Broby Fair

On the first Friday in October the big Broby Fair begins, and lasts one week. It is the festival of the autumn. There is slaughtering and baking in every house; the new winter clothes are then worn for the first time; the brandy rations are doubled; work rests. There is feasting on all the estates. The servants and laborers draw their pay and hold long conferences over what they shall buy at the Fair. People from a distance come in small companies with knapsacks on their backs and staffs in their hands. Many are driving their cattle before them to the market. Small, obstinate young bulls and goats stand still and plant their forefeet, causing much vexation to their owners and much amusement to the bystanders. The guestrooms at the manors are filled with guests, bits of news are exchanged, and the prices of cattle discussed.

And on the first Fair day what crowds swarm up Broby hill and over the wide marketplace! Booths are set up, where the tradespeople spread out their wares. Ropedancers, organ-grinders, and blind violin-players are everywhere, as well as fortune-tellers, sellers of sweetmeats and of brandy. Beyond the rows of booths, vegetables and fruit are offered for sale by the gardeners from the big estates. Wide stretches are taken up by ruddy copper-kettles. It is plain, however, by the movement in the Fair, that there is want in Svartsjö and Bro and Löfvik and the other provinces about the Löfven: trade is poor at the booths. There is most bustle in the cattle-market, for many have to sell both cow and horse to be able to live through the winter.

It is a gay scene. If one only has money for a glass or two, one can keep up one’s courage. And it is not only the brandy which is the cause of the merriment; when the people from the lonely wood-huts come down to the marketplace with its seething masses, and hear the din of the screaming, laughing crowd, they become as if delirious with excitement.

Everybody who does not have to stay at home to look after the house and cattle has come to this Broby Fair. There are the pensioners from Ekeby and the peasants from Nygård, horse-dealers from Norway, Finns from the Northern forests, vagrants from the highways.

Sometimes the roaring sea gathers in a whirlpool, which turns about a middle point. No one knows what is at the centre, until a couple of policemen break a way through the crowd to put an end to a fight or to lift up an overturned cart.

Towards noon the great fight began. The peasants had got it into their heads that the tradespeople were using too short yardsticks, and it began with quarrelling and disturbance about the booths; then it turned to violence.

Everyone knows that for many of those who for days had not seen anything but want and suffering, it was a pleasure to strike, it made no difference whom or what. And as soon as they see that a fight is going on they come rushing from all sides. The pensioners mean to break through to make peace after their fashion, and the tradesmen run to help one another.

Big Mons from Fors is the most eager in the game. He is drunk, and he is angry; he has thrown down a tradesman and has begun to beat him, but at his calls for help his comrades hurry to him and try to make Mons let him go. Then Mons sweeps the rolls of cloth from one of the counters, and seizes the top, which is a yard broad and five yards long and made of thick planks, and begins to brandish it as a weapon.

He is a terrible man, big Mons. It was he who kicked out a wall in the Filipstad-jail, he who could lift a boat out of the water and carry it on his shoulders. When he begins to strike about him with the heavy counter, everyone flies before him. But he follows, striking right and left. For him it is no longer a question of friends or enemies: he only wants someone to hit, since he has got a weapon.

The people scatter in terror. Men and women scream and run. But how can the women escape when many of them have their children by the hand? Booths and carts stand in their way; oxen and cows, maddened by the noise, prevent their escape.

In a corner between the booths a group of women are wedged, and towards them the giant rages. Does he not see a tradesman in the midst of the crowd? He raises the plank and lets it fall. In pale, shuddering terror the women receive the attack, sinking under the deadly blow.

But as the board falls whistling down over them, its force is broken against a man’s upstretched arms. One man has not sunk down, but raised himself above the crowd, one man has voluntarily taken the blow to save the many. The women and children are uninjured. One man has broken the force of the blow, but he lies now unconscious on the ground.

Big Mons does not lift up his board. He has met the man’s eye, just as the counter struck his head, and it has paralyzed him. He lets himself be bound and taken away without resistance.

But the report flies about the Fair that big Mons has killed Captain Lennart. They say that he who had been the people’s friend died to save the women and defenceless children.

And a silence falls on the great square, where life had lately roared at fever pitch: trade ceases, the fighting stops, the people leave their dinners.

Their friend is dead. The silent throngs stream towards the place where he has fallen. He lies stretched out on the ground quite unconscious; no wound is visible, but his skull seems to be flattened.

Some of the men lift him carefully up on to the counter which the giant has let fall. They think they perceive that he still lives.

“Where shall we carry him?” they ask one another.

“Home,” answers a harsh voice in the crowd.

Yes, good men, carry him home! Lift him up on your shoulders and carry him home! He has been God’s plaything, he has been driven like a feather before his breath. Carry him home!

That wounded head has rested on the hard barrack-bed in the prison, on sheaves of straw in the barn. Let it now come home and rest on a soft pillow! He has suffered undeserved shame and torment, he has been hunted from his own door. He has been a wandering fugitive, following the paths of God where he could find them; but his promised land was that home whose gates God had closed to him. Perhaps his house stands open for one who has died to save women and children.

