Nonfiction > Jacob A. Riis > The Making of an American > XV. When I went Home to Mother
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Jacob A. Riis (1849–1914). The Making of an American. 1901.
 
XV. When I went Home to Mother
 
THERE was a heavy step on the stairs, a rap that sounded much as if an elephant had knocked against the jamb in passing, and there in the door stood a six-foot giant, calmly surveying me, as if I were a specimen bug stuck on a pin for inspection, instead of an ordinary man-person with no more than two legs.   1
   “Well?” I said, groping helplessly among the memories of the past for a clew to the apparition. Somewhere and sometime I had seen it before; that much I knew and no more.   2
   The shape took a step into the room. “I am Jess,” it said simply, “Jess Jepsen from Lustrup.”   3
   “Lustrup!” I pushed back papers and pen and strode toward the giant to pull him up to the light. Lustrup! Talk about seven league boots! that stride of mine was four thousand miles long, if it was a foot. It spanned the stormy Atlantic and the cold North Sea and set me down in sight of the little village of straw-thatched farm-houses where I played in the long ago, right by the dam in the lazy brook where buttercups and forget-me-nots nodded ever over the pool, and the pewit built its nest in spring. Just beyond, the brook issued forth from the meadows to make a detour around the sunken walls of the old manse and lose itself in the moor that stretched toward the western hills. Lustrup! Oh, yes! I pushed my giant into a chair so that I might have a look at him.   4
 
 
Ribe, in my Childhood.

Seen from Elisabeth’s garden.
 
