Lilliecrona’s Home

Among the pensioners was one whom I have often mentioned as a great musician. He was a tall, heavily built man, with a big head and bushy, black hair. He was certainly not more than forty years old at that time, but he had an ugly, large-featured face and a pompous manner. This made many think him old. He was a good man, but low-spirited.

One afternoon he took his violin under his arm and went away from Ekeby. He said no farewell to anyone, although he never meant to return. He loathed the life there ever since he had seen Countess Elizabeth in her trouble. He walked without resting the whole evening and the whole night, until at early sunrise he came to a little farm, called Löfdala, which belonged to him.

It was so early that nobody was as yet awake. Lilliecrona sat down on the green bench outside the main building and looked at his estate. A more beautiful place did not exist. The lawn in front of the house lay in a gentle slope and was covered with fine, light-green grass. There never was such a lawn. The sheep were allowed to graze there and the children to romp there in their games, but it was always just as even and green. The scythe never passed over it, but at least once a week the mistress of the house had all sticks and straws and dry leaves swept from the fresh grass. He looked at the gravel walk in front of the house and suddenly drew his feet back. The children had late in the evening raked it and his big feet had done terrible harm to the fine work. Think how everything grew there. The six mountain-ashes which guarded the place were high as beeches and wide-spreading as oaks. Such trees had never been seen before. They were beautiful with their thick trunks covered with yellow lichens, and with big, white flower-clusters sticking out from the dark foliage. It made him think of the sky and its stars. It was indeed wonderful how the trees grew there. There stood an old willow, so thick that the arms of two men could not meet about it. It was now rotten and hollow, and the lightning had taken the top off it, but it would not die. Every spring a cluster of green shoots came up out of the shattered trunk to show that it was alive. That hawthorn by the east gable had become such a big tree that it overshadowed the whole house. The roof was white with its dropping petals, for the hawthorn had already blossomed. And the birches which stood in small clumps here and there in the pastures, they certainly had found their paradise on his farm. They developed there in so many different growths, as if they had meant to imitate all other trees. One was like a linden, thick and leafy with a wide-spreading arch, another stood close and tall like a poplar, and a third drooped its branches like a weeping-willow. No one was like another, and they were all beautiful.

Then he rose and went round the house. There lay the garden, so wonderfully beautiful that he had to stop and draw a long breath. The apple-trees were in bloom. Yes, of course he knew that. He had seen it on all the other farms; but in no other place did they bloom as they did in that garden, where he had seen them blossom since he was a child. He walked with clasped hands and careful step up and down the gravel path. The ground was white, and the trees were white, here and there with a touch of pink. He had never seen anything so beautiful. He knew every tree, as one knows one’s brothers and sisters and playmates. The astrachan trees were quite white, also the winter fruit-trees. But the russet blossoms were pink, and the crab-apple almost red. The most beautiful was the old wild apple-tree, whose little, bitter apples nobody could eat. It was not stingy with its blossoms; it looked like a great snowdrift in the morning light.

For remember that it was early in the morning! The dew made every leaf shine, all dust was washed away. Behind the forest-clad hills, close under which the farm lay, came the first rays of the sun. It was as if the tops of the pines had been set on fire by them. Over the clover meadows, over rye and corn fields, and over the sprouting oat-shoots, lay the lightest of mists, like a thin veil, and the shadows fell sharp as in moonlight.

He stood and looked at the big vegetable beds between the paths. He knows that mistress and maids have been at work here. They have dug, raked, pulled up weeds and turned the earth, until it has become fine and light. After they have made the beds even and the edges straight they have taken tapes and pegs and marked out rows and squares. Then they have sowed and set out, until all the rows and squares have been filled. And the children have been with them and have been so happy and eager to be allowed to help, although it has been hard work for them to stand bent and stretch their arms out over the broad beds. And of great assistance have they been, as anyone can understand.

Now what they had sown began to come up.

