God’s Wayfarer

God’s wayfarer, Captain Lennart, came one afternoon in August wandering up to the Broby inn and walked into the kitchen there. He was on his way to his home, Helgesäter, which lies a couple of miles northwest of Broby, close to the edge of the wood.

Captain Lennart did not then know that he was to be one of God’s wanderers on the earth. His heart was full of joy that he should see his home again. He had suffered a hard fate; but now he was at home, and all would be well. He did not know that he was to be one of those who may not rest under their own roof, nor warm themselves at their own fires.

God’s wayfarer, Captain Lennart, had a cheerful spirit. As he found no one in the kitchen, he poked about like a wild boy. He threw the cat at the dog’s head, and laughed till it rang through the house when the two comrades let the heat of the moment break through old friendship, and fought with tooth and nail and fiery eyes.

The innkeeper’s wife came in, attracted by the noise. She stopped on the threshold and looked at the man, who was laughing at the struggling animals. She knew him well; but when she saw him last, he had been sitting in the prison-van with handcuffs on his wrists. She remembered it well. Five years and a half ago, during the winter fair in Karlstad, thieves had stolen the jewels of the governor’s wife. Many rings, bracelets, and buckles, much prized by the noble lady⁠—for most of them were heirlooms and presents⁠—had then been lost. They had never been found. But a rumor spread through the land that Captain Lennart at Helgesäter was the thief.

She had never been able to understand how such a rumor had started. He was such a good and honorable man. He lived happily with his wife, whom he had only a few years before brought home, for he had not been able to afford to marry before. Had he not a good income from his pay and his estate? What could tempt such a man to steal old bracelets and rings? And still more strange it seemed to her that such a rumor could be so believed, so proven, that Captain Lennart was discharged from the army, lost his order of the Sword, and was condemned to five years’ hard labor.

He himself had said that he had been at the market, but had left before he heard anything of the theft. On the highway he had found an ugly old buckle, which he had taken home and given to the children. The buckle, however, was of gold, and belonged to the stolen things; that was the cause of his misfortune. It had all been Sintram’s work. He had accused him, and given the condemning testimony. It seemed as if he wanted to get rid of Captain Lennart, for a short time after a lawsuit was opened against himself, because it had been discovered that he had sold powder to the Norwegians during the war of 1814. People believed that he was afraid of Captain Lennart’s testimony. As it was, he was acquitted on the ground of not proven.

She could not stare at him enough. His hair had grown gray and his back bent; he must have suffered. But he still had his friendly face and his cheerful spirit. He was still the same Captain Lennart who had led her forward to the altar, as a bride, and danced at her wedding. She felt sure he would still stop and chat with everybody he met on the road and throw a copper to every child; he would still say to every wrinkled old woman that she grew younger and prettier every day; and he would still sometimes place himself on a barrel and play the fiddle for those who danced about the Maypole.

“Well, Mother Karin,” he began, “are you afraid to look at me?”

He had come especially to hear how it was in his home, and whether they expected him. They must know that he had worked out his time.

The innkeeper’s wife gave him the best of news. His wife had worked like a man. She had leased the estate from the new owner, and everything had succeeded for her. The children were healthy, and it was a pleasure to see them. And of course they expected him. His wife was a hard woman, who never spoke of what she thought, but she knew that no one was allowed to eat with Captain Lennart’s spoon or to sit in his chair while he was away. This spring, no day had passed without her coming out to the stone at the top of Broby hill and looking down the road. And she had put in order new clothes for him, home-woven clothes, on which she herself had done nearly all the work. By that one could see that he was expected, even if she said nothing.

“They don’t believe it, then?” said Captain Lennart.

“No, captain,” answered the peasant woman. “Nobody believes it.”

Then Captain Lennart would stop no longer; then he wished to go home.

It happened that outside the door he met some dear old friends. The pensioners at Ekeby had just come to the inn. Sintram had invited them thither to celebrate his birthday. And the pensioners did not hesitate a minute before shaking the convict’s hand and welcoming him home. Even Sintram did it.

