Gateway to the Classics: Troubadour Tales by Evaleen Stein
 
Troubadour Tales by  Evaleen Stein

The Lost Rune

The Legend of a Lost Poem and the Adventures of Little Elsa in Restoring It to Her People


Eery, airy,

Elf and fairy,

Steep me deep in magic dreams!

Charm from harm of water witches,

Guide where hide the hoarded riches

Sunken in Suomi streams!

As the strains of Elsa's voice floated up and wandered away among the cottage rafters, "Bravo!" cried her father; "bravo, little one! Already thou singest like the April cuckoo!" Elsa, the little Finnish girl thus addressed, smiled with pleasure, and nestled closer to her father's reindeer coat as he proudly patted her fair hair and gave her an approving hug.

The two were sitting on a rude bench drawn out from the cottage wall; and here they had been all the evening, singing snatches of strange old songs, and toasting their toes at the turf fire that blazed in the great fireplace.

It was barely September, but in the far North, the winter begins early and the winds sweep with a bitter chill across the wide plains of Suomi, the old name by which the Finnish people love best to call their land.

Elsa's father and mother—the mother was now drowsing over her knitting, on the other side of the hearth—were well-to-do peasant farmer folk. They owned the land, called from their name the "Sveaborg farm," and the cottage, which was large of its kind; that is to say, it had two rooms besides the great living-room and the loft.

One of these extra rooms, however, was set apart for the use of occasional travelers; for in Finland, through the country, inns of any kind are very few, and at that time, as now, certain of the better farm-houses were set apart as places where travelers might be sure of entertainment for the night at least. As Elsa's home lay on one of the main roads, the cottage now and then sheltered one of the few strangers who sometimes journey through the land.

The other little chamber belonged to Elsa, who was the only child; but the main business of living was carried on in the great room with the hearth. It was a quaint place, broad and low; the walls were covered with a rough plaster, and overhead the rafters showed brown with smoke; just below these were fastened two slender poles from one of which hung festoons of dried herbs, while on the other were strung a great number of large flat brown rings, which were nothing less than the family bread for the winter. For the Finnish peasants do not trouble themselves to bake too often, and they like their bread made into these curious ring-shaped loaves which they thus hang away until needed; nor do they mind how hard and dry it becomes.

On one side of the cottage walls were several large presses where cheeses were making; and opposite these were two little doors that seemed to open into cupboards; cupboards, however, where no Finnish child would ever think of looking for jam or sweetmeats, for, as is the custom of the country, behind the doors were fastened in the thick wall two shelf-like beds, where Elsa's father and mother slept.

But the chief feature, the heart of all the room, was the great fireplace; at one side of it was built a huge brick oven, in which Elsa's mother baked the queer flat-bread for the family, and sometimes, when the nights were very, very cold, she would make for Elsa a little bed on top of the warm bricks, which was always so cozy that the little girl did not care that it was a trifle hard.

The broad hearth in front of the oven was also of brick, and this hearth, as in every peasant's cottage, was the favorite gathering place. Here through the long winter evenings, and days when the sun barely peeped above the horizon, they loved to sit and sing over their quaint old songs and repeat in verse the strange and beautiful stories that have been handed down in Finland for hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years.

Indeed, all Finnish peasants have always been wonderfully fond of music and poetry, and, to this day, as in Elsa's time—which was nearly a hundred years ago—in almost every house may be found at least one of the curious harps of ancient shape, which the people make for themselves out of bone or wood. There are but few peasants who can not sing some old story to the music of this instrument which they call "kantele."

Elsa's father was an especially skilful harper, and Elsa herself seemed to inherit a large part of his passion for music and poetry. He had made for her a little kantele of her own, and to the soft weird music she struck from its strings, she sang her little song,

Eery, airy,

Elf and fairy.

These lines, however, were but the beginning of a song intended to charm and overpower the wicked water-witches; for, as all the world knows, Finland is the home of all manner of fairy folk, of elves and gnomes and wizards and witches; at least so all Finnish folk declare; and innumerable are the charm-songs and incantations and marvelous tales handed down from generation to generation, telling of the witches and fairies of Suomi.

Elsa knew a great number of these song-stories and delighted above all things to learn a new one. But, as she sat by the fire, the warmth at last made her drowsy; presently the harp fell from her hands, and still leaning against her father she dropped into a sound sleep.

The next morning was crisp and frosty, but the sun, rising in a strange slanting ring, tempered the September chill almost to mildness. Indeed the sun behaves very oddly in Finland; it was then circling round the sky in its autumn course, never setting, as in our country, but staying up a little way all night, and all the while weaving its spiral rings lower and lower down the sky. By and by it would hide altogether and not show itself for many weeks. So while the light lasted every one was making the most of it.

