In the decade after 1770 Kevenhüller, who was to be a man of education and many talents, was born in Germany. He was the son of a baron and could have lived in high castles and ridden beside the emperor if he had wanted to. He did not want to.
He would have affixed windmill blades to the highest tower of the castle, transformed the feast hall into a forge and the ladies' room into a watchmaker's workshop. He would have filled the entire castle with turning wheels and working levers. But since that was not possible, he left behind him all the pomp and circumstance and went off to study under a clockmaker. There he learned all that there was to be learned about gear wheels, springs and pendula. He learned to make sundials and stardials, pendulum clocks with chirping canaries and horn-blowing shepherds, carillons whose strange machinery filled an entire church tower, and clockwork so small that it could be put into a medallion.
After he received his master's certificate, he put his knapsack on his back, took his knobby walking stick in hand, and wandered from place to place so that he might study everything that moved on cylinders and wheels. Kevenhüller was no ordinary clockmaker, he wanted to become a great inventor and make the world a better place in which to live.
After he had wandered through many countries, he came to Värmland to study mill wheels and the wooden mine conveyors. It happened, one beautiful summer morning, that he was crossing the square in Karlstad. But on the same beautiful morning hour it pleased the forest nymph to lengthen her walk until it reached the town. That tall lady, too, walked across the square, but from the opposite direction, and there she met with Kevenhüller.
What a meeting for a clockmaker! She had shining green eyes and thick fair hair that almost reached the ground; and she was clothed in green, shimmering silk. A monster and a pagan, she was, and more beautiful than all the Christian women that Kevenhüller had ever seen. He stood like a madman and stared at her as she came toward him.
She came along the straight track from the deepest part of the forest, where the ferns grow tall as trees, where the giant pines block the sunlight so that it can only fall as a golden shower on the yellow moss, and where the vines crawl over the lichenous stones.
Truly would I have been in Kevenhüller's place to be able to look at her as she came, with fern leaves and spruce needles caught up in her hair and with a black viper around her neck. Imagine her, her walk as springy as that of a wild animal, bringing with her the fresh aroma of resin and strawberries, of vines and moss.
How men must have stared at her when she got the idea to cross the Karlstad Square! Horses must have fled from her long hair, which fluttered in the summer wind. The urchins chased after her. Men dropped their scales and cleavers to gape at her. Women ran screaming to the bishop and the consistory, to urge them to drive such Satanic manifestations from the city.
But she walked on, calm and majestic, and merely smiled at the riot; and Kevenhüller saw her tiny pointed predator's teeth behind the red lips.
She had put a cloak over her back so that no one would notice who she was; but she had unhappily forgotten to hide her tail. Now it dragged on the cobblestones.
Kevenhüller, too, saw the tail, but it pained him that a lady of such high rank should be exposed to the mockery of the burghers. So he bowed before the beauty and politely said:
"Would it not please your ladyship to raise her train?"
The forest nymph was touched, no less for his kindness than for his politeness. She stopped directly in front of him and looked at him, and it seemed to him that bright sparks flew from her eyes into his heart. "Know, Kevenhüller," she said, "from this moment on you will be able, with your own two hands, to create any wonder that you wish, but only one of every kind."
That was how she said it, and she was able to fulfill her promise. For who does not know that she, the green-clothed from the forest thickets, has the power to grant genius and wonderful powers to those who gain her favor?
Kevenhüller stayed in Karlstad and rented a workshop there. He hammered and worked day and night. In eight days he had made a miracle. It was a vehicle that went by itself. It went up and down, went fast and slow, was steerable and turnable, stoppable and go-able, whatever one might wish. That was a most excellent vehicle!
Kevenhüller now became a famous man and gained friends throughout the whole city. He was so proud of his vehicle that he drove to Stockholm to show it to the king. He had no need to wait for carriage horses or quarrel with drivers. He had no need to be shaken up in a "partridge" or sleep on wooden benches in the stopovers. He drove proudly in his own vehicle and reached his destination in a few hours.
He drove straight to the castle, and the king emerged with his ladies- in-waiting and courtiers and watched him drive. They couldn't praise him enough.
Then the king said: "Kevenhüller, you may give me that vehicle." And although he refused, the king was persistent and would have the vehicle.
