Read CHAPTER I - HOME of The Visionary Pictures From Nordland, free online book, by Jonas Lie, on ReadCentral.com.

My father was a country merchant, and owned the trading-place, ven in West Lofoten. He was really from Trondhjem, whence he had come north, as a destitute boy, in one of those small vessels which are sent from that city to Lofoten, to trade during the fishing season. In his youth he had gone through a great deal, and had even worked for a time in a boat’s crew, as a simple fisherman, until he at last got a place as shop-boy with Erlandsen the merchant, whose son-in-law he became.

My father, in middle age, was a handsome man, black-haired and dark-skinned, with sharp, energetic features, and in height rather short than tall. He always wore a brown duffel, seaman’s jacket, and glazed hat. In manner he was stern, and not very accessible; it was said, too, that he was rather a hard man for which the severe school of life through which he had passed was perhaps to blame. If this manner, on the one hand, made him few friends, on the other, it gained for him a greater confidence in business matters, in which he was prompt and expeditious, always claiming to the utmost what he considered to be his due. People feared him, and would not willingly be on bad terms with him.

We have generally only flashing recollections of what has happened before our eighth year, but these flashes last for a whole lifetime. I have in my mind just such a picture of my poor unhappy mother. I know her better from that than from all I have heard about her since; from what I have been told she must have had fair hair and soft blue eyes, have been pale and delicate, and in figure rather tall. She was also very quiet and melancholy.

She was Erlandsen’s only daughter, and was married to my father while he was yet a subordinate in Erlandsen’s service, and it was said that it was the old man who brought about the union, thinking it the best way to provide for her future.

I remember a warm summer day, and the mowers in their shirt-sleeves, mowing with long scythes, out in the meadow: I was with my mother, as she passed by them, knitting. Outside the fence lay a half-bare rocky hill, behind which my mother had a bench. Above this on a stony heap grew raspberry-bushes, and beside them stood a few small birch-trees. While I was scrambling about among the stones, picking raspberries, father called my mother.

When she had gone away, there came over to me from the other side of the hill a tall, pale lady, who seemed older than mother, dressed in black, with a stand-up, white, frilled collar; she looked at me very kindly, and stretched out to me a wild rose spray she had in her hand.

I did not feel at all afraid, and it did not seem as if she were a stranger. Then she nodded sadly to me in farewell, and went back the same way she had come.

When mother returned I told her that such a kind, strange lady had been there, but she must have been in great sorrow, and now she was gone.

My mother I remember it, as if it were yesterday stood still for a minute, as white as a sheet, looking at me with anguish in her eyes, as if we were both going to die, then she threw her arms above her head, and fell fainting to the ground.

I was too frightened to cry, but I remember that, while she lay stretched insensible on the grass by the bench, I threw myself upon her, crying, “Mother! mother!”

A little while after I had come running to father, who stood in his shirt-sleeves over in the meadow, mowing with the others, and had said, sobbing, that mother was dead.

From that hour my mother was out of her mind. For many years she had to be constantly watched in her own room, and my father must have had many a sad hour. Afterwards she was taken to a lunatic asylum in Trondhjem, where two years later she died, without having come to her right mind for one moment.

The person who had the charge of me during this time was old Anne Kvaen, a pock-marked, masculine-looking woman, with little brown eyes, rough, iron-grey hair, strongly marked, almost witch-like features, and as a rule a short, black clay pipe in her mouth. She had been my mother’s nurse, and was attached to her with her whole soul. When my mother went out of her mind, she begged earnestly to become her guardian in the blue room; but this had to be given up, as it was evident that it was just her presence that most excited the patient’s mind. My mother could not bear to see father either, and me they never dared show her at all.

Old Anne Kvaen had been my mother’s only confidante. She was extremely superstitious and strange. In her imagination, hobgoblins and gnomes occupied the store-house and boat-house, as surely as my father resided in the main building; and under the mountain to the east of the harbour, the underground people carried on, invisibly, their fishing and trading with Bergen, just as my father did his, visibly, in the world. Old Anne had certainly filled my poor mother’s head with her mystic superstition, to no less an extent than she did mine. There were all kinds of marks and signs to be made from morning till night, and she always wore an uneasy look, as though she were keeping watch. When a boat came in, you ought to turn towards the sea, and spit, and mutter a few words against sea-sprites. She could see every man’s double. [The spirit which every one is supposed to have as a follower and companion through life.] On its account the door must be shut to quickly after any one had gone out; and she could always hear a warning beforehand when father was coming home from a journey.

When Anne Kvaen had no longer leave to go into the blue room to my mother, she silently went through all kinds of performances outside the door. I remember once standing on the stairs, and seeing her bowing and curtseying, wetting her finger every now and then, drawing on the door with it, and muttering, until I fled in terror.

In her incantation formulae, the word “Jumala” often occurred, the name of the Bjarmers’ old god, whose memory, in the far north, is not so completely eradicated as one would think, and who to this day has perhaps some sacrificial stone or other on the wide mountain wastes of Finland. Against Lap witchcraft and a suspicion of it was fastened on almost every Lap boat that landed at the quay she also had her charms; she apparently melted down Fin and Christian gods together in her mystical incantations, for the confounding of Lap witchcraft.

In the midst of such mental impressions as these, I grew up.

The parsonage, with the white-towered church beside it, lay only a short way from us, down by the sea, on the right-hand side of the bay, looking out from our trading-place, which lay farther in.

There was a tutor in the place we always called him “the student” and I went to lessons every day with the minister’s two children, a bright boy of the name of Carl, who was a year younger than I, namely twelve, and his sister Susanna, of exactly the same age as myself, a blue-eyed wild child, with a quantity of yellow hair, which was always requiring to be pushed back from her forehead; when she could do so unnoticed by the student, she made all kinds of faces and grimaces across at us, to make us laugh.

The tutor was, in fact, exceedingly strict, and inspired the greatest respect. The torture in which we sat when at school, not daring to look up at one another for fear our laughter should break out, was really anything but pleasant; for every time it exploded we fared very badly; in the first place, we had our hair pulled and our ears boxed, and in the next, long written harangues in our mark-books about our behaviour.

Susanna was often utterly merciless; it came to such a pass, that with only a little wink in the corner of her eye, she could instantly put us in a state of fever, so that we would sit with cheeks as red as apples, and our eyes fastened on our books, until we could contain ourselves no longer. She tried especially to work upon me, though she knew I must pay dearly for misconduct at home; for father was a severe man, who had very little comprehension of children.

In play hours, we romped with more animation than children generally indulge in.

In contrast to the strict, gloomy life at home, with father always either out on business, or up in the office; where, from the blue room, often came noises and cries from my poor insane mother, and where Anne Kvaen was always going about, like a wandering spirit, playing with the parsonage children was like a life in some other and happier, more sunshiny part of the globe.