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from Denmark's best stories: an introduction to Danish fiction (1928) edited by Hanna Astrup Larsen The American-Scandinavian Foundation George Allen & Unwin Ltd. (London)
STEEN STEENSEN BLICHER (1782-1848) was born in Jutland as the son of a country parson. He spent ten years in Copenhagen studying, and prepared himself for the Church, but it was some time before he obtained a charge in the poorest heath district. Later he was removed to a better living, in a more fertile part of Jutland, where he remained for the rest of his life. He was very unhappily married to a woman who had attracted him by her beauty and liveliness, but who turned out a household tyrant. Blicher sought relief from the miseries of his home, partly in a most unclerical devotion to the bottle, partly by long walks over the heath with his gun and his dogs. On these hunting trips he discovered people and conditions yet unknown to literary treatment. In those days the interior of Jutland seemed very remote from the capital. The less fertile regions were sparsely peopled, but the inhabitants were a vigorous and original race. Country squires, clergymen, and peasants were masters of the land, and lived very much as their forefathers had done. Gypsies and other vagrants roamed the heath unrestrained. The author himself sometimes figures in his stories as the hunting parson, talking with peasants and gypsies envying them their freedom from conventional restraints. "The Parson at Vejlby" is based on an actual occurrence. In 1625 a clergyman, Soren Jensen Quist, was executed for a murder which, it was afterwards found, he had never committed. Blicher has, however, made very free use of his material. The moral and spiritual conflict in the minds both of victim and judge are entirely of his own devising.I Judge Erik Sorensen's Diary IN THE NAME of Our Lord, Jesus Christ! Now at last, by the will of God, and through the generosity of my dear patron, I am elevated, all unworthily, to the office of County Sheriff and Judge over this people. May He who judgeth all men vouchsafe me wisdom and grace and uprightness so to fulfill my duties that I may find favor in His sight. "Every man's judgement cometh from the Lord." Proverbs, 29, 26. ------ It is not good for man to be alone. Inasmuch as I can now keep a wife, ought I not to look about me for a helpmeet? The daughter of the pastor at Vejlby is well spoken of by all who know her. Since the death of her mother she has managed the household affairs of the parsonage with thrift and good sense; and as there are no other children with the exception of one brother, now a student at the University, it is likely that she will come into a tidy fortune when the old man passes away. ------ Morten Bruus from Ingvorstrup was here this morning and wanted to give me a fatted calf; but I remembered the warning of Moses, "Thou shalt take no gift," and refused it. This Bruus is much given to lawsuits, I am told, and is moreover contentious, and a great braggart; I will have nothing to do with him outside of my office as judge. ------ I have now taken counsel with my Heavenly Father and with my own heart, and it is clear to me that Mistress Meta Qvist is the one person with whom I wish to pass my life unto death. Yet will I observe her quietly for some time. Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain. Nevertheless, she is without a doubt the fairest woman I have seen in all my days. ------ This Morten-Bruus is to me a most odious person, though I am scarce able to say why. He somehow reminds me of a bad dream, but so hazy and indistinct is the memory that I cannot even say whether I have ever really dreamed about him. It may well be that it is an evil omen. He came here again this morning to offer me a pair of blooded horses splendid animals, dappled gray, with black manes and tails and black fetlocks. I know that he bought them separately at a cost of seventy dollars for the two. Perfectly matched as they are, the pair are well worth a hundred, yet he offered them to me for seventy. It was this very cheapness that gave me pause. Is it not a bribery? I am sure that he must have some lawsuit in mind. I do not want his dappled grays. ------ To-day I visited the pastor at Vejlby. He is a God-fearing and upright man, but hot-tempered and choleric, and intolerant of any opposition to his will. And he is close-fisted besides. When I arrived at the parsonage, there was a peasant there who wanted his tithe reduced. The fellow was a sly one, for his tithe was not too high, and Pastor Soren seemed well aware of it, for he talked to the man so that a dog would not have taken a piece of bread from his hand; and the more he scolded, the angrier he himself became.... Well, Heaven knows, every man has his faults. Qvist means no harm by his outbursts, for immediately afterwards he directed his daughter to give the man a piece of bread and butter and a good glass of beer.... She is assuredly a comely and well-behaved maiden. When she saw me, she greeted me in a manner so kindly and yet so modest that I was strangely moved, and scarce able to say a word to her. My farm steward worked at the parsonage upward of three years before he came to me. I shall question him skilfully and find out how she treats the domestics and anything else he may know of her. One may often get the most trustworthy information about people from their servants. ------ Zounds! My man Rasmus tells me that this Morten Bruus not so long ago went courting at Vejlby parsonage, but was refused. The parson was willing enough at first for Bruus is a well-to-do man but the daughter would have none of him. I understand that in the beginning her father took her sternly to task, but when he saw that she was unalterably opposed to the match, he let her have her own way. It was not pride on her part; for Rasmus says that she is as humble as she is good, and does not hesitate to admit that her own father is peasant-born as well as Bruus. ------ Now I understand what the Ingvorstrup horses were to do here in Rosmus; they were to draw me from the straight path of justice. It is a matter of Ole Andersen's peat-bog and adjoining meadow. That prize was no doubt worth the value of the horses.... Nay, nay, my good Morten, you do not know Erik Sorensen. "Thou shalt not wrest the judgement of the poor." ------ Pastor Soren of Vejlby was here for a short visit this morning. He has hired a new coachman, one Niels Bruus, brother to the Ingvorstrup farmer. This Niels, the parson complains, is a lazy fellow and impudent and quarrelsome besides. Pastor Soren wanted him punished in the stocks, but he lacks the necessary witnesses and evidence. I advised him rather to dismiss the unruly fellow at once, or else to try to get along with him somehow until his time is out. At first he answered my suggestions very shortly, but when he had heard me to the end and weighed my argument a little, he admitted the strength of my reasoning, and thanked me warmly for my advice. He is a hot-headed, quick-tempered man, but not difficult to reason with when he has had time to cool a little and compose himself. We parted very good friends indeed. Not a word was spoken about Mistress Meta. ------ This day I passed most agreeably at the Vejlby parsonage. Pastor Soren was from home when I arrived, but Mistress Meta greeted me warmly. She was spinning when I came in, and it seemed to me that she blushed deeply.... It is curious how long it took me to find some subject of conversation. When I sit on the bench in my judicial robes, I seldom lack for words; and when I cross-examine a prisoner, I can think of questions enough to ask; but before this gentle innocent child I stood as confused as a chicken-thief caught red-handed. At last it occurred to me to speak of Ole Andersen and his lawsuit, his peat-bog and meadow; and I do not know how it came about, but the talk turned from meadows to roses and violets and daisies, until finally she conducted me out into her garden to see her flowers. Thus pleasantly we passed the time until her father returned home, and then she retired into the kitchen and did not appear again until she came to bid us to supper. Just as she stepped into the doorway, her father was saying to me, "I presume it is high time for you also to enter into the state of matrimony." We had just been talking about a magnificent wed- ding which had been celebrated at Hojholm manor. Hearing this last remark, Mistress Meta blushed as red as a