Patron Julius

Patron Julius carried down his red painted wooden chest from the pensioners’ wing. He filled with fragrant brandy a green keg, which had followed him on many journeys, and in the big carved luncheon-box he put butter, bread, and seasoned cheese, deliciously shading in green and brown, fat ham, and pancakes swimming in raspberry jam.

Then Patron Julius went about and said farewell, with tears in his eyes, to all the glory of Ekeby. He caressed for the last time the worn balls in the bowling-alley and the round-cheeked youngsters on the estate. He went about to the arbors in the garden and the grottos in the park. He was in stable and cow-house, patted the horses’ necks, shook the angry bull’s horns, and let the calves lick his bare hand. Finally he went with weeping eyes to the main building, where the farewell breakfast awaited him.

Woe to our existence! How can it be full of so much darkness? There was poison in the food, gall in the wine.

The pensioners’ throats were compressed by emotion as well as his own. A mist of tears dimmed the eyes. The farewell speech was broken by sobs. Woe to our existence! His life would be, from now on, one long desire. He would never smile again; the ballads should die from his memory as flowers die in the autumn ground. He should grow pale and thin, wither like a frostbitten rose, like a thirsting lily. Never more should the pensioners see poor Julius. Heavy forebodings traversed his soul, just as shadows of windswept clouds traverse our newly tilled fields. He would go home to die.

Blooming with health and well-being, he now stood before them. Never again should they see him so. Never more should they jestingly ask him when he last saw his feet; never more should they wish for his cheeks for bowls. In liver and lungs the disease had already settled. It was gnawing and consuming. He had felt it long. His days were numbered.

Oh, will the Ekeby pensioners but remember death? Oh, may they never forget him!

Duty called him. There in his home sat his mother and waited for him. For seventeen years she had waited for him to come home from Ekeby. Now she had written a summoning letter, and he would obey. He knew that it would be his death; but he would obey like a good son.

Oh, the glorious feasts! Oh, the fair shores, the proud falls! Oh, the wild adventures, the white, smooth floors, the beloved pensioners’ wing! Oh, violins and horns, oh, life of happiness and pleasure! It was death to be parted from all that.

Then Patron Julius went out into the kitchen and said farewell to the servants of the house. Each and all, from the housekeeper to kitchen-girl, he embraced and kissed in overflowing emotion. The maids wept and lamented over his fate: that such a kind and merry gentleman should die, that they should never see him again.

Patron Julius gave command that his chaise should be dragged out of the carriage-house and his horse taken out of the stable.

His voice almost failed him when he gave that order. So the chaise might not mould in peace at Ekeby, so old Kajsa must be parted from the well-known manger. He did not wish to say anything hard about his mother; but she ought to have thought of the chaise and Kajsa, if she did not think of him. How would they bear the long journey?

The most bitter of all was to take leave of the pensioners.

Little, round Patron Julius, more built to roll than to walk, felt himself tragic to his very fingertips. He felt himself the great Athenian, who calmly emptied the poison cup in the circle of weeping students. He felt himself the old King Gösta, who prophesied to Sweden’s people that they some day should wish to tear him up from the dust.

Finally he sang his best ballad for them. He thought of the swan, who dies in singing. It was so, he hoped, that they would remember him⁠—a kingly spirit, which does not lower itself to complaining, but goes its way, borne on melody.

At last the last cup was emptied, the last song sung, the last embrace given. He had his coat on, and he held the whip in his hand. There was not a dry eye about him; his own were so filled by sorrow’s rising mist that he could not see anything.

Then the pensioners seized him and lifted him up. Cheers thundered about him. They put him down somewhere, he did not see where. A whip cracked, the carriage seemed to move under him. He was carried away. When he recovered the use of his eyes he was out on the highway.

The pensioners had really wept and been overcome by deep regret; still their grief had not stifled all the heart’s glad emotions. One of them⁠—was it Gösta Berling, the poet, or Beerencreutz, the card-playing old warrior, or the life-weary Cousin Christopher?⁠—had arranged it so that old Kajsa did not have to be taken from her stall, nor the mouldering chaise from the coach-house. Instead, a big spotted ox had been harnessed to a hay-wagon, and after the red chest, the green keg, and the carved luncheon-box had been put in there, Patron Julius himself, whose eyes were dim with tears, was lifted up, not on to the luncheon-box, nor on to the chest, but on to the spotted ox’s back.

For so is man, too weak to meet sorrow in all its bitterness! The pensioners honestly mourned for their friend, who was going away to die⁠—that withered lily, that mortally wounded singing swan; yet the oppression of their hearts was relieved when they saw him depart riding on the big ox’s back, while his fat body was shaken with sobs, his arms, outspread for the last embrace, sank down in despair, and his eyes sought sympathy in an unkind heaven.

Out on the highway the mists began to clear for Patron Julius, and he perceived that he was sitting on the shaking back of an animal. And then people say that he began to ponder on what can happen in seventeen long years. Old Kajsa was visibly changed. Could the oats and clover of Ekeby cause so much? And he cried⁠—I do not know if the stones in the road or the birds in the bushes heard it, but true it is that he cried⁠—“The devil may torture me, if you have not got horns, Kajsa!”

After another period of consideration he let himself slide gently down from the back of the ox, climbed up into the wagon, sat down on the luncheon-box, and drove on, deep in his thoughts.

