Little Swedish Nightingale

Written by Jeanette Birt

Part 1 - Karolina and Niklas

"Your tray for Table Number Five, Karolina," called the man from behind the bar. The young waitress smiled her acknowledgement and went to collect the order for her customers.

Deftly carrying the laden tray on the flat of one hand, the pretty fair girl, a crisply starched apron covering her neat white pintucked blouse and long black skirt, weaved her way between the tables, attractively set out on two levels. She smiled at the seated occupants until she came to the one whose order she was about to deliver. Removing the coffee cups from the tray and placing them before the couple seated there, she then did the same with two balloons of golden brandy. The gentleman pressed a coin in her hand, complimenting her excellent service. She in turn thanked him and his wife in the charming way which lit up her sparkling blue eyes, and made her way back to the kitchens.

The Kingfisher Restaurant was exceptionally busy. A well-known opera company from Italy was playing a short season at one of the town's two theatres, and patrons had flooded into every bar, bistro and restaurant in the area following that evening's performance of Cosi Fan Tutte. At the Kingfisher, all tables were occupied by contented diners enjoying the excellent cuisine of their favourite chef, and who were being served quickly and efficiently by two waiters and the young waitress.

Behind the bar stood Herr Stefan Daaé, a tall handsome man whose curly dark hair was streaked with grey and whose merry dark eyes twinkled with admiration as, vigorously polishing glasses prior to stacking them on shelves, he watched the young girl make her progress back round the tables, smilingly taking more orders as she did so.

Herr Daaé, owner of The Kingfisher Restaurant, grinned at her when she glanced in his direction, nodding his approval. He was very pleased with young Fröken Karolina Bacht. She had proved herself a willing and adept worker, always so bright and good-natured that his customers quickly grew to know and appreciate her cheerful service.


Karolina had been working at The Kingfisher for just over six weeks, serving both as a waitress and receptionist. She loved her job, for it was a friendly environment where formality was dispensed with and the staff were known by their first names and they in turn were asked to address their employer by his own given name. She also assisted Stefan with the accounts, for he had noted from the start that she had a quick intelligence and was ably educated.

Karolina was twenty years old and had come to the town of Sävja from the small village on the outskirts of Uppsala which was her home. Her father had died some ten months ago and after they had paid for his funeral and all his outstanding debts, she and her mother were left with very little in the way of an income. Therefore, with her mother's blessing, she had left home to find work elsewhere, and was able to greatly help her widowed mother by sending her money each week from her wages and from the many gratuities she received.

The young waitress had found a clean and comfortable lodging with a kind friend of Herr Daaé. It was only a small room, but adequately furnished and with her few treasures spread around her, she was perfectly happy with her surroundings. There was also a tiled bathroom to share with Fru Bakker, her landlady, and she took her meals in the cosy kitchen with her hostess, an excellent cook and housekeeper and a skilled needlewoman who made, among other things, exquisitely embroidered tapestries and kneeling pads for the church.

Every week she wrote to Mamma, enclosing some money with her letters and assuring her that she was well and happy. Herr Daaé is an agreeable employer, she wrote, and I like him so much. The customers are generally kind, good-natured and generous with tips and I save as much as I can. The town is very large and with all the well-stocked shops, the restaurants and bars,the museum and lending library, theatres and fine churches, is indeed very exciting!

There was also an added attraction which Karolina had not mentioned to Mamma. Not just yet, for it was all so new to her, but she hugged the secret knowledge close to her, and lost herself in her burgeoning dreams of love.

Herr Daaé had a son. His name was Niklas.


Niklas Daaé was very handsome in a shy, rather serious way. Like his father, he was tall, slim yet muscular, and had inherited that thick dark hair which, no matter how often he damped it down, curled riotously over his head. His eyes were very blue and his smile was beguiling in that it always started in his eyes, then his lips would part to display even white teeth above an attractively cleft chin.

Father and son were a good-looking pair, and there were many ladies in the town who would have been highly delighted to be seen on the arm of either one of them. Stefan was a widower of some eight years standing, having lost his dearly loved wife to an acute epidemic of influenza which had also claimed three other acquaintances' lives at that awful time. His grief had been profound, so much so that he had taken Niklas away for several months to live in the wooden cabin he often used for fishing trips. It was set on the shores of a beautiful lake, where they stayed until Stefan felt he could face the world again. The peace and beauty of that solitary idyll had calmed his frenzied misery, and the eternal tranquillity of Nature had given him comfort and the strength to carry on.

On their return home, Stefan gave up his former job in the town's bakery in order to buy and refurbish The Kingfisher Restaurant. He hired the best chef he could find and within weeks, The Kingfisher had become one of the most popular social venues in the town. Stefan had thrown himself into his work and in so doing, had recovered his former equilibrium and joy of life. The dear memory of his Agneta, however, was always foremost in his heart and he knew he would not experience again the love he had felt for his wife.


In all his twenty-four years, Niklas had never once lost his heart to any girl, although he had many friends in the town. He loved his work, adored his fader and was happy with his life just as it was, although of course he still missed his mother. Not until lovely young Fröken Karolina Bacht came to work for his father did he ever imagine himself in love, but from that dreamlike moment when he had first been introduced to her, he had fallen head over heels in love. From the shy glances and smiles he received from her, his hopes were raised each time they saw each other that she might return his feelings.

Niklas did not work in the restaurant with his father but was a carpenter by trade. From a very young age, he had loved the feel and texture of polished wood, silken and smooth beneath his caressing fingers. He was absorbed with his work, firstly in preparing and honing the wood, and then carving and fashioning all kinds of furniture, from the simplest wooden chair to an ornately beautiful cabinet, and was assisted with any upholstery by Fru Bakker, who helped him choose the right fabrics.

Niklas Daaé took orders from rich and poor alike, and knew the satisfaction of a good and varied trade. He also enjoyed making toys, and the local children loved to go to his woodyard and watch in fascination as he created lots of wonderful playthings with the tools of his trade. The children knew that once he had finished work for the day, he would often take out their favourite puppet theatre from the back of the shop and give them all a little show, making them laugh at the antics of the tiny wooden stringed toys.


Karolina had discovered that Niklas was also a talented musician who played the violin with great skill and the absolute dedication of a born musician, even though he had never had a lesson and was entirely self-taught.

"My mother was musical, you see. Perhaps I have inherited her gifts," he smiled. "Certainly I don't get them from Father!" He laughed, for his father cheerfully owned to all and sundry of being completely tone-deaf and indeed was hard-pressed to even whistle in tune, although full of pride and admiration for his son's wonderful musicianship.

Karolina thought on this and smiled, for it was very true! Stefan Daaé would happily hum or whistle as he worked, but it was when he teasingly struck a pose and attempted to sing that all his patrons would pretend to cover their ears from his lamentable efforts.

"Stefan... please! What is that noise! Music, you say? Pshhhht! It's like a wailing cat - or a dying duck in a thunderstorm!"

The good Herr would carry on regardless of their funning. The tuneless singing continued - "I am happy, therefore I will sing!", he carolled throatily. "I say to you all that my music is - how shall I put it? - unusual.... and... and should be treasured! I will not be silenced!", protested the patron, with a grin as large as a canyon.

"Oh, it is such fun to work here!", thought Karolina, who loved every moment spent in the restaurant, even when she was rushed off her feet. She would go back to her lodgings every night and sleep like the dead. Come morning and she was up with the lark, humming to herself as she washed, dressed and braided her long blonde hair. For work, she always pinned the plaits neatly around her head, sometimes threading a ribbon through them, so that when she brushed her hair each night before bed, it would fall in thick rippling waves down past her slim waist.


Today was Tuesday and the sun was streaming in her open window, a playful little breeze lifting the white lace curtains. Karolina ran lightly downstairs to the kitchen where she ate a breakfast of oats and fruit with Fru Bakker. Her kindly hostess said with a smile that her young lodger seemed as happy as the bright morning.

"Oh yes! Who could not be happy on such a day - the sun is high in a sky of clearest blue, the birds are singing, this coffee tastes like nectar - oh, who could possibly be miserable today!"

"True, my dear, very true." Sipping her coffee, Fru Bakker studied the pretty picture that was the fresh young girl sitting opposite her. Dressed in an embroidered blouse with ruffles at the neck and a neat dark skirt, her hair a shining halo around her head, clear eyes sparkling with joie de vivre, she was a heart-lifting sight.

