The Tower Window
Up in the church tower, with the window from which two magpies flew out every time the church bells rang, was an old bench. It had at one time been in the old church. It had scarcely been a bench for the common man; for that purpose it must, originally, have been far too good. Quite a remarkable picture was carved on its back: some reindeer, a dog, and a mountain Lapp with a pointed cap, on skis; but the name of the woodcarver had been forgotten. Some ecclesiastic or other had no doubt thought that the bench didn't suit the new big stone church. And so the bench had been carried up into the tower, so that the bell ringer could sit and rest on it.
It was here that Gunhild and Benjamin Sigismund met. Four years had passed now; it was the year 1812. A love which had only stolen embraces to keep it alive could hardly last very long; Sigismund knew it, Gunhild suspected it.
To begin with they only met up there in the light of day. It was far too unpleasant, especially for Gunhild, to cross the churchyard after dark. And it made the unpleasantness so much worse, that she went there on an errand which was both sinful and unlawful. When she went up the dry, creaking wooden staircase with beating heart and quivering knees, it seemed to her that someone came creeping after her—got hold of her from behind and tried to pull her down again. "Turn [p. 218] back, Gunhild!" a voice called to her from between the rafters. "The road you are treading leads to perdition." Benjamin Sigismund could also have something of the same feeling. He was always the first to arrive. Once he fell down on his knees on the worn staircase, folded his hands and exclaimed: "Lord, I a poor wretch of the seed of Adam can, like him, no longer distinguish between right and wrong; I alone am the guilty one!"
Here by the narrow window they sat well hidden, and at the same time they could keep a good watch on everybody who crossed the churchyard. If anybody approached whom they thought might come up to the bells and into the tower, they fled into the loft above the nave. In dread, in sweet and mortal dread, they held on tightly to each other. They sat silently and listened to each other's pounding heartbeats. For him, pastor as he was, it must be said that it was an exciting game—no, it was serious beyond words. He knew well enough that the citizens of Bergstaden were now talking about their relationship, but as yet nobody had caught them red-handed. Kathryn, too, had her suspicions. No one had said anything to her, but it hung in the air. And in this, Benjamin Sigismund came face to face with one of his greatest sins: the lies of their daily life together, in words, in caresses, and in concealment. This sin was the smoldering flame which consumed the ties which once had bound him so fast to his Lord and Master; this sin was the bed strewn with thorns and thistles on which he lay, and which kept him awake during the long nights. He had lain on thorns and thistles before: the thorns and thistles of economic difficulties and worries. No, they were not thorns and thistles, they were flowers and roses. His living and his appointment as quartermaster and surgeon at the Works had turned out to be more profitable sources of income than he had ever thought possible. Those hideous old usurers and money-grubbers had long since been paid what he owed them—together with a stiff letter, calling on them to reflect that this life had in no wise been given them to heap up piles of gold and silver, but treasures of more lasting value.[p. 219]
Sigismund and his wife had now moved from the cramped dark room in Leich's house into a large and spacious house just opposite. Now they had what they needed. And Kathryn's health had all the time got better and better. His reputation as a preacher travelled far. His church was packed with worshippers. The esteem with which his fellow clerics held him rose continually. He had already been appointed dean of the southern valleys. The next step up, when would that happen? Yes, the Lord had rewarded him, his bad and unfaithful servant, with a great reward: the accomplishment of his dreams of youth. But had he made just use of this rich reward? No, oh no! And was he today that which one understands by a happy man? No, no! There, where sorrow and anxiety had disappeared at God's command, he himself had brought a new sorrow, a new anxiety into its place. This was to ignore the words of the Scriptures: "But godliness with contentment is great gain" He showed the way to true happiness. He pointed it out to others. He himself walked to the side of it. Therefore his limbs were so weary and his feet so sore.
