A solemn silence reigned; and Errington, watching sea and sky, grew more and more absorbed and serious. The scornful words of the proud old Olaf Gueldmar rankled in his mind and stung him. "An idle trifler with time—an aimless wanderer!" Bitter, but, after all, true! He looked back on his life with a feeling kin to contempt. What had he done that was at all worth doing? He had seen to the proper management of his estates,—well! any one with a grain of self-respect and love of independence would do the same. He had travelled and amused himself,—he had studied languages and literature,—he had made many friends; but after all said and done, the bonde's cutting observations had described him correctly enough. The do-nothing, care-nothing tendency, common to the very wealthy in this age, had crept upon him unconsciously; the easy, cool, indifferent nonchalance common to men of his class and breeding was habitual with him, and he had never thought it worth while to exert his dormant abilities. Why then, should he now begin to think it was time to reform all this,—to rouse himself to an effort,—to gain for himself some honor, some distinction, some renown that should mark him out as different to other men? why was he suddenly seized with an insatiate desire to be something more than a mere "mushroom knight, a fungus of nobility"—why? if not to make himself worthy of—ah! There he had struck a suggestive key-note! Worthy of what? of whom? There was no one in all the world, excepting perhaps Lorimer, who cared what became of Sir Philip Errington, Baronet, in the future, so long as he would, for the present, entertain and feast his numerous acquaintances and give them all the advantages, social and political, his wealth could so easily obtain. Then why, in the name of well-bred indolence, should he muse with such persistent gloom, on his general unworthiness at this particular moment? Was it because this Norwegian maiden's grand blue eyes had met his with such beautiful trust and candor?
He had known many women, queens of society, titled beauties, brilliant actresses, sirens of the world with all their witcheries in full play, and he had never lost his self-possession or his heart; with the loveliest of them he had always felt himself master of the situation, knowing that, in their opinion he was always "a catch," "an eligible," and, therefore, well worth winning. Now, for the first time, he became aware of his utter insignificance,—this tall, fair goddess knew none of the social slang—and her fair, pure face, the mirror of a fair, pure soul, showed that the "eligibility" of a man from a pecuniary point of view was a consideration that would never present itself to her mind. What she would look at would be the man himself,—not his pocket. And, studied from such an exceptional height,—a height seldom climbed by modern marrying women,—Philip felt himself unworthy. It was a good sign; there are great hopes of any man who is honestly dissatisfied with himself. Folding his arms, he leaned idly on the deck-rails, and looked gravely and musingly down into the motionless water where the varied lines of the sky were clearly mirrored,—when a slight creaking, cracking sound was heard, as of some obstacle grazing against or bumping the side of the yacht. He looked, and saw, to his surprise, a small rowing boat close under the gunwale, so close indeed that the slow motion of the tide heaved it every now and then into a jerky collision with the lower framework of the Eulalie—a circumstance which explained the sound which had attracted his attention. The boat was not unoccupied—there was some one in it lying straight across the seats, with face turned upwards to the sky—and, walking noiselessly to a better post of observation, Errington's heart beat with some excitement as he recognized the long, fair, unkempt locks, and eccentric attire of the strange personage who had confronted him in the cave—the crazy little man who had called himself "Sigurd." There he was, beyond a doubt, lying flat on his back with his eyes closed. Asleep or dead? He might have been the latter,—his thin face was so pale and drawn,—his lips were so set and colorless. Errington, astonished to see him there, called softly—
"Sigurd! Sigurd!" There was no answer; Sigurd's form seemed inanimate—his eyes remained fast shut.
"Is he in a trance?" thought Sir Philip wonderingly; "or has he fainted from some physical exhaustion?"
He called again, but again received no reply. He now observed in the stem of the boat a large bunch of pansies, dark as velvet, and evidently freshly gathered,—proving that Sigurd had been wandering in the deep valleys and on the sloping sides of the hills, where these flowers may be frequently found in Norway during the summer. He began to feel rather uncomfortable, as he watched that straight stiff figure in the boat, and was just about to swing down the companion-ladder for the purpose of closer inspection, when a glorious burst of light streamed radiantly over the Fjord,—the sun conquered the masses of dark cloud that had striven to conceal his beauty, and now,—like a warrior clad in golden armor, surmounted and trod down his enemies, shining forth in all his splendor. With that rush of brilliant effulgence, the apparently lifeless Sigurd stirred,—he opened his eyes, and as they were turned upwards, he naturally, from his close vicinity to the side of the Eulalie, met Errington's gaze fixed inquiringly and somewhat anxiously upon him. He sprang up with such sudden and fierce haste that his frail boat rocked dangerously and Philip involuntarily cried out—
Sigurd stood upright in his swaying skiff and laughed scornfully.
"Take care!" he echoed derisively. "It is you who should take care! You,—poor miserable moth on the edge of a mad storm! It is you to fear—not I! See how the light rains over the broad sky. All for me! Yes, all the light, all the glory for me; all the darkness, all the shame for you!"
Errington listened to these ravings with an air of patience and pitying gentleness, then he said with perfect coolness—
"You are quite right, Sigurd! You are always right, I am sure. Come up here and see me; I won't hurt you! Come along!"
The friendly tone and gentle manner appeared to soothe the unhappy dwarf, for he stared doubtfully, then smiled,—and finally, as though acting under a spell, he took up an oar and propelled himself skillfully enough to the gangway, where Errington let down the ladder and with his own hand assisted his visitor to mount, not forgetting to fasten the boat safely to the steps as he did so. Once on deck, Sigurd gazed about him perplexedly. He had brought his bunch of pansies with him, and he fingered their soft leaves thoughtfully. Suddenly his eyes flashed.
"You are alone here?" he asked abruptly.
Fearing to scare his strange guest by the mention of his companions, Errington answered simply—"Yes, quite alone just now, Sigurd."
Sigurd took a step closer towards him. "Are you not afraid?" he said in an awe-struck, solemn voice.
Sir Philip smiled. "I never was afraid of anything in my life!" he answered.
The dwarf eyed him keenly. "You are not afraid," he went on, "that I shall kill you?"
"Not in the least," returned Errington calmly. "You would not do anything so foolish, my friend."
Sigurd laughed. "Ha ha! You call me 'friend.' You think that word a safeguard! I tell you, no! There are no friends now; the world is a great field of battle,—each man fights the other. There is no peace,—none anywhere! The wind fights with the forests; you can hear them slashing and slaying all night long—when it is night—the long, long night! The sun fights with the sky, the light with the dark, and life with death. It is all a bitter quarrel; none are satisfied, none shall know friendship any more; it is too late! We cannot be friends!"
"Well, have it your own way," said Philip good-naturedly, wishing that Lorimer were awake to interview this strange specimen of human wit gone astray; "we'll fight if you like. Anything to please you!"
"We are fighting," said Sigurd with intense passion in his voice. "You may not know it; but I know it! I have felt the thrust of your sword; it has crossed mine. Stay!" and his eyes grew vague and dreamy. "Why was I sent to seek you out—let me think—let me think!"
And he seated himself forlornly on one of the deck chairs and seemed painfully endeavoring to put his scattered ideas in order. Errington studied him with a gentle forbearance; inwardly he was very curious to know whether this Sigurd had any connection with the Gueldmars, but he refrained from asking too many questions. He simply said in a cheery tone—
"Yes, Sigurd,—why did you come to see me? I'm glad you did; it's very kind of you, but I don't think you even know my name."
To his surprise, Sigurd looked up with a more settled and resolved expression of face, and answered almost as connectedly as any sane man could have done.
"I know your name very well," he said in a low composed manner. "You are Sir Philip Errington, a rich English nobleman. Fate led you to her grave—a grave that no strange feet have ever passed, save yours—and so I know you are the man for whom her spirit has waited,—she has brought you hither. How foolish to think she sleeps under the stone, when she is always awake and busy,—always at work opposing me! Yes, though I pray her to lie still, she will not!"
His voice grew wild again, and Philip asked quietly—
"Of whom are you speaking, Sigurd?"
His steady tone seemed to have some compelling influence on the confused mind of the half-witted creature, who answered readily and at once—
"Of whom should I speak but Thelma? Thelma, the beautiful rose of the northern forest—Thelma—"
He broke off abruptly with a long shuddering sigh, and rocking himself drearily to and fro, gazed wistfully out to the sea. Errington hazarded a guess as to the purpose of that coffin hidden in the shell cavern.
"Do you mean Thelma living? . . . or Thelma dead?"
"Both," answered Sigurd promptly. "They are one and the same,—you cannot part them. Mother and child,—rose and rosebud! One walks the earth with the step of a queen, the other floats in the air like a silvery cloud; but I see them join and embrace and melt into each other's arms till they unite in one form, fairer than the beauty of angels! And you—you know this as well as I do—you have seen Thelma, you have kissed the cup of friendship with her; but remember!—not with me—not with me!"
He started from his seat, and, running close up to Errington, laid one meagre hand on his chest.
"How strong you are, how broad and brave," he exclaimed with a sort of childish admiration. "And can you not be generous too?"
Errington looked down upon him compassionately. He had learned enough from his incoherent talk to clear up what had seemed a mystery. The scandalous reports concerning Olaf Gueldmar were incorrect,—he had evidently laid the remains of his wife in the shell-cavern, for some reason connected with his religious belief, and Thelma's visits to the sacred spot were now easy of comprehension. No doubt it was she who placed fresh flowers there every day, and kept the little lamp burning before the crucifix as a sign of the faith her departed mother had professed, and which she herself followed. But who was Sigurd, and what was he to the Gueldmars? Thinking this, he replied to the dwarf's question by a counter-inquiry.
