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A Norsk Story, from Harper's

 

On one of the fjords, or bays, which so deeply indent the coast of Norway lived two lads, sons of well-to-do farmers, who, besides their fields of rye and wheat, their marks, or pasture fields, and their säters, or hay-making fields, farther away, had also an interest in the fisheries for which Norway is so famous. The salmon, the herring, and the cod are all caught in great numbers; so also is the shark, and used for its oil, which passes for cod-liver oil.

The fathers of Lars and Klaus were, however, peasants. They worked on their farms, and above their green pastures rose lofty mountains clad in fir-trees, dusky pines, mottled beeches, and silver birches. Klaus and Lars explored together the recesses of these mountains; together they hunted for bears; together they sailed over the blue waters of the fjord, in and out of the swift currents, and on and up into the streams fed by the great ice fjelds. They were always together. If any one wanted Klaus, he asked where Lars had gone; and if one had seen Lars, he knew Klaus would soon follow. It was their delight to see which could excel the other in the management of their fishing jagts, those square-sailed slow craft, and for days they would cruise about the haunts of the eider-duck—not to kill it, for that is forbidden, the bird being too valuable, but to filch from the sides of its nest the lovely down which the birds pluck from their own breasts.

They went to school, too, in the winter, and both were confirmed by the village pastor as soon as they had been well prepared for that solemn rite, which is of so much social as well as religious importance in their country.

In the short hot summer they helped the fishermen split the cod and spread them on the rocks to dry, or they made lemming traps and sought to see how many of the hated vermin they could capture.

In short, their life was active, hardy, and full of keen enjoyment; they were good-natured, and did not quarrel. Both were tall, finely grown as to muscle, but they would have been handsomer had they eaten less salt fish and more beef.

In a quaint little house at the foot of the mountains, near where tumbled in snowy foam a beautiful foss, lived an old woman and her grandchild Ilda. They were really tenants of Klaus's father; and in their wanderings the boys often stopped for a glass of milk or a slice of fladbröd (oat-cake), which the old woman was glad to give them. Ilda, too, in her red bodice and white chemisette, and her pretty, shy ways, was almost as attractive as the birds or beasts they were seeking. Neither the old woman nor Ilda often left their cottage, and so the boys were the more welcome for the news they carried.

They were able to give them the latest bit of gossip—how many men were off on the herring catch; if any strangers had come through the town in their carrioles on their way to the noted and beautiful Voring Foss and Skjaeggedal Foss (two water-falls of great renown); or who had the American fever, and were going to emigrate. Or they talked about the ducks and geese of which Ilda was so proud, and of the pigeons which Klaus had given her when they were wild, but which had grown tame and lovable under her gentle care. Then the old woman related in turn many a legend and fable, tales of the saintly King Olaf, or the doings of Odin and Thor.

Thus the days glided by, and the boys became men, and still they were together in their work as they had been in their play. In the rye fields and the potato patches they toiled side by side, and in the last nights of summer—the three August nights which they call iron nights, because of the frosts which sometimes come and blight all the wheat crop—they watched and waited, hoping for the good luck which did not always come to them; for the soil is a hard one to cultivate, and many are the trials which farmers have to meet in that bleak land. Soon after they became of age they were called upon to share the grief of their friend Ilda, whose grandmother died. After this they did not go so often to the cottage. One bright evening, however, as Lars was on his way up the mountain, he saw Klaus emerging from the little door beneath the shed of which they had so often sat. As they met, Klaus turned his face away, remarking, however, upon the beauty of the evening. Lars thought his friend's manner somewhat strange, and asked him if Ilda was well. Klaus said she was quite well—was he going to see her?

"Yes," said Lars. "I have some fresh currants from our garden, the only fruit which will grow in it, and I thought perhaps she might care for them, poor little thing. She is so lonely now!"

Klaus turned off down the road, whistling, while Lars went into the cottage. To his surprise he found Ilda crying, but supposing that the sight of Klaus had revived recollections which were painful, some sad thoughts of her grandmother, he tried to soothe her. She shook her head mournfully at his kind words, and told him that she had just done a cruel thing, that Klaus had asked her to be his wife, and she had said no to him. This came upon Lars very much like a thunder-bolt, for he had no idea that Klaus had any such wish; and much as he pitied his friend, he was not entirely sorry that Ilda had said no. So he asked her why she had refused to be Klaus's wife, when, with much embarrassment, she told him that she cared more for some one else.

Lars did not urge her to say any more, but leaving his currants, he followed Klaus down the mountain.

A few days after this, to the surprise of every one, Klaus bade his friends good-by, and took passage on the little steamer to Christiansand, from whence he would cross the Skagerrack, and sailing down the coast of Denmark, past Holland and Belgium, through the English Channel, he would be on the broad Atlantic, which was to bear him to a new home in the far western land.

Lars was not merely surprised, he was stunned, and thought his friend almost an enemy to go in that manner without consulting him, without even asking his advice or company. They had never before been separated. He could not understand it; and when Klaus bade him good-by he looked into his face as if to seek the reason for this strange conduct, but Klaus gave him no chance to ask it. He simply grasped his hand in silence, giving it a close clasp, and then he was off.

Days, weeks, months, went by, and no one heard from Klaus; at last his mother had a letter from him. He wrote cheerfully; said he liked America, but that he could not make up his mind to go far away to the prairies, where he could never see the blue ocean or the white gulls, or hear the splash of oars.