. . . As time went on their assignations became more and more confined to the late night hours. They both became bolder, as they got used to the churchyard, the graves, and the crosses with their black shadows on the moonlight nights—the dark staircase, the dismal whining of the wind in the crossbeams and through the banisters, the creaking of the stone walls which settled under their own weight, didn't make them start any more. And they had been here so many times that there were memories attached to almost every step in the long and many staircases—memories which through the days and the years lost their dark side, their cold grey clamminess, and increased in beauty and joy.
It was the third Thursday in September. Benjamin Sigismund sat in his big, bright study and impatiently turned the pages of his dissertation.
He took it out today. There was plenty of dust on it now. In recent years he hadn't had time for scholarly work. The dissertation was not good; it seemed a stranger to him—yes, [p. 220] and to such an extent that he could well imagine it written by somebody else. His views and his judgements had changed. Besides, he felt no urge to continue with the work. Nothing but superficial ideas! The subject he had chosen was also far too thin and incapable of being shaped into anything of value. It was mainly to kill time that he took it out now and looked at it while he waited for the clock to strike seven up in the tower. Then he would meet Gunhild. He didn't look forward to this meeting. Every time could be the last. The hour for parting was moving towards their frail bower of love, bathed in shadows and sun—soon it would knock on the door with its iron finger—soon its black cloak would darken the entrance. And once it had entered it would go to work inexorably: with brutal hands it would tear their twin soul apart. It would kill life, the inner growing life. And then one would enter into an empty and featureless world. Into a world where no one answers when one asks, where no one comes when one calls—for there are no others.
In the world he now lived in, two people at any rate had loved him: his splendid mother and Gunhild. True enough, Kathryn loved him—but with a different love. Her soul had never eaten its way into his; they had always been two, never one.
The clock in the church tower struck six. The heavy strokes made his heart beat quicker. Yes, what then would the next hour bring? Today as he came out of the storehouse and went down the steps, a man was standing there. His face was distorted. He stood there intoxicated and furious, and hissed an oath up into his face. He lifted his stick to give the man a blow—but let it fall.
There was a knock at his study door. He didn't start. He could tell that it was Kathryn. Had she come to wring a new lie out of him? Every day, without realizing it, she added new stones to his heavy burden. But even if she had known, would she then, out of sheer human kindness, have stopped? Hardly! She would have let out a shriek of terror. And her quiescent [p. 221] tuberculosis would have again come to life after that shriek. Had the Lord closed all the gates around him and shut him up with his sin?
"There's a man, Benjamin, who asks whether he can see the pastor."
"Show him in, my dear."
He felt almost happy that it was only a visitor. Soon he would not be able to stand upright if more stones were added to his burden. His knees might give way at any moment, and then—
A dirty-looking fellow came in. His eyes gleamed as if he was deranged. He could perhaps be nearing sixty.
Yes, Sigismund had seen many a half-dead wretch during these years, but none like this one. His shoes had no soles, his clothes hung in rags on his emaciated body. It seemed to him, too, that he recognized the man—wasn't he the man who had transported them up here when they came?
"Does the pastor recognize me?"
"Yes, is it not Tøllef?"
"Yes, Tøllef Elgsjøen."
He sat down slowly on a chair. And he remained sitting there a good while staring at the walls, at the weapons hanging there, pistols, rifles, and ancient halberds.
"Oh, that gold nugget, that gold nugget."
"The gold nugget?"
"I mean the gold nugget I dreamt about."
"Have you dreamt about a gold nugget, then?"
Yes, many years ago he had dreamt of a great gold nugget which lay deep in the earth outside the walls of the cottage at home at Elgsjøen. It must have been the best dream anyone on earth had dreamt—but the worst of it was he had believed the dream was true. And then he had begun with this accursed digging to find the gold nugget. This spring, too, he had hit on something shining far down in the earth. Then he had felt so happy that he began to cry with joy. He cried and dug and laughed—it was a joy no one could understand.[p. 222]
"Did you find it, then?"