Elsa was astir early; breakfast had long been over; she had swept the house with the broom of birch twigs, and was now outside the cottage helping her mother churn.

As she pushed the wooden dasher up and down, the wind blew the color into her cheeks and her hair about her face. She wore a close little woolen hood, a homespun dress and a long apron embroidered in bright colors, and on her feet were wooden shoes.

All at once Elsa's quick ears caught the sound of wheels.

"See, mother!" she exclaimed, "there is Jan of the Ohlsen farm; but who, thinkest thou, is the stranger beside him?"

Fru Sveaborg shaded her eyes with her hand, and sure enough, saw, jogging up the road, a pony dragging one of the odd two-wheeled carts of Finland. As she looked, it turned into the narrow lane of birch trees leading to the cottage.

Jan drew rein.

"Good morrow, neighbor Sveaborg!" he called out.

Then as the Fru left her churn and came toward them, he said:

"This traveler is Herr Lönnrot, from Helsingfors, who is journeying through the country. Last night he passed at our farm and to-night he would spend at thine. He wishes much to speak with peasant Sveaborg about certain matters he is seeking to learn." Then catching sight of Elsa, "Good morrow to thee, Elsa! How comes the churning? It hath made thy cheeks red as cloud-berries!"

Elsa shyly drew near her mother, as the latter greeted Jan, and, courtesying to the stranger, assured him of a welcome at their home.

Jan then jumped from the cart to help Herr Lönnrot, who was an old man. He had a gentle face with kindly blue eyes, and his hair and beard were gray. He was wrapped in a long traveling cloak, and walked with a staff. As Fru Sveaborg led the way to the cottage door he coughed slightly and drew his cloak closer about him.

Within the living-room, the Fru hastened to set before them fresh milk and bread, and then she and Jan gossiped a while over farm matters, while the stranger, who seemed weary, went to rest in the little guest chamber, which was always in readiness for travelers.

In the afternoon, as Elsa sat by the fireplace spinning, Herr Lönnrot came into the room, and seating himself on the bench, began to talk to her.

"Art very busy, little one?" he said; "canst thou not sing a song for an old man? I trow yonder tiny kantele fits thy fingers as if fashioned for them!"

"Aye, sir," answered Elsa shyly, "if thou really wishest, I will sing the little charm-song I have just learned."

With this she took the kantele, and drawing a wooden stool beside the bench began to sing. Though her voice rose somewhat timidly at first, presently she lost herself in the music and poetry, and sang many of the strange Finnish songs.

As Herr Lönnrot listened to the little girl his eyes brightened and he smiled with pleasure; and when, by and by, she ceased, he drew her to his side and stroked her hair.

He then questioned her carefully about the songs that she and her father knew, and told her that he himself was even then traveling through Finland for the express purpose of gathering together all the songs of the peasant folk, though not so much for the music as for the sake of the words, which he was most anxious to learn. He told her further, how, for many years, the great scholars of Finland had been certain that a great and wonderfully beautiful song-story, a story of heroes and wizards and fairies, had become broken up and scattered among the people, just as if some beautiful stained-glass window should come to pieces, and the different fragments fall into the hands of many different persons, and be scattered about so that no one could make out the first picture unless all the pieces could be found and fitted together again.

Now the song-story, Herr Lönnrot said, was made up ages before; long before people had paper or pens with which to write. So the story had been handed down from parents to their children, who sang it from year to year simply from memory; for people had wonderful memories in those days.

It had begun so very long ago, however, and the whole story was so long, that the peasant folk had gradually forgotten parts of it; in some families one part or rune, as the people called it, would be handed down from generation to generation, and in others, some other part.

Now Herr Lönnrot was a physician of much learning, and aside from his work of healing the sick, he had a great fondness for beautiful stories. He had spent much time among the peasants especially to learn such parts of the lost song-story as they might happen to know, and was now devoting his old age to gathering up as many as possible of these runes.

And then, he told Elsa, he intended to fit them together and write them down so that none should ever again be forgotten, and so that the whole world might read this great Finnish story.

"Ah," said Herr Lönnrot, with kindling eyes, "every one who has love for old Finland should help save this wonderful song, for 'twill be to the glory of our nation, even as the songs of Homer have been to the glory of the Greeks!"

And in this Herr Lönnrot spoke what is perfectly true: for all wise persons know that to add a beautiful poem or song or story to the collection that every nation gradually makes up for itself, is rightly considered a far more glorious thing than to discover a whole mountain of gold and diamonds. And so the Herr wished greatly to find and restore this beautiful scattered story to the poetic wealth of Finland and of the world.

