxes. Was he thinking of going away? Tears streamed down her face.
She could get no further. He drew himself upright, his face white and stern.
"You shall never enter here!" he said, with a break in his voice.
He bent down to do up a trunk. When he got up she was gone. With a fierce look in his eyes, he continued his preparations. He meant to catch the first train the next morning, and get at once far away from his native town. What he would then do he did not know, except that he would never return. When everything was ready, he locked the front door and went to bed. But he could not sleep. Twice in the night the door-bell rang, but he would not open the door. It rang a third time, and kept on ringing; and at last he got out of bed. It was Ole Tuft. His face was ghastly.
"Where is my wife, Edward Kallem? What have you done with my wife?" he moaned.
"Ragni's grave," said Kallem. "She is there, I think."
And then he slammed the door to. Just as dawn was breaking, the bell rang again. Kallem went into the hall, and saw that two pieces of paper had been thrust through the letter-box. On one, Tuft had written: "She is not there, Edward; she was not there. I found this note on my writing-table among the letters you sent her. Oh, Edward, it was not like you to send her away!" On the other piece of paper Josephine had written: "Read these, Ole, and you will understand all. For my life's sake, I am now going to my brother!"
"For my life's sake!" Kallem shivered as he read it, and all his old love for his sister came back to him. Had he killed her? She had wronged Ragni, true; but it was merely out of jealousy. Jealousy because he had made Ragni all in all to him, and left her out of his life. He could have brought his wife and sister together, but he had not tried to do it. Ah, he, too, was guilty! All her life long Josephine had looked up to him and worshipped him. Then he had come back from America, and cast her off, for one who was not worthy of him, so it seemed to her. And in his fierce pride he had refused to reveal to her the fine character of his wife.
He rushed out of the door, resolved to find what had become of her. She was sitting on the steps of the house. As she saw him, she crouched down like a wounded bird, which cannot get away, yet must not be seen. He took her up into his arms, and carried her indoors.
"Let me stay, Edward—let me stay!" she said.
He bent over her and kissed her.
"God's ways! God's ways!" said Ole Tuft, as he and Edward and Josephine walked slowly towards his house through the empty streets in the early morning.
"But I still cannot share your faith," Kallem said.
"It matters not," said the minister. "There where good people walk, are God's ways."
* * * * *
A Daughter of Heth
William Black, born in Glasgow, Scotland, Nov. 13, 1841, was educated with a view to being a landscape painter, a training that clearly influenced his literary life. He became a painter of scenery in words. At the age of twenty-three he went to London, after some experience in Glasgow journalism, and joined the staff of the "Morning Star," and, later, the "Daily News," of which journal he became assistant-editor. His first novel appeared in 1868, but it was not until the publication of "A Daughter of Heth," in 1871, that Black secured the attention of the reading public. "The Strange Adventures of a Phaeton" followed, and in 1873 "A Princess of Thule" attained great popularity. Retiring from journalism the next year he devoted himself entirely to fiction. A score of novels followed, the last in 1898, just before his death on December 10 of that year. No novelist has lavished more tender care on the portrayal of his heroines, or worked up more delicately a scenic background for plaintive sentiment.
I.—In Strange Surroundings
"Noo, Wattie," said the Whaup, "ye maun say a sweer before ye get up. I'm no jokin', and unless ye be quick ye'll be in the water."
Wattie Cassilis, the "best boy" of the Airlie Manse, paragon of scholars, and exemplar to his four brothers, was depending from a small bridge over the burn, his head downward and a short distance from the water, his feet being held close to the parapet by the muscular arms of his eldest brother, Tammas Cassilis, commonly known as the Whaup.
"Wattie," repeated the Whaup, "say a sweer, or into the burn ye'll gang as sure as daith!" and he dipped Wattie a few inches, so that the ripples touched his head. Wattie set up a fearful howl.
"Now, will ye say it?"
"Deevil!" cried Wattie. "Let me up; I hae said a sweer!"
The other brothers raised a demoniac shout of triumph over his apostacy.
"Ye maun say a worse sweer, Wattie. Deevil is no bad enough."
"I'll droon first!" whimpered Wattie, "and then ye'll get your paiks, I'm thinking."
Down went Wattie's head into the burn again, and this time he was raised with his mouth sputtering out the contents it had received.
"I'll say what ye like! D—n; is that bad enough?"
With another unholy shout of derision Wattie was raised and set on the bridge.
"Noo," said the Whaup, standing over him, "let me tell you this, my man. The next time ye gang to my faither, and tell a story about any one o' us, or the next time you say a word against the French lassie, as ye ca' her, do ye ken what I'll do? I'll take ye back to my faither by the lug, and I'll tell him ye were sweerin' like a trooper down by the burn, and every one o' us will testify against you, and then, I'm thinking, it will be your turn to consider paiks."
Catherine Cassilis, "the French lassie," had arrived at the Manse a few weeks before, and she had sore need of a champion.
Andrew Bogue, the ancient henchman of the Rev. Gavin Cassilis, minister of Airlie, who met her at the station, disapproved of her from the first as a foreign jade dressed so that all the men turned and looked at her as if she had been a snare of Satan. Then, had not young Lord Earlshope, after introducing himself, taken a seat in the trap and talked with her in her own language as if he had known her for years?
"They jabbered away in their foreign lingo," said Andrew that evening to his wife Leezibeth, the housekeeper "and I'm thinking it was siccan a language was talked in Sodom and Gomorrah. And he was a' smiles, and she was a' smiles, and they seemed to think nae shame o' themselves goin' through a decent countryside!"
The Whaup himself had said, on the night of Coquette's arrival, "Oh, she's an actress, and I hate actresses!" But before many days had passed, he completely changed that hasty view. The big, sturdy, long-legged lad succumbed to the charms of his parentless cousin—the daughter of the minister's brother, who had settled in France and taken to himself a French wife—and he became her defender against those inhabitants of the Manse and the parish—from his brother Wattie to the pragmatic schoolmaster—whose prejudices she unintentionally outraged.
Even the minister was grieved when Coquette, as her father had called her, made a casual remark about the "last time she had gone to the mass."
"I am deeply pained," said the minister gravely. "I knew not that my brother had been a pervert from the communion of our church."
"Papa was not a Catholic," said Coquette. "Mamma and I were. But it matters nothing. I will go to your church—it is the same to me. I only try to be kind to the people around me—that is all."