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The Lost Son by Harald Kidde

Translated by V. Elizabeth Balfour-Browne

I

With his back to the unyielding wooden partition of the compartment he rested his arm in the sunshine at the window.

The rumble of the wheels was borne into the open carriage from both sides. The air stirred by their advance struck him in the face with the odour of soot, sand and spruce. The puritanical psalm-singing behind him kept time to the rhythm of the wheels:

    "God, teach me to consider
     How fleeting is my life!
     Like a flowing river
     Pass its days and nights.
     More of them or fewer
     As Thou dost pre-ordain,
     They can, O Lord, be likened
     To a fading dream.
     Lo, generations earthy......"

He nodded his head half keeping time, until he wakened with a jerk. These psalm-singing peasants, what were they to him? They had chanted their hymns all the way from Lund, their eyes fixed and their hands clasped on their sticks or round their bundles, wrapped up in their own singing as in their long coats and checked shirts. Regardless of the words their voices droned on as in a waking sleep.

The country sped past grey and green to right and left, sand flats, mountain firs and spruce, yellow and green under the ever-blue sky. Broom, sandy tracks and heather, brown fields of withered grass, low juniper bushes and blue sky. A solitary gate and more spruces.

And the psalm-singing behind him:

    "Lo, generations earthy
     Fall back to earth as dust;
     They are but shadows merely
     Nor more than shades at most.
     They struggle and they labour
     Without thought of their end,
     Here they make store of treasure
     Which strangers gather in..."

Flemming Cronenwall! It was here, in this land among these spruces that you died.

Died? Oh no! Every morning songs of your bondage fell from your soul in pearly drops like the dew from withered grass; in the heat of a summer's day poems poured from your heart like the resin from the golden wood of the spruce. Died? Then I had surely not sat here on a pilgrimage to your room and your dwelling in the sand that clogged your footsteps.

Alas! Amber-yellow like beads of resin your poems exhale a scent of fir-wood and brandy. Or clear dew they breathe of moss and twin- flower. Flemming Cronenwall! Blackguard and innocent, sot and psalmist, the purest and yet the grossest of Sweden's poets, the pride of her heart!

Her pride, yea, but also her shame.

He smiled. He remembered the faces of Flemming's parents when he met them at Lund, when he heard their names and had to speak to them, had to thank them for their son's poetry, for edification and for horror, for castigation and for tenderness—the father's long, stern face with the pained expression in his eyes, the hands rubbing aimlessly against each other.

Yes, yes, they had of course heard—they said it together—they had even unfortunately perhaps—. The father begged him to pardon them, he had never been able to find time to take up such things. "And his views! There has been a stern struggle in Sweden you know, and Flemming was on the side of the most revolutionary. He may have been gifted, but he was difficult to deal with."

And the mother, frail and silent by the side of her husband's distinguished, worn, ministerial figure, her eyes on the stranger, listening, not missing a syllable. It was her son, the great hulking idler and ne'er-do-weel, yet beloved still, in spite of all the grief he had caused them with his incomprehensible opinions and the impossible company he kept. "Yes, you who are young, as he was, and a poet like him, tell me, his mother, who never understood it, why Flemming was at that time regarded by everyone as a profligate, an outcast and his parents' shame, and then suddenly after his death as a famous poet like Tegner, and the glory of his country. Tell my heart that, my heart which is wearing itself out between him at my side and him who is dead; tell me whether I did right or wrong in supporting so firmly the lover of my youth against our own and only child, when they stood fronting each other, one generation against another. Explain to me what I find inexplicable, I beg you."

But he bit back the words he would have said. He had remembered why Flemming Cronenwall, the illustrious Minister's only son, lived his life out there in the country, through the kindness of the peasants whom he sometimes paid but most often did not: why his poems sighed of poverty and shameful dependence, flaming with resentment or sobbing in searing home-sickness.

Then he had said suddenly—and he did not know if it was in anger against those two who stood there before him and had not tried to understand, or in pity for them who still even now COULD not understand: "I am going up there to see the district and his room: I want to tell my own countrymen about Flemming Cronenwall."

All at once a light shone in their lonely, care-worn faces, a moment's hope, a hasty decision, but it flickered out again in sudden abandonment. To accompany him? To go also? But no! No! How could he, he, a Minister, meet those peasants who had opened their home to his abandoned son? In that room where he had drawn his dying breath they would be strangers, estranged in death as in life, as now, blindly begging to be told what their own child had been.