"How shall I be generous, Sigurd? Tell me! What can I do to please you?"
Sigurd's wild blue eyes sparkled with pleasure.
"Do!" he cried. "You can go away, swiftly, swiftly, over the seas, and the Altenfjord need know you no more! Spread your white sails!" and he pointed excitedly up to the tall tapering masts of the Eulalie. "You are king here. Command and you are obeyed! Go from us, go! What is there here to delay you? Our mountains are dark and gloomy,—the fields are wild and desolate,—there are rocks, glaciers and shrieking torrents that hiss like serpents gliding into the sea! Oh, there must be fairer lands than this one,—lands where oceans and sky are like twin jewels set in one ring,—where there are sweet flowers and fruits and bright eyes to smile on you all day—yes! for you are as a god in your strength and beauty—no woman will be cruel to you! Ah! say you will go away!" and Sigurd's face was transfigured into a sort of pained beauty as he made his appeal. "That is what I came to seek you for,—to ask you to set sail quickly and go, for why should you wish to destroy me? I have done you no harm as yet. Go!—and Odin himself shall follow your path with blessings!"
He paused, almost breathless with his own earnest pleading. Errington was silent. He considered the request a mere proof of the poor creature's disorder. The very idea that Sigurd seemed to entertain of his doing him any harm, showed a reasonless terror and foreboding that was simply to be set down as caused by his unfortunate mental condition. To such an appeal there could be no satisfactory reply. To sail away from the Altenfjord and its now most fascinating attractions, because a madman asked him to do so, was a proposition impossible of acceptance, so Sir Philip said nothing. Sigurd, however, watching his face intently, saw, or thought he saw, a look of resolution in the Englishman's clear, deep grey eyes,—and with the startling quickness common to many whose brains, like musical instruments, are jarred, yet not quite unstrung, he grasped the meaning of that expression instantly.
"Ah! cruel and traitorous!" he exclaimed fiercely. "You will not go; you are resolved to tear my heart out for your sport! I have pleaded with you as one pleads with a king and all in vain—all in vain! You will not go? Listen, see what you will do," and he held up the bunch of purple pansies, while his voice sank to an almost feeble faintness. "Look!" and he fingered the flowers, "look! . . . they are dark and soft as a purple sky,—cool and dewy and fresh;—they are the thoughts of Thelma; such thoughts! So wise and earnest, so pure and full of tender shadows!—no hand has grasped them rudely, no rough touch has spoiled their smoothness! They open full-faced to the sky, they never droop or languish; they have no secrets, save the marvel of their beauty. Now you have come, you will have no pity,—one by one you will gather and play with her thoughts as though they were these blossoms,—your burning hand will mar their color,—they will wither and furl up and die, all of them,—and you,—what will you care? Nothing! no man ever cares for a flower that is withered,—not even though his own hand slew it."
The intense melancholy that vibrated through Sigurd's voice touched his listener profoundly. Dimly he guessed that the stricken soul before him had formed the erroneous idea that he, Errington, had come to do some great wrong to Thelma or her belongings, and he pitied the poor creature for his foolish self-torture.
"Listen to me, Sigurd," he said, with a certain imperativeness; "I cannot promise you to go away, but I can promise that I will do no harm to you or to—to—Thelma. Will that content you?"
Sigurd smiled vacantly and shook his head. He looked at the pansies wistfully and laid them down very gently on one of the deck benches.
"I must go," he said in a faint voice:—"She is calling me."
"Who is calling you?" demanded Errington astonished.
"She is," persisted Sigurd, walking steadily to the gangway. "I can hear her! There are the roses to water, and the doves to feed, and many other things." He looked steadily at Sir Philip, who, seeing he was bent on departure, assisted him to descend the companion ladder into his little boat. "You are sure you will not sail away?"
Errington balanced himself lightly on the ladder and smiled.
"I am sure, Sigurd! I have no wish to sail away. Are you all right there?"
He spoke cheerily, feeling in his own mind that it was scarcely safe for a madman to be quite alone in a cockle-shell of a boat on a deep Fjord, the shores of which were indented with dangerous rocks as sharp as the bristling teeth of fabled sea-monsters, but Sigurd answered him almost contemptuously.
"All right!" he echoed. "That is what the English say always. All right! As if it were ever wrong with me, and the sea! We know each other,—we do each other no harm. You may die on the sea, but I shall not! No, there is another way to Valhalla!"
"Oh, I dare say there are no end of ways," said Errington good-temperedly, still poising himself on the ladder, and holding on to the side of his yacht, as he watched his late visitor take the oars and move off. "Good-bye, Sigurd! Take care of yourself! Hope I shall see you again soon."
But Sigurd replied not. Bending to the oars, he rowed swiftly and strongly, and Sir Philip, pulling up the ladder and closing the gangway, saw the little skiff flying over the water like a bird in the direction of the Gueldmar's landing-place. He wondered again and again what relationship, if any, this half-crazed being bore to the bonde and his daughter. That he knew all about them was pretty evident; but how? Catching sight of the pansies left on the deck bench, Errington took them, and, descending to the saloon, set them on the table in a tumbler of water.
"Thelma's thoughts, the poor little fellow called them," he mused, with a smile. "A pretty fancy of his, and linked with the crazy imaginings of Ophelia too. 'There's pansies, that's for thoughts,' she said, but Sigurd's idea is different; he believes they are Thelma's own thoughts in flower. 'No rough touch has spoiled their smoothness,' he declared; he's right there, I'm sure. And shall I ruffle the sweet leaves; shall I crush the tender petals? or shall I simply transform them, from pansies into roses,—from the dream of love,—into love itself?"
His eyes softened as he glanced at the drooping rose he wore, which Thelma herself had given him, and as he went to his sleeping cabin, he carefully detached it from his button-hole, and taking down a book,—one which he greatly prized, because it had belonged to his mother,—he prepared to press the flower within its leaves. It was the "Imitation of Christ," bound quaintly and fastened with silver clasps, and as he was about to lay his fragrant trophy on the first page that opened naturally of itself, he glanced at the words that there presented themselves to his eyes.
"Nothing is sweeter than love, nothing stronger, nothing higher, nothing wider, nothing more pleasant, nothing fuller or better in heaven or in earth!" And with a smile and a warmer flush of color than usual on his handsome face, he touched the rose lightly yet tenderly with his lips and shut it reverently within its sacred resting-place.
"Our manners are infinitely corrupted, and wonderfully incline to the worse; of our customs there are many barbarous and monstrous." MONTAIGNE.
The next day was very warm and bright, and that pious Lutheran divine, the Reverend Charles Dyceworthy, was seriously encumbered by his own surplus flesh material as he wearily rowed himself across the Fjord towards Olaf Gueldmar's private pier. As the perspiration bedewed his brow, he felt that Heaven had dealt with him somewhat too liberally in the way of fat—he was provided too amply with it ever to excel as an oarsman. The sun was burning hot, the water was smooth as oil, and very weighty—it seemed to resist every stroke of his clumsily wielded blades. Altogether it was hard, uncongenial work,—and, being rendered somewhat flabby and nerveless by his previous evening's carouse with Macfarlane's whisky, Mr. Dyceworthy was in a plaintive and injured frame of mind, he was bound on a mission—a holy and edifying errand, which would have elevated any minister of his particular sect. He had found a crucifix with the name of Thelma engraved thereon,—he was now about to return it to the evident rightful owner, and in returning it, he purposed denouncing it as an emblem of the "Scarlet Woman, that sitteth on the Seven Hills," and threatening all those who dared to hold it sacred, as doomed to eternal torture, "where the worm dieth not." He had thought over all he meant to say; he had planned several eloquent and rounded sentences, some of which he murmured placidly to himself as he propelled his slow boat along.
"Yea!" he observed in a mild sotto-voce—"ye shall be cut off root and branch! Ye shall be scorched even as stubble,—and utterly destroyed." Here he paused and mopped his streaming forehead with his clean perfumed handkerchief. "Yea!" he resumed peacefully, "the worshippers of idolatrous images are accursed; they shall have ashes for food and gall for drink! Let them turn and repent themselves, lest the wrath of God consume them as straw whirled on the wind. Repent! . . . or ye shall be cast into everlasting fire. Beauty shall avail not, learning shall avail not, meekness shall avail not; for the fire of hell is a searching, endless, destroying—" here Mr. Dyceworthy, by plunging one oar with too much determination into the watery depths, caught a crab, as the saying is, and fell violently backward in a somewhat undignified posture. Recovering himself slowly, he looked about him in a bewildered way, and for the first time noticed the vacant, solitary appearance of the Fjord. Some object was missing; he realized what it was immediately—the English yacht Eulalie was gone from her point of anchorage.
"Dear me!" said Mr. Dyceworthy, half aloud, "what a very sudden departure! I wonder, now, if those young men have gone for good, or whether they are coming back again? Pleasant fellows, very pleasant! flippant, perhaps, but pleasant."
