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

This peculiar, wild, affecting music, is our national poetry.

HENR WERGELAND.

The violins ringing;
Not blither the singing
Of birds in the woods and the meadows.

Hurrah! hand round the foaming can
Skal for the fair maid who dancing began!

Skal for the Jente mine! And
Skal for the Jente thine! And
Skal for the fathers and mothers on benches!

Norwegian song.

One lovely afternoon in the early part of September were seen two young festally-attired peasant maidens gaily talking, hastening along the footpath through the little wood in Heimdal towards a green open space surrounded by trees, and where might be seen a crowd of persons of both sexes assembled, all in peasant dresses. Here was the “Leikevold,” or dancing-ground; and as the young girls approached it, the one said to the other, “It is certain, Susanna, that the dress becomes you excellently! Your lovely bright hair shines more beautifully than ever, plaited with red ribbons. I fancy the costume does not suit me half so well.”

“Because you, best Alette, look like a disguised princess, and I in mine like a regular peasant girl.”

“Susanna, I perceive that you are a flatterer. Let us now see whether Alf and Harald will recognise the Tellemark ‘jente’ girls.”

They did not long remain in uncertainty on this subject; for scarcely were they come to the dancing-ground, when two peasants in Halling-jackets, and broad girdles round their waists, came dancing towards them, whilst they sang with the others the following peasant-song:

And I am bachelor, and am not roving;
And I am son unto Gulleig Boe;
And wilt thou be to me faithful and loving,
Then I will choose thee, dear maiden, for me.

Susanna recognised Harald in the young peasant, who thus singing gaily, politely took her hand, and led her along the lively springing-dance, which was danced to singing. Alette danced with her Alf, who bore himself nobly as a Halling-youth.

Never had Susanna looked so well and so happy; but then neither had she ever enjoyed such pleasure. The lovely evening; the tones of the music; the life of the dance; Harald’s looks, which expressed in a high degree his satisfaction; the delighted happy faces which she saw around her never before had she thought life so pleasant! And nearly all seemed to feel so too, and all swung round from the joy of their hearts; silver buckles jingled, and shilling after shilling danced down into the little gaily painted Hardanger-fiddle, which was played upon with transporting spirit by an old man, of an expressive and energetic exterior.

After the first dance, people rested for a moment. They ate apples, and drank Hardanger-ale out of silver cans. After this there rose an almost universal cry, which challenged Harald and another young man who was renowned for his agility and strength, to dance together a “loes Halling.” They did not require much persuasion, and stepped into the middle of the circle, which enlarged itself, and closed around them.

The musician tuned his instrument, and with his head bowed upon his breast, began to play with an expression and a life that might be called inspired. It was one of the wild Maliserknud’s most genial compositions. Was it imagined with the army, in the bivouac under the free nightly heaven, or in “slavery,” amid evil-doers? Nobody knows; but in both situations has it charmed forth tones, like his own restless life, which never will pass from the memory of the people. Now took the Hardanger-fiddle for the first time its right sound.

Universal applause followed the dancing of the young men; but the highest interest was excited by Harald, who, in the dance, awoke actual astonishment.

Perhaps there is no dance which expresses more than the Halling the temper of the people who originated it, which better reflects the life and character of the inhabitants of the North.

It begins, as it were, upon the ground, amid jogging little hops, accompanied by movements of the arms, in which, as it were, a great strength plays negligently. It is somewhat bear-like, indolent, clumsy, half-dreaming. But it wakes, it becomes earnest. Then the dancers rise up and dance, and display themselves in expressions of power, in which strength and dexterity seem to divert themselves by playing with indolence and clumsiness, and to overcome them. The same person who just before seemed fettered to the earth, springs aloft, and throws himself around in the air as though he had wings. Then, after many break-neck movements and evolutions, before which the unaccustomed spectator grows dizzy, the dance suddenly assumes again its first quiet, careless, somewhat heavy character, and closes, as it began, sunk upon the earth.

Loud shouts of applause, bestowed especially upon Harald, resounded on all sides as the dance closed. And now they all set themselves in motion for a great Halling-polska, and every “Gut” chose himself a “Jente.” Harald had scarcely refreshed and strengthened himself with a can of ale before he again hastened up to Susanna, and engaged her for the Halling-polska. She had danced it several times in her own country, and joyfully accepted Harald’s invitation.

This dance, too, is deeply characteristic. It paints the Northern inhabitant’s highest joy in life; it is the Berserker-gladness in the dance. Supported upon the arm of the woman the man throws himself high in the air; then he catches her in his arms, and swings round with her in wild circles; then they separate; then they unite again, and whirl again round, as it were, in superabundance of life and delight. The measure is determined, bold, and full of life. It is a dance-intoxication, in which people for the moment release themselves from every care, every burden and oppression of existence.

