The Song Of The Blood-Red Flower
Part 3 out of 5
He thought for a moment.
"Will you come over here if I come to fetch you? Then we can go up in
the woods where no one can see. Come over on the raft."
"Yes, I could do that!"
He took up his pole and set the raft loose--a couple of tree trunks,
no more, fastened together with withies--and rowed hurriedly across to
the opposite bank.
"Like a dear sister she comes," he thought to himself, as he helped
her on to the raft. The girl held his hands and looked deep into his
eyes, but without speaking.
"Sit there on the crosspiece--you can't stand up when it begins to
She sat down obediently, and he rowed across.
"I never thought you could be such a friend," he said, as they stepped
"Friend?" said the girl, with a tender, grateful glance--grateful
that he had found the very word for the feeling that had brought her
thither, and which had cost her so much already.
* * * * *
The sun was setting. A youth and a girl walked down from the woods
towards the river bank, talking together.
Then suddenly they awoke from their dreams, and looked at each other
in dismay. The river was a waste of water only, the banks deserted,
the raft gone--neither of them had thought of how they were to get
"What are we to do?" The mute question was in the eyes of both.
"You can't get back along this bank?" said the young man at last.
"All through Vaha-Kohiseva village and over the bridge--no. And I
ought to bring the calves home, too."
"There's no boat anywhere near?"
A gleam of resolution shone in the young man's eyes.
"Can you swim?" he asked suddenly, turning towards her.
"Swim?" she repeated in surprise. Then her face lit up as she grasped
his meaning. "Yes, indeed!"
"And _would_ you swim across with me if I carry your clothes?"
She trembled slightly--it was a daring plan, yet there was a certain
secret fascination in the thought.
"With you? Yes!" she cried.
"Good. You can undress here. Then roll up all your clothes in your
blouse, and tie it round with the sleeves. I'll go a little way off
and get ready. We'll manage all right, you see."
And he strode off with rapid steps.
But the girl flushed, and looked anxiously around, as if she had
promised more than she could fulfil. She glanced along the shore--Olof
was sitting a little distance away, with his back to her, already
"How childish I am!" she thought. And stepping briskly down to the
water's edge, she began hastily taking off her clothes.
* * * * *
A splash in the water--Olof was almost lost to sight in the reeds. He
took off his boots and hung them by one lace round his neck, then
he fixed his bundle of clothes above, and tied it with the remaining
"Ready?" he called over his shoulder, glancing down the stream.
Hurriedly the girl rolled her garments up in the blouse. Her white
body shivered--in womanly embarrassment at her position, and with an
ecstatic delight. Then with a splash the white figure dipped beneath
the water, swam up, and hid in the reeds.
Olof swam upstream, his eyes fixed on the heap of clothing, and a
faint smile on his lips. He took the bundle, tied his belt round it,
and fastened it above his own. The double load stood up high above his
"They'll be all right now--if I don't make a mess of it," he assured
With long, slow strokes he made for the opposite shore. The girl stood
motionless in the reeds, watching him as he swam.
"How strong and bold he is!" she thought. "And the wonderful things he
does! What does he care for the river?--water between us is nothing
to him. He makes everything do his will. How could one be afraid with
"_Her_ clothes!" thought Olof. "And I am carrying them."
He reached the bank, untied the girl's bundle, and set it carefully
ashore. Then swimming a little farther down, he flung his own things
up on land.
"Haven't you started yet?" he called across to the girl--though he had
been hoping all the time that she had not.
"No--I was just going to," she replied. "I--I forgot. It was such fun
"I'll come and meet you, if you like. It'll be safer perhaps...."
"Ye--es," said the girl.
She felt no shame now, though he was looking straight at her. He was
filled with the strange delight that comes with any stepping over the
bounds of everyday life into a world of fairyland, where all is pure,
and nothing is forbidden, where the sense of being _two_ that go their
own ways unseen is like a purging, fusing flame.
Olof swam rapidly across.
"You look like a water-witch there in the reeds," he cried
delightedly, checking his stroke.
"And you're the water-sprite," she answered, with a joyous smile, as
she struck out.
"Bravo, water-witch, you're swimming splendidly!" he cried. They were
swimming side by side now, straight across the river.
The water rippled lightly about them; now and again the girl's white
shoulder lifted above the surface, her long hair trailed behind over
the water, that shone like gold in the sunset light.
"Wonderful!" he cried. "I've never seen anything so lovely."
"Nor I!" said the girl.
"Nor we!" laughed the trees behind them.
"Nor we!" nodded the bushes on the bank in front.
"It is like swimming in the river of forgetfulness," he went on. "All
the past disappears, all that was bitter and evil is washed away, and
we are but two parts of the same beautiful being that surrounds us."
"Yes, it is like that," said the girl, with feeling.
Slowly they came to land.
"It was very narrow, after all," said Olof regretfully, as he turned
from her and went down to fetch his clothes. He dressed as quickly as
he could, and hurried up to her again.
"Let me wring the water from your hair," he begged. She smiled
permission. The water fell like drops of silver from his hands.
"Must you go now?" asked Olof sadly. "Let me go with you as far as the
road at least."
Once more he looked regretfully at the river--as if to fix the
recollection in his mind.
They walked up to the road without speaking, and stopped.
"It's ever so hard for me to say good-bye to you," he said, grasping
"Harder still for me," she answered in a low voice.
"Shall I ever forget you--you, and this evening?"
Her eyelids quivered, and she bowed her head.
"Kyllikki!" he cried desperately. "Would you hide your eyes from
me?--Kyllikki...." There was hope and doubt in his eyes; he loosed his
hold of her hands, and clasped his own as if questioningly about her
The girl was trembling. She laid her hands on his shoulders, and then
slowly twined her arms about his neck.
A tumult of delight came over him. He pressed her to him fervently,
lifting her off her feet--her arms drew closer round him.
He saw the look in her eyes change--giddiness seized him, and he set
"May I...?" he asked, with his eyes.
Her eyes consented--and their lips met....
When at last he let her go, the girl's face was changed almost beyond
recognition. On her under lip showed a tiny drop of blood.
A cry of dismay rose up in him, but remained unuttered. A strange
intoxication overpowered him--the red drop there was the seal of a
friendship deeper and more mysterious than all else--in a wild kiss
he drank the blood from her lip. He felt himself on the point of
swooning--and wished the world would end there, in that moment.
He could not speak--he did not know whether to stay or go. A darkness
seemed to close about him, and he staggered off like a drunken man,
without looking back.
THE CAMP-FIRE AT NEITOKALLIO
A league of swift-flowing river, almost straight, with gently sloping
meadows, forest-crowned, on either hand.
A grand, impressive sight at all seasons. In autumn, the swollen
waters pour down as from a cornucopia; in winter, folk from the town
come driving over the frozen flood, racing one against another; in
spring, the river overflows its banks, spreading silt on the meadows
as in the land of the Nile; and in summer, the haymakers are lulled
by the song of the grasshoppers and the scent of the hay to dream of
paradise, where the children of men even now may enter in for some few
days in every year.
A league of river, a league of meadow land--but at one spot two great
rocks stand out as if on guard.
One rises from the very verge, the water lapping its foot as it
stands dreaming and gazing over to its fellow of the farther side.
Neitokallio is its name.
The other is more cold and proud. It stands drawn back a little way
from the bank, with head uplifted as in challenge, looking out through
the treetops across the plain. And this is Valimaki.
At the foot of Valimaki a camp-fire was burning. It was midnight. A
group of lumbermen were gathered round the fire, some lying stretched
out with knapsacks under their heads, some leaning one against
another. Blue clouds of smoke curled up from their pipes.
The red fire glowed and glowed, flaring up now and again into bright
flame, tinging the fir stems on the slope as if with blood, and
throwing weird reflections out on to the dark waters of the river. The
men sat in silence over their pipes.
"Look!" said one at last, nodding up towards the head of the rock.
"Looks almost as if she was sitting there still, looking down into the
Several nodded assent.
"Maybe there _is_ someone sitting there."
"Nay, 'tis only a bit of a bush or something. But 'tis the very same
spot where she sat, that's true."