And he smiled benevolently. He had no remembrance of what had occurred, after he had emptied young Macfarlane's flask of Glenlivet; he had no idea that he had been almost carried from his garden into his parlor, and there flung on the sofa and left to sleep off the effects of his strong tipple; least of all did he dream that he had betrayed any of his intentions towards Thelma Gueldmar, or given his religious opinions with such free and undisguised candor. Blissfully ignorant on these points, he resumed his refractory oars, and after nearly an hour of laborious effort, succeeded at last in reaching his destination. Arrived at the little pier, he fastened up his boat, and with the lofty air of a thoroughly moral man, he walked deliberately up to the door of the bonde's house. Contrary to custom, it was closed, and the place seemed strangely silent and deserted. The afternoon heat was so great that the song-birds were hushed, and in hiding under the cool green leaves,—the clambering roses round the porch hung down their bright heads for sheer faintness,—and the only sounds to be heard were the subdued coo-cooing of the doves on the roof and the soft trickling rush of a little mountain stream that flowed through the grounds. Some what surprised, though not abashed, at the evident "not-at-home" look of the farm-house, Mr. Dyceworthy rapped loudly at the rough oaken door with his knuckles, there being no such modern convenience as a bell or a knocker. He waited sometime before he was answered, repeating his summons violently at frequent intervals, and swearing irreligiously under his breath as he did so. But at last the door was flung sharply open, and the tangle-haired, rosy-cheeked Britta confronted him with an aspect which was by no means encouraging or polite. Her round blue eyes sparkled saucily, and she placed her bare, plump, red arms, wet with recent soapsuds, akimbo on her sturdy little hips, with an air that was decidedly impertinent.
"Well, what do you want?" she demanded with rude abruptness.
Mr. Dyceworthy regarded her in speechless dignity. Vouchsafing no reply, he attempted to pass her and enter the house. But Britta settled her arms more defiantly than ever, and her voice had a sharper ring as she said—
"It's no use your coming in! There's no one here but me. The master has gone out for the day."
"Young woman," returned Mr. Dyceworthy with polite severity, "I regret to see that your manners stand in sore need of improvement. Your master's absence is of no importance to me. It is with the Froeken Thelma I desire to speak."
Britta laughed and tossed her rough brown curls back from her forehead. Mischievous dimples came and went at the corners of her mouth—indications of suppressed fun.
"The Froeken is out too," she said demurely. "It's time she had a little amusement; and the gentlemen treat her as if she were a queen!"
Mr. Dyceworthy started, and his red visage became a trifle paler.
"Gentlemen? What gentlemen?" he demanded with some impatience.
Britta's inward delight evidently increased.
"The gentlemen from the yacht, of course," she said. "What other gentlemen are there?" This with a contemptuous up-and-down sort of look at the Lutheran minister's portly form. "Sir Philip Errington was here with his friend yesterday evening and stayed a long time—and today a fine boat with four oars came to fetch the master and Froeken Thelma, and they are all gone for a sail to the Kaa Fjord or some other place near here—I cannot remember the name. And I am SO glad!" went on Britta, clasping her plump hands in ecstasy. "They are the grandest, handsomest Herren I have ever seen, and one can tell they think wonders of the Froeken—nothing is too good for her!"
Mr. Dyceworthy's face was the picture of dismay. This was a new turn to the course of events, and one, more over, that he had never once contemplated. Britta watched him amusedly.
"Will you leave any message for them when they return?" she asked.
"No," said the minister dubiously. "Yet, stay; yes! I will! Tell the Froeken that I have found something which belongs to her, and that when she wishes to have it, I will myself bring it."
Britta looked cross. "If it is hers you have no business to keep it," she said brusquely. "Why not leave it,—whatever it is,—with me?"
Mr. Dyceworthy regarded her with a bland and lofty air.
"I trust no concerns of mine or hers to the keeping of a paid domestic," he said. "A domestic, moreover, who deserts the ways of her own people,—who hath dealings with the dwellers in darkness,—who even bringeth herself to forget much of her own native tongue, and who devoteth herself to—"
What he would have said was uncertain, as at that moment he was nearly thrown down by a something that slipped agilely between his legs, pinching each fat calf as it passed—a something that looked like a ball, but proved to be a human creature—no other than the crazy Sigurd, who, after accomplishing his uncouth gambol successfully, stood up, shaking back his streaming fair locks and laughing wildly.
"Ha, ha!" he exclaimed. "That was good; that was clever! If I had upset you now, you would have said your prayers backward! What are you here for? This is no place for you! They are all gone out of it. She has gone—all the world is empty! There is nothing any where but air, air, air!—no birds, no flowers, no trees, no sunshine! All gone with her on the sparkling, singing water!" and he swung his arms round violently, and snapped his fingers in the minister's face. "What an ugly man your are!" he exclaimed with refreshing candor. "I think you are uglier than I am! You are straight,—but you are like a load of peat—heavy and barren and fit to burn. Now, I—I am the crooked bough of a tree, but I have bright leaves where a bird hides and sings all day! You—you have no song, no foliage; only ugly and barren and fit to burn!" He laughed heartily, and, catching sight of Britta, where she stood in the doorway entirely unconcerned at his eccentric behavior, he went up to her and took hold of the corner of her apron. "Take me in, Britta dear—pretty Britta!" he said coaxingly. "Sigurd is hungry! Britta, sweet little Britta,—come and talk to me and sing! Good-bye, fat man!" he added suddenly, turning round once more on Dyceworthy. "You will never overtake the big ship that has gone away with Thelma over the water. Thelma will come back,—yes! . . . but one day she will go never to come back." He dropped his voice to a mysterious whisper. "Last night I saw a little spirit come out of a rose,—he carried a tiny golden hammer and nail, and a ball of cord like a rolled-up sunbeam. He flew away so quickly I could not follow him; but I know where he went! He fastened the nail in the heart of Thelma, deeply, so that the little drops of blood flowed,—but she felt no pain; and then he tied the golden cord to the nail and left her, carrying the other end of the string with him—to whom? Some other heart must be pierced! Whose heart?" Sigurd looked infinitely cunning as well as melancholy, and sighed deeply.
The Reverend Mr. Dyceworthy was impatient and disgusted.
"It is a pity," he said with an air of solemn patience, "that this hapless creature, accursed of God and man, is not placed in some proper abode suitable to the treatment of his affliction. You, Britta, as the favored servant of a—a—well, let us say, of a peculiar mistress, should persuade her to send this—this—person away, lest his vagaries become harmful."
Britta glanced very kindly at Sigurd, who still held her apron with the air of a trustful child.
"He's no more harmful than you are," she said promptly, in answer to the minister's remark. "He's a good fellow and if he talks strangely he can make himself useful,—which is more than can be said of certain people. He can saw and chop the wood, make hay, feed the cattle, pull a strong oar, and sweep and keep the garden,—can't you, Sigurd?" She laid her hand on Sigurd's shoulder, and he nodded his head emphatically, as she enumerated his different talents. "And as for climbing,—he can guide you anywhere over the hills, or up the streams to the big waterfalls—no one better. And if you mean by peculiar,—that my mistress is different to other people, why, I know she is, and am glad of it,—at any rate, she's a great deal too kind-hearted to shut this poor boy up in a house for madmen! He'd die if he couldn't have the fresh air." She paused, out of breath with her rapid utterance, and Mr. Dyceworthy held up his hands in dignified astonishment.
"You talk too glibly, young woman," he said. "It is necessary that I should instruct you without loss of time, as to how you should be sparing of your words in the presence of your superiors and betters—"
Bang! The door was closed with a decision that sent a sharp echo through the silent, heated air, and Mr. Dyceworthy was left to contemplate it at his leisure. Full of wrath, he was about to knock peremptorily and insist that it should be re-opened; but on second thoughts he decided that it was beneath his dignity to argue with a servant, much less with a declared lunatic like Sigurd,—so he made the best of his way back to his boat, thinking gloomily of the hard labor awaiting him in the long pull back to Bosekop.
Other thoughts, too, tortured and harrassed his brain, and as he again took the oars and plied them wearily through the water, he was in an exceedingly unchristian humor. Though a specious hypocrite, he was no fool. He knew the ways of men and women, and he thoroughly realized the present position of affairs. He was quite aware of Thelma Gueldmar's exceptional beauty,—and he felt pretty certain that no man could look upon her without admiration. But up to this time, she had been, as it were, secluded from all eyes,—a few haymakers and fishermen were the only persons of the male sex who had ever been within the precincts of Olaf Gueldmar's dwelling, with the exception of himself, Dyceworthy,—who, being armed with a letter of introduction from the actual minister of Bosekop, whose place, he, for the present, filled, had intruded his company frequently and persistently on the bonde and his daughter, though he knew himself to be entirely unwelcome. He had gathered together as much as he could, all the scraps of information concerning them; how Olaf Gueldmar was credited with having made away with his wife by foul means; how nobody even knew where his wife had come from; how Thelma had been mysteriously educated, and had learned strange things concerning foreign lands, which no one else in the place understood anything about; how she was reputed to be a witch, and was believed to have cast her spells on the unhappy Sigurd, to the destruction of his reason,—and how nobody could tell where Sigurd himself had come from.
All this Mr. Dyceworthy had heard with much interest, and as the sensual part of his nature was always more or less predominant, he had resolved in his own mind that here was a field of action suitable to his abilities. To tame and break the evil spirit in the reputed witch; to convert her to the holy and edifying Lutheran faith; to save her soul for the Lord, and take her beautiful body for himself; these were Mr. Dyceworthy's laudable ambitions. There was no rival to oppose him, and he had plenty of time to mature his plans. So he had thought. He had not bargained for the appearance of Sir Philip Bruce Errington on the scene,—a man, young, handsome, and well-bred, with vast wealth to back up his pretensions, should he make any.
"How did he find her out?" thought the Reverend Charles, as he dolefully pulled his craft along. "And that brutal pagan Gueldmar, too, who pretends he cannot endure strangers!"
And as he meditated, a flush of righteous indignation crimsoned his flabby features.
