The Auction at Björne

We young people often had to wonder at the old people’s tales. “Was there a ball every day, as long as your radiant youth lasted?” we asked them. “Was life then one long adventure?”

“Were all young women beautiful and lovely in those days, and did every feast end by Gösta Berling carrying off one of them?”

Then the old people shook their worthy heads, and began to tell of the whirring of the spinning-wheel and the clatter of the loom, of work in the kitchen, of the thud of the flail and the path of the axe through the forest; but it was not long before they harked back to the old theme. Then sledges drove up to the door, horses speeded away through the dark woods with the joyous young people; then the dance whirled and the violin-strings snapped. Adventure’s wild chase roared about Löfven’s long lake with thunder and crash. Far away could its noise be heard. The forest tottered and fell, all the powers of destruction were let loose; fire flamed out, floods laid waste the land, wild beasts roamed starving about the farmyards. Under the light-footed horses’ hoofs all quiet happiness was trampled to dust. Wherever the hunt rushed by, men’s hearts flamed up in madness, and the women in pale terror had to flee from their homes.

And we young ones sat wondering, silent, troubled, but blissful. “What people!” we thought. “We shall never see their like.”

“Did the people of those days never think of what they were doing?” we asked.

“Of course they thought, children,” answered the old people.

“But not as we think,” we insisted.

But the old people did not understand what we meant.

But we thought of the strange spirit of self-consciousness which had already taken possession of us. We thought of him, with his eyes of ice and his long, bent fingers⁠—he who sits there in the soul’s darkest corner and picks to pieces our being, just as old women pick to pieces bits of silk and wool.

Bit by bit had the long, hard, crooked fingers picked, until our whole self lay there like a pile of rags, and our best impulses, our most original thoughts, everything which we had done and said, had been examined, investigated, picked to pieces, and the icy eyes had looked on, and the toothless mouth had laughed in derision and whispered⁠—

“See, it is rags, only rags.”

There was also one of the people of that time who had opened her soul to the spirit with the icy eyes. In one of them he sat, watching the causes of all actions, sneering at both evil and good, understanding everything, condemning nothing, examining, seeking out, picking to pieces, paralyzing the emotions of the heart and the power of the mind by sneering unceasingly.

The beautiful Marianne bore the spirit of introspection within her. She felt his icy eyes and sneers follow every step, every word. Her life had become a drama where she was the only spectator. She had ceased to be a human being, she did not suffer, she was not glad, nor did she love; she carried out the beautiful Marianne Sinclair’s role, and self-consciousness sat with staring, icy eyes and busy, picking fingers, and watched her performance.

She was divided into two halves. Pale, unsympathetic, and sneering, one half sat and watched what the other half was doing; and the strange spirit who picked to pieces her being never had a word of feeling or sympathy.

But where had he been, the pale watcher of the source of deeds, that night, when she had learned to know the fullness of life? Where was he when she, the sensible Marianne, kissed Gösta Berling before a hundred pairs of eyes, and when in a gust of passion she threw herself down in the snowdrift to die? Then the icy eyes were blinded, then the sneer was weakened, for passion had raged through her soul. The roar of adventure’s wild hunt had thundered in her ears. She had been a whole person during that one terrible night.

Oh, you god of self-mockery, when Marianne with infinite difficulty succeeded in lifting her stiffened arms and putting them about Gösta’s neck, you too, like old Beerencreutz, had to turn away your eyes from the earth and look at the stars.

That night you had no power. You were dead while she sang her love-song, dead while she hurried down to Sjö after the major, dead when she saw the flames redden the sky over the tops of the trees.

For they had come, the mighty storm-birds, the griffins of demoniac passions. With wings of fire and claws of steel they had come swooping down over you, you icy-eyed spirit; they had struck their claws into your neck and flung you far into the unknown. You have been dead and crushed.

But now they had rushed on⁠—they whose course no sage can predict, no observer can follow; and out of the depths of the unknown had the strange spirit of self-consciousness again raised itself and had once again taken possession of Marianne’s soul.

During the whole of February Marianne lay ill at Ekeby. When she sought out the major at Sjö she had been infected with smallpox. The terrible illness had taken a great hold on her, who had been so chilled and exhausted. Death had come very near to her, but at the end of the month she had recovered. She was still very weak and much disfigured. She would never again be called the beautiful Marianne.

This, however, was as yet only known to Marianne and her nurse. The pensioners themselves did not know it. The sickroom where smallpox raged was not open to anyone.

But when is the introspective power greater than during the long hours of convalescence? Then the fiend sits and stares and stares with his icy eyes, and picks and picks with his bony, hard fingers. And if one looks carefully, behind him sits a still paler creature, who stares and sneers, and behind him another and still another, sneering at one another and at the whole world.

And while Marianne lay and looked at herself with all these staring icy eyes, all natural feelings died within her.

