Sun and Midsummer Day
The twenty-second of June, 1807.
Benjamin Sigismund had sent for Ol-Kanelesa. He came straight from the smithy in his clogs and his leather apron. When he got to Leich's house, he sent a message by the maid Anne-Sofie saying that he was waiting outside. He wouldn't go in in his work clothes.
The pastor came out onto the steps.
"Your Reverence must excuse me," Ol-Kanelesa said. "I'm not fitly dressed to come up to your study."
He looked down in embarrassment at his clogs and at his blackened apron.
"Have you come direct from your smithy?"
"Yes, that's just what I've done."
"Listen, my dear sacristan. Tomorrow is the feast of St. John the Baptist. According to the history of our ancient church this day was a holy day."
"It's been kept both as a holy and an unholy day, that day, for sure."
"We won't talk about the cruel persecution of the church, Ole, not today."
"How do you know that at one time this day was profaned?"
"Well, I've read a bit too—that's to say in days gone by, when I was younger."
"Yes, yes. Of course, you've been a teacher."
Ol-Kanelesa didn't answer. He stood there thinking of the time when he took large volumes with him into the smithy, and into the schoolroom. Leather-bound books with buckles on them, and with Thomas von Westen Hammond's name inside the cover. Now that was a long time ago. Anyone who battled with iron and charcoal year in and year out became forgetful, that's how it was with old blacksmiths. And he didn't any longer remember much of what was in the books. Just something here and there he could remember when he was reminded about it. He was an ignorant man.
Today Ol-Kanelesa was small and humble. In his own eyes [p. 105] he felt worth nothing. Another thing was, he had been drunk at Gunhild's wedding, drunk and confused, and that was a great shame and a mockery. Had he anything to feel big about? Like Cain, his countenance fell, he shook his head, and held himself in the greatest scorn.
"Listen," the pastor said again. "We will ring the bells and call the people together for evensong tomorrow. What do you think of that?"
"There's no one here, the miners are at the mines. And up at the smeltery they're on holiday."
"But the directors and their families are still in Bergstaden, aren't they?"
"Your Reverence," Ol-Kanelesa said in a literary style. "Verily, they have ears to hear, but they are deaf at the same time."
"What do you mean by that?"
"I mean that you can just as well preach God's holy word to sticks and stones as to the upper classes."
"What!" the pastor shouted from the steps. "What are you saying, Ole Korneliusen?"
"I am a most unworthy and humble man, to whom it is in no wise given to try the hearts and reins of men; but—" At this point Ol-Kanelesa relapsed into his normal speech. "I'm afeared we're in Nineveh."
"Well," the pastor said. "We will return the lost sheep to their flock." He was brimming with zeal. "And the mine workers, Ole, are they also included amongst the unrighteous from Nineveh?"
"The miners, them? Oh, we had no doubt best reckon them as amongst the righteous."
"And they have all remained firm in the faith of their childhood?"
"In all the infirmity of the flesh, yes. We must believe that."
"God be praised, God be forever praised!" The pastor came down the steps and patted Ol-Kanelesa on the shoulder. "With the help of the Almighty's strength and support they, too, shall be preserved in the faith and in the communion of saints."[p. 106]
"We must believe that, too."
The sun shone right into the blacksmith's eyes; they smarted and were painful. He was more used to the light from the fire down in the smithy.
"Listen, Ole. Supposing we visit the miners tomorrow and celebrate evensong with them?"
"The miners' hut is too small for a church, but we must do as the Master himself did—preach a Sermon on the Mount."
"You mean we should hold divine service out in the open?"
"Yes, if the weather is good enough, yes."
"The weather! The weather!" Benjamin Sigismund said excitedly. "We will go to Him who is lying in the boat asleep and bid Him awake and rebuke the storm. Which mine should we make our way to?"
"It would have to be at Aalberja."
"Yes. Arvedal, yes. But we must perhaps find out from the managing director if we are allowed to?"
"What! From whom?"
"The director, Mr. Knoph."
"Well! Please fetch him to see me."
"Yes, of course."
Ol-Kanelesa walked slowly out of the entrance gate to Leich's house; Benjamin Sigismund stormed up the steps. Now the Lord's field here in the mountains should be plowed to the last inch and bring forth sixty-fold. Glorious!
