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Fabulous Fairy Tales for children and adults. From our vast collection of old traditional fairy tales and fables.

A Story From The Sand-hills - Part 3

The ferry-boat was on the opposite side of the bay. Jurgen
called to the ferry-man, and the latter came over with his
boat. Jurgen stepped in; but before he had got half-way
across, the men whom he had seen riding so hastily, came up,
hailed the ferry-man, and commanded him to return in the name
of the law. Jurgen did not understand the reason of this, but
he thought it would be best to turn back, and therefore he
himself took an oar and returned. As soon as the boat touched
the shore, the men sprang on board, and before he was aware of
it, they had bound his hands with a rope.

'This wicked deed will cost you your life,' they said. 'It
is a good thing we have caught you.'

He was accused of nothing less than murder. Martin had
been found dead, with his throat cut. One of the fishermen,
late on the previous evening, had met Jurgen going towards
Martin's house; this was not the first time Jurgen had raised
his knife against Martin, so they felt sure that he was the
murderer. The prison was in a town at a great distance, and
the wind was contrary for going there by sea; but it would not
take half an hour to get across the bay, and another quarter
of an hour would bring them to Norre-Vosborg, the great castle
with ramparts and moat. One of Jurgen's captors was a
fisherman, a brother of the keeper of the castle, and he said
it might be managed that Jurgen should be placed for the
present in the dungeon at Vosborg, where Long Martha the gipsy
had been shut up till her execution. They paid no attention to
Jurgen's defence; the few drops of blood on his shirt-sleeve
bore heavy witness against him. But he was conscious of his
innocence, and as there was no chance of clearing himself at
present he submitted to his fate.

The party landed just at the place where Sir Bugge's
castle had stood, and where Jurgen had walked with his
foster-parents after the burial feast, during. the four
happiest days of his childhood. He was led by the well-known
path, over the meadow to Vosborg; once more the elders were in
bloom and the lofty lime-trees gave forth sweet fragrance, and
it seemed as if it were but yesterday that he had last seen
the spot. In each of the two wings of the castle there was a
staircase which led to a place below the entrance, from whence
there is access to a low, vaulted cellar. In this dungeon Long
Martha had been imprisoned, and from here she was led away to
the scaffold. She had eaten the hearts of five children, and
had imagined that if she could obtain two more she would be
able to fly and make herself invisible. In the middle of the
roof of the cellar there was a little narrow air-hole, but no
window. The flowering lime trees could not breathe refreshing
fragrance into that abode, where everything was dark and
mouldy. There was only a rough bench in the cell; but a good
conscience is a soft pillow, and therefore Jurgen could sleep
well.

The thick oaken door was locked, and secured on the
outside by an iron bar; but the goblin of superstition can
creep through a keyhole into a baron's castle just as easily
as it can into a fisherman's cottage, and why should he not
creep in here, where Jurgen sat thinking of Long Martha and
her wicked deeds? Her last thoughts on the night before her
execution had filled this place, and the magic that tradition
asserted to have been practised here, in Sir Svanwedel's time,
came into Jurgen's mind, and made him shudder; but a sunbeam,
a refreshing thought from without, penetrated his heart even
here- it was the remembrance of the flowering elder and the
sweet smelling lime-trees.

He was not left there long. They took him away to the town
of Ringkjobing, where he was imprisoned with equal severity.

Those times were not like ours. The common people were
treated harshly; and it was just after the days when farms
were converted into knights' estates, when coachmen and
servants were often made magistrates, and had power to
sentence a poor man, for a small offence, to lose his property
and to corporeal punishment. Judges of this kind were still to
be found; and in Jutland, so far from the capital, and from
the enlightened, well-meaning, head of the Government, the law
was still very loosely administered sometimes- the smallest
grievance Jurgen could expect was that his case should be
delayed.

His dwelling was cold and comfortless; and how long would
he be obliged to bear all this? It seemed his fate to suffer
misfortune and sorrow innocently. He now had plenty of time to
reflect on the difference of fortune on earth, and to wonder
why this fate had been allotted to him; yet he felt sure that
all would be made clear in the next life, the existence that
awaits us when this life is over. His faith had grown strong
in the poor fisherman's cottage; the light which had never
shone into his father's mind, in all the richness and sunshine
of Spain, was sent to him to be his comfort in poverty and
distress, a sign of that mercy of God which never fails.

