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A Story From The Sand-hills - Part 1
THIS story is from the sand-dunes or sand-hills of
Jutland, but it does not begin there in the North, but far
away in the South, in Spain. The wide sea is the highroad from
nation to nation; journey in thought; then, to sunny Spain. It
is warm and beautiful there; the fiery pomegranate flowers
peep from among dark laurels; a cool refreshing breeze from
the mountains blows over the orange gardens, over the Moorish
halls with their golden cupolas and coloured walls. Children
go through the streets in procession with candles and waving
banners, and the sky, lofty and clear with its glittering
stars, rises above them. Sounds of singing and castanets can
be heard, and youths and maidens dance upon the flowering
acacia trees, while even the beggar sits upon a block of
marble, refreshing himself with a juicy melon, and dreamily
enjoying life. It all seems like a beautiful dream.
Here dwelt a newly married couple who completely gave
themselves up to the charm of life; indeed they possessed
every good thing they could desire- health and happiness,
riches and honour.
We are as happy as human beings can be,' said the young
couple from the depths of their hearts. They had indeed only
one step higher to mount on the ladder of happiness- they
hoped that God would give them a child, a son like them in
form and spirit. The happy little one was to be welcomed with
rejoicing, to be cared for with love and tenderness, and enjoy
every advantage of wealth and luxury that a rich and
influential family can give. So the days went by like a joyous
'Life is a gracious gift from God, almost too great a gift
for us to appreciate!' said the young wife. 'Yet they say that
fulness of joy for ever and ever can only be found in the
future life. I cannot realise it!'
'The thought arises, perhaps, from the arrogance of men,'
said the husband. 'It seems a great pride to believe that we
shall live for ever, that we shall be as gods! Were not these
the words of the serpent, the father of lies?'
'Surely you do not doubt the existence of a future life?'
exclaimed the young wife. It seemed as if one of the first
shadows passed over her sunny thoughts.
'Faith realises it, and the priests tell us so,' replied
her husband; 'but amid all my happiness I feel that it is
arrogant to demand a continuation of it- another life after
this. Has not so much been given us in this world that we
ought to be, we must be, contented with it?'
'Yes, it has been given to us,' said the young wife, 'but
this life is nothing more than one long scene of trial and
hardship to many thousands. How many have been cast into this
world only to endure poverty, shame, illness, and misfortune?
If there were no future life, everything here would be too
unequally divided, and God would not be the personification of
'The beggar there,' said her husband, 'has joys of his own
which seem to him great, and cause him as much pleasure as a
king would find in the magnificence of his palace. And then do
you not think that the beast of burden, which suffers blows
and hunger, and works itself to death, suffers just as much
from its miserable fate? The dumb creature might demand a
future life also, and declare the law unjust that excludes it
from the advantages of the higher creation.'
'Christ said: 'In my father's house are many mansions,''
she answered. 'Heaven is as boundless as the love of our
Creator; the dumb animal is also His creature, and I firmly
believe that no life will be lost, but each will receive as
much happiness as he can enjoy, which will be sufficient for
'This world is sufficient for me,' said the husband,
throwing his arm round his beautiful, sweet-tempered wife. He
sat by her side on the open balcony, smoking a cigarette in
the cool air, which was loaded with the sweet scent of
carnations and orange blossoms. Sounds of music and the
clatter of castanets came from the road beneath, the stars
shone above then, and two eyes full of affection- those of his
wife- looked upon him with the expression of undying love.
'Such a moment,' he said, 'makes it worth while to be born, to
die, and to be annihilated!' He smiled- the young wife raised
her hand in gentle reproof, and the shadow passed away from
her mind, and they were happy- quite happy.
Everything seemed to work together for their good. They
advanced in honour, in prosperity, and in happiness. A change
came certainly, but it was only a change of place and not of
The young man was sent by his Sovereign as ambassador to
the Russian Court. This was an office of high dignity, but his
birth and his acquirements entitled him to the honour. He
possessed a large fortune, and his wife had brought him wealth
equal to his own, for she was the daughter of a rich and
respected merchant. One of this merchant's largest and finest
ships was to be sent that year to Stockholm, and it was
arranged that the dear young couple, the daughter and the
son-in-law, should travel in it to St. Petersburg. All the
arrangements on board were princely and silk and luxury on
In an old war song, called 'The King of England's Son,' it
'Farewell, he said, and sailed away.
