Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
A New Undine
By Carl Jonas Love Almqvist (1793–1866)
From ‘The Book of the Rose’

MISS RUDENSKÖLD and her companion sat in one of the pews in the cheerful and beautiful church of Normalm, which is all that is left of the once famous cloister of St. Clara, and still bears the saint’s name. The sermon was finished, and the strong full tones of the organ, called out by the skillful hands of an excellent organist, hovered like the voices of unseen angel choirs in the high vaults of the church, floated down to the listeners, and sank deep into their hearts.  1
  Azouras did not speak a single word; neither did she sing, for she did not know a whole hymn through. Nor did Miss Rudensköld sing, because it was not her custom to sing in church. During the organ solo, however, Miss Rudensköld ventured to make some remarks about Dr. Asplund’s sermon which was so beautiful, and about the notices afterward which were so tiresome. But when her neighbor did not answer, but sat looking ahead with large, almost motionless eyes, as people stare without looking at anything in particular, she changed her subject.  2
  At one of the organ tones which finished a cadence, Azouras started, and blinked quickly with her eyelids, and a light sigh showed that she came back to herself and her friend, from her vague contemplative state of mind. Something indescribable, very sad, shone in her eyes, and made them almost black; and with a childlike look at Miss Rudensköld she asked, “Tell me what that large painting over there represents.”  3
  “The altar-piece? Don’t you know? The altar-piece in Clara is one of the most beautiful we possess.”  4
  “What is going on there?” asked Azouras.  5
  Miss Rudensköld gave her a side glance; she did not know that her neighbor in the pew was a girl without baptism, without Christianity, without the slightest knowledge of holy religion, a heathen—and knew less than a heathen, for such a one has his teachings, although they are not Christian. Miss Rudensköld thought the girl’s question came of a momentary forgetfulness, and answered, to remind her:—  6
  “Well, you see, it is one of the usual subjects, but unusually well painted, that is all. High up among the other figures in the painting you will see the half-reclining figure of one that is dead—see what an expression the painter has put into the face!—That is the Saviour.”  7
  “The Saviour?”  8
  “Yes, God’s son, you know; or God Himself.”  9
  “And he is dead?” repeated Azouras to herself with wondering eyes. “Yes, I believe that; it must be so: it is godlike to die!”  10
  Miss Rudensköld looked at her neighbor with wide-opened eyes. “You must not misunderstand this subject,” she said. “It is human to live and want to live; you can see that, too, in the altar-piece, for all the persons who are human beings, like ourselves, are alive.”  11
  “Let us go out! I feel oppressed by fear—no, I will tarry here until my fear passes away. Go, dearest, I will send you word.”  12
  Miss Rudensköld took leave of her; went out of the church and over the churchyard to the Eastern Gate, which faces Oden’s lane….  13
  The girl meanwhile stayed inside; came to a corner in the organ stairs; saw people go out little by little; remained unobserved, and finally heard the sexton and the church-keeper go away. When the last door was closed, Azouras stepped out of her hiding-place. Shut out from the entire world, severed from all human beings, she found herself the only occupant of the large, light building, into which the sun lavishly poured his gold.  14
  Although she was entirely ignorant of our holy church customs and the meaning of the things she saw around her, she had nevertheless, sometimes in the past, when her mother was in better health, been present at the church service as a pastime, and so remembered one thing and another. The persons with whom she lived, in the halls and corridors of the opera, hardly ever went to God’s house; and generally speaking, church-going was not practiced much during this time. No wonder, then, that a child who was not a member of any religious body, and who had never received an enlightening word from any minister, should neglect what the initiated themselves did not attend to assiduously.  15
  She walked up the aisle, and never had the sad, strange feeling of utter loneliness taken hold of her as it did now; it was coupled with the apprehension of a great, overhanging danger. Her heart beat wildly; she longed unspeakably—but for what? for her wild free forest out there, where she ran around quick as a deer? or for what?  16
  She walked up toward the choir and approached the altar railing. “Here at least—I remember that once—but that was long ago, and it stands like a shadow before my memory—I saw many people kneel here: it must have been of some use to them? Suppose I did likewise?”  17
  Nevertheless she thought it would be improper for her to kneel down on the decorated cushions around the chancel. She folded her hands and knelt outside of the choir on the bare stone floor. But what more was she to do or say now? Of what use was it all? Where was she to turn?  18
  She knew nothing. She looked down into her own thoughts as into an immense, silent dwelling. Feelings of sorrow and a sense of transiency moved in slow swells, like shining, breaking waves, through her consciousness. “Oh—something to lean on—a help—where? where? where?”  19
  She looked quietly about her; she saw nobody. She was sure to meet the most awful danger when the door was opened, if help did not come first.  20
  She turned her eyes back toward the organ, and in her thoughts she besought grace of the straight, long, shining pipes. But all their mouths were silent now.  21
  She looked up to the pulpit; nobody was standing there. In the pews nobody. She had sent everybody away from here and from herself.  22
  She turned her head again toward the choir. She remembered that when she had seen so many gathered here, two ministers in vestments had moved about inside of the railing and had offered the kneeling worshipers something. No doubt to help them! But now—there was nobody inside there. To be sure she was kneeling here with folded hands and praying eyes; but there was nobody, nobody, nobody who offered her the least little thing. She wept.  23
  She looked out of the great church windows to the clear noonday sky; her eyes beheld the delicate azure light which spread itself over everything far, far away, but on nothing could her eyes rest. There were no stars to be seen now, and the sun itself was hidden by the window post, although its mild golden light flooded the world.  24
  She looked away again, and her eyes sank to the ground. Her knees were resting on a tombstone, and she saw many of the same kind about her. She read the names engraven on the stones; they were all Swedish, correct and well-known. “Oh,” she said to herself with a sigh, “I have not a name like others! My names have been many, borrowed,—and oh, often changed. I did not get one to be my very own! If only I had one like other people! Nobody has written me down in a book as I have heard it said others are written down. Nobody asks about me. I have nothing to do with anybody! Poor Azouras,” she whispered low to herself. She wept much.  25
  There was no one else who said “poor Azouras Tintomara!” but it was as if an inner, higher, invisible being felt sorry for the outer, bodily, visible being, both one and the same person in her. She wept bitterly over herself.  26
  “God is dead,” she thought, and looked up at the large altar-piece again. “But I am a human being; I must live.” And she wept more heartily, more bitterly….  27
  The afternoon passed, and the hour for vespers struck. The bells in the tower began to lift their solemn voices, and keys rattled in the lock. Then the heathen girl sprang up, and, much like a thin vanishing mist, disappeared from the altar. She hid in her corner again. It seemed to her that she had been forward, and had taken liberties in the choir of the church to which she had no right; and that in the congregation coming in now, she saw persons who had a right to everything.  28
  Nevertheless, when the harmonious tones of the organ began to mix with the fragrant summer air in the church, Azouras stood radiant, and she felt quickly how the weight lifted from her breast. Was it because of the tears she had shed? Or did an unknown helper at this moment scatter the fear in her heart?  29
  She felt no more that it would be dangerous to leave the church; she stole away, before vespers were over, came out into the churchyard and turned off to the northern gate.  30

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