Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 482
As a result of King Gustaf’s demands that it go faster, his coach, traveling on a poor rural road of Dalecarlia, breaks down. The king’s will is thus proved limited, unable to control objective reality. While his coach is being repaired, the king visits a church, where he beholds what he takes to be “the finest lot of folk he had ever seen . . . with intelligent and earnest faces.” He is prompted to appeal for their help in his war against the Russians and Danes, but the peasants shift the burden of a response to their pastor. In the vestry, a rugged and rough peasant greets the king, who, again judging on the basis of outward appearance, snubs the peasant (who is in fact the pastor). Instead of immediately identifying himself, the peasant-pastor provokes the king to reveal his elitist bias, his contemptuous attitude, to the peasantry.
The peasant explains to the king that the pastor may be able to procure money for the king by narrating the story of how the parson, together with four hunters from the parish, stumbled on a hidden silver mine and how these “dignified and excellent men” were corrupted by the prospect of so much wealth. Confronted with the ensuing moral degeneration of the parishioners, the parson resolves that he will not reveal to anyone the whereabouts of the silver and that if the people persist in their evil ways, he will leave them.
Given the parson’s tested virtue of self-abnegation, the king doubts if he could convince him to reveal the secret treasure. The peasant (whose alternate identity as parson the king fails to discern) makes an exception if the silver were used to save the Fatherland. This subordination of the peasantry’s welfare to the nation triggers a sudden illumination in the king, who changes his haughty stance and now acclaims the evasive congregation as “a beautiful sight” totally gratifying for Sweden’s king. The pastor’s practice of not exalting himself above his flock quickens “all that was noble and great within” the king.
The reader senses at this point that the king has already intuited the pastor behind the poor peasant’s unassuming but astute “disguise.” Despite the danger besetting the kingdom, the king formulates the moral decision that “the kingdom is better served with men than with money.”
When the king is asked by a peasant outside the church whether the pastor gave their collective response, the king replies yes. No doubt the community’s trust in their pastor, based on an actualized egalitarian principle, contrasts with their suspicion of the king, whose army, riddled with traitors, signifies the king’s morally questionable rule. This episode of moral instruction through a didactic recollection of a past incident suggests the need for a democratic mutuality of concern and the abolition of class distinctions if justice and compassion are to prevail.