Had he found any gold nugget? No, things hadn't been arranged that well that he found anything. And in a month, a month today, his little property at Elgsjøen would come under the hammer. And now he had burnt down the cottage and everything in it.
"What! Have you burnt down your cottage?"
Yes, that he had. He had gone there looking at the cottage, there where his father and mother and grandparents had lived and striven. And the more he looked at the cottage and its old furnishings, there was the bed, the table and the cupboard, the worse it seemed to him that strangers should move in and take possession of it. Then there was a voice which said— He even thought it was his mother talking to him from far off in a mist: "Set light to the whole lot, Tøllef! Burn it up! Make a clean sweep of it! Then you won't have to see strange faces behind the window of your cottage." That voice had given him no peace either day or night. And then one night he did it—but when the flames blazed up round the gables, he realized it was wrong and tried to put it out. But the fire couldn't be put out. It was a rather strange fire, too. It had long glowing arms with wicked claws which seized hold of the timbers and tore them off the walls, down into a glowing mass of embers. What did the pastor think, was what he had done a great sin?
Benjamin Sigismund was taken aback. He didn't know what he should answer.
"What do you think yourself?"
"I was crazed when I did it, pastor."
"We must try to believe that it was not a great sin. At the most, a sin of infirmity."
"Now the land will be sold. And then I'll have to leave home. Leaving the place where you've been born is like going to the grave. One's grown together with everything at home—every stone and every tree, one's grown a part of it."[p. 223]
The clock in the tower struck seven.
Sigismund jumped up. He had to go. A weight passed from his mind. He slid into a gentle, melancholy, almost anxious mood.
"Tøllef," he said. "How much do you need?"
"Eh! What do I need?"
Would the pastor help him? No, he must never imagine that. That was a dream, too; a dream! dream!
"Yes, what do you need?"
"A hundred rix-dollars."
"You shall get a loan of a hundred dollars from me."
Benjamin Sigismund was now in an agitated state of mind. He had to go. Go to his fate.
Tøllef remained sitting there. He must have heard wrong. That sort of thing was a dream. And he was afraid of all dreams. Especially dreams which one could call more or less good.
"Do you not want to borrow the money, Tøllef?"
"Borrow! Can I really borrow it?"
"Yes, that is just what I am standing here telling you."
"May God bless you!"
Sigismund took out a new shining key from his waistcoat pocket and unlocked his new cupboard. He had got a carpenter to design this cupboard. And Ol-Kanelesa had forged the metal fittings. Yes, it would be a hard nut for robbers and thieves to crack, if they felt like trying. There were quite a few suspicious characters in Bergstaden nowadays. He had recently noticed several down-at-heel, depraved-looking vagrants wandering around in the streets of the town. They had all looked wicked and repulsive.
And then Benjamin Sigismund wrote out an IOU which he asked Tøllef to sign. He owed this man a helping hand.
Tøllef staggered over to the table and made his mark on the paper; it looked like a worn-out heel plate. Otherwise he had no idea what he was signing. He was not even quite sure whether he was alive or not. It might well be that all this was [p. 224] happening in another world. He picked up the money and shook the pastor by the hand. His mouth stayed closed—there were no words to express what he felt.
And then Tøllef the charcoal wagoner went out of the door, down the steps, and up the main street. He carried his cap under his arm and held the hundred rix-dollars in his hand. His lodgings were down at Tuften. There his horse was and thither he should go. But then he went in the opposite direction.
