August Strindberg.

Easter (a play in three acts) and stories from the Swedish of August Strindberg .. online

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ditcli. He lowered his head and walked back-

"I am so frightened, mamma!" said the little
one, and her heart thumped.

''0 merciful God in Heaven, help us !" sighed
the mother, looking beseechingly up toward the
blue canopy. And there rested, fluttering like
a butterfly, a little lark. And when it began
to sing, the ram disappeared among the gray

Then they came to the third gate. Here the
ground began to sink. It was wet and swampy.
The gTass-tufts were like little graves strewn
with white flowers — woolen flowers or cotton
flowers. It meant walking straight so as not
to sink down in the mire. Here there grew
blackberries that were poisonous and these the
little one wanted to pick, but wasn 't allowed to ;
therefore she was sad — for she didn't under-
stand what poisonous meant.

As they walked along they noticed something
whitish coming forward between the trees.
The sun was hidden and a white mist arose
around them, which was ghastly!

In this misty whiteness a head with two



twisted liorns stuck out. Then the head bel-
lowed and several heads were visible — many —
they came nearer and nearer.

''I'm afraid, mamma!" whispered the child.
"I'm so afraid!"

The mother stepped aside and sank between
two grass-tufts, into the marsh.

"0 God, great and merciful, have pity on
us!" cried the mother from the depths of her

And now the wind was heard. The strong sea
wind came rushing through the forest. The
trees bowed themselves humbly before the
Great Spirit and a young pine bent itself down.
It whispered something from its crown into the
ear of the forlorn mother, and when she had
grasped a branch with her free hand, the pine
straightened itself and lifted the disconsolate
woman out of the mire.

The mist was blown away that instant, the
sun shone again and now they stood by the
fourth gate. The mother, who had lost her
hat, dried the child's tears with her black hair,
and when the little one smiled at this, it shone
in the poor mother-heart. She forgot all the



hardships she had passed through, and gained
new strength to reach the fifth gate. Then her
spirits brightened, for she saw red tile roofs
and flags, and alongside the road grew snow-
ball bushes and wild roses — two and two — just
as if they loved each other, the white snow-ball
bush and the pink wild rose.

The little girl could walk now, and she picked
the basket full of flowers, upon which the doll
Lisa was to sleep on Midsummer night, so she
would have beautiful dreams.

Thus they played their way forward, care-
free once more, for they had only a birch grove
left, and then they would be there! Now the
road went up a little hillock, and when they
came to the top and turned toward the right,
the bull stood in the middle of the path !

It was impossible to flee. Prostrate, the
mother dropped to her knees, laid the child on
the ground, bent her head protectingly down,
so that the long hair hung like a black veil, and,
with outstretched hands, she prayed a silent
prayer. From the child's brow the sweat of
anguish dripped down upon the ground, like



"0 God!" she prayed, "take my life, but
spare the little one ! ' '

Then she heard wing-strokes in the air, and
as she glanced up, a white dove flew toward the
village; but the bull was gone.

When she looked around for her child, the
little one sat by the roadside and picked straw-
berries. And then she understood whence they
had come!

They walked through the sixth gate and wan-
dered into the town.

It lay in the sunlight, by a green-bordered
creek, beneath great lindens and maples. And
on a hill were seen the white church with the
red belfry tower, the parish garden, with lilacs
in bloom, the post office almost buried in jas-
min, and the gardener's place behind the great
oak. Everything stood there so bright-like!
The flags floated in the breeze; small boats
edged the shores and bridges, and one could see
that it was Midsummer's Eve.

But they met no human being. First they
were going to the shop, to trade, and there the
little girl would get something to drink.

When they arrived, the shop was closed.



"I'm so thirsty, mamma!"

They went to the post office.

That was closed.

"I'm so hungry, mamma!"

The mother was mute, for she did not com-
prehend why it was closed on a week day, and
why there were no people about. She went to
the gardener's. There it was closed, and a big
dog lay stretched out before the gate.

"I'm so tired, mamma!"

' ' So am I, my child, but we must find a drink
of water."

They went from house to house, but every
door was shut. The child could not walk far-
ther, for her little foot was tired, and she
limped. When the mother saw the pretty little
form bent sideways, she too grew weary and
sat down on the roadside, with the child on her
lap. And the little one fell asleep.