“Dear Lennart,” he said, “were you certain that God had any meaning in it all?”

“Do you not think I know,” cried Captain Lennart, “that it was not our Lord who saved you from the block?”

The others laughed. But Sintram was not at all angry. He was pleased when people spoke of his compact with the devil.

Yes, then they took Captain Lennart in with them again to empty a glass of welcome; after, he could go his way. But it went badly for him. He had not drunk such treacherous things for five years. Perhaps he had eaten nothing the whole day, and was exhausted by his long journey on foot. The result was that he was quite confused after a couple of glasses.

When the pensioners had got him into a state when he no longer knew what he was doing, they forced on him glass after glass, and they meant no harm by it; it was with good intention towards him, who had not tasted anything good for five years.

Otherwise he was one of the most sober of men. It is also easy to understand that he had no intention to get drunk; he was to have gone home to wife and children. But instead he was lying on the bench in the barroom, and was sleeping there.

While he lay there, temptingly unconscious, Gösta took a piece of charcoal and a little cranberry-juice and painted him. He gave him the face of a criminal; he thought that most suitable for one who came direct from jail. He painted a black eye, drew a red scar across his nose, plastered his hair down on his forehead in matted tangles, and smeared his whole face.

They laughed at it for a while, then Gösta wished to wash it off.

“Let it be,” said Sintram, “so that he can see it when he wakes. It will amuse him.”

So they left it as it was, and thought no more of the captain. The feasting lasted the whole night. They broke up at daybreak. There was more wine than sense in their heads.

The question was what they should do with Captain Lennart. “We will go home with him,” said Sintram. “Think how glad his wife will be! It will be a pleasure to see her joy. I am moved when I think of it. Let us go home with him!”

They were all moved at the thought. Heavens, how glad she would be!

They shook life into Captain Lennart and lifted him into one of the carriages which the sleepy grooms had long since driven up. And so the whole mob drove up to Helgesäter; some of them, half-asleep, nearly fell out of the carriage, others sang to keep awake. They looked little better than a company of tramps, with dull eyes and swollen faces.

They arrived at last, left the horses in the backyard and marched with a certain solemnity up to the steps. Beerencreutz and Julius supported Captain Lennart between them.

“Pull yourself together, Lennart,” they said to him, “you are at home. Don’t you see that you’re at home?”

He got his eyes open and was almost sober. He was touched that they had accompanied him home.

“Friends,” he said, and stopped to speak to them all, “have asked God, friends, why so much evil has passed over me.”

“Shut up, Lennart, don’t preach!” cries Beerencreutz.

“Let him go on,” says Sintram. “He speaks well.”

“Have asked Him and not understood; understand now. He wanted to show me what friends I had; friends who follow me home to see mine and my wife’s joy. For my wife is expecting me. What are five years of misery compared to that?”

Now hard fists pounded on the door. The pensioners had no time to hear more.

Within there was commotion. The maids awoke and looked out. They threw on their clothes, but did not dare to open for that crowd of men. At last the bolt was drawn. The captain’s wife herself came out.

“What do you want?” she asked.

It was Beerencreutz who answered:⁠—

“We are here with your husband.”

They pushed forward Captain Lennart, and she saw him reel towards her, drunk, with a prizefighter’s face; and behind him she saw the crowd of drunken, reeling men.

She took a step back; he followed with outstretched arms. “You left me as a thief,” she cried, “and come home as a vagabond.” Whereupon she turned to go in.

He did not understand. He wished to follow her, but she struck him a blow on the breast.

“Do you think that I will receive such a man as you as master in my house and over my children?”

The door slammed and the key turned in the lock.

Captain Lennart threw himself against the door and began to shake it.

The pensioners could not help it, they began to laugh. He had been so sure of his wife, and now she would have nothing to do with him. It was absurd, they thought.

