A story

En historie

In the garden all the apple-trees were in blossom. They had hastened to bring forth flowers before they got green leaves, and in the yard all the ducklings walked up and down, and the cat too: it basked in the sun and licked the sunshine from its own paws. And when one looked at the fields, how beautifully the corn stood and how green it shone, without comparison! and there was a twittering and a fluttering of all the little birds, as if the day were a great festival; and so it was, for it was Sunday. All the bells were ringing, and all the people went to church, looking cheerful, and dressed in their best clothes. There was a look of cheerfulness on everything. The day was so warm and beautiful that one might well have said: "God's kindness to us men is beyond all limits." But inside the church the pastor stood in the pulpit, and spoke very loudly and angrily. He said that all men were wicked, and God would punish them for their sins, and that the wicked, when they died, would be cast into hell, to burn for ever and ever. He spoke very excitedly, saying that their evil propensities would not be destroyed, nor would the fire be extinguished, and they should never find rest. That was terrible to hear, and he said it in such a tone of conviction; he described hell to them as a miserable hole where all the refuse of the world gathers. There was no air beside the hot burning sulphur flame, and there was no ground under their feet; they, the wicked ones, sank deeper and deeper, while eternal silence surrounded them! It was dreadful to hear all that, for the preacher spoke from his heart, and all the people in the church were terrified. Meanwhile, the birds sang merrily outside, and the sun was shining so beautifully warm, it seemed as though every little flower said: "God, Thy kindness towards us all is without limits." Indeed, outside it was not at all like the pastor's sermon.
The same evening, upon going to bed, the pastor noticed his wife sitting there quiet and pensive.
"What is the matter with you?" he asked her.
"Well, the matter with me is," she said, "that I cannot collect my thoughts, and am unable to grasp the meaning of what you said to-day in church– that there are so many wicked people, and that they should burn eternally. Alas! eternally– how long! I am only a woman and a sinner before God, but I should not have the heart to let even the worst sinner burn for ever, and how could our Lord to do so, who is so infinitely good, and who knows how the wickedness comes from without and within? No, I am unable to imagine that, although you say so."
It was autumn; the trees dropped their leaves, the earnest and severe pastor sat at the bedside of a dying person. A pious, faithful soul closed her eyes for ever; she was the pastor's wife.
"If any one shall find rest in the grave and mercy before our Lord you shall certainly do so," said the pastor. He folded her hands and read a psalm over the dead woman.
She was buried; two large tears rolled over the cheeks of the earnest man, and in the parsonage it was empty and still, for its sun had set for ever. She had gone home.
It was night. A cold wind swept over the pastor's head; he opened his eyes, and it seemed to him as if the moon was shining into his room. It was not so, however; there was a being standing before his bed, and looking like the ghost of his deceased wife. She fixed her eyes upon him with such a kind and sad expression, just as if she wished to say something to him. The pastor raised himself in bed and stretched his arms towards her, saying, "Not even you can find eternal rest! You suffer, you best and most pious woman?"
The dead woman nodded her head as if to say "Yes," and put her hand on her breast.
"And can I not obtain rest in the grave for you?"
"Yes," was the answer.
"And how?"
"Give me one hair– only one single hair– from the head of the sinner for whom the fire shall never be extinguished, of the sinner whom God will condemn to eternal punishment in hell."
"Yes, one ought to be able to redeem you so easily, you pure, pious woman," he said.
"Follow me," said the dead woman. "It is thus granted to us. By my side you will be able to fly wherever your thoughts wish to go. Invisible to men, we shall penetrate into their most secret chambers; but with sure hand you must find out him who is destined to eternal torture, and before the cock crows he must be found!" As quickly as if carried by the winged thoughts they were in the great city, and from the walls the names of the deadly sins shone in flaming letters: pride, avarice, drunkenness, wantonness– in short, the whole seven-coloured bow of sin.
"Yes, therein, as I believed, as I knew it," said the pastor, "are living those who are abandoned to the eternal fire." And they were standing before the magnificently illuminated gate; the broad steps were adorned with carpets and flowers, and dance music was sounding through the festive halls. A footman dressed in silk and velvet stood with a large silver-mounted rod near the entrance.
