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Sunday, 21 April 2019

An Evening at the Neighbour’s Tenement

When one observes the life and the bustle in the streets here in Christiania these days, it can be difficult to believe that it was not so long ago that the streets were often as quiet as a church in the middle of the day. Back then – thirty or forty years ago – one rarely saw such traffic during the liveliest market that one now sees daily in the square or the city’s other most populous neighbourhoods.

The grass grew fresh and green between the stones in the streets I wandered as a child. Chickens strutted and pecked undisturbed outside. The sexton stood half the day at the open window, asking the maids about their employer’s business, or listening to what they had eaten for dinner. Only rarely was the gossip and quiet broken by the rattle of carriages. Ducks splashed in the gutter in the middle of the street, with no notion of watchmen and gaols, and the hawk hunted just as boldly for its young. Indeed, according to a legend that begs to be believed, the hawk once went so far as to attack the honourable clergy, diving into the wig of the old dean, who, without a hat, and with his hands behind his back, was taking his customary afternoon walk, wearing a broad-skirted, pearl-grey robe with steel buttons, black breeches, and silver-buckled shoes. “Well, look at that rascal!” he shouted, in his strong Jutland accent, as he stood behind, robbed, raising his fist threateningly at the bird, which rose with its well-dressed, powdered prey, which the owner had never dreamed would dress a hawk’s nest. The children in the street, for whom he was a scarecrow, were sure he should shout after it: “You must wahrhaftig go to the workhouse!” – an adage he used against his confirmands and those he considered argumentative and incompatible with cohabitation, when on his evening walks he observed goodfolk by looking in through their windows.

Those who live in Vollgate can scarce imagine how the children tumbled, screamed, and made a noise, practically taking the street as their possession. I and the other children in the neighbourhood stayed mostly in the park where the Exchange now stands, and in the cemetery, where the abattoirs have since been built. Our play was lively and lusty in the cool summer evenings, between the gravestones and the graves, and beneath the old chestnut trees, which have long since been felled, chopped up, and carried away, and I will never forget the apprehensive mood that seized us when, in the twilight, we stared through the cracks in the church wall at the solemn coffins in the crypt, until we imagined them opening and the dead rising up. And in dread we flew home – only to venture the same on another night.1

During the autumn we preferred to stay around the tenements, which did not have as many inhabitants at that time as they do now; it was an exception that more than one, at most a couple of families, lived in a tenement building.

Our neighbouring tenement was one of the most popular places to play and gather in the whole street. It was an old building with a large courtyard encompassed on all sides by storage sheds, lofts, secretive dark passages, and shacks. Above all this rose tall the bare walls of the neighbours’ backyards and side buildings, making the old building even bleaker and more foreboding. All of the tenement’s usable and occupied rooms faced the street, and it was only through a couple of low-level kitchen windows, with small, leaded green panes, and from the long passageways, that one could see what was going on in the courtyard. The gang of neighbourhood children thus had one of their freest playgrounds in the autumn; the play and activity outside rarely disturbed any of the tenement’s few residents, and we were never scolded, unless the owner – an aging merchant – went into his storage sheds. All of these rooms, lofts, shacks, and passageways were the best hiding places anyone could wish for. For us they were just as many foreign places and countries, and many a bold voyage was made there. Even so, we seldom approached the lofty hayloft and the long, dark passage that went past it to the great rooms completely without fear.

Up there at that time lived a lieutenant, and there was also a nursery and a madame’s bedroom. But it was by no means for fear of the madame or lieutenant that we kept away from the attic. Admittedly, the lieutenant would not have anything to do with us within his bounds when he was home, but he was quite a kind man, and his sabres, pistols and rifles were, for many of us, as appealing as the pastoral and hunting scenes with all kinds of strange animals that adorned his “rooms” – the finest apartment in the house. The madame was young, cheerful, and easy to laugh. And she only rarely scolded the life we kept, except when the lieutenant had been to a feast and wanted to strengthen himself after his night, with a lengthy after-dinner nap. She was also very often out visiting, often watching comedies at Grensehaven.2 No, neither the madame nor the lieutenant scared us; but when the sun didn’t shine, the passageway was black and uncanny, as was the loft next to it, especially in the autumn, and of course we knew that the nisse lived there. Ole the caretaker had told us, and Kari Gusdal had confirmed, that Gudbrand the caretaker, who worked in the tenement when “grandfather” was alive, had wrestled the nisse in the hayloft. Gudbrand was so strong that he could lift a horse and carry four barrels of rye, but the nisse was stronger; it was like wrestling against a bathhouse wall, Gudbrand said, and for all his wrestling, he was not strong enough to move him from the spot. But when the nisse grew bored of it, he took Gudbrand like a tuft of hay, and flung him down into the stable through the open hatch. Gudbrand hadn’t had a day of good health since that day, but was crooked and lame for the rest of his life, as we all had seen him.

