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   Chapter 7 TRONDEN S

The Visionary: Pictures From Nordland By Jonas Lie Characters: 8200

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


On a naze to the north of Hind Island in Sengen lies Tronden?s church and parsonage. The latter was a royal palace in Saint Olaf's time, and Thore Hund's brother Siver lived there. Bjark Island, where Thore Hund had his castle, is only a few miles off.

The church itself is in many respects a remarkable historical monument. Its two towers, of which one was square and covered with copper, and had an iron spire, and the other octagonal, exist only in legends, and of the famous "three wonderfully high, equal-sized statues" there are only remains which are to be seen at the west doorway.

This church was once the most northern border-fortress of Christendom, and stood grandly with its white towers, the far-echoing tones of its bells and its sacred song, like a giant bishop in white surplice, who bore St. Olaf's consecration and altar lights into the darkness among the Finmark trolls. Its power over men's minds has been correspondingly deep and great. Thither past generations for miles round have wended in Sunday dress before other churches were built up there. If the soapstone font which stands in the choir could enumerate the names of those baptised at it, or the altar the bridal pairs that have been married there, or the venerable church itself tell what it knew, we should hear many a strange tale.

Protestantism has plundered the church there as elsewhere; remains of its painted altar-shrines are found as doors to the peasants' cupboards, and what was most imposing about the building is in ruins. But the work of destruction could not be carried farther. The old Roman Catholic church feeling surrounds it to a certain extent to this day, with the old legends that float around it, and is kept up by the foreign paintings in the choir, by the mystical vaults, and by all the ruins, which the Nordlander's imagination builds up into indistinct grandeur. The poor man there is, moreover, a Catholic in no small degree in his religious mode of thought and in his superstition. It comes quite naturally to him, in deadly peril, to promise a wax candle to the church, or to offer prayer to the Virgin Mary. He knows well enough that she is dethroned, but nevertheless he piously includes her in his devotions.

I dwell upon the memories of this church and its surroundings, because during the two years I stayed at Tronden?s I was so strongly influenced by their power over the imagination. The hollow ground with the supposed underground vaults were to me like a covered abyss, full of mysteries, and in the church-whose silence I often sought, since it lies, with its strangely thought-absorbing interior, close to the parsonage, and, as a rule, stood open on account of the college organ practice-daylight sometimes cast shadows in the aisles and niches as if beings from another age were moving about.

I made great progress in Latin and Greek under the teaching of the agreeable, well-informed minister, in whose house I lived, and in other subjects under one of the masters of the college; but in my leisure hours I sought the spots which gave so much occupation to my fancy, and therefore Tronden?s was anything but the right place for my diseased mind.

My nervous excitability has some connection with the moon's changes as I have since noticed. At such times the church exercised an almost irresistible fascination over me; I stole there unnoticed and alone, and would sit for hours lost in thought over one thing and another, indistinct creations of my imagination, and among them Susanna's light form, which sometimes seemed to float towards me, without my ever being quite able to see her face.

It was late in the spring of the second year I was at Tronden?s, that one midday, being under the influence of one of these unhealthy moods, I sat in the church on a raised place near the high altar, meditating, with Susanna's blue cross in my hand.

My eye fell on a large dark picture on the wall beside the altar, which I had often seen, but without its having made any special impression on me. It represented in life-size a martyr who has been cast in

to a thorn-bush; the sharp thorns, as long as daggers, pierced his body in all directions, and he could not utter a complaint, because one great sharp thorn went into his throat and out at his open mouth.

The expression of this face struck me all at once as terrible. It regarded me with a look of silent understanding, as though I were a companion in suffering, and would have to lie there when its torments had at last come to an end. It was impossible to remove my eyes from the picture; it seemed to become alive, now coming quite near, now going far away into a darkness that my own dizzy head created.

It was as though in this picture the curtain was drawn aside from a part of my own soul's secret history, and it was only by an effort of will, called forth by a fear of becoming too far absorbed into my own fancy, that I succeeded in tearing myself away from it.

When I turned, there stood in the light that fell from the window near the front pew, the lady with the rose. She wore an expression of infinite sadness, as though she knew well the connection between me and the picture, and as if the briar-spray in her hand were only a miniature of the thorn-bush in which yonder martyr lay.

In the lonely stillness of the church a panic came over me, an inexpressible terror of unseen powers, and I fled precipitately.

When I got outside, I discovered that I had lost Susanna's blue cross. It could only be in the church on the step where I had been sitting. At that moment, while my heart was still throbbing with terror, I would not have gone back again into the church for anything in the world-except Susanna's blue cross. I found it, when I carefully searched the floor where I had been sitting.

The second time during these years that my nervous system gave evidence of its unsoundness was late in the autumn, a month or two before I was to go home.

A peasant, who had gone in to see the minister, had fastened his horse, which was wall-eyed, to the churchyard wall. I began to look at it; and the recollection of its dead, expressionless glance followed me for the rest of the day. It seemed to me as if its eyes, instead of looking out, looked inwards into a world invisible to me, and as if it would be quite natural if it forgot to obey the reins, and left the ordinary highway for the road to Hades, along which the dead are travelling.

With this in my mind, I sat that afternoon in the parsonage where people were talking of all kinds of things, and there suddenly appeared before me a home face, pale and with a strained look, and soon after I could see that the man to whom it belonged was striving desperately to climb up from the raging surf on to a rock. It was no other than our man Anders. He fixed his dull, glassy eyes upon me as he struggled, apparently hindered from saving himself by something down at his feet, which I could not see. He looked as if he wanted to tell me something. The vision only lasted a moment; but a torturing almost unbearable feeling, that in the same moment some misfortune was befalling us at home, drove me from the room to wander restlessly in the fields for the rest of the day.

When I came back they asked me what had been the matter, that I had so suddenly turned deadly pale and hurried from the room.

A fortnight later there came a sad letter from home. My father's yacht, the Hope, which, after the custom of those days, was not insured, and was loaded for the most part with fish, which my father had bought at his own cost, had been wrecked on the way from Bergen in a storm on Stadt Sea. The ship had sprung a leak, and late in the afternoon had to be run ashore. The crew had escaped with their lives, but our man Anders had had both legs broken.

This shipwreck gave the first decided blow to my father's fortune. The second was to come towards the end of the following year, in the loss of another yacht, the Unity; and the third blow, with more important results, was struck when it was at last decided by Government that our trading station was not to be a stopping-place for steamers.

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