THE STORY OF A MOTHER
Asat there with her little child. She was so downcast, so afraid that
it should die! It was so pale, the small eyes had closed themselves, and it
drew its breath so softly, now and then, with a deep respiration, as if it
sighed; and thelooked still more sorrowfully on the little creature.
Then a knocking was heard at the door, and in came a poor old man wrapped up
as in a large horse-cloth, for it warms one, and he needed it, as it was the
cold winter season! Everything out-of-doors was covered with ice and snow, and
the wind blew so that it cut the face.
As the old man trembled with cold, and the little child slept a moment, the
mother went and poured some ale into a pot and set it on the stove, that it
might be warm for him; the old man sat and rocked the cradle, and the mother
sat down on a chair close by him, and looked at her little sick child that
drew its breath so deep, and raised its little hand.
"Do you not think that I shall save him?" said she. "Our Lord will not take
him from me!"
And the old man–it was Death himself–he nodded so strangely, it could just
as well signify yes as no. And the mother looked down in her lap, and the
tears ran down over her cheeks; her head became so heavy–she had not closed
her eyes for three days and nights; and now she slept, but only for a minute,
when she started up and trembled with cold.
"What is that?" said she, and looked on all sides; but the old man was gone,
and her little child was gone–he had taken it with him; and the old clock in
the corner burred, and burred, the great leaden weight ran down to the floor,
bump! and then the clock also stood still.
But the poor mother ran out of the house and cried aloud for her child.
Out there, in the midst of the snow, there sat a woman in long, black clothes;
and she said, "Death has been in thy chamber, and I saw him hasten away with
thy little child; he goes faster than the wind, and he never brings back what
"Oh, only tell me which way he went!" said the mother. "Tell me the way, and I
shall find him!"
"I know it!" said the woman in the black clothes. "But before I tell it, thou
must first sing for me all the songs thou hast sung for thy child! I am fond
of them. I have heard them before; I am Night; I saw thy tears whilst thou
"I will sing them all, all!" said the mother. "But do not stop me now–I may
overtake him–I may find my child!"
But Night stood still and mute. Then the mother wrung her hands, sang and
wept, and there were many songs, but yet many more tears; and then Night said,
"Go to the right, into the dark pine forest; thither I saw Death take his way
with thy little child!"
The roads crossed each other in the depths of the forest, and she no longer
knew whither she should go! then there stood a thorn-bush; there was neither
leaf nor flower on it, it was also in the cold winter season, and ice-flakes
hung on the branches.
"Hast thou not seen Death go past with my little child?" said the mother.
"Yes," said the thorn-bush; "but I will not tell thee which way he took,
unless thou wilt first warm me up at thy heart. I am freezing to death; I
shall become a lump of ice!"
And she pressed the thorn-bush to her breast, so firmly, that it might be
thoroughly warmed, and the thorns went right into her flesh, and her blood
flowed in large drops, but the thornbush shot forth fresh green leaves, and
there came flowers on it in the cold winter night, the heart of the afflicted
mother was so warm; and the thorn-bush told her the way she should go.
She then came to a large lake, where there was neither ship nor boat. The lake
was not frozen sufficiently to bear her; neither was it open, nor low enough
that she could wade through it; and across it she must go if she would find
her child! Then she lay down to drink up the lake, and that was an
impossibility for a human being, but the afflicted mother thought that a
miracle might happen nevertheless.
"Oh, what would I not give to come to my child!" said the weeping mother; and
she wept still more, and her eyes sunk down in the depths of the waters, and
became two precious pearls; but the water bore her up, as if she sat in a
swing, and she flew in the rocking waves to the shore on the opposite side,
where there stood a mile-broad, strange house, one knew not if it were a
mountain with forests and caverns, or if it were built up; but the poor mother
could not see it; she had wept her eyes out.