"And... dare I ask if getting to know a certain young man comes into this equation?", Fru Bakker asked with a twinkle in her eyes.

Karolina flushed rosily. "Oh, I...I don't know what you mean", she stammered. "Really, I don't... I must be off now - I will see you this evening! 'Bye-bye!" She took her bag from the chair, flung a shawl round her shoulders and skipped out the door with a wave of her hand, leaving Fru Bakker smiling to herself as she set about clearing the table. Oh yes indeed, her pretty companion was obviously smitten with young Niklas!


Arriving at the restaurant, Karolina put a protective apron over her clothes in order to start work. Herr Daaé had swept and washed the floors, tidied the tables and chairs and wiped down the bar. He greeted his employee, saying how gloriously fresh and alive she seemed, and such a lovely sight for his bleary old eyes!

Karolina laughed as she wished him good morning. Just then, Niklas walked through the door from the family quarters. Her heart thudded at sight of him and she could do nothing about the blush that suffused her cheeks but try to hide it by fiddling with her apron strings.

Watching interestedly as his son suddenly stopped in his tracks with eyes all aglow, Herr Daaé looked on with paternal benevolence as his boy and young Karolina shyly greeted each other. "Here's a case", he thought, "my quiet young Nik is head over heels in love, and I could not be happier. She is adorable."

To Stefan's delight, and that of Karolina's mother, Evi Bacht, within a few weeks the young couple had become inseparable and very soon declared their love for each other. Niklas asked Karolina to marry him and ecstatically, she agreed. He bought her a sapphire ring which he touchingly confided was because the jewel matched her eyes. Those same eyes filled with happy tears as he placed it on her engagement finger.

Part 2 - Wedding Bells

The regular customers at The Kingfisher Restaurant clubbed together and bought the betrothed pair a plot of land in order that Niklas could build a house. With the help of their friends, a fine new house took shape, built of warm red brick and wooden cladding into which the young carpenter carved attractive designs. A garden was laid out, young trees planted, shrubberies and a white gazebo added. Niklas made furniture as Karolina busily fashioned curtains for the windows and a quilt for the bed.

Their wedding day dawned, a bright frosty day in late November. Karolina looked very beautiful in a gown of heavy white satin brocade, trimmed with pearls at the neck of the sculpted bodice and half-way up the long, pointed sleeves. Her hair was simply dressed, parted in the middle and swept up softly in a loose knot with one long curl hanging over her left shoulder, while her short misty veil of cobweb lace was held in place with white flowers nestling in their greenery. She carried a posy of white roses, but with a touch of colour in the two or three deep pink and red roses given to her by her mother.

The service was held at the Church of St Antoni which they both attended regularly with their parents. Evi looked on with love and joy - and a good few tears - as her daughter took her marriage vows. Stefan's heart swelled with pride at sight of his tall young son swearing to love and cherish. Came the wonderful moment they were declared man and wife, Niklas gave his young bride a tender kiss as a collective sigh of pleasure echoed around the little church. It was packed with the townsfolk, all come to wish the young couple well at the start of their married life together.

The newly-weds and their families and friends enjoyed the wedding breakfast in the hall adjacent to the church, which Evi had decorated with trailing ivy and winter roses. Toasts were drunk, much good food and wine consumed, the cake was cut and then there was music and dancing. The groom was called upon to play for them, and he did so willingly, the notes of his violin dipping and soaring melodiously. Then in a charming interlude, he played a piece which he had composed especially for his bride and which he had called simply To My Sweet Lina. There was thunderous applause and calls for an encore. Niklas drew his bow across the violin when, to everyone's surprised delight, his wife went to stand beside him and began to sing.

The room fell silent. The voice that issued from the throat of the young woman was astonishingly pure and clear, holding the listeners in its crystalline thrall. Karolina's eyes rested on her mother's beloved face and she sang with all her heart, a song which she knew had been a favourite of her darling Papa. Evi listened with pride and happiness as her daughter's lovely voice enchanted all those present, remembering fondly how Karolina used to love singing with her Papa, and how much her late husband had adored his only child.

As the final notes of the song died away, the room erupted into one great cry of "underbar "!. For long moments the cheers rang out, rising to a crescendo as Niklas took his bride in his arms and kissed her. Karolina curtsied, Niklas bowed, then she flung back her head and laughed with sheer happiness.

At midnight, tired but contented, the bridal couple wished everyone an affectionate "God natt " and left the reception to take the ten minutes walk to their new home, accompanied to their door by several friends who threw rose petals around them and called out good wishes. A few of the more intoxicated also attempted the walk but most fell by the wayside in a sprawl of flailing arms and legs, to be rescued by their laughing friends and dragged back into the warmth of the hall.

The night air was cold and clear, the stars twinkling far above in the blue-black sky. Later, many loving hours later as the sky lightened to herald the dawn of a new day, Niklas and his Lina slept in each other's arms.

Part 3 - Love and Marriage

Karolina loved to keep her little house gleaming from top to bottom, greeting visitors with a wide smile and offers of tea or coffee and her fresh-baked cakes, taken after a head-spinning glass of schnapps. She still helped her father-in-law in the restaurant, for it was always busy and he welcomed her lively assistance in keeping his customers served.

She was blissfully happy in her marriage, loving her quiet husband with all her heart. To add to her joy, they had been able to help her mother sell the old family home on the outskirts of Uppsala and move into a small cottage nearby. Niklas was only too glad to have his Lina's Mamma living nearby, and so pleased by the fact that Evi got on so well with his own father.

The weeks passed into months as Winter melted into Spring and the world seemed to burst into bloom. Karolina began to spend hours in her little garden, lovingly planting new seedlings and tending her sprouting young fruit trees. She planned to make lots of preserves for her store room, and had several plans in mind for her home and garden. Picking a bunch of bright yellow daffodils for the dining table, she hummed a little melody.

"I will make my darling husband so proud of me!", she said happily to the air around her.

Evi visited often for a cup of coffee and a motherly fund of advice for her daughter. Come May, however, and Niklas had even more reason to be glad of his svärmor's proximity, for his wife had told him just two days ago that they were to have a child!

They had been married for six months when one morning, Lina rose from the breakfast table with a hand to her head, saying that she felt a little dizzy. Next moment she had collapsed fainting onto the floor. Thoroughly alarmed, Niklas dashed over to her and gathered her in his arms, relieved to see that already she was coming round. Picking her up, he carried her back upstairs and laid her on the bed, saying that he would fetch the doctor.

"No, darling, I am fine, I promise you", she assured him. "It was only a little momentary giddiness; I probably rushed around too much yesterday evening, for the restaurant was terribly busy and I did not have a chance to eat my supper." She smiled up at him, urging him to go to work for she was very well and would get up shortly.

"Why not go to see Mamma?", Niklas suggested, "Spend a nice morning with her and rest awhile. You have been doing too much recently, dashing here, there and everywhere."

"Very well", she replied, giving him a kiss. "I will see you at dinner, my love."

Niklas returned her kiss, gathered up his toolbag and set off for work. Karolina fell back on the pillows and hugged herself, laughing and gleeful. She had a very good idea what had caused the swoon, and could not wait to ask Mamma if this was a symptom of early pregnancy!

On the way back from her mother's house, Karolina called into the doctor's surgery and told him that she thought she might be carrying a child. After examining the young woman, a little breathless in her excited anticipation, Dr Lundgren smiled broadly and confirmed her suspicions. She was two months into her pregnancy and the child could be expected sometime in late December, perhaps even on Juldagen! Karolina was overjoyed and on the verge of running back to tell her mother when she stopped, thinking that the first person to know should be her husband. She would tell Mamma tomorrow that her suspicions had been absolutely right and had been confirmed by the good doctor.

Niklas was jubilant, of course. He picked her up by her still slender waist and swung her round, laughing and crying at the same time. "We are having a baby!", he shouted at the top of his voice. "We are having a BABY!"

He smothered her with kisses, beside himself with joy and delight.

Karolina laughed at his exuberance. "Soon you will be Papa Daaé, my darling - imagine! And Stefan and Mamma will be farföräldrar . You will make a beautiful crib for our little one, and oh.... I am so happy!"