"What's the story?" asks one--a newcomer, on his first trip to
Nuolijoki. "Some fairy tale or other?"
"Fairy tale?" one of the elders breaks in. "You're a stranger, young
man, that's plain to see. 'Tis a true story enough, and not so long
since it all happened neither."
"Fourteen years," says Antti, knocking the ashes from his pipe. "I
remember it all as plain as yesterday. Ay, there's queer things happen
"Did you see it yourself, then?"
"Ay, I did that--and not likely to forget it. 'Twas on that rock I saw
her first time, and a young lad with her."
Some of the men sat up and began filling their pipes afresh.
"Her betrothed, maybe?"
"Ay--or something like it. I didn't know at the time. I was clearing
stray logs here on the shore, and saw them sitting up there together,
looking at the water. I sat down too for a bit, and lit a pipe, and
thinking to myself; well, water's water, and water it'll be for all
their looking. Anyhow, I doubt they must look at something, just to
pass the time."
"Well, and what then? What happened?"
"Nay, they did but sit there a bit and then went away. But next day
again, I was working there same as before, and there's my young miss
a-sitting there in the very spot--only nobody with her this time."
Olof had been lying on his back, hands under his head, looking up into
the darkness. All at once he sat up, and stared at the speaker.
"'Twas a queer girl, thinks I, and lights my pipe. Walking all those
miles out from the town to sit on a rock--as if there wasn't rocks
enough elsewhere. Anyway, 'twas no business of mine. And after that
she was there every day--just about midday, always the same time, and
always sitting just there in one place."
"But what was she doing there?"
"Doing? Nay, she wasn't doing anything. Just sitting there, and
"'Twas Antti she was staring at--that'll be it," laughed one. "You
must have been a fine young fellow those days, Antti!"
"You keep your tongue between your teeth, young fellow; 'tis no
laughing matter I'm telling you."
The men looked at one another, and nodded. A faint breath of wind
sighed through the trees on the slope, a pair of twin stems creaked
one against the other with a melancholy sound. The men puffed at their
"Well, there she sits, and never song nor word to hear. Lord knows
what she'd be thinking of all the time. Then one day I came down to
the river, and was going over to Metsamantila for some butter. Just
passing by the rock I was, and there she is all of a sudden, coming
towards me, and all dressed in black from top to toe."
"I was all taken aback, you can think. She'd a black veil over
her face, and all. But a sweet, pretty thing to see, ay, that she
was--like a blessed angel. I pulled off my cap, and she looks up at me
and nods. And it gave me such a queer sort of feeling, I just turned
round and stood staring after her."
"Was it just a young girl?"
"Young? Ay, no more than twenty, at most. Well, I stood there watching
her till she's out of sight among the trees. And then it all seemed
clear enough. 'Twas her father or mother was dead, no doubt, and
that's why she came out here all alone, for comfort, like. Anyway, I
was going on. Then, just past the rock there's a man calls out, 'She's
"I was near falling backwards at that. I called out to see what was
the matter, and ran down to the shore.
"'Thrown herself down!' cries out the other man, and goes racing off
down to the water.
"We both ran all we could, but there was nothing to see. We waited
a bit, but she didn't come up. So I went off to the village, and the
other man to the town.
"They got her up after--at the first haul. She'd gone down like a
stone to the bottom, just at the spot. But there was no getting her
to life again, try all we could. Just as beautiful to look at she was,
for all she was dead. Ay, a lovely thing, a lovely thing. We'd had to
undo her clothes a bit, trying to bring her round, and her skin--'twas
like white silk. Seemed almost a sin to touch her with our rough hands
* * * * *
No one spoke for a while.
"And was it just for sorrow, like?" asked one at last.
"Ay, sorrow enough. But 'twas neither father nor mother she was
"Ah!... 'Twas a lover, then? Maybe she'd got into trouble."
"Nay, 'twas none of that sort. Just set on him--the young lad she'd
been sitting there with at first--and he'd left her, that was all."
The men sat in silence. Olof's heart was beating so that he almost
feared the rest must hear it. His eyelids quivered, and his brow was
furrowed deep as he sat staring into the fire.
"'Tis that way sometimes with fine folk when they're in love,"
"'Tis a woman's way altogether," put in another, with an attempt at
gaiety, as if to dispel the feeling of gloom. "Their heart's like a
flimsy fairing--little watch looks all right, but just shake it a bit,
and 'tis all to pieces."
"Maybe 'tis so with fine folk and ladies and such, but peasant girls
are not so foolish. More like a grandfather's clock, say. Anything
goes wrong, you've only to give it a shake, let it stop for an hour or
so, and shake it again, and scold it a bit--and it's as right as ever.
Go any way you like."
The men laughed--it was a relief to turn to something lighter.
"Ay, you're right there," put in a stout fellow with a loud voice.
"'Twas so with my old woman once when she was young. Got set on a bit
of a greenhorn chap, all soft as butter, and took it badly. But I saw
'twas no good for her nor anyone, and heaved him out of the way and
took her myself. And well I did, for she's never troubled a thought
about him since."
A shout of laughter went up from the men. They had recovered their
"Ay, you may laugh," said an elderly man. "But 'tis not every man
that troubles if what he thinks best is best for a woman herself."
He paused a moment, and sat cleaning his pipe with a straw. "There's
girls of our own sort that can't be handled that way to any good--and
there's both men and girls that don't take things so lightly."
There was an earnest ring in his voice, a note almost of pain, and
the men ceased to smile. Olof turned in surprise, and looked at the
speaker--some of the others were making signs behind the old man's
"I know one man at least," he went on, "that loved a girl when he was
young, and couldn't marry her. He didn't go off and kill himself--but
it marked him, none the less, for all he was only a peasant himself.
Sold his place, he did, and drank away the money, and wandered about
the rest of his life to this day--and never forgotten her."
The old man was silent.
"Ay, 'tis plain to see she's in his mind now that he's old and grey,"
said one who had pointed to the speaker before.
The old man bowed his head, and pulled his cap down over his eyes;
but they could see a quiver in his face, and the brass-bound pipe-stem
trembled in his hand.
The men exchanged glances; none seemed wishful to speak.
"Ay, 'tis no light thing to play with," said one at last. "And each
knows best what he's learned for himself."
Again a sighing of the trees on the hillside, and a mournful sound
from the straining stems. The coming dawn threw a grey light on the
rocky face of Neitokallio; far over the meadows a bird was calling.
"Getting light--'tis time we were about," said Olof, rising to his
The men stared at him in wonder; his voice was strange and hard as
that of the old man who had spoken before.
"Up with you--come!" said Olof, with sudden impatience. And, turning
abruptly, he strode down to the shore.
The men stared after him, then, rising, covered their fire, and
followed down to the river.
No! I must live while I am young; breathe freely while I can! But you,
Hawthorn--do you know what life is?"
"Yes," the girl answered fervently; "it is love!"
"It is something else besides. Youth and spring and courage--and fate,
that brings the children of men together."
"Yes...? I wonder why I never thought of that myself."
"What does it matter what we think? We drift along, knowing nothing of
one another, like the errant winds or the stars in the skies. We pass
by hundreds, without so much as a glance, until fate as in a lightning
flash brings us face to face with the one appointed. And then--in a
moment we know that we belong to each other, we are drawn together by
magnetic force--for good or ill."
"I have felt the same--and I feel it more keenly now than ever,"
answered the girl, nestling trustingly close to him. "Each minute in
your arms is worth more than all the rest of my life before."
"And you are to me as the sap of the trees in spring, that thrills
me with ecstasy and makes me forget all else. And I _will_ feel it
so!--drown my sad autumn and my joyless winter in the delight of
spring. And I bless the fate that led you to me--there is none like
"None?" the girl repeated happily, and yet in doubt. "Oh, if only I
could be as you think."
"You are so! Every drop of blood in you is love and fire. The lightest
touch of your shoe against my foot is more than the warmest embrace
from any other--your breath is like a secret caress; you bring a scent
of hawthorn with you everywhere that lifts me almost to madness."
