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Wilson's Border Tales
The Miner of Lahun


We were some time ago, storm-bound in a small village on the east coast of Scotland, where—save in our own parlour, when surrounded by the dense smoke of our pipe, and fairly resigned to mystic dreams—we passed a happier evening than we ever did anywhere else upon earth; for we had the pleasure to meet with an old man who had passed many years in the land of Odin, Sweden, and was so deeply imbued with the spirit of the Sagas, (a favourite study of ours,) that he would have made as good a Saga-man himself, as ever was Frode or Snorre Sturleson. Amongst the many stories he told us, through the fitting medium of the smoke of his pipe, was one connected with the great copper mines of Falu-luan, so remarable that we have retained it in our memory ever since; and, having probably carried it long enough, we are not ill pleased with an opportunity of getting quit of it in so legitimate a mode as that of inserting it among the Border tales. There lived (he said) in the suburbs of the town of Falun, in Sweden, a long time ago, a young woman, bearing the Swedish name of Fiona Glipping. The legend (perhaps to give interest to the story) says she was the prettiest of all the damsels of the district of Falun—describing her as having the blue eyes and the long yellow hair of the daughters of Odin—attributes, in the estimation of the north-men, of the greatest beauty that a minnesinger could describe. Out of many suitors, she chose for her lover Magnus Estrithson, the son of one of the tacksmen of the great copper mine which bears the name of the town; a young man, equal to Fiona in beauty, and far superior to her in wordly prospects, being the appartent heir of his father, reputed to be rich, and, besides, possessing the prospect of succeeding him as one of the tacksmen of the Falun works. The old man was not only agreeable to the match between Magnus and Fiona, but had promised that, on the day of their marriage, he would collect all his workmen about the mine, and give them, in honour of the young couple, one of the greatest merrymakings that had been witnessed in the district of Falun for many years. The place appointed for the joyous occasion was his own house, which was situated at some distance from the works, and where the men were appointed to assemble, some hours before the time when their labours generally ended. At the residence of Fiona, the preparations for the ceremony were, meanwhile, going on, and many a Swedish maiden envied the "sweet toil," in which the beauty of Lahun and her friends were engaged, with a view to a union which was deemed auspicious, as well from the well-known affection of the young couple, as the reputed riches of the father of the youth. The hour came, and the blushing Fiona became the wife of her lover. A party was made up to accompany the happy pair to the tacksman’s house, where there had already assembled more than a hundred miners, resolved to enjoy to the uttermost the opportunity presented to them of getting, once in their lives, as much of the great national beverage, brandy, as they could drink. Our legend limits the enjoyment of the miners to this indispensable item—probably because it is so much relished throughout Scandinavia, that it is taken to breakfast, dinner, tea, and supper; but we are entitled to presume, that other good things awaited the miners and their wives—who also attended—though, even to these latter guests, a more acceptable offering could not have been given, than that to which their husbands were so much attached, and the use of which was so liberally resorted to at weddings, that, as Pantoppidan asserts, the wives often took with them the shrouds of their husbands, wherein to roll the victims of unavoidable strife. The scene of enjoyment had already begun; the father, old Eric, sat at the head of the board, presenting a fair example to his miners, to make themselves as merry as men who wrought below the ground had a right to be when they feasted above it. At another board, Gyda, the mother of the youth, doled out tea, with the usual accompaniment of the red spirit, to the women. Minnesingers sung their old ballads; the hour approached when the young couple were expected, and a round of filled glasses were in the hands of the company, to drink to the health of young Magnus and fair Fiona, when a young man entered the room, with terror in his eye, and faltering words on his white lips. "Magnus has fallen into the eastern shaft!" cried he, and fell down upon the ground. What more was required to tell his fate to those who knew that that shaft of the Lahun mine was six hundred feet deep! The father and mother fainted; and the whole host of miners sallied forth, in wild confusion, to the scene of the disaster. A dreadful sight there met their eyes. Standing on the brink of the frightful abyss, was the bride; her wedding garments torn, in her agony, to tatters, and her long yellow hair waving about her shoulders. The screams of her and her party rent the air, and reverberated among the deep hollows of the crater. Their cries were as vain as the efforts of the miners to procure the body of their young master.

Fifty long years passed away. Old Eric Estrithson and his wife Gyda were gathered to their Swedish fathers, in the kirkyard of Lahun. Other tacksmen had succeeded to the mines; and scarcely a miner who had been present on that occasion, was left to tell the tale of the fate of young Magnus. Fiona Glipping’s yellow locks had waxed to gray; deep wrinkles were on her brow; and the cheeks that bore the blush of the rose, were pale as those of the corpse that has tasted of the grave. At the time of her marriage, she was the beauty of Lahun; but now, she was amongst the oldest women of the town, walking on the crutch of age, and tottering on the brink of the dark valley of death; yet old as she was, she retained upon her mind the image of the young, blooming Magnus, as fresh and vivid as she did on that day when she met him before the priest—at that moment when she saw him fall into the chasm. But, save herself, few now living remembered aught of the unfortunate youth; and even the story of his fate had become as an old legend, told by the Swedish mother to her children. At the end of this period, the miners of Lahun had opened part of the eastern shaft, and discovered, in the alkaline waters, the body of a young man. No one could tell who he was: he was fair, the tints of health and youth were on his cheeks, and it was manifest to all, that he must have fallen into the shaft only a few days before; yet no one could tell anything of him, no one could say he had seen him; he was not an ordinary workman, for he wore the gay dress of a bridegroom, and yet no marriage had been heard of in the neighbourhood of Lahun for weeks before. The circumstance spread, and reached the ears of Fiona, who, crutch in hand, and with weak, tottering steps, took her way to the mine of Lahun. The corpse still lay on the side of the shaft, and the sun, which shone on it, never brought out a brighter tint of complexion from the face of the living, than he did from that of the corpse. The old woman bent over the body, and saw, through the spectacles of age, the form of Magnus Estrithson, precisely as he appeared to her on that day fifty years before, when he met his death in the manner we have related. She was now old and decrepit—he still wore the features, the complexion of youth, and was dressed in the very marriage garb in which he was that day arrayed. The alkaline waters in which the youth had fallen, had, strange as it may appear, preserved the body, with the lineaments and tints of youth, for fifty years. The image which had kept possession of Fiona’s mind, till she was thus an old woman, was realised once again; but, oh Niobes dolores, under what circumstances!


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