Now he does not come as a malefactor, escorted by reeling boon-companions; he is followed by a sorrowing people, in whose cottages he has lived while he helped their sufferings. Carry him home!

And so they do. Six men lift the board on which he lies on their shoulders and carry him away from the fairgrounds. Wherever they pass, the people move to one side and stand quiet; the men uncover their heads, the women courtesy as they do in church when God’s name is spoken. Many weep and dry their eyes; others begin to tell what a man he had been⁠—so kind, so gay, so full of counsel and so religious. It is wonderful to see, too, how, as soon as one of his bearers gives out, another quietly comes and puts his shoulder under the board.

So Captain Lennart comes by the place where the pensioners are standing.

“I must go and see that he comes home safely,” says Beerencreutz, and leaves his place at the roadside to follow the procession to Helgesäter. Many follow his example.

The fairgrounds are deserted. Everybody has to follow to see that Captain Lennart comes home.

When the procession reaches Helgesäter, the house is silent and deserted. Again the colonel’s fist beats on the closed door. All the servants are at the Fair; the captain’s wife is alone at home. It is she again who opens the door.

And she asks, as she asked once before⁠—

“What do you want?”

Whereupon the colonel answers, as he answered once before⁠—

“We are here with your husband.”

She looks at him, where he stands stiff and calm as usual. She looks at the bearers behind him, who are weeping, and at all that mass of people. She stands there on the steps and looks into hundreds of weeping eyes, who stare sadly up at her. Last she looks at her husband, who lies stretched out on the bier, and she presses her hand to her heart. “That is his right face,” she murmurs.

Without asking more, she bends down, draws back a bolt, opens the hall-doors wide, and then goes before the others into the bedroom.

The colonel helps her to drag out the big bed and shake up the pillows, and so Captain Lennart is once more laid on soft down and white linen.

“Is he alive?” she asks.

“Yes,” answers the colonel.

“Is there any hope?”

“No. Nothing can be done.”

There was silence for a while; then a sudden thought comes over her.

“Are they weeping for his sake, all those people?”


“What has he done?”

“The last thing he did was to let big Mons kill him to save women and children from death.”

Again she sits silent for a while and thinks.

“What kind of a face did he have, colonel, when he came home two months ago?”

The colonel started. Now he understands; now at last he understands.

“Gösta had painted him.”

“So it was on account of one of your pranks that I shut him out from his home? How will you answer for that, colonel?”

Beerencreutz shrugged his broad shoulders.

“I have much to answer for.”

“But I think that this must be the worst thing you have done.”

“Nor have I ever gone a heavier way than that today up to Helgesäter. Moreover, there are two others who are guilty in this matter.”


“Sintram is one, you yourself are the other. You are a hard woman. I know that many have tried to speak to you of your husband.”

“It is true,” she answers.

Then she begs him to tell her all about that evening at Broby.

He tells her all he can remember, and she listens silently. Captain Lennart lies still unconscious on the bed. The room is full of weeping people; no one thinks of shutting out that mourning crowd. All the doors stand open, the stairs and the halls are filled with silent, grieving people; far out in the yard they stand in close masses.

When the colonel has finished, she raises her voice and says⁠—

“If there are any pensioners here, I ask them to go. It is hard for me to see them when I am sitting by my husband’s deathbed.”

Without another word the colonel rises and goes out. So do Gösta Berling and several of the other pensioners who had followed Captain Lennart. The people move aside for the little group of humiliated men.

When they are gone the captain’s wife says: “Will some of them who have seen my husband during this time tell me where he has lived, and what he has done?” Then they begin to give testimony of Captain Lennart to his wife, who has misjudged him and sternly hardened her heart against him.

It lasted a long time before they all were done. All through the twilight and the evening they stand and speak; one after another steps forward and tells of him to his wife, who would not hear his name mentioned.

Some tell how he found them on a sickbed and cured them. There are wild brawlers whom he has tamed. There are mourners whom he has cheered, drunkards whom he had led to sobriety. Everyone who had been in unbearable distress had sent a message to God’s wayfarer, and he had helped them, or at least he had waked hope and faith.

Out in the yard the crowd stands and waits. They know what is going on inside: that which is said aloud by the deathbed is whispered from man to man outside. He who has something to say pushes gently forward. “Here is one who can bear witness,” they say, and let him pass. And they step forward out of the darkness, give their testimony, and disappear again into the darkness.

“What does she say now?” those standing outside ask when someone comes out. “What does she say?”

“She shines like a queen. She smiles like a bride. She has moved his armchair up to the bed and laid on it the clothes which she herself had woven for him.”

But then a silence falls on the people. No one says it, all know it at the same time: “He is dying.”

Captain Lennart opens his eyes and sees everything.

He sees his home, the people, his wife, his children, the clothes; and he smiles. But he has only waked to die. He draws a rattling breath and gives up the ghost.

Then the stories cease, but a voice takes up a death-hymn. All join in, and, borne on hundreds of strong voices, the song rises on high.

It is earth’s farewell greeting to the departing soul.