“Il n’y a
personne qui ait eu autant
a souffrir a vôtre sujet que
moi depuis ma naissance!
aussi je vous supplie a deux
au nom de Dien,
d’avoir pitié de moi!” Old
In a few more days Thelma’s
engagement to Sir Philip Bruce-Errington was the talk
of the neighborhood. The news spread gradually,
having been, in the first place, started by Britta,
whose triumph in her mistress’s happiness was
charming to witness. It reached the astonished
and reluctant ears of the Reverend Mr. Dyceworthy,
whose rage was so great that it destroyed his appetite
for twenty-four hours. But the general impression
in the neighborhood, where superstition maintained
so strong a hold on the primitive and prejudiced minds
of the people, was that the reckless young Englishman
would rue the day on which he wedded “the white
witch of the Altenfjord.”
Gueldmar was regarded with more suspicion
than ever, as having used some secret and diabolical
influence to promote the match; and the whole party
were, as it seemed, tabooed, and looked upon as given
up to the most unholy practices.
Needless to say, the opinions of the
villagers had no effect whatever on the good spirits
of those who were thus unfavorably criticised, and
it would have been difficult to find a merrier group
than that assembled one fine morning in front of Gueldmar’s
house, all equipped from top to toe for some evidently
unusually lengthy and arduous mountain excursion.
Each man carried a long, stout stick, portable flask,
knapsack, and rug the latter two articles
strapped together and slung across the shoulder and
they all presented an eminently picturesque appearance,
particularly Sigurd, who stood at a little distance
from the others, leaning on his tall staff and gazing
at Thelma with an air of peculiar pensiveness and
She was at that moment busied in adjusting
Errington’s knapsack more comfortably, her fair,
laughing face turned up to his, and her bright eyes
alight with love and tender solicitude.
“I’ve a good mind not
to go at all,” he whispered in her ear.
“I’ll come back and stay with you all
“You foolish boy!” she
answered merrily. “You would miss seeing
the grand fall all for what? To sit
with me and watch me spinning, and you would grow
so very sleepy! Now, if I were a man, I would
go with you.”
“I’m very glad you’re
not a man!” said Errington, pressing the little
hand that had just buckled his shoulder-strap.
“Though I wish you were going with us.
But I say, Thelma, darling, won’t you be lonely?”
She laughed gaily. “Lonely?
I? Why, Britta is with me besides,
I am never lonely now.” She uttered
the last word softly, with a shy, upward glance.
“I have so much to think about ”
She paused and drew her hand away from her lover’s
close clasp. “Ah,” she resumed, with
a mischievous smile, “you are a conceited boy!
You want to be missed! You wish me to say that
I shall feel most miserable all the time you are away!
If I do, I shall not tell you!”
“Thelma, child?” called
Olaf Gueldmar, at this juncture “keep the gates
bolted and doors barred while we are absent. Remember,
thou and Britta must pass the night alone here, we
cannot be at home till late in the evening of to-morrow.
Let no one inside the garden, and deny thyself to
all comers. Dost thou hear?”
“Yes, father,” she responded meekly.
“And let Britta keep good guard
that her crazy hag of a grandam come not hither to
disturb or fright thee with her croaking, for
thou hast not even Sigurd to protect thee.”
“Not even Sigurd!” said
that personage, with a meditative smile. “No,
mistress; not even poor Sigurd!”
“One of us might remain behind,”
suggested Lorimer, with a side-look at his friend.
“Oh no, no!” exclaimed
Thelma anxiously. “It would vex me so much!
Britta and I have often been alone before. We
are quite safe, are we not, father?”
“Safe enough!” said the
old man, with a laugh. “I know of no one
save Lovisa Elsland who has the courage to face thee,
child! Still, pretty witch as thou art, ’twill
not harm thee to put the iron bar across the house
door, and to lock fast the outer gate when we have
gone. This done, I have no fear of thy safety.
Now,” and he kissed his daughter heartily, “now
lads, ’tis time we were on the march! Sigurd,
my boy, lead on!”
“Wait!” cried Sigurd,
springing to Thelma’s side. “I must
say good-bye!” And he caught the girl’s
hand and kissed it, then plucking a rose,
he left it between her fingers. “That will
remind you of Sigurd, mistress! Think of him
once to-day! once again when the midnight
glory shines. Good-bye, mistress! that is what
the dead say, . . . Good-bye!”
And with a passionate gesture of farewell,
he ran and placed himself at the head of the little
group that waited for him, saying exultingly
“Now follow me! Sigurd
knows the way! Sigurd is the friend of all the
wild waterfall! Up the hills, across
the leaping stream, through the sparkling
foam!” And he began chanting to himself a sort
of wild mountain song.
Macfarlane looked at him dubiously.
“Are ye sure?” he said to Gueldmar.
“Are ye sure that wee chap kens whaur he’s
gaun? He’ll no lead us into a ditch an’
leave us there, mistakin’ it for the Fall?”
Gueldmar laughed heartily. “Never
fear! Sigurd’s the best guide you can have,
in spite of his fancies. He knows all the safest
and surest paths; and Njedegorze is no easy place
to reach, I can tell you!”
