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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesO. T., A Danish Romance - Chapter 43
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O. T., A Danish Romance - Chapter 43 Post by :twoelfling Category :Long Stories Author :Hans Christian Andersen Date :May 2012 Read :4084

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O. T., A Danish Romance - Chapter 43

CHAPTER XLIII

"In one short speaking silence all conveys--
And looks a sigh, and weeps without a tear."
MRS. BROWNING.

"Forgive us our debts as we
The debts of others forgive;
And lead us not in tempting ways;
Apart from evil let us live."
A. VON CHAMISSO.


We will not accompany the friends, but will remain behind in Funen, where we will make a bolder journey than they, namely, we will go back one-and-twenty years. We will allow the circumstances of Otto's birth again to come before us. It is a leap backward that we take from 1830 to 1810. We are in Odense, that old city, which takes its name from Odin.

The common people there have still a legend about the origin of the name of the city. Upon Naesbyhoved's Hill (Author's Note: Not far from the city, by the Odense Channel; it is described in Wedel Simonsen's City Ruins.) there once stood a castle; here lived King Odin and his wife: Odense city was not then in existence, but the first building of it was then begun. (Author's Note: The place is given as being that of the now so-called Cross Street.) The court was undecided as to the name which should be given to the city. After long indecision it was at last agreed that the first word which either King or Queen should speak the next morning should be the name given to it. In the early morning the Queen awoke and looked out from her window over the wood. The first house in the city was erected to the roof, and the builders had hung up a great garland, glittering with tinsel, upon the rooftree. "Odin, see!" exclaimed the Queen; and thenceforward the city was called Odensee, which name, since then, has been changed by daily speech to Odense.

When people ask the children in Copenhagen whence they have come, they reply, out of the Peblingsoe. The little children of Odense, who know nothing about the Peblingsoe, say that they are fetched out of Rosenbaek, a little brook which has only been ennobled within the few last years, just as in Copenhagen is the case with Krystal Street, which formerly had an unpleasant name. This brook runs through Odense, and must, in former times, when united with the Odense River, have formed an island where the city at that time stood; hence some people derive the name of Odense from Odins Ei, or Odins O, that is, Odin's Island. Be it then as it might, the brook flows now, and in 1810, when the so-called Willow-dam, by the West Gate, was not filled up, it stood, especially in spring, low and watery. It often overflowed its banks, and in so doing overflowed the little gardens which lay on either side. It thus ran concealed through the city until near the North Gate, where it made its appearance for a moment and then dived again in the same street, and, like a little river, flowed through the cellars of the old justice-room, which was built by the renowned Oluf Bagger. (Author's Note: He was so rich that once, when Frederick the Second visited him, he had the room heated with cinnamon chips. Much may be found about this remarkable man in the second collection of Thiele's Popular Danish Legends. His descendants still live in Odense, namely, the family of the printer Ch. Iversen, who has preserved many curiosities which belonged to him.)

It was an afternoon in the summer of 1810; the water was high in the brook, yet two washerwomen were busily employed in it; reed-matting was fast bound round their bodies, and they beat with wooden staves the clothes upon their washing-stools. They were in deep conversation, and yet their labor went on uninterruptedly.

"Yes," said one of them, "better a little with honor, than much with dishonor. She is sentenced; to-morrow she is to go about in the pillory. That is sure and certain! I know it from the trumpeter's Karen, and from the beggar-king's (Author's Note: Overseer of the poor.) wife: neither of them go about with lies."

"Ih, my Jesus!" exclaimed the other, and let her wooden beater fall, "is Johanne Marie to go in the pillory, the handsome girl? she that looked so clever and dressed herself so well?"

"Yes, it is a misfortune!" said the first; "a great misfortune it must be! No, let every one keep his own! say I every day to my children. After the sweet claw comes the bitter smart. One had much better work till the blood starts from the finger-ends."

"Ih, see though!" said the other; "there goes the old fellow, Johanne Marie's father. He is an honest man; he was so pleased with his daughter, and to-morrow he must himself bind her to the pillory! But can she really have stolen?"

"She has herself confessed," returned she; "and the Colonel is severe. I fancy the Gevaldiger is going there."

