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Kristin Lavransdatter - The Cross

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Sigrid Undset (1882–1949) was a Norwegian writer who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928. Her most famous work is the trilogy “Kristin Lavransdatter” about life in Norway during the middle ages. First published in 1927, “The Cross” is the third in the trilogy and the final chapter in the story of strong-willed heroine Kristin and her attempt to rebuild her life in the wake of the Black Death. This fantastic novel is highly recommended for those with an interest in medieval Scandinavia and constitutes a must-read for fans of Undset’s wonderful work. Read & Co. Books is republishing this classic novel now complete with an excerpt from 'Six Scandinavian Novelists' by Alrik Gustafrom.

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Published 31 January 2013
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<_svg3a_svg viewbox="0 0 600 928"> <_svg3a_image
_xlink3a_href="../images/9781447482208.jpg" transform="translate(0 0)" width="600"
height="928">SIGRID UNDSET
KRISTIN LAVRANSDATTER
TRANSLATED FROM THE NORWEGIAN BY
CHARLES ARCHER & J. S. SCOTT
1930TRANSLATORS’ FOREWORD
FOR the comfort of those readers of this volume who like to know, approximately, how the names of
new acquaintance, whether places or people, are pronounced, it may be well to say that in Norwegian
a a = broad o, while the rest of the vowels, including final e, may for practical purposes be sounded
much as in German; that j always = y, and that final d is usually silent. Thus Jörundgaard =
Yörungoar, Arne = Arnë, Aashild = Oas-hil.
Oslo was the ancient city occupying the eastern portion of the site of the modern capital; Nidaros
the old northern capital, now called Trondhjem, the modern name having originally been that of the
surrounding district (Trondheim in this book).
The main route from Oslo to Nidaros ran past the great lake, Mjösen, and up Gudbrandsdal to
Dovre Church; proceeding thence either (1) down Romsdal to Næs on the Romsdalsfjord, and thence
by sea to Nidaros, or (2) over the Dovrefjeld and down Opdal and Suldal.
A few notes have been appended in explanation of words or passages in the text, which seem to
require elucidation to make them fully intelligible to English readers.
The plates attached show (1) plans of a typical manor farm of the period, and of the “aarestue” or
“hearth-room house,” which was the usual form of dwelling-house before wall fireplaces were
introduced; and (2) a sketch of a typical “stavkirke” or “stave-church.”
At the period of this book, and, indeed, for long after it, surnames were little used in Norway; men
and women being called by their Christian names, with the addition of a patronymic formed by
adding the suffix “sön” (son), or “datter” (daughter) to the father’s Christian name; e . g. Simon
Andressön (Simon Andrew’s son), Kristin Lavrans-datter (= Kristin Laurence’s daughter).
Rudimentary surnames, however, had already begun to appear. Thus the heroine’s mother, though
always spoken of as Ragnfrid Ivarsdatter, belongs to a family known as the Gjeslings; while Simon
Andressön is sometimes called Darre, from the nickname given to the founder of his family several
generations back.CONTENTS
THE CROSS
I. KINSHIP’S DUES
I
II
III
IV
V
VI
II. DEBTORS
I
II
III
IV
V
VI
VII
VIII
III. THE CROSS
I
II
III
IV
V
VI
VII

NOTESTHE CROSS
Part One
KINSHIP’S DUESI
THE second year Erlend Nikulaussön and Kristin Lavransdatter dwelt on Jörundgaard, the mistress
was minded to go herself and lie the summer over at the sæter.
She had thought upon this ever since the winter. At Skjenne it was the use from of old for the wife
herself to pass the summer at the out-farm, for once a daughter of that house had been carried off by
the mountain folk, and afterwards naught would serve the mother but she must herself lie on the
mountain every summer. But in so many things they had their own ways down at Skjenne—and folk
in the parish were used to this and thought it was but as it should be.
But elsewhere in the Dale ’twas not the use for the master’s womenfolk of the great manors to
abide themselves at the sæters. Kristin knew that if she did it, there would be talk and wonderment
among the folks.
——In God’s name, then, they must even talk. Sure it was that they gossiped about her and hers
whether or no.
——Audin Torbergssön had owned no more than his weapons and the clothes he stood up in when
he was wed with Ingebjörg Nikulaus-datter of Loptsgaard. He had been henchman to the Bishop of
Hamar; ’twas the time when the Bishop was in the north here to hallow the new church that Ingebjörg
fell into trouble. Nikulaus Sigurdssön took it hardly at first, swore to God and all men that a
horseboy never should be son-in-law of his. But Ingebjörg was brought to bed of twins; and, said folks,
laughing, Nikulaus maybe deemed their bringing up too hard a matter to tackle single-handed.
However that might be, he gave Audin his daughter in marriage.
This had happed two years after Kristin’s wedding. ’Twas not forgotten; folk still bore in mind that
Audun was a stranger in the parish—he was a Hallander, of good kin, but his folk had fallen into
great poverty. And the man himself was not over well liked in Sil; he was stiff-necked and hard, slow
to forget either good or ill; yet was he a notable farmer, and had good knowledge of the laws—so in
some ways Audun Torbergssön was a man of standing now in the parish, and a man that folk were
little willing to fall at odds with.
Kristin thought of farmer Audun’s broad, brown face set in its curly red hair and beard; of his
sharp little blue eyes. He was like more men than one that she had seen—she had seen such faces
amongst their serving-folk at Husaby—Erlend’s house-carls and ship-folk.
The mistress sighed. It must be easier for such a man to hold his own, even though ’twas his wife’s
lands he lived on. H e had never been master of aught before——
Throughout the winter and spring Kristin talked much with Frida Styrkaarsdatter, who had come
with them from the Trondheim country and was the chief of her serving-women. Over and over again
she would say to the girl that they were wont to have things so and so in the Dale here in summer, the
harvest-folk were used to get this, and that was how they did in the fields in autumn—Frida must
bear in mind how she, Kristin, had done last year. For it was her will that all things here on the farm
should go as they had gone in Ragnfrid Ivarsdatter’s time——
But to say outright that she herself would not be there on the farm that summer—this she found
hard. She had lived at Jörundgaard two winters and a summer now as mistress, and she knew well
that if she went to the sæter and abode there this year, ’twere much as though she ran away.
——She saw well that Erlend’s lot was no easy one. From the time he sat upon his
fostermother’s knee, he had known naught save that he was born to bid and rule over all and everything
around him. And if so be he had let himself be ruled and bidden by others, at least the man himself
had never known it.
’T was impossible he could be within as outwardly he seemed. He must needs be unhappy here.
She herself——Her father’s manor on the floor of the still, shut-in valley, the flat fields looped in by
the river bends shining through the alder woods, the farmsteads on the low ploughed lands at the foot
of the fells, and the headlong hill-sides above, with grey scaurs high up against the sky, pale-hued
screes below, and pine woods and leaf woods scrambling up and over the slopes from the
valleybottom—no, this no longer seemed to her the fairest and safest home in the world. ’T was so
hemmed in. Surely this must seem to Erlend ugly and cramped and unkindly.
But none could mark aught on him but that he was well content——
At last, the day they let the cattle out on Jörundgaard, she got it said—in the evening, as they sat at
supper. As she spoke, Erlend was groping in the fish-platter for a titbit—he sat stark still inwonderment, his fingers still in the dish, gazing at his wife. Then Kristin said quickly—’twas most
because of that throat evil that was ever about among the young children in the Dale; Munan was so
weakly; she would take him and Lavrans with her up to the mountains.
Ay, said Erlend. Then ’twould mayhap be best that Ivar and Skule should go with her too.
The twins jumped with joy on their bench. Through the rest of the meal each tried to out-chatter
the other. They would go with Erling, they said, who was to lie away to the north among the Graahö
fells, with the sheep. Three years ago shepherds from Sil had chased a sheep-stealer and killed him by
his own hut in among the Boar-fells—he was an outlaw from the Österdal. As soon as the house-folk
had risen from the board, Ivar and Skule bore into the hall all the weapons they owned and set to
work on them.
