Under the willow tree

Under piletræet

The country around the town of Kjöge is very bare. The town itself lies by the seashore, which is always beautiful, although it might be more beautiful than it is, because all around are flat fields, and a forest a long way off. But one always finds something beautiful in the spot that is one's own home, something for which one longs, even when one is in the most wonderful spot in the world.
And we must admit that the outer edge of Kjöge, where small, humble gardens line the little stream that flows into the sea, could be very pretty in the summertime. This was the opinion of the two small children, Knud and Johanne, who were playing there, crawling under the gooseberry bushes to reach each other.
In one of the gardens there stood an elder tree, in the other an old willow, and under the latter the children were especially fond of playing. Although the tree stood close beside the stream and they might easily have fallen into the water, they were allowed to play there, for the eye of God watches over little ones. Otherwise they would be very badly off indeed. Besides, these two were careful about the water; in fact, the boy was so afraid of it that in the summer he could not be lured into the sea, where the other children were fond of splashing about. As a result, he had to bear the teasing of the others as best he could.
But once Johanne, the little girl, dreamed she was out in a boat, and Knud waded out to join her, with the water rising until it closed over his head. And from the moment little Knud heard of this dream he could no longer bear to be called a coward. He might really go into the water now, he said, since Johanne had dreamed it. He never carried that idea into practice, but for all that the dream remained his great pride.
Their poor parents often came together, while Knud and Johanne played in the gardens or on the highroad, where a long row of willows had been planted along the ditch. These trees with their polled tops certainly did not look very beautiful, but they were there for use rather than for ornament. The old willow tree in the garden was much lovelier, which was why the children took most delight in sitting under it.
In Kjöge itself was a great market place, and at fair time this plaza was gay with whole streets of tents, filled with silk ribbons, boots, and everything a person might desire. There were great crowds then, and generally the weather was rainy. One could easily smell the odor of peasants' clothes, but this could not destroy the fragrance that streamed from a booth full of honey cakes. And best of all, the man who kept this particular booth came every year during fair time to lodge in the house of little Knud's parents. Consequently, every now and then there was a present of a bit of honey cake, and of course Johanne always received her share.
But the best thing of all was that this gingerbread dealer knew all sorts of charming stories and could even tell tales about his own gingerbread cakes. One evening he told a story about them which made such a deep impression on the two children that they never forgot it. For that reason perhaps we should hear it, too, especially since it is not very long.
"On the shop counter," he said, "there once lay two gingerbread cakes. One was in the shape of a man with a hat on, the other of a maiden with no bonnet but with a blot of yellow on top of her head. Both their faces were on the upper side, for that was the side that was supposed to be looked at, and not the other. Indeed, most people have one side from which they should be viewed. On his left side the man wore a bitter almond for a heart; but the maiden, on the other hand, was honey cake all through. They were placed on the counter as samples, so they remained there for a long time, until at last they fell in love with each other. But neither told the other, which they should have done if they had expected anything to come of it.
" 'He is a man, so he must speak first,' thought the maiden. But she was quite contented, for she knew in her heart that her love was returned. His thoughts were far more extravagant, which is just like a man. He dreamed that he was a street urchin, and that he had four pennies all his own, and that he bought the maiden and ate her up.
"So they lay on the counter for days and weeks, and grew dry, but the thoughts of the maiden remained still gentle and womanly.
" 'It's enough for me that I have lived on the same table with him, ' thought the maiden, and then she broke in two.
" 'If only she had known of my love she would have held together a little longer,' thought he.
"So that's the story, and here they are, both of them," said the baker. "They're remarkable for their strange history and for their silent love, which never came to anything. And now they're both for you!" With that he gave Johanne the man, who was still in one piece, and Knud got the broken maiden; but the children had been so touched by the story that they couldn't be so bold as to eat up the lovers.
Next day they took them out to the Kjöge churchyard, where, winter and summer, lovely ivy covers the church wall like a rich carpet. They stood the two cake figures up among the green leaves in the bright sunshine and told a group of other children the story of the silent love that was useless; that is to say, the love was, for the story was charming, they all found.
But when they looked again at the gingerbread couple they found that a mischievous big boy had eaten up the broken maiden. The children cried about that and later - probably so that the poor lover might not be left alone in the world - they ate him up, too. But they never forgot the story. The two children were always together by the elder tree or under the willow, and little Johanne sang the most beautiful songs in a voice as clear as a silver bell. Knud had not a note of music in him, but at least he knew the words of the songs, and that was something. But the people of Kjöge, even the wife of the hardware merchant, stopped and listened when Johanne sang. "She has a very sweet voice, that little girl," she said.
Those were glorious days; but glorious days do not last forever, and finally the neighbors separated. Johanne's mother died, and her father planned to marry again in Copenhagen, where he had been promised a position as messenger, a job supposed to be very profitable. While the neighbors parted with regrets, the children wept bitterly, but the parents promised to write to each other at least once a year.
And Knud was made apprentice to a shoemaker, for such a big boy was too old to run around wild any longer; and, furthermore, he was confirmed.
Oh, how he would have liked to see little Johanne in Copenhagen on that day of celebration! But he didn't go; and he had never been there, although Kjöge is only five Danish miles away. On a clear day Knud could see the distant towers of the city across the bay, and on the day of his confirmation he could even see the golden cross on the tower of the Church of Our Lady glitter in the sun.
Ah, how often his thoughts turned toward Johanne! And did she remember him? Yes! At Christmastime a letter came from her father to Knud's parents, saying that they were doing very well in Copenhagen, and Johanne could look forward to a brilliant career on the strength of her lovely voice. She already had a position in the opera house and was already earning a little money, out of which she sent her dear neighbors of Kjöge a dollar for a merry Christmas Eve. Johanne herself added a postscript, asking them to drink to her health, and in the same postscript was also written, "Friendly greetings to Knud!"
They all wept; but this was all very pleasant, for they were tears of joy that they shed. Knud's thoughts had been with Johanne every day, and now he knew that she also thought of him. The nearer came the end of his apprenticeship, the more clearly did he realize that he was in love with Johanne and that she must be his little wife.
When he thought of this a smile brightened his face, and he drew the thread faster than before and pressed his foot against the knee strap. He didn't even pay any attention when he ran the awl deep into one of his fingers. He was determined that he would not play the silent lover, like the two gingerbread cakes. The story had taught him a lesson.
Now he was a journeyman, and his knapsack was packed ready for his trip. At last, for the first time in his life, he was to go to Copenhagen, where a master was already expecting him. How surprised and happy Johanne would be to see him! She was just seventeen now, and he nineteen.
He wanted to buy a gold ring for her before he left Kjöge, but then decided he could get a much nicer one in Copenhagen. And so he took leave of his parents, and on a rainy, windy day in autumn set forth on foot from the town of his birth. The damp leaves were dropping from the trees, and he was wet to the skin when he arrived at his new master's home in the big city of Copenhagen. The following Sunday he would pay a visit to Johanne's father!
