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C.D. Warner, et al., comp. The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes. 1917.

The Pursuit of the Smugglers

By Emilie Flygare-Carlén (1807–1892)

From ‘The Merchant House among the Islands’

HE [Olagus] thundered his command to his companions:—

“Row, row as fast as you can to the open sea!”

And as though it had invisible wings, the boat turned and shot forward.

“Halt! halt!” cried the lieutenant, whose blood was now up. “In the name of his Majesty and of the Crown, down with the sails.”

Loud laughter from the smugglers’ boat sounded across the water.

This scornful laughter was answered from the yacht by the firing of the second cannon, which was fully loaded. The ball fell into the water close to the windward of the boat.

The answer was renewed laughter from the smugglers’ boat; whose crew, urged by the twofold desire to save their cargo and to make fools of the Custom-house officers, continued to increase the distance between themselves and the yacht. In spite of the more skillful guidance, the two oars of the latter could not overtake the four men. But the lieutenant’s full strong voice could still be heard:—

“Stop, or I will shoot you to the bottom!”

But he did not shoot, for the smugglers’ boat was already out of the reach of shot.

At this moment it would have been impossible to detect the least trace of the amiable, good-natured Gudmar Guldbrandsson, the favorite of all the ladies, with his light yellow curls and his slightly arched forehead, and the beautiful dark blue eyes, which when not enlivened by the power of some passion, sometimes revealed that half-dreamy expression that women so often admire.

Majke ought to have seen her commander now, as he stood for a moment on the deck, leaning on his gun, his glass in his hand.

“Row, boys, row with all your might! I will not allow—” The remainder of the sentence was lost in inarticulate tones.

Once more he raised the glass to his eyes.

The chase lasted some time, without any increase of the intervening distance, or any hope of its diminution. It was a grave, a terrible chase.

Meantime new and strange intentions had occurred to the commander of the smugglers’ boat. From what dark source could he have received the inspiration that dictated the command?

“Knock out the bung of the top brandy-barrel, and let us drink; that will refresh our courage and rejoice our hearts. Be merry and drink as long as you like.”

And now ensued a wild bacchanalia. The men drank out of large mugs, they drank out of cans, and the result was not wanting, while the boat was nearing the entrance to the sea.

“Now, my men,” began Olagus in powerful penetrating tones, as he stroked his reddish beard, “shall we allow one of those government fools to force us to go a different way from the one we ourselves wish to go?”

“Olagus,” Tuve ventured to interpose,—for Tuve still possessed full consciousness, as he had only made a pretense of drinking,—“dear Olagus, let us be content if we can place the goods in safety. I think I perceive that you mean something else—something dangerous.”

“Coward! You ought to sit at home and help your father weave nets. If you are afraid, creep under the tarpaulin; there are others here who do not get the cramp when they are to follow the Mörkö Bears.”

“For my part,” thought Börje, as he bent over his oar, “I should like to keep away from this hunt. But who dare speak a word? I feel as though I were already in the fortress, the ship and crew in the service of the Crown.”

Perhaps Ragnar thought so too; but the great man was so much feared that when he commanded no contradiction was ever heard.

It was almost the first time that Tuve had made an objection, and his brother’s scornful rebuke had roused his blood also; but still he controlled himself.

What was resolved on meantime will be seen from what follows.

“Why, what is that?” exclaimed the lieutenant of the yacht. “The oars are drawn in! He is turning,—on my life, he is turning!”

“He knew that we should catch him up,” said Sven, delighted once more to be able to indulge in his usual humor. “Fists and sinews like mine are worth as much as four of them; and if we take Pelle into account, they might easily recognize that the best thing they can do is to surrender at once.”

“Silence, you conceited idiot!” commanded the lieutenant; “this is no matter of parley. He is making straight for us. The wind is falling; it is becoming calm.”

“What does the lieutenant think, Pelle?” asked Sven, in a loud whisper. “Can Olagus have weapons on board and want to attack us?”

“It almost looks like it,” answered Pelle shortly.

Meantime the two boats approached one another with alarming speed.

“Whatever happens,” said the lieutenant, with icy calm,— “and the game looks suspicious, you know, my friends,—would that the coast-guardsman may not look behind him! The flag of the Crown may wave over living or dead men; that is no matter so long as it does not wave over one who has not done his duty.”