Thus felt also at this time Harald and Susanna. Young, strong, agile, they swung themselves around with certainty and ease, which seemed to make the dance a sport without any effort; and with eyes steadfastly riveted on each other, they had no sense of giddiness. They whirled round, as it were, in a magic circle, to the strange magical music. The understrings sounded strong and strange. The peculiar enchanted power which lies in the clear deeps of the water, in the mysterious recesses of the mountains, in the shades of dark caves, which the skalds have celebrated under the names of mermaids, mountain-kings, and wood-women, and which drag down the heart so forcibly into unknown, wondrous deeps this dark song of Nature is heard in the understrings of the Halling’s playful, but yet at the same time melancholy, tones. It deeply seized upon Susanna’s soul, and Harald also seemed to experience this enchantment: Leaving the wilder movements of the dance, they moved around ever quieter, arm-in-arm.

“Oh, so through life!” whispered Harald’s lips, almost involuntarily, as he looked deep into Susanna’s beaming, tearful eyes; and, “Oh, so through life!” was answered in Susanna’s heart, but her lips remained closed. At this moment she was seized by a violent trembling, which obliged her to come from dancing, and to sit down, whilst the whole world seemed going round with her. It was not until she had drunk a glass of water, which Harald offered to her, that she was able to reply to his heartfelt and anxious inquiries after her health. Susanna attributed it to the violent dancing, but declared that she felt herself again quite well. At that moment Susanna’s eyes encountered those of Alette. She sate at a little distance from them, and observed Harald and Susanna with a grave, and as it seemed to Susanna, a displeased look. Susanna felt stung at the heart; and when Alette came to her, and asked rather coldly how she found herself, she answered also coldly and shortly.

The sun was going down, and the evening began to be cool. The company was therefore invited by Harald to a commodious hut, decorated with foliage and flowers. At Harald’s desire, a young girl played now upon the “langleg," and sung thereto with a clear lively voice the Hallingdal song, “Gjetter-livet (Shepherd-life), which so naively describes the days of a shepherd-girl in the solitary dales with the flocks, which she pastures and tends during the summer, without care, and joyous of mood, although almost separated from her kind; almost, for Havor, the goatherd, blows his horn on the rocks in the neighbourhood, and ere long sits beside her on the crags

The boy with his jew’s-harp charms the kine,
And plays upon the flute so fine,
And I sing this song of mine.

So approaches the evening, and all my darlings, with song and love, are called by their names;

Come Laikeros, Gullstjerna fine;
Come Dokkerose, darling mine;
Come Bjoelka, Qvittelin!

And cows and sheep come to the well-known voice, and assemble at the Saeter-hut, lowing and bleating joyfully. Now begins the milking; the goatherd maiden sings

When I have milked in these pails of mine,
I lay me down, and sleep divine,
Till day upon the cliffs doth shine.

After the song, the dancing began again with new spirit. An iron hook was driven into the beam in the middle of the roof, and the dancer who, during the whirl of the Halling-polska, succeeded in striking it with his heel, so that it was bent, obtained the prize for dancing this evening. Observing the break-neck efforts of the competitors, Susanna seated herself upon a bench. Several large leafy branches which were reared between the benches and window, prevented her from seeing two persons who stood in quiet conversation, but she remained sitting, as if enchanted, as she heard the voice of Alette, saying:

“Susanna is to be sure an excellent and good girl, and I really like her; but yet, Harald, it would distress me if you seriously were attached to her.”

“And why?” asked Harald.

“Because I think that she would not be suitable for your wife. She has an unreasonable and violent temper, and

“But that may be changed, Alette. She has already changed very much. Of her violent temper I have no fear that I should soon remove.”

“Greater wizards than you, my brother, have erred in such a belief. At the same time she is much too uneducated, too ignorant to be a suitable companion for you through life. And neither would she be suitable for the social circles into which you must sometime come. Best Harald! let me beseech you, do not be over-hasty. You have so long thought of taking a journey into foreign countries to improve your knowledge of agriculture. Carry out this plan now; travel, and look about you in the world before you fetter yourself for life.”

“I fancy you are right, Alette; and I shall follow your advice, but

“Besides,” said Alette, interrupting him in her zeal, “it is time enough for you to think of marrying. You are still young; have time to look about you, and choose. You can easily, if you will, in every point of view, form a good connexion. Susanna is poor, and you yourself have not wealth enough entirely to disregard

Susanna would hear no more; and, in truth, she had heard enough. Wounded pride and sickness of heart drove the blood to her head and chest, till she felt ready to be choked. She rose hastily, and after she had begged an acquaintance to tell Alette and Harald that a mere headache compelled her to leave the dance, she hurried by the wood-path back to Semb.