   He was just like the landscape of his native plain; big and calm and honest. Nothing there to hide; couldn’t if it tried. And, like his village, he smellėd of the barn-yard. He was a driver, he told me, earning wages. But he had his evenings to himself; and so he had come to find, through me, a school where he might go and learn English. Just so! It was Lustrup all over. I remembered as though it were yesterday the time I went up to have a look at the dam I hadn’t seen for thirty years, and the sun-fish and the pewit so anxiously solicitous for her young, and found the brook turned aside and the western earth-wall of the manse, which it skirted, all gone; and the story the big farmer, Jess Jepsen’s father, told me with such quiet pride, standing there, of how because of trouble made by the Germans at the “line” a mile away the cattle business had run down and down until the farm didn’t pay; how he and “the boy” unaided, working patiently year by year with spade and shovel, had dug down the nine acres of dry upland, moved the wall into the bottoms and turned the brook, making green meadow of the sandy barren, and saving the farm. The toil of twenty years had broken the old man’s body, but his spirit was undaunted as ever. There was a gleam of triumph in his eye as he shook his fist at the “line” post on the causeway. “We beat them,” he said; “we did.”   5
   They did. I had heard it told many times how this brave little people, driven out of the German market, had conquered the English and held it against the world, three times in one man’s lifetime making a new front to changed industrial conditions; turning from grain-raising to cattle on the hoof, again to slaughtered meat, and once more to dairy-farming, and holding always their own. How, robbed of one-third of their country by a faithless foe, they had set about with indomitable energy to reclaim the arid moor, and in one generation laid under the plough or planted as woodland as great an area as that which had been stolen from them. Ay, it was a brave record, a story to make one proud of being of such a people. I, too, heard the pewit’s plaint in my childhood and caught the sun-fish in the brook. I was a boy when they planted the black post at the line and watered it with the blood of my countrymen. Gray-haired and with old-time roots in a foreign soil, I dream with them yet of the day that shall see it pulled up and hurled over the river where my fathers beat back the southern tide a thousand years.   6
   Jess? He went away satisfied. He will be there, when needed. His calm eyes warranted that. And I—I went back to the old home, to Denmark and to my mother; because I just couldn’t stay away any longer.   7
   We had wandered through Holland, counting the windmills, studying the “explications” set forth in painfully elaborate English on its old church walls with the information for travellers that further particulars were to be obtained of the sexton, who might be found with the key “in the neighborhood No. 5.” We had argued with the keeper of the Prinzenhof in Delft that William the Silent could not possibly have been murdered as he said he was—that he must have come down the stairs and not gone across the hall when the assassin shot him, as any New York police reporter could tell from the bullet-hole that is yet in the wall—and thereby wounding his patriotic pride so deeply that an extra fee was required to soothe it. I caught him looking after us as we went down the street and shaking his head at those “wild Americans” who accounted nothing holy, not even the official record of murder done while their ancestors were yet savages roaming the plains. We had laughed at the coal-heavers on the frontier carrying coal in baskets up a ladder to the waiting engine and emptying it into the fender. And now, after parting company with my fellow-traveller at Hamburg, I was nearing the land where once more I should see old Dannebrog, the flag that fell from heaven with victory to the hard-pressed Danes. Literally out of the sky it fell in their sight, the historic fact being apparently that the Christian bishops had put up a job with the Pope to wean the newly converted Danes away from their heathen pirate flag and found their opportunity in one of the crusades the Danes undertook on their own hook into what is now Prussia. The Pope had sent a silken banner with the device of a white cross in red, and at the right moment, when the other was taken, the priest threw it down from a cliff into the thick of the battle and turned its tide. Ever after, it was the flag of the Danes, and their German foes had reason to hate it. Here in Slesvig, through which I was travelling, to display it was good cause for banishment. But over yonder, behind the black post, it was waiting, and my heart leaped to meet it. Have I not felt the thrill, when wandering abroad, at the sight of the stars and stripes suddenly unfolding, the flag of my home, of my manhood’s years and of my pride? Happy he who has a flag to love. Twice blest he who has two, and such two.   8
   We have yet a mile to the frontier and, with the panorama of green meadows, of placid rivers, and of long-legged storks gravely patrolling the marshes in search of frogs and lizards, passing by our car-window, I can stop to tell you how this filial pride in the flag of my fathers once betrayed me into the hands of the Philistines. It was in London, during the wedding of the Duke of York. The king and queen of Denmark were in town, and wherever one went was the Danish flag hung out in their honor. Riding under one on top of a Holborn bus, I asked a cockney in the seat next to mine what flag it was. I wanted to hear him praise it, that was why I pretended not to know. He surveyed it with the calm assurance of his kind, and made reply:—   9
   “That, ah, yes! It is the sign of St. John’s hambulance corps, the haccident flag, don’t you know,” and he pointed to an ambulance officer just passing with the cross device on his arm. The Dannebrog the “haccident flag”! What did I do? What would you have done? I just fumed and suppressed as well as I could a desire to pitch that cockney into the crowds below, with his pipe and his miserable ignorance. But I had to go down to do it.   10
   But there is the hoary tower of the old Domkirke in which I was baptized and confirmed and married, rising out of the broad fields, and all the familiar landmarks rushing by, and now the train is slowing up for the station, and a chorus of voices shout out the name of the wanderer. There is mother in the throng with the glad tears streaming down her dear old face, and half the town come out to see her bring home her boy, every one of them sharing her joy, to the very letter-carrier who brought her his letters these many years and has grown fairly to be a member of the family in the doing of it. At last the waiting is over, and her faith justified. Dear old mother! Gray-haired I return, sadly scotched in many a conflict with the world, yet ever thy boy, thy home mine. Ah me! Heaven is nearer to us than we often dream on earth.   11
 
 
At Home in the Old Town.

The last time we were all together.
 