“Pardon! How is it called?” asked
The Frenchman shrugged his shoulders.
“I give it up!” he said smilingly.
“Mademoiselle Gueldmar, if anything happens to
me at this cascade with the name unpronounceable,
you will again be my doctor, will you not?”
Thelma laughed as she shook hands
with him. “Nothing will happen,” she
rejoined; “unless, indeed, you catch cold by
sleeping in a hut all night. Father, you must
see that they do not catch cold!”
The bonde nodded, and motioned
the party forward, Sigurd leading the way, Errington,
however, lingered behind on pretense of having forgotten
something, and, drawing his betrothed in his arms,
kissed her fondly.
“Take care of yourself, darling!”
he murmured, and then hurrying away he
rejoined his friends, who had discreetly refrained
from looking back, and therefore had not seen the
Sigurd, however, had seen it, and
the sight apparently gave fresh impetus to his movements,
for he sprang up the adjacent hill with so much velocity
that those who followed had some difficulty to keep
up with him, and it was not till they were
out of sight of the farmhouse that he resumed anything
like a reasonable pace.
As soon as they had disappeared, Thelma
turned into the house and seated herself at her spinning-wheel.
Britta soon entered the room, carrying the same graceful
implement of industry, and the two maidens sat together
for some time in a silence unbroken, save by the low
melodious whirring of the two wheels, and the mellow
complaints of the strutting doves on the window-sill.
“Froeken Thelma!” said Britta at last,
“Yes, Britta?” And her mistress looked
“Of what use is it for you to
spin now?” queried the little handmaid.
“You will be a great lady, and great ladies do
not work at all!”
Thelma’s wheel revolved more
and more slowly, till at last it stopped altogether.
“Do they not?” she said
half inquiringly and musingly. “I think
you must be wrong, Britta. It is impossible that
there should be people who are always idle. I
do not know what great ladies are like.”
“I do!” And Britta nodded
her curly head sagaciously. “There was a
girl from Hammerfest who went to Christiania
to seek service she was handy at her needle,
and a fine spinner, and a great lady took her right
away from Norway to London. And the lady bought
her spinning-wheel for a curiosity she said, and
put it in the corner of a large parlor, and used to
show it to her friends, and they would all laugh and
say, ’How pretty!’ And Jansena, that
was the girl never span again she
wore linen that she got from the shops, and
it was always falling into holes, and Jansena was
always mending, mending, and it was no good!”
Thelma laughed. “Then it
is better to spin, after all, Britta is
Britta looked dubious. “I
do not know,” she answered; “but I am sure
great ladies do not spin. Because, as I said to
you, Froeken, this Jansena’s mistress was a
great lady, and she never did anything, no!
nothing at all, but she put on wonderful
dresses, and sat in her room, or was driven about
in a carriage. And that is what you will do also,
“Oh no, Britta,” said
Thelma decisively. “I could not be so idle.
Is it not fortunate I have so much linen ready?
I have quite enough for marriage.”
The little maid looked wistful.
“Yes, dear Froeken,” she murmured hesitatingly;
“but I was thinking if it is right for you to
wear what you have spun. Because, you see, Jansena’s
mistress had wonderful things all trimmed with lace, and
they would all come back from the washing torn and
hanging in threads, and Jansena had to mend those as
well as her own clothes. You see, they do not
last at all and they cost a large sum of
money; but it is proper for great ladies to wear them.”
“I am not sure of that, Britta,”
said Thelma, still musingly. “But still,
it may be my bridal things may not please
Philip. If you know anything about it, you must
tell me what is right.”
Britta was in a little perplexity.
She had gathered some idea from her friend Jansena
concerning life in London, she had even
a misty notion of what was meant by a “trousseau”
with all its dainty, expensive, and often useless
fripperies; but she did not know how to explain her-self
to her young mistress, whose simple, almost severe
tastes would, she instinctively felt, recoil from
anything like ostentation in dress, so she was discreetly
“You know, Britta,” continued
Thelma gently, “I shall be Philip’s wife,
and I must not vex him in any little thing. But
I do not quite understand. I have always dressed
in the same way, and he has never said
that he thought me wrongly clothed.”
And she looked down with quite a touching
pathos at her straight, white woolen gown, and smoothed
its folds doubtfully. The impulsive Britta sprang
to her side and kissed her with girlish and unaffected
“My dear, my dear! You
are more lovely and sweet than anybody in the world!”
she cried. “And I am sure Sir Philip thinks
A beautiful roseate flush suffused
Thelma’s cheeks, and she smiled.
“Yes, I know he does!”
she replied softly. “And, after all, it
does not matter what one wears.”
Britta was meditating, she
looked lovingly at her mistress’s rippling wealth
“Diamonds!” she murmured
to herself in a sort of satisfied soliloquy.
“Diamonds, like those you have on your finger,
Froeken, diamonds all scattered among your
curls like dew-drops! And white satin, all shining,
shining! people would take you for an angel!”
Thelma laughed merrily. “Britta,
Britta! You are talking such nonsense! Nobody
dresses so grandly except queens in fairy-tales.”