For the young man had had to tell his father, the Cabinet Minister who had guided the foreign policy of his country for half a generation with firm and authoritative hand, what supreme importance to humanity was a single little volume of poetry: to reveal to his mother the soul and the sorrows of the son she had taught to lisp his first words, explain the thoughts he had thought.

They had both stood before him uncertain and motionless with their listening eyes on his, and heard of something that life contained but which they had never encountered, of music which could draw souls to itself and fill them with the courage of life and death but which their ears could never hear.

Had they not in lonely hours, now when Sweden was worshipping their son, sat with his poems before them and mustered all their knowledge about themselves and life and discerned NOTHING? Nothing but words that seemed incomprehensible, nay, distorted, to them, or words they could not even read without a blush of shame, songs which did not sound to them different from those the labourers sang out on their estate on summer evenings. And for the sake of those verses they had lost their son, for these he had perished and become immortal! Please explain this so that we can understand.

But he had been silent and looked aside, his mouth hopelessly closed. Had it then always to be that the flesh of bodies closely akin would yet build between their souls walls, deadening, impenetrable, condemning each to a death of loneliness?

Flemming, if you had not had these two as parents, these conscientious, respectable two, if your first thoughts and your first poem had not been met at home by threats or silence; if you yourself, what was created to be entirely you and no other, had not been called unreasonable and harmful, would the brandy-bottle out here among the sandhills and the pines, in your home-sickness and your poverty, have been so frequent a solace and so soon a murderer?

And you two old people, had not this son been yours would you not now have been sitting in the centre of an admiring circle of unexceptional children and grandchildren in the comfort of an old age full of wisdom, not have stood there, frightened on the brink of the grave into life again, to a new and ungraspable life moreover, and in your naked poverty and your shivering helplessness—begged me, a young man and a stranger, for an answer?

"...but would he please call on them on his return journey to his own land—they would always be at home now of course—and tell them how Flemming had lived out there, and what—what sort of people they were who—who had been so good to him?"

The mother had stopped him as he was going, laid her hand on his arm and looked at him so beseechingly that the father had nodded in support, though his wise, open forehead was wrinkled in trying vainly to solve the puzzle: Was morality then no longer morality nor duty duty?

Indeed, you are right. What kind of strange music did your son have in him, which all hear but you? Which wipes out imperfections and faults and raises broken men to God?

The psalm-singing droned on behind without change of rhythm, like the land of sand and spruce.

    "A guest like to my fathers
     I am led by Thy hand,
     And soon I pass the river
     To my father's land—"

"Like my fathers, to my fathers", yes, you old ones, perhaps there, perhaps there you will be able to hear the music no one here on earth can open deaf ears to, the music that was the soul of your son, your lost one....

Sand, sand, spruce, spruce. O Flemming Cronenwall, you resourceful soul, who in this monotonous desert found wells of new beauty which in your frustrated life gave you a spur to new love. Flemming Cronenwall, you lost son—

But—he listened—the psalm-singing and the wheels were no longer in time with each other. He turned his head.

A line of gleaming white faces, with expressionless blue eyes under the caps and shawls, sang, motionless, without taking breath.

But the tops of the pines slid by more slowly, the sandy track dipped lazily away under the fir-trees, the telegraph poles glided past more gradually. It was the wheels that were off the beat.

Were they going to stop?

A whistle out in front, crying far ahead over the still scrub-land— had Flemming Cronenwall heard the train whistle pierce thus through the years of bondage?—The song was cut through with the sudden relief of a boil cut by the scalpel. Then it swelled on again, oozing dully.

But the young Danish poet was standing with his stick and his case on the jolting floor.

Through the sooty brown billowings of the smoke there appeared ahead a tarry black roof, a red painted wall, Mainge Station, to which Flemming Cronenwall came one day, driven from his father's house like one accursed; there he had stood and looked along the metals to the forest-bounded horizon, and from there he was borne that Autumn day when the sparse yellow leaves of the birches floated down upon his coffin.

Grinding and scraping, the train came to a stop before the gravel of the platform and the red-washed walls of the wooden building with the clock, and the benches between the shining windows, the one with a telegraph notice board, the other with woven yellow curtains and painted china flower-pots. As he jumped down onto the gravel tiny pebbles scattered, spurted to right and left and then fell to sunlit rest.

