Old Songs

Marianne Sinclair sat one quiet afternoon at the end of August in her room and arranged her old letters and other papers.

Round about her was disorder. Great leather trunks and iron bound boxes had been dragged into the room. Her clothes covered the chairs and sofas. From attics and wardrobes and from the stained chests of drawers everything had been taken out, glistening silk and linen, jewels spread out to be polished, shawls and furs to be selected and inspected.

Marianne was making herself ready for a long journey. She was not certain if she should ever return to her home. She was at a turning-point in her life and therefore burned a mass of old letters and diaries. She did not wish to be weighed down with records of the past.

As she sits there, she finds a bundle of old verses. They were copies of old ballads, which her mother used to sing to her when she was little. She untied the string which held them together, and began to read.

She smiled sadly when she had read for a while; the old songs spoke strange wisdom.

Have no faith in happiness, have no faith in the appearance of happiness, have no faith in roses.

“Trust not laughter,” they said. “See, the lovely maiden Valborg drives in a golden coach, and her lips smile, but she is as sorrowful as if hoofs and wheels were passing over her life’s happiness.”

“Trust not the dance,” they said. “Many a foot whirls lightly over polished floor, while the heart is heavy as lead.”

“Trust not the jest,” they said. “Many a one goes to the feast with jesting lips, while she longs to die for pain.”

In what shall one believe? In tears and sorrow!

He who is sorrowful can force himself to smile, but he who is glad cannot weep.

But joy is only sorrow disguised. There is nothing real on earth but sorrow.

She went to the window and looked out into the garden, where her parents were walking. They went up and down the broad paths and talked of everything which met their eyes, of the grass and the birds.

“See,” said Marianne, “there goes a heart which sighs with sorrow, because it has never been so happy before.”

And she thought suddenly that perhaps everything really depended on the person himself, that sorrow and joy depended upon the different ways of looking at things. She asked herself if it were joy or sorrow which had passed over her that year. She hardly knew herself.

She had lived through a bitter time. Her soul had been sick. She had been bowed down to the earth by her deep humiliation. For when she returned to her home she had said to herself, “I will remember no evil of my father.” But her heart did not agree. “He has caused me such mortal pain,” it said; “he has parted me from him I loved; he made me desperate when he struck my mother. I wish him no harm, but I am afraid of him.” And then she noticed how she had to force herself to sit still when her father sat down beside her; she longed to flee from him. She tried to control herself; she talked with him as usual and was almost always with him. She could conquer herself, but she suffered beyond endurance. She ended by detesting everything about him: his coarse loud voice, his heavy tread, his big hands. She wished him no harm, but she could no longer be near him without a feeling of fear and repulsion. Her repressed heart revenged itself. “You would not let me love,” it said, “but I am nevertheless your master; you shall end by hating.”

Accustomed as she was to observe everything which stirred within her, she saw too well how this repulsion became stronger, how it grew each day. At the same time she seemed to be tied forever to her home. She knew that it would be best for her to go away among people, but she could not bring herself to it since her illness. It would never be any better. She would only be more and more tortured, and some day her self-control would give way, and she would burst out before her father and show him the bitterness of her heart, and then there would be strife and unhappiness.

So had the spring and early summer passed. In July she had become engaged to Baron Adrian, in order to have her own home.

One fine forenoon Baron Adrian had galloped up to the house, riding a magnificent horse. His hussar jacket had shone in the sun, his spurs and sword and belt had glittered and flashed, to say nothing of his own fresh face and smiling eyes.

Melchior Sinclair had stood on the steps and welcomed him when he came. Marianne had sat at the window and sewed. She had seen him come, and now heard every word he said to her father.

“Good day, Sir Sunshine!” cried Melchior. “How fine you are! You are not out to woo?”

“Yes, yes, uncle, that is just what I am,” he answered, and laughed.

“Is there no shame in you, boy? What have you to maintain a wife with?”

“Nothing, uncle. Had I anything, I would never get married.”

“Do you say that, do you say that, Sir Sunshine? But that fine jacket⁠—you have had money enough to get you that?”

“On credit, uncle.”

“And the horse you are riding, that is worth a lot of money, I can tell you. Where did you get that?”

“The horse is not mine, uncle.”

This was more than Melchior could withstand.

“God be with you, boy,” he said. “You do indeed need a wife who has something. If you can win Marianne, take her.”

So everything had been made clear between them before Baron Adrian had even dismounted. But Melchior Sinclair knew very well what he was about, for Baron Adrian was a fine fellow.

Then the suitor had come in to Marianne and immediately burst out with his errand.

“Oh, Marianne, dear Marianne. I have already spoken to uncle. I would like so much to have you for my wife. Say that you will, Marianne.”