She lay there and played she was ill; she lay there and played she was unhappy, in love, longing for revenge.

She was it all, and still it was only a play. Everything became a play and unreality under those icy eyes, which watched her while they were watched by a pair behind them, which were watched by other pairs in infinite perspective.

All the energy of life had died within her. She had found strength for glowing hate and tender love for one single night, not more.

She did not even know if she loved Gösta Berling. She longed to see him to know if he could take her out of herself.

While under the dominion of her illness, she had had only one clear thought: she had worried lest her illness should be known. She did not wish to see her parents; she wished no reconciliation with her father, and she knew that he would repent if he should know how ill she was. Therefore she ordered that her parents and everyone else should only know that the troublesome irritation of the eyes, which she always had when she visited her native country, forced her to sit in a darkened room. She forbade her nurse to say how ill she was; she forbade the pensioners to go after the doctor at Karlstad. She had of course smallpox, but only very lightly; in the medicine-chest at Ekeby there were remedies enough to save her life.

She never thought of death; she only lay and waited for health, to be able to go to the clergyman with Gösta and have the banns published.

But now the sickness and the fever were gone. She was once more cold and sensible. It seemed to her as if she alone was sensible in this world of fools. She neither hated nor loved. She understood her father; she understood them all. He who understands does not hate.

She had heard that Melchior Sinclair meant to have an auction at Björne and make way with all his wealth, that she might inherit nothing after him. People said that he would make the devastation as thorough as possible; first he would sell the furniture and utensils, then the cattle and implements, and then the house itself with all its lands, and would put the money in a bag and sink it to the bottom of the Löfven. Dissipation, confusion, and devastation should be her inheritance. Marianne smiled approvingly when she heard it: such was his character, and so he must act.

It seemed strange to her that she had sung that great hymn to love. She had dreamed of love in a cottage, as others have done. Now it seemed odd to her that she had ever had a dream.

She sighed for naturalness. She was tired of this continual play. She never had a strong emotion. She only grieved for her beauty, but she shuddered at the compassion of strangers.

Oh, one second of forgetfulness of herself! One gesture, one word, one act which was not calculated!

One day, when the rooms had been disinfected and she lay dressed on a sofa, she had Gösta Berling called. They answered her that he had gone to the auction at Björne.

At Björne there was in truth a big auction. It was an old, rich home. People had come long distances to be present at the sale.

Melchior Sinclair had flung all the property in the house together in the great drawing-room. There lay thousands of articles, collected in piles, which reached from floor to ceiling.

He had himself gone about the house like an angel of destruction on the day of judgment, and dragged together what he wanted to sell. Everything in the kitchen⁠—the black pots, the wooden chairs, the pewter dishes, the copper kettles, all were left in peace, for among them there was nothing which recalled Marianne; but they were the only things which escaped his anger.

He burst into Marianne’s room, turning everything out. Her dollhouse stood there, and her bookcase, the little chair he had had made for her, her trinkets and clothes, her sofa and bed, everything must go.

And then he went from room to room. He tore down everything he found unpleasant, and carried great loads down to the auction-room. He panted under the weight of sofas and marble slabs; but he went on. He had thrown open the sideboards and taken out the magnificent family silver. Away with it! Marianne had touched it. He filled his arms with snow-white damask and with shining linen sheets with hemstitching as wide as one’s hand⁠—honest homemade work, the fruit of many years of labor⁠—and flung them down together on the piles. Away with them! Marianne was not worthy to own them. He stormed through the rooms with piles of china, not caring if he broke the plates by the dozen, and he seized the hand-painted cups on which the family arms were burned. Away with them! Let anyone who will use them! He staggered under mountains of bedding from the attic: bolsters and pillows so soft that one sunk down in them as in a wave. Away with them! Marianne had slept on them.

He cast fierce glances on the old, well-known furniture. Was there a chair where she had not sat, or a sofa which she had not used, or a picture which she had not looked at, a candlestick which had not lighted her, a mirror which had not reflected her features? Gloomily he shook his fist at this world of memories. He would have liked to have rushed on them with swinging club and to have crushed everything to small bits and splinters.

But it seemed to him a more famous revenge to sell them all at auction. They should go to strangers! Away to be soiled in the cottagers’ huts, to be in the care of indifferent strangers. Did he not know them, the dented pieces of auction furniture in the peasants’ houses, fallen into dishonor like his beautiful daughter? Away with them! May they stand with torn-out stuffing and worn-off gilding, with cracked legs and stained leaves, and long for their former home! Away with them to the ends of the earth, so that no eye can find them, no hand gather them together!

When the auction began, he had filled half the hall with an incredible confusion of piled-up articles.

