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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesO. T., A Danish Romance - Chapter 13
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O. T., A Danish Romance - Chapter 13 Post by :twoelfling Category :Long Stories Author :Hans Christian Andersen Date :May 2012 Read :2665

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O. T., A Danish Romance - Chapter 13

CHAPTER XIII

"The heat-lark warbles forth his sepulchral melodies."
S. S. BLICHER.


The peninsula of Jutland possesses nothing of the natural beauty which Zealand and Funen present--splendid beeches and odoriferous clover-fields in the neighborhood of the salt sea; it possesses at once a wild and desolate nature, in the heath-covered expanses and the far-stretching moors. East and west are different; like the green, sappy leaf, and grayish white sea-weed on the sea shore. From the Woods of Marselisborg to the woods south of Coldinger Fjord, is the land rich and blooming; it is the Danish Nature in her greatness. Here rises the Heaven Mountain, with its wilderness of coppice and heather; from here you gaze over the rich landscape, with its woods and lakes, as far down as the roaring Cattegat.

The western coast, on the contrary, lies without a tree, without bushes, with nothing but white sand-hills stretching along the roaring ocean, which scourges the melancholy coast with sand-storms and sharp winds. Between these contrasts, which the east and west coasts present, the Hesperides and Siberia, lies the vast heath which stretches itself from the Lyneborg sand to the Skagen's reef. No hedge shows here the limits of possession. Among the crossing tracks of carriage wheels must thou seek thy way. Crippled oaks, with whitish-green moss overgrown to the outermost branches, twist themselves along the ground, as if fearing storms and the sea-mist. Here, like a nomadic people, but without flocks, do the so-called Tartar bands wander up and down, with their peculiar language and peculiar ceremonies. Suddenly there shows itself in the interior of the heathy wilderness a colony--another, a strange people, German emigrants, who through industry compel the meagre country to fruitfulness.

From Veile, Otto wished to take the road through Viborg, as the most direct and the shortest to his grandfather's estate, which lay between Nisumfjord and Lemvig.

The first heath-bushes accosted him as dear friends of his childhood. The beautiful beech-woods lay behind him, the expanse of heath began; but the heath was dear to him: it was this landscape which formed the basis of many dear recollections.

The country became ever higher with brown heights, beyond which nothing was visible; houses and farms became more rare, the cherry orchards transformed themselves into cabbage-gardens. Only single spots were free from heather, and here grew grass, but short, and like moss or duckweed which grows upon ponds: here birds congregated by hundreds, and fluttered twittering into the air as the carriage drove past.

"You know where to find the green spot in the heath, and how to become happy through it," sighed Otto. "Could I only follow your example!"

At a greater distance rose bare hills, without ling or ploughed land; the prickly heath looked brown and yellow on the sharp declivities. A little boy and girl herded sheep by the way-side; the boy played the Pandean pipe, the little girl sang a psalm,--it was the best song which she knew how to sing to the traveller, in order to win a little present from him.

The day was warm and beautiful, but the evening brought the cold mist from the sea, which, however, in the interior of the country loses something of its power.

"That is a kiss of welcome from my home," said Otto; "the death-kiss of the mermaid! In Funen they call it the elf maiden."

Within the last few years a number of children have been sent from the Orphan Asylum to the heath, in order that, instead of Copenhagen rogues, they may become honest Jutland peasants. Otto had a boy of this description for his coachman. The lad was very contented, and yet Otto became low-spirited from his relation. Recollections from his own life stirred within his breast. "Return thanks to God," said he, and gave the lad a considerable present; "on the heath thou hast shelter and a home; in Copenhagen, perhaps, the sandy beach would have been thy nightly resting-place, hunger and cold the gifts which the day would bring thee."

The nearer he approached the west, the more serious became his frame of mind; it was as if the desolate scenery and cold sea-mist entered his soul. The pictures of the gay country-seat at Funen were supplanted by recollections of his home with his grandfather. He became more and more low-spirited. It was only when a single mile separated him from his home that the thought of surprising his dear friends conquered his melancholy.

He caught sight of the red roof of the house, saw the willow plantations, and heard the bark of the yard-dog. Upon the hillock before the gate stood a group of children. Otto could no longer endure the slow driving through the deep ruts. He sprang out of the carriage, and ran more than he walked. The children on the hillock became aware of him, and all looked toward the side from whence he came.

The slow driving, and his being absorbed in melancholy fancies, had relaxed his powerful frame; but now in one moment all his elasticity returned: his cheeks glowed, and his heart beat loudly.

From the court resounded singing--it was the singing of a psalm. He stepped through the gateway. A crowd of peasants stood with bared heads: before the door stood a carriage, some peasants were just raising a coffin into it. In the doorway stood the old preacher, and spoke with a man clad in black.

"Lord Jesus! who is dead?" were Otto's first words, and his countenance became pale like that of a corpse.

"Otto!" all exclaimed.

"Otto!" exclaimed also the old preacher, astonished; then seized his hand, and said gravely, "The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord!"

"Let me see the face of the dead!" said Otto. Not a tear came to his eye; surprise and sorrow were too great.

"Shall I take out the screws?" inquired the man who had just screwed up the coffin.

"Let him sleep the eternal rest!" said the preacher.

Otto stared at the black coffin in which his grandfather lay. The carriage drove away with it. Otto followed after with the preacher, heard him throw earth upon it, heard words which he did not comprehend, saw the last corner of the coffin, and it was then removed from his sight. All was as a dream to him.

They returned back to the preacher's abode; a pale figure approached him: it was Rosalie--old Rosalie.

"We have here no abiding-place, we all hasten toward futurity!" said the old preacher. "Strengthen yourself now with meat and drink! The body cannot suffer like the soul. We have accompanied him to His sleeping chamber; his bed was well prepared! I have prayed the evening prayer; he sleeps in God, and will awaken to behold His glory. Amen!"