"Do not talk like that, Olof. I am nothing--it is you that are all.
Tell me--are all lovers as happy as we?"
"Why not? Is it because they--they can't love as we do?"
"They _dare_ not! They fear to be happy. Oh, how blind the world is!
Wandering sadly with prayer, book and catechism in hand, when love
and spring are waiting for all who will. And those who have grown old,
when their blood is as lead in their veins, and they can but gaze with
beggars' eyes on their own youth--they would have us too slaves of the
prayer book and catechism like themselves."
"Is it really so...?"
"Yes, it is true. Only while we are young, only while the flood of
youth runs free and bright in our veins can we be happy. And they are
the greatest who dare to demand their share of life in full, to plunge
unafraid into the waters, letting the waves break on their temples and
life's salt flood wash their cheeks."
"And have I dared all this, Olof? Tell me, have I not?"
"Yes, you have. And it is just that which makes you lovely and
bewitching as you are. It is a glorious thing to give oneself lip
entirely to another, without question, without thought of return or
reckoning--only to bathe body and soul in the deep wells of life!"
"Yes, yes.... And, do you know, Olof...?" The girl spoke earnestly,
with a quiver in her voice.
"What? Tell me?"
But she could say no more, and, bursting into tears, hid her burning
cheek against his breast, her body shaking with sobs.
"What--child, you are crying? What is it?"
"I don't know...." The girl was sobbing still. "Only that I
can't--can't give you all I would."
"But you have given me more than I ever dared to hope for!"
"Not so much as I gladly would! Why do you not ask more of me? Tell me
to die with you, and I am ready--I could die by fire with you. Or take
my life now, here, this moment...."
The fire of her increasing passion seemed to have sent out a spark
that glowed and burned in his soul.
"How can you speak so?" he asked, almost in dread. "It is madness,
"Madness--yes. But if you knew how I love you.... Say but one word and
I will leave home--father and mother and all--and follow you like a
beggar girl from place to place."
"And never care what people said?"
"Care? Why should I care for them? What do they know of love?"
"Little Hawthorn...." Olof bent her head back and looked straight into
her eyes. "Was that a nice thing to say, now?"
The girl bowed her head. "No--but I wanted to do something, to make
some sacrifice for your sake."
She was silent for a moment, then her eyes brightened once more.
"Olof, now I know! I'll cut off one of the prettiest locks of my hair
and you shall keep it for remembrance--that's what people do, isn't
it? And you must keep it always--and think of me sometimes, even when
you love someone else."
"Oh, my love! I don't know whether to laugh or cry when you say such
things. But it is only now, in the gloom of the spring night. By
daylight you will think differently."
"No, never! Not even in the grave!"
"And then--it's so childish. Must you have a keepsake from me too, to
help you to remember?"
"No, of course not."
"Then why should I need one?"
"No, no--it's childish of me, of course. Forgive me, Olof--and don't
be sorry any more. I ask nothing but to go on loving you."
"And I you--without thought or question."
"Yes. And I shall remember all my life how happy you have made me; I
shall keep the memory of it all as a secret treasure till I die, and
She rose up suddenly on her elbow.
"Olof--tell me something. Did you ever hear of anyone dying of
"No--I have never heard of it. Why?"
"But when they are really, really happy...?"
"I don't think anyone could, even then."
"But they can die of sorrow sometimes, I've heard. And then if one
really wants to...."
"Hawthorn!" He clasped her in a wild embrace. "There is no one like
you in all the world. If _that_ were possible, I would ask nothing
"Would you--would you really care to ... with me?"
"Yes, yes ... to swoon in the scent of you and die ... to feel the
strands of your hair twined round my throat, and die.... Well for me
if I could, perhaps--and for others...."
Sadness pervaded his soul, and he spoke to the evening gloom that
stole in through the window and hovered about his pale face like a
"I too should have had a sister--sister Maya," he said dreamily.
"You had one--and the best that one could wish for," said the evening
"I don't remember--I was too young to know.... But mother always spoke
so nicely of her ... the time I was ill, for instance."
"So your mother spoke of that. Yes, yes, she would...."
"It was when I was a child. I was very ill--on the point of death,
she said. And mother and all the others were crying, and comforting
themselves with the thought that little Olof would be an angel soon,
and wear a crown. And sister Maya said then I should sit by her
bedside with wings outspread, warding off evil dreams."
"Well if it had been so," said the evening gloom.
"But the girl, my sister, burst into tears, and cried that I should
not be an angel, but a big man, bigger than father--ever so big and
strong. And she threw her arms round my neck and said no one should
ever come and take away Olof--no!"
"Ay," nodded the gloom, "so it was--yes."
"And my sister tried her own way to make me well again--fondling me
and blinking her eyes and stroking me under the chin. And I began
laughing, for all that I was ill. And she was all overjoyed at that,
and more certain than ever that I was to get well again and grow a
big strong man. And I laughed again, and life began laughing too--and
after that, I gradually got well."
"Ay, 'twas so. And your sister, she looked after you and nursed you
all by herself--no one else was allowed to touch you; yes, that was
your sister Maya!"
"Then Maya was taken ill herself. And weak as she was, she would have
me near her all the time, and made me sit by her bedside. And I only
laughed at it all--I did not understand that my only sister was at
death's door. Ay, sometimes I pinched her thin cheek, or pulled her
hair, or flicked her ear in play...."
"So you have done since with many other girls--ay, and laughed at
"And then the others came and wanted to take me away, out of her
sight, because I was so cruel."
"Ay, just so. If only someone had done the same thing afterwards, with
"But Maya held my hand and would not let them. And even when she was
dying I had to stay there, and with her last words she hoped that Olof
would grow up and be a fine strong fellow, and a good man."
He relapsed into thought.
"And now ... here you are, a fine strong fellow, and...." The voice
seemed urging him to go on.
"Why did my sister die? Oh, if only she were alive now!"
"Who can say--perhaps it is better for her as it is."
"If she were alive now, she would be in her best years. And she could
live with me, we two together, and never caring about anyone else.
Keep house together--and she should be my friend and sister--and all
else! I know just what she would look like. Tall and slender, with
fair hair, light as the flax at home, and all curling down over her
shoulders. And she would carry her head high--not vain and proud, but
noble and stately. And her eyes all fire and mischief. Deep eyes, with
a reflection of strange worlds, and none could face them with so much
as a thought of deceit. Like mother's eyes--only with all, all the
fire of youth--almost like Kylli...."
"So ho!" laughed the gloom. "So that's what your sister's to be
like.... Well, go on!"
"And her nature, too, would be strange. Independent, choosing her own
way--such a nature as old folks say is no good thing for a lad, far
less for a girl. But for her.... And in winter-time she would come
racing home on ski--rushing into the place and making the doors shake.
Then she would jump on my lap, put her cold hands on my shoulders, and
look mischievously: 'Why, what's this, brother? As gloomy as a monk
again, I declare!' And I should feel happier then, but still a little
earnest, and say, 'Maya, Maya, what a child you are! As thoughtless
as a boy. And such a noise you make about the place.' 'Oh, but you're
always in the dumps--sitting here moping like a grey owl. You ought
to go out and race through the snow, till it whirls up about your ears
... that's the thing to freshen you up....' And then she presses cold
hands against my cheek, till I shiver, and looks teasingly. And then
all my dull humour's gone, and I can't help laughing at her, and
calling her a little impudent thing...."
Olof stopped, and smiled--as if to fix the picture of this bright
young creature indelibly in his mind.
The voice of the gloom spoke again: "So she is to live just for _your_
pleasure--like all the others?"
The smile died from the young man's face.
"Go on--your sister is sitting on your lap, looking mischievously into
"No, no--not like that--no. She looks earnestly, with eyes that no
deceit can face, and says, 'Olof, what's this they are saying about
"And she looks at me still. 'Hard things they say, brother--that you
play with women's hearts.... Is it true?'
"And I cannot meet her eyes, and bow my head.
"'Olof--remember that _I too am a woman_.'
"And that cuts me to the heart. 'Sister, sister, if you knew it all;
if you knew how I have suffered myself. I never meant to play with
them--only to be with them--as I am with you.'
