Anders was the son of poor people, and in his youth he had wandered through many kingdoms, with a bale of cloth and a yard-measure on his back. But as he grew older he carne to the conclusion that it would be better to wear the king’s uniform and carry a rifle on his shoulder, and therefore he went and enlisted in the Vaestgotadal regiment. And one day it happened that he was sent to Stockholm on sentry duty.
Friend Cask, as he was now called, was on leave one day, and he made up his mind to spend it at the “Fort.” But when he came to the gate he found that he had not a sixpence, and consequently he had to remain outside.
For a long time he stood staring at the railings, and then he thought, “I’ll just walk round; perhaps I’ll come across a stile; if the worst comes to the worst, I’ll climb over.”
The sun was setting; he walked along the shore, at the foot of the mountain, and the railings were high above him; he could hear the sound of music and singing. Cask went round and round, but found no stile, and at last the railings disappeared in a forest of nut trees. When he was tired he sat down on a hillock and began to crack nuts.
Suddenly a squirrel appeared before him and put up its tail.
“Leave my nuts alone!” it said.
“I will, if you’ll take me to a stile,” said Cask.
“Part of the way, then,” said the squirrel. It hopped along and the soldier followed, until all at once it had vanished.
Then a hedgehog came rustling along.
“Come with me and I’ll show you the stile,” it said.
“Go with you? not if I know it.”
But in spite of his remark the hedgehog followed him.
Next an adder joined them. It was very genteel; it lisped and could twist itself into a knot.
“Follow me,” it said, “I will show you the stile.”
“I follow,” said Cask.
“But you mutht be genteel; you muthtn’t t stread as me. I like nithe people.”
“Well, a soldier isn’t exactly genteel,” said Cask, “but I’m not so terribly uncouth.”
“Tread on it,” said the hedgehog, “else it will bite you, ever so genteely.”
The adder reared its neck and rustled away.
“Stop!” shouted the hedgehog, attacking the snake. “I am not as genteel as you are, but I show my bristles openly, I do!”
And then it killed the snake and disappeared.
Now the soldier was alone in the wood and very sorry he felt that he had rejected the society of the prickly hedgehog.
It had grown dark, but the crescent of the moon shone between the birch leaves, and it was quite still.
The soldier fancied that he could see a big yellow hand moving backwards and forwards. He went close up to it, and then he saw that it was a yellow leaf, which seemed to gesticulate with its fingers, although nobody could possibly understand what it wanted to say.
As he stood there, watching it, he heard an asp trembling:
“Huh! I’m so cold,” said the asp, “for my feet are wet, and I am so frightened.”
“What are you frightened of?” asked the soldier.
“Well, of the dwarf who is sitting in the mountain.”
Now the soldier realised what the maple leaf meant, and there was no doubt about it, he saw a dwarf sitting in the mountain, cooking porridge.
“Who are you?” asked the dwarf.
“I belong to the Vaestgotadal regiment; where do you come from?”
“I,” said the dwarf, “I am in the Alleberg.”
“The Alleberg is in the Vaestgota country,” answered the soldier.
“We have removed it to this place,” replied the dwarf.
“You lie!” exclaimed the soldier, seized the pot by its handle and threw the porridge into the fire.
“Now we’ll have a look at the mouse-hole,” he said, and went right into the mountain.
There he found a giant sitting by a huge fire, making an iron bar red-hot.
“Good day, good day,” said the soldier, stretching out his hand.
“Good day to you,” said the giant, giving him the red-hot iron bar.
Cask took the iron and pressed it so hard that it hissed.
“You have got very warm hands, I must say,” he said. “What’s your name?”
“I’m the giant Swede,” said the troll.
“That was a Swedish hand-shake of yours, anyhow, and now I realise that I am in the Alleberg. Are the golden helmets still asleep?”
“Will you be quiet!” exclaimed the giant, threatening him with the red-hot bar.
“You shall see them, because you belong to the Vaestgotadal regiment, but first of all you must solve my riddle,” he continued.
