Read QUIET WEEKS of Strife and Peace , free online book, by Fredrika Bremer, on ReadCentral.com.

When clouds hang heavy on the face of earth,
And woods stand leafless in their mourning plight,
Then gentle sympathy has twofold might,
And kindness on the social winter’s hearth
Within our hearts the glow of spring’s delight.

Velhaven.

Hast thou heard the fall of water-drops in deep caves, where heavily, and perpetually, and gnawingly, they eat into the ground on which they fall? Hast thou heard the murmuring of the brook that flows on sportively between green banks, whilst nodding flowers and beaming lights of heaven mirror themselves in its waters? There is a secret twittering and whispering of joy in it. There hast thou pictures of two kinds of still life, which are different the one from the other as hell and heaven. Both of them are lived on earth; both of them, at Semb in Heimdal, were lived through the following months: the first by Mrs. Astrid, the second by Harald and Susanna, only that sometimes the wearing drops were blown aside by a favourable breeze, and that sometimes mud of various kinds made turbid the waters of the dancing brook.

January passed away with his growing sunshine and his increasing winter pomp. Waterfalls planted their edges with flowers, palms, grapes yes, whole fruit-trees of ice. The bulfinches, with their red breasts, shone like hopping flames upon the white snow. The winter bloomed in sparkling crystals, which were strewn over wood and earth, in the song of the throstle, in the glittering whiteness of the snow-fields. Timber was felled in the woods, and songs from Tegner’s Frithof resounded thereto. People drove in sledges through the valleys, and on snow-skates over the mountains. There was fresh life everywhere.

The contest at Semb, about Sweden and Norway, had ceased ever since Christmas. It is true that Harald attempted various attacks upon Swedish iron, the Swedish woods, and so on, but Susanna seemed not rightly to believe in their seriousness, and would not on that account take up the strife; and his last attempt on the Swedish wind fell so feebly, that Harald determined to let the subject rest, and to look about for some other matter of contention wherewith to keep himself warm during the winter.

February and March came on. This is the severest time of a northern winter. In January it is young, but it becomes now old, and grey and heavy, especially in cottages, where there is no great provision for the family. The autumn provision, as well in the house as in the yard, is nearly consumed. It is hard for hungry children to trail home wood from the forests, which is to boil for them in their kettle only thin water-gruel, and not always that.

April came. It is called the spring month, and the larks sing in the woods. But in the deep valley often prevails then the greatest anxiety and want. Often then scatters the needy peasant ashes and sand upon the snow which covers his acres, that it may melt all the sooner, and thus he may be able to plough up his land between the snow walls which surround it. Susanna during this month became well known in the cottages of the valley, and her warm heart found rich material for sympathy and help.

Harald thought this too good an opportunity to be lost for infusing into Susanna a horror of himself and his character, and showed himself cold and immovable to her description of the wants which she had witnessed, and had a proud ability to say “no” to all her proposals for their assistance. He spoke much of severity and of wholesome lectures, and so on; and Susanna was not slow in calling him the most cruel of men, another “tyrant Christjern,” a regular misanthrope; “wolves and bears had more heart than he had. Never again would she ask him for anything; one might just as well talk to a stock or a stone!” And Susanna set off to weep bitter tears. But when she afterwards found that much want was silently assisted from the hand of the misanthrope; when she found that in various instances her suggestions were adopted; then, indeed, she also shed in silence tears of joy, and soon forgot all her plans of hostile reserve. By degrees, also, Harald forgot his contention in the subject, the interest of which was too good and important; and before they were rightly aware of it, they found themselves both busied for the same purpose in various ways. Susanna had begun by giving away all that she possessed. As she had now no more to give, she began to give ear to Harald’s views; that for the poor which surrounded them, generally speaking, direct almsgiving was less needful than a friendly and rational sympathy in their circumstances, a fatherly and motherly guardianship which would sustain the “broken heart,” and strengthen the weary hands, which were almost sinking, to raise themselves again to labour and to hope. In the class which may be said to labour for their daily bread, there are people who help themselves; others there are whom nobody can help; but the greater number are those who, through prudent help in word and deed, can attain to helping themselves, and obtaining comfort and independence.

Harald considered it important to direct the attention of the people to the keeping of cattle, knowing that this was the certain way of this region’s advancing itself. And as soon as the snow melted, and the earth was clear, he went out with labourers and servants, and occupied himself busily in carrying away from the meadows the stones with which they, in this country, are so abundantly strewn, and sowed new kinds of grass, as a source of more abundant fodder; and Susanna’s heart beat for joy as she saw his activity, and how he himself went to work, and animated all by his example and his cheerful spirit. Harald now also often found his favourite dishes for his dinner; nay, Susanna herself began to discover that one and another of them were very savoury, and among these may particularly be mentioned groat gruel with little herrings. This course, with which dinners in Norway often begin, is so served, that every guest has a little plate beside him, on which lie the little white herrings, and they eat alternately a piece of herring and a spoonful of gruel, which looks very well, and tastes very good.

Harald, towards spring, was very much occupied with work and workpeople, so that he had but little time to devote to Susanna, either for good or bad. But he had discovered that possibly in time he might have a weak chest, and he visited her, therefore, every morning in the dairy that he might receive a cup of new milk from her hand. For this, he gave her in return fresh spring-flowers, or, by way of change, a nettle (which was always thrown violently into a corner), and for the rest attentively remarked the occurrences in the dairy, and Susannas movements, whilst she poured the milk out of the pails through a sieve into the pans, and arranged them on their shelves, whereby it happened that he would forget himself in the following monologue

“See, that one may call a knack! How well she looks at her work, and with that cheerful, friendly face! Everything that she touches is well done; everything improves and flourishes under her eye. If she were only not so violent and passionate! but it is not in her heart, there never was a better heart than hers. Men and animals love her, and are well off under her care Happy the man who hum!”

Shall we not at the same time cast a glance into Susanna’s heart? It is rather curious there. The fact was, that Harald had, partly by his provocativeness and naughtiness, and partly by his friendship, his story-telling, and his native worth, which Susanna discovered more and more, so rooted himself into all her thoughts and feelings, that it was impossible for her to displace him from them. In anger, in gratitude, in evil, in good, at all times, must she think of him. Many a night she lay down with the wish never to see him again, but always awoke the next morning with the secret desire to meet with him again. The terms on which she stood with him resembled April weather, which we may be able the clearest to see on