Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales/A Story from the Sand-Hills
A STORY FROM THE SAND-HILLS.
In sunny Spain, where the fiery blossoms of the pomegranate flourish among the dark laurels, and the orange groves pour forth fragrance, it is warm and beautiful, while from the mountains comes a cool and refreshing breeze. Brightly the golden cupolas of the Moorish halls, with their gorgeous ornaments and many-coloured walls, glitter in the sun. There is a sound of song and castanets; youths and maidens join in the dance under the blooming acacia; while the beggar sits upon the marble stone, refreshing himself with a juicy melon, and dreamily enjoying life. At night there is a procession of children through the streets, with candles and waving flags, and over them all lofty and clear rises the sky, studded with sparkling stars. The whole is like a glorious dream.
In an open balcony sat a newly married couple, who completely gave themselves up to the charm, for they also possessed the good things of this life—health and cheerfulness, riches and honour. “We are as happy as it is possible to be,” they said, from the depths of their hearts. They had, indeed, but one step more in the ladder of human happiness, and they were already happy in the hope that God would give them a child—a son, who should resemble them in form and spirit. The happy child would be welcomed with rejoicing, would be tended with every care and love, and enjoy all those advantages of wealth and luxury which riches and influence can procure. And so the days passed like a festival.
“Life is a gracious gift from God, a gift almost beyond our power to appreciate,” said the young wife; “and yet they tell us that fulness of joy is only to be found in the future for ever and ever; I cannot compass the thought.”
“Perhaps the thought arises from the arrogance of mankind,” said the husband. “It seems like pride to believe that we shall live for ever, that we shall be as gods. Were not these the words of the serpent, the father of lies?”
“Surely you do not doubt the existence of a future life?” exclaimed the young wife, and it seemed like the first shadow of evil passing over the sunny region of her thoughts.
“Faith realizes it, and the priests tell us it is so,” he replied; “but amidst all this happiness I feel as if it were presumptuous to expect it to continue for ever, in another life after this. So much has been given to us in this present state of existence, that we ought to be, we must be, content with it.”
“Yes,” replied the young wife, “it has been certainly given to us, but to how many thousands this life is one continued scene of painful trial! How many have been sent into the world, as it appears, only to suffer poverty and shame, sickness and misfortune! If there were no life after this, things on earth would be too unequal, and we should feel inclined to accuse the Almighty of injustice.”
“Not so,” replied the husband; “yonder beggar has joys which appear great to him, and which delight him more than the splendours of his palace delight a king. And then do you not suppose that the dumb beast of burden, which endures hunger and blows, and works itself to death, does not equally feel its hard fate? Might it not therefore also expect a future life, and complain of the injustice that has not placed him higher in the scale of creation?”
“Christ has said,” replied the wife, “‘In my Father’s house are many mansions;’ heaven is as limitless as the love of our Creator. Even the dumb beast is His creature; and I firmly believe that no life will be lost, but that each will receive that amount of happiness which he is able to enjoy, and which is sufficient for him.”
“The world is sufficient for me,” said the husband, as he threw his arm round his beautiful, amiable wife. Then he sat by her side on the open balcony, and smoked his cigarette, while the cool air was filled with the fragrance of pinks and orange blossoms. Sounds of music, and the clatter of castanets came up from the road beneath; the stars glittered above them, and two eyes, full of affection, the eyes of his wife, looked on him with the undying glance of love. “Such a moment,” said he, “surely makes it worth while to be born—to die—and to be annihilated.”
The young wife raised her hand as a gentle reproof, but the shadow passed away from her world, and they were happy—quite happy. Everything seemed to work together for them. They advanced in honour and prosperity and joy. A change came, but it was only a change of place, not of enjoyment, either of life or happiness. The young man was chosen by his sovereign, the King of Spain, to proceed to the court of Russia as ambassador; for his high birth and attainments gave him a title to such an honour. He possessed also a large fortune of his own, as well as one equally large, brought him by his wife, who was the daughter of a rich and highly respected merchant. One of this merchant’s largest and finest ships was about to sail during the year to Stockholm, and it was arranged that the young people, the merchant’s daughter and son-in-law, should continue their voyage in it from thence to St. Petersburg. All the arrangements made for them were princely; rich carpets for their feet, and silk and luxurious furniture suited for the voyage were put on board the vessel for their use.
In an old war song, entitled “The Son of England’s King,” it says,—
And the anchor was gilded with gold,
Each rope was woven with silk,
With riches and pomp untold.”
These words rose to the mind of one who saw this ship leave the coasts of Spain. Here was the same pomp, the same luxury, and the same parting wish:
Once mote in peace and joy.”
It blew a fair wind when they left the Spanish coast, so that they hoped to arrive at their destination in a few weeks. But when they reached the broad ocean, the wind sank down, the sea became smooth, and the ship was becalmed. However, the stars of heaven shone brightly, and many festive evenings were spent in the sumptuous cabin. At length the voyagers began to wish for wind, for a favouring breeze. But they wished in vain, for not a breeze stirred; and when, after some weeks, the wind did arise, it was contrary, for it blew from the south-west, and after two months carried them into the North Sea, between Scotland and Jutland. Then the wind increased, till they were in the condition described in the old song,—
To seek for shelter was all in vain;
No hope of throwing, with eager hand,
Their anchor of gold near the Danish Land.”
At the time this happened, King Christian V1I., who sat on the Danish throne, was still a young man. Much has changed or been changed since then. Lakes and marshes have been converted into green meadows, heath has become arable land, and in the shelter of the peasants’ houses, on the West Jute, grow apple-trees and rose-bushes; but they require care, to protect them from the keen north-west wind.
While in West Jutland, the mind can easily go back to the old times, even long before the days of King Christian VII. The purple heath extends now, as it did then, for miles. There are the still “Huns’ graves,” the supernatural appearances in the sky, and the sandy, uneven roads crossing it in every direction. Westward, where large rivulets run into the bay, extend marshes and meadow land, girded with lofty sand-hills, which, like a row of Alps, raise their peaked summits, on the side nearest the sea, to a great height. Here and there are ridges of clay, from which the sea, year after year, bites out huge mouthfuls, causing the overhanging shores to fall as if by the shock of an earthquake. Thus it is even at this day, and thus it was many, many years ago, when the happy pair were sailing in the richly appointed ship. It was Sunday, and a bright sunny morning towards the latter end of September. The bells of the churches in the Bay of Nissum were chiming sweetly, and their music rolled through the air like a chain of sounds. The churches there, are built almost entirely of hewn boulder stones, each like a piece of rock. The North Sea might foam over them, and they would remain unmoved. Most of them are without steeples, and the bells are hung between two beams in the open air. At the close of the service, the congregation passed out into the churchyard, where not a tree nor a bush could be seen; not a flower had been planted, nor a wreath hung on the graves. Rough mounds marked the spots where the dead lay buried, and long, waving grass grew thickly over the whole churchyard. Here and there a grave had for a monument a half-decayed block of wood, rudely cut into the form of a coffin, and these blocks are often brought from the forest of West Jutland. This forest is like the shores of the wild sea: here the inhabitants find beams and planks and fragments from wrecks, which have been cast ashore by the breakers, and are soon discoloured by the wind and the sea-fogs. One of these blocks had been placed by loving hands on a child’s grave; and a woman who came out of church stepped towards it. She stood still with her eyes resting on the weather beaten monument, and in a few moments her husband came and joined her. Neither of them spoke a word; but he took her hand, and led her away from the grave across the purple heath, over moor and meadow, towards the sand-hills. For a long time they walked thus silently, side by side.
