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A Story From The Sand-hills - Part 2
'The eels went into the bay, and the young ones begged
leave to go a little farther out. 'Don't go too far,' said
their mother; 'the ugly eel-spearer might come and snap you
all up.' But they went too far, and of eight daughters only
three came back to the mother, and these wept and said, 'We
only went a little way out, and the ugly eel-spearer came
immediately and stabbed five of our sisters to death.'
'They'll come back again,' said the mother eel. 'Oh, no,'
exclaimed the daughters, 'for he skinned them, cut them in
two, and fried them.' 'Oh, they'll come back again,' the
mother eel persisted. 'No,' replied the daughters, 'for he ate
them up.' 'They'll come back again,' repeated the mother eel.
'But he drank brandy after them,' said the daughters. 'Ah,
then they'll never come back,' said the mother, and she burst
out crying, 'it's the brandy that buries the eels.''
'And therefore,' said the eel-breeder in conclusion, 'it
is always the proper thing to drink brandy after eating eels.'
This story was the tinsel thread, the most humorous
recollection of Jurgen's life. He also wanted to go a little
way farther out and up the bay- that is to say, out into the
world in a ship- but his mother said, like the eel-breeder,
'There are so many bad people- eel spearers!' He wished to go
a little way past the sand-hills, out into the dunes, and at
last he did: four happy days, the brightest of his childhood,
fell to his lot, and the whole beauty and splendour of
Jutland, all the happiness and sunshine of his home, were
concentrated in these. He went to a festival, but it was a
A rich relation of the fisherman's family had died; the
farm was situated far eastward in the country and a little
towards the north. Jurgen's foster parents went there, and he
also went with them from the dunes, over heath and moor, where
the Skjaerumaa takes its course through green meadows and
contains many eels; mother eels live there with their
daughters, who are caught and eaten up by wicked people. But
do not men sometimes act quite as cruelly towards their own
fellow-men? Was not the knight Sir Bugge murdered by wicked
people? And though he was well spoken of, did he not also wish
to kill the architect who built the castle for him, with its
thick walls and tower, at the point where the Skjaerumaa falls
into the bay? Jurgen and his parents now stood there; the wall
and the ramparts still remained, and red crumbling fragments
lay scattered around. Here it was that Sir Bugge, after the
architect had left him, said to one of his men, 'Go after him
and say, 'Master, the tower shakes.' If he turns round, kill
him and take away the money I paid him, but if he does not
turn round let him go in peace.' The man did as he was told;
the architect did not turn round, but called back 'The tower
does not shake in the least, but one day a man will come from
the west in a blue cloak- he will cause it to shake!' And so
indeed it happened a hundred years later, for the North Sea
broke in and cast down the tower; but Predbjorn Gyldenstjerne,
the man who then possessed the castle, built a new castle
higher up at the end of the meadow, and that one is standing
to this day, and is called Norre-Vosborg.
Jurgen and his foster parents went past this castle. They
had told him its story during the long winter evenings, and
now he saw the stately edifice, with its double moat, and
trees and bushes; the wall, covered with ferns, rose within
the moat, but the lofty lime-trees were the most beautiful of
all; they grew up to the highest windows, and the air was full
of their sweet fragrance. In a north-west corner of the garden
stood a great bush full of blossom, like winter snow amid the
summer's green; it was a juniper bush, the first that Jurgen
had ever seen in bloom. He never forgot it, nor the
lime-trees; the child's soul treasured up these memories of
beauty and fragrance to gladden the old man.
From Norre-Vosborg, where the juniper blossomed, the
journey became more pleasant, for they met some other people
who were also going to the funeral and were riding in waggons.
Our travellers had to sit all together on a little box at the
back of the waggon, but even this, they thought, was better
than walking. So they continued their journey across the
rugged heath. The oxen which drew the waggon stopped every now
and then, where a patch of fresh grass appeared amid the
heather. The sun shone with considerable heat, and it was
wonderful to behold how in the far distance something like
smoke seemed to be rising; yet this smoke was clearer than the
air; it was transparent, and looked like rays of light rolling
and dancing afar over the heath.
