The sheriff stationed himself directly in front of the place where some planed boards were laid over the grave. At one end of it stood the block. On the other side of the grave a platform had been erected, from which the Dean was to speak. Peer Hagbo knelt below on the step, with his face buried in his hands, close to the feet of his spiritual adviser. The Dean was of Danish birth, one of the many who, at the time of the separation, had chosen to make their home in Norway. His addresses were beautiful to read, but one couldn’t always hear him, and least of all when he was moved, as was frequently the case. He shouted the first words very loud; then his head sank down between his shoulders, and he shook it without a pause while he closed his eyes and uttered some smothered sounds, catching his breath between them. The points of his tall shirt-collar, which reached to the middle of his ears (I have never since seen the like), stuck up on each side of the bare cropped head with the two double chins underneath, and the whole was framed between his shoulders, which, by long practice, he could raise much higher than other men. Those who did not know him—for to know him was to love him—could hardly keep from laughing. His speech was neither heard nor understood, but it was short. His emotion forced him to break it off suddenly. One thing alone we all understood: that he loved the pale young man whom he had prepared for death, and that he wished that all of us might go to our God as happy and confident as he who was to die to-day. When he stepped down they embraced each other for the last time. Peer gave his hand to my father and to a number besides, and then placed himself by his friend Jakobsen. The latter knew what this meant. He took off a kerchief and bound Peer’s eyes, while we saw him whisper something to him and receive a whispered answer. Then a man came forward to bind Peer’s hands behind his back, but he begged to be left free, and his prayer was granted. Then Jakobsen took him by the hand and led him forward. At the place where Peer was to kneel Jakobsen stopped short, and Peer slowly bent his knees. Jakobsen bent Peer’s head down until it rested on the block; then he drew back and folded his hands. All this I saw, and also that a tall man came and took hold of Peer’s neck, while a smaller man drew forth from a couple of folded towels a shining axe with a remarkably broad thin blade. It was then I turned away. I heard the captain’s horrible “Present arms”; I heard some one praying “Our Father”—perhaps it was Peer himself—then a blow that sounded exactly as if it went into a great cabbage. At once I looked round again, and saw one leg kicking out, and a yard or two beyond the body lay the head, the mouth gasping and gasping as if for air.
The executioner’s assistant sprang forward and took hold of it by the ends of the handkerchief that had bandaged the eyes, and threw it into the coffin beside the body, where it fell with a dull sound. The boards were laid over the coffined remains, and the whole hastily lifted up and lowered into the grave.