“It was a good sermon to-day,” said the man at length. “If we had not a loving God, we should have nothing.”
“Yes,” replied the woman. “He sends joy and sorrow, and He has a right to send them. To-morrow our little boy would have been five years old, if we had been permitted to keep him.”
“It is useless to continue fretting, wife,” said the man. “The boy is well off now. He is where we hope and pray to go.”
They said no more, but went on toward their house among the sand-hills. Suddenly, in front of one of the houses, where the seaweed did not bind the sand together with its twining roots, there arose what appeared a thick cloud of smoke. A gust of wind, rushing between the hills, hurled the particles of sand high into the air, Then came another gust, so violent that the strings of fish hung up to dry flapped and beat wildly against the walls of the house; and then all was still again, and the sun shone forth with renewed heat. Husband and wife stepped into the house; quickly they took off their Sunday clothes; and, coming forth again, hurried away over the hills which stood there like huge waves of sand suddenly arrested in their course, while the seaweeds and the bluish stems of the sand-grass covered them with ever-changing colours. A few neighbours joined them, and helped one another to draw the boats higher up on the sand. The wind now blew as strong as ever; it was cold and cutting; and as they returned over the sand-hills, sand and sharp stones blew in their faces. The waves, crested with white foam, rose high in the air, and the wind cut the crests off, and scattered the foam on every side.
Evening came on. In the air was a rushing sound, a moaning or complaining, like the voices of despairing spirits, that sounded in the fisherman’s little hut, which was on the very margin of the hull, above the hoarse rolling of the sea. The sand rattled against the window-panes, and every now and then came a violent gust of wind that shook the house to its foundation. It was dark, but about midnight the moon would rise. By-and-by the air became clearer, but the storm still swept over the agitated sea in all its fury. The families of the fishermen were in bed, but in such weather there was no thought of closing an eye to sleep.
Presently there was a knocking at the window, the door opened, and a voice said, “There is a large ship aground on the outermost reef.” In a moment the fisherman and his wife sprang from their lowly couch and hastily dressed. The moon had risen, so that it was light enough for those who could venture to open their eyes in a whirlwind of flying sand, to find their way to the seashore. The violence of the wind was so terrible that only by stooping low and creeping on between the gusts, was it possible to pass among the sand-hills. The salt spray flew up in the air like down, while the foaming ocean rolled like a roaring cataract towards the beach. It required a practised eye to descry the vessel in the offing. The vessel was a noble brig, and as the billows lifted it once again over the reef three or four cables’ length towards the shore, it struck upon the second reef and remained fixed. To render assistance was impossible; the sea rolled over the deck of the vessel, making a clean breach each time. Those on shore fancied they heard cries for help from those on board, and could see plainly the anxious but useless efforts made by the stranded crew. A wave came rolling onward, falling like a rock upon the bowsprit, and separating it from the vessel. The stern was raised high above the waters, and two people standing upon it were seen to embrace and then plunge together into the sea. In a very short time, one of the large waves, rolling towards the sand-hills, threw a body on shore, It was a woman, a corpse as the sailors said; but the women thought they discerned signs of life in her, and the stranger was carried across the sand-hills to the fisherman’s hut. How beautiful and fair she was, certainly they thought, she must be a great lady. They laid her upon a humble bed, on which not a yard of linen could be seen; but it had a thick woollen coverlet, which was very warm. Life returned to her, but she was delirious, and knew nothing of what had happened or where she was; it was better so, for everything she loved and valued lay buried in the sea. It was with her ship as with the vessel in the song of “The Son of England’s King:”
The gallant ship sink rapidly.”
All that remained of the wreck now and then drifted on shore, or was driven over the coast by the still roaring wind. After a short period of rest, which succeeded the delirium, the strange lady awoke in pain, while cries of anguish and fear issued from her lips. She opened her wonderfully beautiful eyes, and spoke a few words, but no one understood her. And behold, as a reward for the pain and sorrow she had suffered, she held in her arms a new-born child, the child that was to have rested upon an elegant cradle, adorned by silken curtains, in a home of magnificence; which was to have been welcomed with joy to a life enriched with all the good things of earth. And now Providence had ordained that its birth should take place in this humble dwelling, and that it should not even know the happiness of a mother’s kiss; for when the fisherman’s wife laid the child upon the mother’s bosom, it rested on a heart that beat no more—the Spanish lady was dead. The child which should have been nursed amid wealth and luxury, was cast alone upon the world, washed as it were by the sea among the sand-hills to partake of the fate and hardships of the poor. And here again, we are reminded of the old song about the king’s son, in which mention is made of the customs prevalent at that time, when the inhabitants of the sea coasts plundered those who were wrecked and cast ashore. These hard and inhuman customs had disappeared from the shores of Jutland; the inhabitants had ceased from treating the shipwrecked with cruelty, and the ship, which had struck on a rock some little distance south of Nissum Bay, had foundered at the spot on which it struck. Affectionate sympathy existed then, as it does now, in many a bright example. The dying mother and the unfortunate child would have found succour and help wherever they had been cast by the winds; but nowhere would it have been more earnest than in the hut of the poor fisherman’s wife. Only yesterday she had stood with a heavy heart beside the grave in which lay her child, who would have been five years old that day, had God permitted it to live. No one knew who the dead stranger was, nor could any one form the least conjecture.
The pieces of the wreck gave no clue to the matter. For a long time no tidings of the daughter or son-in-law reached the rich house of the Spanish merchant. They had evidently not reached their destination, and violent storms had been raging for many weeks. At last the news officially arrived—“Foundered at sea, and all lost.” But in the sand-hills, near Hunsby, in the fisherman’s hut, there still lived a little scion of that rich Spanish family. “Where heaven sends food for two, a third can manage to find a meal;” and in the depths of the sea is many a dish of fish for those who are hungry. And they called the boy Jurgen.
“It is certainly a Jewish child,” said some; “it has such a dark complexion.”
“For the same reason, it might be Italian or Spanish,” observed the clergyman.
But to the fisherman’s wife these nations seemed all one, and she consoled herself with the thought that the child had been baptized a Christian. The boy throve; the noble bood in his veins was warm, and he became strong on the homely fare. He grew apace in the lowly hut, and the Danish dialect, spoken by the West Jutes, became his language. The strip of pomegranate, transplanted from Spanish soil, became a hardy plant on the coast of West Jutland. So may circumstances change the future of a man’s life.
To this home he clung with a deep-rooted attachment that became part of his being. He was destined to experience cold and hunger, and to share the misfortunes and hardships that surround the poor; but he also tasted of their joys. Childhood has sunny spots for all conditions, which linger on the memory in after-life with radiant brightness. The boy had many sources of pleasure and enjoyment. The whole coast for miles and miles was full of playthings; it was a mosaic of pebbles, some red as coral or yellow as amber, and others again white and rounded and smoothed by the sea till they looked like birds’ eggs. The bleached skeletons of fish, the water plants dried by the wind, sea-weed white and glittering like long linen bands, waving between the stones,—all seemed made to give pleasure and amusement to the eye and the thoughts of this boy, who had an intelligent mind, and possessed many great faculties. He formed picture-frames and ships of shells to decorate the room. His foster-mother used to say he could make a stick into something wonderful from his own ideas, though he was so young and small. He had a sweet voice; melody seemed to flow naturally from his lips. And in his heart were hidden chords, which might have sounded over the world had he been placed anywhere else than in the fisherman’s hut by the North Sea.
