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My wishes were granted; I descried at length a real tenement, without spires or towers, whose outline became sharper and more defined the nearer I approached, and which, flanked by stacks of peat, looked larger than it really was.
The inhabitants were unknown to me. Their clothing was poor; their furniture of the plainest description; but I knew that the dwellers on the heath often hid their precious metal in some secret depository, and that a tattered garb sometimes concealed a well-lined pocket-book. When, on going in, I observed a recess filled with stockings, I shrewdly guessed that I had introduced myself into the abode of a wealthy hosier (in a parenthesis be it said, that I never knew a poor one).
An elderly, grey-haired, but still vigorous man, advanced to meet me, and with a cordial "welcome" offered me his hand. 66 May I be permitted to ask," he added, "where my guest comes from ?" One must not take umbrage at so blunt and unmannerly a question. The rustic of the heath is almost as hospitable as the Scotch lairds, though rather more inquisitive; but, after all, one cannot blame him that he seeks to know whom he entertains. When I had enlightened him as to who I was and whence I came, he called his wife, who without loss of time set before me the best the house contained, kindly inviting me to partake of it; an invitation which I was not slow in accepting.
I was in the midst of my repast, and also in the midst of a political conversation with mine host, when a young and uncommonly beautiful girl came in, whom I should indubitably have pronounced to have been a young lady in disguise, who had made her escape from cruel parents or hateful guardians, had not her red hands and country dialect convinced me that there was no travestissement in the case. She curtsied with a pleasant smile, looked under the table, went hastily out, and soon returned to the room with a dish of bread and milk, which she placed on the ground, saying, "Your dog will probably also want something to eat."
I thanked her for her kind consideration; but my gratitude was nothing compared to that of the great dog, whose greed had soon caused the dish to be emptied, and who then thanked the fair donor after his own fashion, by jumping roughly upon her; and when she, in some alarm, threw her arms up in the air, Chasseur mistook her meaning, sprung up higher, and brought the shrieking girl to the ground. I called the dog off, of course, and endeavoured to convince the damsel of his good intentions. I should not have drawn the reader's attention to so trivial a matter, but to introduce a remark, namely, that everything is becoming to beauty; for every motion and every look of this rural fair one had a natural and charm, which the well-tutored coquette might in vain try to assume. When she had left the room, I asked the good people if she was their daughter. They answered in the affirmative, adding that she was their only child.
"You will not have her long with you," I remarked.
"God help us! what do you mean?" asked the father; but a sort of self-satisfied smile showed me that he full well understood my meaning. "I think," I replied, "that she is likely to have a great many
"Oh!" muttered he, 66 wooers are in plenty; but unless they are worth something, what is the use of talking of them. To come a wooing
with a watch and silver-mounted pipe is nothing to the purpose-great cry and little wool-and faith!" he exclaimed, setting both his elbows on the table, and stooping to look out at the low windows," here comes one of them, a fellow who has just raised his head above the heather-one of these pedlars who travel about with a pair or two of stockings in their wallet as samples, forsooth. The cur-dog, he wants to play the sweetheart to my daughter, with his two miserable oxen, and his cow and a half! Yes, there he is, skulking along, the pauper!"
The object of these execrations, and the person on whom were bent looks as lowering as if he had been a thief, was now approaching the house, but was still far enough off for me to ask my host who he was, and to be told that he was the son of his nearest neighbour, who, however, lived at the distance of more than a mile; that his father possessed only a small farm, upon the security of which he owed the hosier 200 dollars; that the son, who had for some years hawked about woollen goods, had lately presumed to propose for the beautiful Cecilia, but had received a flat refusal.
Whilst I was listening to this little history, Cecilia herself came in ; and her anxious and sorrowful looks, which wandered, by turns, between her father and the traveller without, enabled me to guess that she did not coincide in the old man's view of affairs. As soon as the young man entered by one door, she disappeared by another, not however without casting on him a hurried, but kind and speaking glance. My host turned towards the new comer, grasped the table with both his hands, as if he found some support needful, and acknowledged the young man's "God's peace be here," and "Good day," with a dry "Welcome." The uninvited guest stood for a few moments while he cast his eyes slowly round the room, took a tobacco-pouch from one pocket and a tobaccopipe from another, knocked it on the stove by his side and filled it again. All this was done leisurely, and in a kind of measured manner, while my host remained motionless, in the attitude he had assumed.