"Let her take care," he half muttered, with a smile that was not pleasant; "let her take care! There are more ways than one to bring down her pride! Sir Philip Errington must be too rich and popular in his own country to think of wishing to marry a girl who is only a farmer's daughter after all. He may trifle with her; yes! . . . and he will help me by so doing. The more mud on her name, the better for me; the more disgrace, the more need of rescue, and the more grateful she will have to be. Just a word to Ulrika,—and the scandal will spread. Patience, patience!"
And somewhat cheered by his own reflections, though still wearing an air of offended dignity, he rowed on, glancing up every now and then to see if the Eulalie had returned, but her place was still empty.
Meanwhile, as he thought and planned, other thoughts and plans were being discussed at a meeting which was held in a little ruined stone hut, situated behind some trees on a dreary hill just outside Bosekop. It was a miserable place, barren of foliage,—the ground was dry and yellow, and the hut itself looked as if it had been struck by lightning. The friends, whose taste had led them to select this dilapidated dwelling as a place of conference, were two in number, both women,—one of them no other than the minister's servant, the drear-faced Ulrika. She was crouched on the earth-floor in an attitude of utter abasement, at the feet of her companion,—an aged dame of tall and imposing appearance, who, standing erect, looked down upon her with an air of mingled contempt and malevolence. The hut was rather dark, for the roof was not sufficiently destroyed to have the advantage of being open to the sky. The sunlight fell through holes of different shapes and sizes,—one specially bright patch of radiance illumining the stately form, and strongly marked, though withered features of the elder woman, whose eyes, deeply sunken in her head, glittered with a hawk-like and evil lustre, as they rested on the prostrate figure before her. When she spoke, her accents were harsh and commanding.
"How long?" she said, "how long must I wait? How long must I watch the work of Satan in the land? The fields are barren and will not bring forth; the curse of bitter poverty is upon us all: and only he, the pagan Gueldmar, prospers and gathers in harvest, while all around him starve! Do I not know the devil's work when I see it,—I, the chosen servant of the Lord?" And she struck a tall staff she held violently into the ground to emphasize her words. "Am I not left deserted in my age? The child Britta,—sole daughter of my sole daughter,—is she not stolen, and kept from me? Has not her heart been utterly turned away from mine? All through that vile witch,—accursed of God and man! She it is who casts the blight on our land; she it is who makes the hands and hearts of our men heavy and careless, so that even luck has left the fishing; and yet you hesitate,—you delay, you will not fulfill your promise! I tell you, there are those in Bosekop who, at my bidding, would cast her naked into the Fjord, leave her there, to sink or swim according to her nature!"
"I know," murmured Ulrika humbly, raising herself slightly from her kneeling posture; "I know it well! . . . . but, good Lovisa, be patient! I work for the best! Mr. Dyceworthy will do more for us than we can do for ourselves; he is wise and cautious—"
Lovisa interrupted her with a fierce gesture. "Fool!" she cried. "What need of caution? A witch is a witch, burn her, drown her! There is no other remedy! But two days since, the child of my neighbor Engla passed her on the Fjord; and now the boy has sickened of some strange disease, and 'tis said he will die. Again, the drove of cattle owned by Hildmar Bjorn were herded home when she passed by. Now they are seized by the murrain plague! Tell your good saint Dyceworthy these things; if he can find no cure, I can,—and will!"
Ulrika shuddered slightly as she rose from the ground and stood erect, drawing her shawl closely about her.
"You hate her so much, Lovisa?" she asked, almost timidly.
Lovisa's face darkened, and her yellow, claw-like hand closed round her strong staff in a cruel and threatening manner.
"Hate her!" she muttered, "I have hated her ever since she was born! I hated her mother before her! A nest of devils, every one of them; and the curse will always be upon us while they dwell here."
She paused and looked at Ulrika steadily.
"Remember!" she said, with an evil leer on her lips, "I hold a secret of yours that is worth the keeping! I give you two weeks more; within that time you must act! Destroy the witch,—bring back to me my grandchild Britta, or else—it will be my turn!"
And she laughed silently. Ulrika's face grew paler, and the hand that grasped the folds of her shawl trembled violently. She made an effort, however, to appear composed, as she answered—"I have sworn to obey you, Lovisa,—and I will. But tell me one thing—how do you know that Thelma Gueldmar is indeed a witch?"
"How do I know?" almost yelled Lovisa. "Have I lived all these years for nothing? Look at her! Am I like her? Are you like her? Are any of the honest women of the neighborhood like her? Meet her on the hills with knives and pins,—prick her, and see if the blood will flow! I swear it will not—not one drop! Her skin is too white; there is no blood in those veins—only fire! Look at the pink in her cheeks,—the transparency of her flesh,—the glittering light in her eyes, the gold of her hair, it is all devil's work, it is not human, it is not natural! I have watched her,—I used to watch her mother, and curse her every time I saw her—ay! curse her till I was breathless with cursing—"
She stopped abruptly. Ulrika gazed at her with as much wonder as her plain, heavy face was capable of expressing. Lovisa saw the look and smiled darkly.
"One would think you had never known what love is!" she said, with a sort of grim satire in her tone. "Yet even your dull soul was on fire once! But I—when I was young, I had beauty such as you never had, and I loved—Olaf Gueldmar."
Ulrika uttered an exclamation of astonishment. "You! and yet you hate him now?"
Lovisa raised her hand with an imperious gesture.
"I have grown hate like a flower in my breast," she said, with a sort of stern impressiveness. "I have fostered it year after year, and now,—it has grown too strong for me! When Olaf Gueldmar was young he told me I was fair; once he kissed my cheek at parting! For those words,—for that kiss,—I loved him then—for the same things I hate him now! When I know he had married, I cursed him; on the day of my own marriage with a man I despised, I cursed him! I have followed him and all his surroundings with more curses than there are hours in the day! I have had some little revenge—yes!"—and she laughed grimly—"but I want more! For Britta has been caught by his daughter's evil spell. Britta is mine, and I must have her back. Understand me well!—do what you have to do without delay! Surely it is an easy thing to ruin a woman!"
Ulrika stood as though absorbed in meditation, and said nothing for some moments. At last she murmured as though to herself—
"Mr. Dyceworthy could do much—if—"
"Ask him, then," said Lovisa imperatively. "Tell him the village is in fear of her. Tell him that if he will do nothing we will. And if all fails, come to me again; and remember! . . . I shall not only act,—I shall speak!"
And emphasizing the last word as a sort of threat, she turned and strode out of the hut.
Ulrika followed more slowly, taking a different direction to that in which her late companion was seen rapidly disappearing. On returning to the minister's dwelling, she found that Mr. Dyceworthy had not yet come back from his boating excursion. She gave no explanation of her absence to her two fellow-servants, but went straight up to her own room—a bare attic in the roof—where she deliberately took off her dress and bared her shoulders and breast. Then she knelt down on the rough boards, and clasping her hands, began to writhe and wrestle as though she were seized with a sudden convulsion. She groaned and tortured the tears from her eyes; she pinched her own flesh till it was black and blue, and scratched it with her nails till it bled,—and she prayed inaudibly, but with evident desperation. Sometimes her gestures were frantic, sometimes appealing; but she made no noise that was loud enough to attract attention from any of the dwellers in the house. Her stolid features were contorted with anguish,—and had she been an erring nun of the creed she held in such bitter abhorrence, who, for some untold crime, endured a self-imposed penance, she could not have punished her own flesh much more severely.
She remained some quarter of an hour or twenty minutes thus; then rising from her knees, she wiped the tears from her eyes and re-clothed herself,—and with her usual calm, immovable aspect—though smarting from the injuries she had inflicted on herself—she descended to the kitchen, there to prepare Mr. Dyceworthy's tea with all the punctilious care and nicety befitting the meal of so good a man and so perfect a saint.
"She believed that by dealing nobly with all, all would show themselves noble; so that whatsoever she did became her." HAFIZ.
As the afternoon lengthened, and the sun lowered his glittering shield towards that part of the horizon where he rested a brief while without setting, the Eulalie,—her white sails spread to the cool, refreshing breeze,—swept gracefully and swiftly back to her old place on the Fjord, and her anchor dropped with musical clank and splash, just as Mr. Dyceworthy entered his house, fatigued, perspiring, and ill-tempered at the non-success of his day. All on board the yacht were at dinner—a dinner of the most tasteful and elegant description, such as Sir Philip Errington well knew how to order and superintend, and Thelma, leaning against the violet velvet cushions that were piled behind her for her greater ease, looked,—as she indeed was,—the veritable queen of the feast. Macfarlane and Duprez had been rendered astonished and bashful by her excessive beauty. From the moment she came on board with her father, clad in her simple white gown, with a deep crimson hood drawn over her fair hair, and tied under her rounded chin, she had taken them all captive—they were her abject slaves in heart, though they put on very creditable airs of manly independence and nonchalance. Each man in his different way strove to amuse or interest her, except, strange to say, Errington himself, who, though deeply courteous to her, kept somewhat in the background and appeared more anxious to render himself agreeable to old Olaf Gueldmar, than to win the good graces of his lovely daughter. The girl was delighted with everything on board the yacht,—she admired its elegance and luxury with child-like enthusiasm; she gloried in the speed with which its glittering prow cleaved the waters; she clapped her hands at the hiss of the white foam as it split into a creaming pathway for the rushing vessel; and she was so unaffected and graceful in all her actions and attitudes, that the slow blood of the cautious Macfarlane began to warm up by degrees to a most unwonted heat of admiration. When she had first arrived, Errington, in receiving her, had seriously apologized for not having some lady to meet her, but she seemed not to understand his meaning. Her naive smile and frankly uplifted eyes put all his suddenly conceived notions of social stiffness to flight.