No matter how lusty and noisy our playing was in the old tenement building during the light of day, in the evening the fear of the nisse quietened it, and I don’t think any of the whole noisy flock had the courage to set foot in the yard without a companion after twilight. If, on the rare occasion, when the madame was out in the evening, we were allowed to come upstairs and listen to tales from the nanny, our movement was always in a flock and company. The tiled corner of the parlour, by the stove, was the place where we were allowed to gather after darkness fell. There were not too many of us, and the father of the house lay in bed. Yes, there was a parlour and a tiled corner with a stove, which one would now have trouble finding. The parlour spread the entire depth and length of the house, with one exception; a partition wall separated an alcove, and a small, so-called office with a desk and some ledgers. Inside, the father of the house sat in the evenings with a green screen above his eyes, reading in Wolff’s Journal, Riise’s Archive, or Elmqvist’s Læsefrugter, sucking on his black-smoked meerschaum pipe. But the partition wall didn’t divide the parlour all the way across, it stretched just two-thirds of the way in; there it bent at a right angle, and left room for a large red-painted bench, and just opposite it stood the stove – a three-story coke stove with two large doors on the broad side. Inside was a sufficient flaming fire, and as cheese crusts and potatoes cooked in the ashes and embers, we played quietly and talked carefully, so as not to disturb “father.” Occasionally, we got the caretaker to tell us tales, and that was grand; sometimes the father of the house would also join us, and tell stories about hulders and nisses, and about trolls with noses so long that they reached down to the saddle button, or so long that they had to tie them in knots; or he told about the journeys of witches so that our hair stood up on our heads. But he had to be in a really good mood, which he always was when he had taken some turns to the corner cabinet. From there we heard a secretive clinking sound and ringing as of glass, but what he really did there, none of us had been able to find out. Certainly, he grew redder and redder, and gladder and gladder with each turn, and then it might happen that one or another of us might dare to snatch at his shirt-tails to have a little chase; he just laughed and pursued the guilty one, and made the most incredible steps and turns with his glossy-booted legs.

He was often sour and cross, if he came home late from the city, scolding at the slightest noise. And then he chased us out into the kitchen. So it was, one autumn evening that I remember very well. But on this evening, the kitchen was not a bad place of exile. Old Kari Gusdal was there, baking lefses and flat bread, as was the custom of the time in most houses where the master or the mother-in-law was from the villages. And she was rich in legends and adventures, was old Kari. She told well, was rarely unwilling when we asked her, and gladly gave us a lefse as well.

A fire flared in the hearth, lighting the entire room, which was so dark and frightening during the day. The girls went around, chatting with each other and minding their own business, and Ole the caretaker, who like the master was from Soløy, sat beside the chimney, with a black-smoked nosewarmer in one corner of his mouth, and occasionally put a little more fuel on the fire.3 His fresh appearance and powerful build formed a striking contrast to Kari Gusdal’s long, serious face, which despite her child-friendly manner, assumed a ghostly aspect in the red light cast by the embers beneath the baking slab, which the appearance of her tall, dark, bent figure did nothing to alleviate. She was most relaxed and willing to tell tales when she sat by the baking board, rolling out the dough, spinning the lefses to broaden them, and turning them on to the skillet with the baking stick.