rose. Her father smiled slyly, and said, "One can see that you have been bending over the fire, my daughter." I have taken the good pastor's advice to heart, and, God willing, it shall not be long now before I shall go courting at the parsonage, for I consider her father's words a subtle hint that he would not be averse to having me for a son-in-law. And the daughter? Why did she blush, I wonder. Dare I take that as a favorable sign? ------ And so the poor man is to keep his peat-bog and his meadow after all.... But assuredly the decision made the rich man my mortal enemy. Before the judgement of the Court was read, Morten Bruus stood and stared scornfully at Ole Andersen. At the words, "It is the verdict of the Court," he looked around the court-room and grinned slyly, as if certain of a favorable decision. And that he was, indeed, for I was told that he had remarked, "It's foolish for that beggar to think he can win against me." Yet that is just what happened. When Bruus heard the verdict, he shut his eyes and pursed his lips together, and his face was white as chalk. But he managed to control his rage, and said to his opponent, as he went out of the court-room, "I wish you joy, Ole Andersen. Losing that peat-bog won't beggar me, and the Ingvorstrup oxen will doubtless get what hay they need elsewhere." But outside we heard him swearing to himself and cracking his whip over the horses' backs, so that it echoed and re-echoed in the woods. The office of a judge is indeed a heavy burden. He makes a new enemy with every verdict he pronounces. But if we can only keep on good terms with our own conscience ... "Endure all things for conscience's sake." ------ Yesterday was the happiest day in my whole life; my betrothal to Meta Qvist was celebrated at Vejlby parsonage. My future father-in-law spoke from the text, "I have given my maid into thy bosom," Genesis, 16, 5. He spoke very movingly of how he was giving to me his most precious treasure in this world, and of how he hoped I would be kind to her. (And that I will, so help me God!) I had scarce believed that the grave, even stern old man could be so gentle and tender. When he concluded, his eyes were filled with tears, and his lips trembled. My beloved wept like a child, especially when he referred to her sainted mother; and when he said, "Thy father and mother shall foresake thee, but the Lord shall take thee up," I too felt my eyes filling with tears, for I thought of how God had watched over me and guided me and showered me with His blessings after I had lost my own dear parents. When we had plighted our troth, my sweet bride gave me her first kiss. May God bless her! She loves me fondly. At the table the merriment was unrestrained. Many of her mother's kinsfolk were present, but none of her father's, for they are but few and live far up by the Skaw. There was food and wine in abundance, and after the tables were cleared there was dancing until well-nigh dawn. The neighboring parsons from Aalso, Lyngby, and Hyllested were all present; the last became so tipsy that he had to be put to bed. My father-in-law also drank mightily, but did not seem the worse for it; he is as strong as a giant, and could doubtless drink all the parsons in the county under the table. I noticed, too, that he thought it would be good sport to see me a little fuddled, but I took good care that he should not. I am no lover of strong drink. Our nuptials will be celebrated in six weeks. May God give His blessing thereto! ------ It is a pity that my father-in-law should have got this Niels Bruus in his service. He is a rough fellow, a worthy brother to him of Ingvorstrup. He ought to be given his wages and shown the door; that would be far better than to soil one's fingers in a fray with such a brute. But the good parson is hot-tempered and stubborn, and two hard stones don't grind well together. He is determined that Niels shall serve his time out, even though it means daily vexation for himself. The other day he gave Niels a box on the ear, whereupon the rascal threatened that "he would see to it that the parson was paid back." But to all this there were no witnesses. I had Niels up before me, and both admonished and threatened him, but I could do nothing with him. There is evil in the man. My betrothed, too, has entreated her father to rid himself of the fellow, but he will no more listen to her than to me. I scarce know how things will go when she moves from her father's roof to mine, for she shields the old man from a great deal of trouble and knows how to smooth over everything. She will be to me a tender wife, "as a fruitful vine by the side of thy house." ------ It was an unlucky business and yet lucky too, for Niels has run away. My father-in-law is angry as a German, but I rejoice silently that he has thus got rid of this dangerous person. No doubt Bruus will try to avenge his brother at the first likely opportunity, but thank Heaven we have law and order in this land, and the law will protect us. It seems that Pastor Soren had set Niels to digging in the garden. When he came out a little later to see what progress had been made, he saw, the fellow stand resting on his spade and cracking nuts which he had picked off the bushes. He had done no work at all. The parson upbraided him. Niels answered impudently that he was not to be ordered about by any one, whereupon he got a blow on the mouth. At this he flung away his spade, and berated his master foully. Then the old man's fiery temper burst out, he seized the spade, and clouted him with it over the head. He should not have done so, for a spade is a dangerous weapon, especially when lifted in anger and in the hands of a strong man. The rascal let himself fall as if he were dead, but when the parson became frightened and attempted to lift him, he jumped up, ran across the garden, leaped the hedge, and disappeared into the woods just back of the parsonage.... So my father-in-law himself described the unhappy affair. My betrothed is much distressed about it. She fears that Niels will avenge himself in some way or other that he will work some harm on the cattle, or even set fire to the house. God helping, I think there is small danger. Only three weeks more now, and then I can lead my bride into my home. She has already been here and taken stock of everything, both within and without. She seemed well pleased and complimented us on the orderliness and neatness everywhere. The only thing she seems to regret is that she will have to leave her father; and he will surely miss her. Yet I will do whatever I can to compensate him for his loss. I will exchange for his daughter my own good Aunt Gertrude, a very capable woman, alert and active for her age. My betrothed is indeed an angel! Every one speaks well of her I am sure I shall be a most happy man. God be praised! ------ What can have happened to that fellow! I wonder if he has fled the country. In any event it is a sorry tale, and people around in the parish are beginning to gossip about it. I am sure that these calumnies must have their source back in Ingvorstrup. It would be a pity for my father- in-law to hear of them.... Had he only followed my advice and rid himself of the surly fellow! For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God. Yet I am but a layman, and should not presume to rebuke one of God's servants, especially one so full of years and dignity.... We can only hope that all this talk will die away of itself. To-morrow morning I will go to Vejlby, and I shall soon learn whether he has heard aught of the slanders. The goldsmith has just been here with the pair of bracelets that I ordered; they are very handsome, and will, I am sure, give pleasure to my dear Meta. If only they fit her ... I took the measurement of her wrist hastily and in secret with a blade of grass. ------ I found my father-in-law quite depressed; indeed I have never seen him in such low spirits before. Busy tongues had already brought him some of the stupid rumors which, more is the pity, are common talk in the neighborhood. Morten Bruus is reported to have said, "The parson will have to bring back my brother Niels, even if he has to dig him up out of the ground." It may be that the fellow is in hiding at Ingvorstrup. At any rate, he is gone, and no one has seen hide or hair of him since he ran away. My poor betrothed is allowing it to prey too much on her mind; she is disturbed by portents and bad dreams. ------ Lord have mercy upon us all! I am so overwhelmed with sorrow and terror that