The bell in the signal-box gave its short "ting" and to the accompaniment of the monotonous psalm-singing the train trundled on again, rattling and creaking.

He stood on the gravel of the platform and watched the departing carriages, which, dunching each other in the back, waddled away between the stiff lines of the forest. The sooty brown smoke and the hymns sullied the stillness of the sky's midday blue.

He walked slowly forward in the ankle-deep sand, planting his stick heavily at every step. The sun was in his eyes, shone in under the brim of his straw hat. The sand ran over the leather of his walking- shoes, flowing silver-white. Only the hiss of the sand and the chatter of a distant jay. And in front of him the golden-white road, slightly undulating, vanishing far ahead between the conifers like a thread between tufted patterns in wool-embroidery. And out there the poet to whose room he was proceeding, the singer of the sand, Flemming Cronenwall.

Did time pass while he walked? The sun's rays gradually moved down to his nose and mouth until they now glowed upon his chin. A light breath met him over the motionless plain of fir-trees. He wondered if he had yet walked the two hours which they had told him it was from Mainge Station to the farm.

He did not know: he felt that both he and Time had been moving together from eternity at this same place between these same trees, while the sun blazed whitely over his head from the same spot in heaven.

He stopped and put his hand over his eyes. Had his thoughts not also stood still like the sun, the fir-trees, like the peasants' eyes just now as they sang?

Flemming Cronenwall! Did time pass for you like the buzz of a fly on the sun-baked window-sill, and did you waken only when the fly became silent and it was dark behind the window-panes; was it then you wakened into death?

He looked out over the landscape. Motionless all the tree-tops, their shapes like crosses in the soundless midday sunshine. Only the jay's distant scolding, a swarm of flies above the sand in the road, and the scent of resin and withered grass.

But the farm—

Yes, there, it must lie up there, the only rise in sight, with some scattered birches and fir-trees: the roof scarcely distinguishable from the gleam of the sunlight and the foliage. But now, yes, now he saw the light-green facade with white window-frames and the verandah and the flower-beds and the path in front. A flag-pole in the lawn, tapering, white.

Here at this farm, thus remote, half-melting into the landscape, had he then lived his life, he, the days and hours of whose existence Sweden was now familiar with, admiring, and pitying.

Here in this land had his life's blood ebbed, while his heavy feet marked time here, and the sun had glared whitely from its sky. For fifteen years he had lived at this farm. And he had now been sleeping ten years in his grave.

But the sun shone glaringly over the same trees, and the same sand. And it was the same hour.

II

A pile of logs cast its shadow over the red wood-shed. The tar-black roofs shone under the blue midday sky. The spout of the pump meditated over the water-trough hedged about by nettles. The golden clusters of the rowan shadowed the wooden steps which led up to the entrance door, and whose newel-post was drowned in meadow-sweet. This scent mingled sweetly with the elder-blossoms whose creamy bunches were pressed between the gables of the dwelling-house and the stable across the leaning garden-hedge.

He walked in the sunshine over the grass-grown flagstones towards the wooden steps. He heard a cuckoo's thoughtful call in the birches behind the house.

In the musty half-darkness of the entrance he knocked on the door to the right. He got a glimpse of its worn red and green mats in the twilight from the small windows darkened by plants.

Flemming Cronenwall, did you drink in this musty, silent darkness?

"Come in," sounded a deep, hesitating peasant voice.

He opened the door.

A green tinge from the rowans outside, a glimpse of the tiles of a stove and of a cool line of glasses on the shelves along the wall.

A large placid face looked at him with a pair of blue spectacles. A broad-shouldered peasant, the owner of Tvihoga, sat there in his shirt sleeves, Mans Gustafson, at the end of the table with a newspaper on the heavy board before him.

A clock ticked busily on the wall, there was a smell of shadows and linen presses.

"Good day to you," the young Dane stopped a moment. It struck him that it might perhaps seem odd that he had come to this strange farm merely to see how their lodger had once lived, he who had drunk a lot and never paid. This great serious face there, would it be able to understand why? Remember the psalm-singing peasants; was it likely that they could have seen God revealed in Flemming Cronenwall, a drunken ne'er-do-weel and irregular with his rent?

"I...I have come over from Copenhagen to ask if I might see the district and the room where Flemming Cronenwall lived his last years, and—I am wanting to write about—all about it for my own countrymen to read."

He stopped. He felt the darkness of the house staring at him. Who? Flemming Cronenwall? Write about him?

