THE RAILROAD AND THE CHURCHYARD
From "The Flying Mail" Translated by Carl Larsen.
Canute Aakre belonged to an ancient family of the parish, where it had
always been distinguished for its intelligence and care for the public
good. His father through self-exertion had attained to the ministry,
but had died early, and his widow being by birth a peasant, the
children were brought up as farmers. Consequently, Canute's education
was only of the kind afforded by the public school; but his father's
library had early inspired him with a desire for knowledge, which was
increased by association with his friend Henrik Wergeland, who often
visited him or sent him books, seeds for his farm, and much good
counsel. Agreeably to his advice, Canute early got up a club for
practice in debating and study of the constitution, but which finally
became a practical agricultural society, for this and the surrounding
parishes. He also established a parish library, giving his father's
books as its first endowment, and organized in his own house a
Sunday-school for persons wishing to learn penmanship, arithmetic, and
history. In this way the attention of the public was fixed upon him,
and he was chosen a member of the board of parish-commissioners, of
which he soon became chairman. Here he continued his endeavors to
advance the school interests, which he succeeded in placing in an
Canute Aakre was a short-built, active man, with small sharp eyes and
disorderly hair. He had large lips which seemed constantly working, and
a row of excellent teeth which had the same appearance, for they shone
when he spoke his clear sharp words, which came out with a snap, as
when the sparks are emitted from a great fire.
Among the many he had helped to an education, his neighbor Lars Hogstad
stood foremost. Lars was not much younger than Canute, but had
developed more slowly. Being in the habit of talking much of what he
read and thought, Canute found in Lars—who bore a quiet, earnest
manner—a good listener, and step by step a sensible judge. The result
was, that he went reluctantly to the meetings of the board, unless
first furnished with Lars Hogstad's advice, concerning whatever matter
of importance was before it, which matter was thus most likely to
result in practical improvement. Canute's influence, therefore, brought
his neighbor in as a member of the board, and finally into everything
with which he himself was connected. They always rode together to the
meetings, where Lars never spoke, and only on the road to and from,
could Canute learn his opinion. They were looked upon as inseparable.
One fine autumn day, the parish-commissioners were convened, for the
purpose of considering, among other matters, a proposal made by the
Foged, to sell the public grain-magazine, and with the proceeds
establish a savings-bank. Canute Aakre, the chairman, would certainly
have approved this, had he been guided by his better judgment; but, in
the first place, the motion was made by the Foged, whom Wergeland did
not like, consequently, neither did Canute; secondly, the
grain-magazine had been erected by his powerful paternal grandfather,
by whom it was presented to the parish. To him the proposal was not
free from an appearance of personal offence; therefore, he had not
spoken of it to any one, not even to Lars, who never himself introduced
As chairman, Canute read the proposal without comment, but, according
to his habit, looked over to Lars, who sat as usual a little to one
side, holding a straw between his teeth; this he always did when
entering upon a subject, using it as he would a toothpick, letting it
hang loosely in one corner of his mouth, or turning it more quickly or
slowly, according to the humor he was in. Canute now saw with surprise,
that the straw moved very fast. He asked quickly, "Do you think we
ought to agree to this?"
Lars answered dryly, "Yes, I do."
The whole assembly, feeling that Canute was of quite a different
opinion, seemed struck, and looked at Lars, who said nothing further,
nor was further questioned. Canute turned to another subject, as if
nothing had happened, and did not again resume the question till toward
the close of the meeting, when he asked with an air of indifference if
they should send it back to the Foged for closer consideration, as it
certainly was contrary to the mind of the people of the parish, by whom
the grain-magazine was highly valued; also, if he should put upon the
record, "Proposal deemed inexpedient."
"Against one vote," said Lars.
"Against two," said another instantly.
"Against three," said a third, and before the chairman had recovered
from his surprise, a majority had declared in favor of the proposal.
He wrote; then read in a low tone, "Referred for acceptance, and the
meeting adjourned." Canute, rising and closing the "Records," blushed
deeply, but resolved to have this vote defeated in the parish meeting.
In the yard he hitched his horse to the wagon, and Lars came and seated
himself by his side. On the way home they spoke upon various subjects,
but not upon this.
On the following day Canute's wife started for Lars' house, to inquire
of his wife if anything had happened between their husbands; Canute had
appeared so queerly when he returned home the evening previous. A
little beyond the house she met Lars' wife, who came to make the same
inquiry on account of a similar peculiar behavior in her husband. Lars'
wife was a quiet, timid thing, easily frightened, not by hard words,
but by silence; for Lars never spoke to her unless she had done wrong,
or he feared she would do so. On the contrary, Canute Aakre's wife
spoke much with her husband, and particularly about the commissioners'
meetings, for lately they had taken his thoughts, work, and love from
her and the children. She was jealous of it as of a woman, she wept at
night about it, and quarrelled with her husband concerning it in the
day. But now she could say nothing; for once he had returned home
unhappy; she immediately became much more so than he, and for the life
of her she must know what was the matter. So as Lars' wife could tell
her nothing, she had to go for information out in the parish, where she
obtained it, and of course was instantly of her husband's opinion,
thinking Lars incomprehensible, not to say bad. But when she let her
husband perceive this, she felt that, notwithstanding what had
occurred, no friendship was broken between them; on the contrary, that
he liked Lars very much.