'That is Lokeman driving his sheep,' said some one.
And this was enough to excite Jurgen's imagination. He
felt as if they were now about to enter fairyland, though
everything was still real. How quiet it was! The heath
stretched far and wide around them like a beautiful carpet.
The heather was in blossom, and the juniper-bushes and fresh
oak saplings rose like bouquets from the earth. An inviting
place for a frolic, if it had not been for the number of
poisonous adders of which the travellers spoke; they also
mentioned that the place had formerly been infested with
wolves, and that the district was still called Wolfsborg for
this reason. The old man who was driving the oxen told them
that in the lifetime of his father the horses had many a hard
battle with the wild beasts that were now exterminated. One
morning, when he himself had gone out to bring in the horses,
he found one of them standing with its forefeet on a wolf it
had killed, but the savage animal had torn and lacerated the
brave horse's legs.
The journey over the heath and the deep sand was only too
quickly at an end. They stopped before the house of mourning,
where they found plenty of guests within and without. Waggon
after waggon stood side by side, while the horses and oxen had
been turned out to graze on the scanty pasture. Great
sand-hills like those at home by the North Sea rose behind the
house and extended far and wide. How had they come here, so
many miles inland? They were as large and high as those on the
coast, and the wind had carried them there; there was also a
legend attached to them.
Psalms were sung, and a few of the old people shed tears;
with this exception, the guests were cheerful enough, it
seemed to Jurgen, and there was plenty to eat and drink. There
were eels of the fattest, requiring brandy to bury them, as
the eel-breeder said; and certainly they did not forget to
carry out his maxim here.
Jurgen went in and out the house; and on the third day he
felt as much at home as he did in the fisherman's cottage
among the sand-hills, where he had passed his early days. Here
on the heath were riches unknown to him until now; for
flowers, blackberries, and bilberries were to be found in
profusion, so large and sweet that when they were crushed
beneath the tread of passers-by the heather was stained with
their red juice. Here was a barrow and yonder another. Then
columns of smoke rose into the still air; it was a heath fire,
they told him- how brightly it blazed in the dark evening!
The fourth day came, and the funeral festivities were at
an end; they were to go back from the land-dunes to the
'Ours are better,' said the old fisherman, Jurgen's
foster-father; 'these have no strength.'
And they spoke of the way in which the sand-dunes had come
inland, and it seemed very easy to understand. This is how
they explained it:
A dead body had been found on the coast, and the peasants
buried it in the churchyard. From that time the sand began to
fly about and the sea broke in with violence. A wise man in
the district advised them to open the grave and see if the
buried man was not lying sucking his thumb, for if so he must
be a sailor, and the sea would not rest until it had got him
back. The grave was opened, and he really was found with his
thumb in his mouth. So they laid him upon a cart, and
harnessed two oxen to it; and the oxen ran off with the sailor
over heath and moor to the ocean, as if they had been stung by
an adder. Then the sand ceased to fly inland, but the hills
that had been piled up still remained.
All this Jurgen listened to and treasured up in his memory
of the happiest days of his childhood- the days of the burial
How delightful it was to see fresh places and to mix with
strangers! And he was to go still farther, for he was not yet
fourteen years old when he went out in a ship to see the
world. He encountered bad weather, heavy seas, unkindness, and
hard men- such were his experiences, for he became ship-boy.
Cold nights, bad living, and blows had to be endured; then he
felt his noble Spanish blood boil within him, and bitter,
angry, words rose to his lips, but he gulped them down; it was
better, although he felt as the eel must feel when it is
skinned, cut up, and put into the frying-pan.
'I shall get over it,' said a voice within him.
He saw the Spanish coast, the native land of his parents.
He even saw the town where they had lived in joy and
prosperity, but he knew nothing of his home or his relations,
and his relations knew just as little about him.