The spring storms began to blow. The rolling and moaning
of the North Sea could be heard for miles inland when the wind
was blowing, and then it sounded like the rushing of a
thousand waggons over a hard road with a mine underneath.
Jurgen heard these sounds in his prison, and it was a relief
to him. No music could have touched his heart as did these
sounds of the sea- the rolling sea, the boundless sea, on
which a man can be borne across the world before the wind,
carrying his own house with him wherever he goes, just as the
snail carries its home even into a strange country.

He listened eagerly to its deep murmur and then the
thought arose- 'Free! free! How happy to be free, even
barefooted and in ragged clothes!' Sometimes, when such
thoughts crossed his mind, the fiery nature rose within him,
and he beat the wall with his clenched fists.

Weeks, months, a whole year had gone by, when Niels the
thief, called also a horse-dealer, was arrested; and now
better times came, and it was seen that Jurgen had been
wrongly accused.

On the afternoon before Jurgen's departure from home, and
before the murder, Niels the thief, had met Martin at a
beer-house in the neighbourhood of Ringkjobing. A few glasses
were drank, not enough to cloud the brain, but enough to
loosen Martin's tongue. He began to boast and to say that he
had obtained a house and intended to marry, and when Niels
asked him where he was going to get the money, he slapped his
pocket proudly and said:

'The money is here, where it ought to be.'

This boast cost him his life; for when he went home Niels
followed him, and cut his throat, intending to rob the
murdered man of the gold, which did not exist.

All this was circumstantially explained; but it is enough
for us to know that Jurgen was set free. But what compensation
did he get for having been imprisoned a whole year, and shut
out from all communication with his fellow creatures? They
told him he was fortunate in being proved innocent, and that
he might go. The burgomaster gave him two dollars for
travelling expenses, and many citizens offered him provisions
and beer- there were still good people; they were not all hard
and pitiless. But the best thing of all was that the merchant
Bronne, of Skjagen, into whose service Jurgen had proposed
entering the year before, was just at that time on business in
the town of Ringkjobing. Bronne heard the whole story; he was
kind-hearted, and understood what Jurgen must have felt and
suffered. Therefore he made up his mind to make it up to the
poor lad, and convince him that there were still kind folks in
the world.

So Jurgen went forth from prison as if to paradise, to
find freedom, affection, and trust. He was to travel this path
now, for no goblet of life is all bitterness; no good man
would pour out such a draught for his fellow-man, and how
should He do it, Who is love personified?

'Let everything be buried and forgotten,' said Bronne, the
merchant. 'Let us draw a thick line through last year: we will
even burn the almanack. In two days we will start for dear,
friendly, peaceful Skjagen. People call it an out-of-the-way
corner; but it is a good warm chimney-corner, and its windows
open toward every part of the world.'

What a journey that was: It was like taking fresh breath
out of the cold dungeon air into the warm sunshine. The
heather bloomed in pride and beauty, and the shepherd-boy sat
on a barrow and blew his pipe, which he had carved for himself
out of a sheep bone. Fata Morgana, the beautiful aerial
phenomenon of the wilderness, appeared with hanging gardens
and waving forests, and the wonderful cloud called 'Lokeman
driving his sheep' also was seen.

Up towards Skjagen they went, through the land of the
Wendels, whence the men with long beards (the Longobardi or
Lombards) had emigrated in the reign of King Snio, when all
the children and old people were to have been killed, till the
noble Dame Gambaruk proposed that the young people should
emigrate. Jurgen knew all this, he had some little knowledge;
and although he did not know the land of the Lombards beyond
the lofty Alps, he had an idea that it must be there, for in
his boyhood he had been in the south, in Spain. He thought of
the plenteousness of the southern fruit, of the red
pomegranate flowers, of the humming, buzzing, and toiling in
the great beehive of a city he had seen; but home is the best
place after all, and Jurgen's home was Denmark.

At last they arrived at 'Vendilskaga,' as Skjagen is
called in old Norwegian and Icelandic writings. At that time
Old Skjagen, with the eastern and western town, extended for
miles, with sand hills and arable land as far as the
lighthouse near 'Grenen.' Then, as now, the houses were strewn
among the wind-raised sand-hills- a wilderness in which the
wind sports with the sand, and where the voice of the sea-gull
and wild swan strikes harshly on the ear.