So, on Sunday he put on the new journeyman's clothes, and the new hat from Kjöge that became him very well, for till then he had only worn a cap. He easily found the house he was seeking, and mounted flight after flight of stairs until he became almost dizzy. It seemed terrible to him for people to live piled up on top of each other in this intricate city.
Everything in the parlor looked prosperous, and Johanne's father received him in kindly friendship. Knud was a stranger to the new wife, but she too shook hands with him and gave him a cup of coffee.
"Johanne will be glad to see you," said the father. "You've grown into a nice-looking young man. Yes, wait till you see her. There is a girl who rejoices my heart, and please God she will rejoice it still more. She has her own room now and pays us rent regularly for it!"
Then he knocked quite politely at his daughter's door, as if he were a stranger, and they went in.
Oh, how pretty it was! he was certain there wasn't such a lovely room in all Kjöge; the Queen herself could not be more charmingly lodged. There were carpets, and window curtains that hung quite to the floor, and flowers and pictures, and a velvet chair, and even a mirror as large as a door and so clear there was a danger of walking into it.
A glance showed all this to Knud, and yet he could look at nothing but Johanne. She was a full-grown maiden now, quite different from Knud's memories of her, and much more beautiful. There wasn't a girl in Kjöge like her. How graceful she was, and with what a strange, unsure gaze she looked at Knud! But that was only for a moment, and then she rushed toward him as if it kiss him. she did not actually do so, but she very nearly did.
Yes, she was really happy to see her childhood friend again! There were tears in Johanne's eyes; she had so much to say, and so many questions to ask about everything, from Knud's parents to the elder tree and the willow, which she called Elder Mother and Willow Father just as if they had been human beings; and indeed they might be called so, just as much as the gingerbread cakes. She spoke of them too, and their silent love, and how they had lain on the shop counter and broken in two - and at this she laughed heartily, while the blood rushed to Knud's cheeks and his heart beat faster and faster. No, she had not grown haughty at all.
And Knud noticed quite well that it was because of her that her parents invited him to spend the evening. With her won hands she poured out the tea and gave him a cup; and afterward she read aloud to them from a book, and it seemed to Knud that what she read was all about himself and his love, for it matched with his thoughts. Then she sang a simple little song, but her singing made it a real story that seemed to be the outpouring of her very heart.
Yes, Knud knew she cared for him. He could not keep tears of joy from rolling down his cheeks, nor could he speak a single word - he seemed struck dumb. But she pressed his hand and murmured, "You have a good heart, Knud. Stay always the way you are now!"
That was a magnificent evening; it was impossible to sleep afterward, and accordingly Knud did not sleep.
When he had left, Johanne's father had said, "Now, don't forget us altogether. Don't let the whole winter go by before you come to us again!" Knud felt that gave him permission to repeat the call the following Sunday, and determined to do so.
But every evening after work - and the working hours lasted until candlelight there - Knud went out into the town. He returned to the street in which Johanne lived, and looked up at her window. It was almost always lighted, and one evening he could even see the shadow of her face quite plainly on the curtain. That was an evening he would never forget. His master's wife did not like his "gallivanting abroad every evening," as she put it, and shook her head ruefully over him; but the master only smiled.
"He's just a young fellow," he said.
"On Sunday we shall see each other," Knud thought, "and I shall tell her how she is always in my thoughts and that she must be my little wife. I know I'm only a poor journeyman shoemaker, but I can become a master, and I'll work and save - yes, I'll tell her that! No good comes from a silent love; I've learned that much from the gingerbread!"
Sunday came at last, and Knud set out, but to his great disappointment they had to tell him they were all invited out that evening. But as he left Johanne pressed his hand and said, "Have you ever been to the theater? You must go there sometime. I shall be singing on Wednesday, and if you have time that evening I'll send you a ticket. My father knows where you are living."
How kind it was of her! And at noon on Wednesday he received a sealed envelope. There were no words inside, but the ticket was there, and that evening Knud went to the theater for the first time in his life. And what did he see? He saw Johanne, looking more charming and beautiful than he ever could have believed possible! To be sure, she was married to a stranger, but that was just in the play; it was only make-believe, as Knud understood very well. If it had been true, he thought, she would never have had the heart to send him a ticket so that he could go and see it. And everybody shouted and applauded, and Knud cried out, "Hurrah!"
Even the King was there, smiling at Johanne, and he seemed to delight in her loveliness. How small Knud felt then! Still he loved her dearly, and felt that she loved him, too; but he knew it was up to the man to speak the first word, as the gingerbread maiden in the story had taught him. Indeed, there was a great deal of truth in that story.
So, as soon as Sunday came, he went to see her again, feeling as solemn as if he were going into a church. Johanne was at home alone; it could not have happened more fortunately.
"I'm glad you came," she said. "I almost sent Father after you, but I felt in my heart that you would be here this evening. I have to tell you that I am leaving for France on Friday; I must study there if I am to become a great artiste!"
At those words it seemed to Knud as if the whole room were whirling round and round with him. He felt as if his heart would break; there were no tears in his eyes, but Johanne could not fail to see how stricken he was .
"You honest, faithful soul!" she said.
And her tenderness loosened his tongue. He told her how much he loved her and begged her to become his little wife. Then he saw Johanne turn pale as she dropped his hand and said seriously and sadly, "Dear Knud, don't make us both unhappy. I shall always be a loving sister to you, one in whom you may trust, but I shall never be anything more."
Gently she placed her soft hand on his hot forehead. "God gives us the strength for much," she said, "if only we try to do our best." At that moment her stepmother entered the room, and Johanne said, "Knud is quite heartbroken because I'm going away! Come, be a man," and she laid her hand on his shoulder; it seemed as if they had been talking only of her journey. "You're a child," she laughed, "but now you must be good and reasonable, as you used to be under the willow tree when we were both children!"
Knud felt as if the whole world were out of joint, and his thoughts were like a loose thread fluttering in the wind. He remained for tea, though he hardly knew if they had asked him to; and they were kind and gentle, and Johanne poured out his tea and sang to him. Her voice did not have its old tone, but still it was wonderfully beautiful and nearly broke his heart. And then they parted. Knud could not bear to offer his hand, but she took it and said, "Surely you'll shake hands with your sister at parting, old playmate!"
She smiled through the tears that were in her own eyes, and repeated the word "brother." Yes, that was supposed to be a great consolation! Such was their parting.
She sailed for France, and Knud wandered about the muddy streets of Copenhagen. His comrades in the workshop asked why he was so gloomy and urged him to join them and amuse himself, for he was still a young fellow.
So they took him to a dance hall. He saw many pretty girls there, but there was not one to compare with Johanne; here, where he had hoped to forget her, she was more vivid than ever before the eyes of his soul. "God gives us the strength for much," she had said, "if only we try to do our best." Then a devotion came to his mind, and he folded his hands quietly. The violins played, and the girls danced gaily, and suddenly it seemed to him that he should never have brought Johanne into a place like this - for she was there with him, in his heart.