The stranger was a very handsome youth, a worthy son of our northern clime, where, though men are slow of growth, their frames become lofty and strong. He had light hair, blue eyes, fair complexion, ruddy cheeks, and a chin on whose downy smoothness the razor had not yet played, although its owner had numbered his twentieth year. His dress was not that of a common peasant, it was the costume generally adopted by tradesmen, but was much superior in its texture and its smartness to that of the rich hosier himself. He wore a frock coat, white trousers, a striped red vest, and a cotton cravat; he looked, at least, no unworthy suitor to the lovely Cecilia. His pleasant, open countenance pleased me: it was expressive of that enduring patience and power of unswerving perseverance, which form such prominent features in the Cimbric national cha
A long time elapsed before either of them would break silence; at length my host was the first to open his mouth, which he did by asking slowly, and in a cold and indifferent tone and manner, "Whither bound to-day, Esben ?"
The other answered, without at all hurrying himself, while he lighted his pipe leisurely, and took a long whiff, "No farther to-day, but tomorrow I am off to Holstein."
Thereupon there occurred another long pause, during which Esben looked at all the chairs one after another, took one, and finally sat down. At that moment the mother and daughter entered, and the young man nodded to them with such an unaltered and tranquil air, that I should have thought he was quite indifferent to the beautiful Cecilia, had I not known that love, in a breast such as his, might be not the less strong that it lay concealed; that it is not the blaze, which flashes and sparkles, but the steady fire that burns and warms the longest.
Cecilia, with a sigh, placed herself at the farthest end of the table, and began immediately to knit; her mother condescended to say, "Welcome, Esben!" as she settled herself at her spinning-wheel.
you going on account of business ?" drawled out the hosier at
length. "If any offers," replied the visitor. "One can but try what may be done in the south. My errand here is, to beg that you will not be in too great a hurry to get Cecil married, but will wait till I come back, and we can see what my luck has been."
Cecilia coloured, but continued to look stedfastly at her work. The mother stopped her spinning-wheel with one hand, laid the other on her lap, and looked hard at the speaker; but the father said, as he turned with a wink to me, "While the grass grows'-you know the rest of the proverb. How can you ask that Cecil shall wait for you? You may stay very long away, perhaps, even-you may never come back."
"It is your own fault, Michel Krænsen!" replied Esben, with some impetuosity. "But listen to what I say; if you compel Cecil to marry any one else, you will do grievous wrong both to her and to me."
So saying, he arose, held out his hand to both the old people, and bade them a short and stiff farewell. To their daughter he said, but in a more tender and somewhat faltering voice, Farewell, Cecil! and thanks for all your kindness. Think of me sometimes, unless you are obliged to- God be with you, and with you all! Farewell!"
He turned towards the door, thrust his tobacco-pouch and pipe into his pocket, seized his hat, and went forth without casting one look behind. The old man smiled triumphantly, his wife sighed aloud an "Ah, dear!" as she set her spinning-wheel in motion again, but large tears rapidly coursed each other over Cecilia's now pale cheeks.
I had the greatest possible inclination to invite a discussion of the principle which actuated these parents in regard to their child's marriage. I could have reminded them, that wealth does not suffice to ensure happiness in married life; that the heart must also have its share; that prudence counsels to think more of integrity, industry, and a good disposition, than of mere riches. I could have remonstrated with the father (for the mother seemed at least neutral) on his harshness to his only daughter. But I knew the nature of the lower orders too well to waste useless words on such subjects; I knew that money takes precedence of everything else in that class; but-is it otherwise with other classes? I knew, moreover, the dogged firmness of the peasantry, approaching almost to obstinacy, especially when any controversy with one in a superior rank of life was in question, and that the less they felt themselves able to argue, the more stiff-necked they became in adhering to their own notions. There came yet another reflection to prevent me, unbidden,
from thrusting my finger into the pie. It was this:-Are not riches, after all, the most real and solid of all the good things of this earth? Is not money a sufficient substitute for every other sublunary advantage and blessing; the unexceptionable passport for securing meat and drink, clothes and household comforts, respect and friendship, nay, a pretty large share of love itself? Is it not fortune which furnishes the greatest number of enjoyments, and bestows the greatest independence-which supplies almost every want? Is not poverty the rock upon which not only friendship, but love itself, often splits?" "When poverty comes in at the door, love flies out at the window," is a proverb quoted by all classes. Alas! it is much to be wished that only Love and Hymen should meet together, but they too often insist on having Plutus to accompany them.