She had got at the truth. The old baron, his father, had let himself be cheated into buying some used-up mines again. The old baron had been buying mines all his life, and never had anything been found in them. His mother was anxious, he himself was in debt, and now he was proposing to her in order to thereby save the home of his ancestors and his hussar jacket.

His home was Hedeby; it lay on the other side of the lake, almost opposite Björne. She knew him well; they were of the same age and playmates.

“You might marry me, Marianne. I lead such a wretched life. I have to ride on borrowed horses and cannot pay my tailor’s bills. It can’t go on. I shall have to resign, and then I shall shoot myself.”

“But, Adrian, what kind of a marriage would it be? We are not in the least in love with one another.”

“Oh, as for love, I care nothing for all that nonsense,” he had then explained. “I like to ride a good horse and to hunt, but I am no pensioner, I am a worker. If I only could get some money, so that I could take charge of the estate at home and give my mother some peace in her old age, I should be happy. I should both plough and sow, for I like work.”

Then he had looked at her with his honest eyes, and she knew that he spoke the truth and that he was a man to depend upon. She engaged herself to him, chiefly to get away from her home, but also because she had always liked him.

But never would she forget that month which followed the August evening when her engagement was announced⁠—all that time of madness.

Baron Adrian became each day sadder and more silent. He came very often to Björne, sometimes several times a day, but she could not help noticing how depressed he was. With others he could still jest, but with her he was impossible, silent and bored. She understood what was the matter: it was not so easy as he had believed to marry an ugly woman. No one knew better than she how ugly she was. She had shown him that she did not want any caresses or lovemaking, but he was nevertheless tortured by the thought of her as his wife, and it seemed worse to him day by day. Why did he care? Why did he not break it off? She had given hints which were plain enough. She could do nothing. Her father had told her that her reputation would not bear any more ventures in being engaged. Then she had despised them both, and anyway seemed good enough to get away from them. But only a couple of days after the great engagement feast a sudden and wonderful change had come.

In the path in front of the steps at Björne lay a big stone, which caused much trouble and vexation. Carriages rolled over it, horses and people tripped on it, the maids who came with heavy milk cans ran against it and spilled the milk; but the stone remained, because it had already lain there so many years. It had been there in the time of Sinclair’s parents, long before anyone had thought of building at Björne. He did not see why he should take it up.

But one day at the end of August, two maids, who were carrying a heavy tub, tripped over the stone; they fell, hurt themselves badly, and the feeling against the stone grew strong.

It was early in the morning. Melchior was out on his morning walk, but as the workmen were about the house between eight and nine, Madame Gustava had several of them come and dig up the big stone.

They came with iron levers and spades, dug and strained, and at last got the old disturber of the peace up out of his hole. Then they carried him away to the back yard. It was work for six men.

The stone was hardly taken up before Melchior came home. You can believe that he was angry. It was no longer the same place, he thought. Who had dared to move the stone? Madame Gustava had given the order. Those women had no heart in their bodies. Did not his wife know that he loved that stone?

And then he went direct to the stone, lifted it, and carried it across the yard to the place where it had lain, and there he flung it down. And it was a stone which six men could scarcely lift. That deed was mightily admired through the whole of Värmland.

While he carried the stone across the yard, Marianne had stood at the dining-room window and looked at him. He was her master, that terrible man with his boundless strength⁠—an unreasonable, capricious master, who thought of nothing but his own pleasure.

They were in the midst of breakfast, and she had a carving-knife in her hand. Involuntarily she lifted the knife.

Madame Gustava seized her by the wrist.


“What is the matter, mother?”

“Oh, Marianne, you looked so strange! I was frightened.”

Marianne looked at her. She was a little, dry woman, gray and wrinkled already at fifty. She loved like a dog, without remembering knocks and blows. She was generally good-humored, and yet she made a melancholy impression. She was like a storm-whipped tree by the sea; she had never had quiet to grow. She had learned to use mean shifts, to lie when needed, and often made herself out more stupid than she was to escape taunts. In everything she was the tool of her husband.

“Would you grieve much if father died?” asked Marianne.

“Marianne, you are angry with your father. You are always angry with him. Why cannot everything be forgotten, since you have got a new fiancé?”

“Oh, mother, it is not my fault. Can I help shuddering at him? Do you not see what he is? Why should I care for him? He is violent, he is uncouth, he has tortured you till you are prematurely old. Why is he our master? He behaves like a madman. Why shall I honor and respect him? He is not good, he is not charitable. I know that he is strong. He is capable of beating us to death at any moment. He can turn us out of the house when he will. Is that why I should love him?”

But then Madame Gustava had been as never before. She had found strength and courage and had spoken weighty words.