Then Kevenhüller saw that among the king's followers stood a lady of the court with fair hair and a green dress. He recognized her, and he understood that it was she who had advised the king to ask him for his vehicle. And he was in despair. He could not tolerate for anyone else to own his vehicle, nor did he dare keep on refusing the king. And so he steered it into the castle wall with such speed that it broke into a thousand pieces.
When he came back to Karlstad, he tried to build a new vehicle. But he could not. Then he grew terrified of the gift that the forest nymph had given him. He had abandoned the lazy life in his father's castle to do good for many, not to create sorceries that only one person might use. Of how much use would it be for him to become a great master, even the greatest of all masters, but not to be able to duplicate his miracles so that they might be use to thousands?
And the educated, multi-talented man so yearned for peaceful, prudent work that he became a stonecutter and mason. During that time he built the great stone tower of the West bridge according to the model of the main tower in his father's knightly castle, and his intent was certainly to build houses, portals, courtyards, ramparts and hanging towers, so that an entire castle would appear on the shore of Klarälven.
And in it he would realize the dream of his childhood. All that was industry and craft would find its home in the halls of the castle. White mill-helpers and black smiths, clockmakers with green shades in front of tired eyes, painters with dark hands, weavers, turners, filers, all would have their workshops in his castle.
And all went well. With his own hand he built his tower out of the stones that he himself had broken. He affixed windmill blades to it -- for the tower was to be a mill -- and now he was ready to begin on the forge.
One day he stood and looked at how the wind turned the light, strong blades. And then his old suffering attacked him.
It seemed to him as though the green-clothed one was again looking at him with her bright eyes, until his brain again flamed up. He closed himself into his workshop, ate nothing, enjoyed no rest, and worked without cease. And in eight days he had made a new miracle.
One day he went onto the roof of his tower and began to tie wings to his shoulders.
Two urchins and a student who were sitting on the caissons and fishing for perch caught sight of him and gave a cry that was audible through the whole city. They moved, panting, they ran through street after street, knocked on doors, and shouted as they ran:
"Kevenhüller's going to fly! Kevenhüller's going to fly!"
He stood at peace on the tower roof and tied the wings to himself, and meanwhile the crowds swarmed out of the narrow streets of old Karlstad.
The servant girls left their boiling pots and swelling dough. The old ladies dropped their knitting, put on their glasses and ran down the street. The councillors and the mayor got up from the judge's table. The rector tossed the grammar into the corner, the pupils ran out of the classrooms without stopping to ask permission. The whole town ran to the West bridge.
The bridge was soon black with people. Salt Square was chock-full, and people swarmed along the whole riverbank as far as the bishopric house. There was more shoving and squeezing than at the fair on St. Peter's Day; more rubberneckers were to be seen there than when king Gustav III had travelled through the town, drawn by eight horses and with such terrible speed that the coach stood on two wheels at corners.
Finally Kevenhüller got the wings on and began to move. He moved them a few times, and then he was in the free air. He lay swimming in the sea of air high above the earth.
He sucked the air into his expanded lungs; it was clean and strengthening. His breast swelled, and the old knightly blood began to boil in him. He capered like a dove, floated like a hawk, his wings were quick as those of a swallow, he aimed as firmly as a falcon. And he looked down onto the whole earthbound crowd, now looking up at him who lay swimming in the air. If only he could make a pair of such wings for each one of them! If only he could give to each one of them the power to rise up into that fresh air! What people they would be then! The memory of his life's misery did not leave him even in that moment of victory. He could not enjoy merely for his own sake. That forest nymph, if only he could find her!
Then his eyes, almost blinded by by the sharp sunlight and the shimmering air, caught sight of something flying straight toward him. He saw great wings, quite similar to his own, moving, and between the wings swam a human body. Yellow hair fluttered, green silk rolled like waves, wild eyes blazed. There she was, there she was!
Kevenhüller didn't stop to think. With furious speed he leaped at the monster, to kiss her or strike her -- he didn't know which -- but in any case to force her to remove the curse of his existence. Calm and rationality betrayed him in that wild race. He didn't see where he was going, he saw only the fluttering hair and the wild eyes. He drew near to her and held out his arms to catch her. His wings intermixed with hers, and the latter were the stronger. His wings split and shattered, he swung around and dropped, where he didn't know.
When he regained consciousness, he lay on the roof of his own tower with the shattered flying machine around him. He had flow straight into his own mill: the blades had caught him, spun him around twice, and then thrown him onto the tower roof.
So that game was finished.
