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Two Worlds

            BY J. P. JACOBSEN

        An English Rendering from the Danish by Hermione

THE Salzach is not a cheerful river, and there is a peculiar
melancholy about the stillness of the poverty-stricken little
village on its eastern bank.

    The houses stand close together on the water’s edge, like a
crowd of miserable beggars who cannot go any further because
they have no means of paying their passage across the ferry; their
palsied shoulders lean against each other, and they rest their rotten
crutches in the muddy stream. The black window panes scowl
from under their overhanging roofs at the houses on the opposite
side with an expression half hatred, half envy. On the other side
the houses are scattered about in picturesque groups of twos and
threes, stretching far away over the green plain until they are lost
to view in the golden haze of the horizon. But the sunset casts
no glow over the little village, it is shrouded in darkness, and the
silence is rendered more impressive by the monotonous sound of
the river as it flows slowly on, murmuring to itself, sadly and

    The air on the opposite side was filled with the buzzing of
the harvest flies, and from time to time a sudden gust of wind
would blow them across to die among the willows on the bank.

    A boat was coming up the river.

    A weak, sickly-looking woman was standing on the balcony
of one of the furthest houses. She was shading her eyes with an
almost transparent hand, leaning over the parapet to watch the
boat which seemed to be sailing upon a mirror of liquid gold.

    The woman’s white face shone through the dusk as though
it had light in itself like the foam which, even on a dark night,
whitens the crest of the waves. There was a hopeless look in her
anxious eyes, and a curious, vacant smile played about the tired
mouth, while the lines on her forehead deepened, causing a look
of decision mingled with desperation to cross her face.

    The bells in the little village church were beginning to ring,

    The woman turned away from the sunlight and rocked her-

self to and fro, holding her hands to her ears to keep out the
sound of the bells, while she murmured to herself as though in
answer to the ringing: “I cannot wait, I cannot wait.”

    But the bells rang on.

    She paced backwards and forwards on the balcony as
though she were in pain; the lines on her face had grown deeper
still, and she drew her breath with difficulty like one who is op-
pressed with sorrow yet cannot find relief in tears.

    For many a long year she had suffered from a painful
disease which left her no peace either by night or day. She had
consulted all the wise women she knew, she had gone from one
holy well to the other, but without success. At last she had
joined in the procession on Saint Bartholomew’s day, and there
she had met an old, one-eyed man who advised her to make
a broom of edelweiss and faded rue, of maize and bracken from
the churchyard, with a lock of her hair and a piece of wood from
a coffin; this she was to throw after a young girl who was strong
and healthy, who would come to her through running water.
Then the sickness would leave her and cling to the girl.

    She had made the broom and concealed it in her dress.
A boat was coming up the river, it was the first that had
passed since she made the magic wand. She came back to the
edge of the parapet; the boat was near enough for her to count
the people in it; she could see that there were six people on
board and that they looked like foreigners. The boatman stood
in the prow with a pole, and there was a lady at the helm with
a man by her side who was watching to see that she steered
according to the boatman’s directions; the others were sitting in
the middle of the boat.

    The sick woman bent forward; every feature was strained
and expectant, and her hand was concealéd in her breast. She
scarcely breathed as with beating heart, distended nostrils and
vacant eyes, she stood waiting for the boat to come.

    Already their voices were audible, first only in a faint
murmur, then distinctly.

    “Luck,” said one of them, “is a purely heathen conception.
You do not find it once mentioned in ide New Testament.”

    “What about blessedness?”

    “Stop,” said another. “Of course, it is the ideal of con-

                                             Two Worlds

versation to digress, but it seems to me that we should do well to
go back to the subject which was first started.”

    “Very well then, the Greeks—”

    “First the Phœnicians.”

    “What do you know about the Phœnicians?”

    “Nothing. But why should the Phœnicians be passed

    By this time the boat was just under the house, and at that
moment some one lit a cigarette. A blaze of light fell upon the
lady in the stern, and lit up her fresh, ie face, revealing a
smile on the parted lips and a dreamy look in the clear eyes,
raised heavenward. The light went out, and as the boat sailed
by there was a little splash, as of something thrown into the water.

    It was about a year later. The sun was setting between
two heavy walls of clouds, casting a red glow upon the pale water.
A fresh wind swept across the plain; there were no harvest flies,
the only sound was the rippling of the river among the rushes.
In the distance a boat was seen coming down the stream.

    The woman from the balcony was standing on the bank.
That day when she had thrown her witch’s broom after the young
girl she had fallen down in a faint. The violent excitement, aided
perhaps by the new parish doctor, had worked a change in her
illness, and after passing through a critical interval she began to
recover, and a couple of months afterwards she was completely
cured, At first she was quite intoxicated with the feeling of health
which was so new to her; but it did not last long. She became
dejected and troubled in her mind; she was haunted by the image
of the young girl in the boat. It rose before her as she had seen
it, young and happy; then it knelt down at her feet and looked
up at her appealingly. Then a time came when she no longer
saw it, and still she knew it was there; it moaned in her bed all
the day, and at night she could hear it in the corner of the room.
Now she saw it again; it was looking so pale and worn, gazing at
her reproachfully with large, unnatural eyes.

    This evening she was standing by the brink of the river
with a stick in her hand. She was drawing crosses in the soft
mud, and more than once she raised herself to listen.

    The bells were ringing.

She finished the cross carefully and threw away the stick.
Then she knelt down and prayed. Presently she waded into the
river up to her waist, folded her hands, and laid herself down in
the dark grey waters. The water took her and dragged her into
its depths and murmured more sadly than ever as it flowed past
the village, past the fields and far away.

    By this time the boat was quite near; there were the same
young people on board who had helped each other to steer on the
former occasion; they were now on their honeymoon. He was
sitting in the stern, and she was standing in the middle of the boat,
leaning against the mast; she wore a large, grey shawl and a red
hat; she was humming a tune.

    They came close under the house. She nodded to the man
at the helm and looked up at the sky and the floating clouds, as
she sang:

        By moat invested
        Safe am I nested;
        Art firmly founded, my hall of joy?
        Do ramparts shield thee, so none annoy?
        . … What see I afar, from the castle keep high
        Darkly and dim where the crimson clouds lie?
            Those shadows I know,
            They gather and grow,
            They wander and go
        Like sad thoughts now banished
        Of sorrows all vanished.
        Ye shadows come, come here and rest
        Within my castle, within my breast,
        Drink from the golden goblet bright
        Here in the halls of radiant light—
        One cup for joy ere yet ’tis here,
        One cup for hopelessness austere,
            Dreams! fill the cup!

MLA citation:

Ramsden, Hermione. “Two Worlds.” The Venture: an Annual of Art and Literature, vol. 2, 1905, pp. 147-150. Venture Digital Edition, edited by Lorraine Janzen Kooistra, 2019-2022. Yellow Nineties 2.0, Toronto Metropolitan University Centre for Digital Humanities, 2022,