"Why should a lady come?" she asked sweetly. "It is not necessary? . . ."
"Of course it isn't!" said Lorimer promptly and delightedly. "I am sure we shall be able to amuse you, Miss Gueldmar."
"Oh,—for that!" she replied, with a little shrug that had something French about it, "I amuse myself always! I am amused now,—you must not trouble yourselves!"
As she was introduced to Duprez and Macfarlane, she gave them each a quaint, sweeping curtsy, which had the effect of making them feel the most ungainly lumbersome fellows on the face of the earth. Macfarlane grew secretly enraged at the length of his legs,—while Pierre Duprez, though his bow was entirely Parisian, decided in his own mind that it was jerky, and not good style. She was perfectly unembarrassed with all the young men; she laughed at their jokes, and turned her glorious eyes full on them with the unabashed sweetness of innocence; she listened to the accounts they gave her of their fishing and climbing excursions with the most eager interest,—and in her turn, she told them of fresh nooks and streams and waterfalls, of which they had never even heard the names. Not only were they enchanted with her, but they were thoroughly delighted with her father, Olaf Gueldmar. The sturdy old pagan was in the best of humors,—and seemed determined to be pleased with everything,—he told good stories,—and laughed that rollicking, jovial laugh of his with such unforced heartiness that it was impossible to be dull in his company,—and not one of Errington's companions gave a thought to the reports concerning him and his daughter, which had been so gratuitously related by Mr. Dyceworthy.
They had had a glorious day's sail, piloted by Valdemar Svensen, whose astonishment at seeing the Gueldmars on board the Eulalie was depicted in his face, but who prudently forebore from making any remarks thereon. The bonde hailed him good-humoredly as an old acquaintance,—much in the tone of a master addressing a servant,—and Thelma smiled kindly at him,—but the boundary line between superior and inferior was in this case very strongly marked, and neither side showed any intention of overstepping it. In the course of the day, Duprez had accidentally lapsed into French, whereupon to his surprise Thelma had answered him in the same tongue,—though with a different and much softer pronunciation. Her "bien zoli!" had the mellifluous sweetness of the Provencal dialect, and on his eagerly questioning her, he learned that she had received her education in a large convent at Arles, where she had learned French from the nuns. Her father overheard her talking of her school-days, and he added—
"Yes, I sent my girl away for her education, though I know the teaching is good in Christiania. Yet it did not seem good enough for her. Besides, your modern 'higher education' is not the thing for a woman,—it is too heavy and commonplace. Thelma knows nothing about mathematics or algebra. She can sing and read and write,—and, what is more, she can spin and sew; but even these things were not the first consideration with me. I wanted her disposition trained, and her bodily health attended to. I said to those good women at Arles—'Look here,—here's a child for you! I don't care how much or how little she knows about accomplishments. I want her to be sound and sweet from head to heel—a clean mind in a wholesome body. Teach her self-respect, and make her prefer death to a lie. Show her the curse of a shrewish temper, and the blessing of cheerfulness. That will satisfy me!' I dare say, now I come to think of it, those nuns thought me an odd customer; but, at any rate, they seemed to understand me. Thelma was very happy with them, and considering all things"—the old man's eyes twinkled fondly—"she hasn't turned out so badly!"
They laughed,—and Thelma blushed as Errington's dreamy eyes rested on her with a look, which, though he was unconscious of it, spoke passionate admiration. The day passed too quickly with them all,—and now, as they sat at dinner in the richly ornamented saloon, there was not one among them who could contemplate without reluctance the approaching break-up of so pleasant a party. Dessert was served, and as Thelma toyed with the fruit on her plate and sipped her glass of champagne, her face grew serious and absorbed,—even sad,—and she scarcely seemed to hear the merry chatter of tongues around her, till Errington's voice asking a question of her father roused her into swift attention.
"Do you know any one of the name of Sigurd?" he was saying, "a poor fellow whose wits are in heaven let us hope,—for they certainly are not on earth."
Olaf Gueldmar's fine face softened with pity, and he replied—
"Sigurd? Have you met him then? Ah, poor boy, his is a sad fate! He has wit enough, but it works wrongly; the brain is there, but 'tis twisted. Yes, we know Sigurd well enough—his home is with us in default of a better. Ay, ay! we snatched him from death—perhaps unwisely,—yet he has a good heart, and finds pleasure in his life."
"He is a kind of poet in his own way," went on Errington, watching Thelma as she listened intently to their conversation. "Do you know he actually visited me on board here last night and begged me to go away from the Altenfjord altogether? He seemed afraid of me, as if he thought I meant to do him some harm."
"How strange!" murmured Thelma. "Sigurd never speaks to visitors,—he is too shy. I cannot understand his motive!"
"Ah, my dear!" sighed her father. "Has he any motive at all? . . . and does he ever understand himself? His fancies change with every shifting breeze! I will tell you," he continued, addressing himself to Errington, "how he came to be, as it were, a bit of our home. Just before Thelma was born, I was walking with my wife one day on the shore, when we both caught sight of something bumping against our little pier, like a large box or basket. I managed to get hold of it with a boat-hook and drag it in; it was a sort of creel such as is used to pack fish in, and in it was the naked body of a half-drowned child. It was an ugly little creature—a newly born infant deformity—and on its chest there was a horrible scar in the shape of a cross, as though it had been gashed deeply with a pen-knife. I thought it was dead, and was for throwing it back into the Fjord, but my wife,—a tender-hearted angel—took the poor wretched little wet body in her arms, and found that it breathed. She warmed it, dried it, and wrapped it in her shawl,—and after awhile the tiny monster opened its eyes and stared at her. Well! . . . somehow, neither of us could forget the look it gave us,—such a solemn, warning, pitiful, appealing sort of expression! There was no resisting it,—so we took the foundling and did the best we could for him. We gave him the name of Sigurd,—and when Thelma was born, the two babies used to play together all day, and we never noticed anything wrong with the boy, except his natural deformity, till he was about ten or twelve years old. Then we saw to our sorrow that the gods had chosen to play havoc with his wits. However, we humored him tenderly, and he was always manageable. Poor Sigurd! He adored my wife; I have known him listen for hours to catch the sound of her footstep; he would actually deck the threshold with flowers in the morning that she might tread on them as she passed by." The old bonds sighed and rubbed his hand across his eyes with a gesture half of pain, half of impatience—"And now he is Thelma's slave,—a regular servant to her. She can manage him best of us all,—he is as docile as a lamb, and will do anything she tells him."
"I am not surprised at that," said the gallant Duprez; "there is reason in such obedience!"
Thelma looked at him inquiringly, ignoring the implied compliment.
"You think so?" she said simply "I am glad! I always hope that he will one day be well in mind,—and every little sign of reason in him is pleasant to me."
Duprez was silent. It was evidently no use making even an attempt at flattering this strange girl; surely she must be dense not to understand compliments that most other women compel from the lips of men as their right? He was confused—his Paris breeding was no use to him—in fact he had been at a loss all day, and his conversation had, even to himself, seemed particularly shallow and frothy. This Mademoiselle Gueldmar, as he called her, was by no means stupid—she was not a mere moving statue of lovely flesh and perfect color whose outward beauty was her only recommendation,—she was, on the contrary, of a most superior intelligence,—she had read much and thought more,—and the dignified elegance of her manner, and bearing would have done honor to a queen. After all, thought Duprez musingly, the social creeds of Paris might be wrong—it was just possible! There might be women who were womanly,—there might be beautiful girls who were neither vain nor frivolous,—there might even be creatures of the feminine sex, besides whom a trained Parisian coquette would seem nothing more than a painted fiend of the neuter gender. These were new and startling considerations to the feather-light mind of the Frenchman,—and unconsciously his fancy began to busy itself with the old romantic histories of the ancient French chivalry, when faith, and love, and loyalty, kept white the lilies of France, and the stately courtesy and unflinching pride of the ancien regime made its name honored throughout the world. An odd direction indeed for Pierre Duprez's reflection to wander in—he, who never reflected on either past or future, but was content to fritter away the present as pleasantly as might be—and the only reason to which his unusually serious reverie could be attributed was the presence of Thelma. She certainly had a strange influence on them all, though she herself was not aware of it,—and not only Errington, but each one of his companions had been deeply considering during the day, that notwithstanding the unheroic tendency of modern living, life itself might be turned to good and even noble account, if only an effort were made in the right direction.
Such was the compelling effect of Thelma's stainless mind reflected in her pure face, on the different dispositions of all the young men; and she, perfectly unconscious of it, smiled at them, and conversed gaily,—little knowing as she talked, in her own sweet and unaffected way, that the most profound resolutions were being formed, and the most noble and unselfish deeds, were being planned in the souls of her listeners,—all forsooth! because one fair, innocent woman had, in the clear, grave glances of her wondrous sea-blue eyes, suddenly made them aware of their own utter unworthiness. Macfarlane, meditatively watching the girl from under his pale eyelashes, thought of Mr. Dyceworthy's matrimonial pretensions, with a humorous smile hovering on his thin lips.
"Ma certes! the fellow has an unco' gude opeenion o' himself," he mused. "He might as well offer his hand in marriage to the Queen while he's aboot it,—he wad hae just as muckle chance o' acceptance."
Meanwhile, Errington, having learned all he wished to know concerning Sigurd, was skillfully drawing out old Olaf Gueldmar, and getting him to give his ideas on things in general, a task in which Lorimer joined.
"So you don't think we're making any progress nowadays?" inquired the latter with an appearance of interest, and a lazy amusement in his blue eyes as he put the question.