Then a dove was heard singing in a lilac bush,
and she sang so sweetly of Heaven's joys and
of the Earth's perpetual pain and sorrow.

The mother looked upon the sleeping child,
upon its little upturned face, which was framed
in white laces, like the flower-petals of the



white lily, and she felt that she herself held the
Kingdom of Heaven in her arms !

The child awoke and begged for water.

The mother remained mute.

''I want to go home, mamma!" cried the
little one.

' ' The same terrible journey back ? — Never ! I
would rather go into the sea," replied the

' ' I want to go home ! ' '

The mother rose up. She had seen young
birches in the distance, back of a hillock, and
as she looked at them, they began to move.
Then she understood that over there there were
people who had broken off birch leaves for
Midsummer leaf-bowers. And she betook her-
self thither, where she should find water.

On the way, she noticed a little cottage en-
closed by a green hedge, with a white gate.
There the door stood open and invited them in
so pleasantly. She passed through the gate
and came into a garden, with peonies and colum-
bine. Then she noticed that the curtains were
lowered at all the windows, and that all the cur-
tains were white. But one dormer window was



open and, between two palm leaves, a white
hand was seen waving a little white handker-
chief, as though it were waving to someone
who was going away.

She went np to the stoop and there, in the
tall grass, lay a wreath of green myrtle, with
white roses. But it was too large to he a bridal

Then she stepped up on the veranda and
asked if any one was in.

When no one replied, she went into the cot-
tage. On the floor, in the middle of a forest of
roses, stood a black damask coffin, with silver
feet. And in the coffin lay a young girl, with a
bridal-crown upon her head.

The walls of the room were of new rough pine
boards, only varnished, so that all the knots
were visible. And the oval knot-holes, where
the dark branches had been sawed off, looked
like eyeballs.

The child first noticed the quaint-looking
walls, and said :

"See, how many eyes, mamma!"

Yes, there were all sorts of eyes : big, kindly
earnest ones; little sparkling child eyes, with



a smile in the comers ; angry eyes that showed
too much of the white ; open watchful eyes that
searched the heart. And there was a large,
mild mother-eye, that looked affectionately upon
the dead girl. And in the eye there glistened
a clear tear of pine resin, which, in the setting
sun, sparkled like a diamond.

'*Is the girl sleeping?" asked the child, who
had now caught a glimpse of the dead.

"Yes, she is sleeping.'*

**Is it a bride, mamma?"

*'Yes, it's a bride."

The mother had recognized her. It was the
girl who was to stand a bride at Midsummer-
tide, when the sailor would be home. But when
the sailor wrote that he could not come before
the autumn, her heart broke, for she did not
want to wait till the autumn, when the trees had
shed their leaves and the storms had set in.

She had listened to the dove's song and had
understood. Now, when the young mother went
out, she knew whither she was going.

She set the heavy basket down outside the
gate and took the child in her arms, directing her
steps out into the next field, which lay between



her and the strand. It was a sea of flowers that
murmured and whispered around her white
skirt, which was being colored by every variety
of pollen. Humming-birds, bees and butterflies
lifted their wings and, singing, flew before them
in one great brocaded gold-cloud. She walked
with light footsteps down toward the strand.

Out on the river she saw a white sailboat
coming with taut sails, straight toward the land-
ing, but no one was seen at the helm. She
waded forward, bathing in flowers and flower-
perfumes, so that her white petticoat looked
like a flower bed, but of much more delicate

She paused down by the willows on the
strand. There was a bird's nest, between stem
and branch; and when the tree swayed in the
evening breeze, three little downy birdlings
were being rocked to sleep, and the little one
wished to pat them.

"No, my child," said the mother; ''never
touch a bird's nest."

And as they stood there, on the strand-peb-
bles, the white boat landed right at their feet,
but there was not a person in it.



Then slie took the child and stepped on board,
and immediately the boat turned and steered
away from the point.

When they sailed alongside the church land,
all the bells began ringing, but so heartily and
joyously !

The boat glided away from the point and
came out upon the fjord, where the open sea
was visible.