And many recollect that day.
The ropes were of silk, the anchor of gold,
And everywhere riches and wealth untold.'
These words would aptly describe the vessel from Spain,
for here was the same luxury, and the same parting thought
'God grant that we once more may meet
In sweet unclouded peace and joy.'
There was a favourable wind blowing as they left the
Spanish coast, and it would be but a short journey, for they
hoped to reach their destination in a few weeks; but when they
came out upon the wide ocean the wind dropped, the sea became
smooth and shining, and the stars shone brightly. Many festive
evenings were spent on board. At last the travellers began to
wish for wind, for a favourable breeze; but their wish was
useless- not a breath of air stirred, or if it did arise it
was contrary. Weeks passed by in this way, two whole months,
and then at length a fair wind blew from the south-west. The
ship sailed on the high seas between Scotland and Jutland;
then the wind increased, just as it did in the old song of
'The King of England's Son.'
''Mid storm and wind, and pelting hail,
Their efforts were of no avail.
The golden anchor forth they threw;
Towards Denmark the west wind blew.'
This all happened a long time ago; King Christian VII, who
sat on the Danish throne, was still a young man. Much has
happened since then, much has altered or been changed. Sea and
moorland have been turned into green meadows, stretches of
heather have become arable land, and in the shelter of the
peasant's cottages, apple-trees and rose-bushes grow, though
they certainly require much care, as the sharp west wind blows
upon them. In West Jutland one may go back in thought to old
times, farther back than the days when Christian VII ruled.
The purple heather still extends for miles, with its barrows
and aerial spectacles, intersected with sandy uneven roads,
just as it did then; towards the west, where broad streams run
into the bays, are marshes and meadows encircled by lofty,
sandy hills, which, like a chain of Alps, raise their pointed
summits near the sea; they are only broken by high ridges of
clay, from which the sea, year by year, bites out great
mouthfuls, so that the overhanging banks fall down as if by
the shock of an earthquake. Thus it is there today and thus it
was long ago, when the happy pair were sailing in the
It was a Sunday, towards the end of September; the sun was
shining, and the chiming of the church bells in the Bay of
Nissum was carried along by the breeze like a chain of sounds.
The churches there are almost entirely built of hewn blocks of
stone, each like a piece of rock. The North Sea might foam
over them and they would not be disturbed. Nearly all of them
are without steeples, and the bells are hung outside between
two beams. The service was over, and the congregation passed
out into the churchyard, where not a tree or bush was to be
seen; no flowers were planted there, and they had not placed a
single wreath upon any of the graves. It is just the same now.
Rough mounds show where the dead have been buried, and rank
grass, tossed by the wind, grows thickly over the whole
churchyard; here and there a grave has a sort of monument, a
block of half-decayed wood, rudely cut in the shape of a
coffin; the blocks are brought from the forest of West
Jutland, but the forest is the sea itself, and the inhabitants
find beams, and planks, and fragments which the waves have
cast upon the beach. One of these blocks had been placed by
loving hands on a child's grave, and one of the women who had
come out of the church walked up to it; she stood there, her
eyes resting on the weather-beaten memorial, and a few moments
afterwards her husband joined her. They were both silent, but
he took her hand, and they walked together across the purple
heath, over moor and meadow towards the sandhills. For a long
time they went on without speaking.
'It was a good sermon to-day,' the man said at last. 'If
we had not God to trust in, we should have nothing.'
'Yes,' replied the woman, 'He sends joy and sorrow, and He
has a right to send them. To-morrow our little son would have
been five years old if we had been permitted to keep him.'
'It is no use fretting, wife,' said the man. 'The boy is
well provided for. He is where we hope and pray to go to.'
They said nothing more, but went out towards their houses
among the sand-hills. All at once, in front of one of the
houses where the sea grass did not keep the sand down with its
twining roots, what seemed to be a column of smoke rose up. A
gust of wind rushed between the hills, hurling the particles
of sand high into the air; another gust, and the strings of
fish hung up to dry flapped and beat violently against the
walls of the cottage; then everything was quiet once more, and
the sun shone with renewed heat.