In the south-west, a mile from 'Grenen,' lies Old Skjagen;
merchant Bronne dwelt here, and this was also to be Jurgen's
home for the future. The dwelling-house was tarred, and all
the small out-buildings had been put together from pieces of
wreck. There was no fence, for indeed there was nothing to
fence in except the long rows of fishes which were hung upon
lines, one above the other, to dry in the wind. The entire
coast was strewn with spoiled herrings, for there were so many
of these fish that a net was scarcely thrown into the sea
before it was filled. They were caught by carloads, and many
of them were either thrown back into the sea or left to lie on
the beach.

The old man's wife and daughter and his servants also came
to meet him with great rejoicing. There was a great squeezing
of hands, and talking and questioning. And the daughter, what
a sweet face and bright eyes she had!

The inside of the house was comfortable and roomy.
Fritters, that a king would have looked upon as a dainty dish,
were placed on the table, and there was wine from the Skjagen
vineyard- that is, the sea; for there the grapes come ashore
ready pressed and prepared in barrels and in bottles.

When the mother and daughter heard who Jurgen was, and how
innocently he had suffered, they looked at him in a still more
friendly way; and pretty Clara's eyes had a look of especial
interest as she listened to his story. Jurgen found a happy
home in Old Skjagen. It did his heart good, for it had been
sorely tried. He had drunk the bitter goblet of love which
softens or hardens the heart, according to circumstances.
Jurgen's heart was still soft- it was young, and therefore it
was a good thing that Miss Clara was going in three weeks'
time to Christiansand in Norway, in her father's ship, to
visit an aunt and to stay there the whole winter.

On the Sunday before she went away they all went to
church, to the Holy Communion. The church was large and
handsome, and had been built centuries before by Scotchmen and
Dutchmen; it stood some little way out of the town. It was
rather ruinous certainly, and the road to it was heavy,
through deep sand, but the people gladly surmounted these
difficulties to get to the house of God, to sing psalms and to
hear the sermon. The sand had heaped itself up round the walls
of the church, but the graves were kept free from it.

It was the largest church north of the Limfjorden. The
Virgin Mary, with a golden crown on her head and the child
Jesus in her arms, stood lifelike on the altar; the holy
Apostles had been carved in the choir, and on the walls there
were portraits of the old burgomasters and councillors of
Skjagen; the pulpit was of carved work. The sun shone brightly
into the church, and its radiance fell on the polished brass
chandelier and on the little ship that hung from the vaulted
roof.

Jurgen felt overcome by a holy, childlike feeling, like
that which possessed him, when, as a boy, he stood in the
splendid Spanish cathedral. But here the feeling was
different, for he felt conscious of being one of the
congregation.

After the sermon followed Holy Communion. He partook of
the bread and wine, and it so happened that he knelt by the
side of Miss Clara; but his thoughts were so fixed upon heaven
and the Holy Sacrament that he did not notice his neighbour
until he rose from his knees, and then he saw tears rolling
down her cheeks.

She left Skjagen and went to Norway two days later. He
remained behind, and made himself useful on the farm and at
the fishery. He went out fishing, and in those days fish were
more plentiful and larger than they are now. The shoals of the
mackerel glittered in the dark nights, and indicated where
they were swimming; the gurnards snarled, and the crabs gave
forth pitiful yells when they were chased, for fish are not so
mute as people say.

Every Sunday Jurgen went to church; and when his eyes
rested on the picture of the Virgin Mary over the altar as he
sat there, they often glided away to the spot where they had
knelt side by side.

Autumn came, and brought rain and snow with it; the water
rose up right into the town of Skjagen, the sand could not
suck it all in, one had to wade through it or go by boat. The
storms threw vessel after vessel on the fatal reefs; there
were snow-storm and sand-storms; the sand flew up to the
houses, blocking the entrances, so that people had to creep up
through the chimneys; that was nothing at all remarkable here.
It was pleasant and cheerful indoors, where peat fuel and
fragments of wood from the wrecks blazed and crackled upon the
hearth. Merchant Bronne read aloud, from an old chronicle,
about Prince Hamlet of Denmark, who had come over from
England, landed near Bovbjerg, and fought a battle; close by
Ramme was his grave, only a few miles from the place where the
eel-breeder lived; hundreds of barrow rose there from the
heath, forming as it were an enormous churchyard. Merchant
Bronne had himself been at Hamlet's grave; they spoke about
old times, and about their neighbours, the English and the
Scotch, and Jurgen sang the air of 'The King of England's
Son,' and of his splendid ship and its outfit.