"'As you are with me?' She looks at me; wonderingly. 'But you
know--you must know--that you cannot be as a brother to them.'
"'Yes, I can--sometimes.'
"'But never quite. And still less can they be sisters to you. Surely
you know enough to understand that.'
"'But you should know. Oh, think! With some men, perhaps, they might
be as sister and brother--but not with you. You, with your dark
eyes--I have always feared them. They beckon and call ... to evil and
"'Sister--what must you think of me!' And I hide my head in her lap,
as I used to do in mother's.
"'I am only sorry--bitterly sorry for you. And I can't help being
fond of you, for I know your heart is good and pure--but you are weak;
very, very weak.' And she strokes my forehead, as mother used to do.
"'Yes, I am weak, I know it. But I promise you....'
"'Don't promise!' she says almost sternly, and lifts a finger
warningly. 'How many times have you promised, with tears in your eyes,
and done the same again? Don't promise--but try to be stronger.'
"'I will try, sister--dear, dear sister.' And I take her hands and
kiss them gratefully again and again...."
"Ho! so that's the way you talk together, is it?" said the gloom.
"Well, I'm not sure it might not be a good thing if your sister were
alive. Then, perhaps, if she talked like that to you occasionally, you
might be a different man altogether."
The young man sat for a while in thought.
"Then suddenly she jumps up and lights the lamp--it is getting dark.
And she comes and puts her hands on my shoulders and says, 'Let me
help you checking those accounts--you know I can.'
"And she sits down at the table, and I watch her little hand gliding
over the paper. And I set to work at the books, and so we work for a
"Then suddenly she looks up, and begins talking again. 'Why, what a
great man you're getting, Olof--keeping the books in an office of your
own--and with a secretary into the bargain. There's never a lumberman
risen so far at your age, and never a foreman that looks so fine, with
office and clerk and all'
"And I laugh at that. 'And never one with such a sister to help--that
"Then she turns serious again, and looks at me strangely. I can't make
out what she means.
"'Tell me,' she says at last, 'how long are you going to go on with
this wandering life? It's three years now.'
"'Is it so long as that?' I ask in surprise. 'Twill be longer yet, I
"'If I were you, I would make an end of it at once. Let us both go
home and take over the farm there--mother and father have worked so
hard there all their lives--it's time they were allowed to rest.'
"I look at her without speaking, and she understands. 'Father? Never
fear--he's forgotten his anger long ago. And mother and he are both
waiting for you to come home--for brother Heikki is too young to take
over the place....'
"'Do you really think so?'
"'Think? I know! And there's any amount of work all waiting for you.
New ground to be sown, and a new barn to build, and we ought to
have three times the stock we have now. And there's all Isosuo
marsh--you've that to drain and cultivate. When are you going to
"'Drain the marsh? How could you think of that?'
"'Why shouldn't I? I'm your sister. It will be a big piece of
work--father himself never ventured to try it--but you're a bigger man
than your father--a big, strong man....'
"'Sister! Now I simply must give you a kiss. There's no one like you
in all the world.
"And we go home the very next week. And all turns out just as you
said--more live stock, new ground sown, clover where there was but
marsh before, and Koskela is grown to a splendid place, known far and
wide. And we are so happy--with you to keep house and me to work the
land. And the years go by and we grow old, but our children....
"... Oh, misery! What am I dreaming of...?" "That was the best of your
dreams so far," said the gloom, with a full glance of its coal-black
eyes. "May it soon come true! But light your lamp now--it is dark as
night in here now."
"If I were a poet, I would sing--a strange, wild song.
"And if I could string the quivering _kantele_, I would play on it a
melody to my song.
"I would sing of you, and of love. Of clematis with the snow-white
flowers. For you are as the clematis, my love, sweet and beautiful
as its blossoms, dear as its growth about the windows of a home--and
deep, endlessly deep, as life itself."
"But that is just what you are doing, Olof--for all you say is like
a poem and a song," answered the girl. "Sing for me again--and let me
just sit here at your feet and listen."
"Ah, if only you could sit there always, as now. Clematis--how strange
that I should meet you--when I never thought to meet with any flower
again--saw only the yellow faded leaves of autumn everywhere around."
"Autumn ... faded leaves...." The girl looked at him, timidly
questioning. "Olof, don't be angry with me. But.... Have you loved
others before? They say so many things about you."
The young man was silent a moment.
"Ay, there are many things to say, perhaps," he murmured sadly.
"But you, Clematis--could you care for me; could you not love me
altogether, if you knew I had loved another before?"
"No, no--'twas not meant so," said the girl hastily, touching his knee
with a slight caress. "I was not thinking of myself...."
They looked at each other in silence.
"Yes--I know what you mean. I can read it in your eyes." He laid one
hand tenderly on the girl's head.
"Life is so strange. And human beings strangest of all. I have
loved--but now I feel as one that had only dreamed strange fancies."
"But have you loved them really--in earnest? I mean, did you give them
all you had to give--and can anyone give that more than once in life?"
The girl spoke softly, but with such deep feeling that the young man
found no words to answer, and sat silently staring before him.
"Who can tell," he said, after a while. "I thought I had given all I
had long since, and had all that could ever be given me. I felt myself
poor as the poorest beggar. Then you came, unlike all the others, a
wealth of hidden treasure in yourself--none had ever given me what you
gave. And now--I feel myself rich, young and unspoiled, as if I were
crossing the threshold of life for the first time."
"Rich--ay, you are rich--as a prince. And I am your poorest little
slave, sitting at your feet. But how can anyone ever be so rich--how
can it be? I can never understand."
"Do you know what I think? I think that human beings are endlessly
rich and deep, like Nature itself, that is always young, and only
changes from one season to another. All that has happened to me before
seems now only the rising of sap in spring. Now summer comes for the
first time--all calm and warmth and happiness. I have been like a
fairy palace, with a splendid hall to which none could find the key.
But you had it all the time--the others could enter this little room
or that, but only you had the key to the best of all."
"Is it really true, Olof? Oh, I shall remember those words for ever!"
"It is true--you were the first that taught me how deep and
mysterious, how wonderful, the love of a man and a woman can be.
That it is not just a chance meeting, and after that all kisses and
embraces and overflow of feeling. But a quiet, calm happiness in the
blood, like the sap in the trees, invisible, yet bearing all life in
itself; speechless, yet saying everything without a single touch of
"Yes," said the girl earnestly. "But did you not know that before? I
have always felt it so."
"No--I did not realise that it was so intimate a part of our nature;
that it was the foundation of life and happiness for all on earth. Now
at last I understand that we are nothing without one another--we are
as earth without water, trees without roots or mould; or as the
sky without sun and moon. And I know now much that I did not know
before--the secret of all existence, the power that sustains us all."
"And you know that it is _love_--the greatest of all! But why does no
one ever speak of it--I mean, of love itself, not merely the name?"
"I think it must be because it is too deep and sacred a thing to talk
about; we do not understand it ever until we have experienced it each
for himself. And those that have--they must be silent--for it is
a thing to live on, not to talk about. Do you know, I have just
remembered something I once saw. Just a scene in a poor little
hut--but it explains it all...."
"Something you have seen yourself?"
"Yes. It was many years ago. It was a cold winter day, and I came to
this hut I was speaking of--'twas a miserable place to look at. The
windows were covered with frost, and an icy draught came through
cracks in the walls. Two children were sitting by the stove, warming
their feet that were all red with cold; the other two were quarrelling
over the last crust of bread."
"Were they so poor as that?" asked the girl, her voice quivering with
"Poor as could be. And in a heap of rags on the bed lay the mother,
with a newborn child--the fifth. The man was sitting at the table. He
looked at the children on the floor, and then at the mother and her
little one in bed--looked at them--and laughed! And the joy in his
pale, thin face--it was a wonderful sight...."
"And the mother?" asked the girl eagerly. "Was she happy too--more
"Yes, she laughed too for joy at everything--the children, and the
rags, and the draughty hut, and all. And I was so astounded I didn't
know where to look. Happy--in all that misery and wretchedness! Were
they so utterly without feeling, then, that they could not cry? But
now I understand it all. I know what made those poor folk happy in it
all: they had found that thing we spoke of--the great secret. And it
made the hut a palace for them, and the ragged children as dear as
those of any king and queen--yes, they were happy."