When Ol-Kanelesa got out into the street, he remained standing there, confused, staring and peering up in the clear, glittering air. Fetch Director Knoph! No one had dared to do that; that sort of thing was just not possible. He'd have to go up to the pastor again and tell him how things were—but he was sure to think that he was trying to get out of it, and was being stubborn; the pastor [p. 107] was still such a stranger here, it looked as if it was going to be a time before he became familiar with how things were here.
"Now you're truly between the Devil and the deep blue sea, Ol-Kanelesa!" he said to himself.
And he began to walk up and down the main street with his hands behind his back. He kept close in to the walls of the houses, so as to be in the shadows. There was less light there than in the middle of the street. In this way people wouldn't notice him so much; people might think he was drunk again, loitering up and down like that. He didn't want anyone to think that now, when at last he had given up the brandy bottle.
No, he better go up to Elisabeth Cottage and think over this matter of old Knoph and the pastor.
He locked the door after him as he went in, and even pushed home the wooden bolt, to be quite sure that no one would come in.
He took down the board with tobacco from the mantel, and began to shred the tobacco into his pipe. He sat down at the gateleg table, put one arm up on the leaf, and smoked and pondered for a long time. It wasn't that he was afraid of old Knoph—but he might be so angry at being summoned by the pastor that he would throw him out. And then people would be sure to think that the sacristan had been thrown out for being drunk and disorderly. Whatever happened, it wasn't going to be that. He shredded some more tobacco—taking his time and thinking. And he rubbed it in the hollow of his hand for a long time, pondering. He picked up a fresh ember and lit up. The little room became thick with tobacco smoke, so that Ol-Kanelesa sat like a black shadow over by the table. He became thirsty, too, sitting there smoking and brooding.
Supposing he took a dram, a tiny one, a single sip? No, that couldn't help one way or the other. He got up and walked slowly, almost reluctantly, over to the cupboard and took out a wooden bottle containing some French brandy. He shook it with both hands. And it was as if the French brandy down in the bottle said, "You must beware of me, Ol-Kanelesa." He [p. 108] shook the bottle once again; French brandy was supposed to be shaken well before drinking. Now it said, "Drink up, Ola lad! Then you'll be happy and you'll find a way out too!" He unscrewed the lead cap. He wiped himself over the mouth with the back of his hand. He lifted the bottle half way up his chest—but now it was as if somebody stood beside him and said, "But perhaps, all the same, you stand to gain most by keeping your word, Ol-Kanelesa." He lowered his arm. Who was it who said that, then? The voice seemed exactly like Ellen's. If he could only be sure it was Ellen who stood here warning him, then never a drop of brandy should pass his lips again.
Besides, it wasn't the first time he'd thought Ellen was standing beside him; begging him to give up drinking. He had thought a great deal about it—thought and thought about it and had always got just as near and just as far from an answer—it was useless to think thoughts of that sort.
And then Ol-Kanelesa did something he had never done in the whole of his life before. He went over to the fireplace and poured the brandy into the ashes.
"You're still the big fool you always were, Ol-Kanelesa," a voice said at once.
"Now you have kept your word of honor, Ol-Kanelesa," another voice said.
"Yes, yes. You're still the same old Ol-Kanelesa," he said to himself. "A poor devil who continually drives off the road and overturns in the ditch."
He screwed on the lead cap and put the empty bottle quietly back in its old place in the cupboard.
What should he do now? He'd have to grit his teeth and go down to old Knoph and do as the pastor had said. And, perhaps, he'd better put on his Sunday clothes; no, he wouldn't bother about that—he was a fool and an idiot anyway. And a fool, dressed up in his Sunday best . . .
Down at Director Knoph's office the matter took the course he had thought it would.[p. 109]
"If there's anything the pastor wishes to speak to me about, he can see me here in my office," Knoph said.
And with that the interview between him and Ol-Kanelesa was at an end.
And now Ol-Kanelesa repented bitterly that he had poured all that good French brandy into the fire. Had he drunk it, perhaps he would have had enough courage to give that worldly and conceited gentleman a piece of his mind. But instead of leaving Knoph with a few well-chosen words from which he would have benefited for a long time to come, Ol-Kanelesa crept out of his office like some poor half-wit.
Knoph growled fiercely as Ol-Kanelesa was shutting the door. And this angered Ol-Kanelesa so much that he was on the point of turning and going in again. He would just have asked that mortal clay, Otto Knoph, what he was being so stuck up about. No, today there wasn't a bit of spunk in Ol-Kanelesa.