A little later in the evening Kristin went southward, with Simon Andressön’s daughters and her
sons Gaute and Lavrans. Arngjerd Simons-datter had been at Jörundgaard the most of this winter. The
maid was fifteen years old now; and one day in Yule, at Formo, Simon had said somewhat of
how’twas time that Arngjerd should learn something more than what she could pick up at her home;
she knew already as much as the serving-women did. At that Kristin proffered to take the girl home
with her and teach her as well as she could, for she knew that Simon held this daughter very dear and
thought much on what was to come of her. And the child might well have need to learn other ways
than those she saw at Formo. Now that his wife’s father and mother were both dead, Simon
Andressön was one of the richest men in the country-side. He guided his estates well and heedfully,
and was a stirring and skilful farmer on his Formo lands. But within the house things went as best
they might—the serving-women ruled and guided all things, and when Simon marked that disorder
and waste went beyond all bounds, he would get him one or two serving-wenches more; but he never
spoke of such things to his wife, and seemed not to look, nor yet to wish, that she should charge
herself more with the house-mistress’s work. Almost it was as though he did not deem her
fullgrown yet—but he was most kind and easy with Ramborg, and poured out gifts upon her and the
children in season and out of season.
Kristin grew fond of Arngjerd when she came to know her. Fair the maid was not, but she was of a
good wit, and was gentle, good-hearted, quick with her hands, and diligent. As the young girl went
about with her in the house, or sat by her side in the weaving-house of an evening, Kristin often
thought she could wish now that one of her children had been a daughter. A daughter must be with
her mother more——
She was thinking the like this evening, as she walked, leading Lavrans by the hand, and looking on
the two, Gaute and Arngjerd, who were on the path before her. Ulvhild Simonsdatter was running
hither and thither, trampling to bits the brittle evening ice on the puddles—she was making believe
she was a beast of some kind, and had put on her red cloak inside out, so that the white hare-skin was
turned outward.
Down in the dale the shadows were thickening into dusk over the bare, brown fields. But the air of
the spring evening seemed drenched with light. The first stars shone wet and white in the sky, high up
where clear watery green shaded into blue-black night. But over the black edge of the fells on the
further side of the dale there lingered yet a band of yellow light, and its sheen lit up the scree that
overlay the steep hill-side above them. Highest up of all, where the drifts jutted over the mountain
crests, there was the glimmer of snow and the glitter of the ice that hung beneath it, feeding the
foaming becks that gushed down everywhere amidst the boulders. Above the valley the air was full of
the noise of waters, and from below rose the river’s hoarse roar. And there was the song of birds
from all the groves and thickets, and from out the forest all around.
Once Ulvhild stopped, took up a stone, and threw it in where the birds were singing. But her big
sister caught her by the arm. Then she went quietly for a while, but in a little she broke away and
galloped down the slope—till Gaute called her back.
They were come close to where the way led into the fir woods; from among the trees ahead came
the clang of a cross-bow. Snow was still lying in the woods; it smelt cold and fresh. A short way on,
in a little opening, stood Erlend with Ivar and Skule.
Ivar had shot at a squirrel; the arrow was sticking in a pine branch high up, and he wanted now to
get it down. He threw stone after stone; the thick, straight tree rang again when he hit the stem.
“Stay a little; let me try to shoot it down for you,” said his father. He shook his cloak back over his
shoulders, laid an arrow to his bow, and took aim, carelessly enough, in the deceitful light among the
trees. The string twanged; the arrow sang through the air and buried itself in the pine branch close bythe boy’s shaft. Erlend took another arrow and shot again—one of the two arrows that had stuck in
the tree slipped down clattering from branch to branch; the shaft of the other was splintered, but the
head still stuck fast in the limb.
Skule ran into the snow to pick up the two arrows. Ivar stood gazing up into the tree-top.
“ ’Tis mine, father, the one that sticks fast! ’Tis in up to the socket—’twas strongly shot,
father!”—and he set about telling Gaute why it was he had not hit the squirrel——
Erlend laughed low and flung his cloak about him again:
“Will you turn back now, Kristin? I must be going homewards—we are off after capercailzie at
daybreak, Naakkve and I——”
Kristin answered in haste, no, she would go on with the maids to the manor—she had somewhat to
talk of with her sister this evening——
“Then Ivar and Skule can go with mother and be with her home—if I may go along with you,
father?” said Gaute.
Erlend lifted Ulvhild Simonsdatter in his arms to bid her farewell. And bonny and fresh and rosy as
she was, with her brown curls nestled in the white fur hood, he kissed her, ere he set her down, and
turned and went homewards with Gaute.
Now that Erlend had naught else to take him up, he was ever about with some of his sons.——
Ulvhild took her aunt’s hand and walked a little—then she ran on again, bursting in between Ivar and
Skule. Ay, she was a fair child—but wild and unruly. Had they had a daughter, no doubt but Erlend
would have had her too ever with him for a plaything.
At Formo Simon was in the hall, alone with his little son, when they came in. He sat in the
highseat at the middle of the long board, and watched Andres; the child knelt on the outer bench playing
with some old treenails, striving to make them stand upon their heads on the flat board-top. Soon as
Ulvhild saw this, forgetting to greet her father, she rushed straight up on to the bench beside her
brother, took him by the nape, and knocked his face against the board-top, shrieking out that they
were h e r pegs; father had given them to her himself.
Simon got up to part the children, and in rising chanced to knock over a little dish of earthenware
that stood by his elbow. It fell to the floor and was broken in pieces.
Arngjerd crept under the board and gathered up the bits. Simon took them from her and looked at
them unhappily:
“I misdoubt me your mother will be vexed at this!” ’Twas a little dish of clear white ware, a fair
pattern upon it, that Sir Andres Darre had brought home from France; ’twas left to Helga, but she had
given it to Ramborg, said Simon; and the women deemed it of great price. At that minute he heard his
wife in the outer room, and he hid his hands, with the shards in them, behind his back.
Ramborg came in and greeted her sister and her sister’s sons. She took off Ulvhild’s cloak, and the
little maid ran to her father and clung about him.
“Are we so fine to-day, Ulvhild?—wearing our silver belt on a working day, I verily believe——”
but he could not take hold of the child, with his hands full as they were.
Ulvhild cried out she had been to Moster Kristin’s at Jörundgaard today, and that was why her
mother had dressed her up this morning——
“Ay, your mother keeps you so brave and gay—they might well set you up in the shrine northward
in the church, just as you stand,” said Simon, smiling. The one work Ramborg busied herself with
was sewing clothes for her daughter; Ulvhild went ever bravely decked out.
“Why stand you thus?” Ramborg asked her husband.
Simon showed forth the shards. “I know not what you will say to this——”
Ramborg took them from him: “No need to stand there and look so like a fool—”
Kristin grew ill at ease as she sat there. ’Twas true Simon had looked foolish enough as he stood
hiding the shards behind him, and, as it were, playing the child. But there was sure no need for
Ramborg to say so.
“I deemed it would vex you, that your bowl had been broken,” said the man.
“Ay, you seem at all times so afraid aught may vex me—in small things like this,” answered
Ramborg—and now the other two saw she was on the brink of tears.
“You know well, Ramborg, ’tis not seeming only,” said Simon. “And I trow ’tis not alone in small
things either——”
“I know not,” answered Ramborg as before. “ ’Tis never your wont, Simon, to speak to me of greatmatters——”
She turned sharply and went back to the outer room. Simon stood a little, looking after her. When
he sat him down, the boy, Andres, came and tried to climb upon his father’s knee. Simon lifted him
up, and sat resting his chin on the top of the child’s head, but seemed not to hear the little one’s
prattle.
After a while Kristin said, haltingly:
“Ramborg is not so young any more, Simon—your eldest child is seven winters old already——”
“What mean you?” asked Simon, more sharply than need was, she thought.
“I mean but that—maybe my sister deems you lay too little on her—could you not try to let her
have things in her hands a little more, on the farm here—along with you?”
“ M y wife has all in her hands that she would have,” answered Simon hotly. “I ask not that she
should do more than she herself would, but never have I denied Ramborg the ruling of aught here on
Formo. If you deem otherwise, ’tis that you do not know——”
“Nay, nay!” said Kristin. “But one time and another, brother-in-law, it has seemed to me you
remember not that Ramborg is more grown-up now than in the days when you were wed. You should
bear in mind, Simon——”
“Bear y o u in mind”—he set down the child and sprang up—“that Ramborg and I agreed together—
and you and I could not——” Just then the mistress of the house stepped in, bearing a stoup of ale
for the strangers; Simon went quickly to his wife and laid his hand upon her shoulder: “Heard you
ever the like, Ramborg—here is your sister saying she deems not you are content with things as you
have them here——” He laughed.
