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ON the second day of June, 186—, a young Norseman, Halfdan Bjerk by name, landed on the pier at Castle Garden. He passed through the straight and narrow gate where he was asked his name, birthplace, and how much money he had,—at which he grew very much frightened. “And your destination?”—demanded the gruff-looking functionary at the desk.
Tales from Two Hemispheres PDF Book by Hjalmar Hjorth Boyesen
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“America,” said the youth, and touched his hat politely. “Do you think I have time for joking?” roared the official, with an oath. The Norseman ran his hand through his hair, smiled his timidly conciliatory smile, and tried his best to look brave; but his hand trembled and his heart thumped away at an alarmingly quickened tempo.
“Put him down for Nebraska!” cried a stout red-cheeked individual (inwrapped in the mingled fumes of tobacco and whisky) whose function it was to open and shut the gate. “There ain’t many as go to Nebraska.” “All right, Nebraska.” The gate swung open and the pressure from behind urged the timid traveler on.
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While an extra push from the gate-keeper sent him flying in the direction of a board fence, where he sat down and tried to realize that he was now in the land of liberty. Halfdan Bjerk was a tall, slender-limbed youth of very delicate frame; he had a pair of wonderfully candid, unreflecting blue eyes, a smooth, clear, beardless face, and soft, wavy light hair, which was pushed back from his forehead without parting.
His mouth and chin were well cut, but their lines were, perhaps, rather weak for a man. When in repose, the ensemble of his features was exceedingly pleasing and somehow reminded one of Correggio’s St. John. He had left his native land because he was an ardent republican and was abstractly convinced that man, generically and individually, lives more happily in a republic than in a monarchy.
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He had anticipated with keen pleasure the large, freely breathing life he was to lead in a land where every man was his neighbor’s brother, where no senseless traditions kept a jealous watch over obsolete systems and shrines, and no chilling prejudice blighted the spontaneous blossoming of the soul.
Halfdan was an only child. His father, a poor government official, had died during his infancy, and his mother had given music lessons, and kept boarders, in order to gain the means to give her son what is called a learned education. In the Latin school Halfdan had enjoyed the reputation of being a bright youth, and at the age of eighteen, he had entered the university under the most promising auspices.
He could make very fair verses, and play all imaginable instruments with equal ease, which made him a favorite in society. Moreover, he possessed that very old-fashioned accomplishment of cutting silhouettes; and what was more, he could draw the most charmingly fantastic arabesques for embroidery patterns, and he even dabbled in portrait and landscape painting. Tales from Two Hemispheres PDF Book
Whatever he turned his hand to, he did well, in fact, astonishingly well for a dilettante, and yet not well enough to claim the title of an artist. Nor did it ever occur to him to make such a claim. One night, as the sun was low, and a purple bluish smoke hung like a thin veil over the tops of the forest, Brita had taken out her knitting and seated herself on a large moss-grown stone, on the croft.
Her eyes wandered over the broad valley which was stretched out below, and she could see the red roofs of the Blakstad mansion peeping forth between the fir-trees. And she wondered what they were doing down there, whether Grimhild had done milking, and whether her father had returned from the ford, where it was his habit at this hour to ride with the footmen to water the horses.
As she sat thus wondering, she was startled by a creaking in the dry branches hard by, and lifting her eye, she saw a tall, rather clumsily built, young man emerging from the thicket. He had a broad but low forehead, flaxen hair which hung down over a pair of dull ox-like eyes; his mouth was rather large and, as it was half open, displayed two massive rows of shining white teeth. Tales from Two Hemispheres PDF Book
His red peaked cap hung on the back of his head and, although it was summer, his thick wadmal vest was buttoned close up to his throat; over his right arm he had flung his jacket, and in his hand he held a bridle. “Good evening,” said Brita, “and thanks for last meeting;” although she was not sure that she had ever seen him before.
“It was that bay mare, you know,” stammered the man in a half apologetic tone, and shook the bridle, as if in further explanation. “Ah, you have lost your mare,” said the girl, and she could not help smiling at his helplessness and his awkward manner. “Yes, it was the bay mare,” answered he, in the same diffident tone; then, encouraged by her smile.
He straightened himself a little and continued rather more fluently: “She never was quite right since the time the wolves were after her. And then since they took the colt away from her the milk has been troubling her, and she hasn’t been quite like herself.” “I haven’t seen her anywhere hereabouts,” said Brita; “you may have to wander far, before you get on the track of her.” Tales from Two Hemispheres PDF Book
“Yes, that is very likely. And I am tired already.” “Won’t you sit down and rest yourself?” He deliberately seated himself in the grass, and gradually gained courage to look her straight in the face; and his dull eye remained steadfastly fixed on her in a way which bespoke unfeigned surprise and admiration.
Slowly his mouth broadened into a smile; but his smile had more of sadness than of joy in it. She had, from the moment she saw him, been possessed of a strangely patronizing feeling toward him. She could not but treat him as if he had been a girl or some person inferior to her in station.