. . . It was a September evening in Bergstaden. The sun flamed in the yellow-gold of the birch groves, two or three trees in a clump, which stood close to the stone walls. The grass pastures lay almost black; the scythe had cut close this year, the grass was so short that it had to be swept up with a broom. The small birch barns, turned grey by wind and weather, stood there with enormous turf roofs hanging out over them; they were almost empty. What was there to keep cows, horses, and draft oxen alive with? Of all the famine years people had heard tell of, this was the worst. The mountains were already white with snow. The mountain lakes were already covered with ice—yes, the mountain Lapps who came down to Bergstaden could tell of that. Nor had the ptarmigan hatched this year, and the reindeer were so thin that they were only skin and bone; but the wolf and wolverine and the lemming multiplied. In the miners' cottages hunger was a daily guest, their minds were in a ferment; were they going to starve to death?
But this September evening was just as beautiful, as if there was no hunger, no destitution, and no pestilence. The sky was blue, the ridges and the mountains threw sharply defined shadows just as in times of plenty, the air glittered, as if it was shining onto great mirrors somewhere, from which the light was thrown down onto the roof tops, down onto the great chimney breasts and onto the sandy grey streets. The north side of the church was white and light; the south side almost black. The boundary between day and night lay in a sharp line across the tarred wooden roof of the west transept.[p. 225]
People and animals moved slowly. Hunger had set its mark on all living things. When people met in the streets and along the way they asked each other the same despairing question: "What are we going to live on this winter, friend? We've no hay and we've no corn. And the war never ends." And they parted without saying goodbye and without looking back.
. . . Benjamin Sigismund was walking up towards the church. Up by the churchyard he overtook Per-Hansa, who was carrying an iron-shod wooden spade on his shoulder. He was leading a horse by the bridle. Per-Hansa greeted him, tugged at the bridle, and intended to pass.
"Where are you going with your horse?" Sigismund asked.
"I'll need to go out onto the marshes with her now."
"What are you going to do there?"
Per-Hansa stood there for a bit. It was as if he couldn't bring himself to talk.
"I must slaughter her and bury her."
"Why must you do that?"
"I haven't got any hay to give her."
And then Per-Hansa tugged at the bridle again, made a sucking sound with his lips, and bashfully swiveled the spade round on his shoulder. This evening was the last evening he and Brownie had together. They had been together a great deal, those two. They had lived through much hard work together, but they had also had many a pleasant hour. Time and time again Per-Hansa stopped. It seemed to him that he couldn't bring himself to put one foot in front of the other any more. When he had come north along the ridge he turned suddenly and walked south towards Bergstaden again. He walked quickly, too. The horse had to trot after him. And the thin, loose horseshoes said, "Click, clack, click, clack."
"We must try, Brownie," he said. "We must go on trying as long as we can." He realized this evening when he was sharpening his knife that he wouldn't bring himself to stick it into Brownie—that it was impossible for him to do it. It seemed to him that he could just as easily stick it into himself. How he was to keep the horse alive during the winter—no, [p. 226] it was no good thinking about that. He wouldn't think about it this evening either. Just now he was only so heartily glad that he had turned back.
Benjamin Sigismund tried to force himself to be calm. He had to try and let reason govern his house—while feeling, the deceiver of reason, would have to put up with waiting outside. He forced himself to make a detour round Miss von Westen Hammond's grave. He supported himself heavily on his stick and stared absentmindedly at the ornate iron cross. Yes, where was his relationship with Gunhild going to end? He tried seriously to weigh things up—but then he discovered that feeling and reason had exchanged abodes.
What was the use of brooding over it—he had brooded over it for a hundred sleepless nights—this thing which became more inexplicable the more one was preoccupied with it. Yes, it was like searching the heart and the reins. Who could do that except one, the Almighty? Had anyone completely explored the realm of love? No one! No one! For thousands of years its territory had been crossed in all directions. Every grove, every tree, every flower had been looked at with large, wondering eyes. Every path, every grain of sand, every stone in it had been watered by the salt tears of the wanderer and colored red with the blood of his bruised feet. And everybody came back with the same report: a country, both real and unreal, a country where joy and sorrow could not be plumbed to the depths—everything there is limitless, everything is nothing. Had anyone read the law of love? The law whose paragraphs are legion. No one! No one! Though it was written down in every language and proclaimed in every tongue, no one could interpret it.