One day, another ship was wrecked near the coast; and, among other things, a chest containing valuable bulbous flower-roots drifted on shore. Some were put into saucepans and cooked, for they were supposed to be good to eat; and others lay neglected on the sand till they became dry and shrivelled. They accomplished no purpose for which they had been formed; they unfolded not the rich colours whose germ was within them. Would it be better with Jurgen? The flower-bulbs had soon played their part in life, but he had still years of discipline before him. Neither he nor his friends remarked how one day followed another in its course, for there was always plenty to do and see. The sea itself was a great lesson-book, unfolding each day a new leaf of calm or storm,—the crested wave or the smooth surface.
Visits to the church were festive occasions; but, among other festal occasions in the fisherman’s house, one was always welcomed with joy. It occurred twice in the year, and was, in fact, the visit of the brother of Jurgen’s foster-mother, the eel-breeder of Zjaltring, in the neighbourhood of the Bon Hill. He used to come in a cart filled with eels. The cart was covered, and looked like a box, and was painted all over with blue and white flowers. It was drawn by two dun oxen, and Jurgen was allowed to guide them. The eel-breeder was a witty fellow anda merry guest; he always brought a measure of brandy with him. Each one took a glassful or a cupful if there were not enough glasses; even Jurgen was allowed to have a thimbleful that he might digest the fat eel, so the eel-breeder said. He always told one story over and over again; and if his hearers laughed, he would repeat it to them.
As Jurgen, during his childhood, and even later, would refer to this story of the eel-breeder’s, and make use of it in various ways, it may be as well that we should hear it also.
“An eel and her daughters were in a creek, and the young eels wanted to go farther up. ‘Don’t go too far,’ said their mother, ‘or the ugly eel-spearer might come and snap you up.’ But they went too far; and of eight daughters only three returned to the mother. They wept, and said, ‘We only went a little way beyond the entrance, and the ugly eel-spearer came directly and stabbed five of our sisters to death.’”
“‘They’ll come back again,’ said the mother-eel.”
“‘Oh, no,’ exclaimed the daughters, ‘for he skinned them, cut them in two, and fried them.’”
“‘Oh, they’ll come again,’ the mother-eel persisted.”
“‘No,’ replied the daughters, ‘for he ate them up.’”
“‘They’ll come again,’ repeated the mother-eel.”
“‘But he drank brandy after them,’ continued the daughters.”
“‘Ah, then they’ll never come back,’ said the mother, and she burst out crying, ‘It’s the brandy that buries the eels.’”
“‘And, therefore,’ said the eel-breeder, in conclusion, ‘it is always right to take brandy after eating eels.’”
And this story was the most humorous recollection, the tinsel thread, that wound itself through the story of Jurgen’s life. He also wanted to go a little way outside the entrance, and up the bay, that is to say, out into the world in a ship; and his mother said, like the eel-mother, “There are so many bad people, eel-spearers out there.” But he did wish to go a little way beyond the sand-hills—a little way into the dunes, and he got his wish at last. Four delightful days, the happiest of his childhood, fell to his lot. For the whole beauty and splendour of Jutland, all the joy and sunshine of his home seemed concentrated in these four days. He was to go on a visit, a festival to him, though it was certainly a burial ceremony. A wealthy relative of the fisherman died. His farm lay far inland, and a little towards the north-east. Jurgen’s foster-parents were going, and he was to accompany them from the sand-hills, across heath and moor. They passed the green meadows, through which the river Skjäm rolls its course, a river that contains many eels—where mother-eels dwell with their daughters, who are caught and eaten up by wicked people. But men sometimes act quite as wickedly towards their own fellow-man; for had not the knight Sir Bugge been murdered by wicked people? and though he was well spoken of, did he not want to kill the architect, as the legend tells us, who had built the castle with its thick walls and towers, by which Jurgen’s parents now stood, just where the river falls into the bay? The wall and the ramparts still remained, but the rest was in red, crumbling ruins. The story says that Sir Bugge, after the architect had left him, said to one of his men, “Go after him and say, ‘Master, the tower shakes.’ If he turns round, you are to kill him, and take from him the money I have just paid him; but if he does not turn round, let him depart in peace.” The man obeyed, but the architect did not turn round; he called back to the man, “The tower does not shake in the least, but one day there will come a man from the west, in a blue cloak, who will cause it to shake in reality;” and, indeed, so it happened, a hundred years after, for the North Sea broke in and cast down the tower. The man who then lived in the castle built a new one higher up at the end of the meadow, and that one is standing to this day, and is called Nörre Vosburg.
Past this castle went Jurgen and his foster-parents. They had told him the story during the long winter evenings, and how he saw the lordly castle, with its double moat and trees and shrubs. A wall, covered with ferns, rose close to the moat; but most beautiful of all were the lofty lime-trees, which grew up to the highest windows, and filled the air with sweet fragrance. In a north-west corner of the garden stood a large bush, covered with blossoms that looked like winter’s snows amid the green of summer. It was a juniper-tree, the first Jurgen had ever seen in such bloom. He never forgot it, nor the lime-trees. The child treasured these memories of beauty and fragrance to gladden the heart of the old man. From Nörre Vosburg, where the juniper blossomed, the journey became more pleasant; for they were overtaken by others on their way to the funeral, who were riding in wagons. Our travellers had to sit all together on a little box at the back of the wagon; but even this they felt was better than walking. So they continued their journey across the rugged heath, while the oxen which drew the wagon stopped every now and then to taste some fresh grass which grew in patches among the heather. The sun was shining warmly when, in the distance there arose a strange appearance, something like smoke rising, and yet clearer than even the air; for it was transparent, and looked more like rays of light rolling and dancing afar over the heath.
“That is Lokeman driving his flocks of sheep,” said some one.
This was enough to excite the imagination of Jurgen. It seemed to him as if they were about to enter fairy-land, though everything around him was real. How quiet it was! Far and wide the heath extended, looking like beautiful tapestry in its varied colouring. The heather bloomed, the dark green of the juniper-bushes and the pale tints of the young oak- saplings mingling together, made them like nosegays rising from the earth. An inviting place for a picnic, were it not for the number of poisonous adders with which the place was infested. The travellers spoke of this, as well as of the time when the place was overrun with wolves; and, on that account, even now this region is called Wolfsburg. The old man who guided the oxen related that, in the lifetime of his father, the horses had to fight for their lives with these wild beasts, who were now extinct; and that one morning when he went out to bring in the horses, he found one of them standing with his fore-feet on a wolf it had killed, but the savage beast had torn the flesh of the poor horse’s legs.
The journey over the deep sand and the wide heath came to an end too quickly. They stopped before the house of mourning, where they found plenty of guests, both within and without. Wagon after wagon stood side by side, while the oxen and the horses had been turned out to graze on the barren pasture. Great sandhills, like those at home by the North Sea, rose behind the house, and extended far and wide. How had they come here, to a spot inland, three miles from the sea? and they were as large and as high as those on the coast. They had been brought thither by the wind, and what a history would theirs be! Psalms were sung, and a few of the old people shed tears; but most of the guests were cheerful enough, as it appeared to Jurgen; and there was plenty to eat and drink. Eels there were of the fattest, requiring brandy to bury them, as the eel-breeder said; and certainly his words were not forgotten here. Jurgen went where he liked in the house, and by the third day he felt as much at home as in the fisherman’s hut on the sand-hills, where he had passed his early days. Here, on the heath, were riches unknown to him before; for flowers and blackberries and wild strawberries, so large and sweet, were to be found in such profusion, that sometimes they were crushed beneath the step of the passers by and the heath would be coloured with their red juice. Here was a Hun’s grave, yonder was another. Then columns of smoke rose in the still air, which they told him came from a heath-fire; how brightly it blazed in the dark evening! The fourth day arrived, on which the funeral festivities were to close, and they were to go back from the land sand-hills to the sand-hills by the sea.
