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    Ch. 14 - Sala

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    Chapter 14
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    Sweden's great King, Germany's preserver, Gustavus Adolphus, founded
    Sala. The little wood, close by, still preserves legends of the heroic
    King's youthful love--of his meeting here with Ebba Brahe.

    Sala's silver mines are the largest, the deepest, and oldest in
    Sweden: they reach to the depth of one hundred and seventy fathoms,
    consequently they are almost as deep as the Baltic. This of itself is
    enough to awaken an interest for a little town; but what is its
    appearance? "Sala," says the guide-book, "lies in a valley, in a flat,
    and not very pleasant district." And so truly it is: it was not very
    attractive approaching it our way, and the high road led directly into
    the town, which is without any distinctive character. It consists of a
    long street with what we may term a nucleus and a few fibres. The
    nucleus is the market-place, and the fibres are the few lanes
    diverging from it. The long street--that is to say, long in a little
    town--is quite without passengers; no one comes out from the doors, no
    one is to be seen at the windows.

    It was therefore with pleased surprise that I at length descried a
    human being: it was at an ironmonger's, where there hung a paper of
    pins, a handkerchief and two tea-pots in the window. There I saw a
    solitary shop-boy, standing quite still, but leaning over the counter
    and looking out of the open door. He certainly wrote in his journal,
    if he had one, in the evening: "To-day a traveller drove through the
    town; who he was, God knows, for I don't!"--yes, that was what the
    shop-boy's face said, and an honest face it was.

    In the inn at which I arrived, there was the same grave-like stillness
    as in the street. The gate was certainly closed, but all the inner
    doors were wide open; the farm-yard cock stood uplifted in the middle
    of the traveller's room and crowed, in order to show that there was
    somebody at home. The house, however, was quite picturesque: it had an
    open balcony, from which one might look out upon the yard, for it
    would have been far too lively had it been facing the street. There
    hung the old sign and creaked in the wind, as if to show that it at
    least was alive. I saw it from my window; I saw also how the grass in
    the street had got the mastery over the pavement. The sun shone
    brightly, but shone as into the bachelor's solitary room, and on the
    old maid's balsams in the flower-pots. It was as still as a Scotch
    Sunday--and yet it was a Tuesday. One was disposed for Young's "Night
    Thoughts."

    I looked out from the balcony into the neighbouring yard: there was
    not a soul to be seen, but children had been playing there. There was
    a little garden made of dry sticks: they were stuck down in the soft
    soil and had been watered; a broken pan, which had certainly served by
    way of watering-pot, lay there still. The sticks signified roses and
    geraniums.

    It had been a delightful garden--alas, yes! We great, grown-up men--we
    play just so: we make ourselves a garden with what we call love's
    roses and friendship's geraniums; we water them with our tears and
    with our heart's blood; and yet they are, and remain, dry sticks
    without root. It was a gloomy thought; I felt it, and in order to get
    the dry sticks in my thoughts to blossom, I went out. I wandered in
    the fibres and in the long threads--that is to say, in the small
    lanes--and in the great street; and here was more life than I dared to
    expect. I met a herd of cattle returning or going--which I know
    not--for they were without a herdsman. The shop-boy still stood behind
    the counter, leaned over it and greeted me; the stranger took his hat
    off again--that was my day's employment in Sala.

    Pardon me, thou silent town, which Gustavus Adolphus built, where his
    young heart felt the first emotions of love, and where the silver lies
    in the deep shafts--that is to say, outside the town, "in a flat, and
    not very pleasant district."

    I knew no one in the town; I had no one to be my guide, so I
    accompanied the cows, and came to the churchyard. The cows went past,
    but I stepped over the stile, and stood amongst the graves, where the
    grass grew high, and almost all the tombstones lay with worn-out
    inscriptions. On a few only the date of the year was legible.
    "Anno"--yes, what then? And who rested here? Everything on the stone
    was erased--blotted out like the earthly life of those mortals that
    here were earth in earth. What life's dream have ye dead played here
    in silent Sala?

    The setting sun shone over the graves; not a leaf moved on the trees;
    all was still--still as death--in the city of the silver-mines, of
    which this traveller's reminiscence is but a frame around the shop-boy
    who leaned over the counter.
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