Part 4 - Papa Daaé

Summer passed into Autumn, the long sunny days dwindling into the misty mornings of September and October, the greens of the surrounding foliage turning to golden yellows and reds before the leaves finally withered and curled, falling to the ground to be crunched crisply underfoot come November. The young Daaés celebrated the first anniversary of their wedding with a candlelit dinner, when Niklas gave his wife a pair of beautiful decorative combs for her hair.

Apart from a few occasions when she had felt rather faint and breathless, Karolina was in blooming health, spending as much time out of doors as she could, walking in the parks with Mamma or a friend, or tending her pretty garden. Reassured by Karolina that the giddy spells were often experienced at such times, Niklas was not unduly alarmed and understood that there were many little irregularities of health which happened to expectant ladies and were accepted as part of a pregnancy.

During the long dark evenings, she sat by the fire and worked on her baby's layette, sewing tiny garments and knitting lacy, delicate shawls and thick, warm cot blankets. Her mother was also engaged in the same enjoyable tasks, looking forward immensely to the birth of her first grandchild.

At The Kingfisher, Herr Daaé was asked regularly about the health of his daughter-in-law, his loyal customers gently ribbing him that he was going to become a most handsome and distinguished grandfather! Stefan would puff out his chest and take a grinning bow, then ask slyly if they would like to hear him sing the lullaby he had learned to serenade his new grandchild.

"No thank you, old friend!", they shouted, "and do not sing to the baby, or you will give the poor little thing a bad case of colic!". They handed him little gifts for the coming baby, for everyone was very fond of young Nik and his lovely young wife.

Life continued happily for Niklas and his Lina as they eagerly awaited the birth of their child until one morning, six weeks or so before the baby was due to be born, something happened which again caused Niklas some concern over his wife's health.

Karolina had risen from their bed in order to dress and prepare breakfast when she suddenly felt very unwell. There was a strange fluttering sensation in her chest and her head seemed stuffed with thick wool. The room became overly hot and airless as nausea rose in her throat.

Dizziness enveloped her; her breath came in rapid, shallow gasps as she fell back onto the bed in a state of semi-consciousness. Fortunately at that moment her husband returned to the bedroom from the kitchen downstairs where he had been loading logs into the stove. The weather had turned very cold, with a hint of snow in the air. Blowing on his chilled hands, he was about to speak when he saw that his wife was half-lying across the bed, her arms flung out above her dreadfully pale face.

"Lina!", he cried in alarm, running to the bedside. "Lina... my love! What is wrong?" He lifted her fully onto the bed, frantically trying to revive her by rubbing her hands, then opening the window a little to give her some air. She felt so hot to his touch, but soon a gentle wisp of the pure, cold air drifted towards them. Slowly, her eyes fluttered open and she whispered a request for some water. Still holding her with one arm around her shoulders, Niklas managed to pour some water into the glass from the jug which was always at her bedside, holding it to her lips as she sipped gratefully.

When she had finished, Niklas put her gently back on the pillows, brushing her tangled hair away from her face which thankfully, had regained some of its colour. He went into the small bathroom, rang out her facecloth in tepid water and tenderly wiped her face and hands. As he dried them, he said he would get their neighbour to come and sit with her whilst he ran to get Dr Lundgren. She nodded and smiled, then closed her eyes and seemed to fall into a natural sleep.

An hour later, Dr Lundgren came downstairs to where Niklas was anxiously awaiting him. "Is she better, Sven? Will she be all right now?", he asked in a voice which trembled slightly. The doctor regarded the young man sympathetically over the top of his spectacles, resting a hand on his shoulder in a reassuring manner.

"Don't worry, Nik. Karolina will be fine, but I'm afraid she must definitely rest from now until the birth is due. By that I mean she must stay in bed, or failing that, to stay as immobile as possible on the sofa should she wish to leave the bedroom. You see, there is a very slight irregularity in her heartbeat, but with complete rest and care, all should be well and she will have a strong, healthy baby." Dr Lundgren spoke in his calm way to the young man, telling him exactly what his diagnosis entailed.

"Does... does this mean that there is something wrong with Lina's heart?", her husband stammered in fear.

"No, not at all. I believe her heart to be quite sound and that it is her condition which has perhaps triggered this slight case of arrhythmia. Pregnancy is a normal, natural process but sometimes, the expectant mother can suffer from discomfort in all manner of things - terrible nausea, attacks of migraine, or heartburn, even the desire to eat strangely - I have heard of ladies who have yearned to eat coal, or earth, or shoe polish." The doctor smiled at the expression of disbelief on the young man's face, recalling how one of his patients actually longed to eat a bar of the green soap used by her maid to do the laundry, but was dissuaded by the bemused maid and her concerned husband.

Striving to reassure Niklas, he said cheerfully, "These conditions are not generally severe and the pregnancy progresses to a normal outcome. However, I have to say that there are those who suffer from rather more serious disorders which can be worsened through pregnancy, although I not believe Karolina's momentary breathlessness and palpitations are due to a serious heart problem."

"I can only pray that you are right, Sven. Lina is always so lively and joyous, loving the fresh air and outdoors, dancing around so full of health and energy."

"Of course. She is young and vigorous, but I want to be on the safe side and do recommend that she has bed rest for the next few weeks whilst I will monitor her condition very carefully. I'm sure she will want to do what is best for the baby, for she is a sensible girl."

"Sven, we will do exactly as you say", Niklas vowed. "Her Mamma will come and stay with us and see that Lina complies with all you ask. Between us, we will look after my darling girl. I know how she longs to be a mother and to hold her baby in her arms."

Dr Lundgren patted Niklas on the shoulder. "Fine. An excellent idea. Please call on me at any time of day or night if you are at all worried, Nik. Meanwhile, I have left her feeling quite comfortable and she is waiting to see you, so off you go to her side, and I will see myself out." The doctor smiled, replacing his hat on his greying hair as he took his medical bag from the table, bidding the young man a cheery goodbye.

Niklas flew up the stairs to their bedroom, relieved to see Karolina sitting up in bed awaiting him with a loving smile. She assured him that she was quite well and that she was sure the quivering sensation in her chest was merely caused by the baby jumping about inside her!

Part 5 - Little Angel

Fru Bacht came to stay with the Daaés that very day, and made quite certain that her daughter obeyed the doctor's instructions in taking complete rest and suspending any kind of effort for the remainder of her pregnancy. Karolina was a little disappointed at having to give up her daily routine, but at least she could occupy herself with sewing several more little garments for her child. Mamma allowed her to come downstairs so long as she stayed on the comfortable couch with her feet up, a light blanket covering her lower half, and so the time passed pleasantly in Mamma's care with no further ado. Karolina could also appreciate the fact that Mamma always ensured her darling Niklas came home to a hot bath and good dinner.

Christmas was just a week away and the birth was imminent. Evi and Niklas hung decorations around the room and Niklas brought in a fine fir tree, which Evi dressed with twinkling stars and strings of silver tinsel. Karolina had made a silver and golden angel to place at the very top of the tree.

Evi arranged a dear little crib scene which Niklas had crafted with loving care, placing it on a low table alongside the couch where her daughter lay. Karolina would often look at the tiny figure of the Christ Child in the miniature wooden crib and marvel at her darling husband's skills. She thought of her own baby which was due to be born very soon, and was content.

Snow was gently falling in delicately patterned flakes when one week later, at exactly twenty minutes past midnight on Christmas Day 1861, a daughter was born to Karolina and Niklas Daaé.

They named the child for the Lord's birthday by calling her Christine.


It had been a long labour, as is often the case with a first baby, but Fru Morgens, the attentive midwife, and Dr Lundgren had been there from the beginning. The doctor monitored Karolina's condition and the progress of the baby with great care, for in spite of his assurances to Niklas, there was some slight anxiety with regard to the occasional bout of rapid heartbeat. Happily, all went well and the midwife made sure that Karolina was kept as comfortable as possible during her labour.

At first, Niklas had sat by Karolina's side, holding her hand and giving her comfort with his love, but then the doctor had gently ordered him out of the room as the time grew near for the birth. He kissed his wife and told her that he loved her with his life. She smiled as best she could through the severity of the pain which was filling her world, and gave herself wholly to the doctor's ministrations.

Niklas sat with Mamma downstairs, but was forever jumping up and pacing about the room, worrying and fretting at the long wait, his nerves so terribly on edge that he was unable to eat, although he gulped down several cups of coffee. Mamma sat placidly sewing, outwardly quite calm although her thoughts were restlessly churning in her mind and her ears straining for any kind of sound.