The day for the parish meeting came. In the morning, Lars Hogstad drove
over for Canute Aakre, who came out and took a seat beside him. They
saluted each other as usual, spoke a little less than they were wont on
the way, but not at all of the proposal. The meeting was full; some,
too, had come in as spectators, which Canute did not like, for he
perceived by this a little excitement in the parish. Lars had his
straw, and stood by the stove, warming himself, for the autumn had
begun to be cold. The chairman read the proposal in a subdued and
careful manner, adding, that it came from the Foged, who was not
habitually fortunate. The building was a gift, and such things it was
not customary to part with, least of all when there was no necessity
Lars, who never before had spoken in the meetings, to the surprise of
all, took the floor. His voice trembled; whether this was caused by
regard for Canute, or anxiety for the success of the bill, we cannot
say; but his arguments were clear, good, and of such a comprehensive
and compact character as had hardly before been heard in these
meetings. In concluding, he said:
"Of what importance is it that the proposal is from the
Foged?—none,—or who it was that erected the house, or in what way it
became the public property?"
Canute, who blushed easily, turned very red, and moved nervously as
usual when he was impatient; but notwithstanding, he answered in a low,
careful tone, that there were savings banks enough in the country, he
thought, quite near, and almost too near. But if one was to be
instituted, there were other ways of attaining this end, than by
trampling upon the gifts of the dead, and the love of the living. His
voice was a little unsteady when he said this, but recovered its
composure, when he began to speak of the grain magazine as such, and
reason concerning its utility.
Lars answered him ably on this last, adding: "Besides, for many reasons
I would be led to doubt whether the affairs of this parish are to be
conducted for the best interests of the living, or for the memory of
the dead; or further, whether it is the love and hate of a single
family which rules, rather than the welfare of the whole."
Canute answered quickly: "I don't know whether the last speaker has
been the one least benefited not only by the dead of this family, but
also by its still living representative."
In this remark he aimed first at the fact that his powerful grandfather
had, in his day, managed the farm for Lars' grandfather, when the
latter, on his own account, was on a little visit to the penitentiary.
The straw, which had been moving quickly for a long time, was now still:
"I am not in the habit of speaking everywhere of myself and family,"
said he, treating the matter with calm superiority; then he reviewed
the whole matter in question, aiming throughout at a particular point.
Canute was forced to acknowledge to himself, that he had never looked
upon it from that standpoint, or heard such reasoning; involuntarily he
had to turn his eye upon Lars. There he stood tall and portly, with
clearness marked upon the strongly-built forehead and in the deep eyes.
His mouth was compressed, the straw still hung playing in its corner,
but great strength lay around. He kept his hands behind him, standing
erect, while his low deep intonations seemed as if from the ground in
which he was rooted. Canute saw him for the first time in his life, and
from his inmost soul felt a dread of him; for unmistakably this man had
always been his superior! He had taken all Canute himself knew or could
impart, but retained only what had nourished this strong hidden growth.
He had loved and cherished Lars, but now that he had become a giant, he
hated him deeply, fearfully; he could not explain to himself why he
thought so, but he felt it instinctively, while gazing upon him; and in
this forgetting all else, he exclaimed:
"But Lars! Lars! what in the Lord's name ails you?"
He lost all self-control,—"you, whom I have"—"you, who have"—he
couldn't get out another word, and seated himself, only to struggle
against the excitement which he was unwilling to have Lars see; he drew
himself up, struck the table with his fist, and his eyes snapped from
below the stiff disorderly hair which always shaded them. Lars appeared
as if he had not been interrupted, only turning his head to the
assembly, asking if this should be considered the decisive blow in the
matter, for in such a case nothing more need be said.
Canute could not endure this calmness.
"What is it that has come among us?" he cried. "Us, who to this day
have never debated but in love and upright zeal? We are infuriated at
each other as if incited by an evil spirit;" and he looked with fiery
eyes upon Lars, who answered:
"You yourself surely bring in this spirit, Canute, for I have spoken
only of the case. But you will look upon it only through your own
self-will; now we shall see if your love and upright zeal will endure,
when once it is decided agreeably to our wish."
"Have I not, then, taken good care of the interests of the parish?"
No reply. This grieved Canute, and he continued:
"Really, I did not think otherwise than that I had accomplished
something;—something for the good of the parish;—but may be I have
He became excited again, for it was a fiery spirit within him, which
was broken in many ways, and the parting with Lars grieved him, so he
could hardly control himself. Lars answered:
"Yes, I know you give yourself the credit for all that is done here,
and should one judge by much speaking in the meetings, then surely you
have accomplished the most."