The evening was beautiful, but Susanna was blind to all its splendours; she remarked not the twinkling of the bright stars, not how they mirrored themselves in the ladies-mantle, which stood full of pure crystal water; she heard not the rushing of the river, nor the song of the pine-thrush; for never before, in her breast, had Barbra and Sanna contended more violently.

“They despise me!” cried the former; “they cast me off, they trample me under their feet. They think me not worthy to be near them; the haughty, heartless people! But have they indeed a right to hold themselves so much above me, because I am not so fine, so learned as they; because I am poor? No, that have they not, for I can earn my own bread, and go my own way through the world as well as any of them. And if they will be proud, then I can be ten times prouder. I need not to humble myself before them! One is just as good as another!”

“Ah!” now began Sanna, and painful tears began to flow down her cheeks, “one is not just as good as another, and education and training make a great difference between people. It is not pleasant for a man to blush for the ignorance of his wife; neither can one expect that anybody would teach a person of my age; nor can they look into my heart and see how willingly I would learn, and and Harald, whom I thought wished me well, whom I loved so much, whom I would willingly serve with my whole heart and life how coldly he spoke of me, who just before so warmly Harald, why shouldst thou fool my heart so, if thou carest so little for what it feels, what it suffers?”

“But,” and here again began Barbra, “thou thinkest merely on thyself; thou art an egotist, like all thy sex. And he seems to be so sure of me! He seems not to ask whether I will; no only whether he graciously should. Let him try! let him make the attempt! and he shall see that he has deceived himself, the proud gentleman! He shall see that a poor girl, without connexions, without friends, solitary in the wide world, can yet refuse him who thinks that he condescends so to her. Be easy, Miss Alette! the poor despised Susanna is too proud to thrust herself into a haughty family; because, in truth, she feels herself too good for that.”

But Susanna was very much excited, and very unhappy, as she said this. She had now reached Semb. Lights streamed from the bedroom of the Colonel’s widow. Susanna looked up to the window, and stood in mute astonishment; for at the window stood the Colonel’s widow, but no longer the gloomy, sorrowful lady. With her hands pressed upon her breast, she looked up to the clear stars with an expression of glowing gratitude. There was, however, something wild and overstrained in her appearance, which made Susanna, who was possessed by astonishment and strange feelings, determine to go to her immediately.

On Susannas entrance into the room Mrs. Astrid turned hastily to her. She held a letter clasped to her breast, and said with restless delight and a kind of vehemence

“To Bergen, to Bergen! Susanna, I set off to-morrow morning to Bergen. Get all in readiness for my journey as soon as you can.”

Susanna was confounded. “To Bergen?” stammered she, inquiringly; “and the road thither is so difficult, so dangerous, at this time

“And if death threatened me upon it, I should yet travel!” said Mrs. Astrid, with impatient energy. “But I desire that no one accompany me. You can stay here at home.”

“Lord God!” said Susanna, painfully excited, “I spoke not for myself. Could I die to save my lady from any danger, any sorrow, heaven knows that I would do it with joy! Let me go with you to Bergen.”

“I have been very unhappy, Susanna!” resumed Mrs. Astrid, without remarking her agitated state of mind; “life has been a burden to me. I have doubted the justice of Providence; doubted whether our destinies were guided by a fatherly hand; but now now I see now all may be very different. But go, Susanna, I must compose myself; and you also seem to need rest. Go, my child.”

“Only one prayer,” said Susanna “I may go with you to-morrow morning? Ah! refuse me not, for I shall still go with my lady.”

“Well, well,” said Mrs. Astrid, almost joyfully, “then it would be no use my saying no.”

Susanna seized and kissed her hand, and was ready to weep, from all the pain and love which filled her soul; but her lady withdrew her hand, and again desired her kindly but commandingly to go.

When she was alone, she turned her eyes upon the letter which she held in her hands.

Upon the envelope of the letter stood these words, written by an unsteady hand.

“To my wife, after my death.”

The letter was as follows:

I feel that a great change is about to take place in me. Probably I may die, or become insane. In the first place, I will thank my wife for her angel-patience with me during my life, and tell her, that it is owing to her conduct that I have at this moment my faith left in virtue and a just Providence. I will now reward her in the only way which is possible to me. Know then, my wife, that the boy, for whom thou hast loved and deplored is not dead! Let it also lessen the abhorrence of my deed, when I assure thee, that it was solicitude for your well-being which led me in part to it. I was totally ruined and could not endure the thoughts of seeing thee destitute! For this reason I sent away the boy, and gave it out that he was dead. He has suffered no want, he has

Here followed several illegible lines, after which might be read:

“I am confused, and cannot say that which I would. Speak with the former Sergeant Roenn, now in the Customs at Bergen; he will

Here the letter broke off. It was without date, the paper old and yellow. But Mrs. Astrid kissed it with tears of joy and gratitude, whilst she whispered,

“Oh, what a recompense! What light! Wonderful, merciful, good Providence!”