I can scarce guide my pen; a hundred times already it has slipped from my hand. My heart is full of fear and my mind so distracted that I scarce know how to begin. The whole thing has burst upon me like a thunderbolt. Time has ceased to have any meaning for me, morning and evening are as one, and the whole terrible day is like one jagged stroke of lightning which has burned down in a moment my proud temple of hope and ambition. A venerable man of God accused of murder, in jail and in chains! Of course there is always the hope that he may be innocent, but, alas! that hope is but as a straw to the drowning, for the circumstantial evidence against him seems very heavy indeed. And to think that I, miserable wretch, should be his judge! And his daughter my promised bride! It was early yesterday morning, about half an hour before sunrise, that Morten Bruus came here to the house, bringing with him one Jens Larsen, a crofter from Vejlby, together with the widow and daughter of his former shepherd. Bruus declared to me at once his suspicion that Pastor Qvist had killed his brother Niels. I answered him that I, too, had heard gossip to that effect, but that I regarded it all as a silly and vicious slander, unworthy the attention of honest men, inasmuch as the pastor had told me that Niels had risen and run away. "Had Niels actually run away, as Parson Qvist says," Bruus retorted, "I am sure that he would have come to me at once, and told me all about the affair. But that the real cause of his continued absence is quite another, these good people" he indicated his three companions "can bear witness, and I therefore ask you, as judge, to examine them." "Bethink yourself well, Bruus," I warned him, "and you, good folk, bethink yourselves well be- fore you bring accusations against your venerable and honorable spiritual guide. If, as I strongly suspect, you are unable to prove your charges, then it will go hard with you." "Parson or no parson," Bruus cried wrathfully, "it is written, 'Thou shalt not kill,' and it is also written that the Government beareth not the sword in vain. We have law and justice in this land, and a murderer cannot escape his just punishment even if he had the governor for a son- in-law." I ignored the sneer, and replied with dignity, "Very well, be it as you will. What do you, Kirsten Madsdaughter, know of this crime of which Morten Bruus accuses your pastor? Tell me the truth, as you would tell it before the great judgement seat, and as you may be required to tell it to the Court later on." Thus admonished she told the following story: Shortly after noon of the day when Niels Bruus was said to have run away, she and her daughter, Elsa, had passed along the path outside the parsonage garden. Just as they came about midway by the stone fence which encloses the east side of the garden, they heard a voice call "Elsa!" It was Niels Bruus. He was standing just inside the hazel hedge that borders the stone fence, and had bent the bushes aside to ask Elsa if she wanted some nuts. Elsa took a handful of them, and asked him what he was doing there. He answered that the parson had told him to spade the garden, but that he would rather pick nuts; the garden could take care of itself for a while. At the same moment they heard a door slam, and Niels said, "Listen, now we're going to have a sermon." Being curious, they waited for a moment, and they soon heard the pastor and Niels brawling. One word led to another, and at last they heard the pastor cry out, "You dog, I will teach you to be impudent! You shall lie dead at my feet!" Whereupon they heard a couple of smart blows, as when one receives a slap on the mouth. At this they heard Niels Bruus revile the pastor, calling him a hangman and a coward and much besides, from which they concluded that the pastor had struck him. To all this stream of abuse the pastor answered not a word, but Kirsten and her daughter heard two dull blows, and saw the blade and part of the handle of a spade fly up in the air a couple of times; but whose hand it was that wielded the spade they were unable to see, for the hedge was thick and high. After that all was quiet within the garden, but the shepherd's widow and her daughter had become so thoroughly frightened that they hastened away to their cattle out in the pasture, The girl Elsa confirmed her mother's story in every circumstance. I asked them if they had not seen Niels Bruus come out of the garden, but they both denied this, though they assured me that they had looked back a number of times. All of this agreed completely with what the pastor had already told me. That the witnesses had not seen Niels coming out was to be explained by the fact that the woods were just as near the south side of the garden, and, according to the pastor, it was in this direction that he had fled. So, after weighing the testimony of Kirsten and her daughter, I declared to Morten Bruus that their tale threw no new light on the case, inasmuch as the pastor had already told me the whole story himself. At this Bruus smiled bitterly, and asked me to examine his third witness, which I proceeded to do. Jens Larsen, after I had admonished him as I had the first two witnesses, told the following story: Late one evening not the evening of the disappearance of Niels Bruus but, as far as he could remember, the following night, he was returning home from the neighboring hamlet of Tolstrup, and walking along the path which ran by the east side of the parsonage garden, when he heard from within the sound of some one digging. There was a bright moon that night, and, though somewhat frightened, he decided to see who it was that was digging, and what he could be doing at so unusual an hour. So he took off his wooden shoes, scrambled up the stone wall, and made a little peep-hole through the thick hedge with his hands. There in the garden, flooded in moonlight, stood the figure of the pastor in his long green robe and his white cotton nightcap. He was smoothing the surface of the ground with the back of a spade. Suddenly the pastor turned, as if conscious of being watched, and Jens Larsen, being frightened, slid hastily down the wall and ran home. Although I thought it strange that the pastor should be out in his garden at that time of night, I was still unable to find any valid grounds for suspicion of the imputed murder. This conclusion I communicated to Morten Bruus with a solemn warning, not only to retract his baseless charges, but to put an end to the rumors by a public declaration of his retraction. To this admonition Bruus merely replied, "Not until I know what the parson was doing in his garden at that hour of night." "By that time," I warned him, "it may be too late; you are gambling your honor and welfare on a very dangerous chance." "I owe that much to my brother," he rejoined. "I hope that our rightful rulers will not refuse me the aid and support of the law." Such a demand I could not ignore, and so I was forced to investigate Bruus's charges. I hastily made what preparations were necessary and, accompanied by Bruus and the three witnesses, drove over to Vejlby. Heavy of heart I was, and sore depressed, not from fear that I should find the fugitive Niels in the garden of the parsonage, but at the thought of subjecting the pastor and my betrothed to such vexation and indignity. All during the trip my thoughts dwelt on how I might make the defamer of innocence feel the full weight of the law. Ah, Thou merciful Heaven, what a shock was in store for me! I planned, as soon as I arrived, to take the pastor aside and forewarn him, thus giving him time to compose himself. But Morten anticipated me, for, as I drove up to the parsonage, he rode past me on his horse, dashed up to the door, and, as the pastor opened it, cried out: "Folks say that you killed my brother and buried him in your garden. Here's the judge come with me to search for him." This rude announcement so disconcerted the pastor that he was unable to say a word before I jumped out of my carriage, and, hurrying to him, seized his hand, and said: "Now you have heard the charge, and without palliation. I am sorry that I, as judge, am bound to do this man's bidding. But your own honor now requires that the truth be brought to light, and the mouths of the slanderers stopped." "It is indeed hard," Pastor Qvist replied, "that a man in my office should be required to refute so abominable an accusation.... But enter if you will, my garden and my house are open to you." We passed through the house and