He was also annoyed that he'd had to run errands for the bigwigs in the middle of his work. He had promised to have four wagon wheels ready by this evening; they were for a couple of wagoners from Vingelen who had driven their wagons to pieces in the Haanæs hills. And what one had promised, one should try to keep. Even if one, otherwise, was ever so much of a miserable wretch.
In a trice Ol-Kanelesa was up at Leich's house again and got the maid Anne-Sofie to run for the pastor. And Benjamin Sigismund came out onto the steps once again.
"Well, Ole. Haven't you got Mr. Knoph with you?"
Ol-Kanelesa had to tell him what Knoph had said. And Benjamin Sigismund took this message very badly indeed.
"Well," he said. "We are not going to ask any director for permission to celebrate divine service up there on the Mount. The earth we walk on and the heaven over our heads are the property of God."
"And quite right too, in my humble opinion."
Nothing would please Ol-Kanelesa better than to see Knoph [p. 110] taken down a peg. His arrogance had angered him more than once.
The next day at four o'clock Ol-Kanelesa stood outside Leich's country store with food in a knapsack on his back and waited. He was dressed as yesterday, but with his hands and face washed clean of soot and charcoal. Truly, his hands were clean but not white; Ol-Kanelesa had typical blacksmith hands, they looked like stone clubs. He always had to force them down into his pockets.
Benjamin Sigismund came walking with long strides out through the gate. He had his cassock, and a knapsack too; in it lay his Bible and a small piece of dry flatbread. Today Kathryn had neither butter nor cheese—but now in these hard war years with crop failure and long winters, there were many who had no bread. Kathryn had both cried and sighed deeply as she put the dry bread into her husband's leather knapsack. And it had touched Benjamin Sigismund's heart. He stroked her on one of her cheeks with the back of his fingers and reminded her of John the Baptist's food: locusts and wild honey. He reminded her, too, of the fowls of the air and the bees of the field, who neither sowed nor spun; but received their reward and sustenance from God.
Otherwise Benjamin Sigismund was in good form today. As far as Ol-Kanelesa could see, the anger which Knoph had aroused in the pastor yesterday had now passed completely; and so it was. True enough, the arrogant director's answer had kept him awake for a good part of the night, but towards morning he fell asleep and had slept soundly until Kathryn had called him and the clock in the church tower struck seven. The morning light of a new summer's day had illuminated anew the words of Jesus, "Whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also." He had even decided to go and see Mr. Knoph—that would be turning the other cheek; but wouldn't it, at the same time, be diminishing [p. 111] ecclesiastical authority? Yes! Of course! He decided, therefore, to hold firm to his decision of yesterday; to celebrate evensong on the Mount without obtaining the permission of that high and mighty gentleman in advance.
"What," Ol-Kanelesa said, and stared in amazement. "Aren't you going to drive to the mines, do you intend to walk?"
"Wander on foot, you mean?"
"Yes, go on foot, yes."
"You and I must always be wanderers on this earth."
"Yes, me perhaps, but you?"
"I too. Let us hasten."
"The way is long and we must take it easily—especially to begin with."
"The longer the way, the sooner we must set forth, Ole Korneliusen."
"Yes, I know that's in the Scriptures but—we're not in Palestine."
"Not yet, but a time shall come when both you and I shall, by the grace of God the Almighty, cross the threshold of the promised land."
"We must believe that, at least."
"Not only believe it but also be quite certain of it."
And so they set forth: Ol-Kanelesa leading; Benjamin Sigismund following a few steps behind him. His dubbined boots were far too tight. Every step he took was painful—but it was on bruised feet that one must go towards Canaan, on bruised and bleeding feet. And one must arrive tired and weary, repenting, sorrowing, and thirsting. Knights with golden spurs and those who drove in triumphal chariots could never enter there. They had already received their reward; the Lord rewarded justly, no one was forgotten, no one got more than he deserved.
And the sun shone down from a cloudless sky; Kvitsanden lay glittering blue and warm—it looked like a dried-up lake; as, indeed, it was.
In the peat banks along the River Glaama people were [p. 112] working cutting the peats; steam rose from the frost in the many hundreds of piles of peats, and the sun glittered on the worn iron spades. And acrid smoke rose up between the piles; thus it wasn't to be wondered at that Benjamin Sigismund asked if there was a camp there.
Now and then a gust of wind coming down from the Hitter ridge blew through the streets of Bergstaden and whirled dust, sand, and dried horse dung up into the warm air. And before the pastor and the sacristan had managed to get as far as Mount Reimer they were grey and saturated with dust.
