The schoolmaster’s name was Baard, and he had a brother named Anders. They had thought a great deal of each other, enlisted together, lived together in town, went through the war together, served in the same company, and had both risen to the rank of corporal. When they came home from the war, people said they were two fine, stalwart fellows. Then their father died. He left much personal property, which was difficult to divide, and therefore they said to each other that they would not let this come between them, but would put the property up at auction, that each might buy what he wanted, and both share the proceeds. And it was done.
But the father had owned a large gold watch, which had come to be known far and wide, for it was the only gold watch people in those parts had ever seen. When this watch was put up, there were many wealthy men who wanted it, but when both brothers began to bid, all the pthers desisted. Now Baard expected that Anders would let him have it, and Anders expected the same of Baard. They bid in turn, each trying the other out, and as they bid they looked hard at each other. WHen the watch had gone up to twenty dollars, Baard began to feel that this was not the kind of his brother, and bid over him until he almost reached thirty.
When Anders did not withdraw even then Baard felt that Anders no longer remembered how good he had often been to him, and that he was furthermore the elder of the two; and the watch went over thirty. Anders still kept on. Baard then raised the price to forty dollars with one bound, and no longer looked at his brother. It grew still in the auction room, only the bailiff repeated the figures quietly. Anders thought, as he stood there, that if Baard could afford to go to forty dollars, so could he, and if Baard begrudged him the watch, he might as well take it, and bid over him.
This to Baard seemed the greatest disgrace that had ever befallen him; he bid fifty dollars in a low voice. There were many people there, and Anders said to himself that he would not let his brother mock him before them all, and again raised the bid. Baard burst out laughing. “One hundred dollars and my brotherhood into the bargain,: he said, as he turned on his heel, and left the room. A little later, as he stood saddling the horse he had just bought at the auction, a man came out to him. “The watch is yours; Anders gave in. “
The instant he heard the news, there welled up in him a sense of remorse; he thought of his brother and not of the watch. the saddle was ready in place but he paused, his hand on his horse, uncertain whether to mount. Many people came out, Anders among them, and when he saw his brother, with horse saddled, ready to leave, he little knew what Baard was turning over his mind. “Thanks for the watch, Baard,” he shouted over to him. “You shall never see the day when your brother shall tread on your heels! ” “Nor you the day I shall darken your doors again! ” Baard answered, his face pale as he swung himself on his horse.
After that day neither of them ever set foot in the home where they lived with their father. Anders married into a crofter’s family, not long afterwards, but he didn’t invite Baard to the wedding. Nor did Baard go the the church. The first year he was married, Anders lost his only cow. It was found dead one morning on the north side of the house, where it had been tethered, and no one could explain what it had died of. Other misfortunes befell him, and he fared from bad to worse. But the heaviest blow came when his hayloft and all it contained burned down one night in the dead winter.
No one knew how the fire had started. “This has been done by someone who wishes me ill,” Anders said, and all that night he wept. He became a poor man, andhe lost his inclination to work. The evening after the fire, Baard appeared at his brother’s house. Anders lay on the bed but sprang up as Baard entered. “What do you want here? ” he asked, then stopped short, and stood staring fixedly at his brother. Baard waited a little before he answered. “I want to help you, Anders; You’re in a bad way. ” “I’m facing no worse than you wished me to face!
Go-else I’m not sure I can master myself. ” “You’re mistaken, Anders; I regret-” “Go Baard, or God have mercy on us both. ” Baard drew back a step. “If you want the watch,” he said intrembling voice, “you can have it. ” “Go, Baard! ” shreiked his brother, and Baard, unwilling to stay any longer, left. In the meanwhile Baard fared thus. As soon as he heard of his brother’s misfortune, he had suffered a change of heart, but pride held him back. He felt the urged to go to church, and there he vowed many good resolve, but he lacked the strength to carry them out.
He frequently went so far that he could see the house, but either someone was just coming out, or there were strangers there, or Anders stood chopping wood outside-there was always somthing in the way. But one Sunday, late in the winter he again went to church, and that Sunday, Anders too was there. Baard saw him. He had grown pale and thin, and he wore the same clothes he had worn whenthe brothers were together, although they were now old and patched. All throughout the service, Anders looked steadily at the minister.
To Baard it seemed that he was kind and gentle, andhe recalled their childhood days, and what a good boy Anders had been. That day Baard even went to communion, and made a solemn vow to God that he would make up with his brother, come what might. THis resolution swept through his soul as he drunk the wine, and when he arose he felt an impulse to go over and take a seat beside him, but there was someone in the way, and Anders did not look up. After the service there was still something in the way; there were too many people about; Anders’ wife was with him, and he did not know.
He decided it would be better to seek Anders in his home and have a quiet talk with him. When evening came, he set out. He went right up to the door. Then he paused, as he stood there listening, he heard his name mentioned; it was the wife speaking. “He went to communion this morning,” she was saying. “I am sure he was thinking of you. ” “No, it wasn’t of me he was thinking,” Anders replied, “I know him, he thinks only of himself. ” For a long time, nothing was said, and Baard sweating, as he stood there, although it was a cold night.