"Our ball can compare favourably with the king's," he said, and turned with contempt towards the gazing crowd in the street. What he thought was sufficiently expressed in his features and movements: "Miserable beggars, who are looking in, you are nothing in comparison to me."
"Pride," said the dead woman; "do you see him?"
"The footman?" asked the pastor. "He is but a poor fool, and not doomed to be tortured eternally by fire!"
"Only a fool!" It sounded through the whole house of pride: they were all fools there.
Then they flew within the four naked walls of the miser. Lean as a skeleton, trembling with cold, and hunger, the old man was clinging with all his thoughts to his money. They saw him jump up feverishly from his miserable couch and take a loose stone out of the wall; there lay gold coins in an old stocking. They saw him anxiously feeling over an old ragged coat in which pieces of gold were sewn, and his clammy fingers trembled.
"He is ill! That is madness– a joyless madness– besieged by fear and dreadful dreams!"
They quickly went away and came before the beds of the criminals; these unfortunate people slept side by side, in long rows. Like a ferocious animal, one of them rose out of his sleep and uttered a horrible cry, and gave his comrade a violent dig in the ribs with his pointed elbow, and this one turned round in his sleep:
"Be quiet, monster– sleep! This happens every night!"
"Every night!" repeated the other. "Yes, every night he comes and tortures me! In my violence I have done this and that. I was born with an evil mind, which has brought me hither for the second time; but if I have done wrong I suffer punishment for it. One thing, however, I have not yet confessed. When I came out a little while ago, and passed by the yard of my former master, evil thoughts rose within me when I remembered this and that. I struck a match a little bit on the wall; probably it came a little too close to the thatched roof. All burnt down– a great heat rose, such as sometimes overcomes me. I myself helped to rescue cattle and things, nothing alive burnt, except a flight of pigeons, which flew into the fire, and the yard dog, of which I had not thought; one could hear him howl out of the fire, and this howling I still hear when I wish to sleep; and when I have fallen asleep, the great rough dog comes and places himself upon me, and howls, presses, and tortures me. Now listen to what I tell you! You can snore; you are snoring the whole night, and I hardly a quarter of an hour!" And the blood rose to the head of the excited criminal; he threw himself upon his comrade, and beat him with his clenced fist in the face.
"Wicked Matz has become mad again!" they said amongst themselves. The other criminals seized him, wrestled with him, and bent him double, so that his head rested between his knees, and they tied him, so that the blood almost came out of his eyes and out of all his pores.
"You are killing the unfortunate man," said the pastor, and as he stretched out his hand to protect him who already suffered too much, the scene changed. They flew through rich halls and wretched hovels; wantonness and envy, all the deadly sins, passed before them. An angel of justice read their crimes and their defence; the latter was not a brilliant one, but it was read before God, Who reads the heart, Who knows everything, the wickedness that comes from within and from without, Who is mercy and love personified. The pastor's hand trembled; he dared not stretch it out, he did not venture to pull a hair out of the sinner's head. And tears gushed from his eyes like a stream of mercy and love, the cooling waters of which extinguished the eternal fire of hell.
Just then the cock crowed.
"Father of all mercy, grant Thou to her the peace that I was unable to procure for her!"
"I have it now!" said the dead woman. "It was your hard words, your despair of mankind, your gloomy belief in God and His creation, which drove me to you. Learn to know mankind! Even in the wicked one lives a part of God– and this extinguishes and conquers the flame of hell!"
The pastor felt a kiss on his lips; a gleam of light surrounded him– God's bright sun shone into the room, and his wife, alive, sweet and full of love, awoke him from a dream which God had sent him!
I haven var alle æbletræerne sprunget ud, de havde skyndt sig med at få blomster før de fik grønne blade, og i gården var alle ællingerne ude og katten med, han slikkede rigtignok solskin, slikkede den af sin egen pote; og så man hen ad marken, da stod kornet så mageløst grønt, og der var en kvidren og kvinkeleren af alle de små fugle, ligesom om det var en stor fest, og det kunne man da også sige at det var, for det var søndag. Klokkerne ringede, og folk i deres bedste klæder gik til kirke og så så fornøjede ud; ja ved alting var der noget så fornøjeligt; det var tilvisse en dag så varm og velsignet, så at man nok kunne sige: "Vor Herre er rigtignok mageløs god mod os mennesker!"