The little girl beamed with delight because
the water was so calm and blue. And it was
no longer water that they sailed in, but beau-
tiful corn flowers, which she plucked with her
outstretched hand.

And the flowers lowered and raised them-
selves, like little waves swishing against the
boat. Endless, the field seemed to spread out
before them. Soon they were engulfed in a
white mist, and they heard the splash of waves ;
but from above the mist, rang the lark's trill.

' ' How can larks sing on the sea ? ' ' asked the

' ' The sea is so green that the larks think it a
meadow," replied the mother.

Now the mist was gone, the sky was as blue



as the violet, and the larks rose. Far out in
the lake they glimpsed a verdant isle, with white
sand-shores where people wandered, hand in
hand. The setting sun lit up the gilded dome
of a colonnade, where fires burned under holy
sacrifice-vessels; and above the isle a rainbow
of rose-red and sea-green was drawn.

''What is this, mamma*?"

The mother could not answer.

"Is it the Heavenly Kingdom, that the dove
sang about? What is the Heavenly Kingdom,

"It is a place, child, where all people are
friends; where there is no sorrow, and no
strife. ' '

"Then I want to go there, mamma," said the

"And I, too," said the tired, forsaken and
sorely tried mother.




If one stands by the harbor, where the steam-
boats lie, and looks out toward the sea, one sees
to the left a mountain entirely covered with
young forest trees, and behind it stands a large
house built in the form of a spider. In its cen-
tre stands a wheel from which eight spokes
project, exactly like the legs on a spider's round
body. He who happens to get into that house
does not come out again when he wants to ; and
some stay there a lifetime. It is the prison

In the old King's time the mountain was not
green. Then it was gray, for nothing grew
there, not even moss or heart 's-ease, which
usually thrive on stony hills. There were only
gray stone and gray people, who looked petri-
fied and who broke stone, drilled stone, and
carried stone. Among these Stone Age people
there was one who looked more petrified than



the rest. He was a youth when, in the reign
of King Oscar the First, he was shut up in this
prison house because he had killed a human

He was a life prisoner, and on his clothes
were sewn the letters L. P., in black.

Winter and summer he tramped the mountain
and pounded stone. In winter he saw the
steamship harbor empty and desolate, and the
semicircular pier with its piles, yawned like a
mouth exposing a row of teeth. Now he could
see the woodshed, the riding school and the two
gigantic leafless lindens. Once in a while an
ice yacht came sailing past the island, now and
then a few boys on skates would pass; other-
wise it was quiet and deserted.

When summer came it grew livelier. Then
the harbor was lined with fine vessels, newly
painted and flag-bedecked, and the lindens were
green — the lindens under which he had sat as a
child when awaiting his father, who was ma-
chinist on one of the prettiest steamboats.

Now, he had not heard the wind blowing
through trees these many years; for nothing
grew on his mountain. But in his memory the



rustling of the leaves in Riddarholmen's lindens
lived, as the only thing he longed for.

If, on a summer's day, a steamboat passed
the island, he heard the splash of waves and
perhaps a brass band. He saw happy faces
that darkened when they sighted the gray stone
men on the mountain.

Then he cursed heaven and earth, his fate,
and mankind's cruelty. Thus had he cursed
year in and year out, and his comrades and he
had cursed one another ; for crime severs, while
misfortune unites sufferers.

At first the life here was needlessly hard, and
the gTiards maltreated the convicts arbitrarily,

But one day there came a change: the fare
became better, the treatment less severe, and
each prisoner was allowed to sleep in a private
cell. It was the King himself who had loosed
the prisoners' bonds a little, but as hopeless-
ness had hardened the hearts of these unfortu-
nates, they could not feel anything that even
resembled gTatitude, but continued to curse.
And now they found it more agTeeable to live
in one room so they could chat at night. And



they grumbled about tlie food, the clothing, the
guards, exactly as heretofore.

One bright day all the bells in the city be-
gan ringing — Riddarholm's most of all. King
Oscar was dead, and the convicts were granted
a holiday. As they could speak to each other
now, they talked of making their escape, of how
they were going to kill the guard; they even
talked of the deceased monarch, and they spoke
ill of him.