“Ours are the right ones,” said the old fisherman, Jurgen’s foster-father; “these have no strength.”
And on the way home they talked of the origin of these inland sand-hills, and related how they came there. Certainly it was a very clever way to account for them. This is the explanation they gave:—
“A corpse had been found on the coast, which the peasants buried in the churchyard. From that moment the sand began to fly about, and the sea broke in with violence. A wise man in the parish advised them to open the grave, and see if the buried man was not lying sucking his thumb; for if so, he must be a sailor, and the sea would not rest until it had got him back. So they opened the grave, and really found him with his thumb in his mouth. Then they laid him on a cart, and harnessed two oxen to it, and the oxen ran off with the cart, as if they had been stung by an adder, and carried the seaman over heath and moorland to the ocean. Then the sand ceased to fly inland; but the hills still remained.”
All this Jurgen treasured up in his memory of the happiest days of his childhood—the days of the burial feast. How delightful it must be to travel into strange places, and see strange people! And before he had reached his fourteenth year, he had to travel into distant lands. While still a child, he went out in a ship as a sailor-boy; and his experiences of the world were, bad weather, raging seas, malicious and hard-hearted men. There where cold nights and bad living; but the hardest to endure were blows. He felt his noble Spanish blood boil within him, and angry words would rise to his lips; but he gulped them down; it was better, although he compared his feelings to those of the eel when it is flayed, cut up, and put into the frying-pan.
“I shall get over it,” said a voice within him.
At one time he saw the Spanish coast, the native land of his parents, and even visited the town in which they had lived in happiness and prosperity; but he knew nothing of his origin or his relations, and they knew just as little about him. The poor sailor-boy was not allowed to land; but on the last day that the ship remained in harbour he managed to get ashore. There were several purchases to be made, and he was sent to bring them on board. Jurgen, in his shabby clothes, which looked as if they had been washed in the ditch and dried in the chimney—he, an inhabitant of the sand-dunes, stood for the first time in a great city. How lofty the houses appeared, and how full the streets were of people, some pushing this way, and some that,—a perfect maelstrom of citizens and peasants, monks and soldiers! The jingling of the bells on the trappings of the asses, the chiming of the church bells, calling, shouting, hammering, and knocking—all going on at once. Each trade was located on the basement of the houses, or on the pathway, The sun shone with great heat, and the air was so close that it seemed like being in an oven full of beetles and cockroaches, bees and flies, all humming and buzzing together. Jurgen hardly knew where he was, or which way he went, till he found himself in front of the mighty portal of a cathedral. Light streamed through the dark aisles, and a fragrance of incense was wafted towards him; yet the poorest beggar could venture up the steps into the temple. Jurgen followed the sailor who was with him into the church, and stood in the sacred edifice. Pictures in golden frames were before him; on the altar stood a figure ot the Virgin, with the child Jesus, surrounded by lights and flowers; priests in festive robes were chanting, and choir-boys, clothed in white, swung the silver censers. What splendour, what magnificence, was here! It streamed in upon his soul, and overpowered him, The church and the faith of his parents touched a chord in his heart, that caused his eyes to overflow with tears.
From the church they went to the market-place, where a quantity of provisions was given him to carry. The way to the harbour was long, and tired and overcome with various emotions, he rested for a few moments before a splendid house, with marble pillars, statues, and broad steps. Here he rested his burden against the wall; then a porter in livery came out, lifted up a silver-headed cane, and drove him away—him! the grandson of that house! Ah, how little they thought that such was the case! They knew nothing about him, neither did he know about himself. And after this he returned on board, and again had to endure hard words, cuffs, much work, and little sleep; such were his experiences of the world. They say it is well to endure hardships in youth, and so it is, if age brings something good with it.
When his time of service expired, and the vessel lay once more at Ringkjöbing, in Jutland, he came on shore and went home to the sand-hills, by Hunsby, but his foster-mother had died while he had been away on his voyage. A hard winter followed this summer; snow-storms upon land and sea, and it was difficult to get far from home. How differently things are ordered in the world: here biting cold and snow-storms, while in the land of Spain there was burning sunshine and oppressive heat. Still here at home, when there came a clear frosty day, and Jurgen saw the swans flying in flocks, from the sea towards the land, and across to Vosburg, it appeared to him that people could breathe more freely in such a climate, The summer, too, in these regions was splendid, and, in imagination, he saw the heath bloom and become purple with the rich, juicy berries, and the elder and the lime-trees at Vosburg in blossom. He decided to go there once more.
Spring came on, and the fishing began. Jurgen was an active assistant in this; he had grown much during the preceding year, and was now strong and quick at work. He was full of life; he knew how to swim and dive, and could turn over and tumble in the strong tide. They often warned him to beware of the sharks, who could easily seize the best swimmer, draw him down, and devour him; but such was not to be Jurgen’s fate.
At a neighbour’s house on the down was a boy named Martin, with whom Jurgen was very friendly; they had served together on board a ship sailing to Norway, and also on another sailing to Holland, without even having quarrelled. But a person can be easily excited to quarrel, when he is naturally hot-tempered, for he often shows it in many ways; and this is just what Jurgen did one day, when they had fallen out about the merest trifle.
They were sitting behind the cabin door, eating out of a delf plate, which they had placed between them. Jurgen held his pocket-knife in his hand, and lifted it towards Martin, and at the same time became ashy pale, and there was an ugly look in his eyes.
Martin only said, “Ah! you are one of that sort, are you, accustomed to use a knife?”
The words were scarcely spoken, when Jurgen’s hand sank down. He answered not a syllable, but went-on eating, and afterwards returned to his work.
When they were resting again he stepped up to Martin, and said, “You may hit me in the face, I deserve it; but I feel sometimes as if something inside me was boiling over.”
“There, let it pass,” said Martin, and after that they were almost better friends than ever. And when they got back to the dunes, and began telling their adventures, this was told also. Martin said Jurgen was certainly very hasty, but a good fellow after all. They were both young and healthy, well grown and strong, but Jurgen was the more clever of the two.
In Norway the peasants, in spring, lead out their cattle to graze on the mountains. In Jutland the fishermen live during the spring amid the sand-hills, where huts have been erected for them. They are built of pieces of wrecks, and roofed with heather and turf; there are sleeping-places within, ranged against the walls, and here they live and sleep during the fishing season. Every fisherman has a female helper, or manager, as she is called, who baits his hooks, prepares warm beer for him when he comes on shore, and gets the dinner cooked and ready for him by the time he comes back to the hut, tired and hungry. Besides this, the housekeepers bring up the fish from the boat, cut them open, and prepare them, and have generally a great deal to do. Jurgen, his father, and several other fishermen and their house-keepers, inhabited the same hut. Martin occupied the next one. One of the girls, named Elsie, had known Jurgen from childhood. They were glad to meet again, and in many things were of the same mind, but in out-ward appearance there was great contrast between them, for he was dark, and she was pale and fair, and had flaxen hair, and eyes as blue as the sea in sunshine.