Knud ran out and wandered aimlessly through the streets. He passed by the house where she had lived; it was dark there - everywhere were darkness and emptiness and loneliness. The world went in its way, and Knud went his.
Winter set in, and the waters froze over; it was as if everything were preparing itself for burial. But when spring returned, and the first steamer was to start, an intense longing seized him to go away, far into the world, anywhere - but not too close to France. So he packed his knapsack and wandered deep into Germany, from town to town, finding rest and peace nowhere. It was not until he came to the glorious old city of Nuremberg that he could quiet his restless spirit, and there he decided to stay.
Nuremberg is a strange old city, looking as if it had been cut out of an old-fashioned picture book. The streets seem to wander along just as they please. The houses did not like to stand in regular rows. Gables with little towers, arabesques, and pillars lean out over the walks, and from the queer peaked roofs water-spouts, shaped like dragons or long, slim dogs, push out far over the streets.
There in the Nuremberg market place stood Knud, his knapsack, on his back. He was beside one of the old fountains, where splendid bronze figures, scriptural and historical, rose up between the gushing jets of water. A pretty little servant girl was just filling her pails, and she gave Knud a refreshing drink; and as her hand was full of roses she gave him one of them, too, and he accepted that as a good sign.
From the church near by came the strains of an organ; they rang as familiar to him as the tones of the organ at home in Kjöge church, and he entered the great cathedral. The sunlight streamed in through the high stained-glass windows and down between the lofty, slender pillars. His spirit found rest.
And Knud found a good master in Nuremberg, and he lived in his house, and there learned to speak German.
The old moat around the town of Nuremberg has been converted into little kitchen gardens, but the high walls with their heavy towers are standing yet. The ropemaker twists his cords on a wooden gallery along the inside of the town wall, where elderbushes grow out of the cracks and clefts, spreading their green branches over the small, lowly houses below. In one of these houses Knud lived with his master; and over the little garret window where he slept the elder tree waved its branches.
Here he lived for a summer and winter. But when spring returned he could bear it no longer, for the elder was blooming and the fragrance of its blossoms carried him back to home and the garden at Kjöge. So Knud left that master and found another farther in town, over whose house no elderbush blossomed.
His new workshop was close to one of the old stone bridges, by an ever-foaming, low water mill. The stream roared past it, hemmed in by the houses, whose decayed old balconies looked about to topple into the water. No elder grew here - there was not even a little green plant in a flowerpot - but just opposite stood a grand old willow tree that seemed to cling fast to the house, as if it feared being carried away by the stream. It stretched its branches out over the river, just as the willow at Kjöge spread its arms across the stream by the gardens of home.
Yes, Knud had gone from the Elder Mother to the Willow Father. This tree had something, especially on moonlit evenings, that went straight to his heart, and that something was not of the moonlight but of the old willow tree itself.
He could not remain there. Why not? Ask the willow tree; ask the blossoming elder! And so he bade farewell to his kind master and to Nuremberg and traveled on further.
To no one did he speak of Johanne, but hid his sorrow in his innermost heart; and he thought of the deep meaning of the old story of the gingerbread. Now he understood why the man had a bitter almond for a heart - he himself had felt the bitterness of it. And Johanne, who was always so gentle and smiling, she was only like the honey cake.
The strap of Knud's knapsack seemed so tight across his chest that he could scarcely breathe, but even when he loosened it he was not relieved. He saw only half the world around him; the other half he carried within him. That's how it was!
Not until he was in sight of the high mountains did the world appear freer to him; now his thoughts were turned outward again, and the tears came into his eyes.
The Alps seemed to him like the folded wings of the earth; what if they were to unfold themselves and display their varied pictures of black woods, foaming waters, clouds, and great masses of snow! On the last day, he thought, the world will lift up its mighty wings and mount upward to God, to burst like a soap bubble before the glance of the Highest.
"Ah," he sighed, "that that last day were here now!"
Silently he wandered through a country that seemed to him like an orchard covered with soft turf. From the wooden balconies of the houses girls, busy with their lacemaking, nodded down at him. The summits of the mountains glowed in the red evening sun; and when he saw the blue lakes gleaming through the dark trees, he thought of the seacoast near Kjöge, and there was a sadness in his heart - but it was pain no longer.
There where the Rhine rolls onward like a great wave, and then bursts into snow-white, gleaming, cloudlike masses, as if clouds were being created there, with the rainbow fluttering like a loose band above them - it was there that he thought of the mill at Kjöge, with its rushing, foaming stream.
He would have been glad to have remained in the quiet Rhenish town, but here also there were too many elder trees and too many willows, so he traveled on, over the mighty, towering mountains, through shattered walls of rock, and on roads that clung to the mountainsides like the nests of swallows. The waters foamed in the depths, the clouds themselves were below him, and he strode on in the warm summer sun over shiny thistles, Alpine roses and snow. Thus he said farewell to the lands of the North and journeyed on under the shade of blooming chestnut trees, and through vineyards and fields of maize. Now the mountains were a wall between him and all his memories; that was how he wished it to be.
At last he reached that great, glorious city called Milan, and here he found a German master who gave him work. The master an his wife, in whose workshop he labored now, were a pious old couple. And they became quite fond of the quiet journeyman, who said little but worked all the harder and led a devout Christian life. And to Knud also it seemed that God had lifted the heavy burden from his heart.
His favorite relaxation was to climb from time to time to the mighty marble church, which seemed to him to have been built of the snow of his native Northland, formed into images, pointed towers, and decorated open halls; from every corner and every niche the white statues smiled down upon him. Above him was the blue sky; below him were the city and the wide-spreading green plains of Lombardy, and toward the north the high mountains capped with perpetual snow. Then he thought of the church at Kjöge, with its red ivy-colored walls, but he did not long to go there again. Here, beyond the mountains, he would be buried.
He had lived there a year, and three years had passed since he had left his home, when one day his master took him into the city - not to the circus with its daring riders; no, to the great opera, where was an auditorium well worth seeing. There were seven tiers of boxes, and from each beautiful silken curtains hung, while from the ground to the dizzy heights of the roof there sat the most elegant ladies, with corsages in their hands as if they were at a ball, and gentlemen in full dress, many of them with decorations of gold and silver. It was as bright there as in the noonday sunshine, and the music rolled gloriously and beautifully; everything was much more splendid than in the theater at Copenhagen, but then Johanne had been in Copenhagen, and here - -
Yes! It was like magic - Johanne was here also! The Curtain rose, and she appeared, clad in silk and gold, with a gold crown upon her head. She sang as none but an angel could sing, and came far forward to the front of the stage, and smiled as only Johanne could smile, and looked straight down at Knud! The poor boy seized his master's arm and called out aloud, "Johanne!" The loud music sounded above everything, but no one heard but the master, who nodded his head.