   How shall I tell you of the old town by the North Sea that was the home of the Danish kings in the days when kings led their armies afield and held their crowns by the strength of their grip? Shall I paint to you the queer, crooked streets with their cobblestone pavements and tile-roofed houses where the swallow builds in the hall and the stork on the ridge-pole, witness both that peace dwells within? For it is well known that the stork will not abide with a divided house; and as for the swallow, a plague of boils awaits the graceless hand that disturbs its nest. When the Saviour hung upon the cross, did it not perch upon the beam and pour forth its song of love and pity to His dying ear, “Soothe Him! soothe Him”? The stork from the meadow cried, “Strength Him! strength Him!” but the wicked pewit, beholding the soldiers with their spears, cried, “Pierce Him! pierce Him!” Hence stork and swallow are the friends of man, while the pewit dwells in exile, fleeing ever from his presence with its lonesome cry.   12
   Will you wander with me through the fields where the blue-fringed gentian blooms with the pink bell-heather, and the bridal torch nods from the brookside, bending its stately head to the west wind that sweeps ever in from the sea with touch as soft as of a woman’s hand? Flat and uninteresting? Yes, if you will. If one sees only the fields. My children saw them and longed back to the hills of Long Island; and in their cold looks I felt the tugging of the chain which he must bear through life who exiled himself from the land of his birth, however near to his heart that of his choice and his adoption. I played in these fields when I was a boy. I fished in these streams and built fires on their banks in spring to roast potatoes in, the like of which I have never tasted since. Here I lay dreaming of the great and beautiful world without, watching the skylark soar ever higher with its song of triumph and joy, and here I learned the sweet lesson of love that has echoed its jubilant note through all the years, and will until we reach the golden gate, she and I, to which love holds the key.   13
   Uninteresting! Say you so? But linger here with me, casting for pickerel among the water-lilies until the sun sets red and big over the sea yonder, and you shall see a light upon these meadows where the grass is as fine silk, that is almost as if it were not of earth. And as we walk home through the long Northern twilight, listening to the curlew’s distant call; with the browsing sheep looming large against the horizon upon the green hill where stood the old kings’ castle, and the gray Dom rearing its lofty head over their graves, teeming with memories of centuries gone and past, you shall learn to know the poetry of this Danish summer that holds the hearts of its children with such hoops of steel.   14
 
 
“The ‘gossip benches’ are filled.”
 
   At the south gate the “gossip benches” are filled. The old men smoke their pipes and doff their caps to “the American” with the cheery welcome of friends who knew and spanked him with hearty good will when as “a kid” he absconded with their boats for a surreptitious expedition up to the lake. Those boats! heavy, flat-bottomed, propelled with a pole that stuck in the mud and pulled them back half the time farther than they had gone. But what fun it was! In after years a steam whistle woke the echoes of these quiet waters. It was the first one, and the last. The railroad, indeed, came to town, long after I had grown to be a man, and a cotton-mill interjected its bustle into the drowsy hum of the waterwheels that had monopolized the industry of the town before, disturbing its harmony for a season. But the steamboat had no successors. The river that had once borne large ships gradually sanded up at the mouth, and nothing heavier than a one-masted lighter has come up, in the memory of man, to the quay where grass grows high among the cobblestones and the lone customs official smokes his pipe all day long in unbroken peace. The steamer was a launch of the smallest. It had been brought across country on a wagon. Some one had bought it at an auction for a lark; and a huge lark was its year on the waters of the Nibs River. The whole town took a sail in it by turns, always with one aft whose business it was to disentangle the rudder from the mass of seaweed which with brief intervals suspended progress, and all hands ready to get out and lift the steamer off when it ran on a bank.   15
   There came a day when a more than commonly ambitious excursion was undertaken, even to the islands in the sea, some six or seven miles from the town. The town council set out upon the journey, with the rector of the Latin School and the burgomaster, bargaining for dinner on their return at dusk. But it was destined that those islands should remain undiscovered by steam and the dinner uneaten. Barely outside, the tide left it high and dry upon the sands. It was then those Danes showed what stuff there was in them. The water would not be back to lift them off for six hours and more. They indulged in no lamentations, but sturdily produced the schnapps and sandwiches without which no Dane is easily to be tempted out of sight of his home: the rector evolved a pack of cards from the depths of his coat pocket, and upon the sandbank the party camped, playing a cheerful game of whist until the tide came back and bore them home.   16
   The night comes on. The people are returning from their evening constitutional, walking in the middle of the street and taking off their hats to their neighbors as they pass. It is their custom, and the American habit of nodding to friends is held to be evidence of backwoods’ manners excusable only in a people so new. In the deep recesses of the Domkirke dark shadows are gathering. The tower clock peals forth. At the last stroke the watchman lifts up his chant in a voice that comes quavering down from bygone ages:—   17
 