God bless them! they stood there so bravely, both peas and beans with their two thick cotyledons; and how thick and nice had both carrots and beets come up! The funniest of all were the little crinkled parsley leaves, which lifted a little earth above them and played bopeep with life as yet.

And here was a little bed where the lines did not go so evenly and where the small squares seemed to be an experiment map of everything which could be set or sowed. That was the children’s garden.

And Lilliecrona put his violin hastily up to his chin and began to play. The birds began to sing in the big shrubbery which protected the garden from the north wind. It was not possible for anything gifted with voice to be silent, so glorious was the morning. The fiddle-bow moved quite of itself.

Lilliecrona walked up and down the paths and played. “No,” he thought, “there is no more beautiful place.” What was Ekeby compared to Löfdala. His home had a thatched roof and was only one story high. It lay at the edge of the wood, with the mountain above it and the long valley below it. There was nothing wonderful about it; there was no lake there, no waterfall, no park, but it was beautiful just the same. It was beautiful because it was a good, peaceful home. Life was easy to live there. Everything which in other places caused bitterness and hate was there smoothed away with gentleness. So shall it be in a home.

Within, in the house, the mistress lies and sleeps in a room which opens on the garden. She wakes suddenly and listens, but she does not move. She lies smiling and listening. Then the musician comes nearer and nearer, and at last it sounds as if he had stopped under her window. It is indeed not the first time she has heard the violin under her window. He was in the habit of coming so, her husband, when they had done something unusually wild there at Ekeby.

He stands there and confesses and begs for forgiveness. He describes to her the dark powers which tempt him away from what he loves best⁠—from her and the children. But he loves them. Oh, of course he loves them!

While he plays she gets up and puts on her clothes without quite knowing what she is doing. She is so taken up with his playing.

“It is not luxury and good cheer, which tempt me away,” he plays “not love for other women, nor glory, but life’s seductive changes: its sweetness, its bitterness, its riches, I must feel about me. But now I have had enough of it, now I am tired and satisfied. I shall never again leave my home. Forgive me; have mercy upon me!”

Then she draws aside the curtain and opens the window, and he sees her beautiful, kind face.

She is good, and she is wise. Her glances bring blessings like the sun’s on everything they meet. She directs and tends. Where she is, everything grows and flourishes. She bears happiness within her.

He swings himself up on to the windowsill to her, and is happy as a young lover.

Then he lifts her out into the garden and carries her down under the apple-trees. There he explains for her how beautiful everything is, and shows her the vegetable beds and the children’s garden and the funny little parsley leaves.

When the children awake, there is joy and rapture that father has come. They take possession of him. He must see all that is new and wonderful: the little nail-manufactory which pounds away in the brook, the bird’s-nest in the willow, and the little minnows in the pond, which swim in thousands near the surface of the water.

Then father, mother, and children take a long walk in the fields. He wants to see how close the rye stands, how the clover is growing, and how the potatoes are beginning to poke up their crumpled leaves.

He must see the cows when they come in from the pasture, visit the newcomers in the barn and sheep-house, look for eggs, and give all the horses sugar.

The children hang at his heels the whole day. No lessons, no work; only to wander about with their father!

In the evening he plays polkas for them, and all day he has been such a good comrade and playfellow that they fall asleep with a pious prayer that father may always stay with them.

He stays eight long days, and is joyous as a boy the whole time. He could stand it no longer, it was too much happiness for him. Ekeby was a thousand times worse, but Ekeby lay in the midst of the whirl of events. Oh, how much there was there to dream of and to play of! How could he live separated from the pensioners’ deeds, and from Löfven’s long lake, about which adventure’s wild chase rushed onward?

On his own estate everything went on in its calm, wonted way. Everything flourished and grew under the gentle mistress’s care. Everyone was happy there. Everything which anywhere else could have caused discord and bitterness passed over there without complaints or pain. Everything was as it should be. If now the master of the house longed to live as pensioner at Ekeby, what then? Does it help to complain of heaven’s sun because it disappears every evening in the west, and leaves the earth in darkness?

What is so unconquerable as submission? What is so certain of victory as patience?