"Yes," he said, "her name is Johanne!" Then he drew forth his program and showed Knud her name - for the full name was printed there.
No, it was not a dream! The great audience applauded and threw wreaths and flowers to Johanne, and every time she went away they called her back on stage, so that she was always going and coming.
In the street outside afterward the people crowded about her carriage and drew it away in triumph. Knud was in the first row and shouted as joyfully as any; and when the carriage halted before her brightly lighted house he was standing close beside the door. It opened, and she stepped out; the light fell upon her beloved face, and she smiled, thanked them graciously, and appeared deeply touched. Knud looked straight into her eyes, and she into his, but she never knew him. A gentleman with a decoration glittering on his breast gave her his arm - people said they were betrothed.
Then Knud went home and packed his knapsack. He had decided to return to his own home, to the elder and willow trees - ah, beneath the willow tree!
The old couple begged him to remain, but no words could change his mind. It was in vain that they pointed out to him that winter was coming and the snow had already fallen in the mountains. He replied that he could march, with his knapsack on his back, and supported by his cane, in the wake of a slow-moving carriage, for which a path would have to be cleared.
So Knud left for the mountains and climbed up them and down them. His strength grew less, but still he saw no village or house; always he plodded onward toward the North. High above him the stars gleamed; his feet stumbled, and his head grew dizzy with the heights. Stars seemed to shine deep in the valley, too, as if there were another sky below him. He felt ill. More and more stars became visible below him; they glowed brighter and brighter and moved to and fro. Then he realized it was the lights of a little town that were shining down there. When he was sure of that, he put forth the last of his strength and finally reached the shelter of a humble inn.
He remained there that night and the whole of the next day, for his body was in desperate need of rest and refreshment. The ice was beginning to thaw, and there was rain in the valley. But on the second morning a man with a hand organ came to the inn and played a Danish melody - and now Knud could not remain.
He resumed his journey northward, tramping on for many days, hurrying as though he were trying to reach home before all were dead there. But to no man did he speak of his longing, for no one would have believed in the sorrow of his spirit, the deepest a human heart can feel. Such grief is not for the world, for it is not amusing; nor is it for friends. And this man had no friends; a stranger, he wandered through strange lands toward his home in the North. He had received only one letter from home, and it was now years since his parents had written. "You are not really Danish as we here at home. We love our country, but you love only a strange country." Thus his parents had written him - yes, they thought they knew him!
Now it was evening. He was tramping along the public highway. The frost had settled down, and the country had become flatter, with fields and meadows on all sides. And near the road there grew a great willow tree! The whole outlook reminded Knud strongly of home; it looked so Danish, and with a deep sigh he sat down under the tree. He was very tired, his head began to nod, and his eyes closed in slumber, but still he seemed to see the tree stretching its arms above him, and in his wandering fancy the tree seemed to be a mighty old man - the Willow Father himself - carrying his tired son in his arms back to his Danish home, to the bare, bleak shore of Kjöge and the garden of his childhood.
Yes, he dreamed that this was the willow tree of Kjöge that had traveled out into the world in search of him, and at last had found him, and had carried him back into the little garden beside the stream. And there stood Johanne, in all her splendor, with the golden crown on her head, just as he had seen her last, and she called out "Welcome!" to him.
And before him stood two remarkable figures, looking much more human than he remembered them from his childhood. They had changed too, but they were still the two gingerbread cakes, the man and the maiden, that turned their right sides toward him, and looked very handsome.
"We thank you!" both said to Knud. "You have loosened our tongues and taught us that thoughts should be spoken freely or nothing will come of them. And now something has come of them - we are betrothed!"
Then they walked hand in hand through the street s of Kjöge, and looked very respectable even on the wrong side; no one could have found any fault with them. On they went, straight toward Kjöge Church, and Knud and Johanne followed them - they, too, walked hand in hand. The church stood there as it had always stood, with the beautiful green ivy growing on its red walls, and the great door of the church swung open, and the organ pealed, and the gingerbread couple walked up the aisle.
"Our master first," said the cake pair, and made room for Johanne and Knud to kneel before the altar. And she bent her head over him, and the tears fell from her eyes, but they were icy cold, for it was the ice around her heart that was melting, softened by his strong love.
The tears fell upon his burning cheeks, and then he awoke - and he was sitting under the old willow tree in a foreign land on that cold winter evening; an icy hail from the could s was beating on his face.
"That was the most wonderful hour of my life!" he cried. "And it was just a dream. Oh, God, let me dream again!
Then he closed his eyes once more and dreamed again.
Toward morning there was a great snowstorm, and the wind blew it in drifts over him, and when the villagers came forth to go to church they found a journeyman sitting by the roadside. He was dead - frozen to death beneath the willow tree!
Egnen er meget nøgen nede ved Køge; byen ligger jo rigtignok ved stranden, og det er altid kønt, men der kunne dog være kønnere, end der er: rundt om flad mark, og langt er der til skoven; men når man er rigtig hjemme et sted, så finder man dog noget kønt, noget, man på det dejligste sted i verden siden kan længes efter! Og det må vi også sige, at i udkanten af Køge, hvor et par små fattige haver strækker sig ned til den lille å, som løber ud i stranden, kunne der være ganske yndigt ved sommertid, og det fandt især de to små nabobørn, Knud og Johanne, som legede her og krøb under stikkelsbærbuskene ind til hinanden. I den ene have stod en hyld, i den anden et gammelt piletræ, og under det især legede de børn så gerne, og dertil havde de lov, skønt træet stod lige tæt ved åen, hvor de let kunne falde i vandet, men Vorherre har øje på de små, ellers så det slemt ud; de var også meget forsigtige, ja, drengen var en sådan kujon for vandet, at det var ikke muligt ved sommertid at få ham ud i stranden, hvor dog de andre børn så gerne ville gå at pjaske; han blev skammet ud for det, og det måtte han tåle; men så drømte naboens lille Johanne, at hun sejlede i en båd på Køge Bugt og Knud gik lige ud til hende, vandet nåede ham først til halsen og så gik det ham helt over hovedet; og fra det øjeblik af, at Knud hørte den drøm, tålte han ikke længere, at man kaldte ham en kujon for vandet, men henviste bare til Johannes drøm; den var hans stolthed; men i vandet gik han ikke.
De fattige forældre kom jævnlig sammen, og Knud og Johanne legede i haverne og på landevejen, som langs med grøfterne havde en hel række piletræer, og de var ikke kønne, de var så forhuggede i kronen, men de stod jo heller ikke til stads, men for at gøre nytte; dejligere var den gamle pil i haven, og under den sad de mangen god gang, som man siger.