into the garden at the back. There my betrothed met us, but when she saw Bruus behind me she trembled with fear, and her eyes looked to me appealingly. "Be not alarmed, dear heart," I whispered to her hurriedly. "Go into the house, and fear nothing, your enemy is rushing headlong to his ruin." Morten Bruus led the way to the hedge over toward the east. I and the witnesses followed him, then came the pastor with his servants whom he had himself ordered to bring spades. The accuser stood still for a moment, looking around until we came up to him; then he pointed to a place on the ground, and said: "That looks as if it was dug up not so long ago. Let us begin here." "Dig, then," the pastor ordered angrily. His men set to work with their spades, but after a few moments Bruus, who was watching their progress with obvious impatience, tore the spade from the hands of one of the men and joined in the work with tremendous energy. When they had spaded about a foot beneath the surface, they came to ground so hard that it was clear it had not been disturbed recently probably not for years. All of us with one exception were vastly pleased, the pastor most of all. He began already to triumph over his accuser, and taunted him with the sneer "Well, you slanderer, did you find anything?" Bruus did not vouchsafe him an answer, but stood thoughtfully for a moment, and then, turning to Jens Larsen, asked, "Jens, where was it you saw the parson spading that night?" Jens, who had stood all this time with folded hands watching while the others worked, looked up with a start at this question. He let his gaze wander slowly around the garden, and finally pointed to a corner two or three fathoms from where we were standing. "I think it was over there," he said. "What is that, Jens?" the pastor exclaimed with some asperity. "When did you ever see me spade?" Without heeding this interruption, Morten Bruus beckoned us all over to the designated corner. He brushed away some withered cabbage stalks, branches, and other rubbish, and ordered the digging to begin at once. I stood quietly by, well satisfied with the course of events so far, discussing with my father-in-law the misdemeanor for which the accuser had made himself liable and the punishment which could be meted out to him, when one of the spaders screamed "Jesus Christ!" We glanced quickly over at them. The crown of a hat had been uncovered, and they were all staring at it in terror. "I think we'll find what we're looking for right here," Bruus said. "I know that hat well, it belonged to Niels." My blood froze in my veins, and I saw the whole structure of my life crumble to earth. "Dig, dig!" the terrible blood-avenger bawled, redoubling his own efforts. I looked over at my father-in-law; he was pale as death and trembling, but his eyes were wide open and fixed in a sort of fascination on the dreadful spot. Another scream! They had uncovered a hand stretching up at them through the earth. "Look," cried Bruus, "he is reaching up at us. Wait, brother Niels, you'll soon have your revenge." Presently the whole body was uncovered, and it proved to be that of the missing Niels, beyond any doubt. The face was scarcely recognizable the flesh had already begun to decay, and the nose was broken and smashed fiat; but the clothes, especially the shirt with Niels's name sewed on it, were immediately identified by his fellow-servants. And in the left ear they even found the leaden ring which Niels had worn constantly for several years. "Now, you man of God," Morten cried "come and lay your hand on the dead and deny your guilt if you dare." The pastor sighed deeply, and raised his eyes in a mute appeal to Heaven. "Almighty God," he said, "Thou art my witness that I am innocent of this crime. Strike him, that I did indeed, and bitterly do I repent it now. Strike him I did, but who buried him here, that Thou alone knowest." "Jens Larsen knows it too," Bruus interrupted with a sneer, "and perhaps we shall find others besides. Sir Judge" he turned to me "doubtless you will wish to examine the servants, but I demand that you first place this wolf in sheep's clothing under lock and key." Alas, Thou merciful God! no longer dared I doubt; the evidence was too plain. But I was ready to sink into the ground with horror and loathing. I was just about to tell the pastor that he would have to submit to arrest, when he himself spoke to me. He was ghostly pale, and shaking like an aspen leaf. "Appearances are against me," he admitted, "but surely this is the work of the devil himself, and I know that there is One above who will bear witness to my innocence. Come, Sir Judge, in chains and in prison will I await His disposition of me, poor sinner that I am. Comfort my daughter! Remember she is your promised wife." Scarce had he finished speaking, when we heard a moan and then a body fall behind us. We turned quickly, and I saw that it was my betrothed who had swooned and lay prone on the ground. Would to God I might have lain down beside her and neither of us ever awakened again! I lifted her up and held her in my arms, thinking she was dead; but her father tore her from my grasp, and carried her into the house. At the same moment I was called away to inspect a wound in the head of the slain man, which, though not deep, had cracked the skull, and had clearly been caused by a spade or some such blunt weapon. After this we all went into the parsonage. My betrothed had already regained consciousness, and when she saw me she rushed to me, flung her arms around my neck, and implored me by all that was sacred to save her father from the great danger which threatened him. Afterwards she begged me, for the sake of our great love, to allow her to go with him to prison, which request I granted her. I myself accompanied them to the jail at Grennaa, in what a state of mind God alone knows. During the whole of that melancholy ride none of us spoke a word, and I parted from them with a bursting heart. The body of Niels Bruus has been placed in a coffin which Jens Larsen had ready for himself, and to-morrow it will be honorably buried in Vejlby churchyard. To-morrow, too, the first witnesses will be heard.... May God strengthen my weakness! ------ Fool that I was to strive so eagerly for this office of county judge! Would that I had never obtained it! It is a dreary business to be a judge. I would fain change places with one of the talesmen! When this servant of God was led into Court this morning, his hands bound and his feet in chains, I was reminded of our Lord before the judgement seat of Pontius Pilate, and methought I heard distinctly the voice of my sweetheart alas, she is lying ill at Grennaa whisper to me: "Have thou nothing to do with that just man." Would to God that her father was such a one, but at present I cannot perceive the slightest possibility of his innocence.... Jens Larsen, the widow, and her daughter Elsa were the first witnesses. They reaffirmed on oath the entire story which they had previously told me, and that almost word for word. Nothing was retracted, nothing added. Besides these, three new witnesses appeared, Soren Qvist's two men servants and his milkmaid. The two men said that had been sitting in the servants' hall the a noon of the day of the murder, and that through the open window they had distinctly heard voices of the pastor and Niels raised in angry altercation and that they had heard the former cry out, "You dog, you shall lie dead at my feet." Their testimony, therefore, coincided with that of the widow and her daughter. They affirmed further, that they had twice before heard pastor abuse and threaten Niels, that when pastor was angry, he did not hesitate to use whatever weapon came to hand, and that he had once struck a servant with a wooden maul. The maid deposed that, on the same night when Jens Larsen had seen the pastor in the garden, she had been unable to sleep, and as she lay there wide awake she heard the door from the hall to the garden creak on its hinges. She sprang from her bed and went over to the window to see what it could be, and saw the pastor in his long robe and nightcap in the garden. She was unable to see what he was doing out there but about an hour later she heard the garden door creek again. When all the witnesses had been heard, I asked the defendant whether he had anything to say in his own defense, or whether he was prepared to make a confession. He folded his hands over his heart, and said solemnly, "I am speaking the truth, so help me God, and I swear by