One day as they were walking together, and Jurgen holding her hand very firmly in his, she said to him, “Jurgen, I have something on my mind which I want to tell you. Let me be your housekeeper, for you are like a brother to me. But Martin has engaged himself to me, and he and I are lovers, but you need not tell the rest.” Then it seemed to Jurgen as if the sand were loose, and giving way beneath his feet. He spoke not a word, but merely nodded his head to signify “yes.” More was not necessary, but suddenly there arose in his heart a feeling of hatred against Martin, and the more he thought, the more convinced he felt that Martin had stolen away from him the only being he ever loved, and that it was Elsie; he had never thought of Elsie in this way before, but now it became all plain to him,
When the sea is rather agitated, and the fishermen are coming home in their boat, it is a wonderful sight to see how they manage to cross the reef. One of the men stands upright in the bow of the boat, and the others watch him, sitting with the oars in their hands. Outside the reef it appears as if the boat were not approaching the land, but going back to sea. At last, the man standing up in the boat gives them the signal that the great wave is coming which is to lift them over the reef. A moment, and then the boat is raised so high in the air that her keel may be seen from the shore; and at the next she is entirely hidden from the eye; neither mast, nor keel, nor men can be seen; it is as if they had been devoured by the sea. But presently they emerge from the deep, like a great sea animal sporting with the waves, and the oars move as if they were the creature’s legs. The second and the third reef are passed in the same manner, and then the fishermen jump into the water, and the boat is pushed forward on the heaving waves, till it is at length drawn up safely on shore, beyond the reach of the breakers. A wrong order given by the man in the bow in front of the reef, the slightest hesitation, and the boat would be lost. “Then it would be all over with me and Martin, too.” This thought passed through the mind of Jurgen one day, when they were out at sea in the same boat together. His foster- father was on board, but he was taken suddenly ill when only a few oars’ stroke from the reef, and Jurgen sprang from his seat to take his father’s place in the bow.
“Father, let me come,” he said; and his eye glanced towards Martin, and across the waves: but while every oar bent with the strong pull of the rowers, as the great wave rose before them, he looked in the pale face of his father, and dared not obey the evil suggestion of his heart. The boat crossed the reef safely and came to land, but the evil thought remained in his mind, and roused up those bitter feelings which had existed there since he and Martin had quarrelled. He could not crush down these feelings, nor did he endeavour to do so. He felt that Martin had robbed him of a treasure, and this he thought cause enough for his hatred of his former friend. Several of the fishermen noticed the change, but not Martin, who was as obliging and talkative as ever; perhaps too much of the latter.
Jurgen’s foster-father took to his bed, which became his death-bed, for during the following week he died, and Jurgen found himself heir of the little house behind the sand-hills. It was but small, certainly, but still it was something, at all events more than Martin could boast of.
“You will not go to sea again now, I suppose,” observed one of the old fishermen; “you will always stay with us now.” But this was not Jurgen’s intention; he wanted to see a little more of the world.
The eel-breeder of Zjaltring had an uncle in Alt Skagen, who was a fisherman, but at the same time a prosperous merchant, who had ships of his own at sea. He was said to be a good old man, and service with him would not be amiss.
Alt Skagen lies to the extreme north of Jutland, with the whole length of the peninsula between it and Hunsby dunes. This was what pleased Jurgen, for he did not wish to remain to the wedding of Martin and Elsie, which was to be celebrated in a few weeks. The old fisherman thought it was a very foolish thing to leave this part of the country; for now that he had a home, perhaps Elsie would be inclined to take him instead of Martin. Jurgen answered so indifferently that it was not easy to understand his intentions. Then the old man brought Elsie to talk to him, and she said, “You have a home of your own now, and you should consider that.” But Jurgen thought of other things besides his home. The sea has its dark billows, but in the human heart the waves of passion are fiercer in their roll. Many thoughts, many hopes and fears, rushed through the brain of Jurgen as he talked to Elsie.
“If Martin had a house like mine, which would you rather have for a lover?”
“But Martin has no house, and cannot get one.”
“Well, let us suppose that he has one.”
“Why then I should take Martin, certainly; that is what my heart tells me to do now, but we cannot live upon love.”
Then Jurgen thought over it all night. Something was working within him, he hardly knew what, but it was stronger even than his love for Elsie. So, after considering the matter carefully, he went to Martin, and offered to let the house to him on most reasonable terms, saying that he wished to go to sea again because he liked it. Elsie kissed him when she heard of it, for she loved Martin best. Jurgen proposed to start early in the morning; so the evening before his departure, when it was growing rather late, he felt a wish to visit Martin once more. As he went along, he met the old fisherman among the dunes, who was angry at his leaving the place. The old man joked Martin, and declared it was not fair for all the girls to be so fond of him. Jurgen flung this speech to the winds, but he said farewell to the old man, and went on towards the house where Martin dwelt. He heard loud talking within—Martin was not alone, and this made Jurgen hesitate, for he did not wish to meet Elsie. So, on second thoughts, he felt it better not to hear any more thanks from Martin, and therefore turned back.
On the following morning, before break of day, he fastened on his knapsack, took his wooden provision-box in his hand, and went away over the sand-hills, towards the path by the coast. This road was more pleasant than the heavy sand-road; besides, it was shorter, and he intended first to go to Zjaltring, near Bowberg, where the eel-breeder lived, to whom he had promised a visit. The sea lay before him clear and blue: shells and pebbles, the playthings of his youth, crunched beneath his feet. While thus marching on, his nose suddenly began to bleed; it was a trifling occurrence, but little matters are sometimes of great importance. A few large drops fell upon one of his sleeves; he wiped them off, and stopped the bleeding, and it seemed to him that this had cleared and lightened his brain. The sea-anemone bloomed here and there in the sand as he passed. He broke off a stalk, and stuck it in his hat; he determined to be merry and light-hearted, for he was going out into the wide world, a little beyond the entrance of the bay, as the young eels had wished to do. “Beware of bad people, who will catch you, and flay you, and cut you in two, and put you in the frying-pan.” He smiled to himself as he repeated this in his mind, for he thought he should easily find his way through the world; youthful courage is a good defence.
The sun was high in the heavens when he approached the narrow entrance to Nissum Bay. He looked back, and saw two horsemen galloping a long distance behind him, and they were accompanied by other people. But this did not trouble him: it was no concern of his. The ferry-boat was on the opposite side of the bay. Jurgen called to the ferryman, and the latter came over with the boat. Jurgen stepped in, but before they had reached half-way across, the men whom he had seen riding so hastily behind came up, hailed the ferryman, and commanded him to return in the name of the law. Jurgen knew not the meaning of all this, but he thought it best to turn, and therefore himself took an oar and rowed back. The moment the boat touched the shore, the men sprang on board, and before he was aware, they had bound his hands with a rope. “This wicked deed will cost thee thy life,” said they; “it is well we have caught thee.”
He was accused of no less than murder: Martin had been found dead, with a knife thrust into his throat. Late on the previous evening one of the fishermen had met Jurgen going towards Martin’s house. Jurgen had been known to raise his knife against Martin before this, so every one felt sure he was the murderer.. The prison was in a town at a great distance, and the wind was contrary for going there by sea; but in half an hour the bay could be crossed, and it was only a quarter of a mile from the opposite side to Nörre Vosburg, a great castle with ramparts and moat.