Meanwhile Lars was very unhappy. Everything seemed to go wrong with him—the crops failed, his share in the fisheries was small, and his father was hard and close with him. He missed his friend sadly; he cared no longer to do the daring things they had attempted together. He had never been to see Ilda since the day she had told him that she did not love his friend Klaus. As the spring advanced into summer, he met her one day in the pine woods near her cottage, and she looked so pleased to see him that he was tempted to tell her of all his troubles, especially of how disappointed and hurt he was by the departure of Klaus; and this reminded him of what she had told him about caring for some one else; but when he asked her who it was, to, his great happiness she told him that he, Lars, was the one, and that was the reason why Klaus had gone away. Then, for the first time, he saw how generously his friend had acted; he had gone away that he might not interfere with his friend, for Klaus had found out that Ilda loved Lars. So in due time they were married in the simple fashion of the Norwegian people. But the crops were not more nourishing; and work as hard as he would, Lars could not do as well for himself as he would have liked. So he took all his money and bought a bigger jagt, and carried klip (or split) fish to the south, from whence they would be sent to Spain.

This separated him from Ilda and the little yellow-haired Hanne, his child; and his voyages were not very prosperous, so at last they determined to do as did the Norsemen and Vikings of old, set sail for the land of the setting sun.

It was hard to give up Norway, but Ilda was willing to do that which was for the best, and quietly filled the big boxes and chests with the linen she had spun herself, and made stout flannel clothes for little Hanne, and said "good-by" to every one she knew, and then they got off as fast as the slow jagt would carry them: off, out of the beautiful fjord with its green banks and snowy-topped mountains, away from the rocks and fjelds so dear to them, on to the broad, the mighty ocean.

They sailed and sailed for many a day, and Ilda knit while the little lassie, Hanne, played at her feet, and Lars smoked his pipe, and talked of the glorious land of liberty and fertile fields which they were approaching.

They had pleasant weather for a long while, and it did seem as if the kind words, the lycksame resa, or lucky journey, which their friends had wished them, was really to be experienced. Little Hannchen was a merry, bright little companion, and made all the rough sailors love her. Her evening meal was milk and fladbröd, and she always threw some over the ship's side for the "poor hungry fishes," while she prattled in Norsk to the sailors, who were mostly Swedes and Finns. But whether they understood her or not, they liked to watch her blue eyes sparkle, and her yellow hair fly out like freshly spun flax, as she merrily danced about the slow old jagt; and they called her "Heldig Hanne," or "happy Hanne." But they were now approaching land, and fogs set in which were more to be dreaded than high winds, and the helmsman looked anxious, and Lars could not sleep. The atmosphere seemed to get thicker and thicker, and where they could for a while see the faint yellow twinkle of the stars all was now an opaque film.

One night as Ilda was singing a little song to Hanne a great crash came, a terrible thump, and then a queer grating sound. All had been still on deck, but now came hoarse shouts and cries, and Lars rushed down to the cabin, saying, "We are on the rocks! we are lost, Ilda!"

Ilda clasped little Hanne still closer as she said, tremulously, "Is it true, Lars? is there no way of escape? are we so near land?"

"Yes; come up on deck. The ship is already settling. We must try to get you and the child off in one of the boats."

"Not without you, Lars; we will not move an inch without you."

"See," he replied, as he helped her up the steps, "the gulls are flying over our heads: land must be near."

It was horribly true that the vessel was thumping and bumping on the rocks; the surf was roaring, and it seemed impossible for a boat to be launched. The sailors were making ready to cast themselves into the sea. Some were cursing, others praying, and others tying and lashing themselves to spars which they had taken from their fastenings. Two of them came up to Lars.

"Sir, for the sake of the child there, we will swim, if we can, to the shore, and get help."

"It would be useless," said Lars.

"Oh no," said Ilda; "let them try. They are brave. Perhaps they will succeed."

They nodded, and went off, Lars looking after them hopelessly as he muttered: "I might have known this; it is just my luck. Oh, Ilda! Ilda! why did I bring you with me?—and poor little Hanne!"

The child clung to her mother, her blue eyes dilated with fear, and her little hands about her mother's neck.

"Hush, Lars," said Ilda; "where thou art, there I would be, and so would Hannchen. God is yet able to save us."

The moments seemed like days; presently the vessel gave a great lurch to one side, and Lars had just time to tie Ilda to him as the waves broke over the jagt.

"SAVED AT LAST!" "SAVED AT LAST!"

"Farväl!" was all he said to her, as they were plunged into the water; but as he saw the waves closing about them, he heard a cry from the sailors—a cry of joy, of welcome—and he felt a strong hand reached out to him, and a coil of rope flung about them. He had his arm under the fainting Ilda, but surely he had seen the face of the brave fellow who took Hanne in his arms from Ilda's clasp. He could not think; he only knew that they were saved at last—that a dozen strong men, some on land, some in the water, were dragging them to shore.


Ah! what rest and peace and thankfulness after a night like that! and with what strange and solemn emotions did Lars and Ilda look about them when they discovered that the house they were in belonged to the one who had carried their little Hanne in his arms from the ocean, and was none other than their old friend Klaus. Klaus the fisherman, Klaus the sailor, as he was known on that shore. The same Klaus, merry and brave, with a house of his own and a wife of his own, ready to share all he possessed with Lars, if Lars would only stay and settle near him. The jagt had gone down with all Lars's worldly goods; but Ilda was safe and Hanne was safe, and with so good a friend as Klaus, surely Lars could begin the world anew. And so he staid; and the tide turned, and fair weather prevailed.