This night she did not hesitate; when we asked her, she started to tell right away. She told slowly and thoughtfully and with unwavering earnestness, but so vividly that we thought we perceived the tale’s scene and its actors, both hero, troll, dragon, and prince before our eyes. In short she encaptured our whole souls, so that we forgot everything – except the lefses that she had to pass to us in between the tales. I will not try to reproduce any of these stories; most of them, or those that resemble them, or those that are similar, are now in print, and I have forgotten many, never to discover them again. And one of them, “Hans Who Travelled to China,” floats in indistinct, misty forms in my memory as one of the most glorious and imaginative tales I have ever heard; but it is futile to attempt to conjure it forth in its entirety. Perhaps it borrows some of the magnificence in which it now stands in my memory from the inclarity of a childish perception.

But however everything was, Kari told tale after tale for a couple of hours. When she turned to nisse stories for a change, the master came out and asked one of the girls for his sandwiches. Now there was sunshine and good times; his cheeks gleamed, he squinted happily with his glossy eyes, and there was no scorn, even when the girl replied that the madame had forgotten to leave the pantry key out before she went to Grensehaven; he merely asked Kari Gusdal for a few lefses for dinner, in a pleasant manner.

“Yes, the master shall surely have some,” replied old Kari; “But if I’m going to sit here and stuff all these blessed youngsters with both tales and lefses, then I’ll never be done with the baking, neither today nor tomorrow,” she continued, as she began to roll out a new lefse. “Won’t the master allow them into the parlour, to free my hands? Ole can tell then, too.”

“Come, Ole, and help me, so we can chase these lefse-eaters and tale-tubs inside,” said the master, and he started chasing and corralling us like sheep or chickens. We were not at all afraid anymore, for now there was no sign of bad weather on his face, and as a diversion we gladly moved into the corner by the stove in the parlour. Laughing noisily, we tumbled in. When we had come to rest here, Ole the caretaker, who had sat down on the edge of the wood box, began to tell all sorts of legends and stories from his home village – about the river folk who danced around will-o’-the-wisps, about the Dånås man and the Dånås wife, about the farm guardian who slew the hulder, about the mountain dog that always says “woof, woof, woof!” about how Margret Elset escaped the troll, and many more. It was easy to see that he amused himself and his master as much as us with these stories, which for both of them conjured images and memories of their youth. It was more a conversation between the two of them than telling for us; occasionally, the master also spoke up and corrected what was told, or told the like. But he did not forget to take a turn across to his lefses, away in the corner cupboard, and every time he returned, he smacked his lips, wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, and squinted even more gladly with his moist eyes.

He believed it was quite incredible, the story of Margret Elset who escaped from the mountain without the troll hitting her with the glowing iron rod it shot after her. “Well, I haven’t spoken to her, you see,” said the caretaker, “but she’s told my mother many times, and I heard it from her. The master may say what he pleases, but Simen the tailor’s boy, he was among the mountainfolk; I know so, because I heard it from his own mouth. The master may not have known him perhaps, for he was likely already here before the boy was born, but this Simen, he was the nephew of old Rasmus the tailor, who went from farm to farm and tailored like a master with a whole staff.”

Yes, he had known him.

“Well, this Rasmus and the whole staff at the tailor’s,” continued the farm boy, “they sat in Kåten which, as the master knows, lies half a league north of Våler church. They tailored for Christmas, and rattled their scissors. They sang folksongs, they sewed so that the thread flew about them, and they talked of needle, thread, and flat irons, and Rasmus sometimes wondered what might have become of Simen, whom he had sent back along a league of road or so for some tailoring things. At length he came, but he had nothing with him, and he was as white as a white-washed wall.

“‘Well, now you shall hear it, both for sack and rope!’ said Rasmus. ‘Have you have fetched baptismal water and shod all the ungrounded stones, since you have been gone all day? You must have crawled just like a fly in a milk bucket! Where do you have the things and the sewing stuff? – What’s that, don’t you have anything? Now you listen here…’

“‘God bless you, uncle; you mustn’t scold,’ said Simen, ‘for I have been among the mountain folk.’

“But Rasmus the tailor didn’t quite believe in such, and he said, ‘Well, now I have to laugh, said the man, when they signed his daughter up as a soldier!’ And he did; he laughed until he grew more crooked than he was. But when Simen told how things had gone, he understood that he had to believe it.