Right across the room he had placed a long counter. Behind it stood the auctioneer and put up the things; there the clerks sat and kept the record, and there Melchior Sinclair had a keg of brandy standing. In the other half of the room, in the hall, and in the yard were the buyers. There were many people, and much noise and gayety. The bids followed close on one another, and the auction was lively. But by the keg of brandy, with all his possessions in endless confusion behind him, sat Melchior Sinclair, half drunk and half mad. His hair stood up in rough tufts above his red face; his eyes were rolling, fierce, and bloodshot. He shouted and laughed, as if he had been in the best of moods; and everyone who had made a good bid he called up to him and offered a dram.

Among those who saw him there was Gösta Berling, who had stolen in with the crowd of buyers, but who avoided coming under Melchior Sinclair’s eyes. He became thoughtful at the sight, and his heart stood still, as at a presentiment of a misfortune.

He wondered much where Marianne’s mother could be during all this. And he went out, against his will, but driven by fate, to find Madame Gustava Sinclair.

He had to go through many doors before he found her. Her husband had short patience and little fondness for wailing and women’s complaints. He had wearied of seeing her tears flow over the fate which had befallen her household treasures. He was furious that she could weep over table and bed linen, when, what was worse, his beautiful daughter was lost; and so he had hunted her, with clenched fists, before him, through the house, out into the kitchen, and all the way to the pantry.

She could not go any farther, and he had rejoiced at seeing her there, cowering behind the stepladder, awaiting heavy blows, perhaps death. He let her stay there, but he locked the door and stuffed the key in his pocket. She could sit there as long as the auction lasted. She did not need to starve, and his ears had rest from her laments.

There she still sat, imprisoned in her own pantry, when Gösta came through the corridor between the kitchen and the dining-room. He saw her face at a little window high up in the wall. She had climbed up on the stepladder, and stood staring out of her prison.

“What are you doing up there?” asked Gösta.

“He has shut me in,” she whispered.

“Your husband?”

“Yes. I thought he was going to kill me. But listen, Gösta, take the key of the dining-room door, and go into the kitchen and unlock the pantry door with it, so that I can come out. That key fits here.”

Gösta obeyed, and in a couple of minutes the little woman stood in the kitchen, which was quite deserted.

“You should have let one of the maids open the door with the dining-room key,” said Gösta.

“Do you think I want to teach them that trick? Then I should never have any peace in the pantry. And, besides, I took this chance to put the upper shelves in order. They needed it, indeed. I cannot understand how I could have let so much rubbish collect there.”

“You have so much to attend to,” said Gösta.

“Yes, that you may believe. If I were not everywhere, neither the loom nor the spinning-wheel would be going right. And if⁠—”

Here she stopped and wiped away a tear from the corner of her eye.

“God help me, how I do talk!” she said; “they say that I won’t have anything more to look after. He is selling everything we have.”

“Yes, it is a wretched business,” said Gösta.

“You know that big mirror in the drawing-room, Gösta. It was such a beauty, for the glass was whole in it, without a flaw, and there was no blemish at all on the gilding. I got it from my mother, and now he wants to sell it.”

“He is mad.”

“You may well say so. He is not much better. He won’t stop until we shall have to go and beg on the highway, we as well as the major’s wife.”

“It will never be so bad as that,” answered Gösta.

“Yes, Gösta. When the major’s wife went away from Ekeby, she foretold misfortune for us, and now it is coming. She would never have allowed him to sell Björne. And think, his own china, the old Canton cups from his own home, are to be sold. The major’s wife would never have let it happen.”

“But what is the matter with him?” asked Gösta.

“Oh, it is only because Marianne has not come back again. He has waited and waited. He has gone up and down the avenue the whole day and waited for her. He is longing himself mad, but I do not dare to say anything.”

“Marianne believes that he is angry with her.”

“She does not believe that. She knows him well enough; but she is proud and will not take the first step. They are stiff and hard, both of them, and I have to stand between them.”

“You must know that Marianne is going to marry me?”

“Alas, Gösta, she will never do that. She says that only to make him angry. She is too spoiled to marry a poor man, and too proud, too. Go home and tell her that if she does not come home soon, all her inheritance will have gone to destruction. Oh, he will throw everything away, I know, without getting anything for it.”

Gösta was really angry with her. There she sat on a big kitchen table, and had no thought for anything but her mirrors and her china.

“You ought to be ashamed!” he burst out. “You throw your daughter out into a snowdrift, and then you think that it is only temper that she does not come back. And you think that she is no better than to forsake him whom she cares for, lest she should lose her inheritance.”

“Dear Gösta, don’t be angry, you too. I don’t know what I am saying. I tried my best to open the door for Marianne, but he took me and dragged me away. They all say here that I don’t understand anything. I shall not grudge you Marianne, Gösta, if you can make her happy. It is not so easy to make a woman happy, Gösta.”

Gösta looked at her. How could he too have raised his voice in anger against such a person as she⁠—terrified and cowed, but with such a good heart!