   I shall take his advice. But first I must go to the shoe-store to get a box of polish for my russet shoes. Unexpectedly I found it for sale there. I strike the storekeeper in an ungracious mood. He objects to being bothered about business just when he is shutting up shop.   18
   “There,” he says, handing me the desired box. “Only one more left; I shall presently have to send for more. Twice already have I been put to that trouble. I don’t know what has come over the town.” And he slams down the shutter with a fretful jerk. I grope my way home in Egyptian darkness, thanking in my heart the town council for its forethought in painting the lamp-posts white. It was when a dispute sprang up about the price of gas, or something. Danish disputes are like the law the world over, slow of gait; and it was in no spirit of mockery that a resolution was passed to paint the lamp-posts white, pending the controversy, so that the good people in the town might avoid running against them in the dark and getting hurt, if by any mischance they strayed from the middle of the road.   19
   Bright and early the next morning I found women at work sprinkling white sand in the street in front of my door, and strewing it with winter-green and twigs of hemlock. Some one was dead, and the funeral was to pass that way. Indeed they all did. The cemetery was at the other end of the street. It was one of the inducements held out to my mother she told me, when father died, to move from the old home into that street. Now that she was quite alone, it was so “nice and lively; all the funerals passed by.” The one buried that day I had known, or she had known me in my boyhood, and it was expected that I would attend. My mother sent the wreath that belongs,—there is both sense and sentiment in flowers at a funeral when they are wreathed by the hands of those who loved the dead, as is still the custom here; none where they are bought at a florist’s and paid for with a growl,—and we stood around the coffin and sang the old hymns, then walked behind it, two by two, men and women, to the grave, singing as we passed through the gate.   20
 
 
The Extinct Chimney-sweep.
 
   “Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” The clods rang upon the coffin with almost cheerful sound, for she whose mortal body lay within was full of years and very tired. The minister paused. From among the mourners came forth the nearest relative and stood by the grave, hat in hand. Ours were all off. “From my heart I thank you, neighbors all,” he said, and it was over. We waited to shake hands, to speculate on the weather, safe topic even at funerals; then went each to his own.   21
   I went down by the cloister walk and sat upon a bench and thought of it all. The stork had built its nest there on the stump of a broken tree, and was hatching its young. The big bird stood on one leg and looked down upon me out of its grave, unblinking eye as it did forty years ago when we children sang to it in the street the song about the Pyramids and Pharaoh’s land. The town lay slumbering in the sunlight and the blossoming elders. The far tinkle of a bell came sleepily over the hedges. Once upon a time it called the monks to prayers. Ashes to ashes! They are gone and buried with the dead past. To-day it summons the Latin School boys to recitations. I shuddered at the thought. They had at the school, when the bell called me with the rest, a wretched tradition that some king had once expressed wonder at the many learned men who came from the Latin School. And the rector told him why.   22
   “We have near here,” he said, “a little birch forest. It helps, your Majesty, it helps.” Faithfully fully did it play its part in my day, though I cannot bear witness that it helped. But its day passed, too, and is gone. The world moves and all the while moves and all the while forward. Not always with the speed of the wind; but it moves. The letter-carrier on his collecting rounds with his cart has stopped at the bleaching yard where his wife and little boy are hanging out washing. He lights his pipe and, after a brief rest to take breath, turns to helping the gudewife hang the things on the line. Then he packs the dry clothes in his cart, puts the boy in with them and, puffing leisurely at his pipe, lounges soberly homeward. There is no hurry with the mail.   23
 
 
The Ancient Bellwoman.
 