He then went on to explain to Elsa that the scholars found these songs to cluster about three ancient heroes, and of these, one, the mighty wizard Wainamoinen, was the most powerful of all.

Here Elsa, who had been listening attentively, smiled.

"Yes," she said, "I know many songs of Wainamoinen and the rest."

"Of that I am sure," said Herr Lönnrot; "but there is one rune that tells of the birth of the harp: how Wainamoinen fashioned the first kantele from the bones of a magic fish, and how he sang with such marvelous sweetness that all living things drew near to harken to him. Of this rune I have heard many peasant-singers speak, but have sought in vain for one who can teach me the whole of it. And I must find it before I can complete the story!"

Here Herr Lönnrot sighed, and dropping his head upon his breast seemed lost in thought. Presently a fit of coughing seized him; and then he continued:

"Dost think, little one, that thy father knows aught of this rune?"

Elsa thought very hard trying to recall the rune; she was obliged to answer:

"Nay, sir; in truth he hath taught me many runes about Wainamoinen and the others, but I know not how the harp was born. But," she added, "my father will be home at supper-time; he is helping thatch neighbor Friedvic's new barn, and perhaps he can tell thee!"

"Perhaps," said Herr Lönnrot. "Thy neighbor Jan told me he thought thy father knew something of this rune I seek."

Even as they talked, a whistle sounded without, and Elsa clapped her hands joyously.

"There is my father now!" and bounding to the door she flung it wide open. As the peasant Sveaborg stepped within, seeing Herr Lönnrot, he took off his cap and greeted him kindly, for strangers were always welcome at the Sveaborg farm.

When the Herr told him why he was journeying through the country, and of the lost rune he was seeking, Elsa's father grew much interested.

"The birth of the harp! Ah, sir," said he, "I know not the whole rune myself, but I know of a peasant who does. I have heard him sing it, and truly 'tis of marvelous beauty! But he is very aged, and odd, sir"—here peasant Sveaborg tapped his forehead meaningly—"and will teach it to no one else. Even now, I have been told, he is very ill, and like to die. I know not if thou canst learn aught from him, but if thou wishest, I will take thee thither to-morrow." And while they were busy arranging the trip for the morrow, Fru Sveaborg came in, and with Elsa's help soon set out the evening meal.

As they ate their bowls of pimea  or sour milk, which is the chief part of every Finnish meal, Herr Lönnrot entertained them with wonderful stories of his travels and news of the outside world, till all were charmed; and Elsa, especially, thought him the most delightful traveler their roof had ever sheltered. Her admiration for him deepened as the evening wore on, for the Herr, though evidently in feeble health and weary from his journey, yet talked so pleasantly that all were sorry when by and by he bade them good night.

The next morning at breakfast, Herr Lönnrot did not appear; but the family did not think it strange, and supposing him still resting, did not disturb him. Fru Sveaborg placed some breakfast for him in an earthen dish, which she set in the oven to keep warm. Then she went about her work.

But as the morning passed on, and still he did not come from his chamber, she became uneasy, and sent Elsa to tap upon his door. As Elsa lightly knocked, the door swung open, for there are no locks in Finland, and there lay Herr Lönnrot, motionless, on the floor of the room! The aged physician had evidently arisen, and made himself ready for the day, when, overcome by weakness, he had fallen in a swoon.

Elsa, thoroughly frightened, ran to the living-room, crying out:

"Mother! Mother! Herr Lönnrot is dying!"

At this the Fru hastened in, and with Elsa's help, raised the frail old man and placed him on a bench; and while her mother did what she could to make him comfortable, Elsa hurried to the fields to send her father for the village doctor.

As it was a long journey to the village it was almost nightfall before the peasant Sveaborg reached home.

Meantime Herr Lönnrot had passed from the swoon into a high fever, and all day his mind had wandered, and he had talked strangely; sometimes of his home and his journey, but more often of the lost rune of the magic harp, which seemed to trouble him sorely.

At last the doctor came, and after examining his patient, said that he was suffering from the effects of a serious cold, and that he must be kept quiet and well cared for.

Then as Herr Lönnrot continued to toss and murmur, the doctor asked Fru Sveaborg if she knew of aught that troubled him. As the Fru looked perplexed, Elsa spoke.

"The rune, mother! Hark! even now he is speaking of it!"

And as they listened, the poor Herr, who had not the least notion of what he was saying, exclaimed:

"The harp! Ah, yes, I must go seek it! the magic harp"—and here he broke off into low, unintelligible words.