“You do not ask how Marianne is,” he said gently.

She burst into tears.

“Will you not be angry with me if I ask you?” she said. “I have longed to ask you the whole time. Think that I know no more of her than that she is living. Not one greeting have I had from her the whole time, not once when I sent clothes to her, and so I thought that you and she did not want to have me know anything about her.”

Gösta could bear it no longer. He was wild, he was out of his head⁠—sometimes God had to send his wolves after him to force him to obedience⁠—but this old woman’s tears, this old woman’s laments were harder for him to bear than the howling of the wolves. He let her know the truth.

“Marianne has been ill the whole time,” he said. “She has had smallpox. She was to get up today and lie on the sofa. I have not seen her since the first night.”

Madame Gustava leaped with one bound to the ground. She left Gösta standing there, and rushed away without another word to her husband.

The people in the auction-room saw her come up to him and eagerly whisper something in his ear. They saw how his face grew still more flushed, and his hand, which rested on the cock, turned it round so that the brandy streamed over the floor.

It seemed to all as if Madame Gustava had come with such important news that the auction must end immediately. The auctioneer’s hammer no longer fell, the clerks’ pens stopped, there were no new bids.

Melchior Sinclair roused himself from his thoughts.

“Well,” he cried, “what is the matter?”

And the auction was in full swing once more.

Gösta still sat in the kitchen, and Madame Gustava came weeping out to him.

“It’s no use,” she said. “I thought he would stop when he heard that Marianne had been ill; but he is letting them go on. He would like to, but now he is ashamed.”

Gösta shrugged his shoulders and bade her farewell.

In the hall he met Sintram.

“This is a funny show,” exclaimed Sintram, and rubbed his hands. “You are a master, Gösta. Lord, what you have brought to pass!”

“It will be funnier in a little while,” whispered Gösta. “The Broby clergyman is here with a sledge full of money. They say that he wants to buy the whole of Björne and pay in cash. Then I would like to see Melchior Sinclair, Sintram.”

Sintram drew his head down between his shoulders and laughed internally a long time. And then he made his way into the auction-room and up to Melchior Sinclair.

“If you want a drink, Sintram, you must make a bid first.”

Sintram came close up to him.

“You are in luck today as always,” he said. “A fellow has come to the house with a sledge full of money. He is going to buy Björne and everything both inside and out. He has told a lot of people to bid for him. He does not want to show himself yet for a while.”

“You might say who he is; then I suppose I must give you a drink for your pains.”

Sintram took the dram and moved a couple of steps backwards, before he answered⁠—

“They say it is the Broby clergyman, Melchior.”

Melchior Sinclair had many better friends than the Broby clergyman. It had been a lifelong feud between them. There were legends of how he had lain in wait on dark nights on the roads where the minister should pass, and how he had given him many an honest drubbing, the old fawning oppressor of the peasants.

It was well for Sintram that he had drawn back a step or two, but he did not entirely escape the big man’s anger. He got a brandy glass between his eyes and the whole brandy keg on his feet. But then followed a scene which for a long time rejoiced his heart.

“Does the Broby clergyman want my house?” roared Melchior Sinclair. “Do you stand there and bid on my things for the Broby clergyman? Oh, you ought to be ashamed! You ought to know better!”

He seized a candlestick, and an inkstand, and slung them into the crowd of people.

All the bitterness of his poor heart at last found expression. Roaring like a wild beast, he clenched his fist at those standing about, and slung at them whatever missile he could lay his hand on. Brandy glasses and bottles flew across the room. He did not know what he was doing in his rage.

“It’s the end of the auction,” he cried. “Out with you! Never while I live shall the Broby clergyman have Björne. Out! I will teach you to bid for the Broby clergyman!”

He rushed on the auctioneer and the clerks. They hurried away. In the confusion they overturned the desk, and Sinclair with unspeakable fury burst into the crowd of peaceful people.

There was a flight and wildest confusion. A couple of hundred people were crowding towards the door, fleeing before a single man. And he stood, roaring his “Out with you!” He sent curses after them, and now and again he swept about him with a chair, which he brandished like a club.

He pursued them out into the hall, but no farther. When the last stranger had left the house, he went back into the drawing-room and bolted the door after him. Then he dragged together a mattress and a couple of pillows, laid himself down on them, went to sleep in the midst of all the havoc, and never woke till the next day.

When Gösta got home, he heard that Marianne wished to speak to him. That was just what he wanted. He had been wondering how he could get a word with her.

When he came into the dim room where she lay, he had to stand a moment at the door. He could not see where she was.

“Stay where you are, Gösta,” Marianne said to him. “It may be dangerous to come near me.”

But Gösta had come up the stairs in two bounds, trembling with eagerness and longing. What did he care for the contagion? He wished to have the bliss of seeing her.