''He would have given us our freedom, had
he been just," said a prisoner.

' ' Or else he should have locked up all the cul-
prits who are at large. ' '

"Then he would have had to turn jailer him-
self, for the whole nation would have been
'jugged.' "

It is thus with convicts: They regard all
persons as criminals, and think that they them-
selves were caught simply because luck was
against them.

Meanwhile, it was a hot summer's day when
the stone man wandered around on the strand
and listened to the tolling of the bells for Oscar
the Mild. He searched under the strand-peb-



bles for bullheads and stickleback, but there
was none. Out in the water neither roach nor
alburn was seen, and consequently no sea-gulls
or swallows appeared. Then he felt that a
curse rested upon the place, since not even
fishes or birds would come near it.

Again he was reminded of his fate ! He had
lost his name and was simply number 65 — a
name written in ciphers instead of letters ! He
was not registered ; paid no taxes ; did not know
how old he was. He was no longer a man; no
longer alive — neither was he dead. He was
only a gray object that moved on the mountain
and which the sun burned frightfully — burned
its clothes, its head with the close-cropped hair,
which had once been curls brushed and combed
by a mother's soft hand. To-day he was not
allowed to wear a cap, lest with it he could
more easily make his escape. And when the
sun pierced his skull, he remembered a story
of the prophet Jonah, to whom the Lord had
given a gourd, that he might sit under its

' ' Then what did he get ! ' ' sneered he ; for he
believed in nothing good — absolutely nothing.



Just then he happened to see rocking in the
surf a big birch bough. It was quite green,
with a white stem, and may have dropped from
an excursion boat. He dragged it ashore, shook
the water off it and took it along with him to a
crevice in the mountain a good distance away,
where he propped it between three stones.
Then he seated himself under the birch and
heard the wind blowing softly through the
leaves, which wafted a scent of finest resin.

When he had sat a while in the cooling shade,
he fell asleep.

And he dreamed:

The mountain was a verdant grove, with
beautiful trees and fragrant blossoms. But all
by itself stood a tree with which he was un-
familiar, and this tree was more beautiful than
the rest, for it had a number of trunks, as a
bush has stems, and the branches formed figures
and knots as intricate and fine as crochet work.
And under its smooth, shiny leaves sat a little
black and white bird that looked like a swallow,
but was not one.

And in the dream he could interpret bird-
notes, therefore he heard and understood fairly



well what the bird was singing. It sang:
"Dirt, dirt, dirt, dirt, there! Heave, heave,
heave, heave, here ! In dirt, in dirt, in dirt died
you! From the dirt, the dirt, the dirt rose
you ! ' '

It was about dirt, about death, and about the
resurrection, that much he understood.

But the dream went on.

He stood on the mountain, alone, in the blast-
ing sunshine, burning up with hunger and
thirst. All the comrades had cast him off and
had threatened his life, because he would not
help them set fire to the prison. They crowded
behind him and hunted him with stones as far
as he could go on the mountain. And now he
was hemmed in by a wall. He saw no possible
chance of scaling it, so in his despair he decided
to d^sh his head against the wall, and thus put
an end to himself.

He rushed down the slope — and look! That
instant a gate opened, a green garden gate and
— then he woke up.

When he thought of his plight and saw that
the lovely grove had narrowed down to a birch
bough, he became dissatisfied in his mind and



said to himself : " If at least it had been a lin-
den tree!'*

When he listened, he heard that the birch
sang very loud. It sounded as when one sifts
sand and gravel, while for him the linden could
play the soft, velvety heart tones !

The next day the birch was withered and gave
but little shade.

The day after that, the leaves were dry as
paper and rattled like chattering teeth.

Then he thought once more of the prophet's
gourd, and cursed when the sun pierced his

There was a new king and there was new life
in the country's administration and manage-

New waterways were to be made in the city,
so the convicts were sent out in barges, to

It was the first time in many, many years
that the stone man had been away from his
mountain. He traveled by water once more,
and saw much that was new in his native city :



saw the railway and the steam engine for the
first time!