Ramborg looked up; there was a strange glitter in her great, dark eyes:
“How so? I got what I would have, I as well as you, Kristin—should we two sisters not be well
content, I know not——” and she too laughed.
Kristin stood there red and wrathful; she took not the ale-bowl in her hands:
“Nay, ’tis late already—time we were going homeward——” and she looked about her for her
sons.
“Nay, nay, Kristin.” Simon took the bowl from his wife and drank to the other sister. “Be not angry
now. ’Tis not well to weigh so nicely each word that falls ’twixt nearest kin—sit a little and rest your
feet; content you again, and forget it, if I answered you in other wise than I ought——
“I am weary,” said he, stretching and yawning a little. He asked how far they were got on with the
spring work at Jörundgaard—here, now, they had ploughed up all the fields north of the manor road.
Kristin took her leave as soon as she deemed it seemly. Nay, Simon need not come with her, she
said, as he took up his hooded cloak and axe—she had the great lads with her. But he would go—and
he prayed Ramborg, too, to go with them, at least up through the home-fields. This, at most times,
she had no mind to, but to-night she went with them right up to the road.
Without was black night, with clear, twinkling stars. A little warm springlike breath of
newdunged fields came through the frosty night air. The noise of water was about them everywhere in the
darkness.
Simon and Kristin went northward, the three boys running before. She felt that the man walking by
her would have said something, but she had no mind to help him to speech, for she was greatly vexed
with him still. True it was she was fond of her brother-in-law—but there should be some bounds to
what he deemed he might say and then turn it off—with a “ ’twas but among kinsfolk.” He ought
sure to understand—that he had stood by them so steadfastly in their pinch made it the less easy now
for her to bear, when he grew hot and unmannerly—’twas hard for her to take him up. She thought of
the first winter, when they were but newly come to the parish: Ramborg had sent for her, for that
Simon lay abed with neck-boils, grievously sick. He was much plagued with this ill. But when she
was come to Formo and went in to the man, he would not suffer her to touch him or even look at
him; he was so unruly that Ramborg prayed her sister miserably to forgive her for having brought her
thither. Simon had been no better with her, said she, when she would have tended him the first time
he was sick after they were wed. When these throat boils came on him, he hid himself away in the old
house they called the Sæmunds hall, and would suffer no one near him but a hideous, filthy, lousy
old carl, Gunstein by name, that had served on Dyfrin before Simon was born.—True, Simon came to
his sister-in-law afterwards and would have made things good again with her: he liked not, he said,
that any should see him lying with such a sickness; it seemed to him such a pitiful ailment for a
grown man. Kristin had answered, shortly enough, that she understood him not; ’twas sure neither sinnor shame to have a swollen throat.
He went with her now as far as to the bridge, and all the way they spoke of the weather and the
farm work—saying over again things they had said in the hall. Simon bade her good-night—then, of a
sudden, he asked:
“Know you, Kristin, what I have done to Gaute, that the boy is so wroth with me?”
“Gaute?” she asked, in wonder.
“Ay, have you not marked it? He shuns me—and if he must needs meet me, he will scarce open his
mouth, when I speak with him——”
Kristin shook her head; no, she had marked naught of this—“but maybe you have said a word in
jest, and he has taken it ill, like the child he is——”
He knew by her voice she was smiling; he laughed a little: “But I cannot remember aught of the
kind——”
With that he bade good-night again and left her.
At Jörundgaard all was still; dark in the hall, and ashes raked over the fire. Björgulf was lying
awake; he said his father and brothers were gone a good while since.
In the great bed Munan lay alone, sleeping——His mother took him into her arms when she had
lain down.
——’Twas hard to speak of it to Erlend, if he himself did not understand—that he ought not to
take his great sons and go roaming the woods with them, when there was more than enough work to
be done on the farm——
Truly, she had never looked that Erlend should go behind the plough himself. For that matter, he
was scarce the man to cope with a good spell of work. And Ulf, like enough, would take it but ill if
Erlend meddled with the farming. But her sons could not be suffered to grow to manhood as their
father had done—learning but to handle arms, to hunt wild beasts and disport him with his horses—
or hang over a draught-board with a priest whose task it was to coax into the knight’s son some little
lore of Latin and of writing, of singing and playing on strings. ’Twas therefore, in chief, that she had
kept the manor short of working folk—her sons should learn, she thought, from childhood on, that
they must use them to husbandry. There was small hope now for Erlend’s sons in the knightly calling.
But of all the youths Gaute was the only one who had any turn for farming ways. Gaute was a
worker—but he was scarce thirteen; naught else was to be looked for but that he would liefer be off
with Erlend, when his father bade him come——
But ’twas hard to speak of this to Erlend. For she held fast to this—never from her should her
husband hear one word he could take for blame of his deeds or lamentation over the fate he had
brought upon himself and his sons. The harder was it for her to bring home to the father that his sons
must needs use them to work themselves on their farm. If only Ulf would speak of it, she thought
——
When the folk moved with the herds from the lower sæters up to Hövringen, Kristin went with
them to the mountain. The twins she would not have with her. They were near eleven years old now,
and were the most unruly and self-willed of all her children; ’twas all the harder for her to guide them
since there were two of them, and they held together in all things. If it so happed that she could get
Ivar alone, then was he good and biddable enough; but Skule was fiery and headstrong—and when the
brothers were together, Ivar said and did whatsoever the other would.II
ONE day in early autumn Kristin went out about the time of nones. The herd had said that, a little
down the hill-side, if she followed the run of the river, she would find a forest clearing where were
many Aaron’s-rods growing.
Kristin found the spot: a steep hill-side with the sun beating straight upon it—’twas even now the
best time to pick the flowers. They grew in masses all over the heaps of stones and round about the
grey tree-stumps—tall, bright yellow stalks, set thick with little full-blown starlets.—Kristin set
Munan to plucking raspberries amid some bushes he could not come away from without her help,
and bade the dog stay and guard him. Then she drew her knife and set about cutting the flowers, while
ever keeping an eye on the little child——Lavrans kept by her side and helped her busily.