“Do they not?” and the
wise Britta looked more profound than ever. “Well,
we shall see, dear Froeken we shall see!”
“We?” queried Thelma with surprised
Her little maid blushed vividly, and
looked down demurely, twisting and untwisting the
string of her apron.
“Yes, Froeken,” she said
in a low tone. “I have asked Sir Philip
to let me go with you when you leave Norway.”
astonishment was too great for more than this exclamation.
“Oh, my dear! don’t be
angry with me!” implored Britta, with sparkling
eyes, rosy cheeks, and excited tongue all pleading
eloquently together, “I should die here without
you! I told the bonde so; I did, indeed
I And then I went to Sir Philip he is such
a grand gentleman, so proud and yet so
kind, and I asked him to let me still be
your servant. I said I knew all great ladies
had a maid, and if I was not clever enough I could
learn, and and ” here Britta
began to sob, “I said I did not want any wages only
to live in a little corner of the same house where
you were, to sew for you, and see you, and
hear your voice sometimes ” Here
the poor little maiden broke down altogether and hid
her face in her apron crying bitterly.
The tears were in Thelma’s eyes
too, and she hastened to put her arm round Britta’s
waist, and tried to soothe her by every loving word
she could think of.
“Hush, Britta dear! you must
not cry,” she said tenderly. “What
did Philip say?”
“He said,” jerked out
Britta convulsively, “that I was a g-good little
g-girl, and that he was g-glad I wanted to g-go!”
Here her two sparkling wet eyes peeped out of the
apron inquiringly, and seeing nothing but the sweetest
affection on Thelma’s attentive face, she went
on more steadily. “He p-pinched my cheek,
and he laughed and he said he would rather
have me for your maid than anybody there!”
And this last exclamation was uttered
with so much defiance that she dashed away the apron
altogether, and stood erect in self-congratulatory
glory, with a particularly red little nose and very
trembling lips. Thelma smiled, and caressed the
tumbled brown curls.
“I am very glad, Britta!”
she said earnestly. “Nothing could have
pleased me more! I must thank Philip. But
it is of father I am thinking what will
father and Sigurd do?”
“Oh, that is all settled, Froeken,”
said Britta, recovering herself rapidly from her outburst.
“The bonde means to go for one of his
long voyages in the Valkyrie it
is time she was used again, I’m sure, and
Sigurd will go with him. It will do them both
good and the tongues of Bosekop can waggle
as much as they please, none of us will be here to
“And you will escape your grandmother!”
said Thelma amusedly, as she once more set her spinning-wheel
Britta laughed delightedly. “Yes!
she will not find her way to England without some
trouble!” she exclaimed. “Oh, how
happy I shall be! And you” she
looked pleadingly at her mistress “you
do not dislike me for your servant?”
“Dislike!” and Thelma
gave her a glance of mingled reproach and tenderness.
“You know how fond I am of you, Britta!
It will be like having a little bit of my old home
always with me.”
Silently Britta kissed her hand, and
then resumed her work. The monotonous murmur
of the two wheels recommenced, this time
pleasantly accompanied by the rippling chatter of
the two girls, who, after the fashion of girls all
the world over, indulged in many speculations as to
the new and strange life that lay before them.
Their ideas were of the most primitive
character, Britta had never been out of
Norway, and Thelma’s experiences, apart from
her home life, extended merely to the narrow and restricted
bounds of simple and severe convent discipline, where
she had been taught that the pomps and vanities of
the world were foolish and transient shows, and that
nothing could please God more than purity and rectitude
of soul. Her character was formed, and set upon
a firm basis firmer than she herself was
conscious of. The nuns who had been entrusted
with her education had fulfilled their task with more
than their customary zeal they were interested
in the beautiful Norwegian child for the sake of her
mother, who had also been their charge. One venerable
nun in particular had bestowed a deep and lasting
benefit on her, for, seeing her extraordinary beauty,
and forestalling the dangers and temptations into
which the possession of such exceptional charms might
lead her, she adopted a wise preventive course, that
cased her as it were in armor, proof against all the
assailments of flattery. She told the girl quite
plainly that she was beautiful, but at the
same time made her aware that beauty was common, that
she shared it alike with birds, flowers, trees, and
all the wonderful objects of nature moreover,
that it was nothing to boast of, being so perishable.
“Suppose a rose foolish enough
to boast of its pretty leaves,” said the gentle
religieuse on one occasion. “They
all fall to the ground in a short time, and become
decayed and yellow it is only the fragrance,
or the soul of the rose that lasts.”
Such precepts, that might have been wasted on a less
sensitive and thoughtful nature, sank deeply into
Thelma’s mind she accepted them not
only in theory but in practice, and the result was
that she accepted her beauty as she accepted her health, as
a mere natural occurrence no more.
She was taught that the three principal virtues of
a woman were chastity, humility, and obedience, these
were the laws of God, fixed and immutable, which no
one dared break without committing grievous and unpardonable
sin. So she thought, and according to her thoughts
she lived. What a strange world, then, lay before
her in the contemplated change that was about to take
place in the even tenor of her existence! A world
of intrigue and folly a world of infidelity
and falsehood! how would she meet it?