For she was so beautiful, his beloved! No one had such soft hair, such an open, radiant brow. Her whole face was a symphony of exquisite lines.

He thought of her eyebrows, sharply and clearly drawn like the honey-markings on a lily, and of the bold curve of her nose, and of her lips, as softly turned as rolling waves, and of her cheek’s long oval and her chin’s perfect shape.

And he thought of the rosy hue of her skin, of the magical effect of her coal-black eyebrows with her light hair, and of her blue irises swimming in clear white, and of the light in her eyes.

She was beautiful, his beloved! He thought of the warm heart which she hid under a proud exterior. She had strength for devotion and self-sacrifice concealed under that fine skin and her proud words. It was bliss to see her.

He had rushed up the stairs in two bounds, and she thought that he would stop at the door. He stormed through the room and fell on his knees at the head of her bed.

But he meant to see her, to kiss her, and to bid her farewell.

He loved her. He would certainly never cease to love her, but his heart was used to being trampled on. Oh, where should he find her, that rose without support or roots, which he could take and call his own? He might not keep even her whom he had found disowned and half dead at the roadside.

When should his love raise its voice in a song so loud and clear that he should hear no dissonance through it? When should his palace of happiness be built on a ground for which no other heart longed restlessly and with regret?

He thought how he would bid her farewell.

“There is great sorrow in your home,” he would say. “My heart is torn at the thought of it. You must go home and give your father his reason again. Your mother lives in continual danger of death. You must go home, my beloved.”

These were the words he had on his lips, but they were never spoken.

He fell on his knees at the head of her bed, and he took her face between his hands and kissed her; but then he could not speak. His heart began to beat so fiercely, as if it would burst his breast.

Smallpox had passed over that lovely face. Her skin had become coarse and scarred. Never again should the red blood glow in her cheeks, or the fine blue veins show on her temples. Her eyebrows had fallen out, and the shining white of her eyes had changed to yellow.

Everything was laid waste. The bold lines had become coarse and heavy.

They were not few who mourned over Marianne Sinclair’s lost beauty. In the whole of Värmland, people lamented the change in her bright color, her sparkling eyes, and blond hair. There beauty was prized as nowhere else. The joyous people grieved, as if the country had lost a precious stone from the crown of its honor, as if their life had received a blot on its glory.

But the first man who saw her after she had lost her beauty did not indulge in sorrow.

Unutterable emotion filled his soul. The more he looked at her, the warmer it grew within him. Love grew and grew, like a river in the spring. In waves of fire it welled up in his heart, it filled his whole being, it rose to his eyes as tears; it sighed on his lips, trembled in his hands, in his whole body.

Oh, to love her, to protect her, to keep her from all harm!

To be her slave, her guide!

Love is strong when it has gone through the baptismal fire of pain. He could not speak to Marianne of parting and renunciation. He could not leave her⁠—he owed her his life. He could commit the unpardonable sin for her sake.

He could not speak a coherent word, he only wept and kissed, until at last the old nurse thought it was time to lead him out.

When he had gone, Marianne lay and thought of him and his emotion. “It is good to be so loved,” she thought.

Yes, it was good to be loved, but how was it with herself? What did she feel? Oh, nothing, less than nothing!

Was it dead, her love, or where had it taken flight? Where had it hidden itself, her heart’s child?

Did it still live? Had it crept into her heart’s darkest corner and sat there freezing under the icy eyes, frightened by the pale sneer, half suffocated under the bony fingers?

“Ah, my love,” she sighed, “child of my heart! Are you alive, or are you dead, dead as my beauty?”

The next day Melchior Sinclair went in early to his wife.

“See to it that there is order in the house again, Gustava!” he said. “I am going to bring Marianne home.”

“Yes, dear Melchior, here there will of course be order,” she answered.

Thereupon there was peace between them.

An hour afterwards he was on his way to Ekeby.

It was impossible to find a more noble and kindly old gentleman than Melchior Sinclair, as he sat in the open sledge in his best fur cloak and his best rug. His hair lay smooth on his head, but his face was pale and his eyes were sunken in their sockets.

There was no limit to the brilliancy of the clear sky on that February day. The snow sparkled like a young girl’s eyes when she hears the music of the first waltz. The birches stretched the fine lacework of their reddish-brown twigs against the sky, and on some of them hung a fringe of little icicles.

There was a splendor and a festive glow in the day. The horses prancing threw up their forelegs, and the coachman cracked his whip in sheer pleasure of living.

After a short drive the sledge drew up before the great steps at Ekeby.

The footman came out.

“Where are your masters?” asked Melchior.

“They are hunting the great bear in Gurlitta Cliff.”

“All of them?”

“All of them, sir. Those who do not go for the sake of the bear go for the sake of the luncheon.”

Melchior laughed so that it echoed through the silent yard. He gave the man a crown for his answer.