'In the hour of peril when most men fear,

He clasped the bride that he held so dear,

And proved himself the son of a King;

Of his courage and valour let us sing.'


This verse Jurgen sang with so much feeling that his eyes
beamed, and they were black and sparkling since his infancy.

There was wealth, comfort, and happiness even among the
domestic animals, for they were all well cared for, and well
kept. The kitchen looked bright with its copper and tin
utensils, and white plates, and from the rafters hung hams,
beef, and winter stores in plenty. This can still be seen in
many rich farms on the west coast of Jutland: plenty to eat
and drink, clean, prettily decorated rooms, active minds,
cheerful tempers, and hospitality can be found there, as in an
Arab's tent.

Jurgen had never spent such a happy time since the famous
burial feast, and yet Miss Clara was absent, except in the
thoughts and memory of all.

In April a ship was to start for Norway, and Jurgen was to
sail in it. He was full of life and spirits, and looked so
sturdy and well that Dame Bronne said it did her good to see
him.

'And it does one good to look at you also, old wife,' said
the merchant. 'Jurgen has brought fresh life into our winter
evenings, and into you too, mother. You look younger than ever
this year, and seem well and cheerful. But then you were once
the prettiest girl in Viborg, and that is saying a great deal,
for I have always found the Viborg girls the prettiest of
any.'

Jurgen said nothing, but he thought of a certain maiden of
Skjagen, whom he was soon to visit. The ship set sail for
Christiansand in Norway, and as the wind was favourable it
soon arrived there.

One morning merchant Bronne went out to the lighthouse,
which stands a little way out of Old Skjagen, not far from
'Grenen.' The light was out, and the sun was already high in
the heavens, when he mounted the tower. The sand-banks extend
a whole mile from the shore, beneath the water, outside these
banks; many ships could be seen that day, and with the aid of
his telescope the old man thought he descried his own ship,
the Karen Bronne. Yes! certainly, there she was, sailing
homewards with Clara and Jurgen on board.

Clara sat on deck, and saw the sand-hills gradually
appearing in the distance; the church and lighthouse looked
like a heron and a swan rising from the blue waters. If the
wind held good they might reach home in about an hour. So near
they were to home and all its joys- so near to death and all
its terrors! A plank in the ship gave way, and the water
rushed in; the crew flew to the pumps, and did their best to
stop the leak. A signal of distress was hoisted, but they were
still fully a mile from the shore. Some fishing boats were in
sight, but they were too far off to be of any use. The wind
blew towards the land, the tide was in their favour, but it
was all useless; the ship could not be saved.

Jurgen threw his right arm round Clara, and pressed her to
him. With what a look she gazed up into his face, as with a
prayer to God for help he breasted the waves, which rushed
over the sinking ship! She uttered a cry, but she felt safe
and certain that he would not leave her to sink. And in this
hour of terror and danger Jurgen felt as the king's son did,
as told in the old song:


'In the hour of peril when most men fear,

He clasped the bride that he held so dear.'


How glad he felt that he was a good swimmer! He worked his
way onward with his feet and one arm, while he held the young
girl up firmly with the other. He rested on the waves, he trod
the water- in fact, did everything he could think of, in order
not to fatigue himself, and to reserve strength enough to
reach land. He heard Clara sigh, and felt her shudder
convulsively, and he pressed her more closely to him. Now and
then a wave rolled over them, the current lifted them; the
water, although deep, was so clear that for a moment he
imagined he saw the shoals of mackerel glittering, or
Leviathan himself ready to swallow them. Now the clouds cast a
shadow over the water, then again came the playing sunbeams;
flocks of loudly screaming birds passed over him, and the
plump and lazy wild ducks which allow themselves to be drifted
by the waves rose up terrified at the sight of the swimmer. He
began to feel his strength decreasing, but he was only a few
cable lengths' distance from the shore, and help was coming,
for a boat was approaching him. At this moment he distinctly
saw a white staring figure under the water- a wave lifted him
up, and he came nearer to the figure- he felt a violent shock,
and everything became dark around him.