   There is not. It was only yesterday that, crossing the meadows on a “local,” I found the train pulling up some distance from the village to let an old woman, coming puffing and blowing from a farm-house with a basket on her arm, catch up.   24
   “Well, mother, can she hurry a bit?” spake the conductor when she came within hearing. They address one another in the third person out of a sort of neighborly regard, it appears.   25
   “Now, sonny,” responded the old woman, as she lumbered on board, “don’t I run as fast as I can?”   26
   “And has she got her fare, now?” queried the conductor.   27
   “Why, no, sonny; how should I have that till I’ve been in to sell my eggs?” and she held up the basket in token of good faith.   28
   “Well, well,” growled the other, “see to it that she doesn’t forget to pay it when she comes back.” And the train went on.   29
   Time to wait! The deckhand on the ferry-boat lifts his hat and bids you God speed, as you pass. The train waits for the conductor to hear the station-master’s account of that last baby and his assurance that the mother is doing well. The laborer goes on strike when his right is questioned to stop work to take his glass of beer between meals; the telegraph messenger, meeting the man for whom he has a message, goes back home with him “to hear the news.” It would not be proper to break it in the street. I remember once coming down the chain of lakes in the Jutland peninsula on a steamer that stopped at an out-of-the-way landing where no passengers were in waiting. One, a woman, was made out, though, hastening down a path that lost itself in the woods a long way off. The captain waited. As she stepped aboard another woman appeared in the dim distance, running, too. He blew his whistle to tell her he was waiting, but said nothing. When she was quite near the steamer, a third woman turned into the path, bound, too, for the landing. I looked on in some fear lest the steamboat man should lose his temper at length. But not he. It was only when a fourth and last woman appeared like a whirling speck in the distance, with the three aboard making frantic signals to her to hurry, that he showed signs of impatience. “Couldn’t she,” he said, with some asperity, as she flounced aboard, “couldn’t she get here sooner?”   30
   “No,” she said, “I couldn’t. Didn’t you see me run?” And he rang the bell to start the boat.   31
 
 
The Village Express.
 