“Go say to my daughter that I am here to take her home. She need not be afraid of the cold. I have the big sledge and a wolfskin cloak to wrap her in.”

“Will you not come in, sir?”

“Thank you! I sit very well where I am.”

The man disappeared, and Melchior began his waiting.

He was in such a genial mood that day that nothing could irritate him. He had expected to have to wait a little for Marianne; perhaps she was not even up. He would have to amuse himself by looking about him for a while.

From the cornice hung a long icicle, with which the sun had terrible trouble. It began at the upper end, melted a drop, and wanted to have it run down along the icicle and fall to the earth. But before it had gone half the way, it had frozen again. And the sun made continual new attempts, which always failed. But at last a regular freebooter of a ray hung itself on the icicle’s point, a little one, which shone and sparkled; and however it was, it accomplished its object⁠—a drop fell tinkling to the ground.

Melchior looked on and laughed. “You were not such a fool,” he said to the ray of sunlight.

The yard was quiet and deserted. Not a sound was heard in the big house. But he was not impatient. He knew that women needed plenty of time to make themselves ready.

He sat and looked at the dovecote. The birds had a grating before the door. They were shut in, as long as the winter lasted, lest hawks should exterminate them. Time after time a pigeon came and stuck out its white head through the meshes.

“She is waiting for the spring,” said Melchior Sinclair, “but she must have patience for a while.”

The pigeon came so regularly that he took out his watch and followed her, with it in his hand. Exactly every third minute she stuck out her head.

“No, my little friend,” he said, “do you think spring will be ready in three minutes? You must learn to wait.”

And he had to wait himself; but he had plenty of time.

The horses first pawed impatiently in the snow, but then they grew sleepy from standing and blinking in the sun. They laid their heads together and slept.

The coachman sat straight on his box, with whip and reins in his hand and his face turned directly towards the sun, and slept, slept so that he snored.

But Melchior did not sleep. He had never felt less like sleeping. He had seldom passed pleasanter hours than during this glad waiting. Marianne had been ill. She had not been able to come before, but now she would come. Oh, of course she would. And everything would be well again.

She must understand that he was not angry with her. He had come himself with two horses and the big sledge.

It is nothing to have to wait when one is sure of one’s self, and when there is so much to distract one’s mind.

There comes the great watchdog. He creeps forward on the tips of his toes, keeps his eyes on the ground, and wags his tail gently, as if he meant to set out on the most indifferent errand. All at once he begins to burrow eagerly in the snow. The old rascal must have hidden there some stolen goods. But just as he lifts his head to see if he can eat it now undisturbed, he is quite out of countenance to see two magpies right in front of him.

“You old thief!” say the magpies, and look like conscience itself. “We are police officers. Give up your stolen goods!”

“Oh, be quiet with your noise! I am the steward⁠—”

“Just the right one,” they sneer.

The dog throws himself on them, and they fly away with slow flaps. The dog rushes after them, jumps, and barks. But while he is chasing one, the other is already back. She flies down into the hole, tears at the piece of meat, but cannot lift it. The dog snatches away the meat, holds it between his paws, and bites in it. The magpies place themselves close in front of him, and make disagreeable remarks. He glares fiercely at them, while he eats, and when they get too impertinent, he jumps up and drives them away.

The sun began to sink down towards the western hills. Melchior looked at his watch. It is three o’clock. And his wife, who had had dinner ready at twelve!

At the same moment the footman came out and announced that Miss Marianne wished to speak to him.

Melchior laid the wolfskin cloak over his arm and went beaming up the steps.

When Marianne heard his heavy tread on the stairs, she did not even then know if she should go home with him or not. She only knew that she must put an end to this long waiting.

She had hoped that the pensioners would come home; but they did not come. So she had to do something to put an end to it all. She could bear it no longer.

She had thought that he in a burst of anger would have driven away after he had waited five minutes, or that he would break the door in or try to set the house on fire.

But there he sat calm and smiling, and only waited. She cherished neither hatred nor love for him. But there was a voice in her which seemed to warn her against putting herself in his power again, and moreover she wished to keep her promise to Gösta.

If he had slept, if he had spoken, if he had been restless, if he had shown any sign of doubt, if he had had the carriage driven into the shade! But he was only patience and certainty.

Certain, so infectiously certain, that she would come if he only waited!

Her head ached. Every nerve quivered. She could get no rest as long as she knew that he sat there. It was as if his will dragged her bound down the stairs.

So she thought she would at least talk with him.

Before he came, she had all the curtains drawn up, and she placed herself so that her face came in the full light.

For it was her intention to put him to a sort of test; but Melchior Sinclair was a wonderful man that day.

When he saw her, he did not make a sign, nor did he exclaim. It was as if he had not seen any change in her. She knew how highly he prized her beauty. But he showed no sorrow. He controlled himself not to wound her. That touched her. She began to understand why her mother had loved him through everything.