He shut his eyes. Oh Flemming, Flemming, and all you others, the dead departed, the young living, does it mean anything to have had a soul with music in it? Or is it a matter of Can you do accounts? Can you cart manure? Are you a rate-payer of this parish?

"Flemming Cronenwall.....Flemming." The peasant stirred. The Dane opened his eyes quickly; that great face was so open behind the spectacles. The brown hands moved uncertainly, feeling along the edge of the table. "Flemming Cronenwall, did you know him?"

The Dane came forward to the table. Now he was sure. The sun had not moved since the day that Flemming died. Here all was as still as the day after a funeral. Flemming! It was here you found the security which permitted love to stream from your heart out over all of those who passed by hostile or deaf, here your soul's music met with those who could echo Amen.

"Thanks, thanks for the kindness you showed him for fifteen years," he gripped the heavy gnarled hand, his eyes hot with tears. Flemming, in your life-time when you were in need of it, poor soul, and only because you were Flemming Cronenwall, you were loved by human hearts.

"H'm, h'm, but sit down and tell me a little. May I ask your name? He had not so many friends that we did not—"

"No, no," the young Dane wiped his eyes. He sat on the long wall-bench by the peasant's side. The room round him large and cool with the black bureau, the glass arranged along the shelves and the spinning- wheel in the corner in the dim light as it filtered through the leaves, it was all so cosily known to him as if from his childhood, Flemming Cronenwall's home. "No, no, I never knew him unfortunately. Only his poems and—but I have always loved them and him through them. And now I am wishful to tell my own countrymen of him, what there was about him which is of value to mankind."

"Yes..." Mans Gustafson leaned forward with his elbow on his knee, a stalk of grass in a corner of his mouth, he had brought it over with him from the newspaper. "Yes...about his poems. When we read them it is as he were talking to us and...and made everything clear to us so that we could understand what...what we had never understood before— even," and he nodded towards the panes in the low windows, "if he showed us the fir-trees and the sand out there, well, then we saw what they were like. He—sort of—wakened us, so that we felt we were alive."

He was silent, with the wrinkled forehead, as if deeply retired into himself. The piece of grass hung down from his mouth full of tiny brown seeds.

Dragging steps drew nearer outside the door.

"Yes, yes," the peasant struck his knee, "it was a bad loss for us that he died."

The stranger looked at him, at the deep furrows in his high forehead, the hanging of the beardless lower jaw. The grief Flemming Cronenwall's death had been to this peasant knew no cure but death.

The door opened, over there, between the bureau and the chest of drawers. A grey head stooped in through the low door-opening, a long figure straightened itself up in the room, a grey coat with pewter buttons and woollen hose above thick-soled shoes. A pair of small eyes bored into the stranger. The hair rose in a stiff grey mane from the back of the head, a couple of wisps were drawn across the bald, red- brown forehead. A soiled neck-cloth flapped down over the black waistcoat.

"H'm, yes, this, this is Pelle Silfverljud." The peasant moved a little on the bench, heavily, his thoughts still fixed on the dead man who was so alive. "You have no doubt heard of him, if you know Flemming Cronenwall?"

Pelle Silfverljud?—he, of course it was he, whose name was found on the title page of Flemming Cronenwall's poems, as the man who had collected and published them after his death, and had drawn his life in short but deathless strokes, Flemming's first admirer and only friend.

He rose much moved. Who had loved him better than this man who had drunk his life away with him, held his hand in death, fought for his name when death had already wiped it out, in constant stubbornness sending bundles of manuscript from publisher to publisher, refused and rejected until he finally succeeded in getting the work accepted at his own risk by a provincial bookseller in Skane? And now, when the book appeared in edition after edition it was said among his friends that he had refused all reward and with the money had established an endowment for young and needy poets. But to think he continued to live here after Flemming's death!

"Yes, Pelle Silfverljud the studious," nodded Pelle shortly. "Have you really come here for Flemming's sake?" The small rat-brown eyes with their red rims fastened sharply, keenly, on him.

A stifling odour of alcohol and tobacco assailed the Dane's nostrils, in the green light he saw Silfverljud's lips brown with tobacco-juice, his sharp nose, his large blotchy cheekbones.