The poor ship boy was not permitted to land, but on the
last day of their stay he managed to get ashore. There were
several purchases to be made, and he was sent to carry them on
Jurgen stood there in his shabby clothes which looked as
if they had been washed in the ditch and dried in the chimney;
he, who had always dwelt among the sand-hills, now saw a great
city for the first time. How lofty the houses seemed, and what
a number of people there were in the streets! some pushing
this way, some that- a perfect maelstrom of citizens and
peasants, monks and soldiers- the jingling of bells on the
trappings of asses and mules, the chiming of church bells,
calling, shouting, hammering and knocking- all going on at
once. Every trade was located in the basement of the houses or
in the side thoroughfares; and the sun shone with such heat,
and the air was so close, that one seemed to be in an oven
full of beetles, cockchafers, bees and flies, all humming and
buzzing together. Jurgen scarcely knew where he was or which
way he went. Then he saw just in front of him the great
doorway of a cathedral; the lights were gleaming in the dark
aisles, and the fragrance of incense was wafted towards him.
Even the poorest beggar ventured up the steps into the
sanctuary. Jurgen followed the sailor he was with into the
church, and stood in the sacred edifice. Coloured pictures
gleamed from their golden background, and on the altar stood
the figure of the Virgin with the child Jesus, surrounded by
lights and flowers; priests in festive robes were chanting,
and choir boys in dazzling attire swung silver censers. What
splendour and magnificence he saw there! It streamed in upon
his soul and overpowered him: the church and the faith of his
parents surrounded him, and touched a chord in his heart that
caused his eyes to overflow with tears.
They went from the church to the market-place. Here a
quantity of provisions were given him to carry. The way to the
harbour was long; and weary and overcome with various
emotions, he rested for a few moments before a splendid house,
with marble pillars, statues, and broad steps. Here he rested
his burden against the wall. Then a porter in livery came out,
lifted up a silver-headed cane, and drove him away- him, the
grandson of that house. But no one knew that, and he just as
little as any one. Then he went on board again, and once more
encountered rough words and blows, much work and little sleep-
such was his experience of life. They say it is good to suffer
in one's young days, if age brings something to make up for
His period of service on board the ship came to an end,
and the vessel lay once more at Ringkjobing in Jutland. He
came ashore, and went home to the sand-dunes near Hunsby; but
his foster-mother had died during his absence.
A hard winter followed this summer. Snow-storms swept over
land and sea, and there was difficulty in getting from one
place to another. How unequally things are distributed in this
world! Here there was bitter cold and snow-storms, while in
Spain there was burning sunshine and oppressive heat. Yet,
when a clear frosty day came, and Jurgen saw the swans flying
in numbers from the sea towards the land, across to
Norre-Vosborg, it seemed to him that people could breathe more
freely here; the summer also in this part of the world was
splendid. In imagination he saw the heath blossom and become
purple with rich juicy berries, and the elder-bushes and
lime-trees at Norre Vosborg in flower. He made up his mind to
go there again.
Spring came, and the fishing began. Jurgen was now an
active helper in this, for he had grown during the last year,
and was quick at work. He was full of life, and knew how to
swim, to tread water, and to turn over and tumble in the
strong tide. They often warned him to beware of the sharks,
which seize the best swimmer, draw him down, and devour him;
but such was not to be Jurgen's fate.
At a neighbour's house in the dunes there was a boy named
Martin, with whom Jurgen was on very friendly terms, and they
both took service in the same ship to Norway, and also went
together to Holland. They never had a quarrel, but a person
can be easily excited to quarrel when he is naturally hot
tempered, for he often shows it in many ways; and this is just
what Jurgen did one day when they fell out about the merest
trifle. They were sitting behind the cabin door, eating from a
delft plate, which they had placed between them. Jurgen held
his pocket-knife in his hand and raised it towards Martin, and
at the same time became ashy pale, and his eyes had an ugly
look. Martin only said, 'Ah! ah! you are one of that sort, are
you? Fond of using the knife!'