He showed no hesitation. He came with neither reproaches nor excuses.

“I will wrap the wolfskin about you, Marianne; it is not cold. It has been on my knees the whole time.”

To make sure, he went up to the fire and warmed it.

Then he helped her to raise herself from the sofa, wrapped the cloak about her, put a shawl over her head, drew it down under her arms, and knotted it behind her back.

She let him do it. She was helpless. It was good to have everything arranged, it was good not to have to decide anything, especially good for one who was so picked to pieces as she, for one who did not possess one thought or one feeling which was her own.

Melchior lifted her up, carried her down to the sleigh, closed the top, tucked the furs in about her, and drove away from Ekeby.

She shut her eyes and sighed, partly from pleasure, partly from regret. She was leaving life, the real life; but it did not make so much difference to her⁠—she who could not live but only act.

A few days later her mother arranged that she should meet Gösta. She sent for him while her husband was off on his long walk to see after his timber, and took him in to Marianne.

Gösta came in; but he neither bowed nor spoke. He stood at the door and looked on the ground like an obstinate boy.

“But, Gösta!” cried Marianne. She sat in her armchair and looked at him half amused.

“Yes, that is my name.”

“Come here, come to me, Gösta!”

He went slowly forward to her, but did not raise his eyes.

“Come nearer! Kneel down here!”

“Lord God, what is the use of all that?” he cried; but he obeyed.

“Gösta, I want to tell you that I think it was best that I came home.”

“Let us hope that they will not throw you out in the snowdrift again.”

“Oh, Gösta, do you not care for me any longer? Do you think that I am too ugly?”

He drew her head down and kissed her, but he looked as cold as ever.

She was almost amused. If he was pleased to be jealous of her parents, what then? It would pass. It amused her to try and win him back. She did not know why she wished to keep him, but she did. She thought that it was he who had succeeded for once in freeing her from herself. He was the only one who would be able to do it again.

And now she began to speak, eager to win him back. She said that it had not been her meaning to desert him for good, but for a time they must for appearance’s sake break off their connection. He must have seen, himself, that her father was on the verge of going mad, that her mother was in continual danger of her life. He must understand that she had been forced to come home.

Then his anger burst out in words. She need not give herself so much trouble. He would be her plaything no longer. She had given him up when she had gone home, and he could not love her any more. When he came home the day before yesterday from his hunting-trip and found her gone without a message, without a word, his blood ran cold in his veins, he had nearly died of grief. He could not love anyone who had given him such pain. She had, besides, never loved him. She was a coquette, who wanted to have someone to kiss her and caress her when she was here in the country, that was all.

Did he think that she was in the habit of allowing young men to caress her?

Oh yes, he was sure of it. Women were not so saintly as they seemed. Selfishness and coquetry from beginning to end! No, if she could know how he had felt when he came home from the hunt. It was as though he had waded in ice-water. He should never get over that pain. It would follow him through the whole of his life. He would never be the same person again.

She tried to explain to him how it had all happened. She tried to convince him that she was still faithful. Well, it did not matter, for now he did not love her any more. He had seen through her. She was selfish. She did not love him. She had gone without leaving him a message.

He came continually back to that. She really enjoyed the performance. She could not be angry, she understood his wrath so well. She did not fear any real break between them. But at last she became uneasy. Had there really been such a change in him that he could no longer care for her?

“Gösta,” she said, “was I selfish when I went to Sjö after the major; I knew that they had smallpox there. Nor is it pleasant to go out in satin slippers in the cold and snow.”

“Love lives on love, and not on services and deeds,” said Gösta.

“You wish, then, that we shall be as strangers from now on, Gösta?”

“That is what I wish.”

“You are very changeable, Gösta Berling.”

“People often charge me with it.”

He was cold, impossible to warm, and she was still colder. Self-consciousness sat and sneered at her attempt to act love.

“Gösta,” she said, making a last effort, “I have never intentionally wronged you, even if it may seem so. I beg of you, forgive me!”

“I cannot forgive you.”

She knew that if she had possessed a real feeling she could have won him back. And she tried to play the impassioned. The icy eyes sneered at her, but she tried nevertheless. She did not want to lose him.

“Do not go, Gösta! Do not go in anger! Think how ugly I have become! No one will ever love me again.”

“Nor I, either,” he said. “You must accustom yourself to see your heart trampled upon as well as another.”

“Gösta, I have never loved anyone but you. Forgive me. Do not forsake me! You are the only one who can save me from myself.”

He thrust her from him.

“You do not speak the truth,” he said with icy calmness. “I do not know what you want of me, but I see that you are lying. Why do you want to keep me? You are so rich that you will never lack suitors.”

And so he went.

And not until he had closed the door, did regret and pain in all their strength take possession of Marianne’s heart.