She tried to relieve the expectant father's worries somewhat by going upstairs every so often and reporting back to him on Karolina's progress. As the evening drew into night, she dozed off in her chair while Niklas stood by the fire, staring down into the flames. He prayed with all his soul for the safe deliverance of his beloved wife. Outside, the snow was drifting silently down from a moonlit sky, turning the world to an ethereal pageant of white and silver.

After what seemed an eternity to the anxious young man, at last he heard the sound for which he had long been waiting - a baby's first, wailing little cry! He woke Evi, almost crushing her fingers in his excitement, and tore out of the room.

Taking the stairs two at a time, he knocked at the bedroom door, holding on to the wall for he was shaking from head to foot. Fru Morgens answered and ushered him in, beaming from ear to ear as she tucked back a straying strand of hair underneath her spotless linen cap. Dr Lundgren was drying his hands on a towel, looking very pleased with his patient, for Karolina was sitting propped up by several pillows looking quite radiant. In her arms was a tiny bundle wrapped in a white shawl. Looking up as her husband entered, she gave a little joyful laugh, calling to him to come and see their daughter. "Nik, oh Nik! We have the most beautiful Christmas gift in the world!", she cried excitedly.

Niklas realised he had been holding his breath as he tip-toed forward, and was able to release it on one long, ecstatic sigh as he saw his wife's serenely happy face, her relaxed air of well-being. He bent forward to kiss her, then looked at his tiny daughter for the first time, and lost his heart completely.


Little Fröken Christine Madelina Daaé was a contented baby, as pretty as a picture with her big violet eyes and porcelain skin. Her thatch of dark curls she inherited from her father, and he loved to cradle her head in his hands and stroke the soft curls. Her parents were besotted with her, as indeed were her two grandparents. Niklas referred to her as min lilla ängel while her grandparents called her their little darling, and every time Karolina took her baby out for a walk, people would stop her to peep into the bassinet and coo at the enchanting cherub within. The infant would blow bubbles at them, followed by a wide toothless grin or a gurgle of endearing chuckles.

The child thrived, and her mother bloomed with a maternal tenderness which enhanced her fair features to that of serene beauty. She loved to dress her baby girl in the little lacy garments so carefully sewn with her tiny stitching, and the delicate woollen jackets which Evi had knitted. By the time the long days of Summer came to an end, the baby was crawling, and one of her favourite tricks was in trying to keep up with Benji, their tortoiseshell cat. He was a docile animal who patiently bore the baby's inquisitive little hands in his fur. Soon, Christine was pulling herself upright and staggering about on her adorably chubby little legs, and when she saw her Papa walk through the door after his day's work, she would totter towards him as fast as she could. Beaming with delight, Niklas would swoop her up in his arms and swing her around, loving the sound of that chuckling laughter.

Whenever Niklas played his violin and Karolina sat at the piano to accompany him, or merely to sing as she played, the baby would sit at their feet with an expression of fascinated delight on her sweet face, clapping tiny hands and burbling rapturously. Her father joyfully expressed the opinion that their little angel was born to sing. He made her several toys, including a miniscule harp at which she spent absorbed hours plucking at the strings.

Christine loved her toys and when Evi fashioned a large rag doll for her, she dragged it around everywhere, naming it in her baby language as "Sisi".

Part 6 - Sorrows

Another contented family year passed and Christine was nearly two years old when Karolina was overjoyed to discover that she was to have another baby.

She hoped for a boy this time - a brother for Christine and a son for her beloved Niklas. The new baby was expected in the month of June and they made plans to furnish the spare room as a pretty bedroom for Christine so that the coming baby could occupy the nursery. Karolina was so excited, telling her little daughter that she would soon have a dear brother or sister.

The weeks and months passed and it was Christmas once more, when Christine had her birthday party surrounded by the Christmas decorations. She had two lots of presents, those for her birthday and those as Christmas gifts. The little family attended the church service and all their friends gave Christine yet more exciting parcels, and she was kissed and hugged many times.

Her young mother was in her third month of pregnancy, blissfully happy and feeling very well when the first ominous sign occurred which raised concern among the members of her family. During the week of the New Year celebrations, she suffered another severe fainting fit brought on by a suddenly accelerated heartbeat. Fortunately, her mother was present and managed to half-carry her to her bed, sending immediately for Dr Lundgren.

By the time he arrived, Karolina was conscious, though extremely pale and shaken. The doctor examined her thoroughly as Evi stood at the foot of the bed, having earlier put Christine down for her afternoon nap. Dr Lundgren put away his stethoscope and smiled at Karolina, but as he took hold of one of her hands, his face took on an of gravity.

"My dear", he said in his fatherly way, "not for the world would I wish to alarm you, but again I'm afraid it is a question of bed rest for you, at least until these first vulnerable months are safely by." He patted the hand within his own, continuing, " then we must wait and see if the state of your health will allow you to resume normal daily life."

The doctor paused for a moment, glancing up at Evi, whose eyes met his in a look of understanding. He carried on speaking to Karolina.

"I must warn you though, little one, that if I think it best you stay prone for the full term of your pregnancy, then I'm afraid that is what must be." The doctor pressed her slim fingers reassuringly, saying, "however, as I have said, I do not mean to distress you unduly and I can tell you that the baby should be fine and will not be affected by your condition".

Karolina nodded, unable to say anything as she tried to blink away the tears which had gathered in her eyes. "Try not to worry, Karolina. You have those around you with your best interests at heart and who will take care of you. Your Mamma will be here during the day to help look after you and little Christine", Dr Lundgren smiled as Evi vigorously nodded her head in accord. "And of course Nik will be with you at all other times, so please - I beg you - don't worry and fret unnecessarily."

The young woman looked disconsolate as the doctor's words sank in, but managed a smile which won his approval as he said, "Good girl! The time will soon pass and God willing, you will have a fine, healthy child." Patting her hand in his kindly manner, Dr Lundgren bade her good day.

Nonetheless, he had a worried little frown on his brow as downstairs in the drawing-room, he spoke to Fru Bacht. "Truth to tell, Evi, I am rather unhappy about these palpitations, although my patient is perfectly healthy in every other way."

"Sven, I promise that I will ensure my daughter does as you say", Evi said quietly, "but I am afraid for her, a little. You see, my husband had a heart condition which eventually... killed him," her expression was bleak as she stumbled on the last two words.

"No... no, you must not think that, my dear", the doctor protested. "Your husband worked far too hard and had many business worries. I remember you told me he was facing bankruptcy when he began to have severe chest pains and his breathing took on that harsh rasping quality. That is indeed an indication of malfunction of the heart. He was a man in his fifties, terribly worried about his business and in trying to hide all that from you his heart was overwhelmed by stress and strain, thereby causing his apoplexy."

Dr Lundgren took hold of Evi's hand, pressing it warmly as he continued. "I believe the two cases are very different. It is not uncommon for expectant mothers to experience faintness, as you know. The rapid heartbeat could simply be from nervous excitement, for she is quite highly-strung despite her friendly confidence."

"You are right, Sven. Karolina is like a young colt; so full of energy, taking life at a gallop, yet often seemingly unable to quieten down once in the grip of this nervous excitement", her mother agreed.

The doctor nodded, frowning slightly. He took his leave of Evi, saying he would come back next day to check on his young patient. Evi went back upstairs to her daughter.

Alas, all too soon, the doctor's feeling of disquiet was sadly realised when two weeks later, Karolina suffered a miscarriage and lost her baby. She was heartbroken and wept endlessly on her husband's shoulder.

"It is my fault - I blame myself, my stupid inability to carry our child safely. Oh Nik, my love, I have failed you. Forgive me," she sobbed in a devastated manner which was unbearably poignant to her husband.

"Sweetheart, there is nothing to forgive", Niklas held her close, trying to ease her despair and comfort her with words of love, insisting that there must have been a simple cause for this tragedy, whether it was medical or otherwise. "You must not blame yourself, my darling. The Good Lord has his reasons, we both know that. But he will bless us with more children, you'll see. We are young and the years ahead will give us more than enough time to extend our family."

Niklas tenderly fingered the damp hair away from Karolina's tearful face. He kissed her swollen eyelids, tasting those tears and feeling such a great swell of love for her that he too wanted to weep. She opened her eyes and smiled tremulously, trying to swallow her grief as she tightened her hold on him.