She was ever fearful for her two little ones up here. Otherwise she had no great dread of yonder
folk any more. Already from many of the sæters the dairy-folks had gone down home, but she was
minded to stay on over the second Maria Mass.* True, the nights were black now, and uncanny when
it blew hard—uncanny for them when they must go out late. But for the most part the weather had
been so fair up here—and down in the dale ’twas a year of drought and poor feed. Men had to bide up
here both in the late fall and the winter-time—and her father had said he had never marked that there
were any Dwellers in their sæter of winters——
Kristin came to a stand under a lone pine on the mid-hill-side; stood with her hands clasped about
the heavy bunch of flower-stems resting upon her shoulder. From here one could see northwards,
some way up into Dovre. The corn stood in stooks in many places out on the farm lands——
The sward was yellow and burnt-up there too. But truly green ’twas never here in the Dale, it
seemed to her now—not green as in Trondheim——
Ay—her mind went back in longing to the home they had had there—the manor that lay so high
and chieftainly forth on the broad-bosomed hill-side, fields and meadows spreading wide around and
downward to the leaf woods in the glen that dipped to the lake in the dale bottom. The far outlook
over low wooded ridges that rolled, wave behind wave, southwards to the Dovre-fjeld. And the
grass-lands, so rank and deep in summer, red with ruddy flowers under the red of evening skies; and
the aftermath, so green and sappy in the autumn——
Ay, there were times when longing came on her even for the fiord——The strands at Birgsi, the
wharfs with boats and ships, the boat sheds, the smell of tar and fishing-gear, and of the sea—all
those things she had liked so little when first she came to the north——
Erlend—he must long, surely, for that smell, and for the sea and the sea-winds——
She missed now all that once she had deemed did but weary her out—the great householding, the
flocks of serving-folk, the din when Erlend’s men rode into the courtyard with clashing arms and
jingling gear—strangers coming and going, bearing great tidings from far in the land and gossip of
folks in the country-side and the town——She felt now how hushed her life had grown, when all this
fell dumb——
The market town with its churches and cloisters and feasts in the great men’s town houses——She
longed to pass along the streets, her own page and serving-maid behind her; to climb the stairs into
the merchants’ ware-rooms, to choose or throw aside; to be set aboard the trading-smacks on the
river and to chaffer: English linen head-gear, fine veils, wooden horses, with knights astride of them,
who could thrust with their lances when you pulled a string. She thought on the meadows outside the
town, by Nidareid, where she would go with her children and watch the showmen’s trained dogs and
bears, and buy honey-bread and walnuts——
And at times she would be so fain to deck herself out once more——Silken shifts and thin, fine
head-linen. The sleeveless surcoat of light-blue velvet that Erlend had bought for her the winter
before mischance fell on them. It had borders of ermine-skin about the deeply cut-out bosom and
round the long arm-slits, that reached right down to the hips and showed the belt beneath——
And now and then she longed—oh no, ’twere witless not to be glad of that, glad so long as she
were spared the bearing of more children. When she fell sick in the autumn, after the big slaughtering
—’twas best things fell out as they did. But she had wept a little over it, the first nights after——
For it seemed to her a long, long time since she had held a little child. Munan was but four winters
old—but him she had had to give into strangers’ keeping ere yet he was full a year. And when she got
him back again, he could both walk and talk, and he knew her not——
Erlend! Oh, Erlend! She knew well that, in her inmost heart, she knew he was not so—careless—ashe seemed. He, that had been ever restless—’twas as though now he was ever still: as a stream of
water, striking at last on a steep wall of rock, lets itself be turned aside, and oozes through the peat to
make a silent pool with marsh-land all around. He passed his time on Jörundgaard, doing naught, and
taking now one and now another of his sons to keep him company in nothing-doing. Or he went
ahunting with them. The whim might take him to set to work, and tar and patch up one of the boats
they kept on the tarns for fishing. Or he would set about breaking one of the young colts. But at that
he never made any hand—he was all too hasty——
He kept to himself, and made at least as though he marked not that none sought his company. The
sons did as their father did. Liked they were not, these strangers, whom ill-fortune had driven to the
Dale, and who went their ways now, proud and strange as ever, seeking not to learn aught of the ways
of the parish and of its folk. For Ulf Haldorssön there was sheer ill-will—he scorned the Dalesmen
openly, called them thick-witted and old-fashioned; folk that were not bred by the sea-shore were not
folk——
And she herself—she knew she had not many friends either, here in her own home country. Not
now any more——
Kristin straightened herself in her moss-brown wadmal dress, and shaded her eyes with her hand
from the golden flood of afternoon sunlight——
Northward she caught a glimpse of the Dale along the river’s white-green riband, and then came
the throng of mountain-hulks, one behind the other, yellow-grey with scree and marsh, away to
where, seen through clefts and scaurs, snow-fields and clouds were one. Straight before her
Rostkampen bent forward a knee and hemmed the Dale, thrusting the Laagen aside in a great crook. A
far-off thunder rose to her from the river, where it cut deep into the slate rocks below and fell,
boiling and foaming, from shelf to shelf. On the moorish hills above Rostkampen’s dome rose the
rounded backs of the two great Blaahoer, that her father had likened to a woman’s breasts——
Erlend must feel it cramped and ugly here—hard to draw breath in——
——A little to the south on this same hill-side, yonder, under the slopes near the sæter, was where
she had seen the elf-maiden, when she was a little child——
A gentle, soft, fair, slender child with thick, silky hair about her round, red and white cheeks——
Kristin shut her eyes, and turned her sunburnt face full to the flood of light. A young mother with
milk-swollen breasts and a heart stirred and fruitful with childbearing like a new-ploughed field—ay.
But for such an one as she was now there was no fear; her they would scarce try to draw into their
clutches. Ill would the mountain-king deem a woman so worn and meagre would set off his bridal
gold; the elf-wife would scarce be fain to put her child to such dried-up breasts. She felt herself hard
and dry as the pine root beneath her foot, that crooked itself over the stones, and clawed itself fast.
She struck her heel hard upon it with the thought.
The two little lads had come to her side; they made haste to do as their mother did, kicking the pine
root with all their might, and then asking eagerly:
“Why did you so, mother?”
Kristin sat down, laid the Aaron’s-rods in her lap, and began to strip off the full-blown blossoms
into her basket.
“ ’Twas that my shoe pinched me on the toes,” she answered, so long after that the boys minded
not that they had asked. But they gave little heed to this—they were so used to have their mother
seem not to hear when they spoke to her, or wake up and answer when they had forgot what ’twas
they had asked.
Lavrans helped to strip off the blossoms; Munan would have helped too, but he only tore the
tassels to shreds. So his mother took the flowers from him without a word, without anger, far away
in her own thoughts. Soon the boys began to play and fight with the stripped stalks that she threw
aside.
The game went on noisily before their mother’s knees. Kristin looked on the two small, round,
brown-haired child-heads. Much alike they were still: they had well-nigh the same light-brown hue of
hair, but, by all kinds of small scarce-seen marks and signs that came and went in a flash, their mother
could see they would grow to be most unlike. Munan would favour his father: he had his sea-blue
eyes, and the silky hair that clung, soft and close, in curls and little waves round the narrow head;
’twould darken to sooty black with time. That little face of his, that still was so round below the chin
and on the cheeks, so that ’twas a joy to lay a hand on its soft freshness, would narrow and lengthen
out, once he grew a little older; he, too, would one day show the high, narrow forehead sunken at thetemples, and the straight, outstanding triangle of nose, sharp and narrow on the bridge, with thin,
restless nostrils, that Naakkve had already and that the twins had plainly shown they were to have.
Lavrans had had flaxen, silk-fine curls when he was little. Now his hair had the hue of a hazel-nut,
but it held golden gleams in the sunlight. ’Twas smooth, and soft enough, but yet much coarser and
thicker; deep masses you could bury your fingers in. Lavrans was like her; he had grey eyes and a
round face, broad of forehead and with softly rounded chin; ’twas like he would keep the red and
white of his cheeks well on into manhood.
Gaute’s skin too had this bright fresh hue; he was so like her father, with his full oval face,
irongrey eyes, and light, light yellow hair.
Björgulf alone—she knew not whom he favoured. He was the tallest of the sons,
broadshouldered, heavy and strong of limb. Untamed, curly, coal-black hair grew low over the broad,
white brow; his eyes were blue-black, but strangely lustreless, and they blinked sorely when he lifted
them to the light. She knew not rightly when it had begun, for it had chanced that this was the child
she had always taken the least heed of. They took him from her and gave him to a foster-mother soon
as he was born; eleven months afterward she bore Gaute, and Gaute had been sickly the four first
years he lived. After the twins’ birth she had come to her feet, sick still, with a hurt in the back, and
yet must take up the big boy again, carry him about and tend him, so that she scarce had time to look
on the new children save when Frida brought Ivar thirsty and shrieking—and Gaute, too, lay and
shrieked while she sat and gave the little one the breast. She had not been able—holy mother Mary,
thou knowest I could not give more heed to Björgulf than I did——And from the first he was such
an one as would rather go about alone and fend for himself; strange and silent had he ever been,
seemed ever to mislike it when she would have fondled him. She had ever deemed him the strongest
of her brood; like a swart, headstrong little bullcalf had Björgulf always seemed to her——
Little by little it had come home to her that there was somewhat amiss with his sight. The monks
had done something to his eyes when he and Naakkve were at Tautra, but it seemed that had not
helped——
He was still close and silent as ever; she made no way when now she tried to draw Björgulf to her.
His father fared no better, she saw—Björgulf was the only one of their sons who did not warm to any
heed from Erlend as a meadow takes the sunshine. Only with Naakkve was Björgulf otherwise—but
when she would have talked with Naakkve of his brother, he turned the matter off. She knew not if
Erlend fared any better in this—though greater love than Naakkve’s for his father——!
——Oh no, with Erlend’s offspring there could be no mistaking who their father was.—When she
was last in Nidaros, she had seen that child from Lensvik. She met Sir Thorolf in Christ’s Church
yard; he came out with a train of men and women and serving-folk, a maid bearing the babe in its
swaddling clothes. Thorolf Aasulfsson greeted her with a bow, quiet and courteous, as he went by.
His wife was not there——
She had seen the child’s face; in a single glance, but ’twas enough. It was like other children’s
faces that had lain at her own breast——
Arne Gjavvaldssön was with her, and he could not refrain him from talking—as his way ever was.
Sir Thorolf’s kinsmen that were his heirs were but ill pleased when the child saw the light last winter.
But Thorolf had it christened Aasulf. Twixt Erlend Nikulaussön and Lady Sunniva there had never
been more than the friendship all folk knew of—he made as though he never doubted this.
