Madame Musica

When nothing could make Gösta Berling glad, after he had helped the young countess to escape, the pensioners decided to seek help of the good Madame Musica, who is a powerful fairy and consoles many who are unhappy.

So one evening in July they had the doors of the big drawing-room at Ekeby opened and the shutters taken down. The sun and air were let in, the late evening’s big, red sun, the cool, mild, steaming air.

The striped covers were taken off the furniture, the piano was opened, and the net about the Venetian chandelier taken away. The golden griffins under the white-marble tabletops again reflected the light. The white goddesses danced above the mirror. The variegated flowers on the silk damask glistened in the evening glow. Roses were picked and brought in. The whole room was filled with their fragrance. There were wonderful roses with unknown names, which had been brought to Ekeby from foreign lands. There were yellow ones in whose veins the blood shone red as in a human being’s, and cream-white roses with curled edges, and pink roses with broad petals, which on their outside edge were as colorless as water, and dark red with black shadows. They carried in all Altringer’s roses which had come from far distant lands to rejoice the eyes of lovely women.

The music and music-stands were brought in, and the brass instruments and bows and violins of all sizes; for good Madame Musica shall now reign at Ekeby and try to console Gösta Berling.

Madame Musica has chosen the Oxford Symphony of Haydn, and has had the pensioners practise it. Julius conducts, and each of the others attends to his own instrument. All the pensioners can play⁠—they would not otherwise be pensioners.

When everything is ready Gösta is sent for. He is still weak and low-spirited, but he rejoices in the beautiful room and in the music he soon shall hear. For everyone knows that for him who suffers and is in pain good Madame Musica is the best company. She is gay and playful like a child. She is fiery and captivating like a young woman. She is good and wise like the old who have lived a good life.

And then the pensioners began to play, so gently, so murmuringly soft.

It goes well, it goes brilliantly well. From the dead notes they charm Madame Musica herself. Spread out your magic cloak, dear Madame Musica, and take Gösta Berling to the land of gladness, where he used to live.

Alas that it is Gösta Berling who sits there pale and depressed, and whom the old men must amuse as if he were a child. There will be no more joy now in Värmland.

I know why the old people loved him. I know how long a winter evening can be, and how gloom can creep over the spirit in those lonely farmhouses. I understand how it felt when he came.

Ah, fancy a Sunday afternoon, when work is laid aside and the thoughts are dull! Fancy an obstinate north wind, whipping cold into the room⁠—a cold which no fire can relieve! Fancy the single tallow-candle, which has to be continually snuffed! Fancy the monotonous sound of psalms from the kitchen!

Well, and then bells come ringing, eager feet stamp off the snow in the hall, and Gösta Berling comes into the room. He laughs and jokes. He is life, he is warmth. He opens the piano, and he plays so that they are surprised at the old strings. He can sing all songs, play any tune. He makes all the inmates of the house happy. He was never cold, he was never tired. The mourner forgot his sorrows when he saw him. Ah, what a good heart he had! How compassionate he was to the weak and poor! And what a genius he was! Yes, you ought to have heard the old people talk of him.

But now, just as they were playing, he burst into tears. He thinks life is so sad. He rests his head in his hands and weeps. The pensioners are dismayed. These are not mild, healing tears, such as Madame Musica generally calls forth. He is sobbing like one in despair. At their wits’ end they put their instruments away.

And the good Madame Musica, who loves Gösta Berling, she too almost loses courage; but then she remembers that she has still a mighty champion among the pensioners.

It is the gentle Löwenborg, he who had lost his fiancée in the muddy river, and who is more Gösta Berling’s slave than any of the others. He steals away to the piano.

In the pensioners’ wing Löwenborg has a great wooden table, on which he has painted a keyboard and set up a music-stand. There he can sit for hours at a time and let his fingers fly over the black and white keys. There he practises both scales and studies, and there he plays his Beethoven. He never plays anything but Beethoven.