“Just as he went along the King’s Road, he said, and he thought he was far beyond half way, then it was just as if everything suddenly passed away, ‘and I fancied I was standing outside the door here in Kåten again,’ he said. ‘But I could not understand how it had happened. It was fun, and that was just as well, for I was afraid to go in. But then I heard tailoring from within: the rattling of scissors, and the singing of folksongs that we usually sing, and so I thought I had trodden on matgrass, and that I was outside Kåten again.4 When I came in,’ he said, ‘I saw no craftsmen, but the Kåten woman came to me with a silver mug and offered me a drink of beer.’ This he thought was strange, that was clear, for he had so clearly heard the rattle of the scissors from outside. So he understood things were wrong, and he therefore emptied the beer behind him and returned the mug to the woman. Immediately afterwards, someone opened the closet door, and he caught a glimpse inside. There sat a whole flock of womenfolk around a table, and all of them had long, ugly cow tails, beneath their skirts, and one of them had a child on her arm. ‘When I got a look at them,’ he said, ‘I saw it was Anne Pers-Bråten, who was snatched away at Michaelsmas, and she who before had looked like the Kåten woman, she also had a long tail. Now I said that it was best I should go,’ he said, ‘and so I grasped the door and said thank you for the visit.’

“‘Well, my boy,’ she said, offering me the silver mug of beer, ‘you wouldn’t come so easily from here, had you not had that on your finger,’ and she pointed at the silver ring, which I got after my grandmother. That was good.”

“Dear God, yes. If I could correctly remember all fables I heard about changelings and the mountain-struck, and hulders and trolls and witches and the devil and his great-grandmother,” said the master, “we wouldn’t be finished tonight. And if I told what I still know, then all these little ones would grow so scared that they wouldn’t dare go home tonight,” he continued, smacking at his tobacco pipe.

But none of us was afraid, we declared loudly; we certainly dared to hear the stories, even if they were about trolls with nine heads, for our strength was in our number, and the fire was burning so brightly in the stove that there was no darkness in any corner of the parlour. Well, if that were so, then he would tell.

When he had cleared his throat and taken some deep drags from his tobacco pipe, he began a somewhat fumbling and uncertain performance – with some small interruptions at times to tend to his pipe, and at other times to visit the corner cabinet – telling about the subterraneans.

“Somewhere in Solør there was, yes, there was a wedding. They ate and they drank – like they always drink at weddings – and while they were drinking and eating, they heard a sound from a corner of the parlour. Of course, yes, it was like a laugh, the hoarse laughter of several people – but as they didn’t see anyone, and it came from a corner they could see, they understood they had uninvited guests at the feast. Of course, it was the subterraneans, for when in the olden days something went on that they couldn’t understand, it was always the subterraneans who were abroad and had caused it, and it wasn’t long between each time they saw them, how they travelled and went around with noses so red and long that they reached the saddle button.”

With that he drank a glass of beer and continued: “Of course, it was confirmed now too that it was the subterraneans who laughed so hoarsely in the corner, for it happened afterwards that a wife who had connections to these subterraneans happened to speak with a hulder fellow, who of course lived in a mound close by, and who sometimes borrowed butter and milk and other things, but always paid properly again – when the womenfolk get to gossiping, then we know how things go – of course, no grain goes down a hen’s gullet without some cackling – certainly, they also talked about the wedding.

“‘Well, there was scant fare,’ said the hulder-maid, ‘everything was so crossed and crinkled, that we couldn’t have a taste of any of it; the meagre drops of soup that we caught between dish and mouth were not even a mouthful. And we would have come hungry from the wedding farm, had not Hans Bergersen – he was the kitchen master – dropped a piece of meat down on to the floor, which we fought over and pulled at. Old father was so eager for it, and tore and strained at it, so that he fell on his back and turned his legs in the air; that was what we were laughing at.’”

We listeners also laughed at this, and demanded more. Ole said he had heard the story and even knew to name bride, groom and their families, and the wife and several of the guests, but I no longer remember these names.

The master started again and said, “Watch now, for now there shall be witch stories – Boo!