Loosetongued and rash as the man was, he had talked recklessly, without doubt, when bandying jests with
her—and ’twas no more than the lady’s duty to warn the king’s wardens when she suspected
mischief. But had they been over-good friends, Sunniva must sure have known that her own brother
was privy to Erlend’s plan. When Haftor Graut made forfeit of his life and his soul’s salvation in the
prison, she had gone clean from her wits—no one could pay heed to what she had laid to her own
charge in that state. Sir Thorolf had laid his hand on his sword-hilt and looked around the company as
he spoke of this, said Arne——
Arne had named the matter to Erlend too. One time when she was above in a loft-room, the two
men had stood below under the balcony, knowing not that she could hear their words. The Lensvik
knight was so o’erjoyed at the coming of the son his wife had borne last winter—’twas plain he had
no doubt that he himself was the father.
“Ay, Thorolf himself must sure know best,” Erlend had answered. She knew that tone in his voice
—he was standing now with downcast eyes and the little smile at one corner of his mouth.
Sir Thorolf hated so those kinsmen of his who should have been his heirs if he died childless. Butfolk were talking, saying the thing was not as it should be——“Oh, the man must sure know best
himself,” said Erlend as before——
“Ay, ay, Erlend! That one boy is heir to more than the seven sons you have by your wife——”
“For my seven sons shall I care myself, Arne——” But at that she went clown; she would not
suffer them to talk any more of this thing. Erlend looked a little out of countenance when he saw her.
Then he came and took her hand, standing behind her so that her shoulder touched his body. She felt
that, as he stood there looking down upon her, he was making over again, wordlessly, the promise he
had just made—as it were to give her courage——
——Kristin grew ware now that Munan was gazing up into her face—somewhat fearful. She must
have smiled—not a pleasant smile. But when his mother looked down at him, he smiled back to her
straightway, doubtfully and provingly.
Vehemently she caught him up into her lap. He was little, little, little yet, her youngest—not too
big yet to be kissed and fondled by his mother. She winked one eye at him. He did his best to wink
back at her, but, try as he would, both eyes would shut together—his mother laughed aloud; Munan
too went off into peals of laughter, while Kristin hugged and squeezed him in her arms——
Lavrans had been sitting with the dog in his lap. They both turned, listening, towards the woods
below.
“ ’Tis father!” The dog first and the boy after him went leaping down the steep hill-side.
Kristin sat still awhile. Then she rose and went out on a jutting point. Now they were coming up
the path from below: Erlend, Naakkve, Ivar, and Skule. They came along in wild glee, calling their
greetings up to her.
Kristin greeted them again. Were they going up to fetch the horses? No, answered Erlend: Ulf, he
thought, was sending Sveinbjörn up for them to-night. He and Naakkve were bound further afield
after reindeer, and the twins had had a mind to come along with them and see their mother——
She made no answer. She had known how ’twas ere she asked. Naakkve had with him hounds in
leash; he and his father were in wadmal jerkins of mingled grey and black, such as make little show
against the screes. All four of them had bows.
Kristin asked the tidings from the manor, and Erlend talked as they climbed upward. Ulf was in
full swing with the harvest work; he was not ill pleased, but the straw was cutting short; the corn had
riped so quickly on the higher fields, the grain was dropping from the ears. And the oats were all but
ready to cut—theymust keep hard at it, Ulf said——
Kristin nodded as she walked, but said no word.
She went to the byre herself to help in the milking. It was ever pleasant to her, this hour when she
sat in the dark close in to the swelling cow-flank, and felt the milk’s sweet breath in her nostrils.
Swish, swish, came the answer from the inner darkness, where the byre-woman and the herd were
milking. ’Twas all so restful, the strong, warm smell in the byre, the sound of a withy-band creaking,
of a horn knocking against wood, of a cow moving her feet in the miry earth floor of the stall, or
whisking her tail at the flies.—The wagtails that nested in here in the summer were gone now——
The cows were restless to-night. Bluesides put her foot in the milk-pail—Kristin slapped at her
and scolded her. The next cow turned restive and ugly, as soon as Kristin sat in to her side. She had
sores on her teats. Kristin pulled her wedding-ring from her finger and milked the first jet through it.
She heard Ivar and Skule down by the gate—they were shouting and throwing stones at the strange
bull that followed her cattle home each evening. They had offered to help Finn to milk the goats in
the pen, but they must have grown tired of that—
When she came by a little later, they were busy tormenting the pretty white bull-calf she had given
Lavrans—the little boy stood by whimpering. His mother set down the pails, took the two by the
shoulders, and pushed them aside—they must let their brother’s calf be, when he bade them to——
Erlend and Naakkve were sitting on the doorstep; they had a fresh cheese between them; they were
eating hunch upon hunch, and stuffing Munan, who stood betwixt Naakkve’s knees. Naakkve had
laid her strainer over the little one’s head, saying that none could see Munan now—for this was no
strainer, but a fairy hat. They were laughing, all three,—but no sooner did Naakkve see his mother
than he handed her the strainer, stood up, and took the pails from her.
Kristin lingered in the dairy. The upper half of the door to the outer room stood ajar—she saw they
had piled the hearth with fuel. Round the fire in the warm flickering glow they sat eating, Erlend, the
children, the serving-wench, and the three herds.When she came in, they had ended their meal. She saw that the two little ones had been put to bed
upon the wall-bench; they seemed to be asleep already. Erlend lay huddled up in the bed. She
stumbled over his jerkin and boots and, as she went by, picked them up and then went out.
The sky was bright still, with a red streak over the fells in the west: a few dark cloud-wisps swam
in the clear heaven. It looked like good weather for to-morrow too, ’twas so still, and so nipping
cold, now that night had well fallen—no wind, but an icy breath from the north-west, a steady
airdrift from the naked grey-stone mountains. Over the low hills down to the south-east the moon was
floating up, nigh the full, big and pale red yet in the thin haze that hung always over the marshes
there.
The strange bull was bellowing mournfully somewhere away on the uplands. But for that, all was
so still ’twas like an ache—naught but the rush of the river below their milking-place, the little beck
tinkling down the grassy green, and a sleepy soughing off in the woods—an unrest among the pines,
that stirred, settled for a space, and then stirred again——
She busied herself with some milk-pans and troughs that stood by the sæter wall. Naakkve and the
twins came out—whither were they going? their mother asked.
They were going to lie in the barn—there was such a rank smell in the dairy from all the cheese and
butter—and from the herds sleeping there.
Naakkve went not at once to the barn. His mother still saw his light-grey form faintly against the
green darkness of the hay-field that bordered the woods. A little later the serving-wench came to the
door—she started when she saw the mistress standing by the wall.
“Are you not for bed now, Astrid?—’tis late already——”
The wench mumbled—she was but going behind the byre. Kristin waited till she had seen her in
again. Naakkve was in his sixteenth year. ’Twas some time now since his mother had begun to keep
an eye upon the serving-women on the manor, when they grew merry with the comely and lively
youth.
Kristin went down to the river and knelt upon the stone slab out over the water. Before her the
river ran, well-nigh black, in a wide pool; only a few rings showed the current; but a little above, it
foamed down, white in the darkness, with a drumming noise and cold puffs of air. The moon had
risen so high now that its light was grown strong—here and there it glittered on a dewy leaf. Then a
sparkle showed on a ripple on the stream——
Erlend spoke her name just behind her—she had not heard him coming down across the sward.
Kristin sank her arm into the icy water and fished up a pair of milk-pans that lay at the bottom with
stones on them, scouring in the river; she rose and followed her husband back with both hands full.
They did not speak as they passed up the slope.
Once in the hut, Erlend stripped himself wholly and climbed into the bed:
“Will you not come to rest soon, Kristin?”
“I must get me a bite of food first——” She sat her down on her three-legged stool close by the
hearth, with some bread and a slice of cheese in her lap, ate slowly, and gazed into the heap of embers
that were dying out little by little in the stone-lined hole in the floor.
“Sleep you, Erlend?” she whispered, as she rose and shook her skirt.
“No——” Kristin went over and drank a dipperful of sour milk from the tub in the corner. Then
she went back to the hearth, lifted a slab of stone and laid it on top, and spread the Aaron’s-rod
blossoms on it to dry.
But now there was no more she could think on to be done. She undressed in the dark and laid her
down in the bed by Erlend. When he put his arms around her, she felt her weariness like a wave of
cold sweeping through her whole body; her head grew hollow and heavy, as though all within it had
settled down and made a lump of sheer pain where it joined her neck. But when he whispered to her,
she dutifully put her arms about his neck.
