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ANNE LISBETH

 

ANNE Lisbeth had a colour like milk and bloodyoung and merryshe looked beautifulwith gleaming white teeth and clear eyesher footstep was light in the danceand her mind was lighter stillAnd what came of it allHer son was an ugly bratYeshe was not prettyso he was put out to be nursed by the labourer's wife

Anne Lisbeth was taken into the count's castleand sat there in the splendid room arrayed in silks and velvetsnot a breath of wind might blow upon herand no one was allowed to speak a harsh word to herNothat might not befor she was nurse to the count's childwho was delicate and fair as a princeand beautiful as an angeland how she loved this childHer own boy was provided for at the labourer'swhere the mouth boiled over more frequently than the potand wherein generalno one was at homeThen he would crybut what nobody knowsthat nobody cares forand he would cry till he was tiredand then he fell asleepand in sleep one feels neither hunger nor thirstA capital invention is sleep

With yearsjust as weeds shoot upAnne Lisbeth's child grewbut yet they said his growth was stuntedbut he had quite become a member of the family in which he dweltthey had received money to keep himAnne Lisbeth was rid of him for goodShe had become a town ladyand had a comfortable home of her ownand out of doors she wore a bonnet when she went out for a walkbut she never walked out to see the labourerthat was too far from the townand indeed she had nothing to go forthe boy belonged to the labouring peopleand she said he could eat his foodand he should do something to earn his foodand consequently he kept Mads Jensen's red cowHe could already tend cattle and make himself useful

The big dogby the yard gate of the nobleman's mansionsits proudly in the sunshine on the top of the kenneland barks at every one who goes byif it rains he creeps into his houseand there he is warm and dryAnne Lisbeth's boy sat in the sunshine on the fence of the fieldand cut out a tetherpegIn the spring he knew of three strawberry plants that were in blossomand would certainly bear fruitand that was his most hopeful thoughtbut they came to nothingHe sat out in the rain in foul weatherand was wet to the skinand afterwards the cold wind dried the clothes on his backWhen he came to the farm-yard he was hustled and cuffedfor the men and maids declared he was horribly uglybut he was used to thatloved by noboby

That was how it went with Anne Lisbeth's boyand how could it go otherwiseIt wasonce for allhis fate to be loved by nobody

From the land he was thrown overboardHe went to sea in a wretched vesseland sat by the helmwhile the skipper drankHe was dirty and uglyhalf frozen and half starvedone would have thought he had never had enoughand that really was the case

It was late in autumnroughwetwindy weatherthe wind cut cold through the thickest clothingespecially at seaand out to sea went a wretched boatwith only two men on boardorproperly speakingwith only a man and a halfthe skipper and his boyIt had only been a kind of twilight all dayand now it became darkand it was bitterly coldThe skipper drank a dramwhich was to warm him from withinThe bottle was oldand the glass tooit was whole at the topbut the foot was broken offand therefore it stood upon a little carved block of wood painted blue.“A dram comforts oneand two are better still,”thought the skipperThe boy sat at the helmwhich he held fast in his hard tarry handshe was uglyand his hair was mattedand he looked crippled and stuntedhe was the fieldlabjourer's boythough in the church register he was entered as Anne Lisbeth's son

The wind cut its through the riggingand the boat cut though the seaThe sail blew outfilled by the windand they drove on in wild careerIt was rough and wet around and aboveand it might come worse stillHoldWhat was thatWhat struck there

What burstWhat seized the boatIt heeledand lay on its beam endsWas it a waterspoutWas it a heavy sea coming suddenly downThe boy at the helm cried out aloud,“Heaven help us!”The boat had struck on a great rock standing up from the depths of the seaand it sank like an old shoe in a puddleit sankwith man and mouseas the saying isand there were mice on boardbut only one man and a halfthe skipper and the labourer's boy

No one saw it but the screaming seagullsand the fishes down belowand even they did not see it rightlyfor they started back in terror when the water rushed into the shipand it sankThere it lay scarce a fathom below the surfaceand those two were provided forburied and forgottenOnly the glass with the foot of blue wood did not sinkfor the wood kept it upthe glass drifted awayto be broken and cast upon the shorewhere and whenButindeedthat is of no consequenceIt had served its timeand it had been lovedwhich Anne Lisbeth's boy had not beenBut in Heaven no soul will be able to say,“Never loved!”