Inde i Køge er der et stort torv, og ved markedstid stod der hele gader af telte med silkebånd, støvler og alt muligt; der var en trængsel og sædvanligvis regnvejr, og da mærkede man dunsten af bondekofter, men også den dejligste lugt af honningkager, der var en hel bod fuld, og hvad der var det prægtigste: Manden, som solgte dem, indlogerede sig altid i markedstiden hos den lille Knuds forældre, og så vankede der naturligvis en lille honningkage, hvoraf Johanne også fik sit stykke, men hvad der næsten var endnu meget mere, honningkagehandleren vidste at fortælle historier, og det næsten om enhver ting, selv om sine honningkager; ja om disse fortalte han en aften en historie, som gjorde et så dybt indtryk på de to børn, at de aldrig siden glemte den, og så er det vel bedst, vi også hører den, især da den er kort.
"Der lå på disken to honningkager," sagde han, "den ene havde skikkelse af et mandfolk med hat, den anden som en jomfru uden hat, men med en klat bogguld på hovedet; de havde ansigt på den side, som vendte opad, og der skulle man se dem og ikke på vrangen, der skal man aldrig se noget menneske. Mandfolket havde en bittermandel til venstre, det var hans hjerte, jomfruen var derimod bare honningkage. De lå som prøver på disken, de lå længe og så elskede de hinanden, men den ene sagde det ikke til den anden, og det må man, når det skal blive til noget.
'Han er et mandfolk, han må sige det første ord,' tænkte hun, men ville dog være fornøjet med at vide, at hendes kærlighed blev gengældt.
Han var nu mere glubende i sine tanker, og det er altid mandfolkene; han drømte, han var en levende gadedreng og ejede fire skilling, og så købte han jomfruen og åd hende.
Og de lå dage og uger på disken og blev tørre, og hendes tanker blev finere og mere kvindelige: 'Det er mig nok, at jeg har ligget på disk med ham!' tænkte hun, og så knækkede hun i livet.
'Havde hun vidst min kærlighed, så havde hun nok holdt noget længere!' tænkte han.
Og det er historien og her er de begge to"! sagde kagehandleren. "De er mærkelige ved deres levnedsløb og den stumme kærlighed, der aldrig fører til noget. Se der har I dem!" og så gav han Johanne mandfolket, som var hel, og Knud fik den knækkede jomfru; men de var så betaget af historien, at de ikke nænnede at spise kærestefolkene.
Næste dag gik de med dem ind på Køge kirkegård, hvor kirkemuren er overgroet med det dejligste vedbendgrønt, der vinter og sommer hænger som et rigt tæppe over muren; og de stillede honningkagerne op i det grønne i solskinnet og fortalte for en flok andre børn historien om den stumme kærlighed, som ikke duede til noget, det vil sige kærligheden, for historien var yndig, det fandt de alle sammen, og da de så hen på honningparret, ja, så var der en stor dreng, der - og det var af ondskab - havde spist den knækkede jomfru, børnene græd derover, og siden, - og det var vistnok for at det stakkels mandfolk ikke skulle være ene i verden, - så spiste de ham med, men aldrig glemte de historien.
Altid var de børn sammen ved hyldebusken og under piletræet, og den lille pige sang med sølvklokkeklar stemme de yndigste sange; i Knud var der ikke tone skabt, men han kunne ordene og det er altid noget. - Folk i Køge, selv isenkræmmermadammen, stod stille og hørte på Johanne. "Det er en sød røst den lille unge har!" sagde hun.
Det var velsignede dage, men de varer ikke ved altid. Naboerne skiltes ad; den lille piges moder var død, faderen skulle giftes inde i København og der kunne han få en levevej; han skulle være bud et sted, det skulle være et meget indbringende embede. Og naboerne skiltes ad med tårer, og børnene især græd; men de gamle lovede at skrive hinanden til i det mindste én gang om året. Og Knud kom i skomagerlære, de kunne jo ikke lade den lange dreng længere gå og drive. Og så blev han konfirmeret!
Oh hvor gerne ville han på den højtidsdag have kommet til København og set lille Johanne, men han kom ikke og aldrig havde han været der, skønt den kun ligger fem mil fra Køge; men tårnene havde Knud set over bugten i klart vejr, og på konfirmationsdagen så han tydeligt det gyldne kors skinne på Frue Kirke.
Ak hvor tænkte på Johanne! mon hun huskede ham? Jo! - Ved juletid kom der brev fra hendes fader til Knuds Forældre, det gik meget godt i København, og en stor lykke ville blive tildelt Johanne ved hendes kønne stemme; hun var ansat ved komedien, den de sang i; og lidt penge fik hun allerede derfor og af disse sendte hun de kære nabofolk i Køge en hel rigsdaler til fornøjelse juleaften; de skulle drikke hendes skål, og det havde hun selv med egen hånd tilføjet i en efterskrift, og i den stod: "venlig hilsen til Knud!"
De græd alle sammen, og det var jo dog så fornøjeligt det hele, men det var af glæde de græd. Hver dag havde Johanne været i hans tanker, og nu så han, at hun også tænkte på ham, og alt, som det nærmede sig, at han skulle blive svend, des klarere stod det for ham, at han holdt så meget af Johanne og at hun skulle blive hans lille kone, og så spillede der ham et smil om munden og han trak endnu raskere i rispen, mens benet spændte mod spandremmen; han stak sylen helt ind i den ene finger, men det gjorde ikke noget. Han skulle rigtignok ikke være stum, som de to honningkager, den historie var ham meget til lærdom.
Og så blev han svend og ranslen snøret. Til København skulle han da endelig for første gang i sit liv og han havde allerede der en mester. Nå, hvor Johanne ville blive overrasket og glad. Hun var nu sytten år og han var nitten.
Han ville allerede købe i Køge en guldring til hende, men så betænkte han, at man vist fik dem langt kønnere i København; og så blev der taget afsked med de gamle, og rask i efterårstiden gik han på sin fod i regn og rusk; bladene faldt af træerne; våd til skindet kom han til det store København og til sin nye mester.
Førstkommende søndag ville han aflægge besøget hos Johannes fader. De nye svendeklæder kom på, og den nye hat fra Køge, den klædte Knud så godt, før havde han altid kun gået med kasket. - Og han fandt huset, som han søgte, og kom de mange trapper op; det var ganske til at blive svimmel over, hvorledes menneskene var stillet ovenpå hinanden her i den vildsomme by.
Ganske velhavende så der ud inde i stuen, og venligt tog Johannes fader imod ham; for madammen var han jo en fremmed en, men hun gav ham hånden og kaffe.
