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Why should I speak of the ceaseless care, the suffering, and the hard toil, which made the first few months of Brita's life on this continent a mere continued struggle for existence? They are familiar to every emigrant who has come here with a brave heart and an empty purse. Suffice it to say that at the end of the second month, she succeeded in obtaining service as milkmaid with a family in the neighborhood of New York. With the linguistic talent peculiar to her people, she soon learned the English language and even spoke it well. From her countrymen, she kept as far away as possible, not for her own sake, but for that of her boy; for he was to grow great and strong, and the knowledge of his birth might shatter his strength and break his courage. For the same reason she also exchanged her picturesque Norse costume for that of the people among whom she was living. She went commonly by the name of Mrs. Brita, which pronounced in the English way, sounded very much like Mrs. Bright, and this at last became the name by which she was known in the neighborhood.
Thus five years passed; then there was a great rage for emigrating to the far West, and Brita, with many others, started for Chicago. There she arrived in the year 1852, and took up her lodgings with an Irish widow, who was living in a little cottage in what was then termed the outskirts of the city. Those who saw her in those days, going about the lumber-yards and doing a man's work, would hardly have recognized in her the merry Glitter-Brita, who in times of old trod the spring-dance so gayly in the well-lighted halls of the Blakstad mansion. And, indeed, she was sadly changed! Her features had become sharper, and the firm lines about her mouth expressed severity, almost sternness. Her clear blue eyes seemed to have grown larger, and their glance betrayed secret, ever-watchful care. Only her yellow hair had resisted the force of time and sorrow; for it still fell in rich and wavy folds over a smooth white forehead. She was, indeed, half ashamed of it, and often took pains to force it into a sober, matronly hood. Only at nights, when she sat alone talking with her boy, she would allow it to escape from its prison; and he would laugh and play with it, and in his child's way even wonder at the contrast between her stern face and her youthful maidenly tresses.
This Thomas, her son, was a strange child. He had a Norseman's taste for the fabulous and fantastic, and although he never heard a tale of Necken or the Hulder, he would often startle his mother by the most fanciful combinations of imagined events, and by bolder personifications than ever sprung from the legendary soil of the Norseland. She always took care to check him whenever he indulged in these imaginary flights, and he at last came to look upon them as something wrong and sinful. The boy, as he grew up, often strikingly reminded her of her father, as, indeed, he seemed to have inherited more from her own than from Halvard's race. Only the bright flaxen hair and his square, somewhat clumsy stature might have told him to be the latter's child. He had a hot temper, and often distressed his mother by his stubbornness; and then there would come a great burst of repentance afterwards, which distressed her still more. For she was afraid it might be a sign of weakness. "And strong he must be," said she to herself, "strong enough to overcome all resistance, and to conquer a great name for himself, strong enough to bless a mother who brought him into the world nameless."
Strange to say, much as she loved this child, she seldom caressed him. It was a penance she had imposed upon herself to atone for her guilt. Only at times, when she had been sitting up late, and her eyes would fall, as it were, by accident upon the little face on the pillow, with the sweet unconsciousness of sleep resting upon it like a soft, invisible veil, would she suddenly throw herself down over him, kiss him, and whisper tender names in his ear, while her tears fell hot and fast on his yellow hair and his rosy countenance. Then the child would dream that he was sailing aloft over shining forests, and that his mother, beaming with all the beauty of her lost youth, flew before him, showering golden flowers on his path. These were the happiest moments of Brita's joyless life, and even these were not unmixed with bitterness; for into the midst of her joy would steal a shy anxious thought which was the more terrible because it came so stealthily, so soft-footed and unbidden. Had not this child been given her as a punishment for her guilt? Had she then a right to turn God's scourge into a blessing? Did she give to God "that which belongeth unto God," as long as all her hopes, her thoughts, and her whole being revolved about this one earthly thing, her son, the child of her sorrow? She was not a nature to shrink from grave questions; no, she met them boldly, when once they were there, wrestled fiercely with them, was defeated, and again with a martyr's zeal rose to renew the combat. God had Himself sent her this perplexing doubt and it was her duty to bear His burden. Thus ran Brita's reasoning. In the mean while the years slipped by, and great changes were wrought in the world about her.
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Tales From Two Hemispheres -by- Hjalmar Hjorth Boysen