It was a question she never asked herself she
thought London a sort of magnified Christiania,
or at best, the Provencal town of Arles on a larger
scale. She had heard her father speak of it, but
only in a vague way, and she had been able to form
no just idea even to herself of the enormous metropolis
crowded to excess with its glad and sorrowful, busy
and idle, rich and poor millions. England itself
floated before her fancy as a green, fertile, embowered
island where Shakespeare had lived and
it delighted her to know that her future home, Errington
Manor, was situated in Warwickshire, Shakespeare’s
county. Of the society that awaited her she had
no notion, she was prepared to “keep
house” for her husband in a very simple way to
spin his household linen, to spare him all trouble
and expense, and to devote herself body and soul to
his service. As may be well imagined, the pictures
she drew of her future married life, as she sat and
span with Britta on that peaceful afternoon, were
widely different to the destined reality that every
day approached her more nearly.
Meantime, while the two girls were
at home and undisturbed in the quiet farm house, the
mountaineering party, headed by Sigurd, were well on
their way towards the great Fall of Njedegorze.
They had made a toilsome ascent of the hills by the
side of the Alten river they had climbed
over craggy boulders and slippery rocks, sometimes
wading knee-deep in the stream, or pausing to rest
and watch the salmon leap and turn glittering somersaults
in the air close above the diamond-clear water, and
they had beguiled their fatigue with songs and laughter,
and the telling of fantastic legends and stories in
which Sigurd had shone at his best indeed,
this unhappy being was in a singularly clear and rational
frame of mind, disposed, too, to be agreeable even
towards Errington. Lorimer, who for reasons of
his own, had kept a close watch on Sigurd ever since
his friend’s engagement to Thelma, was surprised
and gratified at this change in his former behavior,
and encouraged him in it, while Errington himself
responded to the dwarf’s proffered friendship,
and walked beside him, chatting cheerfully, during
the most part of the excursion to the Fall. It
was a long and exceedingly difficult journey and
in some parts dangerous but Sigurd proved
himself worthy of the commendations bestowed on him
by the bonde, and guided them by the easiest
and most secure paths, till at last, about seven o’clock
in the evening, they heard the rush and roar of the
rapids below the Fall, and with half an hour’s
more exertion, came in sight of them, though not as
yet of the Fall itself. Yet the rapids were grand
enough to merit attention and the whole
party stopped to gaze on the whirling wonders of water
that, hissing furiously, circled round and round giddily
in wheels of white foam, and then, as though enraged,
leaped high over obstructing stones and branches, and
rushed onward and downward to the smoother length
of the river.
The noise was deafening, they
could not hear each other speak unless by shouting
at the top of their voices, and even then the sounds
were rendered almost indistinct by the riotous uproar.
Sigurd, however, who knew all the ins and outs of
the place, sprang lightly on a jutting crag, and,
putting both hands to his mouth, uttered a peculiar,
shrill, and far-reaching cry. Clear above the
turmoil of the restless waters, that cry was echoed
back eight distinct times from the surrounding rocks
and hills. Sigurd laughed triumphantly.
“You see!” he exclaimed,
as he resumed his leadership of the party, “they
all know me! They are obliged to answer me when
I call they dare not disobey!” And
his blue eyes flashed with that sudden wild fire that
generally foretold some access of his particular mania.
Errington saw this and said soothingly,
“Of course not, Sigurd! No one would dream
of disobeying you! See how we follow you to-day we
all do exactly what you tell us.”
“We are sheep, Sigurd,”
added Lorimer lazily; “and you are the shepherd!”
Sigurd looked from one to the other
half doubtingly, half cunningly. He smiled.
“Yes!” he said. “You
will follow me, will you not? Up to the very top
of the Fall?”
“By all means!” answered
Sir Philip gaily. “Anywhere you choose to
Sigurd seemed satisfied, and lapsing
into the calm, composed manner which had distinguished
him all day, he led the way as before, and they resumed
their march, this time in silence, for conversation
was well-nigh impossible. The nearer they came
to the yet invisible Fall, the more thunderous grew
the din it was as though they approached
some vast battle-field, where opposing armies were
in full action, with all the tumult of cannonade and
musketry. The ascent grew steeper and more difficult at
times the high barriers of rocks seemed almost impassable, often
they were compelled to climb over confused heaps of
huge stones, through which the eddying water pushed
its way with speed and fury, but Sigurd’s
precision was never at fault, he leaped
crag after crag swiftly and skillfully, always lighting
on a sure foothold, and guiding the others to do the
same. At last, at a sharp turn of one of these
rocky éminences, they perceived an enormous cloud
of white vapor rising up like smoke from the earth,
and twisting itself as it rose, in swaying, serpentine
folds, as though some giant spirit-hand were shaking
it to and fro like a long flowing veil in the air.
Sigurd paused and pointed forward.
“Njedegorze!” he cried.
They all pressed on with some excitement.
The ground vibrated beneath their feet with the shock
of the falling torrent, and the clash and uproar of
the disputing waters rolled in their ears like the
grand, sustained bass of some huge cathedral organ.