On the sand reef lay the wreck of a ship, which was
covered with water at high tide; the white figure head rested
against the anchor, the sharp iron edge of which rose just
above the surface. Jurgen had come in contact with this; the
tide had driven him against it with great force. He sank down
stunned with the blow, but the next wave lifted him and the
young girl up again. Some fishermen, coming with a boat,
seized them and dragged them into it. The blood streamed down
over Jurgen's face; he seemed dead, but still held the young
girl so tightly that they were obliged to take her from him by
force. She was pale and lifeless; they laid her in the boat,
and rowed as quickly as possible to the shore. They tried
every means to restore Clara to life, but it was all of no
avail. Jurgen had been swimming for some distance with a
corpse in his arms, and had exhausted his strength for one who
was dead.

Jurgen still breathed, so the fishermen carried him to the
nearest house upon the sand-hills, where a smith and general
dealer lived who knew something of surgery, and bound up
Jurgen's wounds in a temporary way until a surgeon could be
obtained from the nearest town the next day. The injured man's
brain was affected, and in his delirium he uttered wild cries;
but on the third day he lay quiet and weak upon his bed; his
life seemed to hang by a thread, and the physician said it
would be better for him if this thread broke. 'Let us pray
that God may take him,' he said, 'for he will never be the
same man again.'

But life did not depart from him- the thread would not
break, but the thread of memory was severed; the thread of his
mind had been cut through, and what was still more grievous, a
body remained- a living healthy body that wandered about like
a troubled spirit.

Jurgen remained in merchant Bronne's house. 'He was hurt
while endeavouring to save our child,' said the old man, 'and
now he is our son.' People called Jurgen insane, but that was
not exactly the correct term. He was like an instrument in
which the strings are loose and will give no sound; only
occasionally they regained their power for a few minutes, and
then they sounded as they used to do. He would sing snatches
of songs or old melodies, pictures of the past would rise
before him, and then disappear in the mist, as it were, but as
a general rule he sat staring into vacancy, without a thought.
We may conjecture that he did not suffer, but his dark eyes
lost their brightness, and looked like clouded glass.

'Poor mad Jurgen,' said the people. And this was the end
of a life whose infancy was to have been surrounded with
wealth and splendour had his parents lived! All his great
mental abilities had been lost, nothing but hardship, sorrow,
and disappointment had been his fate. He was like a rare
plant, torn from its native soil, and tossed upon the beach to
wither there. And was this one of God's creatures, fashioned
in His own likeness, to have no better fate? Was he to be only
the plaything of fortune? No! the all-loving Creator would
certainly repay him in the life to come for what he had
suffered and lost here. 'The Lord is good to all; and His
mercy is over all His works.' The pious old wife of the
merchant repeated these words from the Psalms of David in
patience and hope, and the prayer of her heart was that Jurgen
might soon be called away to enter into eternal life.

In the churchyard where the walls were surrounded with
sand Clara lay buried. Jurgen did not seem to know this; it
did not enter his mind, which could only retain fragments of
the past. Every Sunday he went to church with the old people,
and sat there silently, staring vacantly before him. One day,
when the Psalms were being sung, he sighed deeply, and his
eyes became bright; they were fixed upon a place near the
altar where he had knelt with his friend who was dead. He
murmured her name, and became deadly pale, and tears rolled
down his cheeks. They led him out of church; he told those
standing round him that he was well, and had never been ill;
he, who had been so grievously afflicted, the outcast, thrown
upon the world, could not remember his sufferings. The Lord
our Creator is wise and full of loving kindness- who can doubt
it?

In Spain, where balmy breezes blow over the Moorish
cupolas and gently stir the orange and myrtle groves, where
singing and the sound of the castanets are always heard, the
richest merchant in the place, a childless old man, sat in a
luxurious house, while children marched in procession through
the streets with waving flags and lighted tapers. If he had
been able to press his children to his heart, his daughter, or
her child, that had, perhaps never seen the light of day, far
less the kingdom of heaven, how much of his wealth would he
not have given! 'Poor child!' Yes, poor child- a child still,
yet more than thirty years old, for Jurgen had arrived at this
age in Old Skjagen.