The two sat in silence for a while. Olof felt a slight thrill pass
through the girl's body to his own.
"I see it now," said the girl at last. "A little while ago I could not
see what it was that made life so deep and wonderful. And do you know,
Olof--I should like to be just such a poor woman as that--frost on the
windows and rags for a bed, but ... but...." Bright tears shone in her
"But--what?" he asked tenderly, taking her head in his hands.
"But with the one I loved--to be mine--all mine, for ever!" she
answered, looking straight into his eyes.
Olof started. It was as if something had come between them, something
restless and ill-boding that broke the soft swell of the waves on
which they drifted happily--something, he knew not what, that made its
"Or--not that perhaps--but to have something of his--something he had
given me--to lie beside me in a bed of rags and smile," said the girl.
And laying her head in his lap she clung to him as if her body had
been one with his.
* * * * *
The lamp was lit, and a little fire was burning on the hearth. The
girl sat on the floor, as was her way, holding her lover's feet in her
lap--wrapped in her apron, as if they were her own.
"Go on working--I won't disturb you," she said, "only sit here and
warm your feet and look at you."
Olof gave her a quick, warm glance, and turned to his work again.
"Olof," said the girl, after a pause, "what shall I have to hold in my
lap when you are gone?"
She looked up at him helplessly, as if he alone could aid her.
Olof made a movement of impatience, as if he had made an error in his
reckoning that was hard to put right.
"Nothing, I suppose," he said at last, trying to speak lightly. "You
had nothing before, you know."
"Ah, but that was different. Now, I must have something."
There was a strange ring in her voice--the young man laid down his pen
and sat staring into the fire. It was like talking to a child--a queer
child, full of feeling, knowing and imagining more than its elders
often did. But still and for ever a child, asking simple questions now
that were hard to answer without hurt.
The girl watched him anxiously.
"Don't be angry, Olof," she said entreatingly. "It's very silly of
me, I know. Go on with your work, and don't bother about me. Do--or I
shall be so sorry."
"You are so quick to feel things," said he, pressing her hand. "I'll
talk to you about it all another time--do you understand?"
"Yes--another time. Don't think any more about it now."
But the words echoed insistently in his ears, with a hollow ring--as
if he had spoken carelessly, to be rid of a child's questioning for
the time. He took up his pen again, but could not work, only sat
drawing squares and interrogations on the margin of the paper.
The girl moved closer, laid her cheek against his knee, and closed
her eyes. But her mind was working still, and the light of a sudden
impulse shone in her eyes when she looked up at him.
"Olof," she asked eagerly, "are you very busy?"
"No--no. What then?" From the tone of her voice he knew she had
something important to say.
"There was just an old story that came into my mind--may I tell it to
"Yes, yes, do," said Olof, with a sense of relief. "You are the only
girl I have ever met who could tell fairy tales--and make them up
"This is not one I made up myself. I heard it long ago," she answered.
"Well, and how does it begin?" said Olof briskly, taking her hands.
"'Once upon a time...'?"
"Yes, those are the very words. Once upon a time there was a boy--and
a girl. And they loved each other--especially the girl. No words could
ever tell how she loved him." She looked at Olof as if to see the
effect of what she had said.
"That begins well. Go on," said Olof. But a thought was slowly taking
form in his mind.
"And they sat in the woods, under the tall birches, and talked of how
happy they were. But the girl could not have the boy for her own--they
had to say good-bye. He had to go away, and she knew she would never
see him again."
Olof looked thoughtful--the fancy was taking root. "Go on--what
"Then, just as he was going away, the girl said to him, 'Set a mark
on me somehow, so that I shall always feel I belong to you, and no one
can tear you from my heart.'
"The boy thought for a moment. 'Where shall I set the mark?' he asked.
"'Here, above my heart,' said the girl.
"And she bared her breast, and the boy took out his knife and with its
sharp point scratched a little heart on her breast."
The girl shivered a little.
"And then he coloured it where he had cut, like sailors do with
anchors on their arms. And when he had finished, he kissed it. And
they said good-bye, and he went away."
Olof was touched--now he understood....
"And what then?" he asked softly. "What happened after, to the girl
with a mark above her heart, and to him that made it?"
"The boy...." She stopped, at a loss, and then went on: "There's no
more about him in the story. He went away. Only about the girl...."
"Yes, yes, of course," said Olof. "He went away. And the girl?"
"The girl--she looked at the mark every night when she undressed, and
every morning when she dressed herself, for she felt as if he were
there all the time, because of the mark. But then the time came when
her parents said she must marry. And she didn't want to, but she had
to all the same. But she did not love her husband, and was always
looking secretly at the mark her lover had made, as if she were
talking with him that way, and it made her happy."
"And the husband," asked Olof eagerly, "did he find out?"
"No. Men don't notice things like that as a rule. But then the girl
bore a child--she was still a girl, for she had remained true to her
lover. And the child had the very same mark in the same place.
"The husband saw the mark. 'What's this?' he asked in a stern voice.
"'Tis a birth-mark,' said the girl. "'Do not lie to me!' cried the
man. 'It is more than that. Let me see your breast.'
"Now the girl did not want to do this, for she felt that the mark was
nothing to do with him. But her husband's face grew dark with anger,
and he tore away her clothes, and bared her breast. And now she would
not try to hide the mark at all, but stood up straight and let him
see. And before he could even ask, she told him what it was, 'That is
the mark my lover made when I was a girl,' she said. 'For a sign
that I should belong to him for ever--and I have.' And at that the
husband's eyes flashed, and without a word he drew his knife and
struck it through the mark deep into her breast...."
She would have said more, but her voice failed--she could feel Olof's
knees trembling against her breast.
"You are good at telling stories," said he in a stifled voice. "But
the end was too horrible."
"It was not horrible at all," she replied. "It was just as lovely as
could be. The girl herself could have wished for nothing better. She
died with a smile on her lips, as only those who are happy ever die.
"But it is not all ended yet--there is more to come."
"More?" cried Olof in surprise, at a loss to understand how she would
"Yes," she continued. "For when she was dead, the girl came to the
gate of heaven. And there stood St. Peter at the gate, as he always
"'You cannot enter in,' said St. Peter, 'for you bear on your breast
the mark of sinful lust. 'But God heard it from His throne, and cried,
'Open and let her in!' And God looked at the girl's breast, and
she did not flinch. 'You should know better,' He said to St. Peter
reproachfully. 'Here is one that was faithful to her first love....
Enter in, My child.'"
Both were silent. A little blue flame rose from the embers on the
"Thanks, Clematis," whispered Olof, and kissed her hands that lay hot
in his own. "I know what you meant. And how prettily you said it!"
"Are you sure you knew what I meant?" she asked. "I hadn't finished,
"What--not finished yet?"
She drew her hands away, and as if summing up all she had said before,
she clasped his knees and looked imploringly into his eyes.
"Give me that mark!"
Olof shivered--waves of heat and cold seemed passing through his body.
"No, no--my love! You must not ask that of me--it is more than I can
do," he went on bitterly.
"You can, if you only will. Love can do all things."
"But now--after what you have said...."
"But you said yourself it was so pretty."
"Yes--there is a lovely thought in it--but the end was too
horrible--you know what I mean."
"That was the loveliest of all. Oh, won't you do what I ask?" Her lips
trembled, and she looked at him entreatingly.
Olof sighed deeply; drops of sweat stood out on his forehead. "How
can I refuse you anything? But--but I could never forget it if I did,
"Oh ... I almost thought that was how it would be. You cannot
understand--for you are not me. But something I must have!" she went
on passionately. "I cannot live without. Look!" She drew from her
breast a little case of blue silk, hung by a red cord round her neck,
"See--it just reaches to there!"
"It's very pretty," said Olof in relief, taking the case in his hand."
And you want something to put in it?"
"A lock of hair or something? Are you as childish as all that?"