“It was in the olden days, of course, but it was a long after the time that the mountain cabins had been built for the travellers who cross the Dovre mountains, for there was someone who should cross the mountain at Christmas time, travelling south to Christiania. Naturally, he would drink to Christmas there, which was stupid of him, because of course they drink more and better at all times of the year in Trondheim than in Christiania. But what was I saying? Yes, it was that when he came to one of the cabins – I think it was Kongsvoll – he should spend the night, and it was Christmas Eve. He came in, and of course the fire was burning, and it was comfortable, and good and warm, as well a traveller might need. And on a stool in front of the hearth sat a big black cat, staring at him. He had never seen such a cat; it was so big and black and sleek that it gleamed, and its eyes shone like embers – and when he looked from it and looked at it again, of course, they were as large as tin plates. But there were no folk, neither to see nor to hear, for it was Christmas Eve. Well, he sat down and thought all sorts of things. But just as he sat, one cat came rushing through the door after the other. This he thought was unfortunate and uncanny, and he began to chase them out, but, of course, for every cat that he chased out, two–three came in again. This would do no good but to fill the cabin, and so he gave up, and sat down to wait for his driver, who had gone to another cabin to find folk. Well, he had found folk, and the first thing he said when he came in, of course, was:

“‘Now you’re going to hear some news, father; yesterday morning, the parson’s wife at Lesja fell down the stabbur steps and broke her thigh bone, and they said she wouldn’t live through the night.’

“‘What’s that?’ said the big cat sitting on the stool by the hearth. ‘If the great puss is dead, then the regiment of course belongs to me.’

“Then he understood that he was among witches, because of course the Dovre mountains have always been just as good for witches’ meetings as Blocksberg.”

This was rather an uncanny story, which caused us children to move closer together; yes, several also pulled their legs to them and gave an involuntary “Uff, I’m scared!” The fact that the stove had burned out, so that only a faint reddish glow was cast from the embers into the large, dark living room, gave our childish imaginations free rein, and made things even worse, for the strip of light from the office door, caused a mere twilight at the other end of the room.

It was otherwise strange how the narrator improved during the story. His performance grew more secure, the words and expressions more illustrative; only sometimes did something come out a little backwards. But at the same time his gait and movements became more and more unsteady and fumbling, and towards the end he had to sit down. He reiterated: “You must not be afraid. What is this kind of nonsense? It is nothing but talk and fable, you know that, don’t you? Now, here is one that is much worse.”

No objections helped, no “uff!” or “huff!” He gave us the choice of nothing to listen to, or to listen to the stories he wanted to tell, and we preferred to listen to the most horrible of them above the even more horrible silence and quiet of the brooding darkness that surrounded us. So he began on a new story:

“There was a parson and a parson’s wife who had come up from Denmark; many came from there in the olden days. But these parson-folk I am talking about were of course so bothered by rats that they lay on rats and trod on rats, and wherever they went, they touched rats.”

Now, several of us fancied that they began to crawl and creep around us; anxious exclamations and suppressed laughter interrupted the story.

“The rats got into everything, stealing away food, even; they did nothing but mischief. But one Sunday afternoon it got worse than you can imagine, for of course, they got into the cauldron that stood boiling in the hearth, wanting to pull the cuts of beef out of it. But the cook thought this too bad, and of course she took a ladle full of boiling fat and poured it over their backs, and struck at them.

“Soon afterwards one of the neighbors came and asked the parson if he might have something that was good for burns, for his wife had burnt her back terribly, and of course it wasn’t long before another also came in for a cure for a burnt back and burnt thighs and burnt everywhere, and so it went all afternoon; one neighbor came after the other. Then they could understand they were witches…”

Before he had spoken the whole word, there was terrible commotion from upstairs; it sounded as if a table of glasses, plates and other things had been overturned in the lieutenant’s room. But we had all heard that he was not at home; indeed, many of us had even seen him go out, and there was therefore an even worse uproar in the parlour, for we all screamed over one another, as frightened as we were: “There they are! There they are!”

“Yes, they’re taking the lieutenant off with them! Let them take him and have him!” said the master, breaking into a clucking laugh, which seemed to have no end. However, as we children were not reassured, a candle was lit and one of the girls was called in and asked what the noise upstairs was. She said it had to be the nanny knocking over the fireside companion by the wood basket, for the lieutenant had gone out.

