Continued from the Last Issue
Peer was deeply touched by the pure-hearted maiden who had saved his life. 'Come with me, Solveig,' he begged her. 'I'll build us a hut in the forest far away where we can live together; I'll take good care of you and even give up my wild ways.'
Thinking fondly of her parents, the girl shook her head in sorrowful silence. So Peer set out alone to build a hut of pinewood in the snow-clad forest high above the valley, hidden from folk's view. There he lived on elk-meat, berries and water from the melted snow. One day, at dusk, as Peer was standing in the doorway of his hut, fixing on a strong wooden bolt to secure his home against the trolls, he saw a figure slowly climbing the snow-covered hill on skis. It was a woman in a grey shawl carrying a little bundle.
'Solveig!' cried Peer. 'No, it can't be... Yes, it is. Why have you come?'
'A call came to me on the wind, a summons in my dreams, a cry in your dying mother's voice. The long, long nights and empty days told me that I must come. And when folk asked me where I was bound, I answered: "home".'
Peer wept in guilt and sadness at his mother's death -- yet at the same time with joy at Solveig's coming. 'Let me look at you, Solveig; you are so pure and kind,' he said, tears glistening in his eyes. 'Let me carry you across the threshold, you are so warm and light. My wooden home, I fear, is not worthy of you'.
'I love it here,' said Solveig. 'I can breathe more freely; the valley was so stifling. I felt entombed. I can hear the sighing of the pines -- silence and song together. Now I am truly at home.'
'Then come inside,' cried Peer, happier than he'd ever been before. 'I'll fetch some logs and light a fire.'
As Solveig entered, Peer closed the door and skipped joyfully towards the trees.
'At last, my dream princess has Come,' he sang. 'I build at palace fit for her to live in.
Taking up his axe, he began to swing it to and from chopping down a tree for firewood. As he gaily set about his work, however, a shadow fell across his path.
'Good evening to you, Prince Peer Gynt,' said a voice looking up, he saw an ugly hag in a torn green smock
'Why, Peer Gynt, we're neighbours,' she said. 'As you built your hut, so mine rose at its side.'
Peer was silent. There was something about the witch that was familiar. Uneasily, he picked up his logs and turned to go.
'Pardon me, I'm in a hurry.' he excused himself.
'You always were,' she said. 'Have you forgotten your promise to wed me? The tail, the bowl of mead, the pledges
...Do you remember now?'
Peer recoiled in horror from the old green witch.
'Leave me in peace, you evil troll,' he shouted, 'or I'll brain you with my axe.'
'Oh no, Peer Gynt,' she smiled. 'That won't help you I'll come back each day; I'll scratch out your bride's blue eyes-when her fair looks are gone, my own will return.’
With that she went off cackling into the undergrowth, leaving Peer in dumb despair.
'My palace has tumbled down before it's built,' he sighed, holding his head with trembling hands. 'Clearly happiness is not so easy to attain. First I must be cleansed of my unworthy past before deserving Solveig's love. And I must protect her from the trolls: sh is in danger."
'Are you coming, Peer?' called Solveig from the hut.
'I shall be a while yet. I have a heavy load to bear,' he replied.
'Then let me help,' she cried.
'No, I'll manage by myself,' he called. 'Be patient, dear Solveig, I may be gone some time.'
'I shall wait,' was all she said. Solveig remained in the open doorway, watching Peer disappear into the trees.
Time passed. Peer did not return that day or the next; that year or the year to come. Ten, twenty, thirty years went by and Solveig waited on for his return. Her home remained the lonely hut up on the hill; she spent her days tending goats and spinning wool. And she would often gaze forlornly down the empty slope.
Where was Peer in all those years? What adventures did he have? Alas, there were too many to relate. He was even crowned king. His old dream had come true.
Yet he tired of his empty life and, as he grew old, he thought more and more of Solveig and his hut upon the wooded hills of Norway. So one day he set sail for home.
As the ship approached his native coast a fierce storm
blew up, overturned the vessel and sent his fortune to the bottom of the sea. Peer was lucky to escape alive.
Looking like a beggar, he wandered through the mists of the once-familiar land. Finally, in deep despair, he came to a heather slope with a path winding upwards into the trees.
'I'll climb to the top of that misty peak,' he wheezed, 'and see the Sun rise one last time upon my native land.
Then, let the snow pile over my worthless shell and bury me in its tomb. 'Here Lies a Nobody" will be my epitaph.
"He has trod this Earth and left no Mark."
Peer thought he heard a woman's song coming from beyond the ridge. Once more he staggered on and suddenly spied a wooden hut. In the doorway sat a white-haired woman, with blind but gentle eyes. He recognised her at once.
'Solveig! he shouted, choking back his sobs.
The blind woman raised her had and started up groping down the path towards the shout.
"It's Peer. It's Peer," she cried. 'He's come at last.'
Finding Peer,' she cried. 'He's come at last.'
Finding Peer, she sat down by his side, taking his head, upon her lap. They remained together for some time.
'May I ask you something?' Peer spoke at last. 'Do you know where I have been since you saw me last?"
'That's easy,' whispered Solveig; 'you've been here beside me all the time: in my faith, my hope, my love.'
Peer hid his face, moistened with tears, into her gentle hands. And as he breathed his last faint breath, she softly, murmured, 'Your journeys over, Peer. At last you came upon the truth of life: the greatest happiness lies right here at hope, not in chasing dreams about the world.'
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