Oh Flemming! Did you two studiosi perpetui drink together here behind the small panes of the farm-house in the desert-drowsiness of the hot summer days, in the age-old silence of the snowy winter nights, discussing the world's ancient wisdom and its latest foolishness—or the milkmaid's coarse beauty and the quality of the alcohol in the booth among the spruces down by the station which the excise officer sniffed for in vain?

"And you want to write about Flemming? So you've come all this way, is that what you are saying?" Pelle gazed at him with arms akimbo; the young Dane felt uncomfortable under this feeling of being tried in the balance. Tourist or Poet?

"While he was alive, I was the only one who appreciated him—and Mans and Olivia of course—" he nodded abruptly towards the peasant, at which his high mane of hair jerked stiffly like the quills of a porcupine, "but now—Well, if you're going to tell the Danes about our Swedish Flemming, I'll help you in whatever way I can. Now first you can come over and see his room."

He nodded again at Mans Gustafson whose pale blue eyes under his wrinkled brows looked searchingly at him.

The peasant, with the grass-streamer in his mouth the whole time, crossed the room to a nail in the wall. The back of his grey waistcoat seemed to tremble. Did they approach this room as those psalm-singing peasants would the sacrament, in holy stillness and in forgetfulness of their cattle and their timber?

Mans Gustafson stopped, half-turned towards Pelle Silfverljud, rocking in stockinged feet, "Will you tell Olivia?"

"Yes, all right." Pelle turned his bony figure on its heel, the long wide-skirted coat swung out round him. "Olivia!" He gently opened the door and put his head out. "Olivia! There is a stranger here. We are going to show him Flemming's room. He wants to tell the Danes about him."

"All right, I'm coming," sounded a thin voice outside and the rustle of an apron being thrown aside.

He listened. Was it a child's voice or an old woman's?

"Here it is," the peasant turned round with a big rusty key on his forefinger, his eyes watching the door. "Is mother coming?"

"Yes, she'll be here in a moment." Pelle cleared his throat rumblingly, pulled down his waistcoat and with shaking fingers settled the black kerchief at his neck like a parson about to administer the sacrament.

The door opened and a little bowed woman crept in, in a full brown dress and over her shoulder a triangular kerchief embroidered with red and green flowers. Her small, brown, friendly eyes met with a smile those of the stranger. She nodded gently and looked up at Mans Gustafson who felt along the bench in the leaf-green twilight for his cap.

"Are you ready, father?"

"Yes, yes, mother," he nodded solemnly.

"Then we'll go." Pelle Silfverljud opened the door to the passage. He gave the stranger a last, slow, critical look. "H'm, I see you're an honest man. And so you may see how Flemming Cronenwall lived."

III

"Yes, it is a little stuffy, we don't like to disturb the place much," said Pelle as he stretched over the red-painted wall-table and loosened the hasp of the window.

The window creaked as he opened it. The sweet-william and poppies in the garden appeared in luscious confusion between the gooseberry bushes, spruces beyond the garden paling towards the main road, a lovely white cloud like a snail shell, the cuckoo's meditative call, the soundless flickering of birch leaves.

The three old people stood still, stiffly, under the low beams. The woman had twisted her little, yellow hands into the ends of her kerchief. Mans Gustafson turned his piece of grass hurriedly between his lips. Pelle held himself rigid with brows drawn together as if in a grim rage.

The scent from the roses and the conifers floated mild and powerful in among the musty smells from the white-washed ceiling and the floor- boards and the wall-paper. The cuckoo called on.

He looked round slowly and breathed hard.

At a slant on the green-papered wall a rusty sporting gun, the red- painted bedfoot half across the old range, a swivel-chair and a little glass wall-tablet with the words "First a Cross, Then a Crown" wreathed in withered white cornflowers, the wall-table and an old Halland chair, the seat dark green and worn thread-bare, a few dilapidated books in a book-case on the wall, mostly small with the gilt nearly rubbed away. And there by the flowered curtain, a greenish-black picture in a dark wooden frame.

The door stood open to the tangle of roses and gooseberries in the garden. A bee hummed among the gnarled fruit-tree trunks, the sweet- william and the wolf's-bane fell forward in flowery masses, a fox- glove stood erect, malignant, its purple flowers like snakes' mouths. And a goat bleated dispiritedly.

So then, this was where he had come—he must have had to stoop for he was a tall man—that day when in a rage he had broken at last with his father and the whole of Stockholm, and, savage as a boar, had fled to South Sweden to find a discreet hole in the country, and he had found this farm among the spruces and had confidently talked the farm people out of their reluctance and himself into the house, and had settled himself here in this room without further ado. Now the fight must be fought, the great battle which should show his parents his manifest rightness—Good God, they HAD to understand.

