november 28, 2005

He stood at the top of the ladder

The coachman shut his book. “The worst thing is that he doesn’t understand that he can’t do this. I can’t remember all the times I told his departed father, “Don’t give Töreby to Henrik” I would say, “He will never be the kind of master the Old Father wants. Leave it to his brother, who is decent and serious, and leave Master Henrik an estate which doesn’t carry this responsibility.”

“Yes, well, now Töreby won’t go to either Mr Henrik or Mr August. Now it will go to that Captain Duwe, until he gambles it away to someone else.

The coachman stood up decisively. It was obvious that he meant to go and talk to the lord of the manor, But when he lifted his taper, it came into a position where it illuminated the square trapdoor through which he would climb down to the stables; and now both the coachman and the housekeeper say that there was a a house troll on the ladder which rose through the opening. He stood on the top rung of the ladder; he was short and grey, and wore knee breeches and a grey jacket with silver buttons. He listened in such shock and bewilderment that he seemed to have been frozen to the spot.

The coachman and the housekeeper dropped their eyes at once. Neither of them allowed their expression or manner to betray that they had seen the house troll.

“Yes, I think the best thing is for us old people to go to bed”, said the coachman in a tone he tried to keep unconcerned. You know that on this estate we don’t have to wait up in case of accidents. Here, there is always someone who watches over things.

“Yes, you are right. There is someone here who watches over us.” said the housekeeper humbly. Without another word, she took her lantern from the floor, crept out through the side door, and disappeared down the staircase.

When the old woman returned to the house, she had made her mind up to go to bed at once, since there was nothing that angered the house troll more than people sitting up late at night without a good reason. And she thought that he would certainly set everything right now that he had heard what was going on. But she hadn’t taken off more than her heavy ring of keys when she wanted so badly to know the score between the gamblers that she sneaked off once more to the door of their chamber.

When she bent down and put her eye to the keyhole, she saw that Captain Silfverbrandt and Captain Duwe were still at the green baize table. Her master looked completely ruined. No longer was he handsome, nor young. His swagger had gone. He sat pale and broken, with bags under his eyes, wrinkles along his forehead. His hands shook. Duwe was red in the face, and his bloodshot eyes bulged from his face, but he hid his excitement beneath good humoured talk and continuous laughter.

The housekeeper had listened at the door for a couple of minutes when Silfverbrandt pushed his chair back and cried. “That’s it. Duwe. Now I have nothing left of the whole estate but the islet where one spruce tree grows out there in the lake. You have to let me keep that, so that there is one place left on earth that I can call my own.

Duwe laughed but he didn’t seem happy. “It’s a shame to stop playing,” he said. “Since you have bet on everything else, you might as well let us play for that pile of rock in the lake.”

Silfverbrandt paced the length of the room. She could see he was in the grip of gambling fever. He wasn’t so much upset by his losses. He was grieving that he had no way to keep playing.

“What will you bet against the island?” he asked. Duwe considered for a moment. The housekeeper understood that he was looking for a stake that would compel Silfverbrandt to bet again.

“I’ll put up your charger.” He said.

Silfverbrandt loved that horse more than anything else in the world. He started to swear the most dreadful oaths. He asked Duwe whether he was not the Evil One himself, to tempt him so terribly.

The housekeeper could see that every time Silfverbrandt’s pacing took him to a dark corner of the room, where Duwe could not see him, he would clench his fists in anger.

“The terrible thing is that I know I will kill you if ever I see you riding my charger and possessing my estate.” he said to Duwe.

“Can’t you let a poor man have a little comfort in his old age?”asked Duwe, ad laughed. “You’re young and strong. You’ll get yourself a new horse and even a new estate somewhere else, soon enough.”

All the time the housekeeper had watched, bent over, at her keyhole, she had been wondering what was happening at the other door of the room, which led to the outer hall. Again and again it would open a little, and then be closed once more. But every time Silfverbrandt walked past, it looked as if a little hand appeared in the entrance and beckoned to him.

He paced past the door many times without seeming to notice anything, but then he paused, and stared at it.

“Well? Are you coming?” called Duwe.

“I’ll be back in a second”, said Silfverbrandt, and slipped through the doorway to the outer hall.

Posted by andrewb at november 28, 2005 02:48 EM