Almost blinded by the spray that dashed its disdainful
drops in their faces, deafened by the majestic, loud,
and ceaseless eloquence that poured its persuasive
force into the splitting hearts of the rocks around
them, breathless with climbing, and well-nigh
tread out, they struggled on, and broke into one unanimous
shout of delight and triumph when they at last reached
the small hut that had been erected for the convenience
of travellers who might choose that way to journey
to the Altenfjord, and stood face to face
with the magnificent cascade, one of the grandest in
Norway. What a sublime spectacle it was! that
tempest of water sweeping sheer down the towering
rocks in one straight, broad, unbroken sheet of foam!
A myriad rainbows flashed in the torrent and vanished,
to reappear again instantly with redoubled lustre, while
the glory of the evening sunlight glittering on one
side of the fall made it gleam like a sparkling shower
of molten gold.
“Njedegorze!” cried Sigurd
again, giving a singularly musical pronunciation to
the apparently uncouth name. “Come! still
a little further, to the top of the Fall!”
Olaf Gueldmar, however, paid no attention
to this invitation. He was already beginning
to busy himself with preparations for passing the
night comfortably in the hut before mentioned.
Stout old Norseman as he was, there were limits to
his endurance, and the arduous exertions of the long
day had brought fatigue to him as well as to the rest
of the party.
Macfarlane was particularly exhausted.
His frequent pulls at the whiskey flask had been of
little or no avail as a support to his aching limbs,
and, now he had reached his destination, he threw himself
full length on the turf in front of the hut and groaned
Lorimer surveyed him amusedly, and
stood beside him, the very picture of a cool young
Briton whom nothing could possibly discompose.
“Done up eh, Sandy?” he inquired.
“Done up!” growled Macfarlane.
“D’ye think I’m a Norseman or a jumping
Frenchy?” This with a look of positive indignation
at the lively Duprez, who, if tired, was probably
too vain to admit it, for he was strutting about,
giving vent to his genuine admiration of the scene
before him with the utmost freshness and enthusiasm.
“I’m just a plain Scotchman, an’
no such a fule at climbin’ either! Why,
man, I’ve been up Goatfell in Arran, an’
Ben Lomond an’ Ben Nevis there’s
a mountain for ye, if ye like! But a brae like
this, wi’ a’ the stanes lyin’ helter-skelter,
an’ crags that ye can barely hold on to and
a mad chap guidin’ ye on at the speed o’
a leapin’ goat I tell ye, I havena
been used to’t.” Here he drew out
his flask and took another extensive pull at it.
Then he added suddenly, “Just look at Errington!
He’ll be in a fair way to break his neck if
he follows yon wee crazy loon any further.”
At these words Lorimer turned sharply
round, and perceived his friend following Sigurd step
by step up a narrow footing in the steep ascent of
some rough, irregular crags that ran out and formed
a narrow ledge, ending in a sharp point, jutting directly
over the full fury of the waterfall. He watched
the two climbing figures for an instant without any
anxiety, then he suddenly remembered that
Philip had promised to go with Sigurd “to the
top of the Fall.” Acting on a rapid impulse
which he did not stop to explain to himself, Lorimer
at once started off after them, but the
ascent was difficult; they were some distance ahead,
and though he shouted vociferously, the roar of the
cascade rendered his voice inaudible. Gaining
on them, however, by slow degrees, he was startled
when all at once they disappeared at the summit and,
breathless with his rapid climb, he paused, bewildered.
By-and-by he saw Sigurd creeping cautiously out along
the rocky shelf that overhung the tumbling torrent his
gaze grew riveted with a sort of deadly fascination
on the spot.
“Good God!” he muttered
under his breath. “Surely Phil will not
follow him there!”
He watched with strained eyes, and
a smothered cry escaped him as Errington’s tall
figure, erect and bold, appeared on that narrow and
dangerous platform! He never knew how he clambered
up the rest of the slippery ascent. A double
energy seemed given to his active limbs. He never
paused again for one second till he also stood on the
platform, without being heard or perceived by either
Sigurd or Philip. Their backs were turned to
him, and he feared to move or speak, lest a sudden
surprised movement on their parts should have the fatal
result of precipitating one or both into the fall.
He remained, therefore, behind them, silent and motionless, looking,
as they looked, at the terrific scene below.
From that point, Njedegorze was as a huge boiling caldron,
from which arose twisted wreaths and coiling lengths
of white vapor, faintly colored with gold and silvery
blue. Dispersing in air, these mists took all
manner of fantastic forms, ghostly arms
seemed to wave and beckon, ghostly hands to unite
in prayer, and fluttering creatures in
gossamer draperies of green and crimson, appeared to
rise and float, and retire and shrink, to nothingness
again in the rainbow drift and sweep of whirling foam.
Errington gazed unconcernedly down on the seething
abyss. He pushed back his cap from his brow, and
let the fresh wind play among his dark, clustering
curls. His nerves were steady, and he surveyed
the giddily twisting wheels of shining water, without
any corresponding giddiness in his own brain.