"No--not as childish as all that."
"A flower, then--or what?"
"No, nothing like that."
"You want me to write something, then?"
"No, no. I want yourself--your very self!"
Olof looked at her blankly--he could not guess what was in her mind.
He felt himself more and more in the power of something he had been
striving to escape.
"Oh, don't you understand? Your portrait."
"But--but I have only one. And--I have never given anyone my
"No," said the girl confidently. "You have kept it for me."
Olof felt himself shamed. What a poor creature he was grown! Why could
he not rise up and take this strange rare child in his arms, and swear
by all he revered that she had touched his inmost heart, that he was
hers alone, for ever?
He sprang to his feet, and cried earnestly, "Yes! It was taken for
you, and for no other!"
But the words ended in a sob--it was as if his blood were turned to
sand. With trembling fingers he took out the portrait, and sank down
as if paralysed into his seat.
The girl watched him with a starry gleam of ecstasy in her eyes.
But he could not meet her glance--he bent his head, thinking bitterly
to himself, "What have I come to? Why do I cheat her and myself, why
do I give these beggar's crumbs to one that should have all?"
The girl sat still with the same light of wonder in her eyes, looking
now at the portrait, now at Olof himself.
"Yes, it is really you," she said at last, and touching the picture
with her lips, she laid it in the case, and slipped it into her bosom.
"Now I have nothing more to ask," she said. "I shall thank you all
my life for this. When you are gone, you will be with me still. I can
talk to you at night before I sleep, and in the morning you will be
the first thing I see. I can whisper to you just as I used to do. And
when I am dead, you shall be buried with me."
Olof was overwhelmed with emotion--it was as if something within him
had been rent asunder. He looked at the girl's face--how pure and holy
it was! Why could not he himself be as she was? What was it that had
happened to him?
He felt an impulse to throw himself on the floor at her feet and tell
her all--and then rise up young and pure and whole again, able to feel
as others did. But he could not; an icy voice within him told that the
days of his spring-time were gone for ever. And as he felt her arms
about him once more, he could only bend down humbly and touch her hair
with his lips in silence, as if begging her to understand.
Warm drops were falling on his knees, warm drops fell on her hair.
Welling from deep sources--but unlike, and flowing different ways.
Sunday morning--a calm and peaceful time. Olof was up, and sat combing
his hair before the glass.
"Those wrinkles there on the temples are getting deeper," he thought.
"Well, after all, I suppose it looks more manly."
He laid down the comb, turned his head slightly, and looked in the
"Paler, too, perhaps," he thought again. "Well, I'm no longer a
He moved as if to rise.
"Look once more--a little closer," urged the glass.
Olof brushed his moustache and smiled.
"Can't you see anything?" the glass went on, with something like a
sneer. "Under the eyes, for instance?"
And suddenly he saw. The face that stared at him from the glass was
pale, and marked by the lines and wrinkles of those past years. And
under the eyes were two dark grey furrows, like heavy flourishes to
underline a word.
"Is it possible?" he cried, with a shudder.
"Is it any wonder?" said the glass coldly.
The face in the glass was staring at him yet, with the dark furrows
under the eyes.
"But what--how did they come there?" asked Olof in dismay.
"Need you ask?" said the glass. "Well, you have got your 'mark,'
anyhow--though it was not one you asked for."
* * * * *
The face in the mirror stared at him; the dark furrows were there
still. He would have turned his head away, or closed his eyes, but
could not. He felt as if some great strong man were behind him with a
whip, bidding him sternly "Look!"
And he looked.
"Look closer--closer yet!" commanded his tormentor. "A few deep
lines--and what more?"
Olof looked again. The plainer furrows tailed off into a host of
smaller lines and tiny folds, this way and that, there seemed no end
to them. And again he shuddered.
"Count them!" cried the voice behind him.
"Impossible--they--they are so small!"
"Small they may be--but how many are there?"
Olof bent forward and tried to count.
"How many are there?" thundered the voice--and Olof saw the whip
raised above his head.
"Nine or ten, perhaps," he answered.
"More! And what do they mean? Can you tell me that?"
"No? Then let me tell you, that you may know henceforward. The
"I--I don't know."
"You know well enough. Bright eyes--that is the first."
He flinched involuntarily as under the lash. And now the strokes
followed sharply one on another.
"A fine figure and curling hair ... tears and empty promises ... a
thirst for beauty ... false brotherhood ... selfishness and the
desire for conquest ... dying voices of childhood ... dreams and
"Not yet. There are little extras that you have not called to mind."
"Leave me in peace!" cried Olof almost threateningly.
"You could not leave yourself in peace. Look again--what more--what
"Go!" Olof sprang up with a cry like that of a wounded beast, took the
mirror and flung it against the stove, the pieces scattering with a
crash about the floor. His blood boiled, his eyes burned with a dark,
"And what then?" he cried defiantly. "My mark? Why, then, let it be.
I'll go my own way, mark or no mark."
He picked up his hat and hurried out.
TO THE DREGS
"And now--I'll drink it to the dregs!
"Why not? I've tasted the rarest wine in cups of purest crystal--why
not swallow the lees of a baser drink from a tavern stoup? 'Tis the
last that drowns regret. Others have done so--why not I?
"Once we have tasted, we must drink--we must dip down into the murky
depths of life if we are to know it to the full--ay, drink with a
laugh, and go on our way with lifted head!
"Drink to the dregs--and laugh at life! Life does not waste tears over
Olof strode briskly out toward a certain quarter of the town, a
complex of narrow streets and little houses with stuffy rooms,
where glasses are filled and emptied freely, and men sit with
half-intoxicated women on their knees, sacrificing to insatiable
It was a summer evening, bright and clear. The noise of day had
ceased, and few were abroad. It seemed like a Sunday, just before
evening service, when all were preparing for devotion, and he alone
walked with workaday thoughts in his mind.
A narrow door with a grating in the centre. Olof stood a moment,
evidently in doubt, and walked on--his heart was thumping in his
breast. The consciousness of it irritated him, and turning back
impatiently, he knocked loudly at the door.
No sound from within. He felt as if thousands of eyes were watching
him scornfully, and for a moment he thought of flight. He knocked
again, hurriedly, nervously.
A pause, that seemed unendurably long, then a sound of movement and
steps approaching the door--the panel was moved aside.
"What's all the noise about?" cried a woman's shrill voice. "In a
hurry, aren't you? Get along, and that quick--off with you!" The panel
closed with a slam.
The blood rushed to Olof's cheeks; for a moment he felt like breaking
down the door and flinging it into the street--he would gladly have
pulled the house down in his fury.
Wondering faces appeared here and there at the windows. They were
looking at him as if he were a criminal--a burglar trying to force an
entry in broad daylight. Half-running, he hastened back to the main
streets of the town. Then the fury seized him again--a passion of
wounded pride and defiance. "Am I to be taken for a boy?" he said to
He passed a row of waiting cabs. One of the men touched his cap
inquiringly, but Olof shook his head--the fellow had an honest face.
The last in the row gave him what he sought--a sly red face with
"Eh? Take you?... That's easy enough! I know the very house.
First-rate girls, all of them, and no trouble. 'Tis the best sort
you'll be wanting, I take it?"
"That's the style. Just step in, now, and we'll be there...."
The cab rumbles away; Olof leans back, feeling himself again.
* * * * *
Through a gateway into a cobbled yard. The driver gets down, and Olof
follows suit. The man knocks with the handle of his whip at a door.
"'Tis no good coming at this time--the girls aren't here yet." And the
door is slammed in his face.
"Drive on, then! Drive to the devil, only let's get out of this,"
"Nay, nay, no call to give up now we're on the way." The driver swings
out into the street again, and tries another entrance of the same sort
Olof stood half-dazed, waiting.
This time the knock was answered by a girl's voice, bright and
pleasant. The driver and the girl exchanged whispers through the door.
"Sober? Ay, he's sober enough. Young chap, and plenty of money--wants
the best sort."
Olof's blood boiled. Was he to be bargained for like a beast in the
cattle market? He was on the point of calling the man away, when the
door opened a little. "Right you are, then," said the man, with a
knowing gleam in his eyes.