After such a review of the world, as it is-but, perhaps a more rational review than many would wish or expect from a writer of novels-they will easily believe that I did not meddle in Esben's and Cecilia's romance, especially as I thought it not unlikely that, on the part of the former, this might have been merely an eligible speculation, founded less on the daughter's beauty and affection than on the father's commercial credit and well-filled purse. And though I could not admit that true love is only a poetic fiction, yet I could not deny that it is more frequently found in books than in reality.
When the beautiful Cecilia had left the room, apparently to give vent to her feelings in a passion of tears, I ventured to remark that it was a pity the young man was not better off, adding that he seemed to be a fine fellow, and fond of the girl.
"What if he came back," I asked, "with some hundred dollars' worth of bank-notes?"
"If they were his own," said old Michel, with a significant wink, "well -that would be another affair."
I soon after took my departure, and went forth again into the deserted heath, free as it was from human beings and their cares. At a good distance on one side I perceived Esben, and the smoke issuing from his pipe. Thus," thought I, "he is consoling himself in his sorrow and his love; but the unhappy Cecilia!" I cast a lingering look back on the rich hosier's domicile, and said to myself, "Had that house not stood there-there would have been so many less tears in this sad world!"
Six years had passed away before I happened again to be on that part of the heath; it was a calm September day, like the one on which I had formerly been there. Chance led me to the hosier's habitation; and as I recognised old Michel Krænsen's lonely dwelling, I recalled to memory the pretty Cecilia and her lover. With the remembrance came a curiosity, or rather a longing to know what had been the conclusion of this pastoral poem-this heath-drama.
As usual with me in similar cases, I felt much inclined to anticipate the probable history. I made my own conclusions, and settled in my own mind how everything had turned out, guided by destiny to a happy dénouement. Alas! how often were not my conclusions widely different from the real course of events! And such was the case here; I pictured to myself Esben and Cecilia as man and wife-she, with an infant in her arms-the grandfather with one or two little prattlers on his knee-and
the young hosier himself a thriving and happy partner in the still flourishing concern; but, it was far otherwise.
Before I had crossed the threshold I heard a female's sweet voice singing what, at first, I took for a lullaby, or cradle-song, though the tone was so melancholy that my raised expectations at once fell considerably. I stood a moment and listened; the words of the song were mourning over hopeless love. They were simple, yet full of truth and sorrow, but my memory only retains the two lines which formed the refrain :
The greatest sorrow that this world can give,
With dark forebodings I pushed open the door. A stout, stronglooking, middle-aged woman, of the labouring class, who was carding wool, was the first on whom my eye fell; but it was not she who sang. The songstress had her back turned to me, she sat rocking herself rapidly backwards and forwards, and kept moving her hands as if she were spinning. The first-named arose and bade me welcome, but I hastened forwards to see the face of her companion. It was Cecilia-pale, but still beautiful. She looked up at me-ah! then I read insanity in the vacant, though shining eyes, in the inexpressive smile, in the whole mindless countenance! I also observed that she had no spinning-wheel before her, but that that which she was so busily turning must have been made of the same material as Macbeth's dagger.
She suddenly stopped both her song and her airy wheel, and asked me hurriedly and eagerly, "Are you from Holstein? Did you see Esben? Is he coming soon?"
I perceived her state, and thinking it best to humour her, I answered without hesitation,
"Yes; he will not be very long of coming now. I bring his kind remembrances to you."
"Then I must away to meet him!" she exclaimed, in a joyful tone of voice, and springing up from her straw chair, she rushed towards the door.
"Wait a moment, Cecil!" cried the other woman, throwing aside her work, "and let me go with you." She winked to me, and put her finger to her head, to inform me in dumb show, that her companion was wrong there.
'Mother," she exclaimed aloud, knocking hastily at the kitchen-door; "there is some one here-come, will you, for we are going out!" She then ran after the wanderer, who was already beyond the little courtyard.
The old woman came in. I did not recognise her, but guessed, rightly enough, that she was the unfortunate girl's mother. Years and sorrow had made sad havoc on her appearance. She did not seem to remember me either, but after a civil "Welcome-pray, sit down," she asked the usual question, "May I be permitted to know where you are from, good sir ?"
I told her; and also reminded her that I had been her guest some years ago.
"Good Lord!" she exclaimed, clasping her hands, "is it you? Pray, take a seat at the table while I get some refreshment for you."