One of the horsemen was a brother of the head keeper of the castle, and he said it could easily be managed that Jurgen should for the present be placed in the dungeon at Vosburg, where “Long Martha,” the gipsy, had been shut up till her execution,
No notice was taken of Jurgen’s defence, although he spoke on his oath. The few drops of blood on his shirt sleeve were a witness against him. But he was conscious of his innocence, and, as there seemed no hope of immediately clearing himself, he submitted to his fate. The party landed just at the spot where Sir Bugge’s castle had once stood, and where Jurgen had walked with his foster-parents, after the burial feast, during the four happiest days of his childhood. He was led along the old path over the meadow to Vosburg, and again the elders blossomed, and the lofty lime-trees perfumed the air: it seemed but yesterday that he had been here before. From the two wings of the castle, a staircase leads down to the entrance of a low, vaulted cellar. Here “Long Martha” had been imprisoned, and from thence she was led away to the scaffold. It is said that she took away the lives of five children, that she might devour their hearts, and was under the delusion that if she could obtain two more she would be able to fly and make herself invisible. In this dungeon there was no window, but a narrow loop-hole very near the ceiling admitted the air; no refreshing fragrance from the blooming lime-trees could reach that dwelling, where all was dark and mouldy. There was only a rough bench to lie upon; but a good conscience is a soft pillow, and therefore Jurgen could sleep well. The thick oaken door was locked and fastened outside by an iron bar, but the goblin Superstition can creep through a key-hole in a baron’s castle, as easily as into a fisherman’s hut; and what should prevent it from creeping in now, where poor Jurgen sat thinking of Martha and her terrible deeds?
Her last thought on the night before her execution was perhaps breathed aloud within these dungeon walls, and all the wickedness which tradition said had been practised within the castle in the olden times, when Sir Schwandwedel dwelt there, came into Jurgen’s mind, and made him shudder for a moment. But a refreshing thought penetrated his heart even here, like a sunbeam; it was the remembrance of the blooming elders and the fragrant lime-trees.
He was not left long in the castle; they carried him off to the town of Ringkjöbing, where he was imprisoned with equal severity. Those times were not like ours. The common people were treated harshly. It was not long after these days when the farmer who owned a small farm, could become a knight; and common servants were often made magistrates, and had it in their power to condemn a poor man, for even a small offence, to lose his property, or to suffer corporal punishment. Judges of this kind were even then to be found; especially in Jutland, so far from the capital and from well-ordered and enlightened rulers.
Jurgen had no cause to hope that his case would be speedly settled. He felt cold and cheerless in his prison. When would this state of things end? It seemed his fate to suffer misfortune and sorrow innocently. He had leisure now to reflect on the different positions allotted to man on earth, and to wonder at his own. And yet he felt sure all would be made clear in the next life, in the existence that awaits us after death. His faith had been strengthened in the fisherman’s hut; a faith which had never brightened his father’s mind amidst the wealth of sunny Spain, had been learnt by him in poverty, and was now a light of comfort in the hour of sorrow and distress, a sign of that mercy of God which never fails.
The storms of the spring equinox began to blow, and in the lull of the wind, the rolling and moaning of the North Sea could be heard for miles inland, like the rushing of a thousand wagons over undermined hollow ground. Jurgen, in his prison, heard these sounds, and they were a relief to him. No melody could have touched his heart as did these sounds from the sea; the rolling boundless ocean, on which a man can be borne before the wind through the world, carrying with him his home wherever he journeys, just as the snail carries his house with him, even into a strange country. How eagerly he listened to its deep moaning, and then the thought arose, “Free! free!” How happy to be free, even in rags and barefooted! Sometimes, when such thoughts crossed his mind, the fiery nature rose within him, and he struck the thick wall with his clenched fist.
Weeks, months, a whole year went by, and then it was discovered how Jurgen had been wronged. Niels the thief, called also a horse-dealer, was arrested for the murder of Martin. On the afternoon before Jurgen’s departure from home, and before the murder, Niels had met Martin at a beer- shop in the Ringkjöbing. A few glasses were drank; not sufficient to cloud the brain, but enough to loosen Martin’s tongue. He began to boast, and to say he had got a house, and intended to marry; and when Niels asked him where he expected to get the money, Martin slapped his pocket proudly, and said, “The money is there where it ought to be.” That boast cost him his life; for, when he left, Niels followed him, and stabbed him in the throat with a knife, intending to rob the murdered man of the gold he had boasted of, and which did not exist. All these circumstances came out in the evidence, but for us it is enough to know that Jurgen was set at liberty.
But what compensation did he get for having been imprisoned a whole year, and shut out from all communication with men? None. They told him it was good fortune enough to be proved innocent, and that he might go. The mayor gave him two dollars for his travelling expenses, and many of the citizens offered him provisions and beer,
There were still some good people; they were not all hard and pitiless. But the best of all was that the merchant Bronne of Skjagen, into whose service Jurgen had been about to enter a year previous, was just at that time in Ringkjöbing on business. Bronne heard the whole story; he was a kind-hearted man, and understood what Jurgen must have felt and suffered. He therefore determined to make it up to him in some way, and show him that there were still some kind people in the world. So Jurgen went forth from prison as if to paradise, to find freedom, affection, and trust.
“Let all be buried and forgotten,” said Bronne the merchant. “Let us draw a thick line through last year, or we may as well burn the almanac. In two days we will start for dear, lively, peaceful little Skjagen.”
They call Skjagen an out-of-the-way place in a comer, but it is a good, warm chimney-corner, with windows that open to all the world. What a journey that was! It was like taking fresh breath; out of the cold dungeon air into the warm sunshine. The heath was blooming in pride and beauty. The shepherd’s boy sat on the Hun’s grave, and blew a pipe, which he had carved for himself out of a sheep bone. The “Fata morgana,” the beautiful aërial wonder of distant lands, represented hanging gardens and waving forests; and the wonderful cloud, called “Lokeman driving his flock,” floated in the distance.
On, through the land of the Wendals, they went towards Skjagen, the place from whence emigrated the men with long beards (the Longobardi or Lombards). A story is told that in the days of King Snio, all the children and the old people were in danger of being killed, and a noble lady, named Gambaruk, advised the young people to emigrate. Jurgen had heard this story; and although he had never seen the land of the Lombards, he yet had an idea that it was somewhere beyond the Alps, not so very far from Spain, in the south, which he had visited in his boyhood. He thought of the piles of southern fruit; the red blossoms of the pomegranate; of the humming, murmuring, and toiling in the great beehive of a city which he had seen; but how beautiful is that land in which is home! And Jurgen’s home was Denmark.
At length they arrived at Wendelskajn, as Skjagen is called in the Old Norwegian and Icelandic writings. At that time, old Skjagen, including the eastern and western towns, extended for miles, with its sand-hills and arable land, as far as the lighthouse near the Skjagenzweigs. Then, as now, the houses were scattered about among the waving, shifting sand-hills,—a kind of desert, where the wind sported with the sand, and where voices of the sea-gull and the cry of the wild swan strike harshly upon the ear. In the south-west, about a mile from the sea, lies old Skjagen; and here dwelt merchant Bronne, and here was Jurgen to live in future. The dwelling- house was tarred; the small outbuildings had each an overturned boat for a roof: even the pigsty had been put together with pieces of wreck. There was no fence; for here, indeed, was nothing to fence in but long rows of fishes, hung upon lines, one above the other, to dry in the wind. The coast was littered with stale herrings; for those fish were so plentiful that a net was scarcely thrown into the sea before it was filled. They were caught by cartloads, and many of them were often thrown back into the sea, or left to lie on the shore. The old man’s wife and daughter, and even the servants, came to meet him with great rejoicing. There was a great squeezing of hands, talking, and questioning. And the daughter, what a dear face, and what lovely eyes she had! The interior of the house was comfortable and roomy. Fritters that a king would have considered a dainty dish were placed on the table, and there was wine from the vintage of Skjagen; that is, the sea, which brought the grapes to its shores, ready pressed and prepared, in barrels and in bottles.