She awoke in the night and knew not what time it was. But by the pane above the smoke-hole she
could see the moon must be high.
The bed was narrow and short, so that they needs must lie close to one another. Erlend slept; he
breathed quietly and evenly; his breast rose and fell gently in his sleep. At one time she had been wont
to nestle close in to his warm, sound body when she woke of nights and grew fearful because he
breathed so noiselessly—then it had seemed a sweet joy to feel his breast rise and fall in slumber
against her side.After a while she crept out of the bed, put on her clothes in the dark, and stole to the door.
The moon was sailing high over the whole world. Here and there was a glimmer from water in the
mosses, or on cliffs over whose face it had trickled the day through and was freezing now to ice. The
moon shone over the leaf woods and the pine woods. On the grass banks hoar-frost glittered. It was
bitter cold—she crossed her arms upon her breast and stood a little.
Then she went up along the beck. It tinkled and gurgled, with little sounds of ice-needles breaking
in sunder——
At the upper end of the fenced field lay a great deep-bedded boulder. No one went near it unless he
must, and when he went, he crossed himself. They poured cream in under it when they came in the
summer, and when they left again. True it was she had never known of any that had seen or heard
aught there—but such had been the custom on the sæter from of old——
She knew not herself what had taken her, to leave the house in this wise, at dead of night. She came
to a stand by the stone—set her foot in a notch in it. Her belly shrank, her body grew cold and numb
with fear—but cross herself she would not. Then she crept up and sat her down upon the stone.
From here one saw far and wide around—away over the ugly grey-stone mountains in the
moonlight. The big hump on Dovre rose mighty and pale against the pale sky, the snow-field glistened
white in the scar on Graahö, the Boar-fells shone with blue clefts and new-fėllen snow. In the
moonlight the mountains were uglier than she had ever deemed they could be—hardly a single star or
two shone here and there in the endless, icy-cold heavens. She was chilled through bone and marrow
—terror and cold pressed in upon her from all sides. But she sat on defiant.
She would not go down and lay herself in the black darkness by her husband’s warm, slumbering
body. For her there was no sleep that night, she knew——
So sure as she was her father’s daughter—her wedded husband should never hear her blame his
deeds. For she remembered what she had sworn when she besought God Almighty and all the holy
saints in heaven for Friend’s life———
So it was that she must go out into this ghostly night to take breath, when she felt nigh perishing
——
She sat and let the bitter old thoughts come to her like old acquaintance. And met them with other
old and well-known thoughts—in feigned excuse of Erlend——
True, he had not craved this of her. He had not laid upon her aught of the burden she had taken
upon her shoulders. He had but begotten seven sons on her. “For my seven sons I shall care, Arne
——” God alone might know what the man meant by those words. Like enough he had meant
nothing—he had but said it——
Erlend had not begged her to set Husaby and his estates a-going again. He had not begged her fight
for dear life to save him. Like a chieftain he had suffered—that his goods be wasted, that his life be
set on the hazard, that all he owned be lost. Stripped and bare, he stood amidst mischance loftily
unbowed and still; loftily still and unbowed he abode in her father’s manor like some stranger guest
——
But all that was hers was her sons’ by right. By right they claimed her sweat and blood and all her
strength. But, if so, the manor and she herself could lay rightful claim to them in return.
There had been no need for her to take the road to the sæter like any cottar’s wife. But at home, as
things were now, she felt herself crushed and hemmed in on every side—so that she seemed to fail
for breath. Besides, she had needed to prove to herself that she could do a peasant woman’s work.
True, toil and struggle had been hers every hour since she rode, a bride, into Erlend Nikulaussön’s
manor—and saw that here one at least must fight to save the heritage of him she bore below her
heart. If the father could not, then she must be the one. But now she must needs assure herself—that,
if the pinch came, there was no piece of work she had set her maids and serving-women to in the old
days that she could not do with her own hands. Up here ’twas a good day when she marked that she
ached not across the loins when she had stood long a-churning. ’Twas good in the mornings to be
along herself and help let out the cattle—they had grown fat and fair this summer—the weight on her
heart lightened when she stood in the sunset, crying on the homecoming cows. She loved to see the
food growing under her own hands—’twas as though she were reaching down to make firm the very
groundwork on which her sons’ fortunes were to be built up again.
Jörundgaard was a good estate, but ’twas not so good as she had deemed. And Ulf was a stranger
here in the dale—he fell into mistakes and he lost patience. As folk reckoned in this country-side,they ever did well with their hay on Jörundgaard—they had water-meadows along the river and out
on the holms—but ’twas not the best hay, nor such as Ulf was used to in the Trondheim country. He
was unused to have to garner in so much moss and leaf fodder, so much heather and twigs, as was
needful here——
Her father had known every inch of his land, had had all a farmer’s lore: of the whims of seasons;
of the way the divers fields took wet or dry years, windy summers or burning summers; of the strains
of cattle that, generation after generation, he himself had coupled, fed and reared and sold from—all
the knowledge that was needed for just this place. She knew not her manor so by heart. But she
would yet—and her sons should——
But Erlend had never asked the like of her. He had not wed her to plunge her into toil and trouble;
he had but wed her that she might sleep in his arms. And thus, ever, when her time was come, a child
lay by her side, craved its place upon her arm, at her breast, in her cares——
Kristin moaned through her clenched teeth. She sat shivering with cold and wrath.
“Pactum serva—that is, in the Norse tongue, keep thy troth!”
’Twas in that time when Arne Gjavvaldssön and brother Leif of Holm had come to Husaby and
fetched away her goods and her children’s to Nidaros. That, too, had Erlend left her to deal with—he
had taken lodging out at the Holm cloister. She sat in the town mansion—the monks owned it now—
and Arne Gjavvaldssön was with her, helping her with rede and deed; Simon had sent letters praying
for his help.
Arne could have been no more eager had it been for himself he was to save the goods and gear. The
very evening he brought it to the town, he must needs have both her and Lady Gunna of Raasvold,
who had come in with the two little ones, out to the stables. Seven picked horses—folk were minded
to deal fairly towards Erlend Nikulaussön, and gave assent when Arne averred the five eldest sons
each owned a riding-horse, and the lady of the house one for herself and one for her serving-man. As
to the Castilian, Erlend’s Spanish stallion, he could bring witness that him Erlend had made over in
gift to his son Nikulaus—even though it might have been more jest than earnest. Not that Arne was
much taken with the long-legged beast—but he knew Erlend loved the horse well——
’Twas an ill thing, said Arne, that he had to let the armour of state go, with the great helm and the
gold-mounted sword—true, all this gear was fit for naught but the tournament; still ’twas worth a
great sum. But he had got Erlend’s body-shirt of black silk with the red lion broidered on it. And he
had claimed the English battle-harness for Nikulaus. And that was so choicely wrought that Arne
deemed there was not the like to be found in Norway’s land—for them that had eyes to see. But ’twas
much worn—ay, indeed, Erlend had worn his weapons more than most sons of nobles in these times
——Arne fondled each piece—helm, gorget, vambraces, greaves, gauntlets of the finest steel plates,
corslet and hauberk of chain-mail, so light and easy-fitting and yet withal so strong. And then the
sword—it had but a plain steel hilt, and the leather on the handle was chafed—but the like of such a
blade one saw not every year——
Kristin sat and held the sword across her lap. She knew Erlend would take it to him like a
muchloved bride—he had never used any other of all the swords he owned. It had been left to him when he
was but a lad by Sigmund Torolfssön, who had been his bedfellow when first he joined the
bodyguard. Once only had he spoken of this friend to her: “Had God not been in such hot haste to take
Sigmund from.this world, ’tis like that much had gone otherwise with me. After his death I was ill at
ease at the Court, and so with much begging I got me King Haakon’s leave to go north with Gissur
Galle that time.—Yet but for that I trow I had never won you, my sweeting—for belike I had been a
wedded man long ere you were grown maid——”
From Munan Baardssön she had heard that Erlend had nursed his friend day and night, as a mother
tends her babe, taking no sleep but a short doze now and then on the sick man’s bed-side—that last
winter, when Sigmund Torolfssön lay spitting out his lungs piecemeal, and his heart’s blood. And
when Sigmund had been brought to earth in Halvard’s Church, Erlend had gone to his grave late and
early, and lain flat on the gravestone sorrowing. But to her he had never spoken of him but that one
time. In Halvard’s Church, too, Erlend and she had had their trysts sometimes, that sinful winter in
Oslo. But he had never named with a word that the dearest friend of his youth lay there.—’Twas thus
he had mourned over his mother, she knew; and when Orm died he had been wild and ungoverned in
his despair; yet them too he never named. She knew he had been in to the town and seen Margret—
but he never spoke of his daughter.