"The Colonel should put the bridle on his own son. He is a bad fellow! Not long ago, when I was washing yarn there, and was merry, as I always am, he called me 'wench.' If he had said 'woman,' I should not have troubled myself about it, for it has another meaning; but 'wench,' that is rude! Ei, there sails the whole affair!" screamed she suddenly, as the sheet which she had wound round the washing-stool got loose and floated down the stream: she ran after it, and the conversation was broken off.

The old man whom they had seen and compassionated, went into a great house close by, where the Colonel lived. His eyes were cast upon the ground; a deep, silent suffering lay in his wrinkled face; he gently pulled at the bell, and bowed himself deeply before the black-appareled lady who opened to him the door.

We know her--it was the old Rosalie, then twenty years younger than when we saw her upon the western coast of Jutland.

"Good old man!" said she, and laid her hand kindly on his shoulder. "Colonel Thostrup is severe, but he is not, however, inhuman; and that he would be if he let you tomorrow do your office. The Colonel has said that the Gevaldiger should stay at home."

"No!" said the old man, "our Lord will give me strength. God be thanked that Johanne Marie's mother has closed her eyes: she will not see the misery! We are not guilty of it!"

"Honest man!" said Rosalie. "Johanne was always so good and clever; and now"--she shook her head--"I would have sworn for her, but she has confessed it herself!"

"The law must have its course!" said the old man, and tears streamed down his cheeks.

At that moment the door opened, and Colonel Thostrup, a tall, thin man, with a keen eye, stood before them. Rosalie left the room.

"Gevaldiger," said the Colonel, "to-morrow you will not be required to act in your office."

"Colonel," returned the old man, "it is my duty to be there, and, if I may say a few words, people would speak ill of me if I kept away."

On the following forenoon, from the early morning, the square where lay the council-house and head-watch, was filled with people; they were come to see the handsome girl led forth in the pillory. The time began to appear long to them, and yet no sign was seen of that which they expected. The sentinel, who went with measured step backward and forward before the sentry-box, could give no intelligence. The door of the council-house was closed, and everything gave occasion to the report which suddenly was put into circulation, that the handsome Johanne Marie had been for a whole hour in the pillory within the council-house, and thus they should have nothing at all to see. Although it is entirely opposed to sound reason that punishment should be inflicted publicly, it met with much support, and great dissatisfaction was excited.

"That is shabby!" said a simple woman, in whom we may recognize one of the washerwomen; "it is shabby thus to treat the folks as if they were fools! Yesterday I slaved like a horse, and here one has stood two whole hours by the clock, till I am stiff in the legs, without seeing anything at all!"

"That is what I expected," said another woman; "a fair face has many friends! She has known how to win the great people to her side!"

"Do not you believe," inquired a third, "that she has been good friends with the Colonels son?"

"Yes; formerly I would have said No, because she always looked so steady, and against her parents there is not a word to be said; but as she has stolen, as we know she has, she may also have been unsteady. The Colonel's son is a wild bird; riots and drinks does he in secret! We others know more than his father does: he had held too tight a hand over him. Too great severity causes bad blood!"

"God help me, now it begins!" interrupted another woman, as a detachment of soldiers marched out of the guard-house, and at some little distance one from the other inclosed an open space. The door of the council-house now opened, and two officers of police, together with some of the guard, conducted out the condemned, who was placed in the pillory. This was a sort of wooden yoke laid across the shoulders of the delinquent; a piece of wood came forward from this into which her hands were secured: above all stood two iron bars, to the first of which was fastened a little bell; to the other a long fox's tail, which hung down the lack of the condemned.

The girl seemed hardly more than nineteen, and was of an unusually beautiful figure; her countenance was nobly and delicately formed, but pale as death: yet there was no expression either of suffering or shame,--she seemed like the image of a penitent, who meekly accomplishes the imposed penance.

Her aged father, the Gevaldiger, followed her slowly; his eye was determined; no feature expressed that which went forward in his soul: he silently took his place beside one of the pillars before the guard house.

A loud murmur arose among the crowd when they saw the beautiful girl and the poor old father, who must himself see his daughter's disgrace.

A spotted dog sprang into the open space; the girl's monotonous tread, as she advanced into the middle of the square, the ringing of the little bell, and the fox-tail which moved in the wind, excited the dog, which began to bark, and wanted to bite the fox's tail. The guards drove the dog away, but it soon came back again, although it did not venture again into the circle, but thrust itself forward, and never ceased barking.