Now Ole offered to tell a little tale about Goodman Bear who took the sleigh, and this offer was received with pleasure above all the horror.

“There was farmer who went far into the mountains for a load of hay to feed his cattle through the winter. When he came to the hayracks, he backed the sleigh and horse up tight, went into the racks, and began to turn the hay down on to the sleigh. But there was a bear in the hay, lying there in hibernation, and when it felt the man moving around, it charged out, right on to the sleigh. When the horse got wind of the bear, it was frightened, and set off as if it had stolen both the bear and the sleigh – that was fine – and it ran many times faster on the way down than on the way up. The bear has a reputation for never being scared, but he was less than pleased with his sleigh-ride, where he sat; he held on tight, as best he could, and glared all around him, looking for an opportunity to throw himself off; but he wasn’t used to sledding, and so he found none.

“When he had driven a good distance, he met a merchant.

“‘Where in the name of God are you off to today?’ said the merchant. ‘He surely has but little time and a long journey before him, since he is driving so quickly.’

“But the bear answered not a word, you understand; he had enough to do, holding on tightly.

“After a while, he met a peasant woman. She greeted him, bobbed her head, and begged a shilling in God’s name. The bear said nothing, but holding on tightly, he drove on as fast as the sleigh would carry him.

“When he had come a way farther down, he met Mikkel the Fox.

“‘Hello there. Are you out for a sleighride?’ called Mikkel. ‘Slow down a little; let me sit on the back and hitch a lift.’

“The bear answered not a word, but holding on tightly, he drove as fast as the horse could run.

“‘Well! If you won’t take me with you, then I conjure that though today you drive as a fur-dressed cad, tomorrow you’ll hang with your back unclad,’ screamed the fox after him. The bear heard not a word of what Mikkel said; he drove just as quickly as before.

“When the horse came to the farm, he galloped into the stall at full tilt, so that he shed both harness and sleigh, and the bear struck his skull on the beam of the door and dropped down dead on the spot.

“The farmer had remained in the hayracks, loading hay, until he judged that he had a full load on the sleigh. But when he came to tie the load down, he discovered that he had neither horse nor sleigh, you understand. Then he had to trudge down the road to recover his horse.

“After a while, he met the merchant.

“‘Have you seen any horse and sleigh?’ he said to the merchant.

“‘No,’ said the merchant, ‘but I saw the bailiff down here. He drove so fast, he must have been on his way to flay someone.’

“After a while, he met the peasant woman.

“‘Have you met any horse and sleigh?’ he said to the peasant woman.

“‘No,’ said the woman, ‘but I met the parson down here. He must have been on parish business, he drove so fast. He was riding with a farmer.’

“After a while, the farmer met the fox.

“‘Have you seen any horse and sleigh?’ said the farmer.

“‘Yes,’ replied Mikkel, ‘but Goodman Bear sat on it, and drove as if he had stolen both horse and sleigh.’

“‘The devil take him! He will drive my horse to death,’ said the farmer.

“‘Pull off his skin, then, and roast him over the embers,’ said Mikkel. ‘But should you recover your horse, would you take me over the mountain? I can be a good travelling companion,’ said the fox, ‘and I would like the experience of having four legs before me.’

“‘What will you give me for the ride?’ said the farmer.

“‘You may have either wet or dry,’ said the fox. ‘You’ll always have as much from me as from Goodman Bear, for he is unusually greedy when he steals a ride, and hangs on to the back of the horse.’

“‘Yes, you shall have a ride over the mountain,’ said the farmer. ‘Just you meet me here tomorrow.’ He understood that Mikkel was tricking him, you understand, and was playing a prank.

“So he took a loaded gun with him on the sleigh, and when Mikkel came, thinking he would ride for nothing, he received a charge of shot in his carcass, and then the farmer drew his pelt off him, so he had both bearskin and fox pelt.”

This tale was met with unanimous approval. We thought it a shame that Goodman Bear should lose his life and his skin, for it was not his fault he was driving. But Mikkel the Fox had so many times deserved punishment for his pranks that his death was the greatest of comforts.

