The Wind-Gnome
 

There was once a skipper of Dyrevig called Bardun. He was so headstrong that there was no doing anything with him. Whatever he set his mind upon, that should be done, he said, and done it always was.

If he promised to be at a dance, the girls could safely rely upon his being there, though it blew a tempest and rained cats and dogs.

He would come scudding along on a Faering[1] to his father's house through storm and stress. Row upon row of girls would be waiting for him there, and he spanked the floor with every one of them in turn, and left their gallants to cool their heels as best they might.

Cock-of-the-walk he always must be.

He would go shark-fishing too, and would venture with his fishing gaff into seas where only large vessels were wont to go.

If there was anything nobody else dared do, Bardun was the man to do it. And, absurd and desperate as the venture might be, he always succeeded, so that folks were always talking about him.

Now, right out at sea, beyond the skerries, lay a large rock, the lair of wild-fowl, whither the merchant who owned it came every year to bring away rich loads of eider-down. A long way down the side of this lofty rock was a cleft. Nobody could tell how far into the rock it went, and so inaccessible was it there that its owner had said that whoever liked might come and take eider-down from thence. It became quite a proverb to say, when anything couldn't be done, that it was just as impossible as taking eider-down from Dyrevig rock.

But Bardun passed by the rock, and peeped up at the cleft, and saw all the hosts of the fowls of the air lighting upon it so many times that he felt he needs must try his hand at it.

He lost no time about it, and the sun was shining brightly as he set out.

He took with him a long piece of rope, which he cast two or three times round a rocky crag, and lowered himself down till he was right opposite the cleft. There he hung and swung over it backwards and forwards till he had got a firm footing, and then he set about collecting eider-down and stuffing his sacks with it.

He went searching about for it so far into the rocky chasm that he saw no more than a gleam of sunlight outside the opening, and he couldn't take a hundreth part of the eider-down that was there.

It was quite late in the evening before he gave up trying to gather it all. But when he came out again, the stone which he had placed on the top of the rope and tied it to was gone. And now the rope hung loosely there, and dangled over the side of the rock. The wind blew it in and out and hither and thither. The currents of air sported madly with it, so that it always kept sheer away from the rock and far out over the abyss.

There he stood then, and tried again and again to clutch hold of it till the sun lay right down in the sea.

When it began to dawn again, and the morning breeze rose up from the sea, he all at once heard something right over his head say--

"It blows away, it blows away!"

He looked up, and there he saw a big woman holding the rope away from the cliff side.

Every time he made a grip at it she wrenched and twisted it right away over the rocky wall, and there was a laughing and a grinning all down the mountain side--

"It blows away, it blows away!"

And, again and again, the rope drove in and out and hither and thither.

"You had better take a spring at once, and not wait till you're tired," thought he.

It was a pretty long leap to take, but he went back a sufficient distance, and then out he sprang.

Bardun was not the man to fall short of anything. He caught the rope and held it tight.

And, oddly enough, it seemed now to run up the cliff-side of its own accord, just as if some one were hoisting it.

But in front of the rocky crag to which he had fastened the rope, he heard a soughing and a sighing, and something said, "I am the daughter of the Wind-Gnome, and now thou hast dominion over me! When the blast blows and whines about thee 'tis I who long for thee. And here thou hast a rudder which will give thee luck and a fair wind whithersoever thou farest. He who is with thee shall thrive, and he who is against thee shall suffer shipwreck and be lost. For 'tis I who am in the windy gusts."

Then all at once everything was quite still; but down on the sea below there swept a heavy squall.

There stood Bardun with the rudder in his hand, and he understood that it was not a thing to be lightly cast away.

Homeward he steered with a racing breeze behind him, and he had not sailed far before he met a galeas which gave him the Bergen price for his eider-down.

But Bardun was not content with only going thither once. He went just the same as before, and he returned from the Dyrevig rock with a pile of sacks of eider-down on his boat right up to the mast.

He bought houses and ships; mightier and mightier he grew.

And it was not long before he owned whole fishing-grounds, both northwards and southwards.

Those who submitted to him, and did as he would have them do, increased and prospered, and saw good days; but all who stood in his way were wrecked on the sea and perished, for the Wind-Gnome was on his side.

So things quickly went from good to better with him. What was to him a fair wind was the ruin of all those who were in any way opposed to him. At last he became so rich and mighty that he owned every blessed trading-place and fishing-station in all Finmark, and sent vessels even as far as Spitzbergen.

Nobody durst sell fish up north without his leave, and his sloops sailed over to Bergen eighteen at a time.

He ruled and gave judgment as it seemed best to him.

But the magistrates thought that such authority was too much for one man to have, and they began to make inquiries, and receive complaints of how he domineered the people.

Next, the magistrates sent him a warning.

"But the right to rule lies in my rudder," thought Bardun to himself.

Then the magistrates summoned him before the tribunal.

Bardun simply whistled contemptuously.

At last matters came to such a pitch that the magistrates sailed forth to seize him in the midst of a howling tempest, and down they went in the Finmark seas.

Then Bardun was made chief magistrate, till such time as the king should send up another.

But the new man who came had not been very long in office there before it seemed to him as if it was not he but Bardun who held sway.

