As the body of the little girl drifted past it seemed as if the child were looking up at them. And there was such a serious expression in its wistful eyes-as if it were out upon some very urgent errand. Immediately after, one of the sailors shouted that he saw another body, and the same thing was said by one who was looking in an opposite direction. All at once they saw five bodies, they saw ten, and then there were so many they could not count them.
The ship moved slowly on among all these dead people, who surrounded the vessel as if they wanted something. Some came floating in large groups; they looked like driftwood that had been carried away from land; but they were just a mass of dead bodies.
The sailors stood aghast, afraid to move. They could hardly believe that what they saw was real. All at once they seemed to see an island rising up out of the sea. From a distance it looked like land, but, on coming nearer, they saw hundreds of bodies floating close together, and surrounding the vessel on all sides. They moved with the ship, as if wanting to make the voyage across the water in its company. Then the skipper turned the rudder, so as to coax a little wind into the sails; but it did not help much. The sails hung limp, and the dead bodies continued to follow.
The sailors turned ashen, and silence fell upon them. The ship had so little headway that she could not seem to get clear of the dead. They were fearful lest it should go on like this the whole night. Then a Swedish seaman stood up in the bow and repeated the Lord’s Prayer. Thereupon, he began to sing a hymn. When he had got half through the hymn the sun went down, and the evening breeze came along and carried the ship away from the region of the dead.
An old woman came out from her little log cabin in the woods. Although it was only a week day, she was dressed in her best, as if for church. After locking her door she put the key in its usual place, under the stoop.
When the old woman had gone a few paces, she turned round to look at her cabin, which appeared very small and very gray under the shadow of the towering snow-clad fir trees. She glanced at her humble home with an affectionate gaze. “Many a happy day have I spent in that little old hut!” she mused solemnly. “Ah me! The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away.”
Then she went on her way, down the forest road. She was very old and exceeding fragile, but she was one of those who hold themselves erect and firm, however much old age may try to bend them. She had a sweet face and soft white hair. She looked so mild and gentle that it was surprising to hear her speak with a voice that was as strident and solemn as that of some old evangelist.