After a while, when he has almost reached Broby, he hears singing.

It was the merry young ladies from Berga, and some of the judge’s pretty daughters, who were walking along the road. They had fastened their lunch-baskets on long sticks, which rested on their shoulders like guns, and they were marching bravely on in the summer’s heat, singing in good time.

“Whither away, Patron Julius?” they cried, when they met him, without noticing the cloud of grief which obscured his brow.

“I am departing from the home of sin and vanity,” answered Patron Julius. “I will dwell no longer among idlers and malefactors. I am going home to my mother.”

“Oh,” they cried, “it is not true; you do not want to leave Ekeby, Patron Julius!”

“Yes,” he said, and struck his wooden chest with his fist. “As Lot fled from Sodom and Gomorrah, so do I flee from Ekeby. There is not a righteous man there. But when the earth crumbles away under them, and the sulphur rain patters down from the sky, I shall rejoice in God’s just judgment. Farewell, girls; beware of Ekeby!”

Whereupon he wished to continue on his way; but that was not at all their plan. They meant to walk up to Dunder Cliff, to climb it; but the road was long, and they felt inclined to ride in Julius’ wagon to the foot of the mountain. Inside of two minutes the girls had got their way. Patron Julius turned back and directed his course towards Dunder Cliff. Smiling, he sat on his chest, while the wagon was filled with girls. Along the road grew daisies and buttercups. The ox had to rest every now and then for a while. Then the girls climbed out and picked flowers. Soon gaudy wreaths hung on Julius’ head and the ox’s horns.

Further on they came upon bright young birches and dark alder-bushes. They got out and broke branches to adorn the wagon. It looked, soon, like a moving grove. It was fun and play the whole day.

Patron Julius became milder and brighter as the day went on. He divided his provisions among the girls, and sang ballads for them. When they stood on the top of Dunder Cliff, with the wide panorama lying below, so proud and beautiful that tears came into their eyes at its loveliness, Julius felt his heart beat violently; words poured from his lips, and he spoke of his beloved land.

“Ah, Värmland,” he said, “ever beautiful, ever glorious! Often, when I have seen thee before me on a map, I have wondered what thou might represent; but now I understand what thou art. Thou art an old, pious hermit, who sits quiet and dreams, with crossed legs and hands resting in his lap. Thou hast a pointed cap drawn down over thy half-shut eyes. Thou art a muser, a holy dreamer, and thou art very beautiful. Wide forests are thy dress. Long bands of blue water and parallel chains of blue hills border it. Thou art so simple that strangers do not see how beautiful thou art. Thou art poor, as the devout desire to be. Thou sittest still, while Vänern’s waves wash thy feet and thy crossed legs. To the left thou hast thy fields of ore and thy ironworks. There is thy beating heart. To the north thou hast the dark, beautiful regions of the wilderness, of mystery. There is thy dreaming head.

“When I see thee, gigantic, serious, my eyes are filled with tears. Thou art stern in thy beauty. Thou art meditation, poverty, resignation; and yet I see in thy sternness the tender features of kindness. I see thee and worship. If I only look into the deep forest, if only the hem of thy garment touches me, my spirit is healed. Hour after hour, year after year, I have gazed into thy holy countenance. What mystery are you hiding under lowered eyelids, thou spirit of resignation? Hast thou solved the enigma of life and death, or art thou wondering still, thou holy, thou giant-like? For me thou art the keeper of great, serious thoughts. But I see people crawl on thee and about thee, creatures who never seem to see the majesty of earnestness on thy brow. They only see the beauty of thy face and thy limbs, and are so charmed by it that they forget all else.

“Woe is me, woe to us all, children of Värmland! Beauty, beauty and nothing else, we demand of life. We, children of renunciation, of seriousness, of poverty, raise our hands in one long prayer, and ask the one good: beauty. May life be like a rosebush, with blossoms of love, wine, and pleasure, and may its roses be within every man’s reach! Yes, that is what we wish, and our land wears the features of sternness, earnestness, renunciation. Our land is the eternal symbol of meditation, but we have no thoughts.

“Oh, Värmland, beautiful and glorious!”

So he spoke, with tears in his eyes, and with voice vibrating with inspiration. The young girls heard him with wonder and not without emotion. They had little guessed the depth of feeling which was hidden under that surface, glittering with jests and laughter.

When it drew towards evening, and they once more climbed into the hay-wagon, the girls hardly knew whither Patron Julius drove them, until they stopped before the steps at Ekeby.

“Now we will go in here and have a dance, girls,” said Patron Julius.

What did the pensioners say when they saw Patron Julius come with a withered wreath round his hat, and the hay-cart full of girls?

“We might have known that the girls had carried him off,” they said; “otherwise we should have had him back here several hours earlier.” For the pensioners remembered that this was exactly the seventeenth time Patron Julius had tried to leave Ekeby, once for every departing year. Now Patron Julius had already forgotten both this attempt and all the others. His conscience slept once more its yearlong sleep.

He was a doughty man, Patron Julius. He was light in the dance, gay at the card-table. Pen, pencil, and fiddle-bow lay equally well in his hand. He had an easily moved heart, fair words on his tongue, a throat full of songs. But what would have been the good of all that if he had not possessed a conscience, which made itself be felt only once a year, like the dragonflies, which free themselves from the gloomy depths and take wings to live only a few hours in the light of day and in the glory of the sun?