"You are right, my love", she whispered, "we will pray for more children, every day we will pray, but even if... if it does not happen, even if I cannot have...more, we have our beloved little Christine, and we are so blessed, are we not?"

Part 7 - Little Swedish Nightingale

The pretty child was growing fast, delighting all those who came in contact with her. She had inherited her father's dark curls and his rather shy demeanour, but she had her mother's deep blue eyes and sunny disposition, and such endearing ways that everyone adored her. She could twist her doting grandfather around her small fingers. Stefan loved to have her with him in The Kingfisher, watching with a wide grin as she attempted to help polish the tables. His lunchtime customers gave her pennies to save in her money box, or little gifts of perhaps a picture book, or ribbons for her hair.

On her fourth birthday, Stefan gave her a music box made from shiny black enamel, colourfully decorated with painted butterflies. The little girl was thrilled, and when she had opened the lid to listen to the tinkling tune, a wonderful thing happened. She opened her rosebud mouth and sang to the music, revealing an astonishingly clear and musically accurate singing voice. It was quite obvious to Stefan that she had inherited her father's musicality and her mother's crystal tones, but in a child so young her singing voice was quite extraordinary.

When her parents came to collect her, Stefan bade the little girl sing for Mamma and Papa along with the music box, as she had done earlier. She opened the lid, and as the familiar tune began she sang with it. Niklas was overwhelmed, yet not completely surprised, for his daughter seemed to have the gift of music which came quite naturally to her, just as he had himself, an innate musicality and instinctive need to express this either with an instrument or with the voice. And of course, Karolina's voice was sweet and true. It was no wonder that their child should be so musically gifted.

From that day, Niklas referred to her as his lilla näktergal svensk and began to teach her all that he knew of music, whilst Karolina sang with her as she played their old piano. Christine was so eager to learn that both her parents felt sure she was destined for the world of music, and most surely as a singer. Every day the little girl would practice her notes on the piano and sing along with them. She loved to dance also, being fairy light on her feet, pointing her toes gracefully as she pirouetted around the room. Niklas watched proudly, telling his wife that when she was a little older, their beautiful daughter should have singing lessons, the best they could afford.

Part 8 - Angels

Karolina adored her dainty little daughter and was so happy in her marriage that she gave thanks every day for her blessings. What she did hide, however, was her desperate yearning for another child. Every day she prayed, whether in the privacy of her bedchamber or in a pew at St Antoni, and in those prayers she asked for the health and strength to bear another child. She asked for guidance and hope, for the strange sensations in her chest now occurred rather too often, the racing of her heart causing her to feel faint and light-headed, so much so that she would have to stop whatever she was doing, sit down and stay quite still until she recovered her equilibrium.

She tried to conceal the symptoms from her loved ones as best she could, although little Christine had once told her Daddy that Mamma "felled on the floor and went to sleep". Karolina had laughed away the sudden anxiety on her husband's face, telling him that she had only been playing a game with their daughter. When later Niklas gently questioned his daughter again about Mamma on the floor, Christine had replied "Mamma felled down like this, Daddy", the little girl imitated by bending her knees and falling on her back, "but an ängel came and touched her, and she got up and was all awaked again."

"An... angel, poppet?", asked Niklas in a somewhat puzzled voice as he pulled her upright and into his arms.

"Yes Daddy, a beautiful angel with golden hair and shiny big wings. It floated down through the ceiling and made Mamma better again", Christine told her father as she played with his hair. "Do you suppose it was the Angel of Music, Daddy?" asked the child.

"I... I cannot be sure, Christine. Did you really see...?"

"Yes Daddy. It was all bright and shimmery, like the sun, but it didn't have a harp or sing with a lovely voice, so p'raps it wasn't the Angel of Music. P'raps it was an ordinary angel, like I am an ordinary girl, Daddy. P'raps they have ordinary angels who don't sing in Heaven, just do other things, like... like cook God's dinner or dust His house."

Niklas smiled lovingly at her innocent logic. "I am sure they are just as important, darling, as the higher celestial beings like the Angel of Music. I think....", he swallowed a sudden lump in his throat; "I think perhaps it was Mamma's guardian angel whom you saw, Christine", he said, and hugged her close.


During the summer of Christine's fifth year, her parents learned that they could expect another child, due in the following February. Once more, Karolina was ecstatic in hoping that she could give her husband a son. Once more, she miscarried the child after three months and was ordered to bed in a state of complete despair by Dr Lundgren and told to stay there until he was satisfied she had regained her strength. He prescribed a sleeping draught to help her through those first long nights of desolate misery.

Truth to tell, by now the good doctor was worried about Karolina, and had to admit that her heart was not as sound as it should be, which although perhaps not severe, left untreated could impair her general health. He took Niklas to one side to express his concerns, saying quietly that he felt she should be examined by a doctor who specialised in diseases of the heart.

Niklas was horrified. Shaken to the very core of his being, he asked how ill she really was, remembering how she had tried to laugh off his concerns about her bouts of dizziness.

"All females faint, my love!", she had stated gaily. "It is something we all experience during our... our fertile years, and sometimes because of fashion! We females sometimes bring it upon ourselves with our silly corsets and tight garments!" She'd laughed, and pulled at her wide embroidered belt as indication.

"But you do not wear corsets, my love", protested her husband with some concern, "nor have you for as long as we have been married."

"No", she said quietly, looking down at her hands to hide her all-too-expressive eyes. She twisted her wedding rings, saying, "but you must not worry, darling. I'm fine, truly I am. There's nothing wrong with me." She took a deep breath, then looked up into his eyes. "Mamma told me that I was very ill as a child with a high fever which lasted for days. She said... they feared for my life at one point, but I recovered, although it left me weak and helpless for long weeks afterwards. Perhaps it was that illness which has affected my heart a little... oh, just a little." She flung her arms around his neck and held him tightly. "Truly, my Nik, I feel very well."

She asked God in her head to forgive the untruth, then reached up to kiss her husband. They held each other tightly, and Niklas in his turn prayed that the dear falsehood with which she had just tried to reassure him would indeed become the reality.

Dr Lundgren had recommended a renowned heart specialist named Herr Konstantin to the young couple, and arranged an appointment for them to travel to his consultancy in Uppsala. Leaving Christine in the care of Evi, the Daaés set forth in their small carriage for the city. When they drew up in front of the imposing façade of the house, Niklas saw the brass plaque on the wall next to the big double doors which read "August Konstantin - Physician" and noted the impressive number of official letters behind that name which indicated the fact that Herr Konstantin was a very great man in the field of medicine. Niklas felt as though a cold hand had taken a tight grip of his insides causing him to shiver, but he helped his wife down from the carriage and gave over the equipage to a stable lad whilst they went inside for the appointment.

Two hours later, they were on the journey home, a rug round Karolina's knees as she lay back against the leather squabs. Niklas concentrated on getting the carriage safely through the city streets and on the road back to their home, but his mind was in turmoil.

"A vein which leads from the lungs to the heart... weakened by a childhood illness... advisable not to have another pregnancy... more pressure on the heart could be critical to the patient's future well-being... could possibly mean surgery..."

Herr Konstantin had been so kind. They had sat facing him over his desk, both pale and shocked by what he said once he had examined Karolina. He had prescribed some medication should the attacks become more frequent, but he emphasised that with care and attention to her health, she should live a long and happy life.

The consultant had shown much compassion when he advised them against having more children, but Karolina had not been able to control her feelings and had wept inconsolably. Herr Konstantin had ordered a tray of coffee to be brought to his office and left them alone for a while until his young patient felt able to compose herself for the journey home.

Christine was in bed fast asleep when they reached home, but Evi was waiting for them with a meal of cold meat and salad. One look at her daughter's face told her that she must expect to hear something of an upsetting nature, and she sat her gently in a chair with a cup of hot tea. Karolina's fingers shook as she sipped the welcoming drink, but a little colour returned to her cheeks as she drank. A little later, she was able to tell her mother about the doctor's diagnosis, and the three of them sat in quiet discussion, Niklas leaving them once to open the door to his father and usher him in.

Part 9 - Heart's Desire

Two years passed by in quiet harmony. Although it was the dearest wish of her heart, Karolina had resigned herself to the fact that she would have no more children, and devoted herself to her little daughter and her adored husband. Dr Lundgren prescribed the necessary medication for her condition on the advice of the respected consultant, so that when she felt faintness come over her as a result of a change in her heartbeat, she was able to take a draught of her medicine and rest. In this way, she kept fit and reasonably healthy.