“If you want to fight one of your own countrymen, well and good. But first of all, put that fiery thing away!”
“Very well, Cask, you shall recite the history of Sweden while I smoke my pipe. Then I will show you the golden helmets. The whole history of Sweden, please.”
“I can easily do that, although I was not one of the top dogs at the military school. Let me try and recall it to memory.”
“There is one condition: you must not mention the name of a single king; for if you do, those inside will get angry; and when they get angry, then, you know . …”
“It will be awfully difficult. But light your pipe and I’ll begin. Here’s a match!”
The soldier scratched his head and began:
“One–two–three! In the year 1161, or thereabouts, Sweden first came into existence; a kingdom, a king, and an archbishop–is that enough?”
“No,” said Swede, “not at all. Begin again.”
“Very well, then! In the year 1359 the Swedish people became a nation, for then the Parliament of the four estates first met, and it continued to meet, with interruptions, until 1866.”
“Well, but you’re a soldier,” said Swede, “surely you’ll have a few words to say about wars.”
“There are only two wars of any importance, and they ended, the first with the peace of Broemsebro in 1645, when we got Herjedalen, Jaemtland, and Gottland, and the second with the peace of Roeskilde in 1658, when we got Schonen, Halland, Blekinge, and Bohuslaen. And that is all there is of the history of Sweden.”
“But you forget the constitutions?”
“Well, we had an autocracy from 1680 to 1718 then there followed a period of freedom until 1789, and this was followed again by an autocracy. Then came Adlersparre’s revolution in 1809, and he got Hans Jaerke to draw up the constitution which is still surviving. That is all you need know. Haven’t you finished your pipe yet?”
“There!” said the giant. “It wasn’t so bad on the whole! And now you shall see the golden helmets.”
The troll arose with difficulty and went into the inferior of the mountain; the soldier followed at his heels.
“Tread softly!” said the giant, pointing to a light with a golden helmet who was leaning against a door, made of rock, apparently fast asleep. But before the words had been out of his mouth, Cask stumbled and the iron on the heel of his shoe struck a stone so forcibly that it emitted sparks. The golden helmet awoke at once, just as if he had been a sleeping sentry, and called:
“Is it time?”
“Not yet!” answered the giant.
The knight with the golden helmet sat down again and instantly fell asleep.
The giant opened a mountain wall and the soldier looked into a huge hall. A table, that seemed to have no end, ran through the centre of the hall, and in the twilight the soldier could see a brilliant gathering of knights with golden helmets sitting in arm-chairs, the backs of which were decorated with golden crowns. At the head of the table sat a man who seemed head and shoulders taller than the rest; his beard reached to his waist, like the beard of Moses or Joshua, and he held a hammer all his hand.
All of them seemed fast asleep, although it was neither the sleep which restores strength, nor the sleep which is called eternal sleep.
“Now, pay attention,” said the giant, “to-day is the great commemoration day.”
He pressed a finger on a lark garnet in the mountain rock, and a thousand flames shot up.
The golden helmets awoke.
“Who goes there?” asked the man with the prophet’s beard.
“Swede,” answered the giant.
“A good name!” replied Gustav Eriksson Wasa, for it was he. “How much time has passed away?”
“In years, after the birth of Christ, one thousand nine hundred and three.”
“Time flies. But have you made arty progress? Are you still a country and a nation?”
“We are. But since Gustavus I, the country has grown. Jaemtland, Herjedalen, and Gottland have been added.”
“Who conquered them?”
“Well, it was in the time of Queen Christina; but her guardians really conquered them.”
“Then we got Schonen, Halland, Blekinge, and Bohuslaen.”
“The deuce you did! Who won them?”
“Well, and then?”
“Is that all?”
Somebody knocked on the table.
“Erich the saint wishes to speak,” said Gustav Wasa.
“My name is Erich Jedvardson, and I never was a saint. May I be allowed to ask Swede what became of my Finland?”
“Finland belongs to Russia, by its own wish, after the peace of Fredrikshamn in 1809, when the Finnish nation sore allegiance to the Czar.”