Anne Lisbeth had lived in the city for many yearsShe was called Madamand felt her dignitywhen she remembered the oldnobledays in which she had driven in the carriageand had associated with countesses and baronessesHer beautiful noblechild was the dearest angelthe kindest hearthe had loved her so muchand she had loved him in returnthey had kissed and loved each otherand the boy had been her joyher second lifeNow he was so talland was fourteen years oldhandsome and clevershe had not seen him since she carried him in her armsfor many years she had not been in the count's palacefor indeed it was quite a journey thither

I must once make an effort and go,”said Anne Lisbeth.“I must go to my darlingto my sweet count's childYeshe certainly must long to see me toohe thinks of me and loves me as in those days when he flung his angel arms round my neck and cried,‘Anne Liz!’It sounded like musicYesI must make an effort and see him again.”

She drove across the country in a grazier's cartand then got out and continued her journey on footand thus reached the count's castleIt was great and magnificentas it had always beenand the garden looked the same as everbut all the people there were strangers to hernot one of them knew Anne Lisbethand they did not know of what consequence she had once been therebut she felt sure the countess would let them know itan her darling boy tooHow she longed to see him

Now Anne Lisbeth was at her journey's endShe was kept waiting a considerable timeand for those who wait time passes slowlyBut before the great people went to table she was called inand accosted very graciouslyShe was to see her sweet boy after dinnerand then she was to be called in again

How tall and slender and thin he had grownBut he had still his beautiful eyes and the angelsweet mouthHe looked at herbut he said not a wordcertainly he did not know herHe turned roundand was about to go awaybut she seized his hand and pressed it to her mouth

Goodgood!”said heand with that he went out of the roomhe who filled her every thoughthe whom she had loved bestand who was her whole earthly pride

Anne Lisbeth went out of the castle into the open highwayand she felt very mournfulhe had been so cold and strange to herhad not a word nor a thought for herhe whom she had once carried day and nightand whom she still carried in her dreams

A great black raven shot down in front of her on to the high roadand croaked and croaked again

Ha!”she said,“what bird of ill omen art thou?”

She came past the hut of the labourerthe wife stood at the doorand the two women spoke to one another

You look well,”said the woman.“You are plump and fatyou're well off.”

Ohyes,”answered Anne Lisbeth

The boat went down with them,”continued the woman.“The skipper and the boy were both drownedThere's an end of themI always thought the boy would be able to help me out with a few dollarsHe'll never cost you anything moreAnne Lisbeth.”

So they were drownedAnne Lisbeth repeatedand then nothing more was said on the subject

Anne Lisbeth was very lowspirited because her count-child had shown no disposition to talk with her who loved him so welland who had journeyed all that way to get a sight of himand the journey had cost money toothough the pleasure she had derived from it was not greatStill she said not a word about thisShe would not relieve her heart by telling the labourer's wife about itlest the latter should think she did not enjoy her former position at the castleThen the raven screamed againand flew past over her once more

The black wretch!”said Anne Lisbeth;“he'll end by frightening me today.”

She had brought coffee and chicory with herfor she thought it would be a charity to the poor woman to give them to her to boil a cup of coffeeand then she herself would take a cup tooThe woman prepared the coffeeand in the meantime Anne Lisbeth sat down upon a chair and fell asleepThere she dreamed of something she had never dreamed beforesingularly enoughshe dreamed of her own child that had wept and hungered there in the labourer's huthad been hustled about in heat and in coldand was now lying in the depths of the seaHeaven knows whereShe dreamed she was sitting in the hutwhere the woman was busy preparing the coffeeshe could smell the coffeebeans roastingBut suddenly it seemed to her that there stood on the threshold a beautiful young formas beautiful as the count's childand this apparition said to her

The world is passing awayHold fast to mefor you are my mother after allYou have an angel in heavenHold me fast!”

And he stretched out his hand to herand there was a terrible crashfor the world was going to piecesand the angel was raising himself above the earthand holding her by the sleeve so tightlyit seemed to herthat she was lifted up from the groundbuton the other handsomething heavy hung at her feet and dragged her downand it seemed to her that hundreds of women clung to herand cried

If thou art to be savedwe must be saved tooHold fastHold fast!”