The man and his wife went into the cottage. They had soon
taken off their Sunday clothes and come out again, hurrying
over the dunes which stood there like great waves of sand
suddenly arrested in their course, while the sandweeds and
dune grass with its bluish stalks spread a changing colour
over them. A few neighbours also came out, and helped each
other to draw the boats higher up on the beach. The wind now
blew more keenly, it was chilly and cold, and when they went
back over the sand-hills, sand and little sharp stones blew
into their faces. The waves rose high, crested with white
foam, and the wind cut off their crests, scattering the foam
far and wide.
Evening came; there was a swelling roar in the air, a
wailing or moaning like the voices of despairing spirits, that
sounded above the thunder of the waves. The fisherman's little
cottage was on the very margin, and the sand rattled against
the window panes; every now and then a violent gust of wind
shook the house to its foundation. It was dark, but about
midnight the moon would rise. Later on the air became clearer,
but the storm swept over the perturbed sea with undiminished
fury; the fisher folks had long since gone to bed, but in such
weather there was no chance of closing an eye. Presently there
was a tapping at the window; the door was opened, and a voice
'There's a large ship stranded on the farthest reef.'
In a moment the fisher people sprung from their beds and
hastily dressed themselves. The moon had risen, and it was
light enough to make the surrounding objects visible to those
who could open their eyes in the blinding clouds of sand; the
violence of the wind was terrible, and it was only possible to
pass among the sand-hills if one crept forward between the
gusts; the salt spray flew up from the sea like down, and the
ocean foamed like a roaring cataract towards the beach. Only a
practised eye could discern the vessel out in the offing; she
was a fine brig, and the waves now lifted her over the reef,
three or four cables' length out of the usual channel. She
drove towards the shore, struck on the second reef, and
It was impossible to render assistance; the sea rushed in
upon the vessel, making a clean breach over her. Those on
shore thought they heard cries for help from those on board,
and could plainly distinguish the busy but useless efforts
made by the stranded sailors. Now a wave came rolling onward.
It fell with enormous force on the bowsprit, tearing it from
the vessel, and the stern was lifted high above the water. Two
people were seen to embrace and plunge together into the sea,
and the next moment one of the largest waves that rolled
towards the sand-hills threw a body on the beach. It was a
woman; the sailors said that she was quite dead, but the women
thought they saw signs of life in her, so the stranger was
carried across the sand-hills to the fisherman's cottage. How
beautiful and fair she was! She must be a great lady, they
They laid her upon the humble bed; there was not a yard of
linen on it, only a woollen coverlet to keep the occupant
Life returned to her, but she was delirious, and knew
nothing of what had happened or where she was; and it was
better so, for everything she loved and valued lay buried in
the sea. The same thing happened to her ship as to the one
spoken of in the song about 'The King of England's Son.'
'Alas! how terrible to see
The gallant bark sink rapidly.'
Fragments of the wreck and pieces of wood were washed
ashore; they were all that remained of the vessel. The wind
still blew violently on the coast.
For a few moments the strange lady seemed to rest; but she
awoke in pain, and uttered cries of anguish and fear. She
opened her wonderfully beautiful eyes, and spoke a few words,
but nobody understood her.- And lo! as a reward for the sorrow
and suffering she had undergone, she held in her arms a
new-born babe. The child that was to have rested upon a
magnificent couch, draped with silken curtains, in a luxurious
home; it was to have been welcomed with joy to a life rich in
all the good things of this world; and now Heaven had ordained
that it should be born in this humble retreat, that it should
not even receive a kiss from its mother, for when the
fisherman's wife laid the child upon the mother's bosom, it
rested on a heart that beat no more- she was dead.
The child that was to have been reared amid wealth and
luxury was cast into the world, washed by the sea among the
sand-hills to share the fate and hardships of the poor.
Here we are reminded again of the song about 'The King of
England's Son,' for in it mention is made of the custom
prevalent at the time, when knights and squires plundered
those who had been saved from shipwreck. The ship had stranded
some distance south of Nissum Bay, and the cruel, inhuman
days, when, as we have just said, the inhabitants of Jutland
treated the shipwrecked people so crudely were past, long ago.