Now Kevenhüller was once again a man in despair. Honest work bored him, and he did not dare use his ability to manipulate miracles. If he were to make another miracle and destroy it, his heart would burst with chagrin. And if he didn't destroy it, he would certainly go made with the thought that it would be of no use to others.
He took his old knapsack and his knobby walking stick, left the mill standing there, and decided to go in search of the forest nymph.
He got a horse and carriage, for he was no longer so young and light- footed. And it is told that when he came to the forest he left the carriage and went in and called the green-clothed one in the thickets.
"Forest nymph! Forest nymph! It's me, Kevenhüller! Kevenhüller! Come, come!" But she did not come.
During those journeys he came to Ekeby, some years before the expulsion of the Major's Wife. He was well accepted there, and there he stayed. And the group in the knight-house grow by a tall, thin knightly figure, a lively gentleman who could do his devoirs at the beer-stein and during the hunt. The memories of his childhood came back: he let himself be called Count, and more and more he took on the appearance of an old German robber baron, with his great aquiline nose, his severe brows, his full beard, which was pointed under the chin and bravely twisted up over the lips.
He became a cavalier among the cavaliers and was no better than any other in that gang, which, as men believed, the Major's Wife was preparing for the Malicious Enemy. His hairs turned grey, and his brain slept. He was so old that he couldn't even believe in the great deeds of his youth. He was not the man with the miraculous powers. It was not he who had built the self-propelled vehicle and the flying machine. Ah, no, fairy-tales, fairy-tales!
But it happened that the Major's Wife was expelled from Ekeby, and the cavaliers became masters of the great estate. Then a life began there that was never more terrible. A storm flew over the land: every old foolishness flamed in youthful vigor, everything old began to move, everything good shuddered, men fought on the earth and spirits in heaven. Wolves came from Dovre with witches on their backs, the forces of nature were freed, and the forest nymph came to Ekeby.
The cavaliers didn't know her. They thought that she was a poor and miserable woman whom a cruel mother-in-law had driven into despair. So they gave her their protection, respected her as a queen, and loved her as a child.
Only Kevenhüller saw who she was. At first he had been tricked like all the others. But one day she wore a dress of green shimmering silk, and when she put it on, Kevenhüller recognized her.
There she sat, half lying on silk, on the best sofa in Ekeby, and all the old men were making themselves ridiculous to serve her. One was a cook, another a butler, one read aloud to her, one was a court musician, one was a cobbler: everyone took his occupation.
She was said to be ill, the malicious monster, but Kevenhüller understood that illness very well. She was laughing at them all, that was what she was doing.
He warned the cavaliers about her. "See those tiny, sharp teeth," he said, "and the wild, bright eyes! She's the forest nymph, everything evil is in motion in this terrible time. I tell you that she is the forest nymph, come here to destroy us. I've seen her before."
But when Kevenhüller saw the forest nymph and recognized her, his old industry immediately returned to him. His brain began to burn and boil, his fingers hurt with the wish to curve around a hammer and file, he could not stop himself. With a bitter heart he put on his working jacket and closed himself into an old forge, which was to be his workshop.
Then a cry few from Ekeby throughout all Värmland:
"Kevenhüller has begun to work!"
And folk breathlessly listened to the hammer blows from the closed workshop, to the rasping of the file and the wheezing of the bellows.
The world was to see a new miracle. What would it be? Would he now teach us to walk on water or build a stairway to the Pleiades?
Nothing is impossible for such a man. Our own eyes have seen how he was carried through the air on wings. We have seen his vehicle roar through the streets. He possesses the forest nymph's gift: nothing is impossible for him.
One night, the first or second in October. the miracle was ready. He came out of the workshop and carried it in his hand. It was a wheel that turned without stopping. When it rotated, its rays shone like fire, and heat and light went forth from it. Kevenhüller had made a sun. When he came out of the workshop with it, the night turned so bright that the sparrows began to chirp and the clouds lit up with morning red.
It was the most brilliant invention. On earth there would no longer be darkness or cold. His head spun when he thought of it. The daytime sun would keep on rising and setting, but when it disappeared, thousands and thousands of his fire-wheels would flame in the land, and the air would shimmer with warmth as on the hottest day of summer. Then mature harvests would be reaped under the starry sky of midwinter, strawberries and cowberries would cover the forest slopes all year round, the water would never be tied down by ice.