It was below the station that they were to
dredge. Presently they began to hoist all the
impurities there were on the lake-bottom; up
came drowned cats and old shoes, putrid grease
from the tallow candle factory, color pigments
from the dye works, tan bark from the tannery,
and all the human filth which washerwomen for
a hundred years had rinsed out in the public

And there came a stench of sulphur and am-
monia so insufferable that only convicts could
stand it !

But when the barge was loaded, the prisoners
wondered where all this filth was to be dumped.
They got the answer when the boatman set sail
for their own mountain.

There all the dirt was unloaded and spread
so that the air soon became polluted. They
waded in filth, and they soiled their clothes,
hands, faces !

''This is hell!" said the prisoners.

For two years they dredged and unloaded on
the mountain, which was finally immersed.



The white winter snow fell every late autumn
and drew the white coverlet, with the white
sheets, over all the impurity.

"When the last spring came and the snow
thawed, the bad odor was gone and the filth
began to look like soil. That spring the dredg-
ing was over and our stone man was ordered to
the smithy, so he never came out on the moun-
tain any more. But once, in the autumn, he
stole out, and saw something marvelous !

Weeds grew in the filth— ugly, greasy weeds,
to be sure — ^mostly brownwort, not unlike nettle,
but with brown blossoms, which is ugly; for
flowers should be white, yellow, blue or red.
There were real nettles, also, with green blos-
soms, and burdock, sorrel, thistle and pigweed
— all the ugly, stinging, pricking, ill-smelling
weeds that mortals do not love, but which fol-
low rubbish heaps, burned lots and mud dumps.

''We cleaned out the lake and got the dirt,"
said the convict. ''There's gratitude for you!"

Then came a time when he was transferred to
a new mountain, which was to be turned into
a fortress, and again he worked in stone, stone,
stone 1



There lie lost an eye, and was beaten now and
then ; and there he remained so long that mean-
time the new King died and was succeeded by

On the day of the coronation one prisoner
was to be pardoned, and set at liberty. The
one who had conducted himself best and like-
wise had come to a full realization of the fact
that he had done wrong, was to be pardoned.
Then the other convicts felt that an injustice
had been done them, for in their circles one who
is sorry for a thing for which he is "not re-
sponsible" is regarded as a cringing wretch.

Thus the years came and went. Our stone
man was now very old, and being too feeble for
heavier work, he was taken back to his own
mountain and put to sewing sacks.

One day the clergyman paused by the stone
man, where he sat and sewed.

"Well!" said the clergj^man, "will you never
leave here?"

"How could that be possible?" returned the
stone man.

"When you realize that you have done
wrong — "



"When I see a Imman being who does more
than right, tlien I'll believe that I am in the
wrong. But that I shall never see."

'' 'More than right?' — that would be mercy.
May you soon know that!"

One day the stone man was sent out to make
roads on the mountain which he had not seen
for twenty years, perhaps.

It was a summer's day, and warm, and the
boats steamed noisily past, gorgeous as butter-

When he came out on the point, he saw no
longer a mountain, but a lovely green grove,
where the foliage shimmered in the breeze, like
little ripples on the lake. There were tall white
birches and quivering aspens, and on the strand
stood alders.

It was as in the dream !

And under the trees the grass whispered, the

■flowers nodded, the humming birds flew and

butterflies fluttered. Many kinds of birds sang

there, but he could not interpret their song,

hence he understood it was not a dream.

The Mount of Damnation was turned into



blessing, and he could not help thinking of the
prophet and the gourd.

"This is grace and mercy!" said something
within him — a voice or a prompting — call it
what you will.

And when a steamboat passed, the faces did
not darken but brightened at the vision of the
lovely green. Yes, he thought that someone
waved, as is the custom when one sails by a
summer resort.

He took a step forward under the soughing
trees. They were forsooth no lindens, but he
dared not wish for lindens, lest the birches be
turned into rods ; that much he had learned !

As he walked down the leafy path, he saw at
the end of it a white wall with a green iron gate,
and he heard something playing, which was not
an organ, for its movements were quicker and

Above the wall there was a glimpse of the
pretty roof of a villa, and a blue and yellow flag
fluttered in the breeze.

And above the same wall he saw a ball of

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Online LibraryAugust StrindbergEaster (a play in three acts) and stories from the Swedish of August Strindberg .. → online text (page 5 of 9)