At this the doctor looked grave, and said that it was a pity that anything seemed to be on the patient's mind, as it might make the fever harder to overcome. He then measured out some medicines, and took his leave, after giving Fru Sveaborg directions for caring for the aged patient.

The next day, under the faithful nursing of Elsa's mother, Herr Lönnrot seemed better, though still very weak, and when the doctor again saw him, he said that with continued good care he thought all would go well, but that the Herr must not think of going on with his journey for a week, at least. After this visit from the doctor, Elsa's father, who had been waiting at home in case he should be needed, told Fru Sveaborg that he must go to finish the work he was doing at a neighboring farm, and as it would take him a day or two, he would stop on the way and send the Fru's sister to help her care for the sick stranger.

When her father was gone, and her mother busy about her work, Elsa drew out her wheel, and as she sat alone spinning as hard as she could, she yet found time to think of a great many things. She thought of the lost rune of the birth of the harp, and of good Herr Lönnrot, lying on his bed and chafing and worrying with every hour that his journey was delayed. Then she thought of the peasant Ulricborg, and of what her father had told of his reported illness.

"Ah", said she to herself, "what if he die before Herr Lönnrot can travel thither! Then the rune may be lost forever, and dear Herr Lönnrot can never, never finish the beautiful song-story!" The more she thought about it, the more Elsa became convinced that something should be done, and that without delay.

She turned over in her mind a great many plans, and presently an idea occurred to her that made her smile happily; and, jumping up, she ran out to where Fru Sveaborg was arranging her milk-pans in the sun.

"Mother," said Elsa, "mother, I wish to go to the peasant Ulricborg!"

"Why, child," exclaimed her mother in amazement, "what dost thou wish with the peasant Ulricborg?"

"I wish to learn from him the lost rune, so that Herr Lönnrot can finish the beautiful song-story! He may die before the Herr can see him!"

"But," protested her mother, "thou canst not go alone, and thy father is too busy to go with thee now."

"But, mother," said Elsa, " 'tis no such great journey; thou knowest I went thither once with father in the sleigh two years ago, and truly it seemed not far!" Elsa did not realize how swiftly a sleigh will speed over many, many miles. "I shall meet carts on the way, and I can stop at the Ringstrom farm to-night."

Now Fru Sveaborg was a simple soul who had never been far beyond her own home, and as the child pleaded so earnestly to go, at last she consented, although somewhat against her will.

Elsa was overjoyed, and at once made her little preparations to start. She got a small basket of birch bark and in it her mother placed some black bread and cheese, a few herrings and a bottle of milk. Then putting on her thick woolen cloak and hood, and taking her kantele in one hand and the basket in the other, off she started.

Fru Sveaborg bade her good by. "Be careful, child!" she said; "keep to the highroad, and be sure to stay to-night at the Ringstrom farm!"

"Good by, mother!" Elsa called back, "and do not fear for me; I know the way!"

With this she tripped down the lane of birch trees and turned into the road to the east. By and by she was overtaken by a little Finland pony trundling along a two-wheeled cart. As the driver of the cart happened to be a young boy she knew, she was glad to climb in beside him. They rode thus for a number of miles till they reached a cross-road where Elsa's friend told her he must turn off; so she jumped out, and thanking him for her ride, bade him good by and trudged on along the highway.

Presently she began to feel hungry, for it was long past noon, and looking about, she saw a pretty tuft of green moss under a tall birch tree; and sitting down, she opened her basket and ate some of the contents. She thought she would rest a little while before going on, so she wrapped her cloak close about her and leaned back against the birch tree,—till—by and by—her eyes began to blink and blink, and before she knew it the little girl was sound asleep.

She did not know how long she slept, but at length, just in the midst of a beautiful dream about magic fishes and harps and wizards, she gave a shiver and waked up.

She rubbed her eyes for a minute, and involuntarily drew her cloak closer, for it had grown chilly.

At first, as Elsa gazed around, she thought she must still be asleep and dreaming of cloudland! But presently she realized that she was not in the clouds, but in the midst of a dense fog, such as often comes up in Finland without warning, and covers up the fields and woods as completely as any cloud might do.

Now, being a Finnish child, Elsa's first thought was of the hobgoblins and prankish fairies of the fog who, as every Finlander knows, float about in their mantles of mist seeking to do mischief to unwary travelers.

So Elsa at once began to sing in a high, clear voice a little charm-song; not the one she had sung in the farm house to Herr Lönnrot, but a song intended especially to ward off the wicked fairies of the fog. It began like this:

Fogs of Finland,

Floating inland,

From the fairy-haunted sea,

Have a care now,

See ye bear now

No unfriendly folk to me!

