Sampo - James Baldwin

The Old Man's Wooing

Arrayed in becoming garments the Maid of Beauty stood beside her mother. Together they went out from their weather-worn dwelling. They walked across the courtyard to the dry ground beyond, and to the heap of stones beside the seashore. The young grass was upspringing beneath their feet. The sunlight was beaming around them. The swallows were flitting above them. The lonely sea was before them, the lonelier meadows were behind.

The Mistress looked out over the water, and then she bade her daughter look. Not far from the land they saw the strange boat gliding. Its gilded prow was gleaming in the sunlight; its sails were flapping loosely on the slender mast; and who was the sun-browned hero that stood on the deck guiding the vessel with an oar of copper?

"I do believe it is that old, old Minstrel from the Land of Heroes," said the Mistress in tones of surprise. "You surely remember him, my daughter—how he came to us from the sea, how he sat at our fireside, how he ate from our table!"

"Yes, mother, I remember," answered the Maid of Beauty. "And he grew homesick, he pined for his own fireside, he longed to return to his kinsfolk and friends, and notwithstanding our kindness he sang not one song during all his stay with us."

"Just so," rejoined the aged one; "and you surely remember the noble reindeer and the swift sledge that I lent him, so that he might return to his home land?"

"Certainly, mother, there are some things that I can never forget."

"Well, my child," said the mother, "this is surely the same great hero, the famous Wainamoinen, the first of all minstrels. He is rich, and no doubt his ship is filled with treasures. If he has really come to woo you, treat him kindly, listen to his words of honey, and answer 'Yes' to every question; for never will you have a nobler suitor."

"But, mother, I like him not," answered the Maid of Beauty.

Then she turned away from the sea, weary of looking at the approaching vessel. Her eyes wandered to the bleak, brown meadows, and she gazed wistfully towards the pathway which led from the distant hills. There she beheld the other visitor, speeding forward, drawing nearer, and now in plain view from the spot where she was standing.

Young and proud and strong seemed this landward comer. He was sitting in a sledge of scarlet and driving a steed of rare swiftness. Six cuckoos were sitting on the dashboard, all loudly calling; and beside them were seven bluebirds twittering blithely as birds are wont to twitter in the joyous springtime.

"See, mother, here comes the other stranger!" said the Maid of Beauty.

"Nay, nay, he is no stranger," answered Dame Louhi, speaking hoarsely. "He is the poor young Smith who forged the Sampo for me, and his name is Ilmarinen. He brings no gifts, he has no treasures, for his only wealth is his little smithy. What business has he in Pohyola?"

"Perhaps he comes to claim his wages that are due him," modestly answered the dutiful daughter.

Then with haste the two returned into their dwelling; they closed the door behind them; the mother sat down in her seat beside the fire, and the daughter resumed her weaving.

"My child," said the Mistress, "our visitors are close at hand, they will soon be at our door. When they come in and seat themselves beside the hearth-stones, you must come forward and greet them. Bring in one hand a bowl of honey, and in the other a pitcher brimming full of reindeer's milk. Give them to the one whom you choose to follow. Give them to the rich and mighty Minstrel. He will understand you and will reward you with gold and jewels and fine garments and other costly presents."

"But he is old and I like him not," answered the daughter. "I care nothing for riches nor for a man of too great wisdom. I will give the milk and honey to the younger man, to Ilmarinen, if in truth he has come to woo me. He is poor, but he is handsome and strong. Once before at your bidding I refused to go with him, but now——"

"Foolish girl and disobedient!" cried the mother, the red blood of anger rushing to her face. "Why will you choose to go with that penniless fellow—to bake his barley-cakes, to wash his grimy clothes, to wipe the sweat from his sooty face, to sweep his kitchen floor, to keep his tumble-down hut in order?"

"It is my fancy," quietly answered the Maid of Beauty.

Meanwhile all of the people of Pohyola, men and women, boys and girls, and even the barking dogs, had run down to the waterside to watch the coming of the little ship. Skilfully, with his oar of copper, the Minstrel guided it straight towards the place of landing. Gently, smoothly, like a mother swan swimming among her cygnets in some sheltered cove, the vessel glided into the quiet inlet. The rope that dangled from the prow was seized by helping hands on shore and thrown over the mooring post. The ship trembled as it was drawn in, it stopped, it rested in deep water close by the shelving bank.

Without loss of time the Minstrel leaped ashore. He made his way quickly to Dame Louhi's well-remembered dwelling; he opened the door and entered; he stood beneath the smoky rafters and received the greetings of the grim and toothless Mistress.

"Welcome, welcome, O sweetest of singers!" she cried. "Much have we missed you, long have we waited for you. Now you shall sit again at our fireside; you shall eat again at our table; you shall rest and rejoice by the sunny shores of Pohyola."

"I thank you for your welcome, wise queen of the North," responded the Minstrel; "but I cannot sit at your fireside, I cannot eat at your table, I cannot rest by your shores until I tell you the object of my visit, the reason for my coming."

"Speak then, most honored friend, and I will listen," said the cunning Mistress.

Wainamoinen bowed and smiled and thus made known his errand: "It is for your daughter, the Maid of Beauty, that I have come. Three years ago I saw her sitting on a rainbow and spinning threads of silver. I asked her then to go with me to the Land of Heroes, to be queen of my kitchen, to bake my honey-cakes, to fill my cup with barley water, to sing at my fireside. Now, I am here to receive her answer."

The Maid of Beauty rose from her weaving and came towards the hearth. In one hand she carried a bowl of honey and in the other a yellow pitcher brimming full of reindeer's milk; but she offered neither of these to the Minstrel. She smiled and said, "Have you built the boat that I required? Is it made from the splinters of my spindle and the fragments of my shuttle?"

"I have built a boat, but not that one," answered the Minstrel. "With the help of magic I have constructed a vessel more wonderful than your eyes ever saw—more beautiful than your dreams ever pictured. It is strong to resist the waves; it has two broad sails that it may fly swiftly before the wind; its prow is of copper overlaid with gold; its deck is floored with silver; in its hold are treasures more precious than I can tell. Will you not come and sit beside me on the deck of this fairy vessel? Will you not help me guide it over the trackless sea—guide it safely to the haven of Wainola?"

"I care naught for old men," replied the Maid of Beauty; "riches tempt me not; the magic vessel may never reach its haven. But wait a day, and——"

She looked up. Ilmarinen was at the door.