Men inde i kirken stod præsten på prædikestolen og talte så højt og så vredt; han sagde, at menneskene var så ugudelige, og at Gud ville straffe dem derfor, og at når de døde, kom de onde ned i helvede, hvor de skulle evigt brænde, og han sagde, at deres orm døde ikke, og at deres ild aldrig udslukkedes; aldrig fik de hvile eller ro. Det var grueligt at høre, og han sagde det så vist; han beskrev dem helvede som en stinkende hule, hvor alverdens uhumskheder flød sammen, der var ingen luftning uden den hede svovlflamme, der var ingen bund, de sank og sank i en evig tavshed. Det var grueligt alene at høre derom, men præsten sagde det lige ud af sit hjerte, og alle folk i kirken var ganske forfærdede.
Men udenfor sang alle de små fugle så fornøjede, og solen skinnede så varmt, det var som om hver lille blomst sagde: Gud er så mageløs god mod os alle sammen. Ja, derude var det slet ikke som præsten prædikede.
Om aftnen ved sengetid så præsten sin kone sidde stille og tankefuld.
"Hvad fejler du?" sagde han til hende.
"Ja hvad jeg fejler," sagde hun, "jeg fejler, at jeg ikke rigtig kan samle mine tanker, at jeg ikke rigtig kan få det, du sagde, til at gå op, at der var så mange ugudelige, og at de skulle brænde evigt; evigt, ak hvor langt! – Jeg er kun et syndigt menneske, men jeg kunne ikke bære det over mit hjerte at lade selv den værste synder brænde evig, hvorledes skulle da Vor Herre kunne det, han, som er så uendelig god, og som ved, hvorledes det onde kommer udenfra og indenfra. Nej, jeg kan ikke tænke det, skønt du siger det."
Det var efterår, løvet faldt af træerne; den alvorlige strenge præst sad ved en døendes seng, en from troende lukkede sine øjne; det var præstekonen.
"Får nogen fred i graven og nåde hos sin Gud, da er det dig!" sagde præsten, og han foldede hendes hænder og læste en salme over den døde.
Og hun blev ført til graven; to tunge tårer trillede ned over den alvorlige mands kinder; og i præstegården var det stille og tomt, solskinnet derinde var slukket, hun var gået bort.
Det var nat, en kold vind blæste hen over præstens hoved, han slog øjnene op, og det var ligesom om Månen skinnede ind i hans stue, men Månen skinnede ikke; en skikkelse var det, der stod foran hans seng; han så sin afdøde kones genfærd, hun så på ham så inderligt bedrøvet, det var som ville hun sige noget.
Og manden rejste sig halvt op, strakte armene ud imod hende: "Du ikke heller forundt den evige Ro? Du lide? Du, den bedste, den frommeste!"
Og den døde bøjede sit hoved til et ja og lagde hånden på brystet.
"Og kan jeg skaffe dig ro i graven?"
"Ja!" lød det til ham.
"Og hvorledes?"
"Giv mig et hår, kun et eneste hår af hovedet på den synder, hvis ild aldrig vil slukkes, den synder, som Gud vil nedstøbe i helvede til evig pine."
"Ja så let må du kunne løses, du rene, du fromme!" sagde han.
"Så følg mig!" sagde den døde. "Det er os så forundt. Ved min side svæver du hvorhen dine tanker vil; usynligt for menneskene står vi i deres hemmeligste vrå, men med sikker hånd må du pege på den til evig kval indviede, og før hanegal må han være funden."
Og hurtig, som båret af tanken, var de i den store stad; og fra husenes væg lyste med ildbogstaver dødsyndernes navne: Hovmod, gerrighed, drukkenskab, vellyst, kort, hele syndens syvfarvede bue.
"Ja derinde, som jeg troede det, som jeg vidste det," sagde præsten, "huser de den evige ilds indviede." Og de stod foran den prægtig oplyste portal, hvor den brede trappe prangede med tæpper og blomster, og gennem de festlige sale klang balmusikken. Schweizeren stod i silke og fløjl med stor sølvbeslagen stok.