He walked towards the church door. He walked—he, like the rest of miserable mankind, when it concerned the future, with his eyes blindfolded.
Gunhild was already there. She sat fingering something in her pocket.
In her face there was something frozen, hard; her mouth was not as full as before. Her eyes had lost much of their [p. 227] brightness. She had also got thinner. But her head was as erect as ever. There was something defiant, now as always, in the way she could lift it up—especially when she spoke.
This evening she had waited a long time. Contrary to her custom, she had come early. She was cold. There was such a draft through the window in the tower.
Wouldn't Benjamin be here soon? She held her breath and listened. Yes, now he was coming. He ran up the stairs. And something of joy illuminated her mind. Benjamin Sigismund still desired her—but what help was that now? Now there was only one road for her to take: away from Benjamin! Now she must go out into the black night. She recalled one of their meetings two years ago: it was out on Langeggen; Benjamin remained behind. And when she had gone some distance from him, she began to walk backwards, so that she could see him the whole way. And now, when she had to leave him for good, she would walk in the same way. It would be like holding a light in her hand—holding it up to her face.
She jumped up and met him over by the banister. There she remained, holding on tightly. The church tower swayed to and fro—the walls were no longer straight.
"Gunhild," he said. "Why are you so pale?"
"Benjamin! Now I must leave you. Now the time has to come!"
He didn't answer. He took and carried her over to the bench. He grasped her hands and threw himself down on his knees. And he pressed his face against her knees. Words froze on his lips. He wanted to sob but couldn't. The well of tears in him had dried up a long time ago. They would not be filled again. Not in this life. Perhaps in another? In a life where the sun not only scorched, but also brought dew to flowers and to leaves. He had lived another life before this—it was when he was a boy and knelt at his dear mother's feet and held her hands and wept over them. Those beautiful hands—those all-loving hands he would never hold in his again. In Gunhild's hands he had regained hers. These, too, were to be torn from him. Oh Fate, inexorable Fate![p. 228]
In great anguish he gripped Gunhild's hands tighter.
"No, no, Gunhild, we must not part!"
"Benjamin! I don't belong to your class."
"Has our love ever bothered with class?"
She reflected and then spoke calmly.
"Not before—no—but there may come a time when it will ask for that too."
Was there any other reason? He dreaded asking. Again he had to think of that face he saw today when he came down the steps from the storehouse. The features of the face were distorted, full of hate and wild rage. He had heard an oath—no, it was a shriek full of torment.
"And now you want to leave me, Gunhild?"
"I must. I dare not have his life on my conscience."
"But what if he takes yours?"
"Mine," she said in a hard voice. "My life! Do I live any life now that's worth talking about? Me, a married man's mistress."
Benjamin Sigismund had encountered some of this proud defiance once before; it was from Gunhild's uncle, Ole Korneliusen. It was her ancestor, the proud Oberberghauptmann, who was raising his head. What could he offer her? Nothing beyond what it was today. And was that anything for her to exist for?
"Does my love repel and disgust you?" he asked, but did not let go of her hands. "Have you ever regretted it, Gunhild?"
"Have I ever said so?"
"No, no, I never heard you say it, it is just a question—but it is not right of me to ask you about that. No, it is not, my dearest."
"He's already at the edge of the grave."
"Yes, David. The one you married me to. Why didn't you listen to Uncle? You could have prevented me from——"[p. 229]
"You must not reproach me for that," he interrupted her. "At that time you were still a stranger to me, weren't you?"
"Stranger or not, what does that matter? A human being in distress, isn't he to be saved just because he's a stranger? I was in distress then, Benjamin."
"Why did you not resist the pressure from your family, Gunhild?"
"Why!" she said bitterly. "The strong usually win over the weak."
"Gunhild, my beautiful dream, let us not quarrel. Tell me! Is David threatening to commit suicide?"