He had that sincere delight in a sublime natural spectacle,
which is the heritage of all who possess a poetic
and artistic temperament; and though he stood on a
frail ledge of rock, from which one false or unwary
step might send him to certain destruction, he had
not the slightest sense of possible danger in his
position. Withdrawing his eyes from the Fall,
he looked kindly down at Sigurd, who in turn was staring
up at him with a wild fixity of regard.
“Well, old boy,” he said
cheerfully, “this is a fine sight! Have
you had enough of it? Shall we go back?”
Sigurd drew imperceptibly nearer.
Lorimer, from his point of vantage behind a huge bowlder,
drew nearer also.
“Go back?” echoed Sigurd. “Why
should we go back?”
“Why, indeed!” laughed
Errington, lightly balancing himself on the trembling
rocks beneath him. “Except that I should
scarcely think this is the best place on which to
pass the night! Not enough room, and too much
noise! What say you?”
“Oh, brave, brave, fool!”
cried the dwarf in sudden excitement. “Are
you not afraid?”
The young baronet’s keen eyes
glanced him over with amused wonder.
“What of?” he demanded
coolly. Still nearer came Sigurd nearer
also came the watchful, though almost invisible Lorimer.
“Look down there!” continued
Sigurd in shrill tones, pointing to the foaming gulf.
“Look at the Elf-danz see the
beautiful spirits with the long pale green hair and
glittering wings! See how they beckon, beckon,
beckon! They want some one to join them look
how their white arms wave, they throw back
their golden veils and smile at us! They call
to you you with the strong figure
and the proud eyes why do you not go to
them? They will kiss and caress you they
have sweet lips and snow-white bosoms, they
will love you and take care of you they
are as fair as Thelma!”
“Are they? I doubt it!”
and Errington smiled dreamily as he turned his head
again towards the fleecy whirl of white water, and
saw at once with an artist’s quick eye what
his sick-brained companion meant by the Elf-danz,
in the fantastic twisting, gliding shapes tossed up
in the vaporous mist of the Fall. “But
I’ll take your word, Sigurd, without making
the elves’ personal acquaintance! Come along this
place is bad for you we’ll dance
with the green-haired nymphs another time.”
And with a light laugh he was about
to turn away, when he was surprised by a sudden, strange
convulsion of Sigurd’s countenance his
blue eyes flashed with an almost phosphorescent lustre, his
pale skin flushed deeply red, and the veins in his
forehead started into swelled and knotted prominence.
“Another time!” he screamed
loudly; “no, no! Now now!
Die, robber of Thelma’s love! Die die die!”
Repeating these words like quick gasps
of fury, he twisted his meager arms tightly round
Errington, and thrust him fiercely with all his might
towards the edge of the Fall. For one second Philip
strove against him the next, he closed
his eyes Thelma’s face smiled on his
mind in that darkness as though in white farewell the
surging blood roared in his ears with more thunder
than the terrific tumble of the torrent “God!”
he muttered, and then then he stood
safe on the upper part of the rocky platform with
Lorimer’s strong hand holding him in a vice-like
grasp, and Lorimer’s face, pale, but looking
cheerfully into his. For a moment he was too
bewildered to speak. His friend loosened him
and laughed rather forcedly a slight tremble
of his lips was observable under his fair moustache.
“By Jove, Phil,” he remarked
in his usual nonchalant manner, “that was rather
a narrow shave! Fortunate I happened to be there!”
Errington gazed about him confusedly.
“Where’s Sigurd?” he asked.
“Gone! Ran off like a ‘leapin’
goat,’ as Sandy elegantly describes him.
I thought at first he meant to jump over the Fall,
in which case I should have been compelled to let
him have his own way, as my hands were full.
But he’s taken a safe landward direction.”
“Didn’t he try to push me over?”
“Exactly! He was quite
convinced that the mermaids wanted you. But I
considered that Miss Thelma’s wishes had a prior
claim on my regard.”
“Look here, old man,”
said Errington suddenly, “don’t jest about
it! You saved my life!”
“Well!” and Lorimer laughed.
“Quite by accident, I assure you.”
“Not by accident!”
and Philip flushed up, looking very handsome and earnest.
“I believe you followed us up here thinking something
might happen. Now didn’t you?”
“Suppose I did,” began
Lorimer, but he was interrupted by his friend, who
seized his hand, and pressed it with a warm, close,
affectionate fervor. Their eyes met and
Lorimer blushed as though he had performed some action
meriting blame rather than gratitude. “That’ll
do, old fellow,” he said almost nervously.
“As we say in polite society when some one crushes
our favorite corn under his heel don’t
mention it! You see Sigurd is cracked, there’s
not the slightest doubt about that, and
he’s hardly accountable for his vagaries.
Then I know something about him that perhaps you don’t.
He loves your Thelma!”
They were making the descent of the
rocks together, and Errington stopped short in surprise.
“Loves Thelma! You mean as a brother ”
“Oh no, I don’t!
I mean that he loves her as brothers often love other
people’s sisters his affection is
by no means fraternal if it were only that ”
“I see!” and Philip’s
eyes filled with a look of grave compassion. “Poor
fellow! I understand his hatred of me now.