When the mother and daughter heard who Jurgen was, and how innocently he had suffered, they looked at him in a still more friendly manner; and the eyes of the charming Clara had a look of great interest, as she listened to his story. Jurgen found a happy home at Skjagen. It did his heart good, for it had been sorely tried. He had drunk the bitter dregs in the cup of affliction, which sometimes harden and sometimes soften the heart. Jurgen’s heart was still soft; it was young, and had yet room in it. It was all the better for him, therefore, that in three weeks Miss Clara was going away in one of her father’s ships to Christiansand, in Norway, to visit an aunt, and to stay the whole winter. On the Sunday before her departure, they all went to the church, which stood at a short distance from the town. It had been built centuries before, by Scotchmen and Dutchmen. At that time it was large and handsome, but was now in rather a ruinous condition. The sand had even heaped itself round the walls, but the graves were kept free from it. The road to it was heavy, through deep sand; but the people gladly overcame these difficulties to get to the house of God, to sing psalms, and to hear the sermon. This church was the largest north of the Limfjord. Upon the altar stood a lifelike figure of the Virgin Mary, with a golden crown on her head and the Child Jesus in her arms. There were also, in the choir, carved figures of the holy apostles, and on the wall hung portraits of the old mayors and magistrates of Skjagen; the pulpit was of carved work. The sun shone brightly into the church, and its rays fell on the polished brass chandelier and on the little ship hanging from the vaulted roof. Jurgen felt overpowered with a holy, childlike feeling, similar to that which he had felt when, as a boy, he stood in the splendid Spanish cathedral. But here the feeling was different; he had the consciousness of being one of the congregation. After the sermon followed the holy communion. He partook of the bread and wine, and it happened that he knelt beside Clara; but his thoughts were so entirely fixed upon God and the holy service, that he did not notice his neighbour until he rose from his knees, and then he saw tears rolling down her cheeks,
Two days after she left Skjagen and went to Norway. He remained, and made himself useful in the house, and in the business. He went out fishing, and at that time fish were more plentiful and larger than they are now. The shoals of mackerel shone in the water as darkness came on, and discovered themselves by their brightness. Every Sunday he went to church, and as he sat there, his eye resting on the statue of the Virgin Mary on the altar, he sometimes thought of Clara, and how kind and friendly she had been to him; and his glance would for a moment fall on the spot where they had knelt side by side. Autumn came, and brought rain and snow; and when the snow thawed, the water remained on the roads; the sand could not absorb it. They were obliged to wade through it from house to house. Ships were lost on the destroying reefs; storms of snow and sand raged; the sand flew into the houses, so that to avoid it the owners had almost to creep up the chimney. But on the shores of the North Sea the weather was not so boisterous, and the merchant’s house was well sheltered and warm; in the evenings merchant Bronne would read to them from an old book of the Danish Prince Hamlet, and of a great battle which had been fought not many miles from his house. He also told them of a churchyard in which was a grave supposed to be Hamlet’s. Then Jurgen sang the song about the king’s son, and his beautiful ship.
And so the autumn and winter passed away. There was wealth, comfort, and happiness, even among the domestic animals, who were all well fed and well treated. The kitchen looked bright with its coppers, and tins, and pewter plates; and from the roof hung hams, and corned beef, and winter stores in profusion. All this is still to be seen in rich farms on the west coast of Jutland; plenty to eat and drink, clean and decorated rooms, clever heads, happy tempers, and hospitality such as is found in an Arab’s tent. Never since the famous burial feast had Jurgen passed such a happy time, and yet Mistress Clara was absent, except in the thoughts and memory of all.
In April a ship was to start for Norway, in which Jurgen was to sail. He was full of life and spirits, and looked so stout and well that Dame Bronne said it was a pleasure to see him.
“And it’s a pleasure to look at you, too, old wife,” said the old merchant. “Jurgen has brought new life into our winter evenings, and into you, mother. You look younger than ever this year, and bonny, too; but then you were the prettiest girl in Wiborg, which is saying a great deal, for I have always found the girls of Wiborg much prettier than any others.”
All this was nothing to Jurgen, but he thought of a certain Skjagen maiden, who was also pretty. He was about to visit that maiden; for the next morning the ship would set sail for Christiansand, in Norway, and as the wind was favourable, it was likely soon to arrive in port.
One morning, about a week after Jurgen had started to fetch Clara home, Bronne went out to the lighthouse, which stands not far from Old Skjagen. The light was out in the lantern, and the sun already high in the heavens when he mounted the tower. The sand-banks extend a whole mile from the shore, beneath the water. Outside these banks many ships could be seen that day, and with the help of his telescope the old man thought he could descry the “Karen Bronne,” as his ship was called. Yes! surely, there she was, sailing homewards with Jurgen and Clara on board. To them the church and the lighthouse appeared as a heron and a swan rising out of the blue waters.
Clara sat on deck, and saw the sand-hills gradually appearing in the distance. If the wind held up, they might reach her home in about an hour. So near were they to home and all its joys—so near to death and all its terrors! A plank in the ship gave way, and the water rushed in. The crew flew to the pumps, and attempted to stop the leak. A signal of distress was hoisted, but they were still a full mile from the shore. Fishing boats were in sight, but far too distant to be of use. The wind blew towards the shore, the tide was in their favour, but all in vain—nothing could save the ship from sinking!
Jurgen threw his right arm round Clara and pressed her to him. With what a look she gazed in his face, as, with a prayer to God for help, he breasted the waves, which were rushing over the sinking ship! She uttered a cry, but she felt safe; certain that he would not leave her to sink. And in this hour of terror and danger Jurgen experienced the feelings of the king’s son, as related in the song,—
Embraced the bride he had nobly won.”
How rejoiced he felt that he was a good swimmer. He struggled onward with his feet and one hand, while with the other he firmly held up the young girl. He rested on the waves, he trod the water, he practised all the arts he knew, so as to reserve strength enough to reach the shore. He heard Clara utter a sigh, and felt her shudder convulsively, and he pressed her more closely to him. Now and then a wave rolled over her, and at last one higher than the rest buried them in deep but clear water. He seemed for a moment confused, and heard sounds as of screaming birds, while shoals of fish passed before him. He had reached within a few cables’ length of the land, when he saw clearly beneath the water a white figure gazing at him; a wave lifted him, and the form approached. He felt a shock,—it grew dark, and everything vanished from his gaze.
On the sand-reef, covered with water at high-tide, lay part of the wreck of a vessel; the white figure-head resting against the anchor, the sharp, iron edge of which rose above the surface of the water. Jurgen had come in contact with this, and the tide had driven him against it with double force. He was sinking, fainting and stunned with the blow; but the next wave lifted him and the young girl towards the shore, and some fishermen approaching with a boat, grasped them and dragged them into it. The blood streamed down Jurgen’s face; he seemed dead, yet he still held the young girl so closely that they were obliged to take her from him by force. They laid her pale and lifeless in the boat, and rowed hastily to shore. Every means were tried to restore Clara to life, but they were useless. For some distance Jurgen had been swimming to shore with a corpse in his arms, and exhausting his strength for one who was dead.