"Progress!" exclaimed Gueldmar. "Not a bit of it! It is all a going backward; it may not seem apparent, but it is so. England, for instance, is losing the great place she once held in the world's history,—and these things always happen to all nations when money becomes more precious to the souls of the people than honesty and honor. I take the universal wide-spread greed of gain to be one of the worst signs of the times,—the forewarning of some great upheaval and disaster, the effects of which no human mind can calculate. I am told that America is destined to be the dominating power of the future,—but I doubt it! Its politics are too corrupt,—its people live too fast, and burn their candle at both ends, which is unnatural and most unwholesome; moreover, it is almost destitute of Art in its highest forms,—and is not its confessed watchward 'the almighty Dollar?' And such a country as that expects to arrogate to itself the absolute sway of the world? I tell you, no—ten thousand times no! It is destitute of nearly everything that has made nations great and all-powerful in historic annals,—and my belief is that what, has been, will be again,—and that what has never been, will never be."
"You mean by that, I suppose, that there is no possibility of doing anything new,—no way of branching out in some, better and untried direction?" asked Errington.
Olaf Gueldmar shook his head emphatically. "You can't do it," he said decisively. "Everything in every way has been begun and completed and then forgotten over and over in this world,—to be begun and completed and forgotten again, and so on to the end of the chapter. No one nation is better than another in this respect,—there is,—there can be nothing new. Norway, for example, has had its day; whether it will ever have another I know not,—at any rate, I shall not live to see it. And yet, what a past!—" He broke off and his eyes grew meditative.
Lorimer looked at him. "You would have been a Viking, Mr. Gueldmar, had you lived in the old days," he said with a smile.
"I should, indeed!" returned the old man, with an unconsciously haughty gesture of his head; "and no better fate could have befallen me! To sail the seas in hot pursuit of one's enemies, or in search of further conquest,—to feel the very wind and sun beating up the blood in one's veins,—to live the life of a man—a true man! . . . in all the pride and worth of strength, and invincible vigor!—how much better than the puling, feeble, sickly existence, led by the majority of men to-day! I dwell apart from them as much as I can,—I steep my mind and body in the joys of Nature, and the free fresh air,—but often I feel that the old days of the heroes must have been best,—when Gorm the Bold and the fierce Siegfried seized Paris, and stabled their horses in the chapel where Charlemagne lay buried!"
Pierre Duprez looked up with a faint smile. "Ah, pardon! But that was surely a very long time ago!"
"True!" said Gueldmar quietly. "And no doubt you will not believe the story at this distance of years. But the day is coming when people will look back on the little chronicle of your Empire,—your commune,—your republic, all your little affairs, and will say, 'Surely these things are myths; they occurred—if they occurred at all,—a very long time ago!"
"Monsieur is a philosopher!" said Duprez, with a good-humored gesture; "I would not presume to contradict him."
"You see, my lad," went on Gueldmar more gently, "there is much in our ancient Norwegian history that is forgotten or ignored by students of to-day. The travellers that come hither come to see the glories of our glaciers and fjords,—but they think little or nothing of the vanished tribe of heroes who once possessed the land. If you know your Greek history, you must have heard of Pythias, who lived three hundred and fifty-six years before Christ, and who was taken captive by a band of Norseman and carried away to see 'the place where the sun slept in winter.' Most probably he came to this very spot, the Altenfjord,—at any rate the ancient Greeks had good words to say for the 'Outside Northwinders,' as they called us Norwegians, for they reported us to be 'persons living in peace with their gods and themselves.' Again, one of the oldest tribes in the world came among us in times past,—the Phoenicians,—there are traces among us still of their customs and manners. Yes! we have a great deal to look back upon with pride as well as sorrow,—and much as I hear of the wonders of the New World, the marvels and the go-ahead speed of American manners and civilization,—I would rather be a Norseman than a Yankee." And he laughed.
"There's more dignity in the name, at any rate," said Lorimer. "But I say, Mr. Gueldmar, you are 'up' in history much better than I am. The annals of my country were grounded into my tender soul early in life, but I have a very hazy recollection of them. I know Henry VIII. got rid of his wives expeditiously and conveniently,—and I distinctly remember that Queen Elizabeth wore the first pair of silk stockings, and danced a kind of jig in them with the Earl of Leicester; these things interested me at the time,—and they now seen firmly impressed on my memory to the exclusion of everything else that might possibly be more important."
Old Gueldmar smiled, but Thelma laughed outright and her eyes danced mirthfully.
"Ah, I do know you now!" she said, nodding her fair head at him wisely. "You are not anything that is to be believed! So I shall well understand you,—that is, you are a very great scholar,—but that it pleases you to pretend you are a dunce!"
Lorimer's face brightened into a very gentle and winning softness as he looked at her.
"I assure you, Miss Gueldmar, I am not pretending in the least. I'm no scholar. Errington is, if you like! If it hadn't been for him, I should never have learned anything at Oxford at all. He used to leap over a difficulty while I was looking at it. Phil, don't interrupt me,—you know you did! I tell you he's up to everything: Greek, Latin, and all the rest of it,—and, what's more, he writes well,—I believe,—though he'll never forgive me for mentioning it,—that he has even published some poems."
"Be quiet, George!" exclaimed Errington, with a vexed laugh. "You are boring Miss Gueldmar to death!"
"What is boring?" asked Thelma gently, and then turning her eyes full on the young Baronet, she added, "I like to hear that you will pass your days sometimes without shooting the birds and killing the fish; it can hurt nobody for you to write." And she smiled that dreamy pensive smile, of hers that was so infinitely bewitching. "You must show me all your sweet poems!"
Errington colored hotly. "They are all nonsense, Miss Gueldmar," he said quickly. "There's nothing 'sweet' about them, I tell you frankly! All rubbish, every line of them!"
"Then you should not write them," said Thelma quietly. "It is only a pity and a disappointment."
"I wish every one were of your opinion," laughed Lorimer, "it would spare us a lot of indifferent verse."
"Ah! you have the chief Skald of all the world in your land!" cried Gueldmar, bringing his fist down with a jovial thump on the table. "He can teach you all that you need to know."
"Skald?" queried Lorimer dubiously. "Oh, you mean bard. I suppose you allude to Shakespeare?"
"I do," said the old bonde enthusiastically, "he is the only glory of your country I envy! I would give anything to prove him a Norwegian. By Valhalla! had he but been one of the Bards of Odin, the world might have followed the grand old creed still! If anything could ever persuade me to be a Christian, it would be the fact that Shakespeare was one. If England's name is rendered imperishable, it will be through the fame of Shakespeare alone,—just as we have a kind of tenderness for degraded modern Greece, because of Homer. Ay, ay! countries and nations are worthless enough; it is only the great names of heroes that endure, to teach the lesson that is never learned sufficiently,—namely, that man and man alone is fitted to grasp the prize of immortality."
"Ye believe in immortality?" inquired Macfarlane seriously.
Gueldmar's keen eyes lighted on him with fiery impetuousness.
"Believe in it? I possess it! How can it be taken from me? As well make a bird without wings, a tree without sap, an ocean without depths, as expect to find a man without an immortal soul! What a question to ask? Do you not possess heaven's gift? and why should not I?"
"No offense," said Macfarlane, secretly astonished at the old bonde's fervor,—for had not he, though himself intending to become a devout minister of the Word,—had not he now and then felt a creeping doubt as to whether, after all, there was any truth in the doctrine of another life than this one. "I only thocht ye might have perhaps questioned the probabeelity o't, in your own mind?"
"I never question Divine authority," replied Olaf Gueldmar, "I pity those that do!"
"And this Divine authority?" said Duprez suddenly with a delicate sarcastic smile, "how and where do you perceive it?"
"In the very Law that compels me to exist, young sir," said Gueldmar,—"in the mysteries of the universe about me,—the glory of the heavens,—the wonders of the sea! You have perhaps lived in cities all your life, and your mind is cramped a bit. No wonder, . . . you can hardly see the stars above the roofs of a wilderness of houses. Cities are men's work,—the gods have never had a finger in the building of them. Dwelling in them, I suppose you cannot help forgetting Divine authority altogether; but here,—here among the mountains, you would soon remember it! You should live here,—it would make a man of you!"
"And you do not consider me a man?" inquired Duprez with imperturbable good-humor.
Gueldmar laughed. "Well, not quite!" he admitted candidly, "there's not enough muscle about you. I confess I like to see strong fellows—fellows fit to rule the planet on which they are placed. That's my whim!—but you're a neat little chap enough, and I dare say you can hold your own!"
And his eyes twinkled good-temperedly as he filled himself another glass of his host's fine Burgundy, and drank it off, while Duprez, with a half-plaintive, half-comical shrug of resignation to Gueldmar's verdict on his personal appearance, asked Thelma if she would favor them with a song. She rose from her seat instantly, without any affected hesitation, and went to the piano. She had a delicate touch, and accompanied herself with great taste,—but her voice, full, penetrating, rich and true,—was one of the purest and most sympathetic ever possessed by woman, and its freshness was unspoilt by any of the varied "systems" of torture invented by singing-masters for the ingenious destruction of the delicate vocal organ. She sang a Norwegian love-song in the original tongue, which might be roughly translated as follows:—
"Lovest thou me for my beauty's sake? Love me not then! Love the victorious, glittering Sun, The fadeless, deathless, marvellous One!"
"Lovest thou me for my youth's sake? Love me not then! Love the triumphant, unperishing Spring, Who every year new charms doth bring!"
"Lovest thou me for treasure's sake? Oh, love me not then! Love the deep, the wonderful Sea, Its jewels are worthier love than me!"