Many of those who already had been moved to compassion by the beauty of the girl and the sight of the old father, were thrown again by this incident into a merry humor; they laughed and found the whole thing very amusing.

The hour was past, and the girl was now to be released. The Gevaldiger approached her, but whilst he raised his hand to the yoke the old man tottered, and sank, in the same moment, back upon the hard stone pavement.

A shriek arose from those who stood around; the young girl alone stood silent and immovable; her thoughts seemed to be far away. Yet some people fancied they saw how she closed her eyes, but that was only for a moment. A policeman released her from the pillory, her old father was carried into the guard-house, and two policemen led her into the council-house.

"See, now it is over!" said an old glover, who was among the spectators; "the next time she'll get into the House of Correction."

"O, it is not so bad there," answered another; "they sing and are merry there the whole day long, and have no need to trouble themselves about victuals."

"Yes, but that is prison fare."

"It is not so bad--many a poor body would thank God for it; and Johanne Marie would get the best of it. Her aunt is the head-cook, and the cook and the inspector they hang together. It's my opinion, however, that this affair will take the life out of the old man. He got a right good bump as he fell on the stone-pavement; one could hear how it rung again."

The crowd separated.

The last malicious voice had prophesied truth.

Three weeks afterward six soldiers bore a woven, yellow straw coffin from a poor house in East Street. The old Gevaldiger lay, with closed eyes and folded hands, in the coffin. Within the chamber, upon the bedstead, sat Johanne Marie, with a countenance pale as that of the dead which had been carried away. A compassionate neighbor took her hand, and mentioned her name several times before she heard her.

"Johanne, come in with me; eat a mouthful of pease and keep life in you; if not for your own sake, at least for that of the child which lies under your heart."

The girl heaved a wonderfully deep sigh. "No, no!" said she, and closed her eyes.

Full of pity, the good neighbor took her home with her.

A few days passed on, and then one morning two policemen entered the poor room in which the Gevaldiger had died. Johanne Marie was again summoned before the judge.

A fresh robbery had taken place at the Colonel's. Rosalie said that it was a long time since she had first missed that which was gone, but that she thought it best to try to forget it. The Colonel's violent temper and his exasperation against Johanne Marie, who, as he asserted, by her bad conduct, had brought her old, excellent father to the grave, insisted on summoning her before the tribunal, that the affair might be more narrowly inquired into.

Rosalie, who had been captivated by the beauty of the girl and by her modest demeanor, and who was very fond of her, was this time quite calm, feeling quite sure that she would deny everything, because, in fact, the theft had only occurred within the last few days. The public became aware of this before long, and the opinion was that Johanne Marie could not possibly have been an actor in it; but, to the astonishment of the greater number, she confessed that she was the guilty person, and that with such calmness as amazed every one. Her noble, beautifully formed countenance seemed bloodless; her dark-blue eyes beamed with a brilliancy which seemed like that of delirium; her beauty, her calmness, and yet this obduracy in crime, produced an extraordinary impression upon the spectators.

She was sentenced to the House of Correction in Odense. Despised and repulsed by the better class of her fellow-beings, she went to her punishment. No one had dreamed that under so fair a form so corrupt a soul could have been found. She was set to the spinning-wheel; silent and introverted, she accomplished the tasks that were assigned her. In the coarse merriment of the other prisoners she took no part.

"Don't let your heart sink within you, Johanne Marie," said German Heinrich, who sat at the loom; "sing with us till the iron bars rattle!"

"Johanne, you brought your old father to the grave," said her relation, the head-cook; "how could you have taken such bad courses?"

Johanne Marie was silent; the large, dark eyes looked straight before her, whilst she kept turning the wheel.

Five months went on, and then she became ill--ill to death, and gave birth to twins, a boy and a girl--two beautiful and well-formed children, excepting that the girl was as small and delicate as if its life hung on a thread.

The dying mother kissed the little ones and wept; it was the first time that the people within the prison had seen her weep. Her relation the cook sat alone with her upon the bed.

"Withdraw not your hand from the innocent children," said Johanne Marie; "if they live to grow up, tell them some time that their mother was innocent. My eternal Saviour knows that I have never stolen! Innocent am I, and innocent was I when I went out a spectacle of public derision, and now when I sit here!"

"Ih, Jesus though! What do you say?" exclaimed the woman.

"The truth!" answered the dying one. "God be gracious to me!--my children!"

She sank back upon the couch, and was dead.

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