   Time to wait! In New York I have seen men, in the days before the iron gates were put on the ferry-boats, jump when the boat was yet a yard from the landing and run as if their lives depended on it; then, meeting an acquaintance in the street, stop and chat ten minutes with him about nothing. How much farther did they get than these? When all Denmark was torn up last summer by a strike that involved three-fourths of the working population and extended through many months, to the complete blocking of all industries, not a blow was struck or an ill word spoken during all the time, determined as both sides were. No troops or extra police were needed. The strikers used the time to attend university extension lectures, visit museums and learn something useful. The people, including many of the employers, contributed liberally to keep them from starving. It was a war of principles, and it was fought out on that line, though in the end each gave in to something. Yes, it is good, sometimes, to take time to think, even if you cannot wait for the tide to float you off a sandbank. Though what else they could have done, I cannot imagine.   32
   That night there was a great to-do in the old town. The target company had its annual shoot, and the target company included all of the solid citizens of the town. The “king,” who had made the best score, was escorted with a band to the hotel on the square opposite the Dom, and made a speech from a window, adorned with the green sash of his office, and flanked by ten tallow-dips by way of illumination. And the people cheered. Yes! it was petty and provincial and all that. But it was pleasant and neighborly, and oh! how good for a tired man.   33
   When I was rested, I journeyed through the islands to find old friends, and found them. The heartiness of the welcome that met me everywhere! No need of their telling me they were glad to see me. It shone out of their faces and all over them. I shall always remember that journey: the people in the cars that were forever lunching and urging me to join in, though we had never met before. Were we not fellow-travellers? How, then, could we be strangers? And when they learned I was from New York, the inquiries after Hans or Fritz, somewhere in Nebraska or Dakota. Had I ever met them? and, if I did, would I tell them I had seen father, mother, or brother, and that they were well? And would I come and stay with them a day or two? It was with very genuine regret that I had mostly to refuse. My vacation could not last forever. As it was, I packed it full enough to last me for many summers. Of all sorts of things, too. Shall I ever forget that ride on the stage up the shore-road from Elsinore, which I made outside with the driver, a slow-going farmer who had conscientious scruples, so it seemed, against passing any vehicle on the road and preferred to take the dust of them all, until we looked like a pair of dusty millers up there on the box. To my protests he turned an incredulous ear, remarking only that there was always some one ahead, which was a fact. When at last we drew near our destination he found himself a passenger short. After some puzzled inquiry of the rest he came back and, mounting to his seat beside me, said quietly: “One of them fell out on his head, they say, down the road. I had him to deliver at the inn, but it can’t be blamed on me, can it?”   34
   He was not the only philosopher in that company. Inside rode two passengers, one apparently an official, sheriff, or something, the other a doctor, who debated all the way the propriety of uniforming the physician in attendance upon executions. The sheriff evidently considered such a step an invasion of his official privilege. “Why,” cried the doctor, “it is almost impossible now to tell the difference between the doctor and the delinquent.” “Ah, well,” sighed the other, placidly settling back in his seat. “Just let them once take the wrong man, then we shall see.”   35
   Through forest and field, over hill and vale, by the still waters where far islands lay shimmering upon the summer sea like floating fairy-lands, into the deep, gloomy moor went my way. The moor was ever most to my liking. I was born on the edge of it, and once its majesty has sunk into a human soul, that soul is forever after attuned to it. How little we have the making of ourselves. And how much greater the need that we should make of that little the most. All my days I have been preaching against heredity as the arch-enemy of hope and effort, and here is mine, holding me fast. When I see, rising out of the dark moor, the lonely cairn that sheltered the bones of my fathers before the White Christ preached peace to their land, a great yearning comes over me. There I want to lay mine. There I want to sleep, under the heather where the bees hum drowsily in the purple broom at noonday and white shadows walk in the night. Mist from the marshes they are, but the people think them wraiths. Half heathen yet, am I? Yes, if to yearn for the soil whence you sprang is to be a heathen, heathen am I, not half, but whole, and will be all my days.   36
   But not so. He is the heathen who loves not his native land. Thor long since lost his grip on the sons of the vikings. Over the battlefield he drives his chariot yet, and his hammer strikes fire as of old. The British remember it from Nelson’s raid on Copenhagen; the Germans felt it in 1849, and again when in the fight for very life the little country held its own a whole winter against two great powers on rapine bent; felt it at Helgoland where its sailors scattered their navies and drove them from the sea, beaten. Yet never did the White Christ work greater transformation in a people, once so fierce, now so gentle unless when fighting for its firesides. Forest and field teem with legends that tell of it; tell of the battle between the old and the new, and the victory of peace. Every hilltop bears witness to it.   37
 
 
Holy Andrew’s Cross.
 
   Here by the wayside stands a wooden cross. All the country-side knows the story of “Holy Andrew,” the priest whose piety wrought miracles far and near. Once upon a time, runs the legend, he went on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, and was left behind by his companions because he would not sail, be wind and tide ever so fair, without first going to mass to pray for a safe journey. When, his devotions ended, he went to the dock, he saw only the sail of the departing craft sinking below the horizon. Overcome by grief and loneliness, he stood watching it, thinking of friends at home whom he might never again see, when a horseman reined in his steed and bade him mount with him; he would see him on his way. Andrew did, and fell asleep in the stranger’s arms. When he awoke he lay on this hill, where the cross has stood ever since, heard the cattle low and saw the spire of his church in the village where the vesper bells were ringing. Many months went by before his fellow-pilgrims reached home. Holy Andrew lived six hundred years ago. A masterful man was he, beside a holy one, who bluntly told the king the truth when he needed it, and knew how to ward the faith and the church committed to his keeping. By such were the old rovers weaned from their wild life. What a mark he left upon his day is shown yet by the tradition that disaster impends if the cross is allowed to fall into decay. Once when it was neglected, the cattle-plague broke out in the parish and ceased, says the story, not until it was restored, when right away there was an end.   38
   Holy Andrew’s church still stands over yonder. Not that one with the twin towers. That has another story to tell, one that was believed to be half or wholly legend, too, until a recent restoration of it brought to light under the whitewash of the reformation mural paintings which furnished the lacking proof that it was all true. It was in the days of Holy Andrew that the pious knight, Sir Asker Ryg, going to the war, told the lady Inge to build a new church. The folk-song tells what was the matter with the old one “with wall of clay, straw-thatched and grim”:—
       