His holy word that I know no more of this matter than I have already confessed. I struck the deceased with a spade, he fell, sprang to his feet again, and ran out of my garden. What happened to him afterwards, or how he came to be buried in my garden, I do not know. As to the testimony of Jens Larsen and my maid at they saw me out in the garden at night, I can only say that, either they are lying, or else whole thing is a phantom from hell.... But I can clearly see that I have no one to defend here on earth, and if my Heavenly Father chooses to remain silent, then verily I know that lost, and I bow to His inscrutable will." When he had finished speaking, the old man heaved a deep sigh, and bowed his head upon his breast. Many of those who were in the court-room could not restrain their tears, while others whispered that maybe their parson was innocent after all; but this was merely the natural result of the emotions and sympathies which he had aroused. My own heart, too, argued for his innocence, but the reason of the judge cannot be swayed by the counsels or pleading of the heart; neither love nor hate, reverence nor contempt, gain nor bereavement can weigh by so much as a grain of sand in the even scales of justice. My own well-considered judgement did not allow me to conclude other than that the accused had killed Niels Bruus, though not with deliberate intent or purpose. That he had threatened Niels several times before the murder did not appear to me evidence of deliberate intent; for he had been in the habit of making threats, though he had never before been known to carry them out. The murder had no doubt been a crime of passion; that the defendant now persisted in his denial was doubtless due to the instinct of self-preservation and the desire to vindicate his honor. Morten Bruus (there is a churlish brute, ugly enough before and worse now since his brother's murder) began to talk about means to force confession from an obdurate sinner, but I shut him up quickly. God forbid that I should put so venerable a man on the rack! What is it after all but a trial of physical and mental strength; he who withstands the torture and he who succumbs to it may both be lying, and a forced confession can never be trustworthy. Nay, rather than resort to that, I would give up my office and the duties that have become so irksome to me. Alas, my poor Meta, my dearest, I have lost her in this world and yet I loved her with all my heart. ------ I have just gone through another heart-rending scene. As I sat reviewing this terrible case in my mind, trying to find some solution, the door flew open and the pastor's daughter I scarce dare call her betrothed who will never be my wife rushed in, threw herself at my feet, and embraced my knees. I lifted her into my arms, but it was some time before either of us could speak for tears. I mastered my emotion first, and said to her, "I know what you are come for, dear heart you would ask me to save your father. Alas, God have mercy on us poor mortals, I can do nothing.... Tell me, dear child, do you yourself believe your father to be innocent?" She put her hand on her heart, and said, "I do not know," and with that she began to weep again most bitterly. "Surely, he did not bury Niels in the garden," she went on, when she had recovered somewhat, "but I suppose the man died out in the woods from the blows that my father had given him alas, it must be so." "My dear girl," I said, "both Jens Larsen and your maid saw him out in the garden the following night." She shook her head slowly. "Perhaps the foul fiend may have blinded them." "Lord Jesus forbid that he should have such power over Christian folk," I replied. She began to weep again, but after a little she said, "Tell me, my affianced husband, tell me frankly, if God does not vouchsafe further light on this matter, what verdict will you pronounce?" She looked at me full of fear, and her lips trembled. "Were I not sure that any other judge would be more severe than I," I answered her, "I would resign my seat at once yea, gladly lay down my office forever. But, since you demand an answer, I dare not conceal from you that the mildest sentence decreed by the laws of both God and the king is a life for a life." At this Meta fell to her knees in despair, but in a moment she was on her feet again. She retreated a few steps, and then advanced toward me, crying, as if distracted, "Will you murder my father? Will you murder your betrothed?" She held her hand up to my eyes, "Do you see this ring?" she asked me. "Do you remember what my unhappy father said when you placed it on my finger? 'I give my maid into thy bosom' But you you pierce my bosom." Merciful God, every word she said pierced my own bosom. "Dearest child," I sighed, "say not so! You tear my heart with red-hot pincers. What is it you want me to do? Do you ask me to set free one whom the laws of God and man condemn?" She was silent for a moment, lost in thought, and I continued, "One thing I will do, and if it is wrong, then I pray God not to lay this sin to my charge. Listen, dear child. If this trial is concluded, then we both know that your father's life is forfeited. There is no escape but in flight. If you can evolve any plan of escape, I promise to shut my eyes and keep silence.... Nay more, I will give you every assistance. Look you, as soon as your father was imprisoned, I wrote to your brother in Copenhagen, and we can expect him almost any day now. When he comes, let him help you, and meanwhile try to win the jailer for your plan; if you need money, all that I have is yours." When I had spoken thus, her face flushed with hope, and she threw her arms around my neck, and cried, "God reward you for this advice! If only my brother were here now, then I know we should succeed." She stopped, and was silent a moment. "But where could we go?" she asked, "and if we were able to find refuge in some strange land, then I should never see you again." She said this so plaintively that I thought my heart would burst. "Dearest child," I consoled her, "I will find you and come to you, no matter how far you may travel. And if our resources are not sufficient for our support, then these hands of mine shall work for us all. They have wielded the axe and the plane before, and they can do it again." At this she was exceeding happy, and kissed me many times. Then we prayed together that God might see fit to further our plan, and when she left me she was buoyed up with hope. I too began to hope that we might find some way. But no sooner had Meta gone, than my spirits were assailed by a thousand doubts, and all the difficulties which seemed at the moment so easy to overcome now appeared like mountains which my weak hands could never remove. Nay, out of this darkness and terror only He to whom the night shineth as the day can lead us! ------ Morten Bruus was here this morning and announced two new witnesses with an air that boded little good for us. He has a heart as hard as flint and full of poison and gall. The new witnesses are to appear in court to-morrow, and I am as despondent as if it were myself that they were to testify against. May God give me strength! ------ All is over! He has confessed everything! The Court was convened, and the prisoner was led forth to hear the testimony of the new witnesses. They deposed: That, on the now famous night of the day after the crime, they were walking along the road that runs between the woods and the garden of the parsonage, when they saw a man emerge from the woods with a large sack on his back, walk quickly over to the garden, and disappear behind the fence. The man's face was completely concealed by the sack, but the moon shone full on his back, and they saw distinctly that he was clad in a long green robe, and that he wore a white nightcap. No sooner had the first witness completed his testimony than the pastor's face went ashen gray, and it was with the greatest difficulty that he stammered in a weak voice, "I am ill." He was given a chair and sat down heavily. Bruus turned to the spectators, and said, "That helped the parson's memory, didn't it?" The pastor either did not hear the sneer or ignored it. Instead he beckoned to me, and when I came over to him, he said, "Let me be taken back to prison. I want to talk to you." It was done as he requested. We drove off to Grennaa, the pastor riding with the jailor and the clerk, and I alone. As we opened the door to the prison, there stood my betrothed making her father's bed. On a chair at the head