As Elsa sang she cautiously stepped along, she knew not where; till, faintly through the thick shrouding mist, there came the soft tinkle, tinkle of a little bell. Listening, she knew at once that it must be fastened to the collar of some cow, for such bells in Finland are very sweet-toned and clear.

Sure enough, in a little while she heard the trampling of hoofs, and the whole herd, drawn by the sound of her voice, was thronging about her.

But Elsa was used to the herds on her father's farm, and was really glad to feel the warm breath of the gentle little Finnish cows. As the leader came close to her she put up her hand and patted its nose; then slipping her fingers through the narrow leathern strap from which the bell hung, she walked along beside the cow.

This proved to be the very best thing she could have done; for the herd was going home, and the cows seemed to know their way instinctively, even in spite of the white fog.

They walked thus a long way, till after a while the fog began to lift somewhat; and though it was growing dusk Elsa could distinguish the outline of a comfortable-looking farmhouse. It was not the Ringstrom farm, where she had expected to pass the night, but a strange place that she had never before seen. The usual lane of birch trees led up to the house, and behind it was a long, low barn, whither the cows seemed to be directing their way.

As she walked along beside them she was thinking of what she had best do, and she found herself very much perplexed. In truth she had set out upon a very difficult errand for a little girl, and had good Fru Sveaborg had the least idea of the distance or possible dangers of the journey she never would have given her consent; while had Elsa's father been at home,—but then it is useless thinking things might have been managed differently. Meanwhile there was Elsa trudging along in the midst of the herd, wondering much who were the dwellers at the farm, and, on the whole, not a little frightened.

By this time she had a pretty definite idea that she had started on a rather reckless undertaking, and she fancied that perhaps the people at the farm might think so too, and would not allow her to go farther; and as she was determined at any risk to reach the peasant Ulricborg and save the rune, she decided at last that she would not go to the house.

So she kept with the herd, and when the cows reached the door of the great barn, she slipped in between them, unseen in the fog and gathering dusk; for though the sun would not quite disappear, it hung low and dim on the horizon and shed but faint light through the misty air. Within, the barn was arranged much like the one at her home, though on a far larger scale. In one corner was a large pile of soft sweet-smelling hay, and going to this Elsa set down her basket and kantele, and curled herself up for the night.

As she looked about through half-shut, sleepy eyes, she saw in the center of the wide earthen floor a stone fireplace, and there over some blazing fagots stood a great iron kettle; beside it two ruddy-faced girls were hard at work stirring the long marsh grass that was boiling for the cows' supper. Elsa would have very much liked to make herself known to these girls, for she was used to doing things openly and did not at all enjoy hiding there in the corner; but then she thought of the precious rune and the possibility that they might stop her journey, and so she remained quiet. As she nestled down in the soft, warm hay, however, she thought to herself that they could not possibly mind having a little girl sleep in it for just one night, and so reasoning she kept on drowsily watching the movements of the two girls.

After a while they dipped out the soft food and fed the cows; and then, when they had milked them, one of the girls poured out a bowlful of new milk and set it beside the stone hearth, and then they both went off singing toward the house.

Now Elsa knew, as every little Finnish farm girl knows, that the fresh milk was set there for the fairies; for should any roving band of elfin people chance to wander thither, they might be vexed and do mischief if they did not find a fresh, sweet draft awaiting them. So Elsa felt quite safe, sure that the fairies would not trouble her; and, by and by, lulled by the soft breathing of the cows, she fell asleep.

Very early in the morning she awoke, and though at first much bewildered, she soon remembered everything, and determined to slip away before any one should find her.

So fastening her cloak and taking her little belongings, she again set forth. As she stepped out in the early morning light, a white frost glittered over the fields; and as she gazed around seeking the road, she saw a faintly-marked path that seemed to lead to the highway. She made a little breakfast from the things she found in her basket, and then walked on; but the path, instead of leading to the high-road, took her farther and farther from it, for she did not know that the farm whither the cows had led her was a long distance from the way she wished to follow.

Indeed Elsa was lost; and as she went on the country grew wilder and more rugged. Before she knew it the path had disappeared altogether and she could find no trace of it; and as far as she could see, there was no living being near.

All the while she was becoming more and more frightened, yet still bravely she went on, vainly seeking the road. Before long she came to a dense wood of firs, and thinking that perhaps the way lay just beyond, she slowly entered the forest, stepping timidly between the dark resinous trees. Once or twice she trembled as a fox crossed her path, but, by and by, as she looked ahead, her heart fairly stood still with terror. For there in the distance, where a great ledge of rocks cropped out of the ground, she saw a large brown something; and the more she looked the more certain she felt that it was a bear.