"Oh, is it this!" shouted Canute, looking sharply upon Lars: "it is you
who have the honor of it!"
"Since we necessarily talk of ourselves," replied Lars, "I will say
that all matters have been carefully considered by us before they were
Here little Canute Aakre resumed his quick way of speaking:
"In God's name take the honor, I am content to live without it; there
are other things harder to lose!"
Involuntarily Lars turned his eye from Canute, but said, the straw
moving very quickly: "If I were to speak my mind, I should say there is
not much to take honor for;—of course ministers and teachers may be
satisfied with what has been done; but, certainly, the common men say
only that up to this time the taxes have become heavier and heavier."
A murmur arose in the assembly, which now became restless. Lars
"Finally, to-day, a proposition is made which, if carried, would
recompense the parish for all it has laid out; perhaps, for this
reason, it meets such opposition. It is the affair of the parish, for
the benefit of all its inhabitants, and ought to be rescued from being
a family matter." The audience exchanged glances, and spoke half
audibly, when one threw out a remark as he rose to go to his
dinner-pail, that these were "the truest words he had heard in the
meetings for many years." Now all arose, and the conversation became
general. Canute Aakre felt as he sat there that the case was lost,
fearfully lost; and tried no more to save it. He had somewhat of the
character attributed to Frenchmen, in that he was good for first,
second, and third attacks, but poor for self-defence—his sensibilities
overpowering his thoughts.
He could not comprehend it, nor could he sit quietly any longer; so,
yielding his place to the vice-chairman, he left,—and the audience
He had come to the meeting accompanied by Lars, but returned home
alone, though the road was long. It was a cold autumn day; the way
looked jagged and bare, the meadow gray and yellow; while frost had
begun to appear here and there on the roadside. Disappointment is a
dreadful companion. He felt himself so small and desolate, walking
there; but Lars was everywhere before him, like a giant, his head
towering, in the dusk of evening, to the sky. It was his own fault that
this had been the decisive battle, and the thought grieved him sorely:
he had staked too much upon a single little affair. But surprise, pain,
anger, had mastered him; his heart still burned, shrieked, and moaned
within him. He heard the rattling of a wagon behind; it was Lars, who
came driving his superb horse past him at a brisk trot, so that the
hard road gave a sound of thunder. Canute gazed after him, as he sat
there so broad-shouldered in the wagon, while the horse, impatient for
home, hurried on unurged by Lars, who only gave loose rein. It was a
picture of his power; this man drove toward the mark! He, Canute, felt
as if thrown out of his wagon to stagger along there in the autumn cold.
Canute's wife was waiting for him at home. She knew there would be a
battle; she had never in her life believed in Lars, and lately had felt
a dread of him. It had been no comfort to her that they had ridden away
together, nor would it have comforted her if they had returned in the
same way. But darkness had fallen, and they had not yet come. She stood
in the doorway, went down the road and home again; but no wagon
appeared. At last she hears a rattling on the road, her heart beats as
violently as the wheels revolve; she clings to the doorpost, looking
out; the wagon is coming; only one sits there; she recognizes Lars, who
sees and recognizes her, but is driving past without stopping. Now she
is thoroughly alarmed! Her limbs fail her; she staggers in, sinking on
the bench by the window. The children, alarmed, gather around, the
youngest asking for papa, for the mother never spoke with them but of
him. She loved him because he had such a good heart, and now this good
heart was not with them; but, on the contrary, away on all kinds of
business, which brought him only unhappiness; consequently, they were
"Oh, that no harm had come to him to-day! Canute was so excitable! Why
did Lars come home alone? why didn't he stop?"
Should she run after him, or, in the opposite direction, toward her
husband? She felt faint, and the children pressed around her, asking
what was the matter; but this could not be told to them, so she said
they must take supper alone, and, rising, arranged it and helped them.
She was constantly glancing out upon the road. He did not come. She
undressed and put them to bed, and the youngest repeated the evening
prayer, while she bowed over him, praying so fervently in the words
which the tiny mouth first uttered, that she did not perceive the steps
Canute stood in the doorway, gazing upon his little congregation at
prayer. She rose; all the children shouted "Papa!" but he seated
himself, and said gently:
"Oh! let him repeat it."
The mother turned again to the bedside, that meantime he might not see
her face; otherwise, it would have been like intermeddling with his
grief before he felt a necessity of revealing it. The child folded its
hands,—the rest followed the example,—and it said:
"I am now a little lad, But soon shall grow up tall, And make papa and
mamma glad, I'll be so good to all! When in Thy true and holy ways,
Thou dear, dear God wilt help me keep;—Remember now Thy name to praise
And so we'll try to go to sleep!"
What a peace now fell! Not a minute more had passed ere the children
all slept in it as in the lap of God; but the mother went quietly to
work arranging supper for the father, who as yet could not eat. But
after he had gone to bed, he said:
"Now, after this, I shall be at home."