"Come now, dad, you won't turn me out again, will you? Or you, little mother? You'll see how well-behaved I am. And as for the money, we'll manage that—that is when I get myself some tin, for now you see—. Oh! That glorious scent of the spruce! And you have such lovely roses, mother. That bed is a bit different from the show stuff at home; ugh! Horrible, it smelt of priests and kings! No, this is the place for me!"

The Dane smiled, he could hear it so clearly, that booming voice. There was no need for Pelle Silfverljud to recount it in a voice hoarse with brandy and harsh like the heath outside, while Mans took the grass stem out of his mouth and listened with deep lines on his forehead, and Olivia's eyes smiled mildly and rested here and there in the room in order to remember the moment more vividly.

"Yes, yes," Pelle nodded round him, "the people here thought that first day, I'm sure, that they'd got a brigand into the house. But when he went to the field with Mans the next day and stirred the porridge for Olivia when he got back, and, at table read the paper out to you and explained it, and banged the table and roared with laughter and hooted in anger, then I imagine you put down your spoons and listened."

His keen eyes were fixed on the two old folk. Mans nodded two or three times, deep in his recollections, and Olivia laughed softly like a little bird clucking, drew her shawl round her and looked with friendly eyes at the stranger who stood listening.

"And then when he came home one day with Pelle Silfverljud, oh yes!" Pelle had sat down carefully on the carved Halland chair and let his big bony hands with the long fingers hang down limply. "He met me in the hut down among the trees, for I—Well, yes, I had been put out of the train for not having a ticket. I wanted to make my way home to the old folk up in Skara to explain to them that you can't study to be an official without flesh on your bones, and with red rebellion in your veins. That was what they had dreamed up in their carpenter's hut. However, may the Devil bless that conductor fellow who kicked me out for that was how I got to know Flemming Cronenwall. If he had not come along on his lawful occasions, I mean, to get a drink, I would have been found hanging among the trees behind the hut, for by then I had come to the end of my resources and my hopes. But then, he was one to make the dead alive. No, I never became an official but I became Flemming Cronenwall's friend. And that is of more account. Even if those at home died without understanding it, you can understand."

He raised his eyebrows slightly towards those two. The old woman nodded eagerly. Hans Gustafson gazed at the garden and the trees through the window.

"Yes, Pelle Silfverljud," he said softly, "and because of that you shall stay here all your life."

Pelle nodded, that was only natural.

There was a whiff of scent from the thick-cheeked roses, on the window-sill lay the petals of poppies like red shells. The birches flickered, dreamed and flickered anew.

"Well, yes. We were together for eleven years. Flemming had been here for four years before he found me, and I have been here for ten since then."

The Dane glanced at the two old people of the house. They stood there silent, listening, bowed forward a little in their peasant dress, the embroidered shawl and the shirt sleeves.

And you two, you two industrious birds, you nourished cuckoo fledglings. When were you paid? Well, now and again, when a tolerable sum came to Flemming unexpectedly or Pelle had an unusually horrible gangster tale translated and accepted, then you got arrears and something in advance—which they borrowed for further revels the week after. But otherwise—. And the last years when all doors were closed to Flemming, and Pelle was drudging on alone, then you never saw a penny. Finally there was no talk of payment. Then he was simply the apple of your eye, whom those outside there in the world wished harm to, who threw himself down with hoarse sobs, rose up and bellowed with rage, then laughed at the capers of Syrsan the puppy, suddenly fell silent and brooded with lips shot forward, walked swiftly away from you without a word to his own door and shut himself in—to come out again at supper-time mild as a god, his revenge accomplished by an ode throbbing with gratitude to humanity. Then your house came to life again in a feast incomparable, when he sat at the end of the table and smiled so charmingly that it went to your heart so that you trembled with joy to be alive, when he hummed to you as he drank, ate and told stories, consoled and explained, leaned back, snapped his fingers and made the room spin round you with all the seven colours of the rainbow and the sand and the fir-trees vanished and you drove along the rainbow right up to the crystalline heaven of God—until you had to drag the drunken giant to bed, to the tune of his abundant blessings.

