ONCE the schoolmaster of Etnedal was staying in the mountains to fish. He was very fond of reading, and so he always carried one book or another along with him, with which he could lie down, and which he read on holidays, or when the weather forced him to stay in the little fishing-hut. One Sunday morning, as he was lying there reading, it seemed as though he could hear church bells; sometimes they sounded faintly, as though from a great distance; at other times the sound was clear, as though carried by the wind. He listened long and with surprise; and did not trust his ears--for he knew that it was impossible to hear the bells of the parish church so far out among the hills--yet suddenly they sounded quite clearly on his ear. So he laid aside his book, stood up and went out. The sun was shining, the weather was fine, and one group of churchgoers after another passed him in their Sunday clothes, their hymn-books in their hands. A little further on in the forest, where he had never before seen anything but trees and brush, stood an old wooden church. After a time the priest came by, and he was so old and decrepit that his wife and daughter led him. And when they came to the spot where the schoolmaster was standing, they stopped and invited him to come to church and hear mass. The schoolmaster thought for a moment; but since it occurred to him that it might be amusing to see how these people worshiped God, he said he would go along, if he did not thereby suffer harm. No, no harm should come to him, said they, but rather a blessing. In the church all went forward in a quiet and orderly manner, there were neither dogs nor crying children to disturb the service, and the singing was good--but he could not make out the words. When the priest had been led to the pulpit he delivered what seemed to the listening schoolmaster a really fine and edifying sermon--but one, it appeared to him, of quite a peculiar trend of thought, which he was not always able to follow. Nor did the "Our Father in heaven ..." sound just right, and the "Deliver us from evil ..." he did not hear at all. Nor was the name of Jesus uttered; and at the close no blessing was spoken.
When mass had been said, the schoolmaster was invited to the parsonage. He gave the same answer he had already returned, that he would be glad to go if he suffered no harm thereby. And as before, they assured him he would not lose; but rather gain thereby. So he went with them to the parsonage, just such an attractive and well-built parsonage like most in the neighborhood. It had a garden with flowers and apple-trees, with a neat lattice fence around it. They invited him to dinner, and the dinner was well cooked and carefully prepared. As before, he said that he would gladly accept their invitation, if he came to no harm thereby, and was given the same reply. So he ate with them, and said later that he had noticed no difference between this food and the Christian dinner he had received when, once or twice, he had been asked to dinner by the priest of the village church. When he had drunk his coffee, the wife and daughter drew him aside into another room, and the wife complained that her husband had grown so old and decrepit that he could not keep up much longer. Then she began to say that the schoolmaster was such a strong and able man, and finally, that she and her daughter would like to have him for priest, and whether he would not stay and succeed the old father. The schoolmaster objected that he was no scholar. But they insisted that he had more learning than was needed in their case, for they never had any visits from the bishop, nor did the dean ever hold a chapter, for of all such things they knew nothing. When the schoolmaster heard that, he said that even though he had the necessary scholarship, he doubted very much that he had the right vocation, and since this was a most important matter for him and for them, it would be unwise to act too hurriedly, so he would ask for a year to think it over. When he had said that, he found himself standing by a pond in the wood, and could see neither church nor parsonage. So he thought the matter was at an end. But a year later, just as the term he had set was up, he was working on a house, for during the school vacation he busied himself either with fishing or carpentering. He was just straddling a wall when he saw the pastor's daughter, the one whom he had seen in the mountains, coming straight toward him. She asked him if he had thought over the matter. "Yes," said he, "I have thought it over, but I cannot; since I cannot answer for it before God and my own conscience." That very moment the pastor's daughter from underground vanished; but immediately after he cut himself in the knee with the ax in such wise that he remained a cripple for life.
"The Secret Church" (Asbjörnsen, Huldreeventyr, I, 217, from Valders, told by a pastor), impresses one with its weirdness, in contrast to the preceding tale of friendly neighborly understanding with the underground folk. In Norway stories are still told of these churches in the wilderness, and of the chiming of their bells, which are supposed to be of evil omen to those who hear them. The idea of the church of ice, in Ibsen's "Brand," may have its root in such folk-tale.
Secret Church, The
Norwegian Fairy Book, The
Frederick A. Stokes Company
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