Good Heavens! how he must suffer! I forgive him
with all my heart. But I say, Thelma
has no idea of this!”
“Of course not. And you’d
better not tell her. What’s the good of
making her unhappy?”
“But how did you learn
it?” inquired Philip, with a look of some curiosity
at his friend.
“Oh, I!” and Lorimer laughed
carelessly; “I was always an observing sort
of fellow fond of putting two and two together
and making four of them, when I wasn’t too exhausted
and the weather wasn’t too hot for the process.
Sigurd’s rather attached to me indulges
me with some specially private ravings now and then I
soon found out his secret, though I believe the poor
little chap doesn’t understand his own feelings
“Well,” said Errington
thoughtfully, “under the circumstances you’d
better not mention this affair of the Fall to Gueldmar.
It will only vex him. Sigurd won’t try
such a prank again.”
“I’m not so sure of that,”
replied Lorimer; “but you know enough now to
be on your guard with him.” He paused and
looked up with a misty softness in his frank blue
eyes then went on in a subdued tone “When
I saw you on the edge of that frightful chasm, Phil ”
He broke off as if the recollection were too painful,
and exclaimed suddenly “Good God!
if I had lost you!”
Errington clapped one hand on his shoulder.
“Well! What if you had?”
he asked almost mirthfully, though there was a suspicious
tremble in his ringing voice.
“I should have said with Horatio,
’I am more an antique Roman than a Dane,’ and
gone after you,” laughed Lorimer. “And
who knows what a jolly banquet we might not have been
enjoying in the next world by this time? If I
believe in anything at all, I believe in a really agreeable
heaven nectar and ambrosia, and all that
sort of thing, and Hebes to wait upon you.”
As he spoke they reached the sheltering
hut, where Gueldmar, Duprez, and Macfarlane were waiting
rather impatiently for them.
“Where’s Sigurd?” cried the bonde.
“Gone for a ramble on his own
account,” answered Errington readily. “You
know his fancies!”
“I wish his fancies would leave
him,” grumbled Gueldmar. “He promised
to light a fire and spread the meal and
now, who knows whither he has wandered?”
“Never mind, sir,” said
Lorimer. “Engage me as a kitchen-boy.
I can light a fire, and can also sit beside it when
it is properly kindled. More I cannot promise.
As the housemaids say when they object to assist the
cook, it would be beneath me.”
“Cook!” cried Duprez,
catching at this word. “I can cook!
Give me anything to broil. I will broil it!
You have coffee I will make it!”
And in the twinkling of an eye he had divested himself
of his coat, turned up his cuffs, and manufactured
the cap of a chef out of a newspaper which
he stuck jauntily on his head. “Behold me,
messieurs, a vôtre service!”
His liveliness was infectious; they
all set to work with a will, and in a few moments
a crackling wood-fire blazed cheerily on the ground,
and the gipsy preparations for the al fresco
supper went on apace amid peals of laughter.
Soon the fragrance of steaming coffee arose and mingled
itself with the resinous odors of the surrounding
pine-trees, while Macfarlane distinguished
himself by catching a fine salmon trout in a quiet
nook of the rushing river, and this Duprez cooked
in a style that would have done honor to a cordon
bleu. They made an excellent meal, and sang
songs in turn and told stories, Olaf Gueldmar,
in particular, related eerie legends of the Dovre-fjelde,
and many a striking history of ancient origin, full
of terror and superstition, concerning
witches, devils, and spirits both good and evil, who
are still believed to have their abode on the Norwegian
hills, for, as the bonde remarked
with a smile, “when civilization has driven
these unearthly beings from every other refuge in the
world, they will always be sure of a welcome in Norway.”
It was eleven o’clock when they
at last retired within the hut to rest for the night,
and the errant Sigurd had not returned. The sun
shone brilliantly, but there was no window to the
small shed, and light and air came only through the
door, which was left wide open. The tired travellers
lay down on their spread-out rugs and blankets, and
wishing each other a cheerful “good night,”
were soon fast asleep. Errington was rather restless,
and lay awake for some little time, listening to the
stormy discourse of the Fall; but at last his eyelids
yielded to the heaviness that oppressed them, and
he sank into a light slumber.
Meanwhile the imperial sun rode majestically
downwards to the edge of the horizon, and
the sky blushed into the pale tint of a wild rose,
that deepened softly and steadily with an ever-increasing
fiery brilliance as the minutes glided noiselessly
on to the enchanted midnight hour. A wind began
to rustle mysteriously among the pines then
gradually growing wrathful, strove to whistle a loud
defiance to the roar of the tumbling waters.
Through the little nooks and crannies of the roughly
constructed cabin, where the travellers slept, it uttered
small wild shrieks of warning or dismay and,
suddenly, as though touched by an invisible hand,
Sir Philip awoke. A crimson glare streaming through
the open door dazzled his drowsy eyes was
it a forest on fire? He started up in dreamy
alarm, then remembered where he was.
Realizing that there must be an exceptionally fine
sky to cast so ruddy a reflection on the ground, he
threw on his cloak and went outside.