When Captain Lennart heard them laughing, he rushed after them and wished to beat them. They ran away and leaped into their carriages, he after them; but in his eagerness he stumbled over a stone and fell. He got up again, but pursued them no farther. A thought struck him in his confusion. In this world nothing happens without God’s will, nothing.

“Where wilt thou lead me?” he said. “I am a feather, driven by thy breath. I am thy plaything. Whither wilt thou send me? Why dost thou shut the doors of my home to me?”

He turned away from his home, believing that it was God’s will.

When the sun rose he stood at the top of Broby hill and looked out over the valley. Ah, little did the poor people in the valley know that their rescuer was near. No mothers as yet lifted their children on their arms that they might see him as he came. The cottages were not clean and in order, with the black hearth hidden by fragrant juniper. As yet the men did not work with eager industry in the fields that his eyes might be gladdened by the sight of cared-for crops and well-dug ditches.

Alas, where he stood his sorrowful eyes saw the ravages of the drought, how the crops were burned up, and how the people scarcely seemed to trouble themselves to prepare the earth for the coming year. He looked up at the blue mountains, and the sharp morning sun showed him the blackened stretches where the forest-fires had passed. He understood by many small signs, by the tumble-down fences, by the small amount of wood which had been carted home and sawed, that the people were not looking after their affairs, that want had come, and that they sought consolation in indifference and brandy.

Captain Lennart stood there on Broby hill and began to think that God perhaps needed him. He was not called home by his wife.

The pensioners could not at all understand what their fault had been; Sintram held his tongue. His wife was much blamed through all the neighborhood, because she had been too proud to receive such a good husband. People said that anyone who tried to talk to her of him was instantly interrupted. She could not bear to hear his name spoken. Captain Lennart did nothing to give her other thoughts.

It was a day later.

An old peasant is lying on his deathbed. He has taken the sacrament, and his strength is gone; he must die.

Restless as one who is to set off on a long journey, he has his bed moved from the kitchen to the bedroom and from the bedroom back to the kitchen. By that they understand, more than by the heavy rattling and the failing eyes, that his time has come.

Round about him stand his wife, his children, and servants. He has been fortunate, rich, esteemed. He is not forsaken on his deathbed. The old man speaks of himself as if he stood in the presence of God, and with sighs and confirming words those about him bear witness that he speaks the truth.

“I have been an industrious worker and a kind master,” he says. “I have loved my wife like my right hand. I have not let my children grow up without discipline and care. I have not drunk. I have not moved my boundary line. I have not hurried my horse up the hills. I have not let the cows starve in winter. I have not let the sheep be tortured by their wool in summer.”

And round about him the weeping servants repeat like an echo: “He has been a kind master. He has not hurried the horse up the hills, nor let the sheep sweat in their wool in summer.”

But through the door unnoticed a poor man has come in to ask for a little food. He also hears the words of the dying man from where he stands silent by the door.

And the sick man resumes: “I have opened up the forest, I have drained the meadows. I drove the plough in straight furrows. I built three times as big a barn for three times as big a harvest as in my father’s time. Of shining money I had three silver goblets made; my father only made one. God shall give me a good place in his heaven.”

“Our Lord will receive our master well,” say the servants.

The man by the door hears the words, and terror fills him who for five long years has been God’s plaything.

He goes up to the sick man and takes his hand.

“Friend, friend,” he says, and his voice trembles, “have you considered who the Lord is before whose face you soon must appear? He is a great God, a terrible God. The earth is his pasture. The storm his horse. Wide heavens shake under the weight of his foot. And you stand before him and say: ‘I have ploughed straight furrows, I have sowed rye, I have chopped wood.’ Will you praise yourself to him and compare yourself to him? You do not know how mighty the Lord is to whose kingdom you are going.

“Do not come before your God with big words!” continues the wayfarer. “The mighty on the earth are like threshed-out straw in his barn. His day’s work is to make suns. He has dug out oceans and raised up mountains. Bend before him! Lie low in the dust before your Lord, your God! Catch like a child at the hem of his garment and beg for protection! Humble yourself before your Creator!”