of the bed hung the tell-tale green robe. When she saw us entering together, she gave a cry of joy, for she concluded that her father had been freed, and that I was coming to release him from jail. She dropped the bed-covering, rushed over to her father, and flung her arms around his neck. The old man wept so that his eyes were blinded with tears. He did not have the heart to tell her what had just happened in the court-room, and instead sent her on some errands in town. Before she left us, she ran over to me, took my hand and pressed it to her heart, and whispered, "Have you good tidings?" To conceal my own confusion I kissed her on the forehead, and said merely, "Dearest, you shall know everything later on. I cannot tell yet whether what has happened is of great importance one way or the other. Go now, and fetch us what your father asked for." Alas! what a change from the time when this innocent child lived, carefree and happy, in the pleasant parsonage, to the dreary present here in this dismal prison. "Be seated, my friend," the pastor said to me as he himself sat down on the edge of the bed, folded his hands in his lap, and stared down on the floor as if lost in thought. At last he roused himself, sat up, and fastened his eyes upon me. I waited in breathless silence as if it were my own doom I was about to hear as indeed in a sense it was "I am a great sinner," he began at last, "how great I do not myself know. God alone knows, and I am firmly convinced that he wishes to punish me here in this world so that I may receive grace and eternal blessedness hereafter. Praise and glory be unto Him!" With this he seemed to gain more quietness and strength, and he proceeded as follows: "From my earliest childhood, as far back as I can remember, I have been of a quarrelsome nature, proud and hasty, impatient of opposition, and always ready to resort to blows. Yet have I seldom let the sun go down on my anger, neither have I borne malice toward any man. When I was but a half-grown boy my ungovernable temper led me to commit a deed which I have often since bitterly repented and which, even now, I cannot recall without pain. Our watch-dog, a gentle beast who had never harmed any living creature, ate up my lunch which I had for the moment laid on a chair. I flew into a rage and kicked him so hard with my wooden shoes that he died the next morning in terrible agony. That time it was only a dumb animal who was the victim of my passion, but it should have been a warning to me not to lay violent hands on any creature. Again, some years later, when I was a student at Leipzig University, I picked a quarrel with a Bursch, called out on the field of honor, and gave him a wound in the chest that came within a hair's breadth of killing him. So you see I have these many years deserved what I am now to suffer, but now my punishment falls with tenfold weight on my sinful head: An old man, a pastor and messenger of peace, and a father, O merciful God, that is the deepest wound of all!" He sprang to his feet and wrung his hands so that I could hear the joints creaking. I would have said something to console him, but could find no words. When he had regained control of himself, he sat down again, and continued, "To you, formerly my friend and now my judge, I am about to confess a crime which I can no longer doubt having committed, but which I still do not fully understand." I started in surprise and wondered what he meant, for I had prepared myself for a full and open confession. "I want you to pay the closest attention to what I am about to relate," he continued, "and try to understand me. I have already confessed all that I know: that I struck Niels with a spade whether with the edge or the flat side I cannot remember and that he fell down, jumped up, and ran away into the woods. The rest, alas! has been told by four witnesses: that the boy died in the woods, and that I fetched the body and buried it in my garden the following night. And though of all this I know nothing myself, I am forced to accept it as the truth, and you shall hear my reasons. "On three or four occasions earlier in my life I have walked in my sleep. The last time I know of having done this was some nine or ten years ago; it was the night before I was to hold funeral services for a man who had met a very sudden and painful death. I remember it all distinctly.... remember that I was at a loss for a suitable text, when the words of one of the Greek philosophers occurred to me: 'Call no man happy before he is dead.' But to use a heathen text for a Christian service would never do, and I was sure at I should be able to find the same idea somewhere in the Bible. I hunted diligently, but without success, and since I was already tired from other work, I undressed and went to bed, and soon fell asleep. The next morning when I went my study to find a proper text and outline my talk, I was dumbfounded to see, lying on my desk, a piece of paper with the words: 'Call no man happy until his days are told,' written in large clear letters. But this was not all; beside it lay a funeral sermon, brief but well-constructed and in my own handwriting. No one had been in room. The door was bolted on the inside because the lock was worn and easily sprang open. No one had come through the window, for it was frozen fast to the casement. I had composed and written the whole thing in my sleep. "Nor is this the only instance of its kind. It was indeed but a few months previous to this that I had, while sound asleep, gone into the church to fetch a handkerchief which I distinctly remember having left on my chair behind the altar. "And now, my friend, it must all be plain to you. When the first witness was giving his testi- mony this morning in court, I suddenly remembered these earlier occasions of walking in my sleep, and I remembered, too, another incident which, until that moment, had completely slipped, my mind: when I awoke on the second day after the flight of Niels I found my green robe, which I always hang over the back of a chair beside my bed, lying on the floor.... The poor victim of my ungovernable temper must have fallen dead in the woods, and I must have found him there, brought him to my garden, and buried him all in my sleep. Yes, God have mercy upon me, it must be so." He ceased speaking, and buried his face in his hands. As for me, I was utterly astounded and full of misgivings. I had from the beginning believed that the murdered man had died on the spot where he was attacked, and that the pastor had hastily covered him over with some dirt though how he was able to do this in broad daylight without being seen was a mystery to me and later had buried the body deeper in the ground. Now the last witnesses had just testified that they saw the pastor carrying a sack from the woods. This struck me as most extraordinary, and it had occurred to me at once that their testimony might conflict with our earlier version of the case, and the man's innocence thus be demonstrated. But now, alas, all the facts fitted together only too well, and his guilt was established beyond the shadow of a doubt. Only the curious aspect which his sleep-walking had given the case continued to perplex me. That he had committed the murder was certain, but whether the last and the less important half of the crime was carried out in a waking or a sleeping condition remained a puzzle to me. The pastor's whole conduct, his testimony in court, all bore the hallmark of truth; yea, for truth's sake he sacrificed his last hope of life. Yet perhaps he still hoped to preserve a certain remnant of honor; or, on the other hand, perhaps he was really telling the truth. Such spells of sleep-walking are not unknown, nor is it beyond the realm of possibility that a man who was mortally wounded could have run as far as Niels must.... The pastor paced quickly to and fro, then stopped in front of me. "You have now heard my full confession," he said, "and I know that your lips will be forced to pronounce sentence on me and to condemn me, but tell me, what says your heart?" "My heart," I replied, though I could scarce speak for pity, "my heart bleeds for you, and it would gladly cease beating at this moment could it thus save you from a shameful and terrible death." Our last resort flight I dared not even mention. "You cannot save me," he said hurriedly. "My life is forfeited, my death just, and I shall serve as a terrible warning to succeeding generations.... But promise that you will not abandon my poor daughter.... I