Jurgen still breathed, so the fishermen carried him to the nearest house upon the sand-hills, where a smith and general dealer lived who knew some thing of surgery, and he bound up Jurgen’s wounds in a temporary manner, till a surgeon could be obtained next day from the nearest town. The brain of the injured man was affected, and in his delirium he uttered wild cries; but on the third day he lay quiet and exhausted on his couch. His life seemed to hang on a thread, and the surgeon said it would be better for him that this thread should be snapped. “Let us pray,” he said, “that God may take him to Himself, for he will never be the same man again.” But life would not depart from him—the thread would not snap, but the thread of memory broke—the thread of his mental power had been cut through; and more terrible still, a body remained—a living, healthy body, that wandered about like a spectre.
Jurgen remained in the house of the merchant Bronne. “He injured himself in his endeavours to save our child,” said the old man, “he is our son now.” People called Jurgen imbecile: that was not the correct term. He was like an instrument in which the strings are loose, and will give no sound. At times, and for a few minutes, they would regain their power and sound as of old. He would sing snatches of songs or old melodies; pictures of the past would rise before him, and then disappear as in a mist; but generally he would sit staring into vacancy—his mind a blank. We may believe that he did not suffer, but his dark eyes lost their brilliancy, and looked like clouded glass.
“Poor imbecile Jurgen,” said the people. And this was the end of a life whose infancy would have been cradled in luxury, had his parents lived! He was like a rare plant torn from its native soil, and thrown upon the sand to wither there. And was this one of God’s creatures, fashioned in His own image and after His likeness, to have no better destiny? Was he to be merely the sport of chance? No! the all-loving Creator would repay him in the life to come, for what he had suffered and lost in this. “The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works,” says the psalmist; and these words of David were repeated in patience and hope by the old, pious wife of the merchant; and the prayer of her heart was that Jurgen might soon be summoned to enter into eternal life.
In the churchyard, where the walls are surrounded with sand, Clara lay buried. Jurgen appeared to have no idea of this; it did not enter his mind, which could only retain fragments of the past. Every Sunday he went to church with the old people, and sat silent, gazing on vacancy. One day, while the psalms were being sung, he uttered a deep sigh, and a light came into his eyes, as he fixed them upon the place at the altar where he had often knelt during a year with his friend who was dead. He uttered her name, and then became pale as death, while the tears rolled down his cheeks. They led him out of the church; he told the bystanders he was quite well, and had never been ill. He who had been so heavily afflicted—the waif cast forth upon the world—remembered nothing of his sufferings. “The Lord our Maker is wise, and full of loving-kindness; who can doubt it?”
In Spain, where the warm breezes blow over the Moorish cupola, and among the orange and myrtle groves, where the song and the castanets are ever heard, where children march in procession through the streets with flags and lighted tapers, in a luxurious house sat the rich merchant, a childless old man. How much of his wealth would he not have given to be able once more to press his daughter to his heart, or her child, which had perhaps never seen the light of life. “Poor child!” Yes, poor child; a child still, yet more than thirty years of age, for Jurgen had reached that age while living in Skjagen.
Drifting sands had covered the graves in the churchyard, quite up to the walls of the church; but the dead must be buried among the relations and the loved ones who had gone before them. Merchant Bronne and his wife were laid with their children in one of these graves beneath the white sand. It was spring time, the season of storms, The sand from the hills near Hunsby was whirled up in clouds; the sea ran high, and flocks of birds flew about in the storm, or ran shrieking across the sand-dunes. Shipwreck followed shipwreck, on the reefs of Skjagenzwieg.
One evening Jurgen sat alone in his room; suddenly his mind seemed to become clearer, and a feeling of unrest came upon him, such as had often driven him forth, in his younger days, to wander on the heath and among the sand-dunes. “Home, home!” he exclaimed. No one heard him. He went out of the house, and turned his steps towards the dunes. Sand and stones blew in his face, and were whirled about. He continued his way on towards the church. The sand lay high round the walls, half covering the windows, but the heap had been shovelled away from before the door, and there was a clear and free pathway to enter, so Jurgen went into the church.
The storm continued to howl over the town of Skjagen; there had not been such a terrible tempest nor such a raging sea within the memory of man. But Jurgen was in the temple of God; and while a night of desolation reigned without, a light arose in his soul, which was never to be extinguished; the heavy weight which pressed on his brain seemed to burst and disperse. He thought he heard the sound of the organ, but it was the moaning of the sea in the storm. He sat down on one of the seats, and behold the candles were lighted one by one, and a brightness diffused around, which he had never seen but in the cathedral in Spain. The pictures of the old citizens seemed to be endued with life; they stepped forth from the walls, against which they had hung for centuries, and seated themselves near the entrance of the church. The gates and doors flew open, and all the dead from the churchyard entered at the sound of the music, and filled the seats in the church. Then the music of the psalm pealed forth like the noise of waters, and Jurgen saw that his old foster-parents from the Hunsby dunes, and the old Merchant Bronne and his wife were there; and at their side, close to Jurgen, sat their lovely daughter Clara. She gave him her hand, and they both went to the altar, where they had once knelt together, and the priest joined their hands and united them for life. Then came the sound of wonderful music, like the voice of a child, full of joy and expectation, swelling like the tones of a full organ, at one time soft and sweet, then like the sounds of a tempest, full and strong enough to burst the stone tombs of the dead. Then the little ship, which hung down from the roof of the choir, descended, and appeared wonderfully large and beautiful, with its silken sails and golden rigging: “every rope with silk entwined,” as the old song says.
The newly married pair went on board, and the whole congregation with them, for there was room and enjoyment for all. Then the walls and arches of the church appeared covered with the bloom of juniper and lime-trees, wafting coolness and freshness from their waving branches. They bent and parted, and the ship sailed between them, through the air and over the sea; and every taper in the church became a star, and the murmuring of the wind was a psalm, in which they all joined. “Through love to glory, no life is lost; the future is full of happiness and joy. Hallelujah.” These were the last words spoken by Jurgen in this world. The thread that bound his immortal soul to earth snapped asunder; nothing but a dead body lay in the dark church, while around it the storm raged, covering it with loose sand.
The following day was Sunday, and the priests and the congregation proceeded to the church. The road had always been heavy, now the sand made it almost impassable; and when they at length reached the church, a great heap of sand lay piled up before them. The whole building was buried in sand. The priest offered a short prayer; he said that God had closed the door of His house here, and that the congregation must go and build a new one for Him elsewhere. So they sung a psalm under the open sky, and went back to their homes. Jurgen was nowhere to be found in the town of Skjagen, nor among the dunes, though they sought for him diligently. It was supposed that the waves which had rolled far upon the sand had swept him away; but his body lay buried in a great sepulchre, the sand-covered church. The Lord had thrown from His hand in the storm a covering for his grave, a heavy heap of sand, which rests upon it to this day. The vaulted roof of the church, the arched cloisters, and the stone aisles were entirely covered with the whirling sand. The white thorn and the wild roses now grow above the spot where the church lies buried; but the tower, like a gigantic tombstone over a grave, can be seen for miles round. No king has a more splendid tombstone. No one disturbs the rest of the dead, no one knows of this; we are the first to hear of it. For the storm sung the tale to me among the sand-hills.