The wall it was mouldy and foul and green,
And rent with a crack full deep;
Time gnaweth ever with sharper tooth,
Leaves little to mend, I ween.
   39
   Nothing was left to mend in the church of Fjenneslev, so she must build a new. “It is not fitting,” says the knight in the song, “to pray to God in such a broken wrack. The wind blows in and the rain drips”:—
       
Christ has gone to His heavenly home;
No more a manager beseems Him.
   40
   “And,” he whispers to her at the leave-taking, “an’ thou bearest to our house a boy, build a tower upon the church; if a daughter come, build but a spire. A man must fight his way, but humility becomes a woman.”   41
   Then the fight, and the return with victory; the impatient ride that left all the rest behind as they neared home, the unspoken prayer of the knight as he bent his head over the saddle-bow, riding up the hill over the edge of which the church must presently appear, that it might be a tower; and his “sly laugh” when it comes into view with two towers for one. Well might he laugh. Those twin brothers became the makers of Danish history in its heroic age; the one a mighty captain, the other a great bishop, King Valdemar’s friend and counsellor, who fought when there was need “as well with sword as with book.” Absalon left the country Christian to the core. It was his clerk, Saxo, surnamed Grammaticus because of his learning, who gave to the world the collection of chronicles and traditionary lore to which we owe our Hamlet.   42
 
 
Sir Asker Ryg’s Church at Fjennesloevlille.
 
   The church stands there with its two towers. They made haste to restore them when they read in the long-hidden paintings the story of Sir Asker’s return and gratitude, just as tradition had handed it down from the twelfth century. It is not the first time the loyal faith of the people has proved a better guide than carping critics, and likely it will not be the last.   43
   I rediscovered on that trip the ancient bellwoman, sole advertising medium before the advent of the printing-press, the extinct chimney-sweep, the ornamental policeman who for professional excitement reads detective novels at home, and the sacrificial rites of—of what or whom I shall leave unsaid. But it must have been an unconscious survival of something of the sort that prompted the butcher to adorn with gay ribbons the poor nag led to the slaughter in the wake of the town drummer. He designed it as an advertisement that there would be fresh horse-meat for sale that day. The horse took it as a compliment and walked in the procession with visible pride. And I found the church in which no collection was ever taken. It was the very Dom in my own old town. The velvet purses that used to be poked into the pews on Sundays on long sticks were missing, and I asked about them. They had not used them in a long time, said the beadle, and added, “It was a kind of Catholic fashion anyway, and no good.” The pews had apparently suspected as much, and had held haughtily aloof from the purses. That may have been another reason for their going.   44
 
 
“Horse-meat to-day!”
 
   The old town ever had its own ways. They were mostly good ways, though sometimes odd. Who but a Ribe citizen would have thought of Knud Clausen’s way of doing my wife honor on the Sunday morning when, as a young girl, she went to church to be confirmed? Her father and Knud were neighbors and Knud’s barn-yard was a sore subject between them, being right under the other’s dining-room window. He sometimes protested and oftener offered to buy, but Knud would neither listen nor sell. But he loved the ground his neighbor’s pretty daughter walked upon, as did, indeed, every poor man in the town, and on her Sunday he showed it by strewing the offensive pile with fresh cut grass and leaves, and sticking it full of flowers. It was well meant, and it was Danish all over. Stick up for your rights at any cost. These secure, go any length to oblige a neighbor.   45
   Journeying so, I came from the home of dead kings at last to that of the living,—old King Christian, beloved of his people,—where once my children horrified the keeper of Rosenborg Palace by playing “the Wild Man of Borneo” with the official silver lions in the great knights’ hall. And I saw the old town no more. But in my dreams I walk its peaceful streets, listen to the whisper of the reeds in the dry moats about the green castle hill, and hear my mother call me once more her boy. And I know that I shall find them, with my lost childhood, when we all reach home at last.   46

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