It was love, her heart’s own child, who came out of the corner where the cold eyes had banished him. He came, he for whom she had so longed when it was too late.

When Marianne could with real certainty say to herself that Gösta Berling had forsaken her, she felt a purely physical pain so terrible that she almost fainted. She pressed her hands against her heart, and sat for hours in the same place, struggling with a tearless grief.

And it was she herself who was suffering, not a stranger, nor an actress. It was she herself. Why had her father come and separated them? Her love had never been dead. It was only that in her weak condition after her illness she could not appreciate his power.

O God, O God, that she had lost him! O God, that she had waked so late!

Ah, he was the only one, he was her heart’s conqueror! From him she could bear anything. Hardness and angry words from him bent her only to humble love. If he had beaten her, she would have crept like a dog to him and kissed his hand.

She did not know what she would do to get relief from this dull pain.

She seized pen and paper and wrote with terrible eagerness. First she wrote of her love and regret. Then she begged, if not for his love, only for his pity. It was a kind of poem she wrote.

When she had finished she thought that if he should see it he must believe that she had loved him. Well, why should she not send what she had written to him? She would send it the next day, and she was sure that it would bring him back to her.

The next day she spent in agony and in struggling with herself. What she had written seemed to her paltry and so stupid. It had neither rhyme nor metre. It was only prose. He would only laugh at such verses.

Her pride was roused too. If he no longer cared for her, it was such a terrible humiliation to beg for his love.

Sometimes her good sense told her that she ought to be glad to escape from the connection with Gösta, and all the deplorable circumstances which it had brought with it.

Her heart’s pain was still so terrible that her emotions finally conquered. Three days after she had become conscious of her love, she enclosed the verses and wrote Gösta Berling’s name on the cover. But they were never sent. Before she could find a suitable messenger she heard such things of Gösta Berling that she understood it was too late to win him back.

But it was the sorrow of her life that she had not sent the verses in time, while she could have won him.

All her pain fastened itself on that point: “If I only had not waited so long, if I had not waited so many days!”

The happiness of life, or at any rate the reality of life, would have been won to her through those written words. She was sure they would have brought him back to her.

Grief, however, did her the same service as love. It made her a whole being, potent to devote herself to good as well as evil. Passionate feelings filled her soul, unrestrained by self-consciousness’s icy chill. And she was, in spite of her plainness, much loved.

But they say that she never forgot Gösta Berling. She mourned for him as one mourns for a wasted life.

And her poor verses, which at one time were much read, are forgotten long ago. I beg of you to read them and to think of them. Who knows what power they might have had, if they had been sent? They are impassioned enough to bear witness of a real feeling. Perhaps they could have brought him back to her.

They are touching enough, tender enough in their awkward formlessness. No one can wish them different. No one can want to see them imprisoned in the chains of rhyme and metre, and yet it is so sad to think that it was perhaps just this imperfection which prevented her from sending them in time.

I beg you to read them and to love them. It is a person in great trouble who has written them.

“Child, thou hast loved once, but nevermore
Shalt thou taste of the joys of love!
A passionate storm has raged through thy soul
Rejoice thou hast gone to thy rest!
No more in wild joy shall thou soar up on high
Rejoice, thou hast gone to thy rest!
No more shalt thou sink in abysses of pain,
Oh, nevermore.

“Child, thou hast loved once, but nevermore
Shall your soul burn and scorch in the flames.
Thou wert as a field of brown, sun-dried grass
Flaming with fire for a moment’s space;
From the whirling smoke-clouds the fiery sparks
Drove the birds of heaven with piercing cries.
Let them return! Thou burnest no more!⁠—
Wilt burn nevermore.

“Child, thou hast loved, but now nevermore
Shalt thou hear love’s murmuring voice.
Thy young heart’s strength, like a weary child
That sits still and tired on the hard school-bench,
Yearns for freedom and pleasure.
But no man calleth it more like a forgotten song;
No one sings it more⁠—nevermore.

“Child, the end has now come!
And with it gone love and love’s joy.
He whom thou lovedst as if he had taught thee
With wings to hover through space,
He whom thou lovedst as if he had given thee
Safety and home when the village was flooded,
Is gone, who alone understood
The key to the door of thy heart.

“I ask but one thing of thee, O my beloved:
‘Lay not upon me the load of thy hate!’
That weakest of all things, the poor human heart,
How can it live with the pang and the thought
That it gave pain to another?

“O my beloved, if thou wilt kill me,
Use neither dagger nor poison nor rope!
Say only you wish me to vanish
From the green earth and the kingdom of life,
And I shall sink to my grave.

“From thee came life of life; thou gavest me love,
And now thou recallest thy gift, I know it too well.
But do not give me thy hate!
I still have love of living! Oh, remember that;
But under a load of hate I have but to die.”