The mother lay there, trembling with joy, not daring to speak, lest she
should reveal it; and she thanked God for all that had happened, for,
whatever it was, it had resulted in good.
In the course of a year, Lars was chosen head Justice of the Peace,
chairman of the board of commissioners, president of the savings-bank,
and, in short, was placed in every office of parish trust to which his
election was possible. In the county legislature, during the first
year, he remained silent, but afterward made himself as conspicuous as
in the parish council; for here, too, stepping up to the contest with
him who had always borne sway, he was victorious over the whole line,
and afterward himself manager. From this he was elected to the
Congress, where his fame had preceded him, and he found no lack of
challenge. But here, although steady and independent, he was always
retiring, never venturing beyond his depth, lest his post as leader at
home should be endangered by a possible defeat abroad.
It was pleasant to him now in his own town. When he stood by the
church-wall on Sundays, and the community glided past, saluting and
glancing sideways at him,—now and then one stepping up for the honor
of exchanging a couple of words with him,—it could almost be said
that, standing there, he controlled the whole parish with a straw,
which, of course, hung in the corner of his mouth.
He deserved his popularity; for he had opened a new road which led to
the church; all this and much more resulted from the savings-bank,
which he had instituted and now managed; and the parish, in its
self-management and good order, was held up as an example to all others.
Canute, of his own accord, quite withdrew,—not entirely at first, for
he had promised himself not thus to yield to pride. In the first
proposal he made before the parish board, he became entangled by Lars,
who would have it represented in all its details; and, somewhat hurt,
he replied: "When Columbus discovered America he did not have it
divided into counties and towns,—this came by degrees afterward;" upon
which, Lars compared Canute's proposition (relating to stable
improvements) to the discovery of America, and afterward by the
commissioners he was called by no other name than "Discovery of
America." Canute thought since his influence had ceased there, so,
also, had his duty to work; and afterwards declined re-election.
But he was industrious, and, in order still to do something for the
public good, he enlarged his Sunday-school, and put it, by means of
small contributions from the pupils, in connection with the mission
cause, of which he soon became the centre and leader in his own and
surrounding counties. At this, Lars remarked that, if Canute ever
wished to collect money for any purpose, he must first know that its
benefit was only to be realized some thousands of miles away.
There was no strife between them now. True, they associated with each
other no longer, but saluted and exchanged a few words whenever they
met. Canute always felt a little pain in remembering Lars, but
struggled to overcome it, by saying to himself that it must have been
so. Many years afterward at a large wedding-party, where both were
present and a little gay, Canute stepped upon a chair and proposed a
toast to the chairman of the parish council, and the county's first
congressman. He spoke until he manifested emotion, and, as usual, in an
exceedingly handsome way. It was honorably done, and Lars came to him,
saying, with an unsteady eye, that for much of what he knew and was, he
had to thank him.
At the next election, Canute was again elected chairman.
But if Lars Hogstad had foreseen what was to follow, he would not have
influenced this. It is a saying that "all events happen in their time,"
and just as Canute appeared again in the council, the ablest men in the
parish were threatened with bankruptcy, the result of a speculative
fever which had been raging long, but now first began to react. They
said that Lars Hogstad had caused this great epidemic, for it was he
who had brought the spirit of speculation into the parish. This penny
malady had originated in the parish board; for this body itself had
acted as leading speculator. Down to the youth of twenty years, all
were endeavoring by sharp bargains to make the one dollar, ten; extreme
parsimony, in order to lay up in the beginning, was followed by an
exceeding lavishness in the end: and as the thoughts of all were
directed to money only, a disposition to selfishness, suspicion, and
disunion had developed itself, which at last turned to prosecutions and
hatred. It was said that the parish board had set the example in this
also; for one of the first acts, performed by Lars as chairman, was a
prosecution against the minister, concerning doubtful prerogatives. The
venerable pastor had lost, but had also immediately resigned. At the
time some had praised, others denounced, this act of Lars; but it had
proved a bad example. Now came the effects of his management in the
form of loss to all the leading men of the parish; and consequently,
the public opinion quickly changed. The opposite party immediately
found a champion; for Canute Aakre had come into the parish
board,—introduced there by Lars himself.
The struggle at once began. All those youths, who, in their time, had
been under Canute Aakre's instruction, were now grown-up men, the best
educated, conversant with all the business and public transactions in
the parish; Lars had now to contend against these and others like them,
who had disliked him from their childhood. One evening after a stormy
debate, as he stood on the platform outside his door, looking over the
parish, a sound of distant threatening thunder came toward him from the
large farms, lying in the storm. He knew that that day their owners had
become insolvent, that he himself and the savings-bank were going the
same way: and his whole long work would culminate in condemnation
In these days of struggle and despair, a company of surveyors came one
evening to Hogstad, which was the first farm at the entrance of the
parish to mark out the line of a new railroad. In the course of
conversation, Lars perceived it was still a question with them whether
the road should run through this valley, or another parallel one.