"Det vil fornøje Johanne at se dig!" sagde faderen, "du er jo blevet et meget net menneske! - ja nu skal du se hende! ja det er en pige, jeg har glæde af og får mere, med Guds bistand! hun har sit eget kammer og det betaler hun os for!" og faderen selv bankede ganske høfligt på hendes dør, ligesom om han var en fremmed mand, og så trådte de ind - nej, hvor det var nydeligt! der var bestemt ikke sådant et kammer til i hele Køge, dronningen kunne ikke havde det yndigere! Der var gulvtæppe, der var gardiner lige ned til jorden, en virkelig fløjlsstol og rundt om blomster og skilderier og et spejl, som man var færdig ved at løbe lige ind i, det var lige så stort som en dør. Knud så det alt sammen på én gang og så dog kun Johanne, hun var en voksen pige; ganske anderledes end Knud havde tænkt sig hende, men meget dejligere! der var ikke en jomfru i Køge, som hun, og hvor var hun fin! Men hvor så hun underlig fremmed på Knud, dog kun et øjeblik, så fløj hun hen imod ham, ligesom om hun ville kysse ham; hun gjorde det ikke, men hun var lige ved det. Jo, hun var rigtignok glad ved at se sin barndoms ven! stod ikke tårerne hende i øjnene, og så havde hun så meget at spørge og tale om, lige fra Knuds forældre til hyldetræet og piletræet, og dem kaldte hun Hyldemor og Pilefar, ligesom om de også var mennesker, dog det kunne de da lige så godt gælde for, som honningkagerne kunne det; om dem talte hun også, om deres stumme kærlighed, hvorledes de lå på disken og gik i stykker, og så lo hun så hjerteligt - men blodet brændte Knud i kinderne og hans hjerte slog stærkere end ellers! - nej, hun var slet ikke blevet storagtig! - Hun var også skyld i, mærkede han nok, at hendes forældre bad ham blive der hele aftnen, og hun skænkede teen og hun selv bød ham en kop og siden tog hun en bog og læste højt for dem, og det var for Knud ligesom om netop det, hun læste, var om hans kærlighed, det passede så ganske på alle hans tanker; og så sang hun en simpel vise, men den blev ved hende til en hel historie, det var som om hendes eget hjerte strømmede over deraf. Jo, hun holdt bestemt af Knud. Tårerne løb ham ned over kinderne, han kunne ikke gøre derfor, og han kunne ikke sige et eneste ord, han syntes selv, at han var meget dum og dog trykkede hun ham i hånden og sagde: "Du har et godt hjerte Knud! bliv altid, som du er!"
Det var en mageløs aften, den var slet ikke til at sove på, og Knud sov heller ikke. Ved afskeden havde Johannes fader sagt: "Ja, nu glemmer du os vel ikke ganske! Lad os se, at du ikke lader hele vinteren gå hen, før du ser til os igen!" - og så kunne han jo godt komme på søndag! og det ville han. Men hver aften, når arbejdet var endt, og de arbejdede ved lys, gik Knud ud i byen; han gik hen gennem gaden, hvor Johanne boede, så op til hendes vindue, der var næsten altid lys, og én aften så han ganske tydeligt skyggen af hendes ansigt på gardinet; det var en dejlig aften! Mesters madam syntes ikke om, at han altid om aftnen skulle på farten, som hun kaldte det, og hun rystede på hovedet, men mester lo: "Det er et ungt menneske!" sagde han.
"På søndag ses vi, og jeg siger hende det, hvordan hun er i mine tanker, og at hun må blive min lille kone! jeg er rigtignok kun en fattig skomagersvend, men jeg kan blive mester, i det mindste frimester, jeg skal arbejde og stræbe -! ja, jeg siger hende det, der kommer ikke noget ud af den stumme kærlighed, det har jeg lært af honningkagerne!"
Og søndagen kom og Knud kom, men hvor uheldigt! de skulle alle ud, de måtte sige ham det. Johanne trykkede hans hånd og spurgte: "Har du været henne på komedien? Der må du engang! jeg synger på onsdag, og har du da tid, så vil jeg sende dig en billet; min fader ved, hvor din mester bor!"
Hvor det var kærligt af hende! og onsdag middag kom der også et forseglet papir uden ord, men billetten lå deri, og om aftnen gik Knud første gang i sit liv i teatret og hvad så han - ja han så Johanne, så dejlig, så yndig; hun blev rigtignok gift med en fremmed person, men det var komedie. Noget de forestillede, det vidste Knud, ellers havde hun heller ikke nænnet at sende ham billet til at se derpå; og alle folk klappede og råbte højt, og Knud råbte hurra!
Selv kongen smilede ned til Johanne, ligesom om han også var glad over hende. Gud, hvor Knud følte sig lille bitte, men han elskede hende så inderligt og hun holdt jo også af ham, og mandfolket må sige det første ord, sådan tænkte jo honningkagejomfruen; i den historie var der meget lagt.
Så snart det blev søndag gik Knud derhen; hans tanker var stemte, ligesom til altergang. Johanne var alene og tog imod ham, det kunne ikke være heldigere.
"Det er godt du kommer!" sagde hun, "nær havde jeg sendt fader til dig, men så havde jeg en fornemmelse af, at du nok kom i aften; for jeg må sige dig, at jeg rejser på fredag til Frankrig, det må jeg, at der kan blive noget rigtigt dygtigt af mig!" -
Og det var for Knud, som om stuen drejede rundt, som om hans hjerte ville gå itu, men der kom ikke tårer i hans øjne, dog var det synligt nok, hvor bedrøvet han blev; Johanne så det og hun var lige ved at græde, "du ærlige, trofaste sjæl!" sagde hun - og så var Knuds tunge løst, og han sagde hende, hvor inderligt han holdt af hende og at hun måtte blive hans lille kone; og i det han sagde det, så han, at Johanne blev ligbleg, hun slap hans hånd og sagde alvorlig og bedrøvet: "Gør ikke dig selv og mig ulykkelig, Knud! jeg bliver dig altid en god søster, som du kan stole på -! men heller ikke mere!" og hun strøg sin bløde hånd hen over hans hede pande. "Gud giver os styrke til meget, når man kun selv vil!"
De trådte i det samme hendes stedmoder ind.
"Knud er rent ude af det fordi jeg rejser!" sagde hun; "vær dog et mandfolk!" og så klappede hun ham på skulderen, det var ligesom de kun havde talt om rejsen og ikke om andet. "Barn!" sagde hun. "Og nu skal du være god og fornuftig, som under piletræet, da vi begge var børn!"
Og det var for Knud, som om der var gået et stykke af verden, hans tanke var som en løs tråd, viljeløs for vinden. Han blev, han vidste ikke, om de havde bedt ham derom, men venlig og gode var de, og Johanne gav ham tevand, og hun sang, det var ikke den gamle klang, og dog så mageløst dejligt, det var til at slå hjertet i stykker ved, og så skiltes de; Knud rakte hende ikke hånden, men hun tog hans og sagde: "Du giver dog din søster hånden til afsked, min gamle legebroder!" og hun smilede med tårer, de løb hende ned over kinderne, og hun gentog: "Broder." Jo, det skulle stort hjælpe! - Det var afskeden.
Hun sejlede til Frankrig, Knud gik på de københavnske sølede gader. - De andre svende fra værkstedet spurgte ham om, hvad han sådan gik og grubliserede over; han skulle gå på fornøjelse med dem, han var jo et ungt blod.