And then they all hung on to herbut there were too many of themandritschratch!—the sleeve toreand Anne Lisbeth fell down in horrorand awokeAndindeedshe was on the point of falling over with the chair on which she satshe was so startled and alarmed that she could not recollect what it was she had dreamedbut she remembered that it had been something dreadful

The coffee was takenand they had a chat together and then Anne Lisbeth went away towards the little town where she was to meet the carrierand to drive back with him to her own homeBut when she came to speak to himhe said he should not be ready to start before the evening of the next dayShe began to think about the expense and the length of the wayand when she considered that the route by the sea-shore was shorter by two miles than the otherand that the weather was clear and the moon shoneshe determined to make her way on footthat she might be at home by next day

The sun had setand the evening bells were still ringingbut noit was not the bellsbut the cry of the frogs in the marshesNow they were silentand all around was stillnot a bird was heardfor they were all gone to restand even the owl seemed to be at homedeep silence reigned on the margin of the forest and by the seashoreAs Anne Lisbeth walked on she could hear her own foot-steps on the sandthere was no sound of waves in the seaeverything out in the deep waters had sunk to silenceAll was quiet therethe living and the dead

Anne Lisbeth walked onthinking of nothing at all”,as the saying isor ratherher thoughts wanderedbut her thoughts had not wandered away from herfor they are never absent from usthey only slumberboth those which have been alive but have gone to rest againand those which have not yet stirredBut the thoughts come forth at their timeand begin to stir sometimes in the heart and sometimes in the heador seem to come upon us from above

It is written that a good deed bears its fruit of blessingand it is also written that sin is deathMuch has been written and much has been said which one does not know or think ofand thus it was with Anne LisbethBut it may happen that a light arises within oneit is quite possible

All virtues and all vices lie in our heartsThey are in mine and in thinethey lie there like little invisible grains of seedand then from without comes a ray of sunshine or the touch of an evil handor maybe you turn the corner and go to the right or to the leftand that may be decisivefor the little seedcorn perhaps is stirredand it swells and shoots upand it burstsand pours its sap into all your bloodand then your career has commencedThere are tormenting thoughtswhich one does not feel when one walks on with slumbering sensesbut they are therefermenting in the heartAnne Lisbeth walked on thus with her senses half in slumberbut the thoughts were fermenting within her

From one Shrove Tuesday to the next there comes much that weighs upon the heartthe reckoning of a whole yearmuch is forgottensins against Heaven in word and in thoughtagainst our neighbourand against our own conscienceWe don't think of these thingsand Anne Lisbeth did not think of themShe had committed no crime against the law of the landshe was very respectablean honoured and well-placed personthat she knew

And as she walked along by the margin of the seawhat was it she saw lying thereAn old hata man's hatNowwhere might that have been washed overboardShe came nearerand stopped to look at the hatHawhat was lying thereShe shudderedbut it was nothing save a heap of sea-grass and tangle flung across a long stonebut it looked just like a real personit was only seagrass and tangleand yet she was frightened at itand as she turned away to walk on much came into her mind that she had heard in her childhoodold superstitions of spectres by the seashoreof the ghosts of drowned but unburied people who have been washed up on the desert shoreThe bodyshe had heardcould do harm to nonebut the spirit could pursue the lonely wandererand attach itself to himand demand to be carried to the churchyard that it might rest in consecrated ground

Hold fastHold fast!”it criedand while Anne Lisbeth murmured the words to herselfher whole dream suddenly stood before her just as she had dreamed itwhen the mothers clung to her and had repeated this word amid the crash of the worldwhen her sleeve was torn and she slipped out of the grasp of her childwho wanted to hold her up in that terrible hourHer childher own childwhom she had never lovednow lay buried in the seaand might rise up like a spectre from the watersand cry,“Hold fastCarry me to consecrated earth.”And as these thoughts passed through her mindfear gave speed to her feetso that she walked on faster and fasterfear came upon her like the touch of a cold wet hand that was laid upon her heartso that she almost faintedand as she looked out across the seaall there grew thicker and darkera heavy mist came rolling onwardand clung round bush and treetwisting them into fantastic shapesShe turned roundand glanced up at the moonwhich had risen behind herIt looked like a palerayless surfaceand a deadly weight appeared to cling to her limbs.“Hold fast!”thought sheand when she turned round a second time and looked at the moonits white face seemed quite close to herand the mist hung like a pale garment from her shoulders.“Hold fastCarry me to consecrated earth!”sounded in her ears in strange hollow tonesThe sound did not come from the frogs in the pondor from ravens or crowsshe saw no sign of any such creatures.“A graveDig me a grave!”was repeated quite loud

Yesit was the spectre of her childthe child that lay in the oceanand whose spirit could have no rest until it was carried to the churchyardand until a grave had been dug for it in consecrated groundThither she would goand there she would digand she went on in the direction of the churchand the weight on her heart seemed to grow lighterand even to vanish altogetherbut when she turned to go home by the shortest wayit returned.“Hold fastHold fast!”and the words came quite clearthough they were like the croak of a frog or the wail of a bird,“A graveDig me a grave!”