——Right up under the hilt she saw some writing graven into the blade. ’Twas runes mostly, andshe could not read them, nor Arne either; but the monk took the sword and looked on it a while.
“Pactum serva,” said he at last. “That means, in the Norse tongue, keep thy troth.”
Arne and brother Leif spoke, too, of how a great part of her lands here, north of Dovre, Erlend’s
morning-gift to her, had been pledged and thrown away. Could not some device be found to save
somewhat of this? But Kristin would not—’twas honour one must save first of all; she would not
have any question raised whether her husband’s dealings were lawful. And besides, she was well-nigh
plagued to death by Arne’s talk, well meant as it was. That night, when he and the monk had bidden
good-night and gone to their lodging, she threw herself upon her knees before Lady Gunna and hid
her face in her lap.
In a little the old woman lifted up the young one’s head. Kristin looked up at the other—Lady
Gunna’s face was heavy, yellow, and fleshy, with three thick folds, as though moulded in wax, right
across her brow, lightly freckled, with sharp, kind blue eyes and an indrawn, toothless mouth shaded
by long, grey lip-hairs. Kristin had seen this face look down on her in so many an hour of torment—
Lady Gunna had been with her each time she bore a child, save when Lavrans came, for then Kristin
had been at home by her father’s death-bed.
“Ay, ay, my daughter,” said the lady, pressing a hand on her forehead. “I have stayed you more
times than one now, when you needs must to your knees—ay. But in this trial, my Kristin, you must
lay you down before God’s mother Mary herself and pray her to help you through—”
——Ah, and she had done it too, Kristin thought. She said her prayers and somewhat of the psalter
every sabbath eve; she kept the fasts Archibishop Eiliv had laid upon her when he gave her remission
of her sins; she gave alms, and tended herself each wayfarer who begged night’s lodging, looked he
fair or foul. But she felt no longer now that the light shone within her when she did these things. That
there was light without she knew, but it seemed as though mists shut in her soul. It must be what
Gunnulf spoke of—the drought of the spirit. No soul should lose courage by reason of that, said Sira
Eiliv; be steadfast in prayer and good deeds, as a farmer ploughs and dungs and sows—God will send
the quickening rain in His own good time.—But then Sira Eiliv had never been a farmer——
Gunnulf she had not seen that time. He was making a term north in Helgeland, preaching and
gathering gifts for his cloister. Ay! there was the one of the knights’ sons of Husaby—and the other
——
But Margret Erlendsdatter had come to her sometimes at the town mansion. Two servants
followed the merchant’s wife; she was in goodly clothing and shone with rich trinkets—her
father-inlaw was a goldsmith, so they had them handy in the house. She seemed happy and content—albeit she
had no children. She had got her dowry from her father in good time. God only knew whether she
ever gave a thought to the poor cripple, Haakon, out at Gimsar—he could but just drag himself
round the courtyard on two crutches, she had heard.——
But even then she had not thought on Erlend with bitterness, it seemed to her. She must have felt
that what waited Erlend, now he was a free man again, was the worst of all for him. ’Twas therefore
he hid himself away out with Abbot Olav. Take order for the flitting, show himself now in the town
—it might well be too much for even Erlend Nikulaussön to face——
And there was the day they sailed out over Trondheim’s fjord—on the Laurentius galleass, the
selfsame bark by which Erlend had shipped her bridal gear to the north when they first got leave to
wed each other——
A still day, well on in autumn—a pale, leaden glimmer upon the fjord, the world about them cold,
white-barred, unquiet—the first snow drifted into ridges across the frozen lands, the cold-blue hills
streaked white with snow. The highest clouds, too, where the skies were blue, seemed spread out thin
as flour by a wind high up.in the domeof heaven. The ship drifted along slowly, sullenly, close under
the land—the town ness. Kristin stood looking at the white surf against the cliff—wondering if she
should be seasick when they got further out into the fjord.
Erlend stood by the rail, further forward near the bow, his two eldest sons with him. The wind
blew their hair and cloaks about.
Now they were looking up Kors fjord, toward Gaularos and the landing at Birgsi. A gleam of
sunshine lit up the brown and white hillside above the strand in there——
Erlend said somewhat to the lads. At that Björgulf turned sharply round, left the bulwark, and
came aft. With the spear he always bore and used as a staff he groped his way among the empty
rowing-benches; he came past his mother—his curly black head thrust low down upon his breast, his
eyes blinking, well-nigh shut, his lips pressed close together. He went in under the poop——The mother looked forward at the other two, Erlend and his eldest son. Then she saw Nikulaus
kneel down upon one knee, as a page does homage to his lord, take his father’s hand, and kiss it.
Erlend tore away his hand—Kristin had a glimpse of his face, deathly white, quivering, as he
turned from the boy and went behind the sail away from view——
They put into a small haven down the Möre coast that night. More sea was running now—the
galleass tugged at her land moorings, pitching and rolling. Kristin was down in the room below,
where she was to sleep with Erlend and the two little children. She felt qualmish with sickness, could
not keep her footing on the boards, which seemed to rise and sink beneath her feet; the lantern swung
over her head, the tiny candle flickered—and she stood struggling with Munan, trying to get him to
make water down between the planks. When he awoke, drugged with sleep, he would be sick or
worse in their bed; and he raged and shrieked and would not suffer that the strange woman, his
mother, should lay hands on him to help him and hold him over the side. Then Erland came down.
She could not see his face, as he asked, very low:
“Saw you Naakkve?—He was so like you in the eyes, Kristin.” Erlend drew in his breath, short and
hard. “ ’Twas so your eyes looked that morning by the wall of the nuns’ garden—when you had heard
the worst of me—and you plighted me your troth——”
It was then that she had felt the first drop of bitter gall well up in her heart. God shield the lad—
may be never see the day when he must fix his faith on a hand that lets all slip through its fingers like
cold water and dry sand——
A little while before, she had thought she heard the sound of hoofs from somewhere far south in
the hill wastes. Now it came again, from nearer by; ’twas not the noise of stray horses, ’twas some
rider; he rode sharply over the rock slabs below the hillock yonder.
Fear came over her, icy cold; who rides abroad so late? Dead men ride north under a waning moon
—heard she not horsemen following the first, far behind——? Yet she sat on; she knew not herself
whether ’twas that she was palsied, or that her heart to-night was so hardened——
He was bound hither, the rider—now he was crossing the stream below the home-pasture. She saw
the glint of a spear-head above the willow bushes. Then she found strength to come down from the
stone, and would have run back to the hut—but now the rider sprang from his horse, bound it to the
wicket-spot, and threw his cloak over it for a covering. He came up the green; ’twas a big, broad man
—and now she knew him—it was Simon.
When he saw her coming towards him in the moonlight, he seemed as affrighted as she had been
before:
“Jesus, Kristin, is’t you yourself or—how comes it you are out at dead of night——? Did you
look for me to come?” he asked quickly, as in great dread; “have you had warning of my coming?”
Kristin shook her head:
“I could not sleeps—Brother-in-law, what ails you——?”
“Andres is so sick, Kristin—we are afeard for his life. And so we thought—we know you are the
most skilful of women in such things—bear in mind he is your own sister’s son. Will you do a good
deed and go home with me to him?—You know well I would not come to you thus, but that I know
full surely the boy’s life is the stake,” he said beseechingly.
Inside the hut he said the same to Erlend, who sat up in the bed, still half asleep, in silent
wonderment. Then Erlend tried to comfort his brother-in-law, speaking as one with knowledge: such
young children so easily went off into a high fever and wandered in their talk, even if they had only
taken some little chill; mayhap there was not so much peril as there seemed. “You may well believe,
Erlend, I had never come to fetch Kristin out at such hours of the night as this, had I not seen all too
plain that the child is lying fighting with death——”
Kristin had blown up the embers and laid wood on the hearth; Simon sat staring into the fire; he
drank eagerly of the milk she proffered him, but would have no food. He had a mind to set off down
the hill as soon as the others came, “—if you are willing, Kristin?” One of his henchmen was
bringing with him a widow that served at Formo, a notable woman, who could take the charge here
for a time—Aasbjörg was a most handy woman, he said again.