Christine was growing into a beautiful young girl. At nearly nine years old, she was a slender, graceful child with flawless skin and a cloud of dark brown hair which hung in shining curls down to her waist. Her great blue eyes were the soft deep colour of wild pansies. She attended the small local school which had been started some ten years ago by two spinster sisters who had been willed some money by an uncle. They had decided to use the money to set up the school and take in about twenty local children. It had been a very successful venture and one which the town looked on with pride. Christine loved going to school and was a diligent, bright and popular pupil, despite being a little shy. Most of all, Christine loved music and looked forward eagerly to her music lessons with Fröken Engkvist, her favourite teacher and one who had long since recognised that little Christine Daaé was an exceptionally talented child with the gift of a potentially superb singing voice.

With a maturity far beyond her young years, Christine cared for her mother. Niklas had gently told his daughter that Mamma was not as well as she once was, and they must all take very good care of her. The child listened with big, solemn eyes as her father explained about Mamma's heart and the fact that sometimes she had to rest and do nothing until she felt better. Christine had cried a little, fearing that her adored mother might die, but Papa had cuddled her close and told her that as long as Mamma rested and took her medicine when her naughty heart misbehaved, then all would be well.

Christine had heaved a big sigh of relief and promised Daddy that she would look after Mamma when he was at work and she was home from school. Of course, Grandmama Evi came every day to visit Mamma and their kind neighbours - the Johansens - were always at hand, having been made aware of the circumstances by Niklas.


One day Christine was playing in the garden with Benji. The cat was now a very old gentleman but one of her dearest companions and she adored him. Christine was alone because several of her friends had succumbed to a mild infection which had spread rapidly throughout the school, manifesting itself in an itchy rash of tiny red spots and a hoarse cough. So far Christine had managed to avoid the infection; she played quite happily on her own with Benji as her sleepy audience. She danced for him, sang a little song and recited a poem or two. He blinked his yellow eyes several times in approval, then yawned, stretched and turned around two or three times before settling once again with his paws tucked neatly underneath him, purring in a highly contented fashion.

Christine swept him a curtsey, holding up the hem of her blue dress and white cotton petticoat as she pointed a dainty foot. She heard the sound of someone clapping in enthusiastic applause. Looking up, she saw Mamma's face at the open window. She turned and curtsied to Mamma, then blew her a kiss. Mamma did the same, smiling at her pretty daughter but with a sudden rush of tears pricking her eyes as she looked down on the child. She was resting on a chaise-longue which Niklas had placed directly under the window of their bedroom so that she could look out at the flower-filled garden during those times of enforced rest.

Christine waved her hand, then gathered up the soft furry bulk of the cat to her chest and waved his paw. Mamma laughed and blew another kiss, and it was at that very moment Christine saw a shimmering light appear round her mother. As she watched with great, wondering eyes, an angelic being materialised from the light and stood behind her mother. The angel reached out a white-clad arm and gently touched her soft blonde hair. Christine saw her mother smile, her face illuminated with a lovely serenity as she lay back against the cushions. Then the angel raised both arms in a gesture of reassurance to the silently watching young girl, smiling a farewell as the light slowly dimmed until it was no more.

It was almost one month later from that day when Karolina told her husband that she was to have a child. Niklas's initial reaction was to gasp in fear and disbelief, but the look of radiant composure on his wife's face stilled his protestations of alarm.

"I shall give you a son, my darling", she kissed him tenderly, serene and beautiful in the knowledge of a new life within her. Niklas held her to him, closed his eyes and silently mouthed a heartfelt prayer, a desperate plea to God to keep her well, keep her safe. Never before in the whole of his life had he prayed so hard.

Karolina, her head tucked into her husband's warm neck, smiled blissfully. She would have this baby, a strong and healthy boy to make their little family complete. She would take the greatest care and not let her silly heart run away with itself.

She glowed with happiness. At last she would realise her heart's desire.


This time, Karolina's pregnancy progressed peacefully and without the tragic problems of the last two. There were no fainting fits or those frightening palpitations, mainly because she obeyed the doctor's strict instructions for complete bed rest. Evi ensured that her daughter did nothing that would harm her health or that of the coming child, and took pleasure in caring for her daughter as her shape changed and the bulk of the baby grew larger with each passing month.

Christine loved to help Grandmama in looking after Mamma. Under Evi's watchful eye she was allowed to measure out a spoonful of medicine and hold it to Mamma's lips as she drank it. Karolina would pretend it was horrible and pull a face as she swallowed, making Christine's enchanting chuckle of laughter fill the room. The little girl would tuck a light blanket around her mother as she lay on her chaise-longue by the window, stand back and admire the pretty picture of her Mamma reclining on her elegant green brocade chaise. So taken was she with the chaise that she wished aloud that she had one in her own bedroom. Reaching for her hand, Mamma smilingly promised to ask Papa if he would make a chaise-longue especially for Christine, and the child's eyes lit up with sparkling delight.

"Oh will you? Thank you, Mamma! I should so like one just like yours, for it is so pretty and I shall look like a gracious, elegant lady! Now what colour shall we choose? Perhaps pink, like strawberries, or maybe...yellow, or... or..., I know - crimson! Rich shiny crimson, like those lovely fat red cherries in the garden. What do you think of that?" Christine chattered on excitedly as Karolina and Evi looked fondly at her animated little face.

"I'm sure you will have elegant and gracious dreams if you fall asleep on your cerise chaise-longue, darling", Evi teased. "Perhaps of a handsome and charming prince, or a knight in shining armour riding a magnificent white horse, or a bold, fearless and fair champion who will rescue you from a..... dragon, or an ogre.... or a monster with three eyes in its terrible face....", she laughed at the child's changing expressions, her big violet eyes mirroring her emotions. Why, the child's heart is displayed openly in her eyes, thought Evi, looking at her granddaughter's appealing features. When she falls in love, it will be with every breath in her body, to whomsoever she eventually will commit that heart.

Christine gazed into the middle distance and was lost in thought for a while.

"I do have lots of dreams, Grandmama", she said pensively after a moment or two.

"Do you, my love? I hope they are all very pleasant - no nasty nightmares", replied Evi.

"Sometimes I have strange ones but they are all muddled up and I cannot ever remember them. But I do have a dream which is lovely, Grandmama. Remember I told you about the man all dressed in black, Mamma? I often dream about him."

"Oh, you have had several of the same dream, dear?", asked Evi.

"Yes, often. There is a man.... very tall, like Daddy. He is dressed all in black, and wears a long cloak and a big black hat. He is so sad, Grandmama. So sad and lonely, and always he covers his face with his arms, like this", Christine held her crossed arms raised in front of her face.

"Is he somebody you read about in your books of fairy stories, Christine? Perhaps a character has remained in your mind", suggested her grandmother.

"No Granny. He just... appeared in a dream one night. And Granny.... he sings to me. He turns his face away so that I cannot see him, but he sings and sings such beautiful music. His voice is like... like an angel's voice. And oh, he is so sad that I have a little cry, Grandmama." Christine's deep blue eyes shimmered for a moment. "I always want to help him not be sad. I do so wish I could dream that he was happy, I really, really do."

Again, Evi thought that one day, this beautiful granddaughter of hers would meet a man and love him to the exclusion of all others. She could only hope this mystical being would return that love with all his heart.


Niklas came in from a good day's work. He had a full order book and was busy from dawn to dusk, it seemed. He washed his hands and face at the cold water pump in the garden, promising himself a hot bath later. Stripping off his overalls, he bounded upstairs to greet his wife as she lay by the open window. Christine had been singing to her and she was still caught up in the spell of her daughter's lovely voice. Such a wondrous voice in one so young, and Karolina felt both proud and humble for her daughter's great gift.

Karolina gave her husband a loving smile as he trod softly across the floor, holding out a hand to him. Niklas took it, feeling the fragile bones of her fingers and once again, a sudden terrible foreboding held him in its grip. He could not seem to banish these feelings, and yet she looked well; her cheeks had a delicate flush and her eyes were clear as a mountain stream. Her fair hair was brushed away from her face and held by a green ribbon at the nape of her neck. Her other hand was lying on her swollen belly, delighting in the vigorous kick of their child beneath the loose gown she wore for comfort.