The mist was cold and dampher hands and face were cold and damp with horrora heavy weight again seized her and clung to herand in her mind a great space opened for thoughts that had never before been there

Here in the North the beech wood often buds in a single nightand in the morning sunlight it appears in its full glory of youthful greenand thus in a single instant can the consciousness unfold itself of the sin that has been contained in the thoughtswordsand works of our past lifeIt springs up and unfolds itself in a single second when once the conscience is awakenedand God wakens it when we least expect itThen we find no excuse for ourselversthe deed is thereand bears witness against usthe thoughts seem to become wordsand to sound far out into the worldWe are horrified at the thought of what we have carried within usand have not stifled what we have sown in our thoughtlessness and prideThe heart hides within itself all the virtues and likewise all the vicesand they grow even in the barrenest ground

Anne Lisbeth now experienced all the thoughts we have clothed in wordsShe was overpowered by themand sank downand crept along for some distance on the ground.“A graveDig me a grave!”it sounded again in her earsand she would gladly have buried herself if in the grave there had been forgetfulness of every deedIt was the first hour of her awakeningfull of anguish and horrorSuperstition alternately made her shudder with cold and made her blood burn with the heat of fever

Many things of which she had never liked to speak came into her mindSilent as the cloud-shadows in the bright moonshinea spectral apparition flitted by hershe had heard of it beforeClose by her gallopped four snorting steedswith fire spurting from their eyes and nostrilsthey dragged a redhot coachand within it sat the wicked proprietor who had ruled here a hundred years ago

The legend said that every night at twelve o'clock he drove into his castle yard and out againHe was not paleas dead men are said to bebut black as a coalHe nodded at Anne Lisbeth and beckoned to her

Hold fastHold fastThen you may ride again in a nobleman's carriageand forget your own child!”

She gathered herself upand hastened to the church-yardbut the black crosses and the black ravens danced in confusion before her eyesThe ravens croakedas the raven had done that she saw in the daytimebut now she understood what they said.“I am the raven-motherI am the raven-mother!”each raven croakedand Anne Lisbeth now understood that the name also applied to herand she fancied she should be transformed into a black birdand be obliged to cry what they criedif she did not dig the grave

And she threw herself on the earthand with her hands dug a grave in the hard groundso that the blood ran from her fingers.“A graveDig me a grave!”it still soundedshe was fearful that the cook might crowand the first red streak appear in the eastbefore she had finished her workand then she would be lost

And the cock crowedand day dawned in the eastand the grave was only half dugAn icy hand passed over her head and face and down towards her heart

Only half a grave!”a voice wailedand floated away down to the bottom of the sea

It was the ocean spectreand exhausted and overpoweredAnne Lisbeth sank to the groundand her senses forsook her

It was bright day when she came to herselfand two men were raising her upbut she was not lying in the churchyardbut on the seashorewhere she had dug a deep hole in the sandand cut her hand against a broken glasswhose sharp stem was stuck in a little painted block of wood

Anne Lisbeth was in a feverConscience had shuffled the cards of superstitionand had laid out these cardsand she fancied she had only half a souland that her child had taken the other half down into the seaNever would she be able to swing herself aloft to the mercy of Heaven till she had recovered this other halfwhich was now held fast in the deep waterAnne Lisbeth got back to her former homebut was no longer the woman she had beenher thoughts were confused like a tangled skeinonly one threadonly one thought she had disentanglednamelythat she must carry the spectre of the seashore to the churchyardand dig a grave for himthat thus she might win back her soul

Many a night she was missed from her homeand she was always found on the seashorewaiting for the spectreIn this way a whole year passed byand then one night she vanished againand was not to be foundthe whole of the next day was wasted in fruitless search

Towards eveningwhen the clerk came into the church to toll the vesper bellhe sawby the altarAnne Lisbethwho had spent the whole day thereHer strength was almost exhaustedbut her eyes gleamed brightlyand her cheeks had a rosy flushThe last rays of the sun shone upon herand gleamed over the altar on the bright clasps of the Bible which lay thereopened at the words of the prophet Joel:“Rend your heartsand not your garmentsand turn unto the Lord!”That was just a chancethe people saidas many things happen by chance

In the face of Anne Lisbethillumined by the sunpeace and rest were to be seenShe said she was happyfor now she had conqueredLast night the spectre of the shoreher own childhad come to herand had said to her

Thou hast dug me only half a gravebut thou hast nowfor a year and a dayburied me altogether in thy heartand it is there that a mother can best hide her child!”

And then he gave her lost half soul back againand brought her here into the church

Now I am in the house of God,”she said,“and in that house we are happy.”

And when the sun had setAnne Lisbeth's soul had risen to that region where there is no more anguishand Anne Lisbeth's troubles were over

 


 

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