In spite of his large body, the impression he made upon her was that of weakness; but she liked the sincerity and kindness which expressed themselves in his sad smile and large, honest blue eyes. His gaze reminded her of that of an ox, but it had not only the ox’s dullness, but also its simplicity and good-nature. Tales from Two Hemispheres PDF Book
They sat talking on for a while about the weather, the cattle, and the prospects of the crops. “What is your name?” she asked, at last. “Halvard Hedinson Ullern.” A sudden shock ran through her at the sound of that name; in the next moment a deep blush stole over her countenance.
“And my name,” she said, slowly, “is Brita Bjarne’s daughter Blakstad.” She fixed her eyes upon him, as if to see what effect her words produced. But his features wore the same sad and placid expression; and no line in his face seemed to betray either surprise or ill-will. Then her sense of patronage grew into one of sympathy and pity.
“He must either be weak-minded or very unhappy,” thought she, “and what right have I then to treat him harshly.” And she continued her simple, straightforward talk with the young man, until he, too, grew almost talkative, and the sadness of his smile began to give way to something which almost resembled happiness. Tales from Two Hemispheres PDF Book Download
She noticed the change and rejoiced. At last, when the sun had sunk behind the western mountain tops, she rose and bade him good-night; in another moment the door of the saeter-cottage closed behind her, and he heard her bolting it on the inside. But for a long time he remained sitting on the grass, and strange thoughts passed through his head.
He had quite forgotten his bay mare. The next evening when the milking was done, and the cattle were gathered within the saeter enclosure, Brita was again sitting on the large stone, looking out over the valley. She felt a kind of companionship with the people when she saw the smoke whirling up from their chimneys, and she could guess what they were going to have for supper.
As she sat there, she again heard a creaking in the branches, and Halvard Ullern stood again before her, with his jacket on his arm, and the same bridle in his hand. He spread his light summer coat on the stone and carefully seated her. She lifted her veil and raised her eyes to the large red-roofed mansion, whose dark outlines drew themselves dimly on the dusky background of the pine forest. Tales from Two Hemispheres PDF Book Download
Was he still alive, he whose life-hope she had wrecked, he who had once driven her out into the night with all but a curse upon his lips? How would he receive her, if she were to return? Ah, she knew him, and she trembled at the very thought of meeting him. But was not the guilt hers? Could she depart from this valley, could she die in peace, without having thrown herself at his feet and implored his forgiveness?
And there, on the opposite side of the valley, lay the home of him who had been the cause of all her misery. What had been his fate, and did he still remember those long happy summer days, ah! so long, long ago? She had dared to ask no questions of the people with whom she lived, but now a sudden weakness had overtaken her, and she felt that to-day must decide her fate.
She could no longer bear this torture of uncertainty. Thomas remained standing at her side and looked at her with anxiety and wonder. He knew that she had concealed many things from him, but whatever her reasons might be, he was confident that they were just and weighty. It was not for him to question her about what he might have no right to know. Tales from Two Hemispheres PDF Book Download
He felt as if he had never loved her as in this moment, when she seemed to be most in need of him, and an overwhelming tenderness took possession of his heart. He suddenly stooped down, took her pale, thin face between his hands and kissed her. The long pent-up emotion burst forth in a flood of tears; she buried her face in her lap and wept long and silently.
Then the church-bells began to peal down in the valley, and the slow mighty sound floated calmly and solemnly up to them. How many long-forgotten memories of childhood and youth did they not wake in her bosom—memories of the time when the merry Glitter-Brita, decked with her shining brooches, wended her way to the church among the gayly-dressed lads and maidens of the parish?
A cluster of white-stemmed birches threw its shadow over the stone where the penitent mother was sitting, and the tall grass on both sides of the path nearly hid her from sight. Presently the church-folk began to appear, and Brita raised her head and drew her veil down over her face. No one passed without greeting the strangers, and the women and maidens, according to old fashion, stopped and courtesied. Tales from Two Hemispheres PDF Book Download
At last, there came an old white-haired man, leaning on the arm of a middle-aged woman. His whole figure was bent forward, and he often stopped and drew his breath heavily. “Oh, yes, yes,” he said, ill a hoarse, broken voice, as he passed before them, “age is gaining on me fast.
I can’t move about any more as of old. But to church I must this day. God help me! I have done much wrong and need to pray for forgiveness.” “You had better sit down and rest, father,” said the woman. “Here is a stone, and the fine lady, I am sure, will allow a weak old man to sit down beside her.”
Two days later, when the body was laid out, Thomas stood alone in the room. The windows were covered with white sheets, and a subdued light fell upon the pale, lifeless countenance. Death had dealt gently with her, she seemed younger than before, and her light wavy hair fell softly over the white forehead. Tales from Two Hemispheres PDF Book Free
Then there came a middle-aged man, with a dull eye, and a broad forehead, and timidly approached the lonely mourner. He walked on tip-toe and his figure stooped heavily. For a long while he stood gazing at the dead body, then he knelt down at the foot of the coffin, and began to sob violently. At last he arose, took two steps toward the young man, paused again, and departed silently as he had come.
It was Halvard. Close under the wall of the little red-painted church, they dug the grave; and a week later her father was laid to rest at his daughter’s side. But the fresh winds blew over the Atlantic and beckoned the son to new fields of labor in the great land of the future.