"Lovest thou me for Love's own sake? Ah sweet, then love me! More than the Sun and the Spring and the Sea, Is the faithful heart I will yield to thee!"
A silence greeted the close of her song. Though the young men were ignorant of the meaning of the words still old Gueldmar translated them for their benefit, they could feel the intensity of the passion vibrating through her ringing tones,—and Errington sighed involuntarily. She heard the sigh, and turned round on the music-stool laughing.
"Are you so tired, or sad, or what is it?" she asked merrily. "It is too melancholy a tune? And I was foolish to sing it,—because you cannot understand the meaning of it. It is all about love,—and of course love is always sorrowful."
"Always?" asked Lorimer, with a half-smile.
"I do not know," she said frankly, with a pretty deprecatory gesture of her hands,—"but all books say so! It must be a great pain, and also a great happiness. Let me think what I can sing to you now,—but perhaps you will yourself sing?"
"Not one of us have a voice, Miss Gueldmar," said Errington. "I used to think I had, but Lorimer discouraged my efforts."
"Men shouldn't sing," observed Lorimer; "if they only knew how awfully ridiculous they look, standing up in dress-coats and white ties, pouring forth inane love-ditties that nobody wants to hear, they wouldn't do it. Only a woman looks pretty while singing."
"Ah, that is very nice!" said Thelma, with a demure smile. "Then I am agreeable to you when I sing?"
Agreeable? This was far too tame a word—they all rose from the table and came towards her, with many assurances of their delight and admiration; but she put all their compliments aside with a little gesture that was both incredulous and peremptory.
"You must not say so many things in praise of me," she said, with a swift upward glance at Errington, where he leaned on the piano regarding her. "It is nothing to be able to sing. It is only like the birds, but we cannot understand the words they say, just as you cannot understand Norwegian. Listen,—here is a little ballad you will all know," and she played a soft prelude, while her voice, subdued to a plaintive murmur, rippled out in the dainty verses of Sainte-Beuve—
"Sur ma lyre, l'autre fois Dans un bois, Ma main preludait a peine; Une colombe descend En passant, Blanche sur le luth d'ebene"
"Mais au lieu d'accords touchants, De doux chants, La colombe gemissante Me demande par pitie Sa moitie Sa moitie loin d'elle absente!"
She sang this seriously and sweetly till she came to the last three lines, when, catching Errington's earnest gaze, her voice quivered and her cheeks flushed. She rose from the piano as soon as she had finished, and said to the bonde, who had been watching her with proud and gratified looks—
"It is growing late, father. We must say good-bye to our friends and return home."
"Not yet!" eagerly implored Sir Philip. "Come up on deck,—we will have coffee there, and afterwards you shall leave us when you will."
Gueldmar acquiesced in this arrangement, before his daughter had time to raise any objection, and they all went on deck, where a comfortable lounging chair was placed for Thelma, facing the most gorgeous portion of the glowing sky, which on this evening was like a moving mass of molten gold, split asunder here and there by angry ragged-looking rifts of crimson. The young men grouped themselves together at the prow of the vessel in order to smoke their cigars without annoyance to Thelma. Old Gueldmar did not smoke, but he talked,—and Errington after seeing them all fairly absorbed in an argument on the best methods of spearing salmon, moved quietly away to where the girl was sitting, her great pensive eyes fixed on the burning splendors of the heavens.
"Are you warm enough there?" he asked, and there was an unconscious tenderness in his voice as he asked the question, "or shall I fetch you a wrap?"
She smiled. "I have my hood," she said. "It is the warmest thing I ever wear, except, of course, in winter."
Philip looked at the hood as she drew it more closely over her head, and thought that surely no more becoming article of apparel ever was designed for woman's wear. He had never seen anything like it either in color or texture,—it was of a peculiarly warm, rich crimson, like the heart of a red damask rose, and it suited the bright hair and tender, thoughtful eyes of its owner to perfection.
"Tell me," he said, drawing a little nearer and speaking in a lower tone, "have you forgiven me for my rudeness the first time I saw you?"
She looked a little troubled.
"Perhaps also I was rude," she said gently. "I did not know you. I thought—"
"You were quite right," he eagerly interrupted her. "It was very impertinent of me to ask you for your name. I should have found it out for myself, as I have done."
And he smiled at her as he said the last words with marked emphasis. She raised her eyes wistfully.
"And you are glad?" she asked softly and with a sort of wonder in her accents.
"Glad to know your name? glad to know you! Of course! Can you ask such a question?"
"But why?" persisted Thelma. "It is not as if you were lonely,—you have friends already. We are nothing to you. Soon you will go away, and you will think of the Altenfjord as a dream,—and our names will be forgotten. That is natural!"
What a foolish rush of passion filled his heart as she spoke in those mellow, almost plaintive accents,—what wild words leaped to his lips and what an effort it cost him to keep them hack. The heat and impetuosity of Romeo,—whom up to the present he had been inclined to consider a particularly stupid youth,—was now quite comprehensible to his mind, and he, the cool, self-possessed Englishman, was ready at that moment to outrival Juliet's lover, in his utmost excesses of amorous folly. In spite of his self-restraint, his voice quivered a little as he answered her—
"I shall never forget the Altenfjord or you, Miss Gueldmar. Don't you know there are some things that cannot be forgotten? such as a sudden glimpse of fine scenery,—a beautiful song, or a pathetic poem?" She bent her head in assent. "And here there is so much to remember—the light of the midnight sun,—the glorious mountains, the loveliness of the whole land!"
"Is it better than other countries you have seen?" asked the girl with some interest.
"Much better!" returned Sir Philip fervently. "In fact, there is no place like it in my opinion." He paused at the sound of her pretty laughter.
"You are—what is it?—ecstatic!" she said mirthfully. "Tell me, have you been to the south of France and the Pyrenees?"
"Of course I have," he replied. "I have been all over the Continent,—travelled about it till I'm tired of it. Do you like the south of France better than Norway?"
"No,—not so very much better," she said dubiously. "And yet a little. It is so warm and bright there, and the people are gay. Here they are stern and sullen. My father loves to sail the seas, and when I first went to school at Arles, he took me a long and beautiful voyage. We went from Christiansund to Holland, and saw all those pretty Dutch cities with their canals and quaint bridges. Then we went through the English Channel to Brest,—then by the Bay of Biscay to Bayonne. Bayonne seemed to me very lovely, but we left it soon, and travelled a long way by land, seeing all sorts of wonderful things, till we came to Arles. And though it is such a long route, and not one for many persons to take, I have travelled to Arles and back twice that way, so all there is familiar to me,—and in some things I do think it better than Norway."
"What induced your father to send you so far away from him?" asked Philip rather curiously.
The girl's eyes softened tenderly. "Ah, that is easy to understand!" she said. "My mother came from Arles."
"She was French, then?" he exclaimed with some surprise.
"No," she answered gravely. "She was Norwegian, because her father and mother both were of this land. She was what they call 'born sadly.' You must not ask me any more about her, please!"
Errington apologized at once with some embarrassment, and a deeper color than usual on his face. She looked up at him quite frankly.
"It is possible I will tell you her history some day," she said, "when we shall know each other better. I do like to talk to you very much! I suppose there are many Englishmen like you?"
Philip laughed. "I don't think I am at all exceptional! why do you ask?"
She shrugged her shoulders. "I have seen some of them," she said slowly, "and they are stupid. They shoot, shoot,—fish, fish, all day, and eat a great deal. . . ."
"My dear Miss Gueldmar, I also do all these things!" declared Errington amusedly. "These are only our surface faults. Englishmen are the best fellows to be found anywhere. You mustn't judge them by their athletic sports, or their vulgar appetites. You must appeal to their hearts when you want to know them."
"Or to their pockets, and you will know them still better!" said Thelma almost mischievously, as she raised herself in her chair to take a cup of coffee from the tray that was then being handed to her by the respectful steward. "Ah, how good this is! It reminds me of our coffee luncheon at Arles!"
Errington watched her with a half-smile, but said no more, as the others now came up to claim their share of her company.
"I say!" said Lorimer, lazily throwing himself full length on the deck and looking up at her, "come and see us spear a salmon to-morrow, Miss Gueldmar. Your father is going to show us how to do it in the proper Norse style."
"That is for men," said Thelma loftily. "Women must know nothing about such things."
"By Jove!" and Lorimer looked profoundly astonished. "Why, Miss Gueldmar, women are going in for everything nowadays! Hunting, shooting, bull-fighting, duelling, horse-whipping, lecturing,—heaven knows what! They stop at nothing—salmon-spearing is a mere trifle in the list of modern feminine accomplishments."
Thelma smiled down upon him benignly. "You will always be the same," she said with a sort of indulgent air. "It is your delight to say things upside down? But you shall not make me believe that women do all these dreadful things. Because, how is it possible? The men would not allow them!"
Errington laughed, and Lorimer appeared stupefied with surprise.
"The men—would—not—allow them?" he repeated slowly. "Oh, Miss Gueldmar, little do you realize the state of things at the present day! The glamor of Viking memories clings about you still! Don't you know the power of man has passed away, and that ladies do exactly as they like? It is easier to control the thunderbolt than to prevent a woman having her own way."
"All that is nonsense!" said Thelma decidedly. "Where there is a man to rule, he must rule, that is certain."
"Is that positively your opinion?" and Lorimer looked more astonished than ever.
"It is everybody's opinion, of course!" averred Thelma. "How foolish it would be if women did not obey men! The world would be all confusion! Ah, you see you cannot make me think your funny thoughts; it is no use!" And she laughed and rose from her chair, adding with a gentle persuasive air, "Father dear, is it not time to say good-bye?"