"Otto! thou dear Otto!" said Rosalie. "The bitterest day brings me this joy! How have I thought of thee! Amongst strangers shouldst thou receive the tidings of his death! with no one who could feel for thy sorrow! where thou shouldst see no eye weep for what thou hast lost! Now thou art here! now, when I believed thee so far distant--it is a miracle! Thou couldst only have received the letter to-day which carried the intelligence of thy grandfather's death to thee!"

"I wished to surprise you," said Otto. "A melancholy surprise awaited me!"

"Sit down, my child!" said the preacher, and drew him toward the covered table. "When the tree falls which gave us shade and fruit, from which we, in our own little garden, have planted shoots and sown seeds, we may well look on with sadness and feel our loss: but we must not forget our own garden, must not forget to cherish that which we have won from the fallen tree: we must not cease to live for the living! I miss, like you, the proud tree, which rejoiced my soul and my heart, but I know that it is planted in a better garden, where Christ is the gardener."

The preacher's invitation to remain with him, during his stay, in his house, Otto declined. Already this first night he wished to establish himself in his own little chamber in the house of mourning. Rosalie also would return.

"We have a deal to say to each other," said the old preacher, and laid his hand upon Otto's shoulder. "Next summer you will hardly press my hand, it will be pressed by the turf."

"To-morrow I will come to you," said Otto, and drove back with the old Rosalie to the house.

The domestics kissed the hand and coat of the young master--he wished to prevent this; the old woman wept. Otto stepped into the room; here had stood the corpse, on account of which the furniture had been removed, and the void was all the more affecting. The long white mourning curtains fluttered in tire wind before the open window. Rosalie led him by the hand into the little sleeping-room where the grandfather had died. Here everything yet stood as formerly--the large book case, with the glass doors, behind which the intellectual treasure was preserved: Wieland and Fielding, Millot's "History of the World," and Von der Hagen's "Narrenbuch," occupied the principal place: these books had been those most read by the old gentleman. Here was also Otto's earliest intellectual food, Albertus Julius, the English "Spectator," and Evald's writings. Upon the wall hung pikes and pistols, and a large old sabre, which the grandfather had once worn. Upon the table beneath the mirror stood an hour-glass; the sand had run out. Rosalie pointed toward the bed. "There he died," said she, "between six and seven o'clock in the evening. He was only ill three days; the two last he passed in delirium: he raised himself in bed, and shook the bed posts; I was obliged to let two strong men watch beside him. 'To horse! to horse!' said he; 'the cannons forward!' His brain dreamed of war and battles. He also spoke of your blessed father severely and bitterly! Every word was like the stab of a knife; he was as severe toward him as ever!"

"And did the people understand his words?" asked Otto with a wrinkled brow.

"No, for the uninitiated they were dark words; and even had they possessed any meaning, the men would have believed it was the sickness which spoke out of him. 'There stands the mother with the two children! The one shall fall upon the flank of the enemy and bring me honor and joy. The mother and daughter I know not!' That was all which I heard him say about you and your mother and sister. By noon on the third day the fever had spent itself; the strong, gloomy man was become as weak and gentle as a child; I sat beside his bed. 'If I had only Otto here!' said he. 'I have been severely attacked, Rosalie, but I am now much better: I will go to sleep; that strengthens one.' Smilingly he closed his eyes and lay quite still: I read my prayers, withdrew gently so as not to wake him; he lay there unchanged when I returned. I sat a little while beside his bed; his hands lay upon the coverlid; I touched them, they were ice-cold. I was frightened, touched his brow, his face--he was dead! he had died without a death-struggle!"

For a long time did they converse about the dead man; it was near midnight when Otto ascended the narrow stairs which led to the little chamber in the roof, where as child and boy he had slept. All stood here as it had done the year before, only in nicer order. Upon the wall hung the black painted target, near to the centre of which he had once shot. His skates lay upon the chest of drawers, near to the nodding plaster figure. The long journey, and the overpowering surprise which awaited him on his return, had strongly affected him: he opened the window; a large white sand-hill rose like a wall straight up before it, and deprived him of all view. How often, when a child, had the furrows made by rain in the sand, and the detached pieces, presented to him pictures,--towns, towers, and whole marching armies. Now it was only a white wall, which reminded him of a winding-sheet. A small streak of the blue sky was visible between the house and the steep slope of the hill. Never before had Otto felt, never before reflected, what it was to stand alone in the world, to be lovingly bound to no one with the band of consanguinity.

"Solitary, as in this silent night do I stand in the world! solitary in the mighty crowd of human beings! Only ONE being can I call mine! only ONE being press as kindred to my heart! And I shudder at the thought of meeting with this being--I should bless the thought that she was dead! Father! thou didst ruin one being and make three miserable. I have never loved thee; bitterness germinated within my breast when I became acquainted with thee! Mother! thy features have died out of my recollection; I revere thee! Thou wast all love; to love didst thou offer up thy life-- more than life! Pray for me with thy God! Pray for me, ye dead! if there is immortality; if the flesh is not alone born again in grass and the worm; if the soul is not lost in floods of air! We shall be unconscious of it: eternally shall we sleep! eternally!" Otto supported his forehead upon the window-frame, his arm sank languidly, "Mother! poor mother! thou didst gain by death, even if it be merely an eternal sleep,--asleep without dreams! We have only a short time to live, and yet we divide our days of life with sleep! My body yearns after this short death! I will sleep--sleep like all my beloved ones! They do not awaken!" He threw himself upon the bed. The cold air from the sea blew through the open window. The wearied body conquered; he sank into the death-like sleep, whilst his doubting soul, ever active, presented him with living dreams.

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