And true enough, it was a bear, "honey-paw," as Elsa would have said, for so the Finlanders call the brown bear, because of his great liking for wild honey. Now, as it happened, this particular honey-paw was for the time so intent upon his own affairs that at first he did not see Elsa. He was walking carefully round and round the great mass of rock, hunting a good spot where he might curl up, bear fashion, and sleep through the coming winter. He had been looking at these rocks for many days, as is the custom of bears, trying to decide which of the little caves they offered would suit him best for his long sleep; and he was still perplexed about it when he happened to look in Elsa's direction.

The little girl was standing still, frozen with terror, when he saw her. Perhaps he would not have noticed her had it not been for the red hood she wore, which, of course, could be seen for a long distance. When honey-paw realized, however, that some one was looking at him, he was greatly displeased; for when bears are selecting their winter hiding places they like to keep the matter as secret as possible. So with a little growl of resentment he started toward her. At this Elsa uttered a scream and, dropping her basket, took to her heels, running as fast as she could, she knew not whither. The bear followed, at an awkward pace, but when he came up and sniffed at her basket she was already far in the distance.

As good fortune would have it, in her wild flight Elsa had come to the edge of one of the great bogs that cover so large a part of Finland, and her light steps had taken her some distance over its uncertain surface. On she went, springing lightly from tussock to tussock of the coarse grass, till at last she reached a little space of firmer ground, and sank down, exhausted, upon the fallen trunk of a willow tree.

Meantime honey-paw also had come to the edge of the bog, but after a few cautious steps had found himself too heavy to gain a foothold on the soft ground, so with another sniff or two he turned about and trotted off.

When Elsa saw him going away, she was so worn out with fright, and so very tired, that she did just what any other little girl would have done: she began to cry, and cried and cried as if her heart would break. She sat there sobbing a long time, and was quite sure she would have to stay in that little spot the rest of her life, till the wicked bog witches found her or the bears ate her up; for she did not think she could ever venture on alone.

Indeed she cried so hard that she did not notice that she was quite near the bank of a good-sized river that flowed to the east, nor did she know that after a while a large flat-boat drifted in sight. It was laden with a great number of bark-bound barrels, and on the deck a man stood guiding the boat with a long pole. As it floated slowly along, the boatman saw Elsa, and called out in surprise.

"Ho, little one! what dost thou in yonder bog? Art lost?" When Elsa heard him, she quickly looked up, and begged piteously that he take her away from that dangerous spot!

"That will I do right gladly," said he; and directing her how to reach the bank in safety, he guided his boat to land and then helped Elsa aboard.

He gave her a little box on which to sit, and told her that the heavy barrels arranged in rows in the boat were filled with turpentine which he was floating down the river from the pine woods farther inland. Then looking curiously at Elsa, who sat there still tightly holding her little kantele, which she had unconsciously kept through her flight from honey-paw, he said:

"But who art thou, little one?"

The man had a good face and a kindly manner that quite reassured Elsa, who, now that her fear of the bear was relieved, had begun to wonder who her companion might be. When she told him her name, "Ah," he exclaimed, "I know thy father well! But whither art thou going all by thyself?"

When Elsa told him of her journey to the peasant Ulricborg, he looked astonished, but told her to have no fear, as he would see her safely to the Ulricborg home, which was down the very river on which they were floating, and at no great distance from the bank.

As the boat glided along Elsa's new friend beguiled the time by telling her of the great pine forests whence he had come, and explaining how the pitch and turpentine were harvested. After a while when he asked if she would sing him a little song, she gladly assented; and striking the strings of her little harp, she sang a Finnish boat-song, her voice ringing out clear and sweet on the frosty air, through which some big snowflakes were beginning to fall. She had scarcely finished her song when she noticed that they were no longer in the center of the stream, but that the boatman was deftly turning his craft sidewise and guiding it toward the bank.

In a few minutes he had made it fast to a stout oak tree that grew near the water's edge, and then helping Elsa out, he took her hand and led her up a narrow path between tall grasses and yellowing willows; then turning into a lane they came toward a small weather-beaten house standing in the midst of a little group of fir trees. The door stood open, and a short distance from the house they spied a bent old woman gathering pine cones in the forest close by. She had her apron filled, and presently, turning around and seeing her visitors, she straightened herself as best she could and came toward them with greetings. As she drew near, Elsa saw that her face was withered and wrinkled, and her hands brown with toil.