Og de gik sammen ind på en dansebod; og der var mange smukke piger, men rigtignok ingen, som Johanne, og der hvor han troede at glemme hende, der stod hun just lyslevende i hans tanker: "Gud giver styrke til meget, når man kun selv vil!" havde hun sagt; og der kom en andagt i hans sind, han foldede sine hænder - og violinerne spillede og jomfruerne dansede rundt om; han blev ganske forskrækket, han syntes, han var et sted, hvor han ikke kunne føre Johanne med, og hun var med ham i hans hjerte, - og så gik han udenfor, han løb gennem gaderne, gik forbi huset hvor hun havde boet, der var mørkt, overalt var der mørkt, tomt og ensomt; verden gik sin gang og Knud sin.
Og det blev vinter og vandene frøs til, det var ligesom om alt indrettede sig til begravelse.
Men da foråret kom og det første dampskib gik, da fik han sådan længsel efter at komme bort, langt ud i den vide verden, men ikke for nær ved Frankrig.
Og så snørede han sin ransel og vandrede langt ind i Tyskland, fra by til by, uden rist eller ro; først da han kom til den gamle, prægtige stad Nürnberg, så var det, som om bisselæderet kom ham af skoene, han mægtede at blive.
Det er en underlig gammel by, som klippet ud af en billedkrønike. Gaderne ligger, som de selv vil, husene holder ikke af at stå i række; karnapper med små tårne, snirkler og billedstøtter springer frem over fortovet, og højt oppe fra de underligt stillede tage løber der midt ud over gaden tagrender, formede som drager og langlivede hunde.
På torvet her stod Knud med ranslen på sin ryg; han stod ved et af de gamle springvand, hvor de herlige malmfigurer, bibelske og historiske, stå mellem de springende vandstråler. - En smuk tjenestepige hentede just vand, hun gav Knud en læskedrik; og da hun havde en hel håndfuld roser, gav hun ham også en af dem, og det syntes ham et godt varsel. -
Fra kirken tæt ved brusede orglet ud til ham, det klang så hjemligt, ligesom fra Køge kirke og han trådte ind i den store dom; solen skinnede gennem de malede ruder, ind mellem de høje slanke piller; der var andagt i hans tanke, der kom stilhed i hans sind.
Og han søgte og fandt en god mester i Nürnberg, og hos ham blev han og lærte sproget.
De gamle grave om byen er forvandlet til små køkkenhaver, men de høje mure står endnu, med svære tårne; rebslageren snor sine reb på det bjælkebyggede galleri hen ad muren ind til byen, og her rundt om fra revner og huller vokser hyldetræer, der hænger deres grene ud over de små lave huse nedenfor, og i et af disse boede den mester, som Knud arbejdede hos; hen over det lille tagvindue, hvor han sov, hældede hylden sine grene.
Her boede han en sommer og en vinter, men da foråret kom, så var her ikke til at holde ud, hylden stod i blomster, og de duftede så hjemligt, det var ligesom han var i haven ved Køge, - og så flyttede Knud fra sin mester og hen til en anden længere inde i byen, hvor der ingen hyldetræer stod.
Det var tæt ved en af de gamle murede broer, lige over en altid brusende lav vandmølle, han her kom på værksted; udenfor var der kun en rivende flod, der blev indeklemt af husene, som alle var behængte med gamle skrøbelige altaner, det så ud, som om de ville ryste dem ned i vandet. - Her voksede ingen hyld, her stod ikke engang en urtepotte med en smule grønt i, men lige overfor var der et stort gammelt piletræ, der ligesom holdt sig fast til huset der, for ikke at rives bort af strømmen; det strakte sine grene hen over floden, akkurat ligesom piletræet i haven ved Køge Å.
Jo, han var rigtignok flyttet fra Hyldemor til Pilefar, træet her, især i måneskinsaftner, havde noget hvorved han følte sig:
"- så dansk i sind
i måneskin!"
men det var slet ikke måneskinnet, som gjorde det, nej det var det gamle piletræ.
Han kunne ikke holde det ud, og hvorfor ikke? Spørg pilen, spørg den blomstrende hyld! - og så sagde han farvel til den mester og til Nürnberg og drog længere bort.
Til Ingen talte han om Johanne; inden i sig gemte han sin sorg, og sær betydning lagde han i historien om honningkagerne; nu forstod han, hvorfor mandfolket der havde en bitter mandel til venstre, han havde selv en bitter smag deraf, og Johanne, som altid var så mild og smilende, hun var bare honningkage. Det var, som om remmen fra hans ransel snørede ham, så at det var svært at trække vejret, han løsnede den, men det hjalp ikke. Verden var kun halv uden om ham, den anden halvdel bar han inden i sig, sådan var det!
Først da han så de høje bjerge, blev verden ham større, hans tanker vendte ud ad, han fik tårer i sine øjne. Alperne syntes ham Jordens sammenlagte vinger; hvad om den opløftede dem, udbredte de store fjer med brogede billeder af sorte skove, brusende vande, skyer og snemasser! "På dommedag løfter jorden de store vinger, flyver mod Gud og brister som boble i hans klare stråler! Oh, gid at det var dommedag!" sukkede han. -
Stille vandrede han gennem landet, der syntes ham en græsgroet frugthave; fra husenes træaltaner nikkede de kniplende piger til ham, bjergtoppene glødede i den røde aftensol, og da han så de grønne søer mellem de mørke træer - så tænkte han på stranden ved Køge Bugt; og der var vemod, men ikke smerte i hans bryst.
Der hvor Rhinen, som én lang bølge, vælter frem, styrter, knuses og forvandles i snehvide klare skymasser, som var det skyernes skabelse - regnbuen flagrer som et løst bånd hen derover, - her tænkte han på vandmøllen ved Køge, hvor vandet bruste og knustes.
Gerne var han blevet i den stille rhinby, men her var så megen hyld og så mange piletræer, - og så drog han videre; over de høje, mægtige bjerge, gennem klippesprængninger og hen ad veje, der som svalereder var klinede til stenvæggen. Vandet bruste i dybet, skyerne lå under ham; over blanke tidsler, alperoser og sne gik han i den varme sommersol - og så sagde han farvel til Nordens lande og kom ned under kastanjetræer, mellem vinhaver og majsmarker. Bjergene var en mur mellem ham og alle erindringer, og således skulle det være. -
Der lå foran ham en stor, prægtig stad, de kaldte den Milano og her fandt han en tysk mester, som gav ham arbejde; det var et gammelt skikkeligt ægtepar, han var kommet på værkstedet hos. Og de fik kær den stille svend, der talte lidt, arbejdede des mere og var from og kristelig. Det var også, som Gud havde taget den tunge byrde fra hans hjerte.