Up here on the hills something happened to Benjamin Sigismund. A small and insignificant thing seen from the outside. It was like a sun-kissed zephyr which dances on the smooth shining water during the long light days, but which can end in storm and great waves in the dark nights.
Beside the road there was a newly built, single-storied wooden cottage, with a window with small panes. There were no curtains at the window and no flowers on the unpainted window ledge. It was through this window he saw Gunhild Finne as he went past. She was standing there holding a rough clay beaker in her hand.
And this caused Benjamin Sigismund to forget that he was a scholar, a pastor and a parish priest. . . . His imagination was fired: now he was a knight in golden spurs, a young count with a great retinue, dashing across the spring fields on the big estate, over dykes and ditches. Hunting horns sounded from the woodlands, fire sprang from flint and firepan, shots rang out. He brought her his first hart. He lay the noble beast chivalrously at her feet.
"Get ye behind me, wicked thoughts, wicked and blasphemous thoughts. I am only a humble servant of the Lord."
He went on, shaken to the depth over himself. He was a reed shaken hither and thither by the wind.
"Won't you tell me something about the history of these parts, Ole Korneliusen?"
He had to try to absorb something into his soul, some fresh [p. 113] impression of a place or an event which would cure his mind, just as the essence of a particular herb cures a sick body.
"History?" Ol-Kanelesa said. "I don't know much more than what's written in Hjort's book."
Ol-Kanelesa, too, was plagued by a multitude of things as he walked along in the heat of the sun. To begin with he had a burning thirst and a hangover, but he could still stand that—no doubt it would pass this time, as so many times before. It was worse to think that he was not a man who could ever keep his word. He walked along, sick with shame. That he should sink so low and get drunk again last evening, he could scarcely believe it. He was sacrificing both his temporal and his eternal peace by this degrading life. Had Ellen lived, everything would have been different. It was not unthinkable that he could have been pastor here instead of Sigismund. But it was futile to think of that now. He had become a drunkard. But in future he would be careful not to promise anything at all; he ought to spit in his own face. Yes, that he ought.
The trickling of a brook above the road caused his tongue to contract in his mouth. What if he took out the drinking ladle from his knapsack and tried to drink? But wouldn't the pastor realize he had a hangover? No, he'd have to wait for a while. He sneaked his tobacco tin out of his waistcoat pocket and bit off a long plug. Was it just one dram he'd had? One single one?
Sigismund tried to forget her whom he had seen through the window, by forcing himself to think about a learned dissertation he had worked at for a long time—but his thoughts wandered and made their way to a newly built timber cottage where a young woman stood with a rough clay beaker in her hands. She was beautiful.
"I say, Ole Korneliusen, how are the young corporal and his wife getting on?"
"You mean David and Gunhild?"
The pastor became hot and flushed. Yes, like somebody who during the first flush of passion hears his beloved's name mentioned by others. He hurriedly dried the sweat from his face [p. 114] so that Ol-Kanelesa should not see how flushed he was. And in order to confuse Ol-Kanelesa further, he said, "Yes, her name was Gunhild, wasn't it?"
"Gunhild Finne, yes."
Was there a touch of irony in the sacristan's voice? Benjamin Sigismund didn't dare ask again.
When they had walked for an hour, Ol-Kanelesa said, "Now we're on the north side of Nyplads Bridge, your Reverence."
They stopped and leaned over the parapet of the bridge, and stared down into the clear water which glided black and soundless under the arch of the bridge. At the sight of the water Ol-Kanelesa's thirst became unbearable.
"Supposing we rest here for a while?" he said. "We've still a long way to go."
Now he had to have something to drink. He thirsted worse than the rich man who saw Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham.
"Just as you wish, Ole Korneliusen."
Then they crept down and round the north end of the bridge and put down their knapsacks in the heather; Ol-Kanelesa took out his drinking ladle.
"Is the pastor thirsty?"
"Thank you," Benjamin Sigismund said, and seized the ladle eagerly. "A good ladle of water in this terrible heat is not to be despised."
He drank for a long while. Time and again he filled the ladle and drank. Ol-Kanelesa thought he would never get his ladle again. It seemed to him that Sigismund was drinking up all the water in the world.
"Ah!" Benjamin Sigismund said, and filled the ladle once again. "Wouldn't a bath in this clear water be refreshing, Ole?"
