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The week went and the wedding came. Truls had not closed his eyes all that night, and before daybreak he sauntered down along the beach and gazed out upon the calm fjord, where the white-winged sea-birds whirled in great airy surges around the bare crags. Far up above the noisy throng an ospray sailed on the blue expanse of the sky, and quick as thought swooped down upon a halibut which had ventured to take a peep at the rising sun. The huge fish struggled for a moment at the water's edge, then, with a powerful stroke of its tail, which sent the spray hissing through the air, dived below the surface. The bird of prey gave a loud scream, flapped fiercely with its broad wings, and for several minutes a thickening cloud of applauding ducks and seagulls and showers of spray hid the combat from the observer's eye. When the birds scattered, the ospray had vanished, and the waters again glittered calmly in the morning sun. Truls stood long, vacantly staring out upon the scene of the conflict, and many strange thoughts whirled through his head.
"Halloo, fiddler!" cried a couple of lads who had come to clear the wedding boats, "you are early on foot to-day. Here is a scoop. Come on and help us bail the boats."
Truls took the scoop, and looked at it as if he had never seen such a thing before; he moved about heavily, hardly knowing what he did, but conscious all the while of his own great misery. His limbs seemed half frozen, and a dull pain gathered about his head and in his breast--in fact, everywhere and nowhere.
About ten o'clock the bridal procession descended the slope to the fjord. Syvert Stein, the bridegroom, trod the earth with a firm, springy step, and spoke many a cheery word to tho bride, who walked, silent and with downcast eyes, at his side. She wore the ancestral bridal crown on her head, and the little silver disks around its edge tinkled and shook as she walked. They hailed her with firing of guns and loud hurrahs as she stepped into the boat; still she did not raise her eyes, but remained silent. A small cannon, also an heir-loom in the family, was placed amidships, and Truls, with his violin, took his seat in the prow. A large solitary cloud, gold-rimmed but with thunder in its breast, sailed across the sky and threw its shadow over the bridal boat as it was pushed out from the shore, and the shadow fell upon the bride's countenance too; and when she lifted it, the mother of the bridegroom, who sat opposite her, shrank back, for the countenance looked hard, as if carved in stone--in the eyes a mute, hopeless appeal; on the lips a frozen prayer. The shadow of thunder upon a life that was opening--it was an ill omen, and its gloom sank into the hearts of the wedding guests. They spoke in undertones and threw pitying glances at the bride. Then at length Syvert Stein lost his patience.
"In sooth," cried he, springing up from his seat, "where is to-day the cheer that is wont to abide in the Norseman's breast? Methinks I see but sullen airs and ill-boding glances. Ha, fiddler, now move your strings lustily! None of your funeral airs, my lad, but a merry tune that shall sing through marrow and bone, and make the heart leap in the bosom."
Truls heard the words, and in a slow, mechanical way he took the violin out of its case and raised it to his chin. Syvert in the mean while put a huge silver beer-jug to his mouth, and, pledging his guests, emptied it even to the dregs. But the bride's cheek was pale; and it was so still in the boat that every man could hear his own breathing.
"Ha, to-day is Syvert Stein's wedding-day!" shouted the bridegroom, growing hot with wrath. "Let us try if the iron voice of the cannon can wake my guests from their slumber."
He struck a match and put it to the touch- hole of the cannon; a long boom rolled away over the surface of the waters and startled the echoes of the distant glaciers. A faint hurrah sounded from the nearest craft, but there came no response from the bridal boat. Syvert pulled the powder-horn from his pocket, laughed a wild laugh, and poured the whole contents of the horn into the mouth of the cannon.
"Now may the devil care for his own," roared he, and sprang up upon the row-bench. Then there came a low murmuring strain as of wavelets that ripple against a sandy shore. Borghild lifted her eyes, and they met those of the fiddler.
"Ah, I think I should rather be your bridegroom," whispered she, and a ray of life stole into her stony visage.
And she saw herself as a little rosy-cheeked girl sitting at his side on the beach fifteen years ago. But the music gathered strength from her glance, and onward it rushed through the noisy years of boyhood, shouting with wanton voice in the lonely glen, lowing with the cattle on the mountain pastures, and leaping like the trout at eventide in the brawling rapids; but through it all there ran a warm strain of boyish loyalty and strong devotion, and it thawed her frozen heart; for she knew that it was all for her and for her only. And it seemed such a beautiful thing, this long faithful life, which through sorrow and joy, through sunshine and gloom, for better for worse, had clung so fast to her. The wedding guests raised their heads, and a murmur of applause ran over the waters.
"Bravo!" cried the bridegroom. "Now at last the tongues are loosed."
Truls's gaze dwelt with tender sadness on the bride. Then came from the strings some airy quivering chords, faintly flushed like the petals of the rose, and fragrant like lilies of the valley; and they swelled with a strong, awakening life, and rose with a stormy fullness until they seemed on the point of bursting, when again they hushed themselves and sank into a low, disconsolate whisper. Once more the tones stretched out their arms imploringly, and again they wrestled despairingly with themselves, fled with a stern voice of warning, returned once more, wept, shuddered, and were silent.
"Beware that thou dost not play with a life!" sighed the bride, "even though it be a worthless one."
The wedding guests clapped their hands and shouted wildly against the sky. The bride's countenance burned with a strange feverish glow. The fiddler arose in the prow of the boat, his eyes flamed, he struck the strings madly, and the air trembled with melodious rapture. The voice of that music no living tongue can interpret. But the bride fathomed its meaning; her bosom labored vehemently, her lips quivered for an instant convulsively, and she burst into tears. A dark suspicion shot through the bridegroom's mind. He stared intently upon the weeping Borghild then turned his gaze to the fiddler, who, still regarding her, stood playing, with a half-frenzied look and motion.
"You cursed wretch!" shrieked Syvert, and made a leap over two benches to where Truls was standing. It came so unexpectedly that Truls had no time to prepare for defense; so he merely stretched out the hand in which he held the violin to ward off the blow which he saw was coming; but Syvert tore the instrument from his grasp and dashed it against the cannon, and, as it happened, just against the touch-hole. With a tremendous crash something black darted through the air and a white smoke brooded over the bridal boat. The bridegroom stood pale and stunned. At his feet lay Borghild-- lay for a moment still, as if lifeless, then rose on her elbows, and a dark red current broke from her breast. The smoke scattered. No one saw how it was done; but a moment later Truls, the Nameless, lay kneeling at Borghild's side.
"It WAS a worthless life, beloved," whispered he, tenderly. "Now it is at an end."
And he lifted her up in his arms as one lifts a beloved child, pressed a kiss on her pale lips, and leaped into the water. Like lead they fell into the sea. A throng of white bubbles whirled up to the surface. A loud wail rose from the bridal fleet, and before the day was at an end it filled the valley; but the wail did not recall Truls, the Nameless, or Borghild his bride.
What life denied them, would to God that death may yield them!
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Tales From Two Hemispheres -by- Hjalmar Hjorth Boysen