What a wondrous, almost unearthly
scene greeted him! His first impulse was to shout
aloud in sheer ecstasy his next to stand
silent in reverential awe. The great Fall was
no longer a sweeping flow of white foam it
had changed to a sparkling shower of rubies, as though
some great genie, tired of his treasures, were flinging
them away by giant handfuls, in the most reckless
haste and lavish abundance. From the bottom of
the cascade a crimson vapor arose, like smoke from
flame, and the whirling rapids, deeply red for the
most part, darkened here and there into an olive-green
flecked with gold, while the spray, tossed high over
interrupting rocks and boulders, glittered as it fell
like, small fragments of broken opal. The sky
was of one dense uniform rose-color from west to east, soft
and shimmering as a broad satin pavilion freshly unrolled, the
sun was invisible, hidden behind the adjacent mountains,
but his rays touched some peaks in the distance, on
which white wreaths of snow lay, bringing them into
near and sparkling prominence.
The whole landscape was transformed the
tall trees, rustling and swaying in the now boisterous
wind, took all flickering tints of color on their
trunks and leaves, the grey stones and pebbles
turned to lumps of gold and heaps of diamonds, and
on the other side of the rapids, a large tuft of heather
in a cleft of the rocks glowed with extraordinary
vividness and warmth, like a suddenly kindled fire.
A troop of witches dancing wildly on the sward, a
ring of fairies, kelpies tripping from
crag to crag, a sudden chorus of sweet-voiced
water-nymphs nothing unreal or fantastical
would have surprised Errington at that moment.
Indeed, he almost expected something of the kind the
scene was so eminently fitted for it.
“Positively, I must wake Lorimer,”
he thought to himself. “He oughtn’t
to miss such a gorgeous spectacle as this.”
He moved a little more in position
to view the Fall. What was that small dark object
running swiftly yet steadily along on the highest summit
of those jutting crags? He rubbed his eyes amazedly was
it could it be Sigurd? He watched
it for a moment, then uttered a loud cry
as he saw it pause on the very ledge of rock from
which but a short while since, he himself had been
so nearly precipitated. The figure was now distinctly
visible, outlined in black against the flaming crimson
of the sky, it stood upright and waved
its arms with a frantic gesture. There was no
mistaking it it was Sigurd!
Without another second’s hesitation
Errington rushed back to the hut and awoke, with clamorous
alarm, the rest of the party. His brief explanation
sufficed they all hurried forth in startled
excitement. Sigurd still occupied his hazardous
position, and as they looked at him he seemed to dance
wildly nearer the extreme edge of the rocky platform.
Old Gueldmar turned pale. “The gods preserve
him!” he muttered in his beard then
turning he began resolutely to make the ascent of the
rocks with long, rapid strides the young
men followed him eager and almost breathless, each
and all bent upon saving Sigurd from the danger in
which he stood, and trying by different ways to get
more quickly near the unfortunate lad and call, or
draw him back by force from his point of imminent
deadly peril. They were more than half-way up,
when a piercing cry rang clearly above the thunderous
din of the fall a cry that made them pause
for a moment.
Sigurd had caught sight of the figures
advancing to his rescue, and was waving them back
with eloquent gesture of anger and defiance. His
small misshapen body was alive with wrath, it
seemed as though he were some dwarf king ruling over
the glittering crimson torrent, and grimly forbidding
strangers to enter on the boundaries of his magic territory.
They, however, pressed on with renewed haste, and
they had nearly reached the summit when another shrill
cry echoed over the sunset-colored foam.
Once more they paused they
were in full view of the distraught Sigurd, and he
turned his head towards them, shaking back his long
fair hair with his old favorite gesture and laughing
in apparent glee. Then he suddenly raised his
arms, and, clasping his hands together, poised himself
as though he were some winged thing about to fly.
shouted Gueldmar, his strong voice tremulous with
anguish. “Come back! come back to Thelma!”
At the sound of that beloved name,
the unhappy creature seemed to hesitate, and, profiting
by that instant of irresolution, Errington and Lorimer
rushed forward Too late! Sigurd saw
them coming, and glided with stealthy caution to the
very brink of the torrent, where there was scarcely
any foothold there he looked back at his
would-be rescuers with an air of mystery and cunning,
and broke into a loud derisive laugh.
Then still with clasped
hands and smiling face unheeding the shout
of horror that broke from those who beheld him he
leaped, and fell! Down, down into the roaring
abyss! For one half-second one lightning
flash his twisted figure, like a slight
black speck was seen against the wide roseate glory
of the tumbling cascade then it disappeared,
engulfed and lost for ever! Gone, with
all his wild poet fancies and wandering dreams gone,
with his unspoken love and unguessed sorrows gone
where dark things shall be made light, and
where the broken or tangled chain of the soul’s
intelligence shall be mended and made perfect by the
tender hands of the All-Wise and the All-Loving One,
whose ways are too gloriously vast for our finite comprehension.
“Gone, mistress!” as he
would have said to the innocent cause of his heart’s
anguish. “Gone where I shall grow straight
and strong and brave! Mistress, if you meet me
in Valhalla, you will love me!”