"Good morrow, Dame Ulricborg!" said the boatman, "and how fares thy goodman to-day?"

"Ah," answered the dame, "he is very weak and grows more feeble every day. This twelve-month past he hath scarce left his bed, and 'tis weary work for an old woman to keep the kettle boiling and the thatch mended over our heads."

"True," said the boatman, sympathetically, "thou hast done well, Dame Ulricborg!" Then looking down at Elsa, he added: "Here is a little girl come to see thee."

The old dame looked curiously at Elsa; then, as the latter held up her little skirt and asked the dame if she might not help carry the cones, she grew more kindly and led the way to the house. But the boatman, seeing Elsa thus safe at her journey's end, bade them good by and hastened back to his boat.

Now, Dame Ulricborg very much wondered what the little girl could possibly wish with her; but as it is considered unkind to question a guest as to his coming, she said nothing, but waited for Elsa to make known her errand.

As they drew near the door of the house, Elsa hastened to explain to her how she had come, and how she hoped to learn the rune from the lips of the aged peasant Ulricborg. At this the old woman, who had listened attentively, shook her head.

"Ah, little one," said she, "thou little knowest how feeble he hath grown! He hath strange fancies, too, and I doubt if he will wish to let thee learn it. He hath never been willing to teach it to any one. But," she added, "thou canst at least ask, if thou wishest."

By this time they had reached the threshold of Dame Ulricborg's home, and stepped within. The house was bare, but not uncomfortable; some rings of flat-bread hung from the ceiling; there was a spinning-wheel, two or three benches, and, on the wall over the fireplace, a kantele.

The dame told Elsa to draw one of the benches near the fire and warm herself, while she went into the next room to see how her sick husband fared, as she had been obliged to leave him all alone when she went to gather the cones.

By and by the dame came back, and shaking her head sadly, said to Elsa:

"Nay, to-day 'tis useless; his thoughts are wandering and he will notice nothing. 'Tis often so when he grows overweary. But thou must bide the night with us, and it may be in the morning he will be better."

So Elsa helped Dame Ulricborg build up the fire till it blazed brightly with the crackling resinous cones, and then as the afternoon waned, she made herself useful in many little ways as they set out their simple evening meal.

Elsa thought no pimea  and black bread had ever tasted quite so good, for she was very hungry after her long day, and Dame Ulricborg smiled at her enjoyment. Indeed by the time Elsa crept into the queer little cupboard bed that the dame spread for her, she had so won the latter's heart that she bent over and kissed the little girl with a pathetic tenderness; for it had been a long, long time since poor old Dame Ulricborg had had any young life about her. Her own little girl had slept in the village churchyard for many years.

The next morning, after they had breakfasted together, the dame told Elsa that she might see peasant Ulricborg, who seemed somewhat brighter with the new day. So taking Elsa by the hand she led her into the room where lay the sick peasant.

He looked very old and feeble; his hair was white as snow, and his thin cheeks drawn into innumerable wrinkles. Elsa went timidly over and stood by his bedside, and in a low quivering voice she made known her request. She told him of Herr Lönnrot's labors to save the beautiful song-story of Wainamoinen, and of his great desire to learn the lost rune that peasant Ulricborg alone knew; how he wished to write it down, so that it might never again be forgotten and that all the world might enjoy its beauty.

As she spoke, the old man looked at her with dim blue eyes, and seemed to listen as one in a dream. When she ceased, he appeared for a moment lost in thought; then he said slowly and dreamily:

"Yes, thou shalt learn it, Aino; thou shalt hear of the birth of the harp, of the magic fish and of the mighty hero Wainamoinen, little Aino."

" 'Tis our own little maid, Aino, that we lost so long ago!" whispered the old dame to Elsa, as the tears streamed down her face; "thou art so like her!"

But she hushed her whisper, as suddenly the old peasant began to sing in a weak, quavering voice that seemed to grow stronger as he sang, the beautiful lines telling how the ancient Wainamoinen fashioned the first harp, and how he sang till all the birds forsook their nests, the fishes their deep sea homes, and all the creatures of the woods, nay, the very trees themselves, trooped forth from the forests that they might listen to his enchanting music.

As Elsa heard, the tears came into her own eyes, for she was a poetic little soul and quickly touched by anything beautiful. When the peasant Ulricborg had almost finished the rune, he suddenly broke off and lay back on his pillow exhausted. He lay for so long a while with closed eyes, that both the dame and Elsa grew frightened; but presently he again looked at them, his vision becoming brighter; in a little while all seemed to grow clear to him. He gazed kindly at Elsa, for something about the little girl seemed strangely to soften the old man. He noticed her little kantele, and it seemed to interest him, as he motioned her to lay it beside him. He looked at it a while, and tried once or twice to touch its strings to music, but his strength failed him.