had hoped, once, to give her to you in marriage." At this the tears welled up in his eyes, but he mastered his emotion, and continued, "That hope I have myself destroyed, for you cannot wed the daughter of a malefactor! But promise me that you will take care of her as a second father." Mournfully I gave him my hand. "I presume you have not heard from my son of late?" the pastor continued when we had both recovered our composure. "I hope that he may remain in ignorance of this misery until it is all over, for I do not think I could bear to see him." He buried his face in his hands, turned and rested his forehead against the wall, and sobbed like a child. It was some time before he was able to speak. "Now, my friend, leave me and let us not see each other again until we meet in the house of stern justice. And then give me one last token of your friendship let my sentence be pronounced soon, to-morrow if possible, for verily I long for death. I hope that through the grace and the infinite mercy of Christ it will mean but the beginning of a happier life than this, which is now one long night of anguish and terror. Farewell, my kind and sympathetic judge, let me be brought before you to-morrow. And send at once for my friend Pastor Jens in Aalso, for I want him to minister the last sacrament to me. Farewell, God bless you and preserve you." He averted his face, but stretched forth his hand to me. I stumbled out of the prison, scarce knowing what I did. I should perhaps have ridden home without speaking to the daughter, had she not been awaiting me outside the prison wall. She must have read the death sentence in my face, for she paled and seized my arm. She looked at me imploringly, as if begging for her own life, but could not ask or dared not. "Fly, fly save your father!" was all that I could say. I threw myself on my horse, and was home before I knew it. To-morrow, then... ------ The sentence has been pronounced, and the guilty man heard it with greater fortitude and composure than his judge possessed. Every one in court, with the exception of his obdurate enemy, showed the most profound sympathy for the condemned, and there were those who whispered that it was a cruel sentence. Yea, cruel it is indeed, for it deprives one man of his life and three others of their happiness and peace of mind forever. May the merciful God judge me more leniently than I, poor sinner, dare judge my fellow-man. ------ This morning she was here and found me sick in bed. There is no longer any hope. He refuses to escape. Everything was arranged. The jailor had been won over. A fisherman, a nephew of her mother, had promised to transport them all to Sweden, and had his fishing smack in readiness; but the repentant sinner was not to be persuaded. He will not flee from the sword of righteousness, for he is firmly convinced that through his own death and his Savior's, he will find salvation here after... She left me as unhappy as she came, but without a single unkind word. God help her, poor child, how will she ever live through the terrible day! And here I lie, sick in body and in soul, unable to give comfort or aid.... Her brother has not yet arrived. Farewell, bride of my heart! Farewell, in this dreary world until we meet again in a better one.... May it not be long, for I am wearied of this life and ready for death. Would that I might pass over the border ahead of him whom stern duty forces me to send thither. "Farewell, my beloved," she said to me. "I leave you without bitterness, for I know that you did only what was your stern duty; but farewell, now, for we two can never meet again." She made the sign of peace over me, and left me. Merciful God, where will she go? What are her plans? Her brother is not yet here and tomorrow at Ravens' Hill...' ************************* * * The knoll on Aalso * meadow just outside of * Grennaa, where Pastor * Soren Qvist was beheaded, * is still called Ravnhoj * (Raven's Hill). * - note from 1928 ed. ************************** (At this point the Diary of Judge Erik Sorensen comes to abrupt end. For the elucidation and exposition of this terrible tragedy we can refer to the written account of the parish pastor at Aalso, neighbor and friend of the lamented Soren Qvist, which follows below.) II The Narrative of the Aalso Pastor In the seventeenth year of my pastorate there occurred in this neighborhood an event which filled all men with terror and consternation and reflected shame and disgrace upon the cloth. The pastor at Vejlby, the Reverend Soren Qvist, in a moment of anger killed his coachman and buried him at night in his garden. He was duly tried in the regular court, and, after hearing the damning testimony of several witnesses, confessed the dreadful crime, and was sentenced to be beheaded. This sentence was carried out here in Aalso meadow in the presence of thousands of spectators. The condemned man, whose spiritual adviser I had formerly been, requested that I be allowed to visit him in prison and bring him the solace of religion, and I can truthfully say that I never administered the last sacrament to a more repentant and believing Christian. He confessed with deepest contrition that he had hardened his heart and been as a child of wrath, for which God had humbled him deeply and covered him with shame and bowed him with sorrow, that he might again be raised up through Christ. He maintained his composure to the very end, and, standing on the scaffold, spoke to the assembled throng a few words full of power and grace, which he had composed during his imprisonment. His homily dealt with anger and its terrible consequences, and was replete with moving reference to himself and the great sin into which his anger had led him. His text he took from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, chapter two, sixth verse, "The Lord hath despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest." Upon the conclusion of his moving discourse, he disrobed, tied the cloth before his eyes, and knelt down with folded hands, and as I said the words "Verily I say unto thee, to-day shalt thou be with me in paradise," the sword fell, and his head was severed from his body. That which made death most bitter to him was the thought of leaving his two children. The elder, a son, was away at the time of the execution and only arrived in the evening of the day on which his father paid the supreme penalty. The daughter who, to the still more heartrending woe of herself and her lover, had been affianced to the judge who sentenced him I took home with me, more dead than alive, after she had said a last farewell to her father. When I returned home from what was the most painful duty of my whole life, I found her fairly composed, and busied with preparing her father's shroud for it was permitted him to be buried in consecrated ground if the interment were conducted in quiet and privacy. She no longer wept, but neither did she speak. I too was silent, for what indeed was I to say to her, I who was myself bowed down with sorrow and foreboding? About an hour after my return home, my carriage arrived with the body, and shortly afterwards a young man on horseback dashed into the yard. It was the son, whom we had thought in Copenhagen, but who had been all this time in Lund. He threw himself upon his father's body, and thereafter into his sister's arms; brother and sister clasped each other in a long embrace, but neither of them was able to say a word. That afternoon a grave was dug hard by the side door of Aalso church, and there, at midnight, were laid the last mortal remains of the former Vejlby pastor. A stone with a simple cross, which I had earlier prepared for myself, marks the grave, and reminds every church-goer of the sinfulness of man and his ultimate salvation through the Cross of Christ.' ************************ * * This marker is still * standing in the Aalso * churchyard. * - note from 1928 ed. ************************ The next morning both the children had disappeared, and no one has since been able to discover any trace of them. God alone knows in what secluded corner they have hidden themselves from the world. The county judge continues to ail and is not expected to live. I myself am sore afflicted by sorrow and anguish, and I feel that death would be the greatest boon to all of us together. We are in the hands of God. May he suffer us to be governed by His wisdom and His mercy. ------ Lord, how inscrutable are Thy ways! In the thirty-eighth year of my pastorate, and just twenty-one years