She thrust her hand into her pocket and drew out a leather strap.
He started back; a halter!
"Oh, horrible!" he said, and sat down on the bench beside her. "Is there anything more cruel than love?"
She sat there calmly holding the halter in her hand. Her face looked sallow in the blue of the twilight.
"You dear, sweet girl of the mountains, you will never have hateful thoughts about me, will you?"
"I dare not promise, perhaps I will hate you too."
She turned suddenly towards him and threw her arms around his neck. And she whispered close to his face:
"Yes, because I love you so much that I can hate you. There's no one on earth you can hate so much as someone you've given your soul to."
"Don't you remember what I've said to you once before: your soul belongs to God, Gunhild."
Her arms relaxed and fell down slowly over his chest. She lowered her head—resigned—tired.
"You've woven a thread you didn't spin, Benjamin."
They sat for a long time, silently; Benjamin Sigismund held her close to him. Just as if he was afraid she would tear herself away and flee from him.
Then he asked:
"Do you want me to resign my office here?"[p. 230]
"Even if you do, we still have to go over two corpses and two graves; can we do that?"
"No, no! We, too, have to die!"
"Isn't it better that those two should go over our graves, then?"
"Yes, perhaps. I have no means of knowing what has been ordained from all eternity. He by whose mercy we draw breath does not write in sand; it is in no wise granted to us to be able to wipe out or change that which has been ordained—verily, we are in the hands of fate."
She tore herself free, and moved to the far end of the bench.
"What do you mean?"
"It seems to me that you and the preacher speak in turns. Why don't you, right now, at this moment, try to be just an ordinary human being?"
"Gunhild," he said hotly. "I will rend my clothes asunder, my vestments too, would you then be satisfied?"
"Clothes!" she said in a hard voice. "Clothes! Have clothes anything to do with it?" She turned her head away. "Words," she mumbled.
Then the bell ringer came up the stairs to ring the ninth hour; that sweet, gentle reminder the inhabitants of Bergstaden got every evening to betake themselves in the name of God to bed, and receive from His good hands the blessed hours of quiet slumber and rest. Now all lights were to be extinguished, now all shutters were to be closed, the embers raked together on the hearth, and the evening prayer said: "Bless the sweat of our brow and our work, our bread and our food, our hands and the work of the hands. God preserve us from the blood-stained sword and sudden death, from famine, from disaster by fire and water, and all evil."
The little bell was used to ring in slumber and rest for tired and weary limbs. It sings like the children sing when they gather the first yellow flowers along the brook in spring. It never proclaims evil tidings, fire, pestilence, famine, and war, that's the job of the two larger bells. Otherwise, its voice is [p. 231] heard when the bells call to worship on Sundays, and when the great festivals are rung in. When small children are lowered into the earth, the little bell also sings, alone—but then, too, it is more a song of joy than of sorrow. Then it sings in joy over a new small angel of God who is once again on the way to heaven.
The bell ringer was an old man. And he walked with slow, quiet, somewhat irregular steps. He also stopped at each turn of the stairs to draw breath and gather strength for the next flight.
Gunhild and Benjamin Sigismund didn't hear the bell ringer until he was on the landing just below the last flight of steps.
In great haste they fled into the loft above the nave. Here, he enveloped her in his arms. She made no resistance. And the dark, the quiet, and the eeriness in there in the musty, foul air, and her dread, forced her close to him.
Here they stood as usual without saying anything—for no one can know in the dark how close a listening ear or a peering eye is.