"Good evening--won't you come in?" A young girl, neatly dressed, held
the door open for Olof with a smile.
He went through the passage into a little parlour. The heavy-scented
air of the place was at once soothing and exciting to his senses.
"Sit down, won't you? But what are you looking so serious about? Has
your girl thrown you over--or what?"
"Now, how on earth did you guess that?" cried Olof in sudden relief,
thankful that the girl was so bright and talkative. He felt all at
once that he too must talk--of anything, nothing, or he could not stay
in the place a minute.
"Guess? Why, that's easy enough. They always come here when there's
anything wrong with--the others. And there's always something wrong
with some of them. Was she pretty?" The girl looked at him with a
mischievous gleam in her eyes.
"Pretty?--yes, that she was, pretty as you, nearly."
"Puh!" laughed the girl. "And she kissed you, I suppose?"
"No. Wouldn't even kiss me."
"Aha. So you made love to another girl, and then she threw you
over--that was it, I'm sure."
"Right again! Yes--made love to another girl--that was it. And quite
"Oh, it's always the way with--well, that sort of girls. They don't
understand how to make love a bit. There's heaps of love to be had, if
you only know where to look for it."
They both laughed--the girl in easy, teasing gaiety, Olof still
thankful at finding it so easy to suit himself to his company.
"What'll you have to drink? Sherry, madeira, or stout, perhaps? I like
"Let's have all three!" cried Olof.
"That'll be twenty, please." He gave her the money and she slipped
from the room.
Olof looked round. How was this going to end? He was thankful at any
rate that the room was neatly, almost tastefully furnished, and that
the girl was so easy to talk to.
The bottles and glasses were brought in. "Here's to us both!" cried
the girl, lifting her glass with an enticing glance.
They drank--it was the first time Olof had ever tasted wine. And all
the bitterness and unrest in his soul seemed drowned at once.
"I say--is this your first time?" The girl explained her question with
a meaning glance.
"Yes." The word stuck in his throat. "Have some more to drink," he
"That's right!" The glasses rang. "Got any cigarettes?"
Each lit a cigarette. The girl leaned back in a careless posture,
throwing one leg over the other, and watched the smoke curling up in
"First-rate institution, isn't it?" she said, with a laugh. "Sort
of public sanatorium--though the fools of police or Government or
whatever you call it won't make it free. All you men come here when
you're tired and worried and ill, and we cure you--isn't that it?"
"I dare say...."
"But it is, though, take my word for it. How'd you ever get on without
us, d'you think? Like fish out of water! And yet we're reckoned as
outcasts and all that. Devil take all your society women, I say.
There's one I see pass by every day, a judge's wife, haughty and stuck
up as a weathercock on a church spire. Think she'd look at one of us?
But her husband, bless you, he...."
"For Heaven's sake talk of something else," cried Olof. He swallowed a
glass of sherry to cover his disgust.
"Eh? Oh, all right, anything you please. Sing you a song if you like.
What d'you say to that."
"Yes, but nothing...."
"Not a word. Dainty little song. Here you are:
"'Here's a corner for you and me,
Room for two--but not for three!
A glass for each within easy reach...
Just the place for a spree!'"
"How's that? Quite nice, isn't it?"
"Go on." Olof settled down more comfortably there was something
pleasantly fascinating in the dance-like rhythm of the song.
"Cushions are soft, and curtains hide,--
What would somebody say if they spied?
Kisses and laughter--and what comes after...?
Ah.... You never know till you've tried!"
Olof could not help laughing.
They sat laughing and talking and telling stories--the girl was never
silent for a moment. The glasses were filled and emptied, the smoke
"Oh ... it's too hot. I'm stifling with all these things on!" The girl
rose to her feet, her eyes glittered, her cheeks were flushed with
wine. "I'll be back in a second." And she slipped through into the
"Do, if you like." Olof sank back idly on the sofa, watching the smoke
from his cigarette thoughtfully. Still he was not quite at home in the
The girl came in like a vision, tripping daintily in light slippers,
her arms bare to the shoulder, her body scarcely veiled by the
thinnest, transparent wrap.
"Oh!" Olof could not repress an exclamation.
"Aha...!" The girl laughed mischievously. Watching his face with a
coquettish smile, she lifted one foot gracefully on to the sofa, and
leaned towards him, her eyes boldly questioning.
Olof felt his senses in a whirl. He saw in her a mingling of human
being, beast and angel, of slave and mistress--a creature fascinating
and enticing, bewitching, ensnaring. But only for a moment. His mood
changed to one of fury at his own susceptibility; the burning thirst
in the girl's eyes, the fumes of wine in her breath, repelled him.
"Sit down and drink--and let that be enough!" He snatched a bottle
hastily and filled the glasses to the brim.
"Ho!" said the girl, with a stare. "Drink--is that all you've come
She stepped down from the sofa, her features quivering with scorn.
"Well, you're a nice one, you are. If they were all like that--drink
and pay the bill and off again--and not so much as a ... well, you're
the first I've met of that sort--hope you'll enjoy it!"
She drank, and set down the glass, a sneer still quivering about the
corners of her mouth.
Then, leaning her elbows on the table, she gazed at him thoughtfully
under her lowered lashes. Olof smoked furiously, till his cigarette
looked like a streak of fire.
The girl sat down on the sofa, at the farther end, and went on with a
maudlin tenderness in her voice:
"Why are you like that--a man like you? I wouldn't now for money,
whatever you offered me. Can't you see I'm in love with you? Or d'you
suppose perhaps a girl--a girl in a place like this--can't love? Ah,
but she can, and more than any of the other sort, maybe. I'd like to
love a real man just for once--I've had enough of beasts. Stay with me
Olof shuddered in disgust.
"Drink!" he cried. "Drink, and don't sit there talking nonsense."
Then again a revulsion seized him, and with a feeling of despair and
weakness, he went on:
"I can't stay here, I must go--I must go in a minute. Never mind.
"Oh, let's drink, then," said the girl bitterly, and, rising, emptied
her glass. "Drink--yes, and drink and drink--'tis the only thing when
once you're--here." She sank down into a seat. "Night and day, morning
and night--there's none of us could stand it if it wasn't for that
stuff there. Ho, the world's a mad place--what a fool I am!"
She burst into tears, and fell forward with her arms on the table.
Olof felt more miserable than before. The blood was pulsing in his
temples, and something choking in his throat, as he looked at the
"I'll tell you what this place is," she said, looking up between sobs.
"'Tis hell--and in hell you're always wanting something to wet the tip
of your tongue--I've read that somewhere, haven't I? Oh, oh...!" She
fell to sobbing again.
Olof felt he could bear it no longer. He would have liked to comfort
her, but his tongue was dry, he could not speak.
Then suddenly the girl jumped up and struck the table with her
fist, shaking the things on the tray. "What the hell am I snivelling
about--'twon't make it any better." She took the bottle of beer,
filled a tumbler and drank it off at a draught, then flung the glass
crashing against the wall behind the stove.
"Puh! Now I've got that wretched fit again." She stood in the middle
of the room, looking round. "I can't help it, I get like that every
now and then. Wait a bit, and I'll bring you better company. A real
good girl--she's younger than me, and only just beginning, but she's
lovely, lovely as an angel. Only don't go and fall in love with her,
or I'll be jealous."
"No! Stay where you are!" Olof would have stopped her, but she was out
of the door in a moment. He rose to his feet, his head was throbbing,
and he could hardly stand.
"Here you are--here's the beauty!"
A bright-eyed girl, young and slightly built, stood in the doorway
Olof started as if he had seen a ghost, the blood seemed to stand
still in his veins; a cold weight seemed crushing him like an iceberg.
"You--Gazelle!" he cried in horror.
"Oho, so you're old friends, it seems? Well, then, shake hands nicely.
Come along, man, give her a kiss...."
Olof felt the room growing dark before his eyes.
The girl turned deathly pale. She stood a moment, trembling from head
to foot, then turned and fled. There was the sound of a key drawn from
a lock, a door was slammed, and then silence.