Yes, and those nights when you heard the shambling footsteps on the flagstones and Syrsan strained at his chain, and you old Mans, honest man, had to get out from under your eiderdown while Olivia held the flickering lantern, and you carried them in, the drunken sots, filthy with vomit and sand. There against that high door-sill Flemming Cronenwall would have brained himself long ago had your arm, hardened by toil, not managed him so firmly and so reverently.

He looked up at the musing peasant face—a fine rain of seeds was falling from the turning stalk down over the hollow worn floor.

You good, noble man, had the magic such power over you that you forgot the simple philosophy of your fathers and the fine words of your clergyman's sermons?

A fly buzzed among the poppy petals on the window-sill. Had Flemming Cronenwall heard it buzz so on Summer afternoons, in dreaming idleness here by the worn wall-table, while the scent of dust and roses penetrated and his soul fought out its blind and stubborn fight with the formless mistiness that was life—life that made him Flemming Cronenwall and chained him behind these windows with their view of the forest and with this buzzing of flies?

These walls know what neither Mans Gustafson nor Olivia, nor even Pelle Silfverljud and the lovers of the poems know—of the hours when you were wretchedly lonely, you Flemming Cronenwall, the spoilt child of magistrate and Foreign Minister, you so hopeful in youth, who now in poverty and tears tremble at the sight of your own blind and degraded soul.

But there—the bed. He turned on the swivel-chair. There he had lifted his head, his bare head wasted by sickness and drink, and listened for the last time, turned his ear towards the silence of the trees and the sand, to the horizon: "Answer but once, you life without, you which persists, WHO was I, the lost one?"

Until at last he lay there, large and gentle, his face like a Pope's, full of contentment and death, Flemming Cronenwall, no one else.

The Dane rose and went over to the painting in the dark brown wooden frame, the hasty rough sketch of the face that had been Flemming Cronenwall's. He knew it so thoroughly from the reproduction in the beginning of the book, but here was the original in the place where the man himself had sat and graciously allowed himself to be painted by one of the few young men who had already in his lifetime felt like his brother in the fight for the new hate and the new love, for a new way of living: Yngve Hallongreen.

Yes, you face, answer me only one question, WHO were you? And what were you, with music in your soul, doing in this life where men worked conscientiously and were satisfied with small gain?

Flemming's heavy face leaned forward a little from the green-black background. The mighty bare forehead towered up with its light eyebrows over the eyes which held the ghost of a smile in them, the nose bisecting the face, feeling its way down over the pursed up mouth and the square chin. A red beard clothed the heavy jaws like the coat of a squirrel. A thick hand rested on an oaken cudgel.

Large and happy he sat there, yet with the terror of weeping in the corners of the eyes and mouth: who, oh, WHO am I?

Pelle then told how Flemming, after being refused by a Swedish publishing house had gone to a publisher in Denmark, and on being again rejected was aware that the man's little daughter had stared at him and whispered, "That must be a great and rich man, father."

Great and rich, yes. The child and the peasant saw you for what you were, you who, in the eyes of the world and of yourself were only an outcast.

But—

He turned towards the three whose eyes lingered in calm and respectful gaze upon that dignified but frightened face there, their loved one and chieftain, their dead one.

And there burst involuntarily from his lips, on his own behalf and theirs:

"Well, but what WAS Flemming Cronenwall, really?"

"What? Why," and Pelle Silfverljyd raised his angular form stiffly with his big hands hooked into his coat cuffs, "he was just Revelation." "Revelation?" The young man looked sadly upon him. Yes, speak to me of our vocation in life, we without morals or sense of duty.

"Yes, why we exist," nodded Pelle shortly. "True, isn't it?" He looked at Mans and Olivia.

The peasant took the stalk from his mouth and nodded firmly two or three times.

"Yes, if he had not come to our farm I would not have known what happiness meant."

"No, father, nor sorrow either," Olivia wrapped her hands in her kerchief and looked warmly and gratefully at the great, questioning face.

"No, mother, that only came when he died," said Mans softly and looked down at his stockinged feet.

The Dane raised his eyes to Flemming. Are you answered, and are we? We who are poor and disowned?

"Here is—only an insignificant thing, but you loved him, his poems I mean, and they WERE him—the pen he scribbled them down with."

Pelle Silfverljud turned round hesitatingly; he had been standing with his back to them, leaning over the table. In his tobacco-stained fingers he held very gently a reed pen with the remains of a rusty nib in it.

"You can see, the last ink is still on it."