Gustavus II., Adolfus, asked permission to speak.
“Where are the Baltic provinces?” he asked.
“Reclaimed by their rightful owner,” answered Swede.
“And the emperor? Is there still an emperor?”
“There are two; one in Berlin. and one in Vienna.”
“Two of the House of Habsburg?”
“No, one of the House of Habsburg and the other of the House of Hohenzollern.”
“Incredible! And the Catholics in North Germany–are they converted?”
“No, the Catholics form the majority in the German Parliament, and the emperor at Berlin is trying to put pressure on the College of Cardinals, with a view to influencing the choice of the next Pope.”
“There is still a Pope, then?”
“Oh! yes, although one of them has just died.”
“And what does the Hohenzollern want in Rome?”
“No one knows; some say that it is his ambition to become Roman-German emperor of the Evangelical Confession.”
“A syncretistic emperor dreamt of by John George of Saxony! I don’t want to hear anymore. The ways of Providence are strange, and we mortals, what are we? Dust and ashes!”
Charles XII. asked permission to speak.
“Can Swede tell me what has become of Poland?”
“Poland is no more. It has been split up.”
“Split up? And Russia?”
“Russia recently celebrated the foundation of Petersburg, and the Lord Mavor of Stockholm walked in the procession.”
“As a prisoner?”
“No, as a guest. All nations are on friendly terms now, and not very long ago a French army, commanded by a German field-marshall, invaded China.”
“Delicious! Are people now the friends of their enemies?”
“Yes, they are all penetrated by a Christian spirit, and there is a permanent Committee for the Preservation of Peace established at the Hague.”
“A permanent Committee for the Preservation of Peace.”
“Then my time is over! God’s will be done!”
The king closed his visor and remained silent.
Charles, XI. claimed attention.
“Well, Swede, what about the finances of the old country?”
“It’s difficult to answer your question, for I’m afraid they know nothing of keeping accounts. But one or two things are certain: that quite half kingdom has been pledged to the foreigner for about three hundred millions.”
“And the municipal debts amount to about two hundred millions.”
“And in the years 1881 to 1885 one hundred and forty-six thousand Swedes emigrated.”
“Enough! I don’t want to hear any more!”
Gustav Wasa knocked on the table with his hammer.
“As far as I can understand the matter, the country is in a bad way. Sluggards you are, lazy, envious, irresponsible sluggards; too idle to bestir yourselves, but quick enough to prevent anybody else from doing anything. But tell me, Swede, what about my church and my priests?”
“The priests of the church are farmers and dairy-keepers. The bishops have an income of thirty thousand crowns, and collect money, exactly as they did before the Recess of Vesteraes; moreover, nearly all of them are heretics, or free-thinkers, as they call themselves. Men are beginning to expect some sort of a Reformation.”
“Indeed? … And what is the meaning of this music and singing up here?”
“This is the ‘Fort.’ That is, a mountain, where they have a collection of all the national keepsakes, just as if the nation were anticipating its end and making its last will and testament, gathering together all the mementoes of the past. It shows reverence for the ancestors, but nothing else.”
“What we have heard on this commemoration day seems to prove that the deeds of our forefathers have been engulfed in the ocean of time. One thing swims on the surface, another sinks to the bottom. Here we are sitting like the shadows of our former selves, and to you, who are alive, we must remain shadows . … Put out the lights!”
The giant Swede extinguished the lights and went out; the soldier followed close behind him and climbed into something which looked like a cage.
“If you say a word to anybody of what you have seen and heard,” said the giant, “you will be sorry for it.”
“I can quite believe that,” answered Cask, “but shall always remember it. That they should have squandered the old country in drink and pledge to the foreigner! It’s too bad–if it’s true.”
“Click” went the turbine; and the lift with soldier shot upwards to the “Fort.” And there stood, in the sunset, and the country looked just as it had looked when the chimes in the belfry Haesjoer chimed, and Gustav Wasa entered Stockholm, surrounded by his generals.
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