She told her how it had been with her son. He had been so fair in face and limbs, even when he was small, that she had always marvelled that he was a poor man’s child. He was like a little prince gone astray. And ever after it had always seemed as if he had not been in his right place. He saw everything on such a large scale. He could not see things as they were, when it concerned himself. His mother had wept many a time on that account. But never before had he done any harm with his lies. Here, where he was known, they only laughed at him.—But now he must have been so terribly tempted. Did she really not think, she, Astrid, that it was wonderful how the fisher boy had been able to deceive them? He had always known so much about wealth, as if he had been born to it. It must be that he had come into the world in the wrong place. See, that was another proof,—he had never thought of choosing a wife in his own station.
“Where will he sleep to-night?” asked Astrid, suddenly.
“I imagine he will lie outside on the sand. He will be too anxious to go away from here.”
“I suppose it is best for him to come in,” said Astrid.
“Dearest child, you cannot want to see him. He can get along out there if I give him a blanket.”
She let him actually sleep out on the sand that night, thinking it best for Astrid not to see him. And with her she talked and talked, and kept her, not by force, but by cleverness, not by persuasion, but by real goodness.
But when she had at last succeeded in keeping her daughter-in-law for her son, and had got the young people reconciled, and had taught Astrid that her vocation in life was just to be Boerje Nilsson’s wife and to make him as happy as she could,—and that had not been the work of one evening, but of many days,—then the old woman had laid herself down to die.
And in that life, with its faithful solicitude for her son, there was some meaning, thought Boerje Nilsson’s wife.
But in her own life she saw no meaning. Her husband was drowned after a few years of married life, and her one child died young. She had not been able to make any change in her husband. She had not been able to teach him earnestness and truth. It was rather in her the change showed, after she had been more and more with the fishing people. She would never see any of her own family, for she was ashamed that she now resembled in everything a fisherman’s wife. If it had only been of any use! If she, who lived by mending the fishermen’s nets, knew why she clung so to life! If she had made any one happy or had improved anybody!
It never occurred to her to think that she who considers her life a failure because she has done no good to others, perhaps by that thought of humility has saved her own soul.
HIS MOTHER’S PORTRAIT
None of the hundred houses of the fishing-village, where each is exactly like the other in size and shape, where all have just as many windows and as high chimneys, lived old Mattsson, the pilot.