"Vort bal kan måle sig med kongens!" sagde han, og vendte sig mod gadestimlen; fra top og til tå lyste den tanke ud af ham: "Fattige pak, der glor ind ad porten, I er imod mig kanaljer alle sammen!"
"Hovmod!" sagde den døde, "ser du ham?"
"Ham!" gentog præsten. "Ja, men han er en tåbe, kun en nar, og vil ikke dømmes til evig ild og pine!"
"Kun en nar!" lød det gennem det hele hovmodens hus, det var de alle der.
Og de fløj inden for den gerriges nøgne fire vægge, hvor, skindmager, klaprende af kulde, sulten og tørstig, oldingen klamrede sig med al sin tanke til sit guld; de så hvor han, som i feber, sprang fra det elendige leje og tog en løs sten ud af muren, der lå guldpenge i et strømpeskaft, han befølte sin lasede kjortel, hvori guldstykker var syet ind, og de fugtige fingre sitrede.
"Han er syg, det er vanvid, et glædesløst vanvid, omspændt af angst og onde drømme!"
Og de fjernede sig i hast og stod ved forbrydernes briks, hvor de i lang række sov side ved side. Som et vildt dyr fór en op af søvne, udstødende et fælt skrig; han slog med sine spidse albuer til kammeraten, og denne vendte sig søvnig:
"Hold kæft, dit kvaj, og sov! – det er hver nat –!"
"Hver nat!" gentog han, "ja hver nat kommer han, hyler og kvæler mig. I hidsighed har jeg gjort et og andet, vredt sind er jeg født med, det har bragt mig anden gang herind; men har jeg gjort galt, så har jeg jo min straf. Kun et har jeg ikke bekendt. Da jeg sidst kom ud herfra og forbi min husbonds gård, så kogte der op i mig et og andet – jeg strøg en svovlstik hen ad muren, den løb lidt nær stråtaget, alting brændte, der kom hidsighed over det, ligesom den kommer over mig. Jeg hjalp med at redde kvæg og indbo. Ingen levende brændte uden en flok duer, der fløj ind i ilden, og så lænkehunden. Den havde jeg ikke tænkt på. Man kunne høre den hyle – og dette hyl hører jeg altid endnu, når jeg vil sove, og falder jeg i søvn, så kommer også hunden, så stor og lodden; han lægger sig på mig, hyler, trykker mig, kvæler mig. – Så hør dog hvad jeg fortæller, snue kan du, snue den hele nat, og jeg ikke et kort kvarter." Og blodet skinnede den hidsige frem i øjnene, han kastede sig over kammeraten, og slog ham med knyttet hånd i ansigtet.
"Vrede Mads er blevet gal igen!" hed det rundt om, og de andre kæltringer greb fat i ham, brødes med ham, krumbøjede ham, så hovedet sad ned imellem benene, der bandt de det fast, blodet var ved at springe ham ud af øjne og alle porer.
"I dræber ham," råbte præsten, "den ulykkelige!" og idet han forhindrende udstrakte hånden over synderen, han, som alt her led for hårdt, vekslede scenen om; de fløj gennem rige sale og gennem fattige stuer; vellyst, misundelse, alle dødssynder skred dem forbi, en dommens engel læste deres synd, deres forsvar; dette var vel ringe for Gud, men Gud læser hjerterne, han kender alt til hobe, det onde, der kommer indenfra og udenfra, han, nåden, alkærligheden. Præstens hånd skælvede, han vovede ikke at udstrække den, at rive et hår af synderens hoved. Og tårerne strømmede fra hans øjne, som nådens og kærlighedens vande, der slukker helvedes evige ild.
Da galede hanen.
"Forbarmende Gud! Du vil give hende den ro i graven, som jeg ikke har kunnet indløse."
"Den har jeg nu!" sagde den døde, "det var dit hårde ord, din mørke mennesketro om Gud og hans skabninger, der drev mig til dig! kend menneskene, selv i de onde er der en del af Gud, en del, der vil sejre og slukke helvedes ild."
Og et kys blev trykket på præstens mund, det lyste omkring ham; Guds klare sol skinnede ind i kamret, hvor hans hustru, levende, mild og kærlig, vakte ham af en drøm, sendt fra Gud.