The shifting sands had covered the graves in the
courtyard, quite up to the church walls, but still, the dead
must be buried among their relatives and the dear ones who had
gone before them. Merchant Bronne and his wife now rested with
their children under the white sand.

It was in the spring- the season of storms. The sand from
the dunes was whirled up in clouds; the sea was rough, and
flocks of birds flew like clouds in the storm, screaming
across the sand-hills. Shipwreck followed upon shipwreck on
the reefs between Old Skagen and the Hunsby dunes.

One evening Jurgen sat in his room alone: all at once his
mind seemed to become clearer, and a restless feeling came
over him, such as had often, in his younger days, driven him
out to wander over the sand-hills or on the heath. 'Home,
home!' he cried. No one heard him. He went out and walked
towards the dunes. Sand and stones blew into his face, and
whirled round him; he went in the direction of the church. The
sand was banked up the walls, half covering the windows, but
it had been cleared away in front of the door, and the
entrance was free and easy to open, so Jurgen went into the
church.

The storm raged over the town of Skjagen; there had not
been such a terrible tempest within the memory of the
inhabitants, nor such a rough sea. But Jurgen was in the
temple of God, and while the darkness of night reigned
outside, a light arose in his soul that was never to depart
from it; the heavy weight that pressed on his brain burst
asunder. He fancied he heard the organ, but it was only the
storm and the moaning of the sea. He sat down on one of the
seats, and lo! the candies were lighted one by one, and there
was brightness and grandeur such as he had only seen in the
Spanish cathedral. The portraits of the old citizens became
alive, stepped down from the walls against which they had hung
for centuries, and took seats near the church door. The gates
flew open, and all the dead people from the churchyard came
in, and filled the church, while beautiful music sounded. Then
the melody of the psalm burst forth, like the sound of the
waters, and Jurgen saw that his foster parents from the Hunsby
dunes were there, also old merchant Bronne with his wife and
their daughter Clara, who gave him her hand. They both went up
to the altar where they had knelt before, and the priest
joined their hands and united them for life. Then music was
heard again; it was wonderfully sweet, like a child's voice,
full of joy and expectation, swelling to the powerful tones of
a full organ, sometimes soft and sweet, then like the sounds
of a tempest, delightful and elevating to hear, yet strong
enough to burst the stone tombs of the dead. Then the little
ship that hung from the roof of the choir was let down and
looked wonderfully large and beautiful with its silken sails
and rigging:


'The ropes were of silk, the anchor of gold,

And everywhere riches and pomp untold,'

as the old song says.

The young couple went on board, accompanied by the whole
congregation, for there was room and enjoyment for them all.
Then the walls and arches of the church were covered with
flowering junipers and lime trees breathing forth fragrance;
the branches waved, creating a pleasant coolness; they bent
and parted, and the ship sailed between them through the air
and over the sea. Every candle in the church became a star,
and the wind sang a hymn in which they all joined. 'Through
love to glory, no life is lost, the future is full of
blessings and happiness. Hallelujah!' These were the last
words Jurgen uttered in this world, for the thread that bound
his immortal soul was severed, and nothing but the dead body
lay in the dark church, while the storm raged outside,
covering it with loose sand.

The next day was Sunday, and the congregation and their
pastor went to the church. The road had always been heavy, but
now it was almost unfit for use, and when they at last arrived
at the church, a great heap of sand lay piled up in front of
them. The whole church was completely buried in sand. The
clergyman offered a short prayer, and said that God had closed
the door of His house here, and that the congregation must go
and build a new one for Him somewhere else. So they sung a
hymn in the open air, and went home again.

Jurgen could not be found anywhere in the town of Skjagen,
nor on the dunes, though they searched for him everywhere.
They came to the conclusion that one of the great waves, which
had rolled far up on the beach, had carried him away; but his
body lay buried in a great sepulchre- the church itself. The
Lord had thrown down a covering for his grave during the
storm, and the heavy mound of sand lies upon it to this day.
The drifting sand had covered the vaulted roof of the church,
the arched cloisters, and the stone aisles. The white thorn
and the dog rose now blossom above the place where the church
lies buried, but the spire, like an enormous monument over a
grave, can be seen for miles round. No king has a more
splendid memorial. Nothing disturbs the peaceful sleep of the
dead. I was the first to hear this story, for the storm sung
it to me among the sand-hills.


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