“Yes,” answered Pelle.

Sven spread out his arms in a significant gesture.

“They may be excited by drink,—their copper-colored faces show that; but here stands a man who will not forget that his name is Sven Dillhufvud. There, I have spoken! But, dear sir, do take care of yourself. They have torn up the boards, and are fetching up stones and pieces of iron.”

“Yes, I see. If they attack us, take care of the oars. Do not lay-to on the long side; but row past, and then turn. If they throw, watch their movements carefully; in that way you can escape the danger.”

The boats, which were only a few fathoms apart, glided gently towards one another.

The lieutenant’s command was punctually executed by his people.

“Olagus Esbjörnsson,” exclaimed the commander of the Custom-house yacht, “I charge you once more in the King’s name to surrender!”

“O dear, yes,” exclaimed the worthy descendant of the Vikings. “I have come back just with that intention. Perhaps I also wanted to fulfill an old vow. Do you remember what I vowed that night by the Oternnest?”

At the same moment a whole shower of pieces of iron whistled through the air, and fell rattling on to the yacht; but the sharp piece of iron thrown by Olagus’s own hands was aimed at the lieutenant himself. He however darted aside so quickly that he was not wounded, although it flew so close past him that it tore off his straw hat and dashed it into the sea.

“Olagus, and you others,” sounded his voice, in all its youthful power, “consider what you do; consider the price of an attack on a royal boat and crew! The responsibility may cost you dear. I charge you to cease at once.”

“What! Are you frightened, you Crown slaves?” roared Olagus, whose sparkling eyes and flushed face, so different from his usual calm in peaceful circumstances, lent increased wildness to his form and gestures. “Come, will this warm you?” And at the same moment another piece of iron flew past, aimed with such certainty that it would have cut off the thread of the lieutenant’s life if he had not taken shelter behind the mast. The iron was firmly fixed in the mast.

The yacht was now bombarded on all sides. Here hung a torn sail, there an end of rope; and the side planks had already received a good deal of injury, so that the yacht was threatened with a leak. But now was heard for the last time the young commander’s warning:—

“Stop, Olagus, and tell your people to put aside their wretched arms; for, on my life, this gun is loaded with a ball, and the first of you who throws another piece shall be shot down like a stag.”

“Do it if you dare! But there, see, miserable Custom-house dog, how the Mörkö Bears respect your threats!”

The third piece of iron was just about to be thrown; but at the same moment the lieutenant took aim.

The shot was fired.

During the long chase and the attack which followed it, the sun had been approaching the horizon, and now might be seen one of those beautiful sunsets which so often delight the eye on this blue-green sea. They are the counterpart of the autumn apparitions during the dark fogs, when the ships wander about seeking their way among the cliffs, then glimmering whitely, and now shining red.

Worthy the inspiration of poet and painter, this warm, divinely peaceful, and lovely scene of nature offered a new, bitter contrast to the terrible picture which human passion and the claims of duty had conjured with lightning speed into these two spots in the sea—the smugglers’ boat and the Custom-house yacht.

The shot was fired, and the mighty giant of Mörkö, Olagus Esbjörnsson, sank back into the tarpaulin.

“The accursed devil has shot right into my heart!”

Pale as death, Tuve sprang forward, and wanted to stay the blood.

“Leave it alone,” panted Olagus. “It is no use. Give my love to father and Britje; she was a good wife. You must be a father to—my boy. The business may cease.”

The subduing touch of death had already extinguished the wild light which the fire of hatred had kindled in these eyes. And the last glance that sought his brother’s gaze was gentle.

Suddenly he was once more fired by the remembrance of the earthly life which was fast retreating from him.

“Quickly away with the cargo! No one must know that Olagus Esbjörnsson fell from a shot out of the Custom-house yacht. I—I—fell upon them.”

They were his last words.

Tuve’s head fell, sobbing, on the man whom he had so completely honored as his superior.

Tuve was now the first in Mörkö, and as though a stronger spirit had come over him, he began to feel his duty. He rose, and gave orders to turn toward the sea, but the crew stood motionless with terror.