While there was talk back and forth about these two heroes of the fable, the master said he was going to tell us about someone who was out on a Christmas journey, and that was the Troll with the Trotting Trousers.

“My aunt,” he said, “was from Stadsbygd in Trondheim, and of course, there was an annex church called the Monastery. In this church there was a goblet, and I suppose it is still there, for she had seen it herself, and drunk wine from it, and it was very heavy and splendidly gilded both inside and out. It was donated there one Christmas Day in olden times, and of course it happened like this: there was a man who was going to attend Lauds there on Christmas Eve. He went on skis, as everyone does during the winter in the mountain villages, but as he glided past a mountain, of course a door opened, and out came a troll with a nose as long as a rake handle, and with a great goblet in his fist, and bade him drink from it. He dared do nothing but receive it from him, but he knew that whoever drank such a troll drink, he was as good as dead, for it was stronger than the strongest spirits. But he knew what to do; he tipped the drink behind him and then he could see how strong it was, for a drop splashed on to one of his skis, and of course, it burned a hole in it. When he had done this, he set off and took off with the goblet.

“‘Just you wait until I put on my trotting trousers, and I’ll certainly get you!’ screamed the troll. But the man skied as quickly as he could, and vowed that if he could save himself and the goblet from the troll, then he would offer it on the altar on Christmas Day. He went so fast down the slopes that it seemed to him that he hardly touched the ground for long stretches. But the troll came trotting after him, and it trotted so quickly in its trousers that of course it finally sat on his back.

“The man prayed to God that he would come well from this, and when he was a distance from the church the day dawned. ‘Well, look at the red–gold horse on the hillside!’ said the man. Then the troll let go, and immediately it burst. But don’t feel too safe – for trolls walk again.

“There it is! There it is! And there it is!” he shouted, tickling and poking those of us he could get hold of. The whole company got up, screaming and laughing noisily, and repaid him by pulling at his shirt tails and hanging on his legs, as he staggered across the floor with uncertain steps. The result was that he tumbled among the company, and his pipe flew in one direction, while his wig went in another. His fall increased our laughter and noise, which grew even more when one of the smallest of the company started crying, “because father has pulled his hair off.”

The old man, however, began to complain that he had hurt himself, and he asked Ole to take us up to the nursery, as it was too early to send us home.

“Yes, go up to Anne now,” said Ole, “and I’ll tell you about the princess who served the king, East of the Sun and West of the Moon and on a Parade Ground behind the Tower of Babylon.”

We set off bravely, for we were many; but we didn’t get a candle because we going past the hayloft, and when we came to the hayloft passageway, our manly courage failed. One of us thought he saw two glowing eyes inside, and the whole flock of children streamed giddily towards the lieutenant’s door, which was closer than the nursery door. It was apparently not locked properly, because it yielded, and several of us tumbled in across the floor.

The stove inside burned and crackled, and a strip of light came through the hole in the stove and streamed into the room and onto a strange shrouded figure, crouching beneath the divan table – to get to the other side and fall upon us, or so we thought. But this was not the worst thing. From the couch came an awful oath: “God’s death, I’ll tan your very hide!”

Even though it was no more than six paces to the nursery door, we all of us charged past the hayloft passageway, down the stairs again, and heard with horror that the lieutenant’s door was slammed shut so that it rattled. Nothing in the world that night could make us go upstairs again; it was a close thing that we dared go home, each to his own.

When the sexton the next afternoon stuck his red face, with three well-dressed curls of hair behind each ear, out through his open window, he waved me over to him, and when he had asked me, and had received a careful account of what had happened the previous night, he said :

“Tell me, my son, did you perhaps notice what manner of ghost it really was?”

  1. Our Savior’s Church is now called Oslo Cathedral. The cemetery was closed in 1823. 

  2. “The Drama Company” had a theatre building erected in Grensehaven, between Akersgaten and Grubbegate, in 1802. It is the current location of the Government Quarter. 

  3. A nosewarmer is a short tobacco pipe. 

  4. Matgrass, (Nardus stricta) is called villstrå (wild straw) or finnskjegg (Finn-beard) in Norwegian. An old superstition says that it can bewitch you. 

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