Like a flash of lightning it darted through his mind, that, if he could
manage to get it through here, all real estate would rise in value, and
not only he himself be saved, but his popularity handed down to future
generations. He could not sleep that night, for his eyes were dazzled
with visions; sometimes he seemed to hear the noise of an engine. The
next day he accompanied the surveyors in their examination of the
locality; his horses carried them, and to his farm they returned. The
following day they drove through the other valley, he still with them,
and again carrying them back home. The whole house was illuminated, the
first men of the parish having been invited to a party made for the
surveyors, which terminated in a carouse that lasted until morning. But
to no avail; for the nearer they came to the decision, the clearer it
was to be seen that the road could not be built through here without
great extra expense. The entrance to the valley was narrow, through a
rocky chasm, and the moment it swung into the parish the river made a
curve in its way, so that the road would either have to make the
same—crossing the river twice—or go straight forward through the old,
now unused, churchyard. But it was not long since the last burials
there, for the church had been but recently moved.
Did it only depend upon a strip of an old churchyard, thought Lars,
whether the parish should have this great blessing or not?—then he
would use his name and energy for the removal of the obstacle. So
immediately he made a visit to minister and bishop, from them to county
legislature and Department of the Interior; he reasoned and negotiated;
for he had possessed himself of all possible information concerning the
vast profits that would accrue on the one side, and the feelings of the
parish on the other, and had really succeeded in gaining over all
parties. It was promised him that by the reinterment of some bodies in
the new churchyard, the only objection to this line might be considered
as removed, and the king's approbation guaranteed. It was told him that
he need only make the motion in the county meeting.
The parish had become as excited on the question as himself. The spirit
of speculation, which had been prevalent so many years, now became
jubilant. No one spoke or thought of anything but Lars' journey and its
probable result. Consequently, when he returned with the most splendid
promises, they made much ado about him; songs were sung to his
praise,—yes, if at that time one after another of the largest farms
had toppled over, not a soul would have given it any attention; the
former speculation fever had been succeeded by the new one of the
The county board met; an humble petition that the old churchyard might
be used for the railroad was drawn up to be presented to the king. This
was unanimously voted; yes, there was even talk of voting thanks to
Lars, and a gift of a coffee-pot, in the model of a locomotive. But
finally, it was thought best to wait until everything was accomplished.
The petition from the parish to the county board was sent back, with a
requirement of a list of the names of all bodies which must necessarily
be removed. The minister made out this, but instead of sending it
directly to the county board, had his reasons for communicating it
first to the parish. One of the members brought it to the next meeting.
Here, Lars opened the envelope, and as chairman read the names.
Now it happened that the first body to be removed was that of Lars' own
grandfather. A Hide shudder passed through the assembly; Lars himself
was taken by surprise; but continued. Secondly, came the name of Canute
Aakre's grandfather; for the two had died at nearly the same time.
Canute Aakre sprang from his seat; Lars stopped; all looked up with
dread; for the name of the elder Canute Aakre had been the one most
beloved in the parish for generations. There was a pause of some
minutes. At last Lars hemmed, and continued. But the matter became
worse, for the further he proceeded, the nearer it approached their own
day, and the dearer the dead became. When he ceased, Canute Aakre asked
quietly if others did not think as he, that spirits were around them.
It had begun to grow dusk in the room, and although they were mature
men sitting in company, they almost felt themselves frightened. Lars
took a bundle of matches from his pocket and lit a candle, somewhat
dryly remarking that this was no more than they had known beforehand.
"No," replied Canute, pacing the floor, "this is more than I knew
beforehand. Now I begin to think that even railroads can be bought too
This electrified the audience, and Canute continued that the whole
affair must be reconsidered, and made a motion to that effect. In the
excitement which had prevailed, he said it was also true that the
benefit to be derived from the road had been considerably overrated;
for if it did not pass through the parish, there would have to be a
depot at each extremity; true, it would be a little more trouble to
drive there, than to a station within; yet not so great as that for
this reason they should dishonor the rest of the dead. Canute was one
of those who, when his thoughts were excited, could extemporize and
present most sound reasons; he had not a moment previously thought of
what he now said; but the truth of it struck all. Lars, seeing the
danger of his position, thought best to be careful, and so apparently
acquiesced in Canute's proposition to reconsider; for such emotions,
thought he, are always strongest in the beginning; one must temporize
But here he had miscalculated. In constantly increasing the dread of
touching their dead overswept the parish; what no one had thought of as
long as the matter existed only in talk became a serious question when
it came to touch themselves. The women particularly were excited, and
at the parish house, on the day of the next meeting, the road was black
with the gathered multitude. It was a warm summer day, the windows were
taken out, and as many stood without as within. All felt that that day
would witness a great battle.
Lars came, driving his handsome horse, saluted by all; he looked
quietly and confidently around, not seeming surprised at the throng. He
seated himself, straw in mouth, near the window, and not without a
smile saw Canute rise to speak, as he thought, for all the dead lying
over there in the old churchyard.
