CONFRONTATION AT THE MILL
(…continued) The mill was at the brook above the church village. The noise of the big wheel could be heard from afar… The nearer the three came to the mill, the more uncertain the pastor felt. It would not be easy to charge a religious man with dishonesty without clear evidence.
Inside the mill room a pale light glowed. There sat Karl-August, his coat collar turned up, his legs stretched out, and his hands deep in his pockets. Two other farmers slouched sleepily over the rough table.
Erik Svensson stepped in alone and greeted. “So, there you sit. Will you come outside a while?”
Karl-August got up and followed. When he caught sight of Fridfeldt he shrank back.
“Is it you, Pastor? Are you out so late?”
“Yes, Karl-August,” said Fridfeldt with an attempt at calmness and authority, “and on an important errand.”
“One would think so, at this time of night,” Karl-August answered nonchalantly.
“Yes, Karl-August, it is a matter that concerns God’s church. It affects the good name and reputation of the faithful. You know, of course, that the cow you sold Daniel yesterday died this morning?”
“Yes, I have heard that they had to slaughter her.”
“And you know, Karl-August, that she had drunk some poison.”
Karl-August looked toward the side. It was impossible in the dim light to make out the expression on his face.
“What are you saying, Pastor? Are they so careless with such things at Daniel’s place that the cattle can get at them?”
“Karl-August,” said the pastor, helplessly, “you must not become angry, but this affair looks very bad. All the worldly scoffers will surely link the sale of the cow on Monday and her sudden death this morning and will draw the conclusion that one brother in the congregation has deceived the other. Such offense must not be allowed.”
“That is surely nothing to take offense at, Pastor. If in God’s providence it was Daniel rather than I who had to slaughter, then it only upholds the poor man’s right. Besides, he got the cow so cheap that he’ll lose no more money on the slaughtering than he can well afford.”
Fridfeldt hardly knew what to say or do. “But my dear Karl-August, Daniel is going to sue you. The matter will come to court. There will be gossip and trouble without end.”
A hint of sarcasm played on Karl-August’s lips. “And that you believe, Pastor! I must see it first.”
Fridfeldt became more and more convinced that the man was guilty. But he did not know what to do. He looked toward the bridge. There was the sound of hoof beats on the oak planks. The white spot on a horse’s nose showed and in a moment a wagon stopped. The men had stepped into the darkness under the overhanging roof. The driver noticed the men at the wall and came closer for a look at them, as he greeted, “Good evening!” It was Daniel. It gave the pastor quite a turn when he recognized the voice.
“So here you stand”, said Daniel. “And the pastor, too, and Karl-August. Well, I have really been waiting for you. Strange how long it sometimes takes to grind two sacks. Or maybe you didn’t want to come home until Daniel was asleep. But now I have found you after all, and now the matter will have to be settled. Will you give me back my money, or won’t you?”
“But listen, good friends!” It was the pastor who answered. “As believing brethren, we must settle this matter peaceably. I have just offered Karl-August an honorable solution. Certainly no one will say that it was his intention to deceive.”
“Yes, I claim that it was,” shouted Daniel. “He has always been a sneak and a fox, and this thing has been premeditated fraud from beginning to end. To come and make it appear that he needed help and to beg for mercy, and all the time wanting only to cheat his neighbor! That is a thing so base that he ought to go to the penitentiary for it.”
“Jonsson, Jonsson!” shouted the pastor. “Do not throw stones! Neither of you is without guilt in this affair.”
“What are you saying, Pastor? Have I any blame in the matter? Have I not paid honestly for the cow? Didn’t we settle on a price?”
Now the pastor was ready to despair. “But Jonsson, you know it is a sin to refuse to sell a little hay to your neighbor, saying that you couldn’t do without it yourself, and then nevertheless buy the cow and put it in your barn. You know what is written, ‘Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.'”
“Sin? Is that sin? One can see that our pastor is pretty young and doesn’t understand business matters,” said Daniel, quite undisturbed.
That was too much for the pastor. He took hold of the lapels of Daniel’s overcoat and shook him.
“But man,” he said, “don’t you understand that this will end in hell? Can’t you see, Jonsson, that your heart is just as unconverted as any drunkard’s or adulterer’s can be? Don’t you realize that you are the equal of harlots and thieves when you shut up your heart against a brother in need?”
This was the end of Daniel’s patience, too. He tore himself loose from the pastor’s grip.
“Did you say unconverted, Pastor? That a minister should say that to me! I’ll tell you one thing, Pastor, before you had outgrown your baby shoes, I was saved and born again, and I’ll not let a state church preacher call me a whoremonger, drunkard, and thief. I could sue you for that, too. But now let’s settle this business. Karl-August, do I or don’t I get my money back?”
Karl-August backed a bit to a position between the pastor and the deacon. “You ought to be glad the cow died on you, since you didn’t have a wisp of hay to feed her. The meat is yours and the money is mine. You can have that settled by the court.”
“Then there will be a lawsuit!” shouted Daniel. The next moment he turned away and got into his cart. The whip flashed, the ice crunched under the wheels, and he was swallowed up by the darkness.
The three men stared at one another. Karl-August had slowly slipped into the mill house. It was evident that he felt that the matter had been discussed with finality. There was nothing else to do than to go home.
Erik Svensson was the first to break the silence. “You must not be angry with Daniel, Pastor. That is just his way. He can’t help it and doesn’t mean anything bad with it. It will soon blow over.”
Fridfeldt said nothing. It was not the abuse heaped upon him that disturbed him most, he had deserved that. He had gotten excited, and he had been a poor curer of souls. What really crushed him was the insight he had just received into the weaknesses of believers. Was it really like this behind the pious words, the warm prayers, and the hearty singing? In what could one then put his trust? Where really was the border line between believers and the children of the world?…
Now they had reached the village, where their roads separated. “Pastor,” said the deacon, “it might be well for you to talk it over with the old rector and ask him to go there tomorrow?”
“Would you come with us?”
“If the rector wants me. If so, let me know. I’ll stay home tomorrow.” They shook hands and separated… (continued…)
From The Hammer of God: A Novel About the Cure of Souls, by Bo Giertz, 1941, (from chapter two, ‘Springtime in March,’ pages 211f; translated by Clifford Nelson, copyright 1960, Augustana Book Concern).
Proverbs 19:22b — Better to be poor than a liar.
Psalm 120:2 — Save me, Lord, from lying lips and from deceitful tongues.
Proverbs 12:22 — The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are trustworthy.
PRAYER BASED ON MARTIN LUTHER’S SMALL CATECHISM EXPLANATION TO THE EIGHT COMMANDMENT:
O God, you command us not to bear false witness against our neighbor. May we so fear and love you that we do not betray, slander, or lie about our neighbor; but defend him, speak well of him, and explain his actions in the kindest way; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.