The Broby Clergyman

Eros, all-powerful god, you know well that it often seems as if a man should have freed himself from your might. All the tender feelings which unite mankind seem dead in his heart. Madness stretches its claws after the unhappy one, but then you come in all your power, and like the great saint’s staff the dried-up heart bursts into bloom.

No one is so mean as the Broby clergyman, no one more divided by malice and uncharitableness from his fellow-men. His rooms are unheated in the winter, he sits on an unpainted wooden seat, he dresses in rags, lives on dry bread, and is furious if a beggar enters his door. He lets the horse starve in the stable and sells the hay, his cows nibble the dry grass at the roadside and the moss on the wall. The bleating of the hungry sheep can be heard far along the highway. The peasants throw him presents of food which their dogs will not eat, of clothes which their poor disdain. His hand is stretched out to beg, his back bent to thank. He begs of the rich, lends to the poor. If he sees a piece of money his heart aches with longing till he gets it into his pocket. Unhappy is he who has not his affairs in order on the day of payment!

He was married late in life, but it had been better if he had never been. Exhausted and overworked, his wife died. His daughter serves with strangers. He is old, but age grants him no relief in his struggling. The madness of avarice never leaves him.

But one fine day in the beginning of August a heavy coach, drawn by four horses, drives up Broby hill. A delicate old lady comes driving in great state, with coachman and footman and lady’s-maid. She comes to meet the Broby clergyman. She had loved him in the days of her youth.

He had been tutor at her father’s house, and they had loved one another, although her proud family had separated them. And now she is journeying up Broby hill to see him before she dies. All that is left to her in life is to see once again the beloved of her youth.

She sits in the great carriage and dreams. She is not driving up Broby hill to a poor little pastorage. She is on her way to the cool leafy arbor down in the park, where her lover is waiting. She sees him; he is young, he can kiss, he can love. Now, when she knows that she soon shall meet him his image rises before her with singular clearness. He is so handsome, so handsome! He can adore, he can burn, he fills her whole being with rapture.

Now she is sallow, withered, and old. Perhaps he will not recognize her with her sixty years, but she has not come to be seen, but to see, to see the beloved of her youth, who has gone through life untouched by time, who is ever young, beautiful, glowing.

She has come from so far away that she has not heard a word of the Broby clergyman.

The coach clatters up the hill, and at the summit the pastorage is visible.

“For the love of God,” whines a beggar at the wayside, “a copper for a poor man!”

The noble lady gives him a piece of silver and asks where the Broby pastorage is.

“The pastorage is in front of you,” he says, “but the clergyman is not at home, there is no one at the pastorage.”

The little lady seems to fade away. The cool arbor vanishes, her lover is not there. How could she expect, after forty years, to find him there?

What had the gracious lady to do at the vicarage?

She had come to meet the minister. She had known him in the old days.

Forty years and four hundred miles have separated them. And for each ten miles she has come nearer she has left behind her a year with its burden of sorrows and memories, so that when she now comes to the vicarage she is a girl of twenty again, without a care or a regret.

The beggar stands and looks at her, sees her change under his eyes from twenty to sixty, and from sixty back again to twenty.

“The minister is coming home this afternoon,” he says. The gracious lady would do best to drive down to the Broby inn and come again later. In the afternoon, the beggar can answer for it, the minister will be at home.

A moment after, the heavy coach with the little faded lady rolls down the hill to the inn, but the beggar stands trembling and looks after her. He feels that he ought to fall on his knees and kiss the wheel tracks.

Elegant, newly shaven, and washed, in shoes with shining buckles, with silk stockings, with ruffles and frills, the Broby clergyman stands at noon that same day before the dean’s wife at Bro.

“A fine lady,” he says, “a count’s daughter. Do you think that I, poor man, can ask her to come into my house? My floors are black, my drawing-room without furniture, the dining-room ceiling is green with mildew and damp. Help me! Remember that she is a noble count’s daughter!”

“Say that you have gone away!”

“My dear lady, she has come four hundred miles to see me, poor man. She does not know how it is. I have not a bed to offer her. I have not a bed for her servants!”

“Well, let her go again.”

“Dear heart! Do you not understand what I mean? I would rather give everything I possess, everything that I have gathered together by industry and striving, than that she should go without my having received her under my roof. She was twenty when I saw her last, and it is now forty years ago! Help me, that I may see her in my house! Here is money, if money can help, but here more than money is needed.”

Oh, Eros, women love you. They would rather go a hundred steps for you than one for other gods.

In the deanery at Bro the rooms are emptied, the kitchen is emptied, the larder is emptied. Wagons are piled up and driven to the vicarage. When the dean comes home from the communion service, he will find empty rooms, look in through the kitchen door to ask after his dinner and find no one there. No dinner, no wife, no maids! What was to be done?

Eros has so wished it.

A little later in the afternoon the heavy coach comes clattering up Broby hill. And the little lady sits and wonders if any new mischance shall happen, if it is really true that she is now going to meet her life’s only joy.

Then the coach swings into the vicarage, there comes someone, there he comes. He lifts her out of the carriage, he takes her on his arm, strong as ever, she is clasped in an embrace as warm as of old, forty years ago. She looks into his eyes; which glow as they did when they had only seen five and twenty summers.

A storm of emotion comes over her⁠—warmer than ever. She remembers that he once carried her up the steps to the terrace. She, who believed that her love had lived all these years, had forgotten what it was to be clasped in strong arms, to look into young, glowing eyes.

She does not see that he is old. She only sees his eyes.

She does not see the black floors, the mildewed ceilings, she only sees his glowing eyes. The Broby clergyman is a stately man, a handsome man in that hour. He grows handsome when he looks at her.

She hears his voice, his dear, strong voice; caressingly it sounds. He only speaks so to her. Why did he need furniture from the deanery for his empty rooms; why food, why servants? The old lady would never have missed anything. She hears his voice and sees his eyes.

Never, never before has she been so happy.

She knows that he has been married, but she does not remember it. How could she remember such a thing? She is twenty, he twenty-five. Shall he become the mean Broby clergyman, that smiling youth? The wailing of the poor, the curses of the defrauded, the scornful gibes, the caricatures, the sneers, all that as yet does not exist for him. His heart burns only with a pure and innocent love. Never shall that proud youth love gold so that he will creep after it in the dirt, beg it from the wayfarer, suffer humiliation, suffer disgrace, suffer cold, suffer hunger to get it. Shall he starve his child, torture his wife, for that same miserable gold? It is impossible. Such he can never be. He is a good man like all others. He is not a monster.

The beloved of his youth does not walk by the side of a despised wretch, unworthy of the profession he has dared to undertake!

Oh, Eros, not that evening! That evening he is not the Broby clergyman, nor the next day either, nor the day after.

The day after that she goes.

What a dream, what a beautiful dream! For these three days not a cloud!

She journeyed smiling home to her castle and her memories. She never heard his name again, she never asked after him. She wanted to dream that dream as long as she lived.

The Broby clergyman sat in his lonely home and wept. She had made him young. Must he now be old again? Should the evil spirit return and he be despicable, contemptible, as he had been?