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Warm and gentle as it is, June often comes to the fjord-valleys of Norway with the voice and the strength of a giant. The glaciers totter and groan, as if in anger at their own weakness, and send huge avalanches of stones and ice down into the valleys. The rivers swell and rush with vociferous brawl out over the mountain- sides, and a thousand tiny brooks join in the general clamor, and dance with noisy chatter over the moss-grown birch-roots. But later, when the struggle is at an end, and June has victoriously seated herself upon her throne, her voice becomes more richly subdued and brings rest and comfort to the ear and to the troubled heart. It was while the month was in this latter mood that Brita and her son entered once more the valley whence, twenty-five years ago, they had fled. Many strange, turbulent emotions stirred the mother's bosom, as she saw again the great snow-capped mountains, and the calm, green valley, her childhood's home, lying so snugly sheltered in their mighty embrace. Even Thomas's breast was moved with vaguely sympathetic throbs, as this wondrous scene spread itself before him. They soon succeeded in hiring a farm-house, about half an hour's walk from Blakstad, and, according to Brita's wish, established themselves there for the summer. She had known the people well, when she was young, but they never thought of identifying her with the merry maid, who had once startled the parish by her sudden flight; and she, although she longed to open her heart to them, let no word fall to betray her real character. Her conscience accused her of playing a false part, but for her son's sake she kept silent.
Then, one day,--it was the second Sunday after their arrival,--she rose early in the morning, and asked Thomas to accompany her on a walk up through the valley. There was Sabbath in the air; the soft breath of summer, laden with the perfume of fresh leaves and field-flowers, gently wafted into their faces. The sun glittered in the dewy grass, the crickets sung with a remote voice of wonder, and the air seemed to be half visible, and moved in trem- bling wavelets on the path before them. Resting on her son's arm, Brita walked slowly up through the flowering meadows; she hardly knew whither her feet bore her, but her heart beat violently, and she often was obliged to pause and press her hands against her bosom, as if to stay the turbulent emotions.
"You are not well, mother," said the son. "It was imprudent in me to allow you to exert yourself in this way."
"Let us sit down on this stone," answered she. "I shall soon be better. Do not look so anxiously at me. Indeed, I am not sick."
He spread his light summer coat on the stone and carefully seated her. She lifted her veil and raised her eyes to the large red-roofed mansion, whose dark outlines drew themselves dimly on the dusky background of the pine forest. Was he still alive, he whose life-hope she had wrecked, he who had once driven her out into the night with all but a curse upon his lips? How would he receive her, if she were to return? Ah, she knew him, and she trembled at the very thought of meeting him. But was not the guilt hers? Could she depart from this valley, could she die in peace, without having thrown herself at his feet and implored his for- giveness? And there, on the opposite side of the valley, lay the home of him who had been the cause of all her misery. What had been his fate, and did he still remember those long happy summer days, ah! so long, long ago? She had dared to ask no questions of the people with whom she lived, but now a sudden weakness had overtaken her, and she felt that to-day must decide her fate; she could no longer bear this torture of uncertainty. Thomas remained standing at her side and looked at her with anxiety and wonder. He knew that she had concealed many things from him, but whatever her reasons might be, he was confident that they were just and weighty. It was not for him to question her about what he might have no right to know. He felt as if he had never loved her as in this moment, when she seemed to be most in need of him, and an overwhelming tenderness took possession of his heart. He suddenly stooped down, took her pale, thin face between his hands and kissed her. The long pent-up emotion burst forth in a flood of tears; she buried her face in her lap and wept long and silently. Then the church-bells began to peal down in the valley, and the slow mighty sound floated calmly and solemnly up to them. How many long-forgotten memories of childhood and youth did they not wake in her bosom --memories of the time when the merry Glitter- Brita, decked with her shining brooches, wended her way to the church among the gayly-dressed lads and maidens of the parish?
A cluster of white-stemmed birches threw its shadow over the stone where the penitent mother was sitting, and the tall grass on both sides of the path nearly hid her from sight. Presently the church-folk began to appear, and Brita raised her head and drew her veil down over her face. No one passed without greeting the strangers, and the women and maidens, according to old fashion, stopped and courtesied. At last, there came an old white-haired man, leaning on the arm of a middle-aged woman. His whole figure was bent forward, and he often stopped and drew his breath heavily.
"Oh, yes, yes," he said, ill a hoarse, broken voice, as he passed before them, "age is gaining on me fast. I can't move about any more as of old. But to church I must this day. God help me! I have done much wrong and need to pray for forgiveness."
"You had better sit down and rest, father," said the woman. "Here is a stone, and the fine lady, I am sure, will allow a weak old man to sit down beside her."