He held it up in front of him, half embarrassed, his little eyes scanning the dirty-green clotted ink.

"Olivia found it here on the floor when we had carried his body out. It had probably fallen after he had written his last poem, you remember, the one they say is his greatest. Yes," he laid the pen down carefully on the bare table, beside the ink-well, "he turned me into a human being."

Yes, exactly, to a human being. Not a Cabinet Minister, nor a peasant, but a human—the poet, the humanest of humans.

He turned on the threshold and looked back once more.

The poppy petals on the now closed window-sill burned like drops of blood in the slanting sunbeams. The sandy road's slow windings took on a red glow. The birches' unresting leaves twinkled beyond the window- panes.

But the closed ink-well stood enthroned with the pen leaning against it. Here all was over. The wall-paper and wooden furniture stared silently at each other. He who had sat there had risen and departed, never to come again. But outside there were still the spruces and the sunlight. And these three here were Flemming Cronenwall's estate.

Pelle Silfverljud shut the door against the intense red evening rays and turned the key. They stood among the cottage roses in the garden, and on the sand of everyday life again.

He turned along the sandy road and looked for the last time.

Up there above the thick woods Tvihoga farm among its firs and its birches stood quiet and forlorn.

Pelle, whose long figure had waved from the flag-pole with his red- checked handkerchief, had gone in. Now it was all closed up again, with its black roof and shining windows, closed up round his memory, his greatness, his life.

And the jay scolded at the sunset.

IV

He walked slowly up the pale grey granite steps. His footsteps echoed under the shadowy arches. Through the windows as tall as a church he saw the tops of the lime-trees and the towers of the Cathedral, high as mountains.

Here it was then, in the mansion of their old age, that Flemming Cronenwall's parents resided.

He listened. The echo of his footsteps rang along the dark arched passage; there was deathly stillness in the Market Place and the streets of this University town, deathly stillness in this cold and lofty house.

Alas, Flemming Cronenwall, what chance was there of Revelation here? Here it was only a matter of silence and action.

He looked down at the solid blocks which made the steps. He could see the bear-like Flemming clambering up them. And he smiled.

But in the distance his ear heard the wooden steps at Tvihoga creak under his weight, so blessedly homely.

But the parents? How was he to explain to them? What was he to tell them? The smell of the farm there, it was as unknown here in his parents' home as Flemming himself.

He pulled the heavy wrought-iron bell-pull at the porch, stood waiting on the mat and looked down at the gleaming granite slabs which disappeared into the cool darkness, the ancestral steps which Flemming had walked down when he went out to his own world and his own work.

How was he to tell the parents about their outcast son?

The servant's footsteps on the floor within. The door creaked open heavily.

He sat on a velvet stool and regarded the father's face, so sallow in the light of the evening sky between the gold-coloured curtains, the tufts of grey hair, the questioning eyes, the hollow cheeks. The mother, leaning against the back of her husband's chair, fragile and dark, her face above the stiff lace collar strained and expectant.

A clock ticked briskly in the darkness over by the marble stove. In a large cage behind the palms there fluttered two or three tropical birds like sparks of fire through the gloom.

He heard his own voice, so ineffective under the empty ceiling, relating quickly and briefly what he was well aware they could not understand.

And they were silent, those two who had brought to birth the soul of whom he talked, hearkening to the stranger who had to teach them about their own flesh and blood, of the life and death of him who had lived and died among unknown people in an unseen district.

The young Dane ceased and made a movement, relieved that now that he had kept his promise he could get up and leave this place.

"Halfdan, did you hear that?" His wife leaned forward softly over her husband's shoulder. "Did you hear? They keep his pen with the ink on it."

"Yes, I heard," said the Minister, nodding, brooding.

Then he looked up, the strained, thin face furrowed by habitual seriousness and sedulity, and he bowed his stiff neck:

"We thank you, sir, for the information you have given us about our son."

"And for—" his wife's eyes stole a look at him, half-afraid, her arm still curved round the back of her husband's chair, "and for your affection for Flemming."

The father sat stiffly for a moment.

"Yes, for your affection for Flemming," and he again bent his head.

They had kept his pen with the ink on it!

He smiled sadly to himself as he hurried down the granite steps with long strides.

But up there, among the palms and the tropical birds in the darkening room, by the open stove, the two sat in their loneliness and stared in front of them with wondering eyes.

WHO was he then that they had treasured his pen?

 
 
 

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