"Bath!" Ol-Kanelesa began. "Do you want to wash yourself?"
To bathe in the open on a weekday was hardly the thing for adults. Had it been a Sunday, it would have been different.
Now Benjamin Sigismund began to ladle water over his long thin hands. Ol-Kanelesa began to see stars before his eyes. He couldn't stand it any longer. He threw himself down on his [p. 115] knees like a thirsty old bull moose and drank from the stream.
"What is the time, do you think?"
Ol-Kanelesa raised himself up on all fours and peered towards the sun. "Five."
"So, five o'clock?"
Ol-Kanelesa was wondering whether his thirst would ever be slaked. He couldn't remember that he had ever been so thirsty before.
"Then we are in good time, Ole."
Ol-Kanelesa didn't hear. He just drank. Drank as he had never drunk before.
But Benjamin Sigismund ripped off his cassock and laid it with his leather knapsack under one of the piers of the bridge. Then he walked a little way up the river, undressed completely behind a willow thicket, and threw his clothes on to it. And to Ol-Kanelesa's great horror the pastor threw himself stark naked into the stream so that a mass of green foam welled up around him.
"Hey! You'll kill yourself!" Ol-Kanelesa shrieked. "D'you want to do away with yourself?"
He started running along the sandy bank of the river. He'd seen people wade out into still water up to their chest when they wanted to bathe—but he'd never seen nor heard talk of anyone diving headfirst into running water. No, that he hadn't!
Now, fortunately, it looked as if the pastor had really heeded what Ol-Kanelesa had said and he came wading ashore again. He shook the water off himself and stood there in the sunshine, enveloped in a shining silvery spray.
"Aren't you coming in, sacristan?"
"Me, out there?" Ol-Kanelesa said. "Not on your life; wild horses wouldn't get me out there."
"This water is our Bethesda."
"Hm. Yes. But we've only two arches, your Reverence." Ol-Kanelesa pointed at the arches of the bridge. "And the sheep's gate, where shall we have that?"[p. 116]
"We must do without that, Ole."
Benjamin Sigismund was in the best of spirits. He asked the sacristan to rub his back. Ol-Kanelesa was also in a good humor now. He laughed and rubbed the pastor's back up and down with leaves and birch twigs; that, too, was a quaint idea, to let someone stand there and rub the skin off your back. He'd get both the scab and scabies from it.
Wagoners who were moving in long convoys south towards Bergstaden walked beside their wagons and stared at the two people out in the bank of the river. "Gypsies," they all said. "Gypsies taking off some of their winter muck. It stinks of them for miles around."
And they laughed.
Ol-Kanelesa heard the laughter and felt ashamed.
They picked up their leather knapsacks again and opened them. And a large flat stone did service as our two cronies' dining table.
Sigismund put his dry, coarse, flatbread on the stone, folded his hands, and said half aloud: "Our table, Lord, is now prepared," but his thoughts dwelt on quite different things.
Ol-Kanelesa also took off his cap and solemnly folded his hands. His thick, worn, workaday fingers only embraced each other at their very tips. He said the words of the grace quietly to himself and found great comfort in them. And when Benjamin Sigismund said,
Grant us the reward of our sweat,
With the bread of life our souls sustain,
Which Jesus through the Cross did us gain,
Ol-Kanelesa bowed his head.
What he prayed for, deeply and earnestly, was the bread of life. This was the bread he hungered after; the bread which could give him the inner strength to resist sin and temptation—and the strength that was needed to tear his stumbling foot away from the cunning snares the great tempter laid.
Benjamin Sigismund and Ol-Kanelesa ate their rough, dry [p. 117] bread in silence, taking turns to drink water from the ladle. Afterwards they sat there dozing in the sun. And then Ol-Kanelesa began to tell of that July day in the hard and wicked year 1678 when the Swedish general Sparre, with his two thousand soldiers half-dead with starvation, came riding down this road; and of the night when blasphemous cavalrymen used the old church as a stable for their horses, of the mockery of the service which the four Finnish chaplains held the morning after, and of the burning of the smeltery, the mines, and Bergstaden.
Benjamin Sigismund didn't listen very closely to what Ol-Kanelesa was telling him.
Copyright © 1923 by H. Aschehoug & Co. Used by permission. English translation copyright © 1968 The Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System. All rights reserved. Use of this material falling outside the purview of "fair use" requires the permission of the University of Wisconsin Press.
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