Thomas rose and made a sign to the old man to take his seat.
"O yes, yes," he went on murmuring, as if talking to himself. "Much wrong--much forgiveness. God help us all--miserable sinners. He who hateth not father and mother--and daughter is not worthy of me. O, yes--yes-- God comfort us all. Help me up, Grimhild. I think I can move on again, now."
Thomas, of course, did not understand a word of what he said, but seeing that he wished to rise, he willingly offered his assistance, supported his arm and raised him.
"Thanks to you, young man," said the peasant. "And may God reward your kindness."
And the two, father and daughter, moved on, slowly and laboriously, as they had come. Thomas stood following them with his eyes, until a low, half-stifled moan suddenly called him to his mother's side. Her frame trembled violently.
"Mother, mother," implored he, stooping over her, "what has happened? Why are you no more yourself?"
"Ah, my son, I can bear it no longer," sobbed she. "God forgive me--thou must know it all."
He sat down at her side and drew her closely up to him and she hid her face on his bosom. There was a long silence, only broken by the loud chirruping of the crickets.
"My son," she began at last, still hiding her face, "thou art a child of guilt."
"That has been no secret to me, mother," answered he, gravely and tenderly, "since I was old enough to know what guilt was."
She quickly raised her head, and a look of amazement, of joyous surprise, shone through the tears that veiled her eyes. She could read nothing but filial love and confidence in those grave, manly features, and she saw in that moment that all her doubts had been groundless, that her long prayerful struggle had been for naught.
"I brought thee into the world nameless," she whispered, "and thou hast no word of reproach for me?"
"With God's help, I am strong enough to conquer a name for myself, mother," was his answer.
It was the very words of her own secret wish, and upon his lips they sounded like a blessed assurance, like a miraculous fulfillment of her motherly prayer.
"Still, another thing, my child," she went on in a more confident voice. "This is thy native land,--and the old man who was just sitting here at my side was--my father."
And there, in the shadow of the birch-trees, in the summer stillness of that hour, she told him the story of her love, of her flight, and of the misery of these long, toilsome five and twenty years.
Late in the afternoon, Brita and her son were seen returning to the farm-house. A calm, subdued happiness beamed from the mother's countenance; she was again at peace with the world and herself, and her heart was as light as in the days of her early youth. But her bodily strength had given out, and her limbs almost refused to support her. The strain upon her nerves and the constant effort had hitherto enabled her to keep up, but now, when that strain was removed, exhausted nature claimed its right. The next day--she could not leave her bed, and with every hour her strength failed. A physician was sent for. He gave medicine, but no hope. He shook his head gravely, as he went, and both mother and son knew what that meant.
Toward evening, Bjarne Blakstad was summoned, and came at once. Thomas left the room, as the old man entered, and what passed in that hour between father and daughter, only God knows. When the door was again opened, Brita's eyes shone with a strange brilliancy, and Bjarne lay on his knees before the bed, pressing her hand convulsively between both of his.
"This is my son, father," said she, in a language which her son did not understand; and a faint smile of motherly pride and happiness flitted over her pale features. "I would give him to thee in return for what thou hast lost; but God has laid his future in another land."
Bjarne rose, grasped his grandson's hand, and pressed it; and two heavy tears ran down his furrowed cheeks. "Alas," murmured he, "my son, that we should meet thus."
There they stood, bound together by the bonds of blood, but, alas, there lay a world between them.
All night they sat together at the dying woman's bedside. Not a word was spoken. Toward morning, as the sun stole into the darkened chamber, Brita murmured their names, and they laid their hands in hers.
"God be praised," whispered she, scarcely audibly, "I have found you both--my father and my son." A deep pallor spread over her countenance. She was dead.
Two days later, when the body was laid out, Thomas stood alone in the room. The windows were covered with white sheets, and a subdued light fell upon the pale, lifeless countenance. Death had dealt gently with her, she seemed younger than before, and her light wavy hair fell softly over the white forehead. Then there came a middle-aged man, with a dull eye, and a broad forehead, and timidly approached the lonely mourner. He walked on tip-toe and his figure stooped heavily. For a long while he stood gazing at the dead body, then he knelt down at the foot of the coffin, and began to sob violently. At last he arose, took two steps toward the young man, paused again, and departed silently as he had come. It was Halvard.
Close under the wall of the little red-painted church, they dug the grave; and a week later her father was laid to rest at his daughter's side.
But the fresh winds blew over the Atlantic and beckoned the son to new fields of labor in the great land of the future.
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Tales From Two Hemispheres -by- Hjalmar Hjorth Boysen