But Canute Aakre did not begin with the churchyard. He made a stricter
investigation into the profits likely to accrue from carrying the road
through the parish, showing that in all this excitement they had been
over-estimated. He had calculated the distance of each farm from the
nearest station, should the road be taken through the neighboring
valley, and finally asked:
"Why has such a hurrah been made about this railroad, when it would not
be for the good of the parish after all?"
This he could explain; there were those who had brought about such a
previous disturbance, that a greater was necessary in order that the
first might be forgotten. Then, too, there were those who, while the
thing was new, could sell their farms and lands to strangers, foolish
enough to buy; it was a shameful speculation, which not the living only
but the dead also must be made to promote!
The effect produced by his address was very considerable. But Lars had
firmly resolved, come what would, to keep cool, and smilingly replied
that he supposed Canute Aakre himself had been anxious for the
railroad, and surely no one would accuse him of understanding
speculation. (A little laugh ensued.) Canute had had no objection to
the removal of bodies of common people for the sake of the railroad,
but when it came to that of his own grandfather, the question became
suddenly of vital importance to the whole parish. He said no more, but
looked smilingly at Canute, as did also several others. Meanwhile,
Canute Aakre surprised both him and them by replying:
"I confess it; I did not realize what was at stake until it touched my
own dead; possibly this is a shame, but really it would have been a
greater one not even then to have realized it, as is the case with
Lars! Never, I think, could Lars' raillery have been more out of place;
for folks with common feelings the thing is really revolting."
"This feeling has come up quite recently," answered Lars, "and so we
will hope for its speedy disappearance also. It may be well to think
upon what minister, bishop, county officers, engineers, and Department
will say, if we first unanimously set the ball in motion and then come
asking to have it stopped; if we first are jubilant and sing songs,
then weep and chant requiems. If they do not say that we have run mad
here in the parish, at least they may say that we have grown a little
"Yes, God knows, they can say so," answered Canute; "we have been
acting strangely enough during the last few days,—it is time for us to
retract. It has really gone far when we can dig up, each his own
grandfather, to make way for a railroad; when in order that our loads
may be carried more easily forward, we can violate the resting-place of
the dead. For is not overhauling our churchyard the same as making it
yield us food? What has been buried there in Jesus' name, shall we take
up in the name of Mammon? It is but little better than eating our
"That is according to the order of nature," said Lars dryly.
"Yes, the nature of plants and animals," replied Canute.
"Are we not then animals?" asked Lars.
"Yes, but also the children of the living God, who have buried our dead
in faith upon Him; it is He who shall raise them, and not we."
"Oh, you prate! Are not the graves dug over at certain fixed periods
anyway? What evil is there in that it happens some years earlier?"
"I will tell you! What was born of them yet lives; what they built yet
remains; what they loved, taught, and suffered for is all around us and
within us; and shall we not, then, let their bodies rest in peace?"
"I see by your warmth that you are thinking of your grandfather again,"
replied Lars; "and will say it is high time you ceased to bother the
parish about him, for he monopolized space enough in his lifetime; it
isn't worth while to have him lie in the way now he is dead. Should his
corpse prevent a blessing to the parish that would reach to a hundred
generations, we surely would have reason to say, that of all born here
he has done us most harm."
Canute Aakre tossed back his disorderly hair, his eyes darted fire, his
whole frame appeared like a drawn bow.
"What sort of a blessing this is that you speak of, I have already
proved. It is of the same character as all the others which you have
brought to the parish, namely, a doubtful one. True enough you have
provided us with a new church; but, too, you have filled it with a new
spirit,—and not that of love. True, you have made us new roads,—but
also new roads to destruction, as is now plainly evident in the
misfortunes of many. True, you have lessened our taxes to the public;
but, too, you have increased those to ourselves;—prosecutions,
protests, and failures are no blessing to a community. And you dare
scoff at the man in his grave whom the whole parish blesses! You dare
say he lies in our way,—yes, very likely he lies in your way. This is
plainly to be seen; but over this grave you shall fall! The spirit
which has reigned over you, and at the same time until now over us, was
not born to rule, only to serve. The churchyard shall surely remain
undisturbed; but to-day it numbers one more grave, namely, that of your
popularity, which shall now be interred in it."
Lars Hogstad rose, white as a sheet; he opened his mouth, but was
unable to speak a word, and the straw fell. After three or four vain
attempts to recover it and to find utterance, he belched forth like a
"Are these the thanks I get for all my toils and struggles? Shall such
a woman-preacher be able to direct? Ah, then, the devil be your
chairman if ever more I set my foot here! I have kept your petty
business in order until to-day; and after me it will fall into a
thousand pieces; but let it go now. Here are the 'Records!' (and he
flung them across the table). Out on such a company of wenches and
brats! (striking the table with his fist). Out on the whole parish,
that it can see a man recompensed as I now am!"