Presently, he said feebly:

"Ah, I thought thou wert Aino come back for me!—but never mind—the rune thou wishest, I can not show thee its music now,"—here he looked sadly at his stiffened fingers,—"but the rune itself, yes, thou shalt have it, little one!" Then he added slowly, as he gazed dreamily into Elsa's shining eyes:

"For thou, too, wilt love it truly!"

Here, as he paused a while, Dame Ulricborg could scarcely hide her amazement, knowing how often before he had wilfully refused the same request from others. Indeed, the peasant Ulricborg had all his life loved poetry with a singular passion; and this particular rune, which had come down in his family, he seemed to set apart as something almost sacred; he treasured its verses as misers hoard gold pieces. Whether he thought it too beautiful to be made overcommon, or for what reason, no one knew; that was his oddity. So, while he sang it sometimes to those he considered worthy, he would teach it to none.

And now at last, as he promised it to Elsa, Dame Ulricborg thought sadly that the promise came too late; for how could he teach it to the little girl, when every breath was such weary effort? And she knew he was unable to write readily even if he had the strength.

But having rested a little, he motioned her to bend down, and then he whispered something to her. She listened with a look of surprise, and then hastened into the living room, and opening a little cupboard, searched, till in the farthest corner she found a small box, and this she brought to the bedside. As she opened it, out fluttered some thin old sheets of paper, closely written over and yellow with age.

The old man's eyes kindled as he saw these, and as he marked the utter surprise of his wife.

"Ah, dear heart," he said, "thou didst not know—the priest wrote down the words for me—long ago—I loved it—and wished to keep it—and I hid it away"—but here the dying peasant, too exhausted for further speech, paused, and then, turning to Elsa the blue eyes from which the light was swiftly fading, murmured to her:

"Take it, little one; 'tis the rune—do with it as thou wilt."

Elsa was so overcome that she fell to crying bitterly, and neither she nor Dame Ulricborg noticed the sound of sleighbells, for the ground was covered with a light snow. In a few minutes, however, the cottage door opened, and in came Elsa's father, all anxiety for the safety of his little girl. When Elsa, hearing him, came into the living room, he caught her in his arms and kissed her passionately, for he had been greatly alarmed on learning of her journey, and had set off in hot haste to find her.

Herr Lönnrot, too, who had grown much better, had insisted on coming with him, and was even then slowly walking toward the cottage door, for he was still feeble from his illness. He, too, was delighted to find Elsa safely cared for; but both he and Elsa's father hushed their voices when she told them of the peasant Ulricborg. They stepped softly into the other room, and Herr Lönnrot's practised eye, for you remember he was a physician, at once saw that his skill could do nothing to help the old man. As the Herr gently smoothed the coverlid the sick peasant gave a faint smile to the faithful old wife who still bent over him, and then, as Elsa stood reverently holding the yellow papers between her little palms, he turned to her a long lingering look that seemed to say:

"Farewell, little one! and farewell to the beloved song, that I have cherished so jealously all these years. I must leave thee now, but I leave thee in loving hands—farewell." And then peacefully, as the wife laid her withered cheek close to his, his spirit passed away to find their little Aino.

Afterward, when Elsa gave to Herr Lönnrot the precious papers on which the rune was written, at first he looked at them in amazement; but his heart filled with delight when he learned what the papers contained. He drew Elsa to him, and kissing her forehead declared that she had not only pleased him beyond measure, but had done honor to old Finland in helping complete the immortal poem he was striving to save.

When, some weeks later, Herr Lönnrot went away, after providing for the comfort of Dame Ulricborg, he journeyed back to Helsingfors, the capital city of Finland; and told the scholars who were studying the poetry of the land how the little girl had been the means of bringing to light one of the most beautiful of the runes. Then the scholars had a little silver medal made which they sent to Elsa, and which she took great pride in keeping through all her life; and no doubt her great-grandchildren still keep it to this day.

As for Herr Lönnrot, he lived to put together the runes he had collected, and when he had finished he called the poem "Kalevala," which in our language means "Land of Heroes," because it tells the wonderful story of the heroes of that ancient land.

And some day, perhaps, you will read this "Kalevala," for it is one of the noblest and most beautiful poems in all the world. And then when you come to the rune which tells of the birth of the harp, you too will be glad that the little Finnish girl was the means of saving it from being lost forever.


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