“You must take care, Marianne. It almost seems to me as if your father was right when he shut you out last winter. You shall see that you will be punished for this. You must teach yourself to bear without hating, Marianne, to suffer without revenge.”

“Oh, mother, I am so unhappy.”

Immediately after, they heard in the hall the sound of a heavy fall.

They never knew if Melchior Sinclair had stood on the steps and through the open dining-room door had heard Marianne’s words, or if it was only overexertion which had been the cause of the stroke. When they came out he lay unconscious. They never dared to ask him the cause. He himself never made any sign that he had heard anything. Marianne never dared to think the thought out that she had involuntarily revenged herself. But the sight of her father lying on the very steps where she had learnt to hate him took all bitterness from her heart.

He soon returned to consciousness, and when he had kept quiet a few days, he was like himself⁠—and yet not at all like.

Marianne saw her parents walking together in the garden. It was always so now. He never went out alone, grumbled at guests and at everything which separated him from his wife. Old age had come upon him. He could not bring himself to write a letter; his wife had to do it. He never decided anything by himself, but asked her about everything and let it be as she decided. And he was always gentle and kind. He noticed the change which had come over him, and how happy his wife was. “She is well off now,” he said one day to Marianne, and pointed to Madame Gustava.

“Oh, dear Melchior,” she cried, “you know very well that I would rather have you strong again.”

And she really meant it. It was her joy to speak of him as he was in the days of his strength. She told how he held his own in riot and revel as well as any of the Ekeby pensioners, how he had done good business and earned much money, just when she thought that he in his madness would lose house and lands. But Marianne knew that she was happy in spite of all her complaints. To be everything to her husband was enough for her. They both looked old, prematurely broken. Marianne thought that she could see their future life. He would get gradually weaker and weaker; other strokes would make him more helpless, and she would watch over him until death parted them. But the end might be far distant. Madame Gustava could enjoy her happiness in peace still for a time. It must be so, Marianne thought. Life owed her some compensation.

For her too it was better. No fretting despair forced her to marry to get another master. Her wounded heart had found peace. She had to acknowledge that she was a truer, richer, nobler person than before; what could she wish undone of what had happened? Was it true that all suffering was good? Could everything be turned to happiness? She had begun to consider everything good which could help to develop her to a higher degree of humanity. The old songs were not right. Sorrow was not the only lasting thing. She would now go out into the world and look about for some place where she was needed. If her father had been in his old mood, he would never have allowed her to break her engagement. Now Madame Gustava had arranged the matter. Marianne had even been allowed to give Baron Adrian the money he needed.

She could think of him too with pleasure, she would be free from him. With his bravery and love of life he had always reminded her of Gösta; now she should see him glad again. He would again be that sunny knight who had come in his glory to her father’s house. She would get him lands where he could plough and dig as much as his heart desired, and she would see him lead a beautiful bride to the altar.

With such thoughts she sits down and writes to give him back his freedom. She writes gentle, persuasive words, sense wrapped up in jests, and yet so that he must understand how seriously she means it.

While she writes she hears hoof-beats on the road.

“My dear Sir Sunshine,” she thinks, “it is the last time.”

Baron Adrian immediately after comes into her room.

“What, Adrian, are you coming in here?” and she looks dismayed at all her packing.

He is shy and embarrassed and stammers out an excuse.

“I was just writing to you,” she says. “Look, you might as well read it now.”

He takes the letter and she sits and watches him while he reads. She longs to see his face light up with joy.

But he has not read far before he grows fiery red, throws the letter on the floor, stamps on it, and swears terrible oaths.

Marianne trembles slightly. She is no novice in the study of love; still she has not before understood this inexperienced boy, this great child.

“Adrian, dear Adrian,” she says, “what kind of a comedy have you played with me? Come and tell me the truth.”

He came and almost suffocated her with caresses. Poor boy, so he had cared and longed.

After a while she looked out. There walked Madame Gustava and talked with her husband of flowers and birds, and here she sat and chatted of love. “Life has let us both feel its serious side,” she thought, and smiled sadly. “It wants to comfort us; we have each got her big child to play with.”

However, it was good to be loved. It was sweet to hear him whisper of the magical power which she possessed, of how he had been ashamed of what he had said at their first conversation. He had not then known what charm she had. Oh, no man could be near her without loving her, but she had frightened him; he had felt so strangely subdued.

It was not happiness, nor unhappiness, but she would try to live with this man.

She began to understand herself, and thought of the words of the old songs about the turtledove. It never drinks clear water, but first muddies it with its foot so that it may better suit its sorrowful spirit. So too should she never go to the spring of life and drink pure, unmixed happiness. Troubled with sorrow, life pleased her best.