Olof stood as if rooted to the spot, seeing nothing but a vague
glimmer of light through a rent in blackness. Then at last he pulled
himself together, snatched up his hat, and rushed out of the place as
if pursued by demons.
* * * * *
Morning found him seated on a chair by the window, looking out. The
night had been cold. Before him lay a group of housetops, the dark
roofs covered with a thin white coating of rime; beyond, a glimpse of
a grey, cold sky.
He had been sitting thus all night, deep in thought. His road seemed
ending here in a blank wall--or he was grown suddenly old, and could
go no farther--or was trying vainly to rise from a bed of sickness.
His eyes burned, his head was heavy as lead, and his heart seemed
dead and cold, as hands and feet may do in winter when on the point of
He rose to his feet, and bathed his face again and again with cold
water. Then he straightened his hair, put on his clothes, and went
He took his way direct to a certain street, reached the house he was
seeking, and knocked. There were people moving in the yard, and some
children about; but he felt no shame, and knocked as easily as if it
had been a church door.
The panel opened, and the harsh voice of an old woman asked:
"What d'you want here at this hour? The girls are not up yet."
"When will they be up?"
"In a couple of hours or so."
He looked at his watch, and went out into the street. For a while he
wandered up and down, then took the road out from the town, and went
When he came back his face was pale; his feet were so weary he could
hardly drag himself along.
He knocked again; the panel was thrust aside, and a face peeped
through, then the door was opened.
"Hallo!" It was the girl of the night before. She was half-dressed,
her eyes dull, her face tired and haggard. Olof felt as if he were
breathing in the fumes of beer and wine and all unspeakable nastiness.
"Your friend--is she up yet? I want to see her," he stammered.
"Up--ay, she's up long ago; you can see for yourself."
She vanished down the passage, and returned in a moment with a
crumpled sheet of notepaper, which she handed him.
Olof glanced at it, and read, hastily scribbled in pencil, these
"When you get this I shall be far away. I am going and not coming
back. I can't stay here.--ELLI."
"There--what's the meaning of that, if you please?" cried the girl.
Olof made no answer. He held the paper in a trembling hand, and read
it again and again; a weight seemed lifted from his shoulders.
"May I--may I keep this?" he asked, with flushing cheeks.
"Keep it--ay, eat it, if you like."
"Good-bye--and--and...." He pressed the girl's hand, as if unconscious
of what he was doing.
The girl watched him as he hurried away.
"Queer lot," she murmured. "Something wrong somewhere...."
BY THE ROADSIDE
A man came walking down the sandy, grass-bordered road.
He walked mechanically, like a machine set to go, and going without
consciousness or effort--without a question or a thought, without a
glance to either side--on and on.
He reached the top of a rise from which the road sloped down to the
valley. And here he stopped, as if set to go no farther.
Before him spread the landscape of the valley; green woods encircled
it on every hand, like a protecting fence about a pleasure-garden.
Within the area enclosed were mounds and hilly fields, stretches of
meadow, farmsteads, rows of corn-sheaves and haystacks, patches of
stubble, a tiny stream with a bridge and a fall, and mills on either
A thrill of emotion seized the wanderer at sight of it all; one
glance let loose a flood of memories and thoughts of things long since
All seemed as before. He looked at the stream, and followed the line
of its course with his eye. The mills stared at one another from bank
to bank, as they had always done since the beginning of time. But the
mills themselves had changed. The old wooden structures were gone, and
in place of them stood modern stone-walled buildings.
A lightning thought came into his mind: was there _anything_ that was
unchanged, though the setting seemed as it had been? What might not
have happened in the little place during those years?
The wanderer felt uneasy at the thought. Here he was--but who could
say what he would find here, now he had come?
Slowly, with heavy steps, he took his way down towards the village.
And ever as he neared it, his uneasiness increased.
* * * * *
He came to a turn in the way. From just beyond came the tinkle of a
bell, and, as he rounded the bend, he saw a flock of sheep grazing,
and a fair-haired lad watching the flock.
The sight gladdened his heart--the sheep and the shepherd lad at least
were as he had hoped to find them.
"Good-day!" he said heartily. "And whose lad are you, little man?"
"Just Stina's boy," answered the young herdsman easily, from his seat
by the wayside.
"Ho, are you? ... yes." The wanderer stepped across the ditch, sat
down by the wayside, and lit his pipe.
"And what's the news in the place? I've been here before, d'ye see,
and used to know it well. But 'tis long since I heard anything from
"News?... H'm." The lad felt a pleasant sense of importance at being
thus asked, and stepped down from his seat. "Well, you've heard,
maybe, 'twas Mattila's Tytto won the first prize at the cattle show?"
"You don't say so? Mattila's Tytto?" echoed the stranger, with a
laugh. "And what else?"
"Why, there's no more that I know of--let me see...." The wise little
eyes grew thoughtful. "Oh, I forgot. Yes, Maya, she's married,
and they're building a bit of a place over by the clearing there.
Shoemaker, he was, and a good match, they say."
"I see. That'll be the place. Looks as good as could be."
"'Tis a fine place. Going to have a real stove, with a baking oven and
all.... Then there's been another wedding besides, at Niemi--Annikki's
it was. Only just married--though there's been plenty that asked her
these years past, and rich men some of them too."
"Yes...." The wanderer felt as if something had struck him in the
breast. Impatiently he went on:
"And how's things at Koskela?"
"Koskela--well, old man there he died last spring, and they say...."
"Died?" A heavier stroke this; it seemed to paralyse him.
"Yes--and two horses to the funeral, with white covers and all. And
silver stars all over the coffin--like the sky it was."
The wanderer felt himself gazing helplessly into a darkness where
hosts of silver stars danced before his eyes.
"You knew him, maybe?" asked the lad, watching the man's face.
"Ay, I knew him," came the answer in a stifled voice.
"And his wife's like to follow him soon," went on the boy. "She's at
the last gasp now, they say."
The wanderer felt as if something were tightening about his heart.
"So there's neither man nor wife, so to speak, at Koskela now."
The wanderer would have risen, but his limbs seemed numbed.
"There was a son, they say, was to have taken over the place, but he
went away somewhere long ago, and never came back."
The wanderer rose to his feet. "Thanks, little man." And he strode
The lad stared wonderingly at the retreating figure, whose heavy steps
sounded like sighs of pain from the breast of the trodden road.
"Come in," said the key invitingly.
But the weary man stood motionless, paralysed by the thought that had
come to him as he reached the door.
"Come in--you've waited long enough in coming."
And the weary man grasped the key, but stood holding it helplessly,
like a child without strength to turn it.
It rattled in the lock under his trembling fingers. The noise roused
him; he opened the door and went in.
* * * * *
It was like entering a church. A solemn, expectant silence hung over
the place--it was just as it had been when, as a child, he had first
been taken to church.
And now, as then, his glance sought first of all the farthest
background of the place. What he saw was like and yet unlike what he
had seen there. Then, it had been the figure of a young man, holding
out his arms over a group of children; now, it was the figure of an
old woman, worn with sickness--but with the same great gentleness in
The woman's eyes lit up, as though she had seen a miracle; her glance
grew keen, as if wishing to be sure, and softened again, in the
certainty that the miracle had come.
The trembling head was lifted, the frail body rose up like a bent bow,
her mouth opened, and her lips began to move, but no sound came--she
could but reach out one thin, trembling hand to the figure by the
He moved, and walked over to the bed. And the old woman and the weary
man took each other's hands and pressed them, looked into each other's
eyes and trembled with emotion, unable to speak a word.
Tears rose to the old woman's eyes, a gleam as of sunset over autumn
woods lit her wrinkled face; the thin lips quivered between smiling
"So you came after all," she said at last in a trembling voice. "I
knew you would come--some time. And good that you came just now...."
She sank back wearily on the pillow, and the man sat down on a chair
at her side, still holding her hands in his.
* * * * *
The old woman lay with her face turned towards her son, looking at him
with love in her eyes.
Then her look turned to one of questioning--there was something she
had been waiting years to ask.
"Tell me, my son...." Her voice was almost a whisper.
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