after my brother pastor, the Reverend Soren Qvist of Vejlby, was sentenced to death and beheaded for the murder of one of his servants, it happened that a beggar came to my door. He was an elderly man with grizzled hair, and walked with the aid of a crutch. None of the maids were present at the time, so I went out into the kitchen myself to give him a bite to eat, and, while he was munching his bread, I asked him whence he came. He sighed, and replied, "From nowhere." I then asked him his name. He looked timidly around, and said, "They used to call me Niels Bruus." I felt a cold shiver run down my spine, and said to him, "That is an ugly name; a fellow of that name was murdered here about a score of years ago." He sighed even more deeply, as he muttered, "I ought to have died then; it has gone badly with me ever since I left this country." I could feel my hair stand on end, and I shook with terror; for now it seemed to me that I recognized him, and further, it was as if I saw standing before me the living image of Morten Bruus whom I had buried three years earlier. I started back and made the sign of the cross, for I thought that this must be a ghost. My visitor seated himself heavily on the edge of the fire-place, and said, "Alack-a-day, parson, I hear my brother Morten is dead. I went to the farm at Ingvorstrup, but the new owner didn't know me and drove me away.... Is my old master, the Vejlby parson, still alive?" Then suddenly the scales fell from my eyes, and I understood the meaning of this whole miserable affair; but I was so profoundly shocked that I quite lost the power of speech for several minutes. "Heigh-ho," he was saying, as he greedily ate his bread, "it was all Morten's fault. But did any harm befall the old parson?" "Niels, Niels," I cried, full of horror and loathing, "you have a bloody crime on your conscience. On your account an innocent man lost his life at the hands of the executioner." The beggar started back so that he almost fell into the fire; the bread dropped from his hands, and his crutch rattled to the floor. "God forgive you, Morten," he groaned, "God forgive you and me, but it was none of my doing.... But tell me," he looked at me appealingly, "it's not true? You're only trying to scare me. I have come here from far on thee other side of Hamburg, and not a word of this have I heard on the way. No one has known me, except you, parson, but when I passed through Vejlby I asked if the pastor was still alive, and they said Yes." "That is the new pastor," I told him, "not he whom you and your wicked brother did to death." At this the poor fellow began to wring his hands and moan and whimper with such evident sincerity that I could clearly see that he had been but a blind tool in the hands of the devil. He even aroused my pity, and I invited him into my study, where I spoke to him a few words of comfort until he was somewhat quieted, and was able to tell me, brokenly, the whole story of their hellish machinations. The brother Morten a man of Belial had conceived a deadly hatred of Pastor Soren Qvist at Vejlby from the day that the pastor had refused him his daughter in marriage. When therefore the pastor rid himself of his coachman, Morten told his brother Niels to seek the position. "And have a care now," he told Niels, "when the chance comes we'll play a trick on the black man, and you shan't be the loser by it." Niels, who was rough and stubborn by nature and was egged on by Morten, was soon quarrelling with his master, and the first time the pastor struck him he hurried over to tell his brother at Ingvorstrup. "Just let him strike you once more," Morten said, "and he shall pay dear for it. If he does, you come to me and tell me at once." It was shortly after this conversation that Niels picked a quarrel with the pastor out in the garden, and when the pastor had felled him with a blow from the spade, he ran without delay to Ingvorstrup. The brothers met outside the farmhouse, and Niels told Morten what had just happened in the parsonage garden. "Did any one see you on your way over here?" Morten asked him. Niels thought not. "Then," said Morten, "we will give the parson a fright that he won't recover from for a fortnight." Morten then led Niels by a secluded way to the farmhouse and concealed him there until night. As soon as every one was in bed, the brothers stole forth to a corner in the meadow where, two days earlier, they had buried the body of a youth about the age, size, and general appearance of Niels. (He had worked at Ingvorstrup, and hanged himself in his room, some said in desperation over Bruus's tyranny; others, in grief over an unhappy love affair.) This body the brothers now dug up, despite the protest of Niels, and carried back to the farmhouse which was nearby. Then Niels was compelled to take off all his clothes, and the dead body was dressed in them, piece for piece, even to Niels's earring. When this work was completed, Morten gave the corpse a blow on the face with a heavy spade, and one over the temple, and then threw the body into a sack until the following evening, when they carried it into the woods just outside the parsonage at Vejlby. Time and again, Niels assured me, he asked his brother what all this ado was about, but the latter always replied, "That is none of your affair; you leave all that to me." Now when they were come to the woods, Morten said to him: "Run over and fetch me one of the parson's gowns try to find the long green robe I have seen him go around with in the morning." "I dare not," Niels replied, "his clothes are all hanging in his bedroom." "Then I dare," said Morten, "and I will do without you. Now you go away at once, and never show your face here again." He drew a bag from his pocket. "Here is a purse with a hundred dollars; that ought to last you until you to the South but remember far away where no one will know you or recognize you. Take another name, and never set foot on Danish soil again. Travel by night, and hide in the forests by day. Here is a bag with food enough for you until you get out of the Kingdom.... Now don't come back if you value your life." Niels, who was accustomed to obeying his brother, did as he was told, and there the brothers parted, nor did they ever see each other again. Niels had suffered much in foreign lands. In Germany he was conscripted for the army and served in many campaigns in which he lost his health. Poor, weak, and miserable, he resolved to revisit his birthplace before he died, and after encountering much hardship and suffering he had managed to make his way back to this neighborhood. Such, in brief, was the story which this unhappy wretch told me, and I was forced to accept its veracity. Thus it was revealed to me that my unfortunate brother pastor had fallen as a sacrifice to the infamous villainy of his mortal enemy, to the delusion of his judge and the witnesses, and to his own too ready self-deception. What, indeed, is man that he dare set himself up to judge his fellow-men! Who dares say to his brother, "Thou art deserving of death!" Judge not, that ye be not judged. Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord. Only He who gives life can take it away. And may He compensate you for the bitter martyrdom which you suffered here with the gift of everlasting life! I did not feel disposed to surrender this broken and repentant sinner to the law, all the less as the judge, Erik Sorensen, was still living, and it would have been cruel to let him know of his terrible mistake, before he left this world for one where all things are to be revealed. Instead, I strove to give the returned prodigal the solace of religion, and exhorted him by all that was sacred to conceal his real name and the real story of the Vejlby crime from every one. On this condition I promised him a refuge and care at the home of my brother, who lives far away from here. The next day was a Sunday. When I returned home late that evening from my parish of ease, I found that my beggar had gone, and before the evening of the following day his story was known all over the neighborhood. Driven by his uneasy conscience, he had hurried over to Rosmus and there revealed himself as the real Niels Bruus before the judge and all his household. The judge was so deeply affected that he suffered a stroke and died before the week was out. And on Tuesday morning they found Niels Bruus lying dead outside the door of Aalso church, across grave of the sainted Soren Qvist.
THE PARSON AT VEJLBY
by Steen Steensen Blicher (1782-1848)