Yes, she looked radiantly well, and yet... and yet there was such an air of fragility about her, a shadowed, haunting quality about her eyes, despite their apparent liveliness. However, she greeted her husband with a wide sparkling smile and reached up for his kiss as he bent over the chaise. She wrapped her arms around his neck and breathed in his own special smell, that of his own masculinity mixed with wood varnish and pipe tobacco.

"Hello, my love", she glinted up at him mischievously, "you look so handsome in your blue shirt! Give me another woody kiss before you have a bath!".

His heart turned over. She had so willingly accepted the long months of immobility for the sake of this child; always so cheerful, so resolute in her fate. She looked angelically beautiful in her approaching motherhood, serene and happy in the knowledge that she was to give him another child. Her hand was warm in his, her breath sweet upon his face, her hair like a cascade of golden wheat over one shoulder, yet still he could not rid himself of that awful sense of impending doom. Mentally, he shook himself and tried to rid his mind of such gloomy thoughts, keeping a smile on his face as he listened to her chatter on how her dear friends were always popping in to keep her company, how Evi fussed over her and kept her comfortable, and how adorable their little Christine looked in her new dress.

Later that evening, Evi came downstairs to the parlour to take her leave of him after attending to Karolina. Niklas had put Christine to bed, telling her a bedtime story - her favourite one about Little Lotte and the Angel of Music. She had then said her prayers, asking the Good Lord to bless Mamma, Daddy, Grandmama and Grandpapa and asked Him to look after Mamma and the baby. She wound her arms around his neck as he kissed her goodnight. "Goodnight Daddy. Don't worry about Mamma; she will be guarded and guided along her own special path. The Angel told me so." Niklas held his little daughter close against him, his face buried in her dark curls, his eyes shut tight against the tears that threatened to overwhelm him.

Evi found him sitting by the window, staring out at the approaching dusk but seeing nothing. She went over to stand beside him, putting a hand on his neck in a gentle caress. He looked up at her, and read in her eyes a message of complete understanding.

Evi knew, as he did, that their beloved Karolina was slowly losing her hold on life and would eventually slip away from them. The very notion was unbearable, unthinkable, but they both knew they must prepare to face the tragedy that was hovering above them. They must accept the inevitable, for it was truly God's will that their darling girl would soon be called to His side.

The coming weeks would assuredly put their innermost feelings to the deepest and most gruelling of testing times in keeping this knowledge from their loved ones.

Part 10 - Partings

With tears in her eyes, the midwife laid the baby once more in Karolina's arms, having gently cleansed him and wrapped him in a soft white shawl. Shaking her head sadly, she moved away from the bed, leaving the bereaved mother alone with her devastated husband. Niklas was sitting on the bed with his arms around Karolina and his little son, born into the world after such a long and harrowing struggle, living long enough only to draw a few gasping breaths before his tiny face turned blue and he died in his anguished young mother's arms.

Dr Lundgren sat in the parlour with Evi and Stefan, trying to drink the cup of hot coffee which Evi had handed him. All three faces were bleak and drawn in shocked and numbing disbelief. The labour had been relentlessly cruel, causing the young mother intolerable pain which seemed never to end. The doctor had tried his best to alleviate her sufferings to the point of putting an ether-soaked cloth over her mouth and nostrils in an effort to moderate the pain, but to no avail. In desperation, he had even contemplated surgery, but it was too late for that and he could not further risk her life if her heart was unable to cope with the ordeal of an operation.

Finally, Karolina reached a state of such mental and physical exhaustion that all she wanted in those tortured hours was to leave her pain-wracked world for ever.

To go to sleep, never to awaken.

Instead, she had to endure it until that final crescendo of throbbing, agonising pain when at long last the infant was released into the world. It was all over, but irreparable damage had been done to her body, and her longed-for child was to leave her before she even had the chance to tell him how much she loved him.

"Oh Lord, my sweet Lord, take him into Thy loving care." Karolina murmured over and over again as she stroked the downy little head, silent tears of anguish slipping down her cheeks. Some of them fell onto the baby's sweet, still features.

Watching her, Niklas felt as though his heart was being slowly wrenched from his body, so overwhelming was his grief. The baby was perfectly formed, a tiny angel-child who had died almost from the moment he had lived; and his beautiful wife, his beloved Lina had so yearned to give him a son, only to have her dream shattered and her body wrecked. The tragedy was wretchedly hard for her to bear, for she had taken such care during the long months of the pregnancy, and as the time had drawn near to her confinement she had dared to hope that at last her dream would be realised.

The midwife knocked on the door, calling softly that little Christine wanted to see her brother. Niklas looked at Karolina, his red-rimmed eyes questioning. She nodded, trying to smile as with infinitely gentle fingers, he wiped away her tears. He rose from the bed and went to open the door to find his little daughter there, the midwife's hand on her shoulder.

"May I see Mamma and the baby now, please Daddy?", the child asked gravely, her eyes enormous in her small face.

"Of course, my sweet", Niklas managed to assure her, and led her to where her mother lay with the baby in her arms. The midwife stood aside to let Evi enter the room, then quietly closed the door.


He knew he was losing her, knew she was slipping away from him even as he watched. Her face was no less white than the sheets in which she lay, her long eyelashes forming little dark crescents on her pale cheeks, her lips tinged a dull and sickly grey. Oh God! My Lina - my beautiful Lina is dying - what shall I do? How can I live without her? Niklas felt a terrible numbness come over him, paralysing his limbs into rigid immobility. His mind went completely blank as he stared at the still figure in the bed, and he was lost in a dark world of drifting, meaningless shadows.

Evi could not bear to intrude on that poignant and terrible last goodbye between husband and wife. She trod quietly over to the chaise-longue by the window and sat down, blindly staring out of the window, her face stricken with absolute grief. To have lost her husband had been hard to bear, but the pain of losing her only child, her lovely, laughing young daughter was the cause of the greatest anguish she had ever known.

Niklas watched his own daughter climb onto the bed and carefully edge towards her mother. Mamma was very sad because of the baby and Christine wanted to comfort her. She stretched out a small hand and touched her mother's face with a little fluttering gesture of her fingers. For an instant, her mother's eyes flickered open to show their shadowed blue depths against the chalk-white face. She turned her head slightly to kiss the delicate fingers and spoke in a soft, breathless voice.

"Darling... little girl, Mamma... loves you... dearly... so very... dearly." She took the little hand in her own weak clasp. "Give me a kiss, darling", she smiled as Christine complied with a sweet kiss upon her mouth. Her voice sank to the merest whisper of sound. "Lovely... lovely little rosebud. My darling... I have to... leave you now. The... little ones, you see,... they need me. Look after... Daddy, my... dearest one." She turned her head towards her husband and gave him a smile with eyes that glowed with a pure, radiant light. It was as though she could see something quite, quite beautiful that was just beyond his reach. As he watched, those luminous eyes began to dim and she reached out a hand for one final, loving touch from his own.

"I... love you, my Nik. Love of.... my life. Take care of... our... Christine. She is yours... from now... on. Name... our little son...for you, and lay him...with me...".

Her eyes closed; she gave one long sighing breath of release, almost of contentment, and turned her head upon the pillow. He bent to kiss her bloodless lips. "I love you too, my lovely, lovely Lina. Forever and forever."

Niklas knew she had gone.


Christine slid down from the bed and ran to her father's side, clutching hold of his hand. Silent tears streamed down his unshaven face as he returned the clasp of those warm little fingers. She looked up at him, saying earnestly, "Don't cry, Daddy. Mamma has gone to look after the babies. Look, the Angel has come to take her. See - he is picking her up and carrying her to Heaven. She will get better there."

A great wrenching sob escaped Niklas. "Angel...? You can see... see an Angel, my sweet?", he choked in a voice hoarse with shattered, disbelieving grief.

"Yes, Daddy. It is Mamma's special Angel - the one who has come to see her before. She always woke up when he touched her, but he has taken her with him this time. He is very beautiful, Daddy. Like my Angel."

"Your... your angel, poppet?" Her father heaved back another sob. "Have you... have you seen a special angel too?"

"No, I haven't actually seen my angel, Daddy. I only hear him inside my head. He asks me to sing for him. He says - 'sing for me - sing, my little one'. Do you suppose he is the Angel of Music?" Christine looked up at her father and saw that his face was so terribly sad as he tried to answer her through the tears raining down his face that she flung her arms around his legs and started to cry also.