When Simon had lifted Kristin to the saddle, he said:
“Fain am I that we should take the short cut southwards—if you have naught against it?”
Kristin had never been on that side of the fell, but she knew there was a path there going sheer
down into the dale over the hill-side above Formo. She answered, ay—but then his man must ride theother way, round by Jörundgaard, to fetch her casket and the bags of roots and herbs. He must waken
Gaute; the boy knew best about them.
By the edge of a wide moss they were able to ride side by side, and Kristin made Simon tell her
again of the boy’s sickness. The children at Formo had had the throat sickness about Olav’s Mass, but
had got over that lightly. This new sickness had taken hold on Andres quite of a sudden, when he
seemed in the highest health—in the middle of the day three days ago. Simon had taken him out with
him; he was to have a ride on the corn-sled down to the field—but he began to complain that he was
cold, and, when Simon looked, the child was in a shivering fit, his teeth chattering in his head. Later
came the hot fit and the cough; and he spat up an evil-looking brown slime, and had a sore pain in the
breast—but, to be sure, he could not tell them much of where he felt worst, the poor little being——
Kristin spoke to Simon as cheerly as she could, and now she had to ride for a stretch behind him.
Once he turned and asked if she were cold; he would have her to put on his mantle over her cloak
——
Then he talked again of his son. ’Twas true, he had marked it—the boy was not strong. But Andres
had grown much more hearty this summer and autumn—his foster-mother deemed so too. Ay, the
last days before he fell sick he had been a little strange and startlish—“frighted,” he said when the
dogs sprang up on him in play. And the day he took the fever Simon had come home at sunrise with
some wild-ducks. Other days the boy would ever beg his father for the birds he brought home, to play
with them awhile; but now Andres had shrieked out loud when his father had made as if to toss the
leash of birds at him. He had indeed stolen across afterward and handled the ducks, but he got some
blood upon him, and at that he grew quite wild with terror. And now to-night, as he lay moaning
sore, getting no sleep nor rest—he had cried out somewhat of a hawk that was after him——
“——Mind you that day the tidings came to me at Oslo, and you said: ‘’Twill still be the Darre
stock that will hold Formo when you are gone——’?”
“Talk not so, Simon—as though you deemed you would die sonless. God and his gentle mother
can surely help——’Tis unlike you, brother-in-law, to be so faint of heart.”
“Halfrid, my first wife, said the same to me when she had borne our son as you said at Oslo. Knew
you, Kristin, that I had a son by her?”
“Ay——But Andres is all but three years old——’Tis the first two years that are hardest to bring
children through alive——” But even to herself it seemed that her words availed little here. And they
rode, and they rode; the horses nodded as they mounted a rise, and tossed their heads so that the bits
jingled; notasound in the frosty night, save of their own riding, and at times the ripple of water as
they crossed a beck; and the moon shone high and low; and scree and greystone crag glimmered
grimly pale as death, where they rode on under the hill-sides.
At length they had come where they could look down upon the parish. Moonlight filled all the
dale; the river and the marshes and the lake farther south shone like silver—fields and meadows were
wan.
“Ay, to-night ’tis freezing in the lowlands too,” said Simon.
He got down from his horse and led hers as they went down over the edge. The path was so steep
in many places, Kristin felt she scarce dared look ahead. Simon steadied her with his back against her
knee, and she held on with one hand behind the saddle. Now and then a stone rolled from under the
horses’ hoofs, trundled downward, stopped a little, then rolled again, loosening others and carrying
them along——
At last they were down. They rode over the barley-fields north of the manor between the
rimecovered corn-stooks. The aspens crackled and pattered eerily above their heads in the bright, still
night.
“Said you sooth,” asked Simon, wiping his face with his sleeve, “that you had had no warning
——?”
Kristin answered that it was true. Then said he:
“I have heard tell that sometimes a forewarning goes forth when any one yearns sorely for another
Ramborg and I said to each other more than once that had youbeen at home youmight have known a
way——”
“None of you have been in my thoughts all these days,” said Kristin. “You must believe me,
Simon.” But she could not see that this comforted him.
In the courtyard a couple of house-carls sprang out at once and took the horses. “Ay, ’tis even as
when you went, Simon; ’tis no worse,” said one of them quickly; he had looked up at his master’sface. Simon nodded; he went in front of Kristin towards the women’s house.
Kristin saw clear enough that here was great peril of life. The little boy lay alone in the great, fine
bed, moaning and gasping and tossing his head without cease to and fro on the pillows. He was
burning hot, and dark red in the face; he lay with half-open, glistening eyes, fighting for breath. Simon
stood, holding Ramborg’s hand, and all the women of the manor, who were gathered in the room,
pressed round Kristin while she handled the boy.
But she spoke as calmly as she could, and heartened the parents as best she was able. Sure enough
’twas the lung fever. But this night was now near an end without the evil having changed for the
worse—and ’twas the way of this sickness to take a turn the third or seventh or ninth night, before
cock-crow. She prayed Ramborg to send all the serving-women to bed save two, so that she might at
all times have women, rested and fresh, to help her. And when the man came from Jörundgaard with
her leech-wife’s gear, she brewed a sweating-drink for the boy and opened a vein in his foot to draw
the humours somewhat away from his breast.
Ramborg’s face blanched at the sight of her child’s blood. Simon put an arm around her, but she
pushed the man aside and sat down on a chair by the bed-foot; there she sat gazing at Kristin with big,
black eyes, while her sister busied herself with the child.
On in the day, the boy seeming a little better, Kristin talked Ramborg over to lie down on the
bench. She heaped cushions and coverings about the young wife; sat by her head, stroking her
forehead gently. Ramborg took Kristin’s hand:
“Surely now, you wish us naught else but good?” said she in a moaning breath.
“Could I wish you aught but well, sister—we two, sister, left here in the country of our home,
alone of all our kindred——?”
Ramborg broke into sobs—a few half-choked sobs through lips pressed hard together. Kristin had
but once seen her sister weep—the time they stood by their father’s death-bed. Now a few small,
hasty tears sprang to her eyes and trickled down her cheeks. She lifted Kristin’s hand and looked upon
it. It was long and slender, but red-brown now and rough——
“Even yet ’tis fairer than mine,” she said. Ramborg’s hands were small and white, but the fingers
were short and the nails square.
“Yes,” said she, almost angrily, as Kristin shook her head, smiling. “And you are even yet fairer
than I have ever been. And our father and our mother held you dearer than me—all our days. You
wrought them sorrow and shame; I was duteous and obedient and set my heart on the man they most
fain would have me wed—yet withal ’twas you they loved much more——”
“Nay, sister. Be sure they held you every whit as dear. Be glad, Ramborg, to think you never gave
them aught but joy—you know not how heavy the other thought is to bear. But you were younger the
time when I was young; and therefore, maybe, they spoke more with me.”
“Ay, I trow that all were younger that time when you were young,” said Ramborg, sighing as
before.
She slept soon after. Kristin sat and gazed at her. She had known her sister so little; Ramborg was
yet a child when she herself was wed. And now it seemed to her that the other in some ways had never
ceased to be a child. She had looked like a child as she sat by her sick boy—a pale, frighted child,
striving to bear up against terror and unhappiness.
It befell at times that beasts stopped short in their growth if they bore young too early. Ramborg
had not been full sixteen years when she bore her daughter, and since then it seemed as though she
had never rightly taken up her growth again; she had stayed frail and small, without bloom or
fruitfulness. She had had this one son since, and he was strangely ailing—comely of face,
finefeatured and fair of hue, but piteously small and puny—he had been backward in walking, and he still
spoke haltingly, so that only those about him daily understood aught of his prattle. He was so fearful
and peevish with strangers, too, that he had scarce ever let his mother’s sister touch him till now.
Would God and Holy Olav but grant her grace to save this poor little being—oh! she would be
thankful all her days. Such a child as this mother of his was, sure it was that she could never endure
the loss of him. And she felt that for Simon Darre too ’twould be bitter hard to bear the blow well, if
this only son were taken from him——
That she had grown to love her brother-in-law heartily she marked well, now that she understood
how sorely he suffered in this sorrow and dread. She could well understand now her father’s great
love for Simon Andressön. And yet she wondered if he had not done Ramborg wrong in making suchhaste to bring about this match. For when she looked upon this little sister beside her, it came home
to her that, after all said, Simon must be both too old and too sober and heavy to be husband to this
young child.
* 8th September.