The words were scarcely spoken, when Jurgen's hand sank
down. He did not answer a syllable, but went on eating, and
afterwards returned to his work. When they were resting again
he walked up to Martin and said:
'Hit me in the face! I deserve it. But sometimes I feel as
if I had a pot in me that boils over.'
'There, let the thing rest,' replied Martin.
And after that they were almost better friends than ever;
when afterwards they returned to the dunes and began telling
their adventures, this was told among the rest. Martin said
that Jurgen was certainly passionate, but a good fellow after
They were both young and healthy, well-grown and strong;
but Jurgen was the cleverer of the two.
In Norway the peasants go into the mountains and take the
cattle there to find pasture. On the west coast of Jutland
huts have been erected among the sand-hills; they are built of
pieces of wreck, and thatched with turf and heather; there are
sleeping places round the walls, and here the fishermen live
and sleep during the early spring. Every fisherman has a
female helper, or manager as she is called, who baits his
hooks, prepares warm beer for him when he comes ashore, and
gets the dinner cooked and ready for him by the time he comes
back to the hut tired and hungry. Besides this the managers
bring up the fish from the boats, cut them open, prepare them,
and have generally a great deal to do.
Jurgen, his father, and several other fishermen and their
managers inhabited the same hut; Martin lived in the next one.
One of the girls, whose name was Else, had known Jurgen
from childhood; they were glad to see each other, and were of
the same opinion on many points, but in appearance they were
entirely opposite; for he was dark, and she was pale, and
fair, and had flaxen hair, and eyes as blue as the sea in
As they were walking together one day, Jurgen held her
hand very firmly in his, and she said to him: 'Jurgen, I
have something I want to say to you; let me be your manager,
for you are like a brother to me; but Martin, whose
housekeeper I am- he is my lover- but you need not tell this
to the others.'
It seemed to Jurgen as if the loose sand was giving way
under his feet. He did not speak a word, but nodded his head,
and that meant 'yes.' It was all that was necessary; but he
suddenly felt in his heart that he hated Martin, and the more
he thought the more he felt convinced that Martin had stolen
away from him the only being he ever loved, and that this was
Else: he had never thought of Else in this way before, but now
it all became plain to him.
When the sea is rather rough, and the fishermen are coming
home in their great boats, it is wonderful to see how they
cross the reefs. One of them stands upright in the bow of the
boat, and the others watch him sitting with the oars in their
hands. Outside the reef it looks as if the boat was not
approaching land but going back to sea; then the man who is
standing up gives them the signal that the great wave is
coming which is to float them across the reef. The boat is
lifted high into the air, so that the keel is seen from the
shore; the next moment nothing can be seen, mast, keel, and
people are all hidden- it seems as though the sea had devoured
them; but in a few moments they emerge like a great sea animal
climbing up the waves, and the oars move as if the creature
had legs. The second and third reef are passed in the same
manner; then the fishermen jump into the water and push the
boat towards the shore- every wave helps them- and at length
they have it drawn up, beyond the reach of the breakers.
A wrong order given in front of the reef- the slightest
hesitation- and the boat would be lost,
'Then it would be all over with me and Martin too!'
This thought passed through Jurgen's mind one day while
they were out at sea, where his foster-father had been taken
suddenly ill. The fever had seized him. They were only a few
oars' strokes from the reef, and Jurgen sprang from his seat
and stood up in the bow.
'Father-let me come!' he said, and he glanced at Martin
and across the waves; every oar bent with the exertions of the
rowers as the great wave came towards them, and he saw his
father's pale face, and dared not obey the evil impulse that
had shot through his brain. The boat came safely across the
reef to land; but the evil thought remained in his heart, and
roused up every little fibre of bitterness which he remembered
between himself and Martin since they had known each other.