"Truly I think it is!" returned Gueldmar, giving himself a shake like an old lion, as he broke off a rather tedious conversation he had been having with Macfarlane. "We shall have Sigurd coming to look for us, and poor Britta will think we have left her too long alone. Thank you, my lad!" this to Sir Philip, who instantly gave orders for the boat to be lowered. "You have given us a day of thorough, wholesome enjoyment. I hope I shall be able to return it in some way. You must let me see as much of you as possible."
They shook hands cordially, and Errington proposed to escort them back as far as their own pier, but this offer Gueldmar refused.
"Nonsense!" he exclaimed cheerily. "With four oarsmen to row us along, why should we take you away from your friends? I won't hear of such a thing! And now, regarding the great fall of Njedegorze; Mr. Macfarlane here says you have not visited it yet. Well the best guide you can have there is Sigurd. We'll make up a party and go when it is agreeable to you; it is a grand sight,—well worth seeing. To-morrow we shall meet again for the salmon-spearing,—I warrant I shall be able to make the time pass quickly for you! How long do you think of staying here?"
"As long as possible!" answered Errington absently, his eyes wandering to Thelma, who was just then shaking hands with his friends and bidding them farewell.
Gueldmar laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "That means till you are tired of the place," he said good-humoredly. "Well you shall not be dull if I can prevent it! Good-bye, and thanks for your hospitality."
"Ah, yes!" added Thelma gently, coming up at that moment and laying her soft hand in his. "I have been so happy all day, and it is all your kindness! I am very grateful!"
"It is I who have cause to be grateful," said Errington hurriedly, clasping her hand warmly, "for your company and that of your father. I trust we shall have many more pleasant days together."
"I hope so too!" she answered simply, and then, the boat being ready, they departed. Errington and Lorimer leaned on the deck-rails, waving their hats and watching them disappear over the gleaming water, till the very last glimpse of Thelma's crimson hood had vanished, and then they turned to rejoin their companions, who were strolling up and down smoking.
"Belle comme un ange!" said Duprez briefly. "In short, I doubt if the angels are so good-looking!"
"The auld pagan's a fine scholar," added Macfarlane meditatively. "He corrected me in a bit o' Latin."
"Did he, indeed?" And Lorimer laughed indolently. "I suppose you think better of him now, Sandy?"
Sandy made no reply, and as Errington persisted in turning the conversation away from the merits or demerits of their recent guests, they soon entered on other topics. But that night, before retiring to rest, Lorimer laid a hand on his friend's shoulder, and said quietly, with a keen look—
"Well, old man, have you made up your mind? Have I seen the future Lady Bruce-Errington?"
Sir Philip smiled,—then, after a brief pause, answered steadily—
"Yes, George, you have! That is,—if I can win her!"
Lorimer laughed a little and sighed. "There's no doubt about that, Phil." And eyeing Errington's fine figure and noble features musingly, he repeated again thoughtfully—"No doubt about that, my boy!" Then after a pause he said, somewhat abruptly, "Time to turn in—good night!"
"Good night, old fellow!" And Errington wrung his hand warmly, and left him to repose.
But Lorimer had rather a bad night,—he tossed and tumbled a good deal, and had dreams,—unusual visitors with him,—and once or twice he muttered in his sleep,—"No doubt about it—not the least in the world—and if there were—"
But the conclusion of this sentence was inaudible.
"Tu vas faire un beau reve, Et t'enivrer d'un plaisir dangereux. Sur ton chemin l'etoile qui se leve Longtemps encore eblouira les yeux!" DE MUSSET.
A fortnight passed. The first excursion in the Eulalie had been followed by others of a similar kind, and Errington's acquaintance with the Gueldmars was fast ripening into a pleasant intimacy. It had grown customary for the young men to spend that part of the day which, in spite of persistent sunshine, they still called evening, in the comfortable, quaint parlor of the old farmhouse,—looking at the view through the rose-wreathed windows,—listening to the fantastic legends of Norway as told by Olaf Gueldmar,—or watching Thelma's picturesque figure, as she sat pensively apart in her shadowed corner spinning. They had fraternized with Sigurd too—that is, as far as he would permit them—for the unhappy dwarf was uncertain of temper, and if at one hour he were docile and yielding as a child, the next he would be found excited and furious at some imaginary slight that he fancied had been inflicted upon him. Sometimes, if good-humored, he would talk almost rationally,—only allowing his fancy to play with poetical ideas concerning the sea, the flowers, or the sunlight,—but he was far more often sullen and silent. He would draw a low chair to Thelma's side, and sit there with half-closed eyes and compressed lips, and none could tell whether he listened to the conversation around him, or was utterly indifferent to it. He had taken a notable fancy to Lorimer, but he avoided Errington in the most marked and persistent manner. The latter did his best to overcome this unreasonable dislike, but his efforts were useless,—and deciding in his own mind that it was best to humor Sigurd's vagaries, he soon let him alone, and devoted his attention more entirely to Thelma.
One evening, after supper at the farmhouse, Lorimer, who for some time had been watching Philip and Thelma conversing together in low tones near the open window, rose from his seat quietly, without disturbing the hilarity of the bonde, who was in the middle of a rollicking sea-story, told for Macfarlane's entertainment,—and slipped out into the garden, where he strolled along rather absently till he found himself in the little close thicket of pines,—the very same spot where he and Philip had stood on the first day of their visit thither. He threw himself down on the soft emerald moss and lit a cigar, sighing rather drearily as he did so.
"Upon my life," he mused, with a half-smile, "I am very nearly being a hero,—a regular stage-martyr,—the noble creature of the piece! By Jove, I wish I were a soldier! I'm certain I could stand the enemy's fire better than this! Self-denial? Well, no wonder the preachers make such a fuss about it, It's a tough, uncomfortable duty. But am I self-denying? Not a bit of it! Look here, George Lorimer"—here he tapped himself very vigorously on his broad chest—"don't you imagine yourself to be either virtuous or magnanimous! If you were anything of a man at all you would never let your feelings get the better of you,—you would be sublimely indifferent, stoically calm,—and, as it is,—you know what a sneaking, hang-dog state of envy you were in just now when you came out of that room! Aren't you ashamed of yourself,—rascal?"
The inner self he thus addressed was most probably abashed by this adjuration, for his countenance cleared a little, as though he had received an apology from his own conscience. He puffed lazily at his cigar, and felt somewhat soothed. Light steps below him attracted his attention, and, looking down from the little knoll on which he lay, he saw Thelma and Philip pass. They were walking slowly along a little winding path that led to the orchard, which was situated at some little distance from the house. The girl's head was bent, and Philip was talking to her with evident eagerness. Lorimer looked after them earnestly, and his honest eyes were full of trouble.
"God bless them both!" he murmured half aloud. "There's no harm in saying that, any how! Dear old Phil! I wonder whether—"
What he would have said was uncertain, for at that moment he was considerably startled by the sight of a meagre, pale face peering through the parted pine boughs,—a face in which two wild eyes shone with a blue-green glitter, like that of newly sharpened steel.
"Hello, Sigurd!" said Lorimer good-naturedly, as he recognized his visitor. "What are you up to? Going to climb a tree?"
Sigurd pushed aside the branches cautiously and approached. He sat down by Lorimer, and, taking his hand, kissed it deferentially.
"I followed you. I saw you go away to grieve alone. I came to grieve also!" he said with a patient gentleness.
Lorimer laughed languidly. "By Jove, Sigurd, you're too clever for your age! Think I came away to grieve, eh? Not so, my boy—came away to smoke! There's a come-down for you! I never grieve—don't know how to do it. What is grief?"
"To love!" answered Sigurd promptly. "To see a beautiful elf with golden wings come fluttering, fluttering gently down from the sky,—you open your arms to catch her—so! . . . and just as you think you have her, she leans only a little bit on one side, and falls, not into your heart—no!—into the heart of some one else! That is grief, because, when she has gone, no more elves come down from the sky,—for you, at any rate,—good things may come for others,—but for you the heavens are empty!"
Lorimer was silent, looking at the speaker curiously.
"How do you get all this nonsense into your head, eh?" he inquired kindly.
"I do not know," replied Sigurd with a sigh. "It comes! But, tell me,"—and he smiled wistfully—"it is true, dear friend—good friend—it is all true, is it not? For you the heavens are empty? You know it!"
Lorimer flushed hotly, and then grew strangely pale. After a pause, he said in his usual indolent way—
"Look here, Sigurd; you're romantic! I'm not. I know nothing about elves or empty heavens. I'm all right! Don't you bother yourself about me."
The dwarf studied his face attentively, and a smile of almost fiendish cunning suddenly illumined his thin features. He laid his weak-looking white hand on the young man's arm and said in a lower tone—
"I will tell you what to do. Kill him!"
The last two words were uttered with such intensity of meaning that Lorimer positively recoiled from the accents, and the terrible look which accompanied them.
"I say, Sigurd, this won't do," he remonstrated gravely. "You mustn't talk about killing, you know! It's not good for you. People don't kill each other nowadays so easily as you seem to think. It can't be done, Sigurd! Nobody wants to do it."
"It can be done!" reiterated the dwarf imperatively. "It must be done, and either you or I will do it! He shall not rob us,—he shall not steal the treasure of the golden midnight. He shall not gather the rose of all roses—"
"Stop!" said Lorimer suddenly. "Who are you talking about?"
"Who!" cried Sigurd excitedly. "Surely you know. Of him—that tall, proud, grey-eyed Englishman,—your foe, your rival; the rich, cruel Errington. . . ."