Affectionate sympathy and self-sacrifice for the unfortunate
existed then, just as it does in our own time in many a bright
example. The dying mother and the unfortunate child would have
found kindness and help wherever they had been cast by the
winds, but nowhere would it have been more sincere than in the
cottage of the poor fisherman's wife, who had stood, only the
day before, beside her child's grave, who would have been five
years old that day if God had spared it to her.
No one knew who the dead stranger was, they could not even
form a conjecture; the fragments of wreckage gave no clue to
No tidings reached Spain of the fate of the daughter and
son-in-law. They did not arrive at their destination, and
violent storms had raged during the past weeks. At last the
verdict was given: 'Foundered at sea- all lost.' But in the
fisherman's cottage among the sand-hills near Hunsby, there
lived a little scion of the rich Spanish family.
Where Heaven sends food for two, a third can manage to
find a meal, and in the depth of the sea there is many a dish
of fish for the hungry.
They called the boy Jurgen.
'It must certainly be a Jewish child, its skin is so
dark,' the people said.
'It might be an Italian or a Spaniard,' remarked the
But to the fisherman's wife these nations seemed all the
same, and she consoled herself with the thought that the child
was baptized as a Christian.
The boy throve; the noble blood in his veins was warm, and
he became strong on his homely fare. He grew apace in the
humble cottage, and the Danish dialect spoken by the West
Jutes became his language. The pomegranate seed from Spain
became a hardy plant on the coast of West Jutland. Thus may
circumstances alter the course of a man's life! To this home
he clung with deep-rooted affection; he was to experience cold
and hunger, and the misfortunes and hardships that surround
the poor; but he also tasted of their joys.
Childhood has bright days for every one, and the memory of
them shines through the whole after-life. The boy had many
sources of pleasure and enjoyment; the coast for miles and
miles was full of playthings, for it was a mosaic of pebbles,
some red as coral or yellow as amber, and others again white
and rounded like birds' eggs and smoothed and prepared by the
sea. Even the bleached fishes' skeletons, the water plants
dried by the wind, and seaweed, white and shining long
linen-like bands waving between the stones- all these seemed
made to give pleasure and occupation for the boy's thoughts,
and he had an intelligent mind; many great talents lay dormant
in him. How readily he remembered stories and songs that he
heard, and how dexterous he was with his fingers! With stones
and mussel-shells he could put together pictures and ships
with which one could decorate the room; and he could make
wonderful things from a stick, his foster-mother said,
although he was still so young and little. He had a sweet
voice, and every melody seemed to flow naturally from his
lips. And in his heart were hidden chords, which might have
sounded far out into the world if he had been placed anywhere
else than in the fisherman's hut by the North Sea.
One day another ship was wrecked on the coast, and among
other things a chest filled with valuable flower bulbs was
washed ashore. Some were put into saucepans and cooked, for
they were thought to be fit to eat, and others lay and
shrivelled in the sand- they did not accomplish their purpose,
or unfold their magnificent colours. Would Jurgen fare better?
The flower bulbs had soon played their part, but he had years
of apprenticeship before him. Neither he nor his friends
noticed in what a monotonous, uniform way one day followed
another, for there was always plenty to do and see. The ocean
itself was a great lesson-book, and it unfolded a new leaf
each day of calm or storm- the crested wave or the smooth
The visits to the church were festive occasions, but among
the fisherman's house one was especially looked forward to;
this was, in fact, the visit of the brother of Jurgen's
foster-mother, the eel-breeder from Fjaltring, near Bovbjerg.
He came twice a year in a cart, painted red with blue and
white tulips upon it, and full of eels; it was covered and
locked like a box, two dun oxen drew it, and Jurgen was
allowed to guide them.
The eel-breeder was a witty fellow, a merry guest, and
brought a measure of brandy with him. They all received a
small glassful or a cupful if there were not enough glasses;
even Jurgen had about a thimbleful, that he might digest the
fat eel, as the eel-breeder said; he always told one story
over and over again, and if his hearers laughed he would
immediately repeat it to them. Jurgen while still a boy, and
also when he was older, used phrases from the eel-breeder's
story on various occasions, so it will be as well for us to
listen to it. It runs thus:
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