He brought down his fist once more with such force, that the leaf of
the great table sprang upward, and the inkstand with all its contents
downward upon the floor, marking for coming generations the spot where
Lars Hogstad, in spite of all his prudence, lost his patience and his
He sprang for the door, and soon after was away from the house. The
whole audience stood fixed,—for the power of his voice and his wrath
had frightened them,—until Canute Aakre, remembering the taunt he had
received at the time of his fall, with beaming countenance, and
assuming Lars' voice, exclaimed:
"Is this the decisive blow in the matter?"
The assembly burst into uproarious merriment. The grave meeting closed
amid laughter, talk, and high glee; only few left the place, those
remaining called for drink, and made a night of thunder succeed a day
of lightning. They felt happy and independent as in old days, before
the time in which the commanding spirit of Lars had cowed their souls
into silent obedience. They drank toasts to their liberty, they sang,
yes, finally they danced, Canute Aakre with the vice-chairman taking
lead, and all the members of the council following, and boys and girls
too, while the young ones outside shouted, "hurrah!" for such a
spectacle they had never before witnessed.
Lars moved around in the large rooms at Hogstad without uttering a
word. His wife who loved him, but always with fear and trembling, dared
not so much as show herself in his presence. The management of the farm
and house had to go on as it would, while a multitude of letters were
passing to and fro between Hogstad and the parish, Hogstad and the
capital; for he had charges against the county board which were not
acknowledged, and a prosecution ensued; against the savings-bank, which
were also unacknowledged, and so came another prosecution. He took
offence at articles in the Christiania Correspondence, and prosecuted
again, first the chairman of the county board, and then the directors
of the savings-bank. At the same time there were bitter articles in the
papers, which according to report were by him, and were the cause of
great strife in the parish, setting neighbor against neighbor.
Sometimes he was absent whole weeks at once, nobody knowing where, and
after returning lived secluded as before. At church he was not seen
after the grand scene in the representatives' meeting.
Then, one Saturday night, the mail brought news that the railroad was
to go through the parish after all, and through the old churchyard. It
struck like lightning into every home. The unanimous veto of the county
board had been in vain; Lars Hogstad's influence had proved stronger.
This was what his absence meant, this was his work! It was involuntary
on the part of the people that admiration of the man and his dogged
persistency should lessen dissatisfaction at their own defeat; and the
more they talked of the matter the more reconciled they seemed to
become: for whatever has once been settled beyond all change develops
in itself, little by little, reasons why it is so, which we are
accordingly brought to acknowledge.
In going to church next day, as they encountered each other they could
not help laughing; and before the service, just as nearly all were
convened outside,—young and old, men and women, yes, even
children,—talking about Lars Hogstad, his talents, his strong will,
and his great influence, he himself with his household came driving up
in four carriages. Two years had passed since he was last there. He
alighted and walked through the crowd, when involuntarily all lifted
their hats to him like one man; but he looked neither to the right nor
the left, nor returned a single salutation. His little wife, pale as
death, walked behind him. In the house, the surprise became so great
that, one after another, noticing him, stopped singing and stared.
Canute Aakre, who sat in his pew in front of Lars', perceiving the
unusual appearance and no cause for it in front, turned around and saw
Lars sitting bowed over his hymn-book, looking for the place.
He had not seen him until now since the day of the representatives'
meeting, and such a change in a man he never could have imagined. This
was no victor. His head was becoming bald, his face was lean and
contracted, his eyes hollow and bloodshot, and the giant neck presented
wrinkles and cords. At a glance he perceived what this man had endured,
and was as suddenly seized with a feeling of strong pity, yes, even
with a touch of the old love. In his heart he prayed for him, and
promised himself surely to seek him after service; but, ere he had
opportunity, Lars had gone. Canute resolved he would call upon him at
his home that night, but his wife kept him back.
"Lars is one of the kind," said she, "who cannot endure a debt of
gratitude: keep away from him until possibly he can in some way do you
a favor, and then perhaps he will come to you."
However, he did not come. He appeared now and then at church, but
nowhere else, and associated with no one. On the contrary, he devoted
himself to his farm and other business with an earnestness which showed
a determination to make up in one year for the neglect of many; and,
too, there were those who said it was necessary.