The wife inside was busy with a kettle; the fire on the hearth crackled and hissed; a child cried now and then, and Anders rocked it. At the length, the wife spoke again. “I believe you are both thinking of each other though you won’t admit it. ” “Let us talk of something else,” Anders answered. After a little he got up to go out. Baard had to hide in the woodshed; but then Anders , too, came to the shed to get an armful of wood. From where he stood in the corner Baard could see him clearly. He had taken off his threadbare Sunday clothes, and put on his uniform, just like Baard’s own.
These they had promised each other never to wear, but to pass on as heirlooms to their children. Anders’ was now patched and worn out, so that his strong, well built frame seemed bundled in rags, while at the same time Baard could hear the gold watch ticking in his own pocket. Anders went over to the brushwood, but instead of bending down immediately to gather up his load, he leaned back against a pile of wood,a nd looked up at the sky glimmering brightly with stars. then he sighed heavily and muttered to himself, “Well-well-well-oh Lord, oh, Lord! ” AS long as he lived, Baard never forgot those words.
He wanted to step forward then, but the brother coughed, and it seemed so difficult. No more was needed to hild him back. Anders took his armful of fagots, and as he went out, brushed past Baard so close that twigs struck him in the face. For fully ten minutes more he stood rooted to the spot, and it is doubtful how much longer he might have stayed, had not a chill, on top of the emotional stress, seized him, and set him shivering through and through. then he went out. He frankly confessed to himself that he was too cowardly to enter now; therefore he conceived another plan.
From an ash barrel, which stood in the corner he had just left, he selected some bits of charcoal, found a pitch pine splinter, went up into the hayloft, closed the door and struck a light. When he had lit the torch, he searched about for the peg on which Anders hung his lantern when he came out early in the morning to thresh. Baard then took his gold watch and hung it on the peg; put out his light, and left. He felt so relieved in his mind that he raced over the snow like a youngster. The day following he heard that the hayloft had burned down during the night.
Presumably sparks had flown from the torch he had used while hanging up the watch. This so overwhelmed Baard that all day he kept to himself as though he were ill, brought out his hymnbook, and sang until the people in the house thought something was wrong with him. but in the evening, he went out. It was bright moonlight. He went over to his brother’s place, dug around in the charred ruins of fires, and found, sure enough, a little lump of melted gold–all that remained of the watch. It was with this in his hand that he had gone in to his brother, anxious to explain everything; and to sue for peace.
But how he fared that evening has already been told. A little girl had seen him digging in the ashes; some boys, on their way to a dance, had observed him go down toward his brother’s the SUnday evening in question; and the people where he lived explained how strangely he acted on the Monday following. In as much as every one knew that he and his brother were bitter enemiees, these details were reported tothe authorities and an inquiry instituted. No one could prove anything against him, yet suspicion hovered aroundhim. he could now less than ever approach his brother. Anders had thought of Baard when the hayloft burned, but had said nothing.
WHen he had seen him enter his house, the following evening, pale and strange, he had forthwith thought: He is smitten with remorse, buut for such a terrible outrage against his brother there can br no forgiveness. Since then he heard how people had seen Baard go down towards his home the evening of the fire, and although nothing was brought to light at the inquiry, he felt convinced that his brother was the guilty one. They met at the hearing,Baard in his good clothes, Anders, in his worn-out rags. Baard looked at his brother as he entered, and Anders was conscious, in his inmost heart, of an anxious pleading in his eyes.
He doesn’t want me to say anything, thought Anders and when he was asked whether he suspected his brother of the deed he answered loudly and decisively, “No! ” Anders took to drinking heavily after that day, and it was not long before he was in a bad way. Even worse, however, fared Baard, although he did not drink; he was so changed that people hardly knew him. Then late one evening, a roor woman entered the little room Baard rented and asked him to come with her. He recognized her-it was his brother’s wife. Baard understood at once what the errand was, turned deathly pale, dressed himself, and followed her without a word.
A pale glimmer shone from Andre’s window now flickering, now vanishing, and this light they followed, for there was no path across the snow. When Baard again stood in the doorway, he was met with a strange odor which almost made him ill. They went in. A little child was eatimg charcoal over by the hearth, its face all black, but it looked up and laughed and showed its white teeth. It was his brother’s child. Over on the bed,with all sorts of clothes over him, lay Anders, pale, emaciated, his forehead high and smooth, and he stared at his brother with hollow eyes. Baard’s knees trembled.
He sat down at the foot of the bed and burst into uncontrollable weeping. The sick man looked at him intently and said nothing. At length he asked his wife to go out, but Baard motioned for her to remain. And then the two brothers bagan to talk to each other. They explained everything, from the day they bid for the watch down through the years to this day when they finally met again. Baard ended by taking out the the lump of gold, which he always carried about him, and came to light, in the course of their talk that never for one single day in all these years had they been really happy.