So the same thing happened over again.

Bardun was summoned in vain before the courts, and the magistrates came forth to seize him and perished at sea.

But when the next governor was sent up to Finmark, it was only the keel of the king's ship that came drifting in from the sea. At last nobody would venture thither to certain ruin, and Bardun was left alone, and ruled over all. Then so mighty was he in all Finmark that he reigned there like the king himself.

Now he had but one child, and that a daughter.

Boel was her name, and she shot up so handsome and comely that her beauty shone like the sun. No bridegroom was good enough for her, unless, perhaps, it were the king's son.

Wooers came from afar, and came in vain. She was to have a dower, they said, such as no girl in the North had ever had before.

One year quite a young officer came up thither with a letter from the king. His garments were stiff with gold, and shone and sparkled wherever he went. Bardun received him well, and helped him to carry out the king's commands.

But since the day when he himself was young, and got the answer, "Yes!" from his bride, he had never been so happy as when Boel came to him one day and said that the young officer had wooed her, and she would throw herself into the sea straightway if she couldn't have him.

In this way, he argued, his race would always sit in the seat of authority, and hold sway when he was gone.

While the officer, in the course of the summer, was out on circuit, Bardun set a hundred men to work to build a house for them.

It was to shine like a castle, and be bright with high halls and large reception-rooms, and windows in long rooms; and furs and cloth of gold and bright tiles were fetched from the far South.

And in the autumn there was such a wedding that the whole land heard and talked about it.

But it was not long before Bardun began to find that to be a fact which was already a rumour, to wit, that the man who had got his daughter would fain have his own way also.

He laid down the law, and gave judgment like Bardun himself; and he over-ruled Bardun, not once nor twice.

Then Bardun went to Boel, and bade her take her husband to task, and look sharp about it. He had never yet seen the man, said he, who couldn't be set right by his bride in the days when they did nothing but eat honey together.

But Boel said that she had wedded a man who, to her mind, was no less a man than her own father; and it was his office, besides, to uphold the law and jurisdiction of the king.

Young folks are easy to talk over, thought Bardun. One can do anything with them when one only makes them fancy they are having their own way. And it is wonderful how far one can get if one only bides one's time, and makes the best of things. Whatever was out of gear he could very easily put right again, when once he got a firm grip of the reins.

So he praised everything his son-in-law did, and talked big about him, so that there was really no end to it. He was glad, he said, that such a wise and stately ruler was there, ready to stand in his shoes against the day when he should grow old.

And so he made himself small, and his voice quivered when he spoke, as if he were really a sick and broken-down man.

But it didn't escape Boel how he slammed to the doors, and struck the stones with his stick till the sparks flew.

Next time the court met, Bardun was taxed to a full tenth of the value of all his property, according to the king's law and justice.

Then only did he begin to foresee that it might fare with the magistrates now as it had done formerly.

But all women like pomp and show, thought he, and Boel was in this respect no different to other people. And she was no daughter of his either, if she couldn't keep the upper hand of her husband.

So he bought her gold and jewels, and other costly things. One day he came with a bracelet, and another day with a chain; and now it was a belt, and now a gold embroidered shoe. And every time he told her that he brought her these gifts, because she was his dearest jewel. He knew of nothing in the world that was too precious for her.

Then, in his most pleasant, most courtly style, he just hinted that she might see to it, and talk her husband over to other ways.

But it booted him even less than before.

And so things went on till autumn. The king's law was first, and his will was only second.

Then he began to dread what would be the end of it all. His eyes sparkled so fiercely that none dare come near him. But at night he would pace up and down, and shriek and bellow at his daughter, and give her all sorts of vile names.

Now one day he came in to Boel with a heavy gold crown full of the most precious stones. She should be the Queen of Finmark and Spitzbergen, said he, if her husband would do according to his will.

Then she looked him stiffly in the face, and said she would never seduce her husband into breaking the king's law.

He grew as pale as the wall behind him, and cast the gold crown on the floor, so that there was a perfect shower of precious stones about them.

She must know, said he, that her father and none other was king here. And now the young officer should find out how it fared with them who sat in his seat.

Then Boel washed her hands of her father altogether, but she advised her husband to depart forthwith.

And on the third day she had packed up all her bridal finery, and departed in the vessel with the young officer.

Then Bardun smote his head against the wall, and that night he laughed, so that it was heard far away, but he wept for his daughter.

And now there arose such a storm that the sea was white for a whole week. And it was not long before the tidings came that the ship that Boel and her husband had sailed by had gone down, and the splinters lay and floated among the skerries.

Then Bardun took the rudder he had got from the Wind-Gnome, and stuck it into the stern of the largest yacht he had. He was God himself now, said he, and could always get a fair wind to steer by, and could rule where he would in the wide world. And southwards he sailed with a rattling breeze, and the billows rolled after him like mounds and hillocks.

Heavier and heavier grew the sea, till it rolled like white mountains as high as the rocky walls of Lofoten.

It couldn't well be less when he was to rule the whole world, cried he. And so he set his rudder dead southwards.

He never diminished his sail one bit, and worse and worse grew the storm, and higher and higher rose the sea.

For now he was steering right into the sun.

[1] A small two-oared boat.