Railroad operations in the valley began very soon. As the line was to
go directly past his house, Lars remodelled the side facing the road,
connecting with it an elegant verandah, for of course his residence
must attract attention. They were just engaged in this work when the
rails were laid for the conveyance of gravel and timber, and a small
locomotive was brought up. It was a fine autumn evening when the first
gravel train was to come down. Lars stood on the platform of his house
to hear the first signal, and see the first column of smoke; all the
hands on the farm were gathered around him. He looked out over the
parish, lying in the setting sun, and felt that he was to be remembered
so long as a train should roar through the fruitful valley. A feeling
of forgiveness crept into his soul. He looked toward the churchyard, of
which a part remained, with crosses bowing toward the earth, but a part
had become railroad. He was just trying to define his feelings, when,
whistle went the first signal, and a while after the train came slowly
along, puffing out smoke mingled with sparks, for wood was used instead
of coal; the wind blew toward the house, and standing there they soon
found themselves enveloped in a dense smoke; but by and by, as it
cleared away, Lars saw the train working through the valley like a
He was satisfied, and entered the house as after a long day's work. The
image of his grandfather stood before him at this moment. This
grandfather had raised the family from poverty to forehanded
circumstances; true, a part of his citizen-honor had been lost, but
forward he had pushed, nevertheless. His faults were those of his time;
they were to be found on the uncertain borders of the moral conceptions
of that period, and are of no consideration now. Honor to him in his
grave, for he suffered and worked; peace to his ashes. It is good to
rest at last. But he could get no rest because of his grandson's great
ambition. He was thrown up with stone and gravel. Pshaw! very likely he
would only smile that his grandson's work passed above his head.
With such thoughts he had undressed and gone to bed. Again his
grandfather's image glided forth. What did he wish. Surely he ought to
be satisfied now, with the family's honor sounding forth above his
grave; who else had such a monument? But yet, what mean these two great
eyes of fire? This hissing, roaring, is no longer the locomotive, for
see! it comes from the churchyard directly toward the house: an immense
procession! The eyes of fire are his grandfather's, and the train
behind are all the dead. It advances continually toward the house,
roaring, crackling, flashing. The windows burn in the reflection of
dead men's eyes … he made a mighty effort to collect himself, "For it
was a dream, of course, only a dream; but let me waken! … See: now I
am awake; come, ghosts!"
And behold: they really come from the churchyard, overthrowing road,
rails, locomotive and train with such violence that they sink in the
ground; and then all is still there, covered with sod and crosses as
before. But like giants the spirits advanced, and the hymn, "Let the
dead have rest!" goes before them. He knows it: for daily in all these
years it has sounded through his soul, and now it becomes his own
requiem; for this was death and its visions. The perspiration started
out over his whole body, for nearer and nearer,—and see there, on the
window-pane there, there they are now; and he heard his name.
Overpowered with dread he struggled to shout, for he was strangling; a
dead, cold hand already clenched his throat, when he regained his voice
in a shrieking "Help me!" and awoke. At that moment the window was
burst in with such force that the pieces flew on to his bed. He sprang
up; a man stood in the opening, around him smoke and tongues of fire.
"The house is burning, Lars, we'll help you out!"
It was Canute Aakre.
When again he recovered consciousness, he was lying out in a piercing
wind that chilled his limbs. No one was by him; on the left he saw his
burning house; around him grazed, bellowed, bleated, and neighed his
stock; the sheep huddled together in a terrified flock; the furniture
recklessly scattered: but, on looking around more carefully, he
discovered somebody sitting on a knoll near him, weeping. It was his
wife. He called her name. She started.
"The Lord Jesus be thanked that you live," she exclaimed, coming
forward and seating herself, or rather falling down before him: "O God!
O God! now we have enough of that railroad!"
"The railroad?" he asked: but ere he spoke, it had flashed through his
mind how it was; for, of course, the cause of the fire was the falling
of sparks from the locomotive among the shavings by the new side-wall.
He remained sitting, silent and thoughtful; his wife dared say no more,
but was trying to find clothes for him: the things with which she had
covered him, as he lay unconscious, having fallen off. He received her
attentions in silence, but as she crouched down to cover his feet, he
laid a hand upon her head. She hid her face in his lap, and wept aloud.
At last he had noticed her. Lars understood, and said:
"You are the only friend I have."
Although to hear these words had cost the house, no matter, they made
her happy; she gathered courage and said, rising and looking
submissively at him:
"That is because no one else understands you."
Now again they talked of all that had transpired, or rather he remained
silent, while she told about it. Canute Aakre had been first to
perceive the fire, had awakened his people, sent the girls out through
the parish, while he himself hastened with men and horses to the spot
where all were sleeping. He had taken charge of extinguishing the fire
and saving the property; Lars himself he had dragged from the burning
room and brought him here on the left, to the windward,—here, out on
While they were talking of all this, some one came driving rapidly up
the road and turned off toward them; soon he alighted. It was Canute,
who had been home after his church-wagon; the one in which so many
times they had ridden together to and from the parish meetings. Now
Lars must get in and ride home with him. They took each other by the
hand, one sitting, the other standing.
"You must come with me now," said Canute, Without reply Lars rose: they
walked side by side to the wagon. Lars was helped in: Canute seated
himself by his side. What they talked about as they rode, or afterward
in the little chamber at Aakre, in which they remained until morning,
has never been known; but from that day they were again inseparable.
As soon as disaster befalls a man, all seem to understand his worth. So
the parish took upon themselves to rebuild Lars Hogstad's houses,
larger and handsomer than any others in the valley. Again he became
chairman, but with Canute Aakre at his side, and from that day all went