But he could not weave the fibres together, nor did he
endeavour to do so. He felt that Martin had robbed him, and
this was enough to make him hate his former friend. Several of
the fishermen saw this, but Martin did not- he remained as
obliging and talkative as ever, in fact he talked rather too
Jurgen's foster-father took to his bed, and it became his
death-bed, for he died a week afterwards; and now Jurgen was
heir to the little house behind the sand-hills. It was small,
certainly, but still it was something, and Martin had nothing
of the kind.
'You will not go to sea again, Jurgen, I suppose,'
observed one of the old fishermen. 'You will always stay with
But this was not Jurgen's intention; he wanted to see
something of the world. The eel-breeder of Fjaltring had an
uncle at Old Skjagen, who was a fisherman, but also a
prosperous merchant with ships upon the sea; he was said to be
a good old man, and it would not be a bad thing to enter his
service. Old Skjagen lies in the extreme north of Jutland, as
far away from the Hunsby dunes as one can travel in that
country; and this is just what pleased Jurgen, for he did not
want to remain till the wedding of Martin and Else, which
would take place in a week or two.
The old fisherman said it was foolish to go away, for now
that Jurgen had a home Else would very likely be inclined to
take him instead of Martin.
Jurgen gave such a vague answer that it was not easy to
make out what he meant- the old man brought Else to him, and
'You have a home now; you ought to think of that.'
And Jurgen thought of many things.
The sea has heavy waves, but there are heavier waves in
the human heart. Many thoughts, strong and weak, rushed
through Jurgen's brain, and he said to Else:
'If Martin had a house like mine, which of us would you
'But Martin has no house and cannot get one.'
'Suppose he had one?'
'Well, then I would certainly take Martin, for that is
what my heart tells me; but one cannot live upon love.'
Jurgen turned these things over in his mind all night.
Something was working within him, he hardly knew what it was,
but it was even stronger than his love for Else; and so he
went to Martin's, and what he said and did there was well
considered. He let the house to Martin on most liberal terms,
saying that he wished to go to sea again, because he loved it.
And Else kissed him when she heard of it, for she loved Martin
Jurgen proposed to start early in the morning, and on the
evening before his departure, when it was already getting
rather late, he felt a wish to visit Martin once more. He
started, and among the dunes met the old fisherman, who was
angry at his leaving the place. The old man made jokes about
Martin, and declared there must be some magic about that
fellow, of whom the girls were so fond.
Jurgen did not pay any attention to his remarks, but said
good-bye to the old man and went on towards the house where
Martin dwelt. He heard loud talking inside; Martin was not
alone, and this made Jurgen waver in his determination, for he
did not wish to see Else again. On second thoughts, he decided
that it was better not to hear any more thanks from Martin,
and so he turned back.
On the following morning, before the sun rose, he fastened
his knapsack on his back, took his wooden provision box in his
hand, and went away among the sand-hills towards the coast
path. This way was more pleasant than the heavy sand road, and
besides it was shorter; and he intended to go first to
Fjaltring, near Bovbjerg, where the eel-breeder lived, to whom
he had promised a visit.
The sea lay before him, clear and blue, and the mussel
shells and pebbles, the playthings of his childhood, crunched
over his feet. While he thus walked on his nose suddenly began
to bleed; it was a trifling occurrence, but trifles sometimes
are of great importance. A few large drops of blood fell upon
one of his sleeves. He wiped them off and stopped the
bleeding, and it seemed to him as if this had cleared and
lightened his brain. The sea-cale bloomed here and there in
the sand as he passed. He broke off a spray and stuck it in
his hat; he determined to be merry and light-hearted, for he
was going out into the wide world- 'a little way out, beyond
the bay,' as the young eels had said. 'Beware of bad people
who will catch you, and skin you, and put you in the
frying-pan!' he repeated in his mind, and smiled, for he
thought he should find his way through the world- good courage
is a strong weapon!
The sun was high in the heavens when he approached the
narrow entrance to Nissum Bay. He looked back and saw a couple
of horsemen galloping a long distance behind him, and there
were other people with them. But this did not concern him.
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