When the bell ringer's white-haired head came up to the next level, he stopped and listened. Was it a ghost? Or was there, in spite of everything, something in what people had been talking about, that the pastor and Gunhild Finne had been meeting up here and that they hid in the loft when anyone came? Yes, there were many people now who could tell that they had been standing down in the street late at night and had seen both Sigismund and Gunhild go past the window in the tower when the moon was up. He, the bell ringer, had also seen both this and that which could indicate that there had been people up here at night. Last autumn he had found a whole rix-dollar up here and no one had ever claimed it. That was more than strange. Once he had found a shilling in the upper churchyard. Eight people had come to claim that. Who could afford to lose a dollar in these times? Besides, he noticed that there was never any dust on the old bench here by the wall. Why didn't the dust gather on that, as on everything else? Well, it was no business of his.[p. 232]
He continued up the stairs and over the loose planks to the window. He was always in the habit of standing here a short while, looking out over Bergstaden, before he rang the bell.
This evening he remained standing there longer than usual. He wondered: How many children are there now lying down there in the cottages, crying in their sleep because they have had nothing to eat? He had gone hungry himself; it was a hard bed to lie on. He had lived through the famine year of 1773; the whole of that year they hadn't had any food other than a few black oats from the soldiers, they rolled them out with a stone on the hearth. And that spring the birches on the mountainsides were white, all their bark had been flayed off. It was a wicked sight. An old man called Vil-Iver walked through his wood up by the Hitter Lake one night that spring, weeping bitterly. He hadn't found a single green tree.
"Hunger is a sharp sword," the old bell ringer said solemnly. "Who can save his neck from it?"
And then he went over and pressed the pedal to ring the bell. He rang it longer than usual. The old man had much to remember and much to ponder over. And his foot went on pressing and pressing. And the little bell went on singing out its monotone evening song.
For the couple standing in the darkness of the loft, time became long. It was as if they were in prison, fearful of judgement and of the executioner's bloody axe. Through a little window in the roof of the west transept a grey strip of light flickered across the dust-grey floor. A light without hope and comfort, it spoke only of death and the last light—the last glimmer the eye would see. At any moment they could expect the bell ringer to tear open the door and find them in there. Then—
At long last the bell ringer left. The clapper of the clock clicked twice in preparation for striking.
Benjamin Sigismund then opened the door noiselessly and put his head out and listened. He heard no other sound than the old man's careful footsteps far down on the stairs.
"We must go, too," Gunhild said. "We must, Benjamin."
"For the last time?"[p. 233]
"I am afraid so, Benjamin."
They began to go down the stairs. She first, with her hand firmly on the banister. He a couple of steps behind.
"Gunhild!" he said down by the door of the church. "Don't harden your heart."
Now Gunhild could bear it no longer. She sank down by the door. Ah, once before, she had felt these hard, bumpy floorboards under the knees.
Sigismund wanted to take and lift her up, but she begged him to let her be. She got up on her knees. Her long plaits had come undone and her hair hung loose over her back and shoulders.
"Benjamin, you're a surgeon for the military, can't you give me some poison so I can die?"
She threw herself down again with her face on the floor.
"You're hysterical, Gunhild."
She lay there, sobbing, crying, and praying:
"Help me to weep, walls, steps, doors."
Then he took and lifted her up onto her feet. And he brushed her dress haphazardly with his hand.
"Pull yourself together, now."
"Yes, I'll pull myself together now. Just wait a little and I'll do it, Benjamin."
Her right hand fumbled for the key. And then she leaned her head towards him and whispered:
"You mustn't forget me. If you never see me again, you mustn't forget me."
And then she tore open the door and rushed out into the street. A group of Swedish wagoners in long, white tweed coats went past at that moment. She disappeared amongst them.
Benjamin Sigismund staggered out after her onto the church steps.
His voice failed. He then drew his cloak tightly around him and crept, half-bent, up towards the vestry. Here a black figure detached itself from the whitewashed walls, lifted a [p. 234] hand and gave him a blow over the neck, so he fell and remained lying there.
"Who are you?"
The pastor tried to get up, but he got a fresh blow and a kick from a heel.
About midnight Ol-Kanelesa found him. He lay stretched out over the grave of Hans Christian Notler.
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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