But the old man never ventures on any other instrument than the wooden table. For the piano he has a respectful awe. It tempts him, but it frightens him even more. The clashing instrument, on which so many polkas have been drummed, is a sacred thing to him. He has never dared to touch it. Think of that wonderful thing with its many strings, which could give life to the great master’s works! He only needs to put his ear to it, to hear andantes and scherzos murmuring there. But he has never played on such a thing. He will never be rich enough to buy one of his own, and on this he has never dared to play. The major’s wife was not so willing either to open it for him.

He has heard how polkas and waltzes have been played on it. But in such profane music the noble instrument could only clash and complain. No, if Beethoven should come, then it would let its true, clear sound be heard.

Now he thinks that the moment is come for him and Beethoven. He will take courage and touch the holy thing, and let his young lord and master be gladdened by the sleeping harmonies.

He sits down and begins to play. He is uncertain and nervous, but he gropes through a couple of bars, tries to bring out the right ring, frowns, tries again, and puts his hands before his face and begins to weep.

Yes, it is a bitter thing. The sacred thing is not sacred. There are no clear, pure tones hidden and dreaming in it; there are no mighty thunders, no rushing hurricanes. None of the endless harmonies direct from heaven had remained there. It is an old, worn-out piano, and nothing more.

But then Madame Musica gives the colonel a hint. He takes Ruster with him and they go to the pensioners’ wing and get Löwenborg’s table, where the keys are painted.

“See here, Löwenborg,” says Beerencreutz, when they come back, “here is your piano. Play for Gösta!”

Then Löwenborg stops crying and sits down to play Beethoven for his sorrowful young friend. Now he would certainly be glad again.

In the old man’s head sound the most heavenly tones. He cannot think but that Gösta hears how beautifully he is playing. He meets with no more difficulties. He plays his runs and trills with the greatest ease. He would have liked that the master himself could have heard him.

The longer he plays, the more he is carried away. He hears every note with unearthly clearness. He sits there glowing with enthusiasm and emotion, hearing the most wonderful tones, certain that Gösta must hear them too and be comforted.

Gösta sat and looked at him. At first he was angry at this foolery, but gradually he became of milder mood. He was irresistible, the old man, as he sat and enjoyed his Beethoven.

And Gösta began to think how this man too, who now was so gentle and so careless, had been sunk in suffering, how he too had lost her whom he loved. And now he sat beamingly happy at his wooden table. Nothing more was needed to add to his bliss.

He felt humbled. “What, Gösta,” he said to himself, “can you no longer bear and suffer? You who have been hardened by poverty all your life, you who have heard every tree in the forest, every tuft in the meadow preach of resignation and patience, you who have been brought up in a land where the winter is severe and the summer short⁠—have you forgotten how to endure?”

Ah Gösta, a man must bear all that life offers with a brave heart and smiling lip, or he is no man. Regret as much as you like if you have lost what you hold dearest, let remorse tear at your vitals, but show yourself a man. Let your glance shine with gladness, and meet your friends with cheerful words!

Life is hard, nature is hard. But they both give courage and cheerfulness as compensations for their hardness, or no one could hold out.

Courage and cheerfulness! It is as if they were the first duties of life. You have never failed in them before, and shall not now.

Are you worse than Löwenborg, who sits there at his wooden piano, than all the other pensioners? You know well enough that none of them have escaped suffering!

And then Gösta looks at them. Oh, such a performance! They all are sitting there so seriously and listening to this music which nobody hears.

Suddenly Löwenborg is waked from his dreams by a merry laugh. He lifts his hands from the keys and listens as if in rapture. It is Gösta Berling’s old laugh, his good, kind, infectious laugh. It is the sweetest music the old man has heard in all his life.

“Did I not say that Beethoven would help you, Gösta,” he cries. “Now you are yourself again.”

So did the good Madame Musica cure Gösta Berling’s hypochondria.