The sick man’s eyes stand wide-open, his hands are clasped, but his face lights up and the rattling ceases.

“Soul, soul,” cries the man, “as surely as you now in your last hour humble yourself before your God, will he take you like a child on his arm and carry you into the glory of his heaven.”

The old man gives a last sigh, and all is over. Captain Lennart bends his head and prays. Everyone in the room prays with heavy sighs.

When they look up the old peasant lies in quiet peace. His eyes seem still to shine with the reflection of glorious visions, his mouth smiles, his face is beautiful. He has seen God.

“He has seen God,” says the son, and closes the dead man’s eyes.

“He saw heaven opening,” sob the children and servants.

The old wife lays her shaking hand on Captain Lennart’s.

“You helped him over the worst, captain.”

It was that hour which drove Captain Lennart out among the people. Else he would have gone home and let his wife see his real face, but from that time he believed that God needed him. He became God’s wayfarer, who came with help to the poor. Distress was great, and there was much suffering which good sense and kindness could help better than gold and power.

Captain Lennart came one day to the poor peasants who lived in the neighborhood of Gurlitta Cliff. Among them there was great want; there were no more potatoes, and the rye could not be sown, as they had no seed.

Then Captain Lennart took a little boat and rowed across the lake to Fors and asked Sintram to give them rye and potatoes. Sintram received him well: he took him to the big, well-stocked grain-houses and down into the cellar, where the potatoes of last year’s crop were, and let him fill all the bags and sacks he had with him.

But when Sintram saw the little boat, he thought that it was too small for such a load. He had the sacks carried to one of his big boats, and his servant, big Mons, row it across the lake. Captain Lennart had only his empty boat to attend to.

He came however after Mons, for the latter was a master of rowing and a giant in strength. Captain Lennart sits and dreams, while he rows across the beautiful lake, and thinks of the little seed-corns’ wonderful fate. They were to be thrown out on the black earth among stones and stubble, but they would sprout and take root in the wilderness. He thinks how the soft, light-green shoots will cover the earth, and how, finally, when the ears are filled with soft, sweet kernels, the scythe will pass, and the straws fall, and the flail thunder over them, and the mill crush the kernels to meal, and the meal be baked into bread⁠—ah, how much hunger will be satisfied by the grain in the boat in front of him!

Sintram’s servant landed at the pier of the Gurlitta people, and many hungry men came down to the boat.

Then the man said, as his master had ordered:⁠—

“The master sends you malt and grain, peasants. He has heard that you have no brandy.”

Then the people became as mad. They rushed down to the boat and ran out into the water to seize on bags and sacks, but that had never been Captain Lennart’s meaning. He had now come, and he was furious when he saw what they were doing. He wanted to have the potatoes for food, and the rye for seed; he had never asked for malt.

He called to the people to leave the sacks alone, but they did not obey.

“May the rye turn to sand in your mouths, and the potatoes to stone in your throats!” he cried, for he was very angry because they had taken the grain.

It looked as if Captain Lennart had worked a miracle. Two women, who were fighting for a bag, tore a hole in it and found only sand; the men who lifted up the potato-sacks, felt how heavy they were, as if filled with stones.

It was all sand and stones, only sand and stones. The people stood in silent terror of God’s miracle-worker who had come to them. Captain Lennart was himself for a moment seized with astonishment. Only Mons laughed.

“Go home, fellow,” said Captain Lennart, “before the peasants understand that there has never been anything but sand in these sacks; otherwise I am afraid they will sink your boat.”

“I am not afraid,” said the man.

“Go,” said Captain Lennart, with such an imperious voice that he went.

Then Captain Lennart let the people know that Sintram had fooled them, but they would not believe anything but that a miracle had happened. The story of it spread soon, and as the people’s love of the supernatural is great, it was generally believed that Captain Lennart could work wonders. He won great power among the peasants, and they called him God’s wayfarer.