Hans bedste lyst var, imellem at stige op på den mægtige marmorkirke, den syntes ham skabt af sne hjemmefra, og formet i billeder, spidse tårne, blomstersmykkede åbne haller; fra hver krog, fra hver spidse og bue smilede de hvide billedstøtter til ham. - Oven over sig havde han den blå himmel, under sig byen og den vidtudstrakte grønne lombarderslette, og mod nord de høje bjerge med den evige sne, - og så tænkte han på Køge kirke med vedbendrankerne om de røde mure, men han længtes ikke; her bag bjergene ville han begraves.
Ét år havde han levet her, det var tre år siden han drog hjemme fra; da førte hans mester ham ud i staden, ikke til arena, for at se kunstberiderne, nej til den store opera, og det var også en sal, der var værd at se. - I syv etager derinde hang der silkegardiner, og fra gulvet, svimlende højt op til loftet, sad der de fineste damer med blomsterbuketter i hænderne, ligesom om de skulle på bal, og herrerne var i fuld stads og mange med sølv og med guld. Der var så lyst, som i det klareste solskin og så bruste musikken så stærkt og dejligt, det var mere pragtfuldt end komedien i København, men der var Johanne dog, og her - ja, det var som en trolddom, gardinet gik til side og også her stod Johanne i guld og silke med guldkrone på hovedet; hun sang som kun en Guds engel kan synge; hun trådte så langt frem hun kunne, hun smilede, som kun Johanne kunne det, hun så lige på Knud.
Den stakkels Knud greb mesters hånd og råbte højt "Johanne!" men det kunne ikke høres, musikanterne spillede så stærkt på; og mester nikkede dertil: "Ja vist hedder hun Johanne!" og så tog han et trykt blad og viste, at der stod hendes navn, hele hendes navn.
Nej, det var ingen drøm! og alle mennesker jublede for hende og kastede blomster og kranse til hende, og hver gang hun gik, så kaldte de på hende igen, hun gik og kom og atter kom.
Ude på gaden flokkede folk sig om hendes vogn og de trak den, og Knud var allerforrest og allergladest, og da de kom til hendes prægtigt oplyste hus, stod Knud lige ved vogndøren, der åbnedes, og hun trådte ud, og lyset skinnede lige ind i hendes velsignede ansigt og hun smilede og takkede så mildt og hun var så rørt; og Knud så hende lige ind i ansigtet og hun så Knud lige ind i ansigtet, men hun kendte ham ikke. En herre med stjerne på sit bryst rakte hende sin arm - de var forlovede, sagde man.
Og så gik Knud hjem og snørede sin ransel; han ville, han måtte hjem til hylden og pilen - ak under piletræet! i én time kan man leve et helt menneskeliv!
De bad ham blive; ingen ord kunne holde ham tilbage; de sagde ham, at det var mod vintertid, at sneen alt faldt i bjergene; men i sporet af den langsomt kørende vogn, - den måtte der jo banes vej for, - kunne han gå, med ranslen på sin ryg, støttende sig på sin stav. -
Og han gik mod bjergene, op ad dem og ned ad dem; afkræftet, så han endnu ikke by eller hus; det var mod Norden. Stjernerne tændtes oven over ham, hans fødder vaklede, hans hoved svimlede; dybt nede i dalen tændtes også stjerner, det var, som om himlen også udstrakte sig neden under ham. Han følte sig syg. Stjernerne dernede blev flere og flere og altid klarere, de bevægede sig hid og did. Det var en lille by, hvor lysene blinkede, og da han forstod det, anstrengte han sine sidste kræfter og nåede der et ringe herberg.
Et helt døgn blev han her, thi hans legeme trængte til hvile og pleje. Det var tø og slud i dalen. En morgenstund kom her en liremand, han spillede en melodi hjemme fra Danmark, og så kunne Knud ikke længere holde det ud, - han gik i dage, i mange dage, med en hast, som gjaldt det at komme hjem før de alle sammen døde der; - men til ingen talte han om sin længsel, ingen kunne tro, han havde hjertesorg, den dybeste man kan have, den er ikke for verden, den er ikke morsom, den er ikke engang for vennerne og han havde ingen venner! Fremmed gik han i fremmed land, hjemad, mod Norden. I det eneste brev hjemmefra, det forældrene for år og dag siden havde skrevet, stod: "Du er ikke rigtig dansk, som vi andre hjemme! vi er det så uhyre! Du holder kun af fremmed land!" Forældrene kunne skrive det - ja, de kendte ham jo!
Det var aften, han gik på den åbne landevej, det begyndte at fryse; landet selv blev mere og mere fladt med mark og eng; der stod ved vejen et stort piletræ; alt så så hjemligt, så dansk ud! han satte sig under pilen, han følte sig så træt, hans hoved bøjede sig, hans øjne lukkede sig til hvile, men han følte og fornam, hvorledes pilen sænkede sine grene ned imod ham, træet syntes en gammel mægtig mand, det var Pilefar selv, der løftede ham på sine arme og bar ham, den trætte søn, hjem til det danske land ved den åbne blege strand, til Køge by, til barndomshaven. Ja, det var piletræet selv fra Køge, der var gået ud i verden for at søge og finde ham, og nu var han fundet og bragt hjem i den lille have ved åen, og her stod Johanne i al sin pragt, med guldkronen på, som han sidst havde set hende og råbte: "Velkommen!"
Og lige foran dem stod to underlige skikkelser, men de så meget mere menneskelige ud end i barndomstiden, de havde også forandret sig; det var de to honningkager, mandfolket og fruentimmeret; de vendte retten til og så godt ud.
"Tak!" sagde de begge to til Knud; "Du har løst vor tunge! Du har lært os, at man skal frejdigt udtale sin tanke, ellers kommer der ikke noget ud af det! og nu er der kommet noget ud af det! - vi er forlovede!"
Og så gik de hånd i hånd gennem Køges gader, og de så meget anstændigt ud på vrangen, der var ikke noget at sige på dem! og de gik lige hen mod Køge kirke, og Knud og Johanne fulgte efter; de gik også hånd i hånd; og kirken stod som før med røde mure og dejligt vedbendgrønt, og kirkens store dør åbnede sig til begge sider og orglet bruste og mandfolket og fruentimmeret gik begge op af kirkegangen: "Herskabet først!" sagde de, "honningkagernes brudefolk!" og så trådte de hver til sin side for Knud og Johanne, og de knælede deroppe og hun bøjede sit hoved over hans ansigt, og der trillede iskolde tårer fra hendes øjne, det var isen der smeltede om hendes hjerte ved hans stærke kærlighed, og de faldt på hans brændende kinder, og - han vågnede ved det, og sad under det gamle piletræ i fremmed land, i den vinterkolde aften; der faldt fra skyerne isnende hagl, de piskede hans ansigt.
"Det var den dejligste time i mit liv!" sagde han, "og den var en drøm. - Gud, lad mig drømme den om igen!" og han lukkede sine øjne, han sov, han drømte.
I morgenstunden faldt sneen, den fygede hen over hans fødder, han sov. Landsbyfolk gik til kirke; der sad en håndværkssvend, han var død, frosset ihjel - under piletræet.