When his invention was ready, it would create a new world. His fire- wheel would be the poor man's coat, the miner's sun. It would bring motion to factories, life to nature, a new rich and happy existence to mankind. But in that same moment he knew that all this was only dreams, and that the forest nymph would never let him duplicate his fire-wheel. And in his anger and vengefulness he thought that he wanted to kill her, and so he scarcely know any more what he was going.
He went to the house, and in the vestibule, right under the staircase, he set his fire-wheel. He intended for the house to catch fire and for the monster to burn to death in it.
Then he went back to his workshop and sat there, listening in silence.
Voices and shouts sounded in the courtyard. They had begun to notice that a great deed had been fulfilled.
Yes, run, shout, ring your bells! But she is burning to death, the forest nymph that you put to rest on silks!
Is she twisting in pain, is she fleeing the flames from room to room? Ah, how the green silk will burn, how the fire will play in her thick hair! Take fresh courage, flames, take fresh courage, catch her, burn her! Witches must burn! Don't fear her spells, flames! Let her burn! Because of her, there is one who had to burn throughout his entire life.
Bells sounded, carriages groaned, extinguishers were brought out, water was passed hand to hand from the lake, men came running from all the hamlets. There was shouting and groans and orders, there were roofs that fell, there was the terrible crackling and roaring of the holocaust. But Kevenhüller was bothered by nothing. He sat on the chopping block and rubbed his hands.
Now he heard a crack as though the sky were falling, and he jumped up, rejoicing. "It's done!" he said. "Now she can't be saved, now she is shattered under the beams or burned by the flames. It's done!"
And he thought about the glory and power of Ekeby that he had had to sacrifice to drive her from the world. About the shining salons where so much pleasure lived, about the rooms in which the joy of memories resounded, about the tables which bent under their tasty meals, about the expensive old furniture, silver and porcelain which could no longer be replaced...
And now he jumped with a shout. His fire-wheel, his sun, the model on which everything depended, hadn't he put it under the staircase to bring about the holocaust?
Kevenhüller looked at himself, petrified with terror.
"Am I mad?" he said. "How could I have done such a thing?"
And at the same moment the tightly closed door of the workshop came open, and she of the green clothes stepped inside.
The forest nymph stood there on the threshhold, smiling and beautiful. There was no tear or spot on her green robe, the smoke of burning was not fixed to her thick hair. She was just as he had seen her in his younger years, on the square of Karlstad, the wild animal's tail trailed between her feet and she brought with her the wildness and aroma of the whole forest.
"Ekeby is burning," she said, and laughed.
Kevenhüller stood with raised sledgehammer and would have thrown it at her head, but now he saw that she was carrying his fire-wheel in her hand.
"See what I saved for you!" she said.
Kevenhüller dropped to his knees before her. "You broke my vehicle, you shattered my wings, you've destroyed my life. For God's sake, have pity on me!"
She climbed up onto the planing bench and sat there, still as young and playful of expression as he had seen her that first time on the Karlstad square.
"I see you know who I am," she said.
"I know you, I've always known you," the poor man said. "You are genius. But free me now. Withdraw your gift from me! Take away my talent for miracles! Let me be an ordinary man! Why do you persecute me? Why do you persecute me?"
"You're mad!" the forest nymph said. "I never wanted anything bad for you. I gave you a great repayment for your kindness, but I can take it away from you if you don't like it. But think well! You'll be sorry!"
"No! No!" he said. "Take away my talent for miracles!"
"First, you must destroy this," she said, and threw the fire-wheel onto the ground before him.
He did not hesitate. He swung the sledge over the gleaming fire-wheel, which was merely an abominable sorcery, because he might not use it to help the thousands. Sparks flew through the room, splinters and flames danced around him, and now, too, his last miracle lay shattered.
"And so I take from you my gift," said the forest nymph.
When she stood in the doorway to depart, and the light of the burning flowed over her, he looked after her for the last time.
More beautiful than ever before did she seem to him, and no longer malicious, only severe and proud.
"You madman!" she said. "Did I ever forbid you to let others imitate your creations? Did I ever want anything other than to protect the man of genius from ordinary work?"
Then she left. Kevenhüller was mad for several days. Afterwards he had again become an ordinary man.
Ah, children of the present, if you or I had met the forest nymph on the square of Karlstad! Don't you think that I would have gone to the forest and called: "Forest nymph, forest nymph, it's me, Kevenhüller, Kevenhüller!" But who sees her today? Who in our time complains that he has received too much of her gift?