"Daddy, Daddy, I want Mamma to wake up - why has the Angel taken her away? Oh, Daddy - make her wake up!" The little girl's cries were breaking his heart as he tried to comfort the frightened child. Evi got up from her chair and gently led Christine from him so that he could be alone with his wife for that precious time together before the priest returned for the final absolution.

Evi took Christine by the hand, saying that they would have a lovely drink of hot chocolate and a gingerbread man, and then Christine could lie on her bed and have a little sleep. Grandmama would tuck her in and sit with her to read a story before she went to sleep. Christine nodded, gulping back her tears as best she could, saying that she would like that.

Suddenly they heard the most awful, heart-stopping cry of disbelief. Evi dropped the table napkin she had been about to spread over Christine's lap and ran out of the door, the child at her heels. They sped up the stairs and into the room where Karolina lay to find Niklas bending down by the side of the bed. He looked up at their entry and Evi thought she had never seen such heartbreak on a human face. Christine ran to him, thoroughly frightened by her Daddy's terrible rasping sobs. When she saw the reason for his tears she too, burst into a storm of weeping. There, lying on the floor half-hidden by the quilt, lay their beloved cat Benji. Between his front paws, his claws were dug deeply into one of Mamma's shawls which he had obviously pulled away from the back of the bedside chair.

The little cat was quite dead.

Part 11 - Farewells

Four days later, Karolina and her baby son were laid to rest beneath the shady trees of the graveyard adjoining the little church where she had married so joyfully. All the townsfolk came, for she had been greatly loved and their sorrow was immense. The women watched with tears in their eyes as Niklas and his little daughter laid their flowers on the grave, together with Stefan and Evi who clung tightly to each other's hands. The grave, with its poignantly new marble headstone, was covered in a great mass of flowers. Niklas stood for a long time with head bowed and eyes closed, his arm around Christine's shoulders. Eventually, Stefan gently led him away and walked them back to their silent home.

Niklas had already buried Benji in the garden where they held a little candlelight ceremony for him, Christine, Niklas, Evi and Stefan. The cat had originally belonged to Stefan for he always liked to keep one at the restaurant to chase away any rodents. As he stood with his arm around Christine, Stefan remembered that when Karolina had joined the staff, the cat had attached itself to her, following her around everywhere. She had fallen in love with the little rogue, cuddling him whenever she had the opportunity. One day, he had followed her home to her lodgings and with that, Stefan had laughingly insisted that she keep him, for it was obvious that Benji had claimed her as his very own.

"I will get another cat for the restaurant, dear. No please, I insist you take him home with you. It's obvious you were meant for each other!" Stefan took out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes as memories came flooding into his mind of that laughing, carefree girl who had worked so cheerfully for him. Now her beloved pet had once more followed her home.

Christine had put the cat's favourite toys in his burial box, and they wrapped it in the shawl of Mamma's that he had held fast to him as he joined her on her final journey. The little girl cried many tears, and for days afterwards stumbled around with a look of complete bewilderment on her face, so touching to those who witnessed it. Indeed, she was hardly able to comprehend the tragedies which had befallen her precious family. Her father was in a similar state, unable to eat or sleep. He began to lose weight at an alarming rate and his handsome face became gaunt, his look sombre as he eyed a world which meant nothing to him. Evi was practically living with them now, doing her best to look after them but she too, was heartsick with grief.

A week or so later, Stefan was so worried about his son's health that he urged him to do as he himself had done when the boy's mother died all those years ago. For a soul in such torment, the peace and tranquillity of that beautiful lake in its majestic surroundings would surely bring some solace to his anguished spirit.

"Nik, boy, I want you to take yourself away from this house, away from the pall of grief that is shrouding you like a fog. I want you to take Christine to the cabin. There, you can breathe in the pure air of hope, let Mother Nature lay her healing touch upon your soul. Please, Nik, do as I ask," his father pleaded. "It worked for me, and I want it to do the same for you. Stay as long as you wish. Evi and I will take care of the house." Stefan's hand was warm against his neck, and Niklas stared back at his father with haunted blue eyes and lips that trembled uncontrollably.

"Oh Papa, Papa... I can't go on without her... I can't...", he whispered, fresh tears spilling painfully from eyes that were sore and gritty from constant weeping. "She was my life... my soul... there is nothing... for me....", his voice trailed off. He ran a shaking hand over his unshaven chin, his reddened eyes and then through his thick mass of curly hair, unkempt and unwashed. His father watched with eyes full of compassion, but then he grabbed at that hand and shook it quite fiercely.

"You have your daughter, Niklas! You have everything to live for, do you hear me? Do you really think that Karolina would want you to neglect yourself, neglect Christine? Wake up, son! Come out of that trance! Look, I know how hard it is for you...", Stefan broke off as Niklas pushed away his hand with a rough exclamation of irritation.

Stefan lost his temper then. "Yes, I do know how it is to grieve for a beloved wife, Niklas! I lost my wife too, you know!" He shouted, his voice hoarse with a rage of both present and remembered grief. " I lost my wife when she was still a young woman with everything to live for. Lost the mother of my child. My wife, my lover, my friend and life's sweet companion. I do know how you feel, believe me!" He broke off, distraught by the fact that he had shouted at his son, his boy who was sick with despair, his head buried in his hands. Stefan's eyes filled with tears as he whispered brokenly, "Nik, Nik, forgive me... I did not mean..."

Niklas raised his head, his ashen face twisted with anguished remorse. "No! No, Father, I must and do beg your forgiveness. I am... We must not... Oh, Papa! Dearest Papa...!" He leapt up, pulling his father with him and into his embrace. The two men stood there and cried in each other's arms, cried out their grief and sorrow, cried out their anger and bitterness, their loss and longing. Eventually, completely drained of all emotion and worn-out to the point of absolute fatigue, they sank down upon the couch and fell into an exhausted sleep. Evi found them two hours later, deeply asleep as Nik lay with his head on his father's lap. She covered them with a blanket and let them sleep on.


Three days later, the pony and trap stood at the door of the little house. Niklas emerged with two large bags and stowed them under the seat. He went back into the house to collect his daughter, lifting her up into the trap once she had said good morning to Hansi, the sturdy little brown cob, and stroked his velvety nose several times. Evi tucked a blanket around her granddaughter's legs so that they could drive along with the hood down whilst the morning was fine and sunny. Then she took Christine's animated little face between her hands and kissed both cheeks, still so pale, yet beneath the brim of her bonnet her big blue eyes held a sparkle of excitement at the thought of the adventure ahead with Papa! Stefan also reached into the trap to give Christine a hug and several kisses, pressing a small parcel into her gloved hands as he drew back.

Niklas kissed Evi fondly, holding her close for long moments. She returned his embrace, stepped back and reached up to caress his face, so thin where the weight had fallen away from him over the past few weeks. "Take very great care of yourself, my love, and may God be with you both", she said softly. He caught her hand in his and kissed it, unable to speak but nodding a mute acknowledgement. Then he turned to his father and held him in a bear-like embrace. He kissed his father's care-worn cheek. "God bless you, Papa", he whispered huskily. Stefan blew his nose hard, causing Christine to ask if Grandpapa had caught a horrid cold.

"No, little angel, Grandpapa is simply a foolish old man", he pulled a face and made her laugh. Then he put a playful fist under his son's chin, trying to hold back his emotions as he told the boy to take good care of himself and his little granddaughter, and to be sure to stay at the cabin on the lake for as long as he wished. He was not to worry about the house - his old Papa would look after everything.

Niklas nodded and gulped back a sudden lump in his throat as he climbed up into the driver's seat. "Lina...?", he managed to ask. "We will go to her every single day, Nik. Every day, I promise you. Our darling's resting place will be well looked after, so please don't worry", Evi and Stefan assured him.

"Thank you both", whispered the bereaved young husband. He took up the reins, looked down at Evi and Stefan and wished them a somewhat tremulous farväl . He was about to let go the reins when he cast a glance over his shoulder to see if Christine was comfortable. She had opened her gift from Grandpapa and Grandmamma, the brown paper ripped into uneven strips as she had torn it open in eager anticipation.

"Look Daddy! Look at my lovely present - isn't it beautiful?!" She held up the contents of the parcel, waving it in front of him.

It was